Aquino’s AO 31 legalizes “kotong” on OFWs

MIGRANTE Partylist today scored the signing of Administrative Order 31 which further legalizes ‘kotong’ and state exactions on overseas Filipino workers (OFWs). AO 31, signed last October 1, called on all government heads and agencies to “rationalize the rates of their fees and charges, increasing their rates and impose new fees and charges.”

According to Migrante Partylist Chairperson Connie Bragas-Regalado, the recently-released Palace Order practically institutionalizes more state exactions and fees imposed on OFWs when existing onerous fees are still under protest by the sector since President Aquino took office.

She said that under Aquino, OFWs suffered more state exactions and fees throughout the whole migration cycle. Since 2010, the government had imposed numerous other fees from OFWs pre- and post-departure – the increase in e-passport fees, mandatory Pag-Ibig contributions, Philhealth premium cost hike, mandatory medical insurance, Affidavit of Support fees, to name a few.

Bragas-Regalado cited a study by Migrante International estimating that since 2010 the Aquino government has been collecting an average of at least P26,267 from every overseas Filipino worker (OFW) processed by the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA). This amount is higher than the average P18,000 the government collected before 2010.

“If 4,500 OFWs leave daily to work abroad, the government earns an average P118 million a day, or roughly P43.14 billion yearly, from processing fees and other costs shouldered by OFWs! Sobrang pangongotong, todo-todong kita ang gobyernong ito mula sa mga OFW, at ngayon dadagdagan pa,” said Bragas-Regalado.

She cited as an example the proposal of a 100% Philhealth premium increase which was suspended due to widespread protest by OFWs around the world. The increase was supposed to have been implemented last July but its implementation was deferred to January 2013. “Now, because of AO 31, protests by OFWs can be easily ignored and brushed aside because no less than the President has ordered it.”

Aside from the impending Philhealth premium hike, other fees and tax schemes being imposed on OFWs include the affidavit of support (AOS) in UAE, Macau and some parts of Europe and the discriminatory P75 Comelec certificate of registration, and other onerous fees specifically charged to seafarers and entertainers.

Bragas-Regalado slammed the further institutionalization of state exactions when welfare services for OFW have gone from bad to worse. “Unresolved cases of OFWs continue to pile up at the POEA, National Labor Relations Commission (NLRC) and Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA).”

“State exactions have caused OFWs and their families to become debt-ridden, contributing greatly to the widespread landlessness and poverty of many. It is not unheard of for peasant families to mortgage or sell their small parcels of land or to submit their children to unpaid labor just to be able to pay debtors or produce the sum needed to pay for exorbitant pre-departure and placement fees,” she said.

“OFWs are plagued with an assortment of issues and problems throughout the entire migration cycle yet the Aquino government has barely done any decisive action to support and protect its migrant workers and their families. The Aquino government’s ability to uphold Filipino migrants’ rights and promote their welfare has lagged behind its apparent success in pursuing its labor export policy.”

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