“If what the government has been saying is true, why am I applying again? Why is there a steady stream of Filipinos leaving the country to work abroad every day?” – OFW
By JANESS ANN J. ELLAO
MANILA – Gil Lebria, 37, an overseas Filipino worker, was victimized abroad thrice. He has experienced contract substitution, being paid a salary lower than what was stipulated in the contract, unfair labor practices, among others, and yet he kept applying for work abroad. The last time he was in distress abroad was 2011 — when he was working in the strife-torn Libya and was eventually repatriated by the Philippine government.
After returning from Libya, Lebria was hopeful about finding a job here in the country. But two years later, he found none. Lebria went back to his province in Davao Oriental to help his family farm. But their small income could not sustain their needs and pay for the debts his family incurred to pay for his previous placement fees.
“I was afraid to lose the small land that my family has been tilling to loan sharks. I needed to pay the $4,878 debt my family incurred for my placement fees and the hospitalization of my late mother,” Lebria said.
Lebria is now in Manila, applying for a job abroad. He is hoping to land a job in Libya or in Sudan, where, he said, situation maybe a bit more risky but has better labor practices compared to Middle East countries. He is disappointed that despite the promise of the Department of Labor and Employment in 2011 that the government is ready to accommodate and provide reintegration programs for Filipinos returning from strife-torn Libya, he is forced to once again leave the country and find work abroad.
In 2011, Labor Secretary Rosalinda Baldoz said that, “even before the crisis in Libya erupted, the (National Reintegration Center for OFWs) has already established various reintegration programs for OFWs.”
Baldoz added that several institutions such as the Joint Foreign Chambers of the Philippines and the Federation of Filipino Chinese Chambers of Commerce and Industry Inc. “have expressed their desire to hire OFW evacuees from Libya who match the available vacancies in their member-firms.”
Two years later, Baldoz claimed that overseas Filipino workers are now returning to the country to find more lucrative jobs here. The “new trend,” she said, is mainly due to the growing tourism and entertainment industry, particularly a gaming complex in Pasay City.
“I think we are seeing a rise in the entertainment industry, within that sector… we are seeing a reverse migration because of the high-end quality jobs being offered by these firms,” Baldoz was quoted as saying in a Philippine Daily Inquirer report.
But Lebria disagrees. “If what the government has been saying is true, why am I applying again. Why is there a steady stream of Filipinos leaving the country to work abroad every day?”
For two years, Lebria said he tried his best to find work here in the country. “DOLE promised that we would be prioritized for jobs here. So I tried but failed,” he told Bulatlat.com.
“I attended job fairs here and there. But there was an age limit, which is 35 years old. I even applied as a construction worker but they think I am already too old. Now, I am about to turn 38 and I doubt if I could still find work here,” he said.
Others, he said, who were able to find work here only got a five-month contract. “Contractualization is so rampant here and each contract only lasts for about five months unlike in other countries where one at least gets a two-year contract,” Lebria said.
Salary too, he added, is too low. “It can hardly support my family in the province. How much more now that I need to pay the debt we incurred for my previous placement fees?”
Ibon Foundation, an independent think tank organization, said underemployment and unemployment have increased by more than a million under President Aquino’s three-year-administration.
“There were 11.884 million unemployed and underemployed Filipinos in April 2013 compared to 10.877 million in April 2010, or a 1.008 million increase in the last three years of increasingly rapid growth,” Ibon said, “Ibon estimates that the real unemployment rate in April is 10.9%, the highest in the last three years, on top of an underemployment rate of 19.2% which remains markedly higher than the 15.6% reported in the same period a decade ago in 2003.”
Maricon Evanchez, 30, said she left the country on Aug. 16 2012 hoping to give her family a brighter future. She got a job as a domestic helper in Malaysia, where she was promised to earn $380 a month.
“It has always been my dream to own a house. We are living with my parents,” Evanchez said, adding that when the opportunity came, she did not think twice.
Evanchez said she was supposed to accept a job offer from Dubai. But the salary, which was only $198, was too low, she added. When she arrived in Malaysia, she only received $309. On top of the smaller salary she was getting, she told Bulatlat.com that her employer did not give her ample time to rest.
She only lasted one week with her first employer.
Three weeks later, Evanchez got another job in Malaysia. This time, she was assigned to take care of her employer’s old father. Her agency deducted two and a half months’ worth of salary during her five-month stay with her new employer. On Feb. 5, shortly after the death of her employer’s father, she was sent back to her agency.
“I was supposed to accept another job. But later on, I found out from a fellow Filipino worker that the deduction the agency took from my salary was unnecessary. I felt betrayed and decided to go home,” Evanchez said.
Her agency’s employees took her cellphone and money. “The only favor I asked from them is to get a chance to call my family. They were expecting me to send money and I do not want them to be worried.”
Though they had air conditioning and were given food, Evanchez said, she felt bad that they were put behind bars as if they were criminals. “We were not allowed to go out,” she added.
On March 8, Evanchez’ finally arrived in Manila. While she was happy to be home, “in a place where Filipinos cannot be stripped of their rights,” reality also started to sink in. She is not an inch closer to achieving the dreams she wanted for her family.
Evanchez then applied for the reintegration program being offered by the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration. She hoped to get $238 to fund her store back in the province. OWWA provided her a one-day training on running a business.
“I just need to pass one or two documents to OWWA’s office in Calamba. After that, I would need to wait four to six months to get the $238,” she said, adding that she found it “too long.”
Evanchez, while waiting for the reintegration package of OWWA, said she is also applying for a job abroad. She recently applied as a domestic helper in Saudi Arabia.
When asked if she is not worried about her safety, especially with news about the unfair labor practices rampant in the Middle East, she said that, “working abroad is also about luck. If you are lucky, things would turn better for you.”
Taking the risk of finding that “luck,” she said, is way better than working here in the country. “Here one needs to have good connections to find a good job. What will happen to us who do not have work experience and did not finish schooling?”
“Worse, the rampant contractualization only gives us five months of work. After that, you have to find another,” Evanchez said.
Lebria, for his part, said all these talk about reverse migration is just part of the Aquino administration’s ploy to deceive the Filipino people about the “inclusive growth” that the country is supposedly pursuing.
He said, “I have done all possible work I can get into. The salary here is not enough to give our families a decent life. We only earn for these companies to grow while the workers are getting poorer.”