Millions of OFWs without embassies – Atty JBJ

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Source: DIRECT FROM THE LABOR FRONT By Atty Josephus Jimenez

There is no country in the world without a Filipino. He may be an immigrant waiting to be granted citizenship by the host country or is a spouse of a local citizen, who needs his passport renewed and his marriage solemnized by the Philippine consul. But most probably, he may be an OFW who needs his work contract authenticated by the Philippine Labor Attache and his OWWA membership updated by the Philippine Welfare Officer. And whenever a Filipino needs some consular or labor services, in a country without a Philippine Embassy, he has to travel across other countries to get such services. It will entail much expenses and a lot of inconvenience.

In fact, my 87-year-old father, who is a Second World War veteran, and is living in Federal Way, south of Seattle, in the State of Washington, has to travel hundreds of miles to San Francisco because they closed the Philippine Consular Office in Seattle. My 85-year-old mother, who is a public school teacher-retiree, and is living with my father, has to travel too to San Francisco to have her GSIS I. D. renewed. Imagine the hassles and the hazards of travel for the octogenarians who served our country and people well in their younger years. All these because our government has made the decision to ’’rationalize” the number of our embassies and consular offices worldwide.

As of today, there are more than 200 countries in the world. And yet, our country has only 66 embassies, 23 consulates and four diplomatic missions. Still, we want to reduce their number. In Taiwan, because we do not have diplomatic relations with it, we only have what we euphemistically call the Manila Economic and Cultural Office or MECO and Taiwan only has TECO or Taiwan Economic and Cultural Office in Manila. This is so because we only recognize Mainland China, and we subscribe to the One-China policy. Nonetheless, we have three MECO posts there, namely: in Taipeh for Northern Taiwan, Taichung for the Central Taiwan, and Kaoshiung for the South.

In contrast, in Malaysia, there is no consulate to service the more than a hundred thousand Filipinos in the states of Sabah, Sarawak and the autonomous territory of Labuan. Our Embassy in Kuala Lumpr is virtually in the other side of the world. There are only 20,000 OFWs in Brunei but we have an ambassador, consuls and a labor attache and welfare officer. There are thousands of Filipinos who are languishing in the immigration detention centers in Kota Kinabalu, Sandakan, Sebu, Meri and other cities in Borneo but we do not have a mission there. We know the political and legal reason, owing to our territorial claim over Sabah but we could very well situate our consulate in Sarawak or Labuan over which we don’t have any pending claim.

There are many other countries in Asia, the Americas, in Europe and Oceania, where tens of thousands of Filipino migrant workers and other Filipinos are not being serviced by any embassy. To make matters even worse, there is a recent government decision to close a number of our embassies and consulates. We have been told that we are closing our embassies in Hungary, Romania, Poland, Ireland, Sweden and Finland, and also Venezuela. The consulates in Frankfurt, Germany, in Barcelona, Spain and in Saipan, and Palau will also be closed. A few years back, we closed our overseas labor office in Amsterdam despite the thousands of Filipino seafarers who disembark in Netherlands to get consular and labor services.

There are more than 25,000 OFWs in Ireland and they will lose the consulate in Dublin. They will now have to travel all the way to London to see a consul and a labor attache. There are almost 30,000 OFWs being serviced by our Barcelona Consulate. With the closure of the consular office there, they need to go to Madrid, more than 600 kilometers away, in order to get such consular and labor services. More than 14,000 Filipinos in Saipan and Palau will have to travel by sea or by air to Agana, Guam just to have their consular transactions attended to and their labor contracts processed. If the OFWs are our modern day living heroes, why are we doing this to them?

The reason for such closures is purely economic. A savings of P100 million that can be derived by such closures is a negligible amount compared to the billions being spent in maintaining just one congressman. The cost of maintaining all the embassies sought to be closed is peanuts compared to the various pork barrels, in aid of reelection, that most of our legislators freely spend. We readily disburse millions to save OFWs, who are caught in the vortex of wars, kidnapping, piracy and criminal executions, for murders or for drugs. But we refuse to fund foreign missions in strategic locations. Our budgetary priorities seem to indicate a convoluted value system.

In 2011 alone, the OFWs remitted no less than US$ 20.2 billion or P868.6 billion only in one year. That money infused our economy with much needed foreign exchange, triggered a lot of economic activities nationwide and sent millions to college and perked up the socio-economic development in the countryside. Why then are we so uncaring to the people who serve us more? Are we still along the straight and narrow path, called “daang matuwid”? Frankly, my dear, I am confused and exasperated.


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