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Sunday, July 31, 2011

Inept POEA: A Bane To OFWs

"A certain combination of incompetence and indifference can cause almost as much suffering as the most acute malevolence." - Bruce Catton

Let's talk about mundane things here, I mean, the Filipino way.  I guess nobody will argue with the consensus that the dreadful  long queues at the POEA grounds that extend to EDSA  even before dawn  is world-renowned. Though office hours officially start at eight in the morning, notice that some personnel maintain their propensities for having much to do with nothing before actually hitting the ground running, on their term, fifteen minutes later. By this time, the breakfast-less and sleep deprived hordes of people are already in their palest. Seriously, a day at this notorious government office is dreaded by all.

If you think  adherence to the famed American time gives you an edge over  third-world behaviors, think again. Labeling them desperate and insane  will not help their cause, because the OFWs falling in line outside of the POEA even before the roster crows are perfectly sane and hardworking citizens who are reluctant recipients of the lethal bureaucracy entrenched in the veins of government officials. 

Jose is just one of the thousands of OFWs that flock to the POEA everyday. His case was no extraordinary. He just needs to secure an Overseas Employment Certificate (OEC) because every returning OFW has to have one as a government requirement for them to be allowed to fly back to their work destinations abroad. He complains that  if his company had only given his passport days before his flight for Manila, he could have easily secured his OEC from the Jeddah Consulate and not facing this horrendous ordeal that he is into. With barely an hour of sleep and left with no choice but to confront his ordeal, Jose had to get up already even others could  just be starting  rolling out their blankets. He would insist, he had been doing this already almost a fortnight into his vacation.

At three early morning, breakfast or coffee forgone, he sees himself tugging his red eyes so as not to fall asleep, while one hand grips the handrail over his head and the other clutches his backpack loaded with documents to prove he really is a documented OFW, a vacationing OFW at that, whose misfortune he finds himself in, he swears, he blames on the government's inefficiency and its legendary bureaucracy. He has in fact lost count of the number of times he catches an early tricycle ride on an unholy hour of day to make it early at the POEA grounds, to get in line and hope to get a really nice number -  and failed another time.

While still in Jeddah, he already had itineraries planned for a month's vacation. This time he says, he promised to spend quality time with his family or perhaps a vacation in Baguio. Thinking that he needed to secure his requirements first, on the second day of his arrival, he already found himself in a monstrous queue that others say had formed long before daybreak. Still his only first day at what would later turn out to be a two-week ordeal, and  no dearth of virtues yet, as everybody else goes through similar circumstances.   Queuing up at seven in the morning and your number called out at around three in the afternoon probably is no exciting moment, at least he's already a step closer to the finish line. But once he got there, he was told to renew his passport that will expire three months later. 

For whatever reason, the government that determines the validity of one's passport does not accept a passport to be valid with an active life remaining of still three months. (I guess if you have a return ticket after exactly a month's vacation, and still your passport is over two months valid, I find no reason why an OFW cannot travel back and decides for himself to renew it in the embassy or consulate in the host country where he finds it convenient). The dreadful thing is, even obtaining a form for renewal or passport extension will take another day for which you will be required to come back again, and repeating the same process all over again. Jose complied diligently and after five days his passport was released, its validity already extended. Take note that every compliance of documents or a mere change of counter, one needs to reach deep into his pocket to make people in the government happy.

At long last Jose thought this could be it. This was going to be the final phase of his agony - of getting up at three before dawn and sleepless, taking three separate rides, patiently standing in the queue for hours, and needless to say a growling stomach already trained into submission. He however had the slightest idea that his real ordeal had just started when at the counter he was promptly told that he cannot be issued an OEC because he cannot be considered a Balik-Manggagawa (returning OFW). At first, he thought the woman was not referring to him because he in every sense of the word is a certified legal OFW - that is unless you're faced with a dilemma of either you lack technical merits, and or you are talking to a moron behind a hole. In this case, the POEA has its own set of criteria to determine whether an OFW is legal or documented to be  considered a returning or vacationing OFW.

And how on earth he was refused issuance of OEC? If Jose has with him a valid passport with an exit-reentry visa valid within  45 days appended to it, and a return ticket to Jeddah, then how could the POEA classify him as not a real Balik-Mangagawa? Their contention however is, he had a couple different names written in his passport as his sponsors, which is not the case. They further argued that it is illegal for him to work for a new employer while still under the sponsorship of his first sponsor. And after a drawn-out debate, he was told to proceed to the second floor for assessment of his case, for which he will be asked to provide a contract copy that further stipulates that the employer takes responsibility for the repatriation of the remains of the employee in case he dies in the host country. Okay, before we react simultaneously, this is what the Aquino government wanted to implement to advance the cause of OFWs. Nice try though, not really moronic. This is fine albeit shocking, yet utterly disgusting.

