MANILA, April 7, 2004
Bangon Pilipinas standard-bearer Eduardo Villanueva vowed recently that if he is elected president, he will seek to forge bilateral agreements with all countries hosting overseas Filipino workers to bind them to take care of OFWs, especially at times when they most need help.

"This hopefully would assuage fears of our OFWs and their families who are concerned over a lack of government concern for our growing migrant population," Villanueva said.

He said that if he is elected, he will order the Department of Foreign Affairs "to immediately seek negotiations with Saudi Arabia and other Middle Eastern countries, the United States, Canada, Japan and the European Union towards the signing of such bilateral agreements. OFW organizations would have a hand in forging these agreements."

Villanueva added that with such agreements, "we would be able to assert more forcefully the need to protect our OFWs, compel host governments to speedily solve cases of illegal employment, non-payment of wages and salaries, harassment, cruelty, slavery and deaths suffered by our OFWs."

Bangon Pilipinas would convince Congress to deploy more labor attaches in our foreign service so that the Philippine government will be able to prosecute OFW cases, he said.

"Such is the importance we put on OFWs and their immense services to the Filipino nation," Villanueva added.

He also vowed to respond to OFWs calls to reduce government levies and other charges slapped on them by various agencies like the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA), the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration and Philippine embassies and consulates.

"I will meet with representatives of OFW organizations and government agencies so that we can come out with a shortened list of levies and charges against OFWs. My view is that we should take care of OFWs and not fleece them especially because they give much to their families and the entire nation," Villanueva said.

He promised that under a Villanueva administration, there will be "no new taxes, fees and levies for OFWs."

According to OWWA, the numbers of deployed OFWs fell to 510,109 in 2003 from 559,491 in 2002, with OFW organizations blaming this on onerous government levies and taxes, and family concerns over OFW welfare in the host countries.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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