On June 7, Philippines President Fidel Ramos signed into law the Migrant Workers and Overseas Act. The new law calls for stricter monitoring of the policies of labor importing countries to ensure that they have adequate laws to protect migrant workers. The bill also tightens regulations on the recruitment of labor in the Philippines and requires workers to register with Philippine embassies overseas.
It is not clear how effective the new law will be. Nearly half of the estimated 4 million Philippines' overseas workers are illegal, since they leave for overseas jobs without the proper documentation. Many may fail to register with Filipino authorities abroad.
The Philippine Labor Department has begun to station agents at Manila's airport to detect Filipino workers who are attempting to go abroad illegally for employment. Many Filipinos go as tourists to third-country destinations, and then travel to the country in which they hope to work.
In a related action, the Philippine Senate ratified the UN Convention on Migrant Workers. The Philippines signed the convention in 1993, and completed the ratification process the last week of May, 1995. Sixteen more countries need to ratify the convention before it comes into force.
An advisory commission appointed by President Ramos after a Filipina maid was hanged by Singapore in March (April MN) recommended that the Philippines stop the export of maids to "certain Middle Eastern and Asian nations." The commission is now on a 15-nation tour to investigate the problems of Philippine overseas workers.
In 1994, an estimated 5,000 Filipina maids left the Gulf states complaining of employer abuse. The commission asked the government to start blacklisting employers who mistreat overseas workers.
The Philippine Overseas Workers Welfare Administration reported receiving more than 10,000 complaints from overseas workers last year, including 156 cases of physical mistreatment and 18 rapes in Kuwait, 32 physical abuse cases and 11 rapes in Saudi Arabia and 33 cases of mistreatment and six rapes in Oman.
Since April 1995, state-owned Kuwaiti airlines returned at no charge Filipina maids who charge that they were abused by their Kuwaiti employers. There are about 20,000 Filipina maids in Kuwait, and 20 left in April, 54 in early June, and 44 in late June.
There are an estimated four million Filipinos working abroad, including perhaps 800,000 women, and 600,000 in the Gulf states.
With the government discouraging overseas workers, remittances from overseas workers, a major boost to the economy, are expected to decline. The Philippine government hopes to offset the decline in remittances with foreign investment in the Philippines. A Philippine political strategist predicts that it will take three to five years for a shift in the labor deployment rate to be evident.
Data showed that during the years when the Philippine economy was experiencing a downturn, income from migrant workers kept the country's economy afloat. Income from abroad increased by 16 per cent, from 7.1 billion pesos in the first quarter of 1994, to 8.2 billion pesos in early 1995.
The Philippines has launched an amnesty program for illegal aliens who entered the country before June 20, 1992. Under the program, illegal aliens can pay about $10,000 and receive a permanent resident status. The Philippines hopes to earn $39 million from the legalization program, suggesting that 40 percent of the estimated 100,000 illegal aliens in the country will legalize their status. Most of the first applicants have been from China and Taiwan.
Charles Wallace, "Philippine Maids Face Cruel Lives," Los Angeles Times, June 26, 1995. Ramos signs law to protect Filipinos overseas," Reuters News Agency, June 7, 1995. "Philippines starts new immigration law," United Press International, June 10, 1995. Lachlan Carmichael, "Manila urged to blacklist employers who mistreat Filipinos," Agence France Press, June 7, 1995. "Manila urged to stop exporting "vulnerable" maids," Agence France Presse, June 11, 1995. "Philippine President signs 10 bills," Xinhua News Agency, June 7, 1995. "Manila ratifies UN Convention on Migrant Workers," Xinhua News Agency, June 3, 1995.