Thursday, February 12, 2009

February 7, 2009

Migrant group seeks 7 House seats for OFWs
RONALDO CONCHA, GMANews.TV02/07/2009 01:21 PM

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JEDDAH, Saudi Arabia - A migrant workers’ group is seeking seven seats for overseas Filipinos in the Philippine House of Representatives, one seat for each continent.

The proposal was one of many contained in a position paper submitted by the group called United OFW to President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo when she dropped by Riyadh in Saudi Arabia last Monday.Mrs. Arroyo passed by Riyadh after attending the global economic forum in Davos, Switzerland.

From Saudi Arabia, she visited Bahrain before dropping by Italy on her way to Washington D.C. to attend a Breakfast Forum.According to the proposal submitted by the group United OFW, overseas Filipinos ought to be represented in Congress considering their big number and their contributions to the Philippine economy.

Overseas Filipinos, estimated to have exceeded 9 million, is about a tenth of the Philippine population. Their remittances, placed last year at about $15 billion, has been acknowledged to have kept the Philippine economy afloat through the years. United OFW said the only avenue given to Filipino expatriates in the House of Representatives is the Party-list Law but that even this law does not allow OFWs and organizations based abroad to be represented.

As such, they want the House of Senate and Representatives to urgently enact a law creating seven seats in Congress for OFWs representing the seven continents of the world.The group suggested that OFWs be allowed to vote and be voted as "Overseas Continental Representatives" based on either the number of OFWs or the number of OAV registered voters in their respective continents.

These seven representatives, the group said, can "deliver innovative ideas, [a] variety of cultural traits, proven economic trade secrets, and…best effective foreign policies for legislation.

"United OFW also said that it would like the Philippine Embassy and the Philippine Overseas Labor Office (POLO), through orders from the Department of Foreign Affairs and the Department of Labor and Employment, to "fully utilize" the resources of the embassy and Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) during the OAV campaign and election.

In addition, the group suggested that the possibility of proxy voting by authorized representatives in the Philippines be considered as an option in the Overseas Absentee Voting Law.

Distribution of diplomat privilegesThe group asked that OFWs be given the same privilege as Philippine diplomats, notably in terms of acquiring private properties such as cars abroad and being able to take them home to the Philippines tax-free.United OFW said such a privilege would effectively "enhance the status of [OFWs] after their long years of service aboard."Philippine officials have previously rejected this proposal, saying it would just open the floodgates to car smuggling.

United OFW also asked the Philippine government to make representations with the Saudi Shoura Council to allow Filipino banks and universities to operate in the kingdom under the management of OFWs."Augmenting" gov't labor officesAlso suggested by the group was the establishment of the "OFW International Foundation" – which would be owned by OFWs – that would "augment the government agencies concern for the plight and welfare of the overseas workers such as the Philippine Embassy’s/Consulate's Assistance to Nationals Unit, POLO, and OWWA offices."

The migrant group also asked for additional staff at POLOs, especially Saudi lawyers who can handle the cases of OFWs, adding that most of their cases "are not properly represented in the Saudi Court because of their incapacity to hire Saudi lawyers."Moreover, they want the locally hired employees of the Philippine Embassy and POLO "to be made official."

More financial supportMeanwhile, United OFW also wants OFWs to be "empowered economically" and that the government, through an OFW international Bank, grant business loans to them not only in the Philippines but also abroad.

According to them, there are OFWs who venture into business opportunities abroad and have no other choice but to avail the services of usurpers.In addition, the group wants the government to subsidize or establish "Philippine International Public Schools" abroad because the tuition of the privately owned international schools in Saudi Arabia is reportedly very expensive.

Frank Naval, Chairman of the board of trustees of the United OFW, said he is hoping that the President would consider their proposals that would "empower the OFWs.""This is the right time that the OFWs must be heard. We are the one affected so we must participate," he said. - with Kimberly Jane T. Tan, GMANews.TV

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