MANILA—ANOTHER task force created by a government agency was met with skepticism by migrants’ rights advocates.
Reeling from reports of undocumented workers jumping to their deaths to escape abusive employers in Lebanon, Malacañang issued Executive Order 548 titled “Creating a Task Force against Illegal Recruitment (TFAIR) under the Commission on Filipinos Overseas (CFO).”
President Macapagal-Arroyo’s former publicist and now CFO chair Dante Ang said the task force would include representatives from the police, the foreign affairs and justice departments, airport authorities (MIAA), the government’s overseas recruitment office, and the Bureau of Immigration.
But Maya Bans Cortina of nongovernment group Kanlungan Centre Foundation Inc., questioned the order’s mandate to the CFO, an agency she described as indecisive against illegal recruitment.
“Why the CFO? They have always been wishy-washy like in the fight against illegal trafficking and mail order brides.”
Ellene Sana, executive director of the Center for Migrant Advocacy (CMA), asked why create another task force when one created in 2004 having similar purposes “did not even produce any results”.
“Where is the performance report of the first task force, the Presidential Anti-Illegal Recruitment Task Force?” she asked.
The PAIRTF, headed by Director Reynaldo Jaylo, was created two years ago after three women overseas workers –Luz Pacuan, Catherine Bautista and Louella Montenegro– died almost one after the other in the first five months of 2004.
Reports cited these workers exited the Philippines through an “escort service” at the international airport named after the country’s anti-corruption advocate and late Senator Ninoy Aquino.
Jaylo, a former police officer, was later charged with illegal detention.
“The existence of escort system at the airport is very disturbing,” said Robert Ceralvo, a Filipino community leader based in New Jersey, United States.
Ceralvo cited the cases of two women contract workers who fell to their deaths in war-torn Beirut. The two were reportedly attempting to escape from abusive employers and be repatriated to the Philippines, amid the fighting between Hizbollah armed groups in Lebanon and Israeli soldiers.
It was reported that two out of three overseas Filipino workers repatriated from Lebanon were undocumented workers, many of whom had used tourist visas and availed of the “escort services” at the international airport.
CMA legal adviser lawyer Henry Roxas said: “suddenly, its task force formation season once again.”
“There’s a task force against illegal recruitment and … against prostitution. I suppose other task forces will be created against gambling, drugs, smuggling and what have you.”
Sana said the lack of a performance report on the PAIRTIF operation reflects government’s lack of seriousness in combatting illegal recruitment.
She added: Why not just beef up the POEA’s AIRTF?
POEA Administrator Rosalinda Baldoz herself expressed surprise over the president’s choice of the CFO as lead agency for the anti-illegal recruitment group.
Still, Baldoz said she “welcome[s] the move”.
“Hopefully their efforts will be better because they will take care of illegal recruitment using tourist visas and other non-worker visas,” she said.
Baldoz said at least there would now be a body to concentrate on the criminal aspect of illegal recruitment, which the POEA has been unable to do, that being not part of their mandate.
According to the order, the new task force would be tasked to “develop and execute strategies and schemes” against illegal recruiters like the so-called “escort” services within the country’s international airports and other points of departure.
CFO officials wanting to remain anonymous expressed doubts over the wisdom of placing such a “tough” campaign in the hands of their agency, which they said has always distanced itself from issues concerning OFWs.
One said the president was “ill-advised” in issuing EO 548 because under the law, the commission could deal only with permanent residents and their families, and the wives of foreign nationals.
“An EO cannot supersede a law,” the official said.
However, Ang said that the new task force would not diminish the role of the POEA, which he said is “more concerned about regulating recruitment activities of licensed recruitment agencies.”
“What was assigned to the CFO were really powers outside the POEA’s jurisdiction like the fight against escort services which would be with the BI and the MIAA [Manila International Airport Authority] against the tampering and falsification of passports and visas, which would be with the DFA, the prosecution of illegal recruiters, syndicates and protectors which would be with the DOJ,” Labor Secretary Arturo Brion said.
Brion, a former DFA official, said: “It is very, very clear that what will remain with the POEA are the preventive aspects of illegal recruitment.”