The following reasons prove that POEA has failed to look at the merits of Jose's case:
1. Jose was hired in 2006 by his first sponsor after which he obtained release after a year with no obligation whatsoever to the latter. Please note that Jose had transferred to his second sponsor (a personal friend of his first sponsor) in 2007, therefore making the former his new and legal sponsor as shown in his iqama (residence permit). To educate the stupid and unqualified people of POEA, let me tell you that in Saudi Arabia, it is perfectly legal to transfer sponsorship even for the third time, meaning you can have four different sponsors one after another if you wish to.
2. Jose had already gone on vacation in 2009 under his current sponsor, therefore this is already his second vacation under the same sponsor, in fact his fourth year already under his current sponsor.
3. He has a return ticket to Jeddah and an exit-reentry visa valid within 45 days. That alone supports his cause to be considered a legal OFW.
4. In his 2009 vacation, he secured his OEC from the Jeddah Consulate with no fuss at all and not a bit of change in his status. The only difference is that, people at the Consulate can read and understand Arabic and are well-versed with the Saudi Labor Law. If there's any hint or trace of irregularity, they are the first people to detect it, unlike at the POEA where employees just like to act smart in order to intimidate the OFWs.
5. And if ever the stupid brains behind this stupid game of moronic proportion wanted him to bleed in order for him to furnish them a stupid contract that stipulates some stupid thing, then he could not, because it's impossible. Jose was hired directly from the Philippines under a driver's visa but works in Saudi Arabia as a Visual Merchandising Specialist and getting a good salary that he will never find in his five lifetimes in the Philippines.

So why still refuse to issue an OEC to a documented OFW who has only gone on vacation so that he could take a needed rest and enjoy time with his family? This is crazy because refusal to issue an OEC to a vacationing OFW is tantamount to depriving his entire family a life and a future. Who would have thought that a supposed great vacation turned into nightmare? Literally, I think the poor guy really needed a punching bag! I could see him sobbing his way through a nearby store  and struggling to carry a caseload of beer, and getting tears all over the IKEA sheepskin he brought home, as his stupid tormentors go about with their usual habit  of  feasting on someone else's life in between coffee breaks.

The situation he was in was far from what he had hoped for - a well-planned vacation that turned out to be anything but happy. But for all its worthy cause, and nothing greater than fighting for your family to survive, the will and faith in God will see him through, especially when the very existence of your loved ones is on the line. From great friends - personal and virtual - a network of support came in. Despite the odds seemingly getting slimmer, and depression almost took over, he had not lost sight of his rights and his purpose. 

Before then, however, PEBA volunteers had already initiated some steps to help his cause through its founder Jebee Kenji Solis. And no less than Ms. Susan Ople, the daughter of the great former senator Blas Ople had offered help to convince the POEA that Jose is a documented OFW, and therefore should be allowed to get the OEC. Even Ms. Ople had apprehensions that what they were trying to do was a long shot considering that the new POEA policy re squeezing out a contract from a vacationing OFW should be upheld. (Without the contract, an OFW is deemed illegal.) Jose's cause could have merited him a slot high up in the mountains with the Reds,  it's just that the very entity he was fighting against, is the government that vows to pursue a "straight path" and encourages its citizens to work hard for their family and country. His only transgression though was his failure to get OEC from the Jeddah Consulate that he was left with no choice but to suffer from the stupendous stupidity by the insecure and irrational POEA people.

Though there was no clear cut solution to Jose's problem, the effort of Ms. Ople to speak with one of the big bosses of POEA was nothing short of commendable. His dilemma remained for a brutal two weeks, half-way through his vacation, with no hope in sight. Still, he is not ready to wave a white flag. And who does when you see your family weeping with you? He thought if he will give up easily and not give his last shot, the government will not give him a cent either, for he cannot be classified as displaced, to them he is illegal and therefore should be punished.

And his last recourse - give another try, perhaps his last.  And again he followed the same routine - filled out a form, the same familiar form, except that he made some changes - he wrote the name of his first sponsor as  his current sponsor (which is not the right information since it has been  five years since he had transferred legally).  And voila! They did not question him because he had returned to his first sponsor, therefore he is no longer illegal. Quickly, the most-prized OEC was issued to him to his great relief, as though he won a lottery.  And yes, because he wrote a different name, the wrong name, he suddenly became a legal and documented OFW. Kudos to you morons at the POEA whose understanding of the Saudi Labor Law is  nil! When are you going to realize that your sheer incompetence and ineptitude almost ruined lives of hapless people who feel helpless because you idiots in the bureaucracy do not have the capacity of sound reasoning?

Even the penguins of Antarctica will swear that the human species called OFW  is the milking cow of the 13th most populous country in the world called the Philippines. And despite the superficial accolade accorded them, they are sometimes treated no more than a bunch of annoying  export commodity by people in the government. Some people think that because they work in the government they are there to uphold the system, even if it means the system goes against logic and humanity. Yet, it is utterly incomprehensible to say the least,  how government employees at the POEA can be so stupid and dumb to ignore facts and reason laid down before their noses, and still insist that they are just protecting the dignity and welfare of OFWs even if it means to deprive them of their life and future.

