Around the world, employers treasure Filipino workers because of their skills, happy disposition and dedication to work.
But, sadly, the “Bagong Bayanis” are treated shabbily back home by the one government agency that’s supposed to care for… and inspire them.
Here are some horror stories suffered by real Filipinos in their encounters with… POEA. (True stories, nothing invented.)
First off, a letter from a young and highly-educated lady…
Thank you for taking time to hear out this issue. I just felt like it’s an important thing to tackle because I’ve heard a lot of unnecessary inconveniences caused by this same lady for years now. I was unable to ask for her name but she is, without a doubt the same one that everybody has been complaining about. Her desk sits right behind window 14 of the POEA name-hire division. Enough about that. I will enumerate just some of the issues that I know, probably not the biggest ones but definitely unnecessary set-backs for people trying to fly out and make a living.
I will start with my own. I currently work for British School Manila as an Assistant Teacher and have been hired by British Vietnamese International School in Hanoi to be a teacher. Since their curriculum has significant differences from own here in the Philippines, the school requires and pays tuition, for the Post Graduate Certificate Course in Education of the Filipino Teachers that they hire. No matter how much experience, everyone has to take the course to qualify as a classroom teacher in their school. I will take an online course for 10months from a UK University and then will have my own class on the following school year and two years after that. It’s an employment opportunity binding for four years. At this point, I have already been granted a Visa and all necessary requirements. I will only need the exit pass from POEA. I have assumed long before that it will be a painstaking process, so I came prepared. I just did not expect it to be this illogical.
Yesterday, June 26, I brought all required documents to be processed. My passport and contract. At Step 1 where I wasn’t even given any forms or schedules yet, they refused to process my papers because the contract had “”EYFS Graduate Trainee” as the job title and they said that they do not process trainees. The woman mockingly insists that I should go to Dep Ed because I will be studying, or they should not have hired me since I am not qualified or that they do not process trainees, only real jobs. She asked me to ask my employer to change the job title to “teacher”, which personally, I didn’t think was a sensible and a proper thing to do. The thing is, this exact same contract has been submitted by the previous Filipinos that the school has hired and all contracts clearly stipulated that we are hired to be “Graduate Trainees”. I had to explain to her that it is in fact a job and not an OJT but she failed to hear me out, or anybody behind her desk for that matter.
I contacted my friend who has already left for Vietnam the previous year about what title is written in her contract and according to her it said “Graduate Trainee” as well. I gave them the name and they searched their computer, the search result was “teacher” because they had input this according to what my friend has written in her form. Which honestly, would be the same thing I would have written had they given me a chance to fill out a form. The main point here is that they refused to process my papers at the beginning because of a job title in my contract, the same contract that they have approved for years now. They do not talk to people the right way, they are rude and condescending. And they give hints of wanting to be bribed.
I would also like to explain to you about the Vietnamese visa that the embassy has issued. They issue a B2 category visa to people who were hired by foreign companies and B3 to ones who are hired by a local company. The embassy granted me a B2 visa which made perfect sense because BVIS is a foreign company. But I have heard on previous accounts that the B2 type would be denied by the POEA for reasons I do not know. They refuse processing because they want the B3 visa in the passport. So to avoid the inconvenience of being held back because of the visa, i went back several times to have it changed at the Vietnamese embassy. I did this before heading to POEA. Luckily the consul was nice enough to make it B3 visa after I explained that a local agency needs the B3 visa to allow processing. He even jested “FILIPINO CRAZY” as he stamped my passport. What can I do, I was warned that this would arise as a problem so I had to be prepared.
I assume that they found nothing wrong with my visa in POEA so they now found a way to hold me back. I asked them to show me or check for themselves the previous contract that they have approved. But instead they made me wait inside the office for the woman who has supposedly left for a meeting. I waited for more than 3 hours with other people who have shared their story of being badgered by the same woman. While waiting for this woman, the man behind window 14 ignored the telephone that has been ringing non-stop for two hours straight, as I checked his computer to see if he might be busy. He was googling pictures of penises, vaginas and info about some “sensation”. I have no problem about him being sexually curious but my goodness why not do it at his own time and not while he is under the salary from tax payers’ money. We ended up leaving and not talking to the woman because the office was closing and it was beginning to be dark outside. I stayed there for 4 hours and accomplished nothing.
