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Gov’t urged to rethink labor export policy

Senator Sonny Angara. INQUIRER FILE PHOTO

Senator Sonny Angara. INQUIRER FILE PHOTO

As workers’ groups marked Labor Day with protests on Friday, two lawmakers said the government should reconsider the labor export policy that has driven citizens like Mary Jane Veloso to desperate measures to seek employment abroad.

“Instead of creating jobs in the country, the government vastly relies on its extant labor export policy, which drives millions of Filipinos abroad to find jobs,” said Kabataan party-list Rep. Terry Ridon.

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“In a way, we are a nation of Mary Janes. Her story is a story common to our generation. And unless fundamental changes are implemented, more Filipinos will be victimized, more youths will be driven to desperation,” Ridon said in a statement.

Sen. Sonny Angara urged the government to focus on providing higher-paying jobs within the country to keep Filipinos from working overseas.

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“Yes, we can talk about their remittances that spur our economy but do we really want to become the world’s employment agency?” Angara, the acting chair of the Senate committee on labor, employment and human resources development, said in a statement.

High cost

According to Angara, the country’s labor force grows an additional almost one million each year.

“This number cannot be absorbed by available jobs here in the country, forcing Filipinos to seek better-paying jobs abroad to support their families even with the risk of facing abuse and exploitation,” said Angara, who recently filed a resolution calling for a review of labor laws and regulations.

With the steady rise in violations of Filipino migrant rights, the cost of working overseas is higher than we think, he said.

“If we ask most of our countrymen, I think they would definitely still prefer to stay home but with higher-paying jobs,” Angara said.

Ridon said the government’s reliance on remittances from the overseas Filipino workforce was impeding job creation and leading to more cases of victimization by human traffickers, as in the case of Veloso, who remains in death row in Indonesia after she was convicted of smuggling drugs.

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“This is the very situation that drove thousands like Mary Jane Veloso to desperation, forcing them to rely on human traffickers just to escape the cycle of poverty,” he said.

Trafficking victims

According to the Department of Foreign Affairs’ records, victims of human trafficking totaled 1,135 in 2013, while the number of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) facing death penalty cases, most of which are drug-related, has reached 88 as of March this year.

An average of 1,600 illegal recruitment cases were handled by the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration from 2007 to 2011, while the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration handled an average of more than 50,000 cases on-site annually from 2009 to 2013.

While Angara gives credit to the Aquino administration for developing reintegration programs that allow returning OFWs to use their earnings for enterprise development, he said providing higher-paying jobs in the country is what would really make “migration be a matter of choice and not a necessity.”

“We are pushing for the expansion of the Public Employment Services Office (Peso) to serve as job placement agencies in provinces and municipalities to help people find work amid reports that it takes up to two years for new graduates to get work,” the senator said.

Angara is also pushing for the passage of the Apprenticeship Training Act to provide young Filipinos with skills and access to employment, noting that a majority of apprentices are hired by the companies where they have their apprenticeship.

Obstacles to job creation

Ridon cited the lack of national industries and the worsening state of agriculture as some of the primary obstacles to job generation.

“This policy is further intensified by the implementation of the K to 12 program, which is fundamentally designed to produce skilled workers for export,” he said.

Figures from the Philippine Statistical Authority’s (PSA) Labor Force Survey released on March 12 show that about 4.1 million Filipinos are unemployed as of January.

Of the total unemployed, those aged between 15 and 24 years old constituted almost half, 47.3 percent, or about 2 million, while the age group 25 to 34 comprised 31.6 percent, or about 1.3 million.

All in all, about 3.3 million youths aged 15 to 34 are unemployed as of January. The PSA also notes that one in five unemployed Filipinos is a college graduate.

“We have to consider that these are conservative government figures that do not consider those who work part-time or work from home as unemployed. Still, the figures as they are reveal the worsening jobs crisis in the country, especially in the ranks of the youth,” Ridon said.

“Coupled with depressed wages and the soaring cost of living, this worsening jobs crisis results in widening poverty in the country,” he said.

Outdated tax system

Angara also reiterated his proposal of amending the country’s outdated tax system which he said, “overburdens” middle-income workers.

He said the government should create a more progressive and equitable tax system, “one that promotes upward mobility and a just society.”

With the current taxation system, which has remained unchanged since 1997, an upper middle-income earner who makes around P60,000 a month is already at the top tax bracket and is paying the same tax rate as the country’s millionaires and billionaires.

“If we adjust the brackets, the tax rates of the working middle class will decrease and will result to a higher take-home pay that will hopefully bring our OFWs back home. This could incentivize our labor force to work and invest in our country, and more importantly, to be with their families,” the senator said.

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TAGS: Employment, Kabataan party list, Labor Export Policy, Mary Jane Veloso, Sonny Angara, Terry Ridon
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