STRANDED FILIPINO workers in Saudi said they were asked by staff of the Philippine Overseas Labor Office-Overseas Workers Welfare office to produce their own ticket so that they can be repatriated.
According to Migrante-Middle East, the incident happened a day after a confirmation came out from a labor attaché based in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, that the Philippine government has not changed its policy in providing free tickets to distress and stranded overseas Filipino workers.
“Our group and its affiliates have been receiving complaints from the stranded overseas Filipino workers that staff of POLO and OWWA welfare officers have been asking them to produce an amount for their tickets otherwise they can’t be repatriated though the required documents and formalities for their repatriation were all completed, “said John Leonard Monterona, Migrante-Middle East regional coordinator.
“These complaints from the stranded OFWs prompted me to talked with labor attaché Rustico de la Fuente via phone conversation, and I conveyed to him the OFWs concerns,” Monterona said.
Monterona quoted De la Fuente as saying: “Policy has not changed. We do not ask stranded OFWs to shoulder their tickets.”
Despite confirmation from POLO official, at least two stranded OFWs belie the government standing “free ticket” policy.
Lilia Domingo Andres, 41, a mother of two from Cagayan Valley, sought assistance to Monterona as she claimed that POLO-OWWA staff asked her to provide her own ticket.
“Tulungan nyo pa ako makauwi, ticket na lang po kulang ko may exit visa na po ako (Please help me get home. Only ticket is lacking, I already have an exit visa),” came the message of Andres to Monterona.
Andres ran away from her employer on August 2010 due to non-payment of wages and alleged maltreatment.
She was deployed in Jubail, Saudi Arabia as a domestic worker.
On April 10, 2015 she surrendered to Saudi immigration office as she sought to be repatriated and since then she stayed at the Philippine embassy embassy’s halfway shelter Bahay Kalinga in Riyadh.
“Si Rosalie ‘Ding’ Florida po ang name nung namumuno dito sa Bahay Kalinga na wala daw libreng ticket kaya mag-provide daw ako ng ticket ko (Rosalie ‘Ding’ Florida is the name of the caretaker here at Bahay Kalinga who told me that there is no free ticket, thus I need to provide my own ticket,” Andres told Monterona.
Jerry Macatuggal Ambrocio, 40, from Cavite, is also a stranded among those 130 who are staying at Philippine embassy-rented villa at Exit 8, Riyadh.
According to OFW Ambrocio, it was OWWA welfare officer Orlando Nadora who asked him to produce his own ticket.
With the help of his friends, he was able to solicit and bought his own ticket only to be told later that he has to pay the penalty for his expired residence permit or Iqama.
Only then his employer can issue his exit visa, he was told.
Ambrocio ran away from his employer on January 2014 as he was not paid of his wages and his contract was not followed.
He was deployed on February 2013 as trailer driver.
“What I knew is that POLO-OWWA usually require the agency to provide ticket If not request ticket to its national office for the stranded OFWs whose OWWA membership has not yet expired and whose documentation and repatriation formalities were completed. While those stranded who are no longer OWWA members -mainly because they failed to renew their membership -their tickets will come from the national government,” said Monterona.
“If there is a standing ‘free ticket’ policy as confirmed by labor attaché De la Fuente and there were reports of POLO-OWWA staff asking the stranded OFWs to provide their own ticket, then there is something wrong,” he added.
There is a foul smell of corruption in here, Monterona said.
The situation prompted Monterona to call on the Department of Labor and Employment, Overseas Workers Welfare Administration, the Senate and House committees on labor and OFWs affairs to conduct an investigation on the issue.