Manila, Feb. 9, 2003 -- Rep. Imee R. Marcos (KBL, Ilocos Norte) asked the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) yesterday to temporarily stop deployment of more overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) to the Middle East.

Marcos explained that the government's evacuation plan for OFWs now, which is to merely to move them away from the Kuwaiti capital to the eastern part of Saudi Arabia, is not enough to protect and safeguard Filipinos considering that the warring parties may use bio-chemical weapons.

"Let's face it, the current repatriation or rescue plans are fraught with problems. Realistically, our budget constraints and an unreliable two C-130 aircraft do not give us many options on our own," she said in a statement.

"The DOLE and the Philippine Overseas and Employment Administration (POEA) must consider a moratorium on sending OFWs there as we really have a big enough problem as it is," she added.

Figures from the POEA showed that from January to November last year, 290,907 Filipino workers were deployed to the Middle East. This is 9,000 higher than the year 2001 figure.

From December 2002 up to the present, Marcos said more Filipinos could have left the country as more applicants get attracted by salary increases, hazard pay and other additional compensation being offered by employers because of the impending war in the Gulf.

"We can hardly blame our Filipino workers for grabbing the opportunity for higher wages given the paltry employment opportunities at home," she said.

"But the safety and security of our citizens must remain paramount. It is prudent for DOLE to temporarily stop the deployment of new workers in the region," she stressed.

However, even without the specter of war, some 500,000 Filipino migrant workers would be displaced if the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia start enforcing its ten-year alien control policy.

Sen. Manuel Villar, Jr., chairman of the Senate committee on foreign relations, said that this could translate to annual losses of P120 billion or three percent of our annual gross domestic product.

He said labor officials and government economic planners should start formulating policies and programs aimed at generating more jobs and focus on ways and means to encourage Filipinos to engage in business or entrepreneurship.

"By encouraging Filipinos to become entrepreneurs, we can create more jobs for the people instead of relying on foreign countries to provide employment to our people," he said.

"We should stop being a country of migrant workers, We should aim at becoming a country of employers," he added.

Villar urged the government, though, to make an appeal to the Saudi Arabian government to exempt Filipino workers from the alien control policy. He said foreign officials may also broach it in a meeting with its counterparts from other affected countries such as India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Egypt, Sudan and Syria.

In a related development, Labor and Employment Secretary Patricia Sto. Tomas said that President Arroyo has already ordered DOLE to come up with an OFW re-integration program by providing practical entrepreneurial training, counseling and other assistance, especially to the families of OFWs.

She bared that DOLE has responded to this by initiating the organization of OFW Family Circles nationwide and balancing the option of OFWs to work abroad with an effective local employment program.

Last year, she said 890,000 Filipinos found employment overseas even as 905,000 jobs were created locally. As such she is encouraging the private sector to do its share for the OFWs.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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