There was also a woman who has been coming back to POEA since February. She lives in Nueva Ecija and has to commute all the way to Manila to fix this. Her problem was much more complex but what I understood is that she had the same issue as mine. She was warned by others about previous set-backs, she prepared for these set-backs so as she submits her “flawless” requirements, the woman found a different loop-hole to deny processing. It’s all a deadly cycle.
I know that my issue is a grain of salt compared to others that have come and asked help from this agency. But I have seen too much during my only visit, and I am not one to sit back and accept a beating just because it happens to most people everyday. It is outrageous how they are unwilling to help others. Nobody deserves the treatment that they give and personally, this woman is adding damage to the agency’s reputation. In a few hours, I will be heading back to POEA to insist that they process my papers because I know I am right.
I thank you so much for the time you have given to read this email. I sincerely hope that this will help to make improvements in their policies and procedures.
(name withheld by request)
And, yet another “victim”.
A Filipina who is now an editor of the Financial Times (London)
Here’s her story, which she passionately narrated in the Philippine Daily Inquirer.
Exit clearance: An OFW’s nightmare
By Stella Ruth O. Gonzales
I am now a full-fledged OFW. I share a common bond with thousands of overseas Filipino workers who had no choice but to get an exit clearance from the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) and, in the process, experienced what would possibly be one of our worst encounters with government bureaucracy.
I was told it was necessary to get a clearance because I already had a work visa stamped on my passport. Without the clearance, I was going to be stopped and questioned by airport immigration.
I did not care that the clearance would exempt me from the travel tax and the airport terminal fee. All I wanted was to be spared unnecessary stress at Philippine immigration on my flight out.
I had no idea that the process of getting this slip of paper—just a receipt actually of payment of one’s POEA, Owwa (Overseas Workers Welfare Administration) and PhilHealth fees—would be an agonizing experience.
Or that it would take me three days.
I arrived at the POEA main office just before 6:30 a.m. I came prepared. I had all the necessary documents with me, including photocopies and extra ID pictures. I anticipated a line, but since it was still early I thought I would be able to finish most of the process in just two hours—despite the slow bureaucratic process.
I approached a guard to inquire where I should fall in line. He gave me a number and told me to come back the next day. No, I said, there must be a mistake, I’m here to just get a referral form for my medical exam and a schedule for the pre-orientation departure seminar (PDOS).
“Yes,” he said patiently as he pointed to about 120 people sitting on plastic chairs at the first-floor lobby. “Those people there were here last week and got their numbers last week. You will have to wait for your turn tomorrow.”
I asked if I could just go ahead and have a medical exam to save time. He said no, the staff on the second floor will give you a slip which you’re supposed to give to an accredited clinic. Are you sure? I persisted.
Yes, he was. And I would find out later that that, indeed, was the process. But it was a step that some applicants wisely chose to ignore anyway.
Excitement in the air
The next day, I was back at the POEA, still early. When I showed the guard my number, he asked me to sit on one of the chairs. You will be called later, I was told. It was almost 8 a.m. when our group was finally told to go upstairs. All the counters were closed. Of course, it was not yet 8 a.m. after all.
At 10 minutes past 8, one counter finally opened. You could sense excitement in the air. After about five more minutes, one staff member made an announcement. We were supposed to place our documents in one folder—and we could use those she left on top of the counter.
After several more minutes, the other counters started opening. But I would find out that this did not mean people would start working. That would take several minutes more.
The wait took forever. When it was finally my turn, I was asked for my contract. The first, and only, question the staff member asked me was: “Will your employer repatriate your remains if you die abroad? Do you understand what I mean by that?”
I wanted to pretend I was stupid; I wanted to ask her to explain what she meant.
Earlier, an applicant seated beside me in the waiting area told me the POEA requires employers to spend for the repatriation of the remains of their dead Filipino employee. If that is not specified in the contract, the POEA tells applicants to ask their employers to put an addendum and only then will their exit clearance applications be approved.
