IN TRANSIT (MindaNews/17 August) — So much has already been said about the Philippines being so rich, and yet if given a choice, many of its already destitute people, would join the exodus abroad.

When you say the word abroad, one’s eyes would twinkle as if imagining the glitter of the pot of gold somewhere out there.

Around 8-10 percent of the 92 or so million Filipinos have taken the bull by the horns in search of that greener pasture, with many eking a living under searing heat, where brown is considered green.

Like many other Filipino professionals with little opportunity at home for horizontal mobility, and having spent a good portion of my adolescence and adulthood in causes larger than myself, I am looking elsewhere to gain something for my family and me.

Yesterday, when the taxi that would bring me to the Lumbia Airport parked in front of our house, a three-year old girl did a spirited barricade in front of the taxi door, showing to me her most angry face. When I called from the airport, she would not speak to me on the phone.

Before hitting the road, in the last three months, I was roaming around trying to complete my travel papers. And what I found is not very savory. All the more, it became clear to me how our society has learned to ignore, adapted and survived a system that eats the guts of its poor citizens.

For one to be a “legal” overseas Filipino worker (OFW) one has to go through a rigmarole of seemingly irrational processes. Most go through the “agencies” that serve as job placement facilitators. A typical OFW wannabe will be of course asked to get a passport. When I tried to renew my passport, I was told, it would take 50 working days. If I’d go through the process, the job waiting for me would be gone even before I get a fresh passport. Good thing, they extended the life of my passport, which then only had less than six months before expiry, for another two years. I got my extension in just one day.

The passport is submitted to the “agency” for placement. Once an employer is found, there are interviews and submissions of credentials. Usually, a written job offer is sent by the employer for signing by the OFW wannabe or a contract is signed by the OFW wannabe and the “agency.”

Then one has to go through a medical and dental checkup. There are accredited clinics for specific countries, especially if one is going to the Middle East. Get necessary clearances like National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) clearance. Have one’s college diploma and transcript of records authenticated by the Department of Foreign Affairs or the Red Ribboning process. I was told that this is done in order to distinguish the Quiapo or Lingating, Baungon, Bukidnon diploma from the genuine ones.

Then one goes to the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA), presents his or her signed job offer and/or contract, medical and dental exam results, NBI clearance, for the issuance of an Overseas Employment Contract certification. One is then asked to attend the Pre-departure Orientation Seminar. When I inquired about