Labor and Employment Secretary Patricia A. Sto. Tomas today appealed strongly to Filipino migrants in Malaysia, specially in Sabah, to avail of that country’s “voluntary surrender” program to avoid the consequences of a crackdown while there is still sufficient time.

Sto. Tomas also asked the migrants’ families to urge their relatives in Malaysia to come home, adding they have until the end of the month to do so.

The labor and employment chief made the appeal even as a high level mission of the Philippine government arrives in Malaysia today (February 17) to take up the migrants issue, and push bilateral solutions in support of Malaysia’s efforts to resolve illegal migration, following that country’s “final decision” to resume its crackdown against illegal migrants on March 1.

At the same time, Sto. Tomas said the DOLE shall open another One-Stop Processing Center this week at Bongao, Tawi-Tawi to assist returning migrants from Malaysia following the activation in Zamboanga City last Monday of a similar center to alleviate their plight.

“Amin pong tinatawagan and mga kababayan natin na ilegal na nagtatrabaho sa Malaysia na tugunin ang programa para sa boluntaryo at mapayapang pagsuko (We appeal to our countrymen working illegally in Malaysia to avail of the Malaysian voluntary surrender program for illegal migrants),” she said.

“Bukas po ang DOLE One Stop Processing Center sa Metropolitan District Compound, Veterans Avenue sa Zamboanga City, at inihahanda rin po namin ang isa pang pasilidad sa Bongao, Tawi-Tawi upang matugunan ang mga pangangailangan at tulungan ang mga migranteng nanggagaling sa Malaysia (Our one stop center at the Metropolitan District Compound, Veterans Avenue, Zamboanga City, is open to assist returning migrants from Malaysia, and we are also preparing another center in Bongao, Tawi-Tawi to render assistance),” Sto. Tomas said.

Earlier, labor attache Brenda R. Villafuerte of the Philippine Overseas Labor Office in Kuala Lumpur (POLO-KL) confirmed to Sto. Tomas the Malaysian government’s “final” decision to arrest, charge, and deport all illegal migrants beginning on March 1, 2005.

Villafuerte also apprised the labor and employment chief that there are still an estimated 400,000 illegal migrants remaining in the country after some 382,000 others had left since October last year.

Nevertheless, she said that the softer approach called “Ops Nasihat” adopted by the Malaysian government will continue until February 28, though Malaysian Home Minister Datuk Azmi Khalid indicated this “would be the last as the government has given enough opportunities for illegals to return home.” She said Malaysia would use the biometric system to determine whether foreign workers have entered the country legally and ferret out the illegals.

Sto. Tomas said President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo had indicated the need to alleviate the plight of the disadvantaged returnees from Malaysia by providing them with temporary shelter and transportation, medical services, and other necessary assistance.

She said the one-stop centers in Zamboanga City and in Bongao, Tawi-Tawi shall likewise assist the migrants to obtain training and re-training for local employment and livelihood. Those who want to return and work in Malaysia will also be assisted in the acquisition of legal documents.

According to her, the mission to Malaysia shall negotiate with employers there for the employment of the migrants who wish to return there on a documented status.

The DOLE Region 9 Office headed by Regional Director Chita DG Cilindro, government agency heads in Region 9 and in ARMM, in coordination with Zamboanga City Mayor Celso G. Lobregat, and ARMM Governor Farouk Hussin, are ensuring the services and assistance at these centers to returning migrants from Malaysia, Sto. Tomas said.

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