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August 1995, Volume 2, Number 8

Philippines Tries to Protect Overseas Workers

The Philippine government is fighting the exploitation of its overseas workers on several fronts. On July 16, the Migrant Worker and Overseas Employment Act went in effect. The Gancayco Commission, formed after the hanging of a Filipina maid in Singapore, issued its recommendations in mid-July.

Under the new migrant law, overcharging by employment agencies and all other acts of illegal recruitment are punishable by a jail term from six years and one day to 12 years, plus a fine of P200,000 to P500,000 (US $ 7,900 to $20,000). If three or more persons jointly victimize "three or more persons individually or as a group," then the crime becomes "economic sabotage," with a maximum penalty of a life in prison and a fine from P500,000 to P1 million (US $20,000 to $40,000).

An alliance of about 500 overseas employment agencies stopped sending Filipino workers abroad on July 17 to protest the new law. The employment agencies say that the regulations are unfair to licensed placement agencies. Private recruiters are now preparing to ask the Supreme Court to halt the implementation of the new law.

The Philippine labor force is about 16 million, and eight million are reportedly on "labor-only contracts," which makes them dependent on an employment agency rather than an employer. Estimates of workers abroad and remittances vary--most estimate that perhaps four million Filipinos work abroad, and that their $5 billion annual remittances at least partially support one-fifth of the population.

The Gancayco Commission recommended a halt to the deployment of women migrant workers by the year 2000 to the countries of Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Bahrain, Oman and Qatar. After questions were raised about the constitutionality of a ban on emigration to specific countries, the commission softened its recommendation to a "travel advisory." The commission also recommended a ban on allowing women entertainers, except musicians and artists, to travel for employment to Japan, Greece and Cyprus.

Non-government organizations were critical of these recommendations, saying that prohibiting overseas employment would serve no purpose unless the government can create jobs at home.

The commission recommended streamlining and reviewing recruitment procedures to monitor the number of workers seeking jobs abroad. Consulates and immigration officers were told to provide maximum assistance to workers abroad and watch for illegal recruiters.

The Philippine legalization program effective June 1995 has attracted only 1,710 applicants. Government officials estimate that there are 150,000 illegal aliens in the country. The program expires at the end of 1996. Most of the applicants who have applied for amnesty are from China, Taiwan and India.

For about $10,000, a foreigner who entered the country illegally before June 20, 1992 can acquire permanent residency status. Once his stay has been legalized, he can be naturalized as a Filipino citizen in five years, half the usual time. The government expects about $78.2 million to be generated from the program.

President Ramos said on July 19 that the country plans to normalize relations with Singapore, which soured following the hanging of a Filipina maid in April.

The Philippines, sometimes dismissed as the "sick man of Asia," embarked on an ambitious Philippines 2000 plan to close the gap with its fast-growing Asian neighbors over the next five years.

One strategy for creating jobs for the 800,000 workers join the labor force every year is to promote foreign investment in free trade zones, that in early 1995 employed about 200,000 Filipinos, three-fourths of them women. In most of these factories, workers are paid the minimum wage of 138 pesos (US $ 5.40) per day.

"Philippines considering "travel advisory" not ban of overseas workers," Agence Presse France, July 18, 1995. Ahmad Mardini, "Ban on Recruitment Alarms Expatriate Maids," Inter Press Service, July 18, 1995. Elmer Cato, "Manila to phase out Philippine domestic workers in ME," Moneyclips, July 14, 1995. "Philippine employment agencies protest new laws on overseas workers," Deutsche Presse-Agentur, July 17, 1995. Jason Gutierrez, "Manila to fly home domestic helpers," UPI, July 13, 1995. "Manila alien legalization law unpopular," UPI, July 6, 1995. Raissa E. Robles, "New Philippine law harsh on illegal recruiters," Moneyclips, July 5, 1995.