MANILA, DECEMBER 21, 2007 (STAR) Mayen Jaymalin - Despite the slowdown in the hiring of domestic helpers by foreign employers, over a million Filipino workers have been deployed to various jobs abroad this year.

The Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) said it has achieved its annual target of one million overseas deployment with three weeks remaining in the year.

The preliminary data from POEA, however, showed the number of Filipino workers deployed in various countries abroad dropped by more than 6,000 compared to last year’s figure.

From January to Dec. 9, POEA recorded a total deployment of 1,012,954 or .6 percent lower than the 1,019,289 Filipino workers who left the country to work abroad during the same period in 2006.

Deployment of sea-based workers also went down to 246,614 from last year’s total of 261,191.

But the number of land-based workers hired went up by 1.1 percent from 758,099 to 766,340.

POEA records also showed a decrease from 1,155,645 to 1,012,144 of contracts processed. Land-based workers accounted for the bulk or 21 percent in the drop of contracts processed this year.

For the past 11 months, the government has recorded a continuing drop in hiring of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs).

Recruitment industry leaders attributed the dramatic decline in deployment of highly skilled workers and the implementation of a new policy in hiring Filipino maids.

POEA deputy administrator Viveca Catalig admitted the drop in overseas deployment was mainly due to the stricter policy in hiring of Filipina domestic helpers.

“We cannot deny that our overseas deployment dropped because of the new policy, but based on the data the negative impact was very minimal,” Catalig said.

Vice President Noli de Castro, on the other hand, stressed the need for an agreement with labor receiving countries to ensure the protection of OFWs and compliance with the $400 minimum wage for Filipino domestic helpers.

Although noting the POEA no longer processes contracts of domestic helpers without the employers agreeing to the $400 minimum wage set by the Philippine government, De Castro said a provision for the protection of OFWs should be incorporated in a bilateral agreement with individual labor receiving countries, particularly those with high concentration of domestic helpers.

“The bilateral agreement we are pushing is for further protection of OFWs and to ensure that the contracts signed here by the OFW and the employer abroad would be recognized and observed,” De Castro said.

De Castro, as Presidential Adviser on OFWs, said a bilateral agreement is being eyed with Saudi Arabia, Singapore and Hong Kong which have a large number of Filipino workers.

With the help of the country’s embassies and consulates abroad, De Castro added the government will be providing consular and legal assistance to Filipinos living or working in other countries.

De Castro also stressed curbing illegal recruitment is difficult because many Filipinos still prefer to take the short cut in seeking employment overseas.

He said illegal recruitment promises a fast and easy process for a prospective worker but it also puts his or her life in danger.

‘Presidential Salubong’

[PHOTO AT LEFT - Traffic crawls on the ramp to the arrival area of the Ninoy Aquino International Airport in Pasay City yesterday as vehicles wait their turn at security checkpoints before picking up balikbayans and returning overseas Filipino workers. Photo by RUDY SANTOS]

President Arroyo, on the other hand, led officials in welcoming vacationing OFWs for the holidays at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) yesterday.

Mrs. Arroyo led officials in the “Presidential Salubong sa OFWs,” which also featured three chorales welcoming vacationing overseas workers with Filipino and Christmas music.

Mrs. Arroyo personally handed over gifts to returning workers who won this year’s “Pamaskong Handog sa OFW.”

The President stayed at the airport for more than an hour, shaking hands with the 294 passengers of Gulf Air flight FG154 from Bahrain, including its surprised pilots and crew, some of whom did not miss the opportunity to have their photos taken with her.

Six lucky OFWs had brunch with the President at the Dignitaries Lounge, enjoying sandwiches, spaghetti, ice cream, and Filipino delicacies such as sapin-sapin, puto kutsinta, biko, and suman prepared by NAIA general manager Alfonso Cusi.

“These are the native delicacies that our Filipino workers abroad have missed,” Cusi pointed out.

Six carts of street ice cream were brought inside the building manned by sorbeteros (ice cream vendors) clad in barong tagalog and red scarf.

It was an immediate hit with the arriving passengers, employees, workers and concessionaires since the ice cream was free.

Anabelle Macajeto, a native of Ilaog, Davao City, who works as a housemaid in Bahrain and who arrived yesterday with a badly swollen left leg, found a sympathetic ear with Mrs. Arroyo.

Macajeto said despite several visits to a doctor, she has not been given proper medication or told of the diagnosis.

“Kailangan mo talaga ng check-up (you really need a check up),” Mrs. Arroyo told Macajeto. Overseas Workers Welfare Administrator (OWWA) chief Marianito Roque said Macajeto will be given a PhilHealth card to avail of immediate medical treatment, and also promised to provide transportation.

Cusi, for his part, led the reception party at the NAIA with OWWA’s Roque and Labor Secretary Arturo Brion.

After the picture taking with the winners, Mrs. Arroyo walked towards the immigration area and encountered a couple, Jeannette and Augyson Historillo, with their two-year-old son Jacob.

The couple from Bahi, Gasan, Marinduque had a long chat with the President.

“She asked me where I worked and I told her that I am employed in Saudi Arabia, while my husband is an electrical engineer,” Mrs. Historillo said.

The President gave the Historillos $200 worth of gift checks from Duty Free Philippines.

Elena Abestano, a 42-year-old OFW from Tondo, Manila won a multi-cab, a $500 gift check, a scholarship from AMA University and hotel accommodations.

The next lucky winner was William Pangan, who won a round trip ticket to Europe being the 154th passenger arriving from Bahrain to Manila.

Other winners include Amyriza Silverio, Michelle Aquino and Johnson Salengua who each won a P50,000 pension plan and hotel accommodations courtesy of the Philippine Tourism Authority.

– With Pia Lee-Brago, Rudy Santos

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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