Migrant groups have criticized the proposed legislation to raise to $50 per person the Overseas Filipino Workers (OFW) contribution to the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA).
Rep. Ma. Theresa Bonoan-David (Fourth District, Manila), author of House Bill (H.B.) 6195, said by raising the OFWs' contribution from $25 to $50 per person "will help to sustain an Emergency Repatriation Fund (ERF) for distressed OFWs."
In a news release last week, Bonoan-David said H.B. 6195 seeks "to amend Republic Act 8042 or the Migrant Workers and Overseas Filipinos Act of 1995."
R.A. 8042 already created an ERF under the administration of OWWA with an initial funding of P1 million.
However, in a news release, the migrant workers' group Migrante International said it strongly opposes Bonoan-David's proposed bill as OWWA Resolution No. 038 in 2003 already obligated OFWs to pay $25 per contract for the ERF.
“We will be more than willing to sit down with her and explain to her our basis for strong opposition to the bill,” Migrante International chairperson Garry Martinez said.
He urged the lawmaker to "re-think the bill after conducting consultations with OFWs and other stakeholders."
“We do not know who Rep. Bonoan-David has been consulting but while her intentions may be noble, the bill is definitely unwelcome to OFWs,” Martinez said.
Meanwhile, some people voiced their opposition to the bill through Twitter.
Dyosa Prij: “NO TO HOUSE BILL 6195, increasing OFW fee of $50 for the OWWA ERF authored by Manila Dist. Rep. Ma. Theresa Bonoan-David! Spread the word!
Noem Lardizabal-Dado: “No to $50 INCREASE payments from OFWs! No to passage of House Bill (HB) No. 6195 that requires ADDITIONAL $50 OWWA fees.
Help for distressed OFWs
Bonoan-David, however, explained that "there are millions of OFWs all over the world which the Philippine government is mandated to protect and safeguard under RA 8042 but it seems incapable to efficiently help distressed OFWs due to financial constraints."
Under H.B. 6195, distressed OFWs can be repatriated during wars, epidemics, disasters or calamities, natural or man-made, and other similar events.
The bill also proposes a database and locator system of OFWs for their repatriation, if the need arises.
"There are millions of OFWs all over the world which the Philippine government is mandated to protect and safeguard under RA 8042 but it seems incapable to efficiently help distressed OFWs due to financial constraints," Bonoan-David pointed out.
The Philippine government undertakes mandatory repatriation in strife-torn countries.
Some 28 Filipinos, including a 12-year-old boy, were expected to arrive from Syria on Tuesday and Wednesday, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said.
In a news release on Tuesday, the DFA said the boy was born in Syria. His parents are both OFWs.
As of June 18, the DFA said 1,643 Filipinos have been repatriated since Crisis Alert Level 4 was raised over Syria last December.
A Reuters report on Wednesday said time is running out for United Nations-backed peace efforts in Syria as the escalation of violence in the country's 15-month conflict drives the death toll higher and sparks more human rights abuses.
Syrian security forces pounded opposition areas across the country on Monday, activists said, adding that at least 23 people had been killed in clashes they say have become worse since U.N. observers suspended their activities over the weekend.
"The Secretary-General (Ban Ki-moon) remains gravely concerned about the intensification of violence and rising death toll, as well as continued human rights abuses and unmet humanitarian needs," said Oscar Fernandez-Taranco, the U.N. assistant secretary-general for political affairs.
Ban said last month that at least 10,000 people have been killed in the Syria conflict, but U.N. diplomats say the actual number is likely much higher.
The DFA also reiterated its request to the families of OFWs in Syria to provide its Office of the Undersecretary for Migrant Workers' Affairs (OUMWA) with up-to-date information regarding their next-of-kin's whereabouts and their contact details in Syria by calling (02) 834-3245 or (02) 834-3240. - with a report from Reuters, VVP, GMA News