Mary Jane Veloso case mirrors mounting govt neglect of OFWs; govt budget for OFWs falling

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The recent case of Mary Jane Veloso, a Filipina worker facing the death penalty in Indonesia, blatantly illustrates government’s failure to defend the rights of the country’s millions of overseas workers.

Research group IBON said that Mary Jane’s case is only the most recent and tragic of widespread migrant rights violations because of mounting government neglect, as reflected by falling government budget for OFWs while aggressively implementing the labor export policy.

The government budget for overseas Filipino workers’ (OFW) rights and welfare fell between 2011 and 2014 despite increasing deployments and numbers of OFWs abroad. This goes far in explaining government’s inability to adequately protect the country’s overseas workers, IBON said.

The combined budgets of the three main agencies concerned with overseas Filipinos, namely the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA), Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) and Commission on Filipinos Overseas (CFO), shrank from Php13.3 billion in 2011 to Php 12.7 billion in 2014.

The cumulative Php 600 million less in 2014 is a cutback of 5 percent. From these figures, the group estimated that government budget for each OFW decreased by 12.3%, showing the inconsistency of having a labor export policy but neglecting OFWs by allocating them insufficient budget, among others.

On the other hand, the increasing number of OFWs tells on the gross absence of secure jobs in the country. There were 1.69 million OFWs deployed in 2011 rising to 1.84 million in 2013. Deployments in 2013 were equivalent to 5,031 OFWs per day, rising to 5,202 OFWs per day in the first nine months of 2014.

The government continues to use cheap labor export to compensate for poor domestic job generation and to generate foreign exchange. However, according to IBON, relying on labor export bears concomitant rights and obligations, which includes ensuring ample diplomatic outposts with enough legal and social welfare attaches, language and translation personnel, and medical teams and doctors.

Government’s already inadequate budget for OFWs has been aggravated by the cutbacks in 2014. The research group noted that this worsened access by migrants to offices, programs and assistance as well as diminished speed and quality of responses. It is even unclear how much of government’s budget for overseas Filipinos goes to services for OFWs, and how much goes to domestic campaigns encouraging migration or to more aggressive marketing of OFWs abroad.

IBON reiterated that until sufficient jobs can be created in the country, overseas workers like Mary Jane Veloso will have to continue risking cases like abuse, drug trafficking, imprisonment, etc. in order to feed their families and ensure them a decent life.