The applicant beside me said she had been returning to the POEA for several days because she had to add that in her contract.
Only one question
Still, it surprised me that it was the only question asked of me by the POEA staff. Here I was, employed by one of the world’s biggest news organizations with a very nice benefits package stated in the contract, yet the POEA could only concentrate on one thing: Will the Philippine government have to send my remains home?
Is there an epidemic abroad that I didn’t know of? Are OFWs dropping like flies that the main concern of the government is who will have to shoulder the cost of repatriating our remains?
After convincing the staff member that yes, repatriation is part of my contract, I was given a schedule for the seminar. But that could be done only on another day because, in my case, it was only held in the morning. Which meant I had to go back to the POEA office because the seminar for that day was already over.
In the meantime, I decided I should have my medical exam. I chose one near the POEA.
Shades of Divisoria
At the clinic, I was told that I had to pay P2,800. When I wavered—because they told me I could not get the results on the same day as I had wanted—the receptionist said, OK, I’ll give you a discount. I felt I was in Divisoria haggling over a shirt.
I decided to go to a clinic in Manila because it promised same-day results. I never expected a thorough medical checkup from these clinics, but at the very least I expected to be treated with dignity.
They took a blood sample from my arm, but the cotton they used was dry and did not have alcohol. I must have picked up some blood-transmitted disease as a result.
Searching for haemorrhoids
I was told to go inside a cubicle where a female physician was to give me a physical exam. She told me to lift my shirt and bra and then proceeded to press one—just one—finger on one—just one—part of my breast, yes, just one breast, and then she said: OK. Apparently I had no breast cancer.
She asked me to pull down my pants and underwear and to bend—and from a distance of about one meter, she looked to see whether I had hemorrhoids. How an OFW’s job could be affected by hemorrhoids, I will never know.
Then I was told to take a psychological test. The Philippines would not want to send insane people abroad, would they? It was an IQ test. A really difficult one. Something that took my coapplicants an hour to finish. Was everyone there going to work abroad as a scientist?
And then we were given another sheet of paper and told to write our answers to three questions—the answers were supposed to be at least five sentences. They wanted to know why we wanted to work abroad. Duh. They wanted to know the biggest accomplishment in our lives. What?
Surviving the ECG
It was almost 5 p.m. and I was getting anxious waiting for the results of the medical exam (or maybe I was worried I wouldn’t pass the essay exam because I did not say that I wanted to work abroad because I needed to earn more money).
Finally, the results came. But wait, they supposedly found something “irregular” in my ECG (electrocardiogram). I had to pay an additional P50 so I could have some papers notarized.
I wanted to scream but stopped myself lest they say I was crazy and should not be allowed to leave the Philippines. I have had about four ECGs in the past two years and had a Holter monitor attached to my body for 24 hours so my doctor could check for irregular heartbeat. She never found a problem, yet on this particular instance, the old ECG machine of the clinic spotted something unusual?
But, like a dutiful OFW, I did not speak up and just paid the P50 so I could just go home. With the P50, my final medical result had no indication of any irregularity in my ECG and I was cleared for work.
A free ordeal
I decided I needed a break from further aggravation and so I gave myself a few days before I went back to the POEA to process my application.
Three hours of my Day Three at the POEA was spent at the seminar. They boasted that it was a free seminar. Were they actually expecting us to pay for government service? I braced myself for what would surely be an hour of lecture on what the rights and duties are of OFWs.
What I was not prepared for were the additional talk at the start and end of the lecture—from representatives of a bank and a telecoms company who spoke about their products. It was like watching a Manny Pacquiao fight on free TV in the Philippines where you had no choice but to bear the commercials.
The seminar had some very important points that any OFW would benefit from. The lecturer told us not to act as drug mules and scared us with statistics about Filipinos abroad who were executed.
But he also wasted our time by discussing his trip to the province the previous weekend, and the beauty pageant on TV the previous night. “Who was your candidate?” he asked one of the OFWs. When she could not give a ready answer, he said: “I liked the first runner-up. I think she gave the best answer to the question.” Then he proceeded to tell us what the contestant’s answer was.