Jose learned his lesson the hard way. Half of his vacation wasted and gone - he did not enjoy a family outing, decided not to celebrate his birthday, did not have time to go out with his wife and daughters - depression got the better of him - all because he thought his family's future fades slowly before his eyes - because the administration he helped campaign to win in Jeddah, "cares" for his welfare and the rest of the OFWs. Jose only had his instinct to trust and of course God. If he did not try the last time, he would have not discovered the art of fooling the fool that refuses reason for fear of being humbled. And so  he lives to tell another day that God's grace is sufficient for those who persevere.

* Jose is a blogger who maintains three blogs including a photo blog that counts some media personalities in the Philippines as its fans. In 2010, he won recognition from PEBA as one of its winners in a photo contest.


Anonymous said...

I just had this dilemma, need to cancel my flight on that day. ;(

Siock said...

haha victim ka rin pala gerry. every ofw when returning for vacation should avoid getting oec from the poea or else...

DonPepe1972 said...

In a way, victim tayong lahat, dahil sa hirap pa lang ng pag pila at init, isama na nating ang pera na ibinabayad natin, for what? Sa pagaayos ng systema? Eh lalo ngang sumasama ang systema. Sorry but I don't see any light at the end of the tunnel. Sorry nalang tayo Filipino lang kasi tayo eh. Siguro iniisip ng mga nasa govierno na ma-pera at mayayaman, that we don't deserve to have the luxury of ease pagdating sa transactions sa govierno kasi OFWs lang tayo.

Anonymous said...

It was a very horrible moment! na maari akong mawalan ng trabaho because of that. My residence permit is about expire kaya i need to go back kaagad, tulad ni jose, di ko naisaayos ang pagkuha ng OEC dito sa Doha, and based on my Dad experience na lagi nya inaayos sa airport sa oras ng kanyang pagalis. Suddenly the system was changed, it will just only be processed sa POEA sa Ortigas. Sorry but you need to cancel your flight unless nagstay ka ng less than a week we can process your OEC, could you imagine that na hindi lang ako that time na nagcancel ng flight as in madami po kami. Di na nila inisip, na ang effort na pagaayos paalis na kung saang lupalop ng kapuluan nanggaling ang isang aalis na OFW, Upon sa POEA, umalis ako sa lugar namin ng 3am pra mauna sa pila, nareached ko nman ang the first 5o, pero tanghali pa rin ako natapos dahil dalawang counter lang ang bukas at nagdown ang system, sa batch ng mga OFW sa panahon na yun lahat ay nagkansela ng mga flight. I think you already elaborated kung anung sistema meron tayo, sana dumating ang panahon na maayos ito na hindi maging hadlang na maaring ikawala ng trabahong meron tayo sa ibang bansa. Almost 2 months since na nakabalik ako pero sa tuwing naalala ko ito, nababasa at nagkwekwento sa akin na naranasan din nila ang ganitong problema ako ay lubhang naiinis sa gobyerno!Ito po ay aking saloobin lamang based sa aking personal na experience. Mabuhay tayo mga bagong bayani OFW! ;)

JOSE said...

First of all I want to say Thank you to Ms.Susan Ople of DZXL, Pete Rahon and most especially to Kenjie Solis of PEBA (Pinoy Expat/ OFW Blog Awards)and 'Thoughtskoto' blog for helping when I was having problem with my OEC papers in the Philippines. May God bless you for your efforts. Thank you.

Gremliness said...

Hi Jose,

If I have known this on your first try for an OEC, I may have suggested you go ahead with your Baguio visit and maybe would have tried getting OEC there, that is if they dont question your residency. We had been taking our OECs in Baguio and takes us not more than 30 minutes, except of course of Philhealth, PAG-IBIG and SSS fees which takes about less than an hour each but at different locations now.

Here in Dubai, fellow OFWs who expect to que at POEA along EDSA, would rather que at the Consulate, but for us from Baguio we'd rather take it from Baguio than at the Consulate which takes more than half day for issuance...

Disgusting government offices indeed. And disgusting Aquino administration too, sorry. We hate his affidavit of support requirement naman here in the UAE, which had been a fat milking cow of the immigration peeps.

Pinaywriter said...

Grabe naman un. I would be swallowed whole by that kind of situation I think.

Anonymous said...

i was jsut at the poea yesterday and it took bloody 4 hours to get that freaking oec certificate from them..

how did that happen??? what happened to the system last year which decentralised and created other processing centers inmanila to ease the volume of ofws troopign to ortigas?? and WHY THIS LEVEL OF INCOMPETENCE TO SERVICE PEOPLE WHO WORK HARD FOR THEIR FMAILIES AND INFUSE FUNDS TO THE PHIL ECONOMY..

horrible horrible.. get your oec from your worksites and never comit the mistake of goign to poea ever again!

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