The deregulation of overseas employment:
the looming apocalypse?
Second of two parts
By Gina Mission

The Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) defines deregulation simply as the "elimination or reduction of regulation." Theoretically, it said, deregulation makes governance effective and the programs more efficient because the government stimulates market competition, which results in innovation, more options and increased productivity.

   The assumption is that in deregulation, benefits can be achieved at a lower cost without neglecting the social equity issue, which, in the case of overseas employment, is the main concern of POEA. As it boldly declares, POEA’s design of deregulation "took into consideration its desire for operational efficiency, effectiveness and productivity."

   Granting that POEA succeeds in that aspect, would it guarantee better services and protection for the overseas Filipino workers (OFWs), which is the only reason for the agency’s existence?

   In an interview with CyberDyaryo, POEA administrator Reynaldo Regalado said that government will not deregulate if it would endanger the welfare of OFWs because, as President Joseph Estrada had reportedly said, that is non-negotiable. He also added that since the POEA views deregulation under RA 8042, or the Migrant Workers Act, as not self-executory, the countdown of five years after the implementation of the law does not include the phasing-out of POEA. "We shall maintain that we will only have to implement the progressive streamlining of operational procedures," he said.

   Pursuant to the deregulation provision of the law, POEA has already established one-stop land-based and sea-based documentation centers, which has reduced the processing time for accreditation of principals and employees from five to two-to-three days and contract processing time from 24 to 8 hours. A one-stop Balik Mangagawa Processing Center was also inaugurated on December 14, 1998 to streamline the processing of documents of vacationing workers.

   POEA has also adopted "market-realistic standards" by providing information on market rates and work-related legislation, as well as bilaterally/multilaterally set standards on overseas employment. In addition, the agency has intensified tie-ups between local government units (LGUs) and foreign industry, which in effect authorizes LGUs to recruit OFW applicants in their own localities.

   Moreover, this program rationalizes the issuance of the Provincial Recruitment Authority, a recruitment permit, and encourages community-based recruitment. The POEA also promotes the ad scheme, which allows principals to place ads directly without prior authority from the agency, provided the job openings are verified.

   Furthermore, the POEA has eliminated its Welfare Assistance Division as a layer in mediating employer-employee cases. The National Labor Relations Commission (NLRC) and the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) now handle new cases.

   Then too, the agency is now accrediting more NGOs to implement pre-employment orientations (PEOs) and pre-departure orientations (PDOs), which used to be handled exclusively by the POEA.

   There are now Labor Assistance Centers at airports to assist workers who might encounter any departure problem. The agency is now being re-engineered, its functions devolved to regional offices and job sites, as well as other government agencies. And finally, POEA’s rules and regulations are up for revision.

   As Regalado said, "Let’s be realistic. The world is globalizing and overseas employment is here to stay. We cannot afford to remain inefficient. We must free ourselves from such limiting policies."

   Kanlungan, an NGO working for the welfare of OFWs, however, doesn’t see things as Regalado does.

   "The government is often trumpeting its lofty goals of making the Filipino at par with the rest of the world in the so-called era of ‘globalization’. It exhorts that the worker possesses skills so that he or she may fully protect himself or herself in the international labor market. The intent is to promote and market the Filipino migrant worker more aggressively. For the Filipino migrant workers to be more marketable, do away with regulations. Do away with bonds, do away with licensing. For the POEA to be able to respond to this, decentralize/devolve functions," Malou Alcid, Kanlungan’s executive director, urged.

   With deregulation, the government, according to Kanlungan, is abdicating its responsibility to the Filipino migrant worker. "It is not protecting the rights and welfare of its workers. It is not providing for the eventual return of the worker. It is continuing to maintain labor export as a policy of national development," Alcid added.

   POEA does not deny Kanlungan’s accusations. Regalado maintained that with the state of the country’s economy as it is, Filipinos don’t really have much option but to work overseas. "When they do take such option to work overseas, at least we can assist them in looking for better markets," he said.

   But in direct contrast to Kanlungan’s accusation that overseas employment deregulation is a classic example of government abdication of its responsibility, Regalado claimed just the exact opposite. "By providing them information, overseas workers will be better informed, and ready for the international market. By preparing them for the overseas atmosphere, we are in effect assisting them as they look for a job that would eventually advance their welfare. It’s what the agency is for. We are just doing our job," he said.

   With Kanlungan and POEA’s irreconcilable differences, Cesar Tablo, 29, a seaman applicant, can only wonder if working as a utility boy for his placement agency while waiting for his job call, is part of POEA’s "campaign to prepare the migrant worker to make an informed choice." But yes or no, he is determined to go abroad, saying that it is the only way he can support his family in the province.

CyberDyaryo | 1999.10.28