The Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) today said assistance will be extended to overseas Filipino workers (OFWs), mainly undocumented ones, who are expected to return to the Philippines as a result of Malaysia’s extended amnesty program for illegal migrants which expired yesterday (January 31, 2005).

Labor and Employment Secretary Patricia A. Sto. Tomas said the Philippine government had pushed efforts, through the Philippine Overseas Labor Office (POLO) and the Philippine Mission in Kuala Lumpur, to coordinate with Malaysia and synthesize the inter-agency responses at home to cushion the adverse affects the expiry of the Malaysian amnesty program would have on undocumented workers.

“Majority of these Filipino undocumented migrants, we believe, are in Sabah, and many of them are disadvantaged Muslim people who have used the so-called southern backdoor attempting to integrate themselves via seasonal migrations to that area,” she said.

Citing a report from the Philippine Overseas Labor Office (POLO) in Malaysia, Secretary Sto. Tomas said that mobile assistance teams (MATS) have been dispatched to Sabah with the consent of the Malaysian government to assist the affected Filipino migrants.

Labor Attaché Brenda Villafuerte reported to Sto. Tomas that POLO-Kuala Lumpur has organized the MATs in coordination with the Philippine Embassy in Malaysia. Sto. Tomas said DOLE regional offices in Mindanao will also ready efforts to monitor and assist the re-entry of deported migrants from Sabah.

“I have also directed DOLE’s Quick Response Team (QRT) in Zamboanga to link-up returning workers to our Phil-JobNet system for immediate placements and the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA) to prioritize the inclusion of those unskilled to our skills-training-for-employment program,” said Sto. Tomas.

The labor and employment secretary said that the response and assistance efforts of DOLE
in coordination with DFA form part of a wider government thrust to assist displaced migrants with the participation of other government agencies specially the Department of Social Welfare and Development which shall provide food assistance, access to health services, transportation, self-employment, and others.

At the same time, Sto. Tomas said the government of Malaysia “has in no way singled out the overseas Filipino workers (OFWs)” who “in no way” comprise the majority of the over 1.2 million illegal migrants in that country, mostly Indonesians and workers from other neighboring countries.

“We would like to assure that documented OFWs will not be affected by that country’s moves,” the labor and employment acting chief said, adding that Malaysia provided opportunity for illegal Filipinos without proper visas to return, if they so wish, to that country with appropriate visas and work permits.

Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) data show that Malaysia hired/re-hired some 19,073 documented OFWs, or an average of 6,357 per year, from 2001 to 2003, and another 3,502 from January to July in 2004.

Meanwhile, Malaysia and other members of the 10-nation Association of South East Asian Nations have proposed for a ‘visa-free’ Southeast Asia by year-end. “If this pushes, this is an opportunity for us to mutually set in place the necessary efforts to prevent illegal recruitment and ensure proper employment and conditions for our overseas workers,” the labor and employment chief stressed.

Malaysian Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, in pushing actively for an ASEAN visa free zone, vouched for a “prosper-thy-neighbor” principle in the region to contribute positively and productively to global peace and growth.

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