Group urges Congress to probe P15-M unpaid rental of OFW shelter in Saudi

WHO will pay the P15-M unpaid rental of OFW shelter in Saudi Arabia?’

Thus, asked today by a Filipino migrants’ rights group in the Middle East.

Migrante-Middle East (M-ME) regional coordinator John Leonard Monterona said they’ve raised this concern to the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) and the Department of Labor and Employment (DoLE) and to the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) since August 2012.

“Until now, we are still awaiting reply from these government agencies. It seems that these PH agencies are pointing fingers of who is responsible to pay the unpaid rental that already reached to around 1.4 Saudi rials, roughly equivalent to P15-M,” Monterona disclosed.

On mid-2009, around 200 undocumented OFWs, some with children, camped out under the Khandera Bridge in Jeddah, western City of Saudi Arabia, to press the PH Consulate to attend on their repatriation. This forced the Arroyo administration through former DoLE secretary Marianito Roque in coordination with the PH Consul General in Jeddah to rent a shelter inside the Al-Mina Haj seaport terminal.

On September 2009, the PH Consulate obtained permission from the Makkah Governorate and thereby entered into a lease contract with the King Abdulaziz Endownment for Al-Ain-Aziziah, a Saudi-run agency managing the Haj seaport terminal.

“If that would lessen the burden of our distressed workers, then we might continue with the procedure,” then DoLE secretary Roque was quoted as saying during a news conference at Jeddah’s Crowne Plaza Hotel. Roque was part of President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’s delegation that visited Saudi Arabia on September 2009.

A year after, the incumbent DoLE secretary Rosalinda Baldoz in a statement issued on September 4, 2010, confirming ‘from July 10 to August 31, this year, the Philippine Overseas Labor Office in Jeddah repatriated the 698 Filipinos, including 137 children of OFWs.  Majority or 399 of those repatriated were adult females while 162 were adult males.’

On the same statement, DoLE chief Baldoz confirmed that she authorized the use of P10 million from the 2010 budget of the DOLE as additional repatriation fund. “The amount is part of the P50 million allocated by Congress last year (referring to 2009) as repatriation fund,” she added.

Finger pointing?

Monterona said that he raised this concern to DFA undersecretary for Administration Rafael Seguis.

“In fairness to Usec. Seguis, he promptly replied and assured us that he will arrange to call OWWA Administrator Carmelita Dimzon to find ways to settle this issue as per previous commitment given by then DoLE secretary Marianito Roque.

Monterona added that he too had communicated this matter to OWWA chief Carmelita Dimzon who replied back via an electronic mail that she indeed had already spoken with Usec. Seguis but will only act upon a formal letter request from the latter. “She, however, will look for the commitment order or letter by then DoLE secretary Marianito Roque,” the OFW leader added.

“As per our reliable source, DoLE-OWWA is only willing to shoulder 15% of the P15-M unpaid rental of the OFW shelter in Haj seaport terminal basing their calculation to the number of OFW repatriates that were active OWWA members on the time of their repatriation. So, we ask how about the remaining amount? Who will pay for it?” Monterona asked.

On August 21, 2012, Monterona sent a letter to Vice President Jejomar Binay, also presidential adviser on OFWs concern, seeking the latter’s intervention to solve this matter.

The undocumented OFWs who ‘surrendered’ for voluntary repatriation especially those coming from outside Jeddah are having problem where to stay while awaiting the formalities of their repatriation, according to Monterona.

“The renting of a shelter inside the Al-Mina haj terminal is of big help to undocumented OFWs who are struggling for their daily survival and it’s also vital for the PH Consulate to get focus on the free and immediate mass repatriation of undocumented OFWs which number surges from around 7,000 to nearly 10,000,” Monterona added.

“We are still awaiting reply from the Office of Vice President Binay regarding this,” Monterona added.

Congressional Committee on OFWs affairs, PNoy urged to act

Monterona urged the Congressional Committee on OFWs Affairs (COWA) to investigate the bloating unpaid rental of OFW shelter in Saudi Arabia.

“We are calling Akbayan Rep. Walden Bello in his capacity as COWA chairman to probe this. We wonder why he’s silent and no action on his part on this issue. Pa-imbistigahan nya kung saan napunta ang P10-M allocation na sinasabi ni DoLE sec. Baldoz,” Monterona averred.

Monterona also called on President Aquino III to intervene and order his secretaries to solve the issue.

“Nakakahiya eto on the part of the PH govt. especially to PNoy administration na lumulobo ang unpaid rental ng OFW shelter sa kabila nang paniningil ng Saudi agency na namamahala sa Haj seaport terminal. Baka naman sa mga undocumented and distressed OFWs pa nila kunin ang pambayad ng P15-M unpaid rental? Kapag singilin sa OFWs ang bilis, pero kapag para sa kapakanan ng OFWs wala o mabagal ang aksyon!” Monterona said.

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