He was trying to liven up his lecture with stories, but everybody was pressed for time. Some of the applicants had to go to the Owwa office for additional requirements. But no one could leave without the precious PDOS certificate. We were trapped.
Value of time
The lecturer reminded us about how our employers abroad put a premium on time. “Time is gold,” said the lecturer, who arrived 15 minutes late, and ended his talk 20 minutes beyond the allocated time. So much for time being precious.
He also talked about how haughty many OFWs have become after working abroad. “They’re so arrogant when they come to the Philippines, but what is their job abroad? They just wipe other people’s behinds,” he told us. “They look down on us public servants and tell us that they pay for our salaries, as if we owe them something.”
I wanted to tell him that public servants do owe citizens something, and that is public service. But like other OFWs who did not want trouble, I kept silent.
Lunch break feature
When I was finally able to get my PDOS clearance, I ran to the POEA staff member who was going to take a look at my documents. It took more than an hour for them to check the contract (the same one they had previously checked), initial it and check their database whether my employer was on the blacklist.
I was told to have my fees assessed, but the entire staff were about to take their lunch break. When I tried to ask the female staff member at the counter whether it would be possible for her to spare a few minutes to assess my fees, she glared at me. Oh, sorry, the POEA staff must be very hungry.
The counters closed at exactly 12 p.m. They opened at 15 minutes past 1. Maybe they were followers of this guy who went to the waiting area during the break and started preaching about God. It seemed to me that he was a permanent lunch break feature there—I just wished they turned on the TV so we OFWs could watch “Eat Bulaga.”
I stood in line for two hours to have my fees assessed and pay P6,340.75. I felt sorry for the other OFWs who did not bring money. They had to come back another day.
Some, who looked like they just arrived in the country and were only in the Philippines for a few days, asked if they could pay in euros because that was all the money they had. “Go change your money at the bank downstairs,” the woman at the counter told them coldly.
In all my time at the POEA, there was a group of people I preferred to deal with—the security guards.
The guards were on their posts on time. Unlike the POEA staff members who worked unsmilingly and who would sometimes answer questions sarcastically, the guards were extremely patient and never raised their voices. They were the most helpful of all the people there.
In my mind, they were the saving grace of the POEA.
During my three days at the POEA, many of us OFWs kept mumbling about how inefficient the “system” was and how nobody seemed to care that employees did not start work on time and how some of the staff were so smug.
A woman seated beside me said it was why she hoped the Philippines would become a “kingdom” where things get done quickly; democracy does not work in this country, she said.
Another said she would write a long complaint and put it in the suggestion box—she never did. I watched her and she just left after getting her exit clearance.
I would like to think that I was just too dizzy from the heat and hunger to speak out and complain aloud. But I guess I had become like most helpless OFWs—I kept silent.
By the way, my exit clearance was not checked by immigration officers at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport when I left the country last month.
(Editor’s note: The writer, who formerly headed the Inquirer News Service, now works as an editor at Financial Times in London.)
The villains at POEA are equal opportunity torturers.
They also harass Filipino men – even those who are not easilly harassed.
Here’s another horror story…
I met Marc one Sunday evening at NAIA 1. He skipped dinner with his family, not wanting to risk a long Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) desk queue and miss the 10 p.m. flight back to Singapore. An elite Ateneo Management Engineering graduate now in a global investment bank, he is one of thousands of young professionals in Singapore and Hong Kong juggling priceless short trips home with an international career. He is one of thousands of young professionals resigned to sacrificing brief moments with their families for inane POEA queues.
After my first Christmas home, I found myself begging a POEA officer to issue my clearance because my plane was taking off in 30 minutes. Without looking up, he sternly ordered me to return to the queue and wait. I boarded only after staring down the guard at immigration, claiming to be a tourist.
It is an open secret that the POEA was formed by torturers left jobless by Edsa. In Singapore, I must travel during office hours to our embassy, not the most accessible of places, to purchase an Overseas Employment Certificate (OEC). My papers are never checked and I routinely write conflicting information in the forms. (I will try “drug mule” on my next OEC). I must then have the OEC certified at NAIA’s POEA desk because it might be fake.
