MANILA — Senator Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III on Tuesday pushed for the passage of his bill seeking to criminalize the withholding of passports by recruitment agencies and employers victimizing Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs).
Pimentel, chairman of the Senate committee on justice and human rights, said offenders found guilty under his Senate Bill No. 2757 would be jailed and fined heavily, and dismissed from service for incumbent public officials.
“The unauthorized withholding of passports of our OFWs is a form of coercion that needs to be criminalized in order to afford full protection to our modern-day heroes,” Pimentel said.
He said many OFWs suffer from this unfair act as their passports are withheld, confiscated or retained either by their recruitment agencies here or by their employers overseas, for various reasons.
In recognition of the unique situation faced by OFWs, Pimentel said his bill provides for its extraterritorial application and a mechanism for any person who has personal knowledge of the offense to file the appropriate complaint.
“With these two mechanisms in place, our OFWs and their respective families would not be left without a remedy to enforce their rights under the law,” said Pimentel.
He said any person found guilty of the crime of “Illegal Withholding of Passport” under his proposed bill would be imprisoned for not less than six years and one day but for not more than 12 years in jail.
In addition, the offender would be fined Php 1 million but not more than Php 2 million and for public officials automatic dismissal from service and perpetual absolute disqualification to hold public office.
For corporations, partnerships, associations or any juridical person, the penalty would be imposed on responsible officers plus automatic revocation of licenses and a ban from operating the same business under a different name.
He said in the case of foreign offenders in the country, they would suffer the same sentences and fines being imposed on local offenders and would be deported and barred from returning permanently.
Pimentel said a passport is a document issued by the government to its citizens which is superior to all other official documents such that its unauthorized withholding or retention brings untold hardships to its holder.
He said its issuance was equivalent to a request to other governments to allow a Filipino holder to pass safely and move freely and not to impair his or her mobility and capacity to transact, and seek aid or protection in case of need.