MANILA — Amidst the steady rise in violations of migrant rights, Senator Sonny Angara urged the government to provide local employment programs and higher-paying jobs in the country to encourage Filipinos to stay and work in the Philippines.
“The cost of Filipinos working overseas is higher than we think. Yes, we can talk about their remittances that spur our economy but do we really want to become the world’s employment agency? If we ask most of our countrymen, I think they would definitely still prefer to stay at home but with higher-paying jobs,” Angara, acting chairman of the committee on labor, employment and human resources development, said.
According to the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA), victims of human trafficking totaled 1,135 in 2013, while the number of OFWs facing death penalty cases, most of which are drug-related, has reached a total of 88 as of March this year.
Moreover, an average of 1,600 illegal recruitment cases were handled by Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) from 2007 to 2011, while the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) handled an average of more than 50,000 cases on-site annually from 2009 to 2013.
“Our labor force grow an addition of almost one million every year, and this number cannot be absorbed by available jobs here in the country, forcing Filipinos to seek better-paying jobs abroad to support their families even with the risk of facing abuse and exploitation,” said Angara, who recently filed a resolution calling for a review of existing labor laws and regulations.
While the lawmaker lauds the Aquino administration for developing reintegration programs that would allow returning OFWs to use their earnings for enterprise development, what would really make “migration be a matter of choice and not a necessity,” according to him, is by providing higher-paying jobs in the country.
“We are pushing for the expansion of the Public Employment Services Office (PESO) to serve as job placement agencies in provinces and municipalities to help people find work amidst reports that it takes up to two years for new graduates to get work,” Angara said.
He is also pushing for the passage of the Apprenticeship Training Act to provide young Filipinos with skills and access to employment, noting that a majority of apprentices are hired by the companies where they have their apprenticeship.
“Aside from job-generating programs, one way of ensuring higher wages is by amending our outdated tax system that overburdens our middle-income workers and make it more progressive and equitable—one that promotes upward mobility and a just society,” said Angara, author of the recently enacted law raising the tax exemption cap on 13th month pay and other workers’ benefits.
With the current system, which remained unchanged since 1997, an upper middle-income earner who makes around Php60,000 a month is already at the top tax bracket and is paying the same tax rate as the millionaires and billionaires in the Philippines.
As ways and means committee chairman, Angara stressed that tax brackets should be adjusted to keep up with inflation and to make them more sensitive to current salaries of Filipinos.
“If we adjust the brackets, the tax rates of the working middle class will decrease and will result to a higher take-home pay that will hopefully bring our OFWs back home. This could incentivize our labor force to work and invest in our country, and more importantly, to be with their families,” he said.