MANILA (Mabuhay) – “Why demand unnecessary fees and make travel more difficult for our financially hard-pressed workers seeking employment abroad?” a party-list lawmaker bewailed.
OFW Family Party-list Rep. Roy Señeres is pushing for the passage of the proposed “OFW Travel Protection Act of 2014” contained in HB 4004.
HB 4004 prohibits the collection of any amount of money in any form or for any purpose from departing Filipino workers as precondition for travel.
“The right to travel is guaranteed by the Constitution. It is absolute except when the interest of: a) national security; b) public safety or; c) public health is at stake,” Señeres stressed.
The author was citing Section 6, Article III of the Constitution providing inter-alia: “Neither shall the right to travel be impaired except in the interest of national security, public safety and public health, as may be provided by law.”
“Our modern-day heroes do not deserve to be punished, inconvenienced or annoyed when seeking to exercise their right to travel to foreign countries to find golden opportunities for the sake of their loved ones,” Señeres pointed out.
Acknowledging that money is the lifeblood of the economy, Señeres cited the OFWs’ yearly contribution (remittances) to the coffers of the government to the tune of US$ 22-billion which need not be overemphasized.
This volume of remittances, he added, has afforded the Philippine economy a “lifeblood transfusion” for its economic survival way back in the 70’s when the country’s economy was then referred to as “The Sick Man of Asia.”
Section 2 of HB 4004 declares: “It shall be unlawful to impose, exact or collect any sum of money in any form as for any purpose from a departing overseas Filipino Worker as a precondition for travel except those authorized by law.”
Señeres noted that in recognition of the inviolability of the right to travel of every Filipino citizen, Republic Act No. 8239 otherwise known as the Philippine Passport Act of 1996 declares in Section 2 thereof: “The people’s right to travel shall be inviolable.”
“The passage of a law for the restrictions is condition sine qua non. Unless there is such a law, the right to travel is paramount and absolute. The restraint should not be done in the guise of forced or compulsory contribution as this will constitute restraint in disguise,” Señeres explained.
Señeres recalled a Supreme Court issuance in the case of Salonga vs. Hermoso, 97 SCRA 121 which stated: “It is desirable that respondent Travel Processing Center Should exercise the utmost care to avoid the impression that certain citizens desirous of exercising their right to travel could be subjected to inconvenience or annoyance.”
“We should not lose sight of the fact that OFWs are forced to leave the country, not for pleasure, but to work in a foreign land for the sake of their loved ones. We cannot simply close our eyes to the reality that before they leave the country to work abroad, most if not all OFWs are already burdened with huge indebtedness. Sometimes they would even sell their properties or personal belongings, just to finance their trip,” the author pointed out.
The author also noted that the Overseas Employment Contract between the foreign employer and the OFW includes provisions which take care of the health and welfare of the OFW.
“The Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) cannot ignore this fact,” Señeres stressed.
The POEA shall initiate the filing of appropriate criminal complaint in the Department of Justice or any law enforcement agency, against any individual, juridical entity, its officers and personnel who violate the provisions of the proposed statute. (MNS)