Beginning October 15, Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) will be able to process and download the Overseas Employment Certificate (OEC) – a mandatory travel document for OFWs leaving the Philippines – from their smartphones, officials said during a townhall meeting at the Philippine Consulate General in Dubai on Friday night.
Susan Ople, secretary of the newly-created Philippine Department of Migrant Workers (DMW), who attended the hybrid meeting via Zoom from Manila, said the move is one of the slew of reforms being implemented at DMW, which is the Philippine ministry responsible for the protection of rights and promotion of welfare of OFWs and their families.
Early this year, Filipinos in Dubai had complained enduring in serpentine queues for several hours during hot summer months outside the Philippine Overseas Labour Office (POLO) in Dubai to acquire the mandatory travel pass or OEC. The OEC is a document certifying the regularity of recruitment and documentation of an OFW and a proof of his/her registration with the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (now DMW).
The OEC is presented to the immigration officer at the airport of exit in the Philippines. An OFW who holds OEC can enjoy travel tax exemption, airport terminal fee exemption and reduced travel tax for spouse or dependents. But an OFW exiting from the Philippines without OEC may be prevented by the immigration officer from leaving the country.
Many Filipinos have called for the outright scraping of the OEC, including Barney Almazar, a finance expert and director at the corporate-commercial department of Gulf Law, who said the exit pass is “a curtailment of one’s constitutional right to travel”.
Also, Filipino vlogger and social media influencer Ion Gonzaga had earlier told Gulf News: “The OEC has presented [people with] more frustrations than benefits… Philippine travel tax is just around Dh115 and we actually pay more for OEC and contract verification, which are Dh92 and Dh40 respectively, plus you have to spend time and money going to POLO-Dubai – it’s very inconvenient.”
The scrapping of OEC was not discussed during the townhall meeting with leaders of the Filipino expat community and journalists, but Ople and other officials of the DMW were unanimous in raising the urgent need to digitise the services of DMW to “ease the burden of the OFWs”.
Reforms at DMW
Besides the digitisation of the OEC, Ople said other reforms being implemented at DMW is reducing the time for processing the deployment of OFWs from three months to between 10-15 days. She noted: “The process is too long and expensive, which we are going to cut down”
Ople added that DMW – created by virtue of Philippine Republic Act No. 11641 or the Act Creating the Department of Migrant Workers (DMW) signed by former president Rodrigo Duterte last December – will have its own budget or “action fund” next year, which will be used for humanitarian assistance.
She also mentioned about the OFW Hospital in Mabalacat, Pampanga, a province north of Manila, that is now operational and geared towards servicing OFWs and their families. “We are planning to have OFW wards in other hospital across the Philippines,” Ople added.
Going paperless is also one of the thrusts of the new DMW. Maria Antonette Velasco-Allones, undersecretary of DMW, talked about digital transformation of processes and services. She also invited OFWs to volunteer for the alpha and beta testing of the digital OEC by end of September. “We hope everything will be smooth when we roll digital OEC out by October 15,” she added.
DMW is also making digital the employment contract verification as well as accreditation and registration of employers. Other services that will be digital are Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) renewal and Balik manggagawa processing. DMW is also planning to have an SOS button for easy reporting of overseas Filipinos in distress.
DMW assistant secretary Felicitas Bay, who previously served as the Philippine labour attaché in Dubai and currently head of the One Repatriation Command Centre, assured of timely response for OFWs in distress, “regardless of their legal status – meaning whether they are documented workers or not”.
She added: “We will facilitate, monitor, and document the repatriation of distressed OFWs in a timely responsive manner.”
The townhall meeting called ‘Kapihan at Kuwentuhan, Kabayan’ was also attended by Philippine consul-general Renato Dueñas Jr.; current Philippine labour attaché John Rio Aceveda Bautista and other officials from the Philippine mission and DMW-Dubai. – Gulfnews