Sunday, January 9, 2011

Philippine-Lebanon talks may lead to lifting of deployment ban

The Philippine Embassy in Beirut is currently negotiating with the Lebanese government for a possible lifting of the country’s total deployment ban to the Middle East country.

In a release posted Monday on the website of the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA), Philippine Ambassador to Lebanon Gilberto Asuque said the embassy is working with the Lebanese government for a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) on Labor Cooperation that will ensure protection of overseas Filipino workers (OFW).

Asuque said such measures must be in line with the requirements of Republic Act 10022, which amends the Magna Carta for Migrant Workers and Overseas Filipinos.

RA 10022, Asuque noted, outlines specific conditions that must exist in the receiving country before OFWs are allowed to be recruited and deployed there.

The Philippines has stopped sending Filipino workers to Lebanon in mid-2006 at the height of fighting between Israeli and Hezbollah forces.

Philippine and Lebanese authorities have been meeting since 2009
for the formulation of an MOU as a precondition for the lifting of the ban. (See: RP, Lebanon inch closer to lifting deployment ban)

Malacañang and the Office of the Vice President had earlier agreed to the lifting of the deployment ban, but the Department of Labor and Employment declined, saying the Lebanese government has yet to institute measures for the protection and safety of Filipino workers.

Running away from abuse

Then Labor Secretary Marianito Roque had opposed the lifting of the ban without guarantees from the Lebanese government, in light of the high number of Filipino maids running away from abusive employers.

The embassy, however, admitted that OFWs are still able to enter Lebanon despite the total deployment ban.

But Asuque assured the independent organization Human Rights Watch (HRW) that the embassy, the Labor Office and the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration in Beirut have been assisting OFWs in distress, majority of whom ran away from their Lebanese employers or recruitment agencies with complaints of abuse.

A 14-member HRW delegation was in Lebanon to assess the status of the rights of migrant domestic workers and the efforts done by the Lebanese government in addressing migrant workers' concerns over the protection of their rights and welfare.

The meeting was attended by Asuque, Assistant Labor Attaché Salome Mendoza and Welfare Officer Toribio Robles Jr.

The embassy said told the HRW that these runaway OFWs are now sheltered in the Filipino Workers Resource Center (FWRC).

OFW assistance in Lebanon

“The assistance provided also includes searching for the OFWs wherever they may be in Lebanon and bringing them to the FWRC to resolve their immigration cases with the Lebanese authorities," the release stated.

Two OFW from the FWRC were likewise invited to the meeting to present their status and condition in Lebanon to the visiting HRW officials.

Asuque informed the HRW officials that the 31 OFW wards as of December 1, 2010 in the FWRC are given full assistance by the Philippine government.

“Assistance provided to them includes negotiations with the Lebanese immigration authorities for the resolution of their immigration cases, issuance of exit permits and repatriation," the release stated.

It also noted that the embassy repatriated 162 OFWs in three batches last November 15 and 16 after undergoing the assistance process.

Philippine Overseas Employment Administration records show there were 1,326 OFWs deployed to Lebanon in 2009, but the nature of their work or the conditions of their deployment were unspecified.

However, the Commission on Filipinos Overseas has recorded some 31,000 Filipinos in the Middle East country as of December 2009, over 25,000 of whom are workers on contracts.—MRT/JV, GMANews.TV

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