Sunday, December 26, 2010

Filipino-in-Afghanistan: Our Rights To Have Much Better and More Decent Kind of Life

Some FIA members participating in the Absentee Voting in 2010 National Elections

Recently, as per advice by our Kababayan in Filipino-in-Afghanistan (FIA), that we should write and let the website of the president be flooded by letters coming from Overseas Filipino Workers here until such time the Office of the President (OP) will give us the much needed attentions we have been longing for.

So I wrote letter to President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III with similar tone and content last December 26, 2010 hoping to catch PNoy’s attention.

The FIA had already sent previously numerous letters and messages to OP since the time of Gloria Arroyo, and so far nothing has come up closed to reality, not even a vague positive response. The sad part in present time, when Vice President Jejomar Binay assumed responsibilities over the OFWs as Presidential Adviser on OFWs concerns, he proposed the imposition of sanctions and possible cancellation of passports for those who will violate the travel.

"Buhay nila ang nakataya. We are concerned with that, kung hindi nabibigyan ng sufficient na penalty di napipigilan gawa ng gawa ng hindi tama," he said. (excerpt from ABS-CBN News)

The thing is who do you think is the one who is not doing the right thing? Is it us here or VP Binay being a lawyer who is expected to be well-versed in laws, that he should know that cancellation of passports is a clear violation of the constitutional guarantee of right to travel.

There are certain acts and conditions wherein cancellation of passport could be possible under Foreign Service Act of 1991 and Philippine Passport Law (RA 8239). Definitely the act of violating a travel ban to war zone is not one of them.

Under Section 8, (c) of RA 8239, passport may bear some government restrictions and that is why we have the travel ban stamp on the “Limitation” page of our passports. But as you can see in section (b), violation of such limitations does not constitute cancellation or otherwise confiscations or technical detention of our passport

Just like what happened to those five OFWs returning to their jobs last December 14, 2010 at Terminal 1 of Ninoy Aquino International Airport, allow me not to mention their names since I do not have their permission to do so, but FIA has full knowledge about what happened to them. Their passports were confiscated and the time of this writing, their passports are still being withheld by those officers who confiscated their passports. The immigration officers who confiscated their passport reiterated their acts is based on the alleged guidance from the VP. Probably to teach these OFWs how to do the right thing, for "paulit-ulit na di paggawa ng tama"

The following is an excerpt from RA 8239:

Sec. 8. Grounds for Denial, Cancellation or Restrictions. — The application for passport may be denied, cancelled or restricted only on the following grounds:

(a) Denial of Passport

1. On orders of the court, after due notice and hearing, to hold the departure of an applicant because of a pending criminal case:

2. When so requested by the natural or legal guardian, if the applicant is a minor;

3. When the applicant has been found to have violated any of the provisions of this Act;

4. Such other disqualification under existing laws.

(b)Cancellation

1. When the holder is a fugitive from justice;

2. When the holder has been convicted of a criminal offense: Provided, That the passport may be restored after service of sentence; or

3. When a passport was acquired fraudulently or tampered with.

(c) Restricted

1. When the country of destination is in a state of political instability which could pose a danger to the Filipino traveler.

2. When diplomatic ties have been fractured or severed with the Philippines;

3. When the country of destination is subject to travel restriction by government policy, enforcement of action by the United Nations or in a state of war.

Here’s my argument in addition to most FIA contentions why there is a need to lift the aging travel ban to Afghanistan, this also part of my letter to PNoy:

The United States Government, as we all know, issued memorandum to send OFWs in Afghanistan home. So we are no longer allowed to work in US Bases and to all companies with US Government contracts. This is precisely because of the existing travel ban that we have and tolerating our presence will constitute violation of Anti-Human Smuggling Laws according to USG.

Without this ban the USG will let the OFWs to stay and keep their job. Interestingly, Filipinos are the most preferred third country nationals in war zone because of our excellent and professional work performances, but of course US cannot do anything about this sovereign declaration of travel ban by the Philippine government.

So our fate lies solely with our own government. The idea of transferring the OFWs here to other countries is indeed a good idea, but definitely not the best one for our welfare. And that is the reason why we keep on knocking to the Palace’s doors to check on the loop of circling problems of OFWs in Afghanistan. The government cannot point to anybody or to anywhere to look for someone or something to blame with in order to justify the travel ban, because there is none aside from the government itself who issued it.

