A few years ago a friend asked my assistance for the repatriation of the remains of her sister, an overseas migrant worker who died in the Middle East. Despite my willingness to provide the requested assistance, my ways are limited as I was confronted with complexities involved in the repatriation of an Overseas Filipino Worker (OFW).
Repatriation for our OFWs entails a costly, complicated and long process. It involves paperwork, unfamiliar bureaucracy, repatriation expenses, and peculiar customs and traditions, which is aggravated by the fact that all these should be translated in a foreign language. While our existing law, the Republic Act 8042 or known as “Migrant Workers and Overseas Filipinos Act of 1995” prescribes how repatriation should be carried out, it does not simplify or expedite the process. Under Section 15 Republic Act 8042 or known as “Migrant Workers and Overseas Filipinos Act of 1995”, when an OFW dies, falls ill, is laid off from a job or for some other similar cause is required to be repatriated, it is the recruitment agency who shall primarily be responsible and shall bear all costs of repatriation. While in cases of war, epidemics, disasters or calamities, natural or man-made, and other similar events, the OWWA, in coordination with appropriate agencies, shall undertake the repatriation of workers without prejudice to reimbursement by the responsible principal or recruitment agency, and in case the principal or recruitment agency cannot be identified, OWWA shall bear all costs relating to the repatriation of the OFW
While the law provides repatriation remedy for our OFWs, it does not specify a definite period of time within which repatriation must be completed. In most cases, repatriation process could take months or even years giving rise to situations wherein pleas to return home are lost amidst bureaucratic red tape and procedural bottlenecks. In fact, despite the existing law on repatriation a looming number of distressed or stranded overseas Filipino migrant workers (OFW) in different parts of the world wait for months and even years before being repatriated.
The duration for completing the repatriation process varies depending on the reason for repatriation or status of our OFWs. On top of this, we are unaccustomed to the varied repatriation requirements of different countries. However, I believe that we should not be tied down by the bureaucratic setbacks. I think if we will impose a deadline for the OWWA and DFA, they can expedite their process to ensure the immediate repatriation of our stranded, distressed or deceased migrant workers within a prescribed period. As to the diversified requirements from different countries, we can compel the embassies and consulates, being familiar with the laws and practices in their host countries, to work on solutions to improve and fast-tract the repatriation process. Providing for a specific period within which to complete the repatriation process will oblige these concerned agencies to ensure that requests for repatriation are processed and attended with the appropriate urgency.
I have to commend the efforts of our present administration to reach out to our OFWs and give assistance to provide an immediate solution to the long standing concerns involving the complicated and lengthy process of repatriation. But I must admit that the long accumulating queues of requests for repatriation require a permanent solution that is why I find it imperative to have a law that shall address the need to expedite the repatriation process of Filipino migrant workers.
In the 17th Congress I filed House Bill 00674 –“An Act to Expedite the Process of Repatriation of Filipino Migrant Workers” – which is now pending before the Committee on Overseas Workers Affairs. Under my proposed measure, the OWWA shall ensure that the migrant worker is repatriated within fifteen (15) working days from the date that notice of approval is given to the requesting party and if the migrant worker is deceased, the repatriation shall be completed within thirty (30) working days. This law also requires all licensed recruitment agencies to provide the POEA with a current and active email address and penalize agencies for failure to respond to communications from POEA concerning repatriation. Also included under this law is a specific provision to expedite replacement of detained passports to address the unscrupulous practices of employers —confiscating the passports of the OFW.
This law primarily aims to address the loopholes of our existing regulations and other obstacles to immediate repatriation. I fervently hope that my fellow legislators will also find the urgency to pass this law and join my advocacy to alleviate the quandary of our modern day heroes.