Being the world’s worst airport, NAIA 1 requires Filipinos to queue outside to enter; foreigners have heralds who shout “Business class, business class!” and ask Filipinos, guards included, to make way. Because the POEA desk is brilliantly located outside the departure area, one better be early to first queue at the POEA desk then queue to enter NAIA 1 before one’s check-in counter closes. One may be forced to queue to enter, queue to check in, exit NAIA 1 to queue at the POEA desk, then queue yet again to reenter. Especially if a 747-load of travelers to Los Angeles intervenes, one can readily miss one’s flight and get fired.
The best part is check in, and immigration officers ask to see my Singapore employment pass anyway. Shown my hard-won OEC, they explain that it and the POEA certification may be fake.
Amid such silliness, picture OFWs clutching thick envelopes of documents and their last shreds of dignity as they make obeisance to the POEA. Picture a Filipino professional, trying to be taken seriously in an international team, forced to beg one’s colleagues to leave early for the airport because his OEC might be declared fake.
And this is just NAIA; imagine the hell that is the main POEA office that Stella Gonzales visited. (NB: The ultra-efficient Joseph Jose is the sole smiling POEA officer who never berated me for not printing my itinerary or not arriving three hours before my flight. Be sure to queue for the long-haired Malaysian rock star lookalike.) Ironically, an OFW may escape becoming a second-class citizen in one’s own airport by giving up his citizenship.
My parents walked to Edsa for our Constitution’s trivialized sentence: “Neither shall the right to travel be impaired except in the interest of national security, public safety, or public health, as may be provided by law.” The Supreme Court reiterates that the right to travel is a fundamental human right, and one recognized in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The ruling Silverio v. CA emphasizes that the explicit list of exceptions “national security, public safety, or public health” is “a reaction to the ban on international travel imposed under [Marcos] when there was a Travel Processing Center.”
Phil. Ass’n of Service Exporters v. Drilon, in upholding a selective ban on female OFW deployment to specified countries, categorically stated: “Had the ban been given universal applicability, then it would have been unreasonable and arbitrary.” Thus, the POEA’s blanket curtailment of the right to travel is blatantly unconstitutional. So disenfranchised are OFWs that the right to travel only received attention when Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and her neck brace tried to invoke it; balls and chains on every single OFW have long gone ignored.
There are undeniably difficult policy issues. Our Singapore consuls regularly work miracles for desperate Filipinos with an unbound knack for getting duped, down to sobbing detainees in Changi Women’s Prison who were promised waitress jobs. The Singapore embassy ministers to an OFW population three times the size its staff can theoretically support. Nevertheless, convoluted, inutile procedures imposed on everyone are an unconstitutional placebo, not a solution.
Singapore’s OFW profile is evolving; even the CEOs of the Bank of Singapore and Credit Suisse are OFWs. The growing majority are now professionals who do not need or want the POEA’s so-called protection. OFWs remain treated as the perfect docile cash cows, voiceless in government as fee upon inane fee and procedure upon inane procedure are heaped upon us. It is not an option but a constitutional imperative to find a rational way to protect those who need protection while respecting the general population’s right to travel.
I have already accepted the burdens of proudly being a citizen of our screwed up country. But is it too much to ask that the POEA leave reunited families to have dinner in peace? The constitutional right to travel was intentionally strengthened after the Marcos-era abuse; is it too much to ask that it not be violated, in the cruelest of ironies, at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport?
Is it too much to uphold our right to be free from the POEA?
Oscar Franklin Tan was chair of the Philippine Law Journal in 2005 and student speaker at his 2007 Harvard Law School graduation. He twice won the Cortes Prize in Constitutional Law at the UP College of Law. He has worked as a corporate lawyer in London and Singapore and is an associate of Jones Day, one of the world’s largest law firms.
It is quite sad that – because of a few rotten eggs – the reputation of the majority of those working diligently at POEA is being needlessly stained day after day after day.
Time to let those few clowns know that we won’t allow them to stand in the way of our countrymen’s quest for a better future.
Time to raise our collective voices and shout out loud…
Tama na. Sobra na.