Take into consideration the reality of life and expenses of going and working abroad, on how life of an OFW changes. Say for instance the issue of having better salary. Since we have undeniably high salary in Afghanistan, our projects for the family, like buying a house, is also equal to the mode of acquiring it. It is not practical to get a 20-year installment term in buying a house when you can get it in shorter period.

Of course, we want it to get paid as soon as possible so we can go home and retire. Besides, who knows when the war and the opportunities in the war zone will end, so we need to hurry up!

This is also true to some other installment basis family projects that we have right now like installment cars, installment business investments, educational and life plan insurances, and many others of the same category, not to mention the idea of sending our children to better school so they will not form part of the massive unemployed graduates from not so popular schools.

With this current job that we have, we have already increased our monthly expenditures, like electric bill, this is understandably due to having more appliances, bigger food budget, education allotment, again installment properties, other commercial services like cable TV, internet, landline telephone, cost of maintenance, and of course allotment of some dear relatives.

Others may call it extravagant, but we have the right to becoming “maging maluho” if that would be the proper term on how we cared for and pamper our family. That is just a compliment for taking the risks.

This is how we dream our lives to be, so that we can afford paying decent and better hospital, and live in decent and safe neighborhood.

Now, if we will be stopped at airport, have our passport confiscated and eventually we are going to lost our jobs here, how can we be able to pay our existing loans? Are we going to let our children to stop their education or transfer them to some inferior schools and be unemployed afterwards?

We have the right to dream for a better life too. It is maybe true that it will be easy for us to find a job somewhere else. Working with US and NATO is a good training ground as they really strictly follow international standard to the letter.

But then again getting a salary closed to what we are getting is almost next to impossibility, not to mention the stiff competition in the wild, wild world. If we will get a smaller salary which is not sufficient with our current family budget, how can we be able to continue paying our current bills and loans that we already have?

Instead of trying to let us understand their hard-to-understand justifications for the continuous imposition of the travel ban, why they might not as well take a pause and hear us out. It is much easier to understand our reasons.

One of our requests is to let a team of Department of Foreign Affairs representatives visit us here and make an assessment if the travel ban is still necessary. We believe that the ban is long overdue and what we need is a strict regulation to counter those Filipinos who will come here to try their luck in getting a job, not knowing that the travel ban affects the hiring of Filipinos.

If the ban will be lifted, more opportunities will come in but as I said a strict policy on hiring and deployment should be implemented so that no OFW will be deployed in remote places where security is not that tight. This is because there are also places here, especially those bordering Pakistan, that are still having some security issues. We are not lying about that. It is like working in Makati and working in Basilan. Not because there is a security issue in Basilan, it is already proper to say that Philippines is a dangerous place of work. Of course not!

At the moment, majority of vacationing OFWs here opted to spend their vacation in some Southeast Asian countries, in Dubai, and in nearby countries fearing that once they entered the Philippines they cannot go back to their respective jobs. They will let their families travel outside the country to spend quality times with them somewhere else. Most of us here, numbering in thousands OFWs, are spending vacation every after 3 months of work for minimum two weeks.

Has anyone imagine the hundreds of thousands of dollars we are spending in other countries, instead of spending them in the Philippines? It could already help boost our local market and local tourism.

In my point of view, the only thing illegal is our itinerary or the idea that we going to Afghanistan whatever door we may exit from the Philippines, back or front door it doesn’t matter. This is because our final destination is Afghanistan where there is an existing travel ban. This is so true based on our government,s point of view.

Ironically, just like the one-way celebration of Filipino-American Friendship day where we are the only ones claiming and celebrating the supposedly mutual relation, in the view of Afghanistan republic OFWs are perfectly legal in the country having legal visa, legal work permit, and legal contract.

And here is the thing, never that OFWs in Afghanistan put the image of the Filipinos in jeopardy compared to those OFWs who have committed crimes against their host nations and eventually adds to the burden of our government in saving them from their death sentences. Nobody from here has been charged for murder or being drug mules. The fact the most of OFWs here are holding key positions, they have gained the trust and confidence of their employers and have already built good relations with them.

Finally, bear in mind that there is nothing more dangerous than losing our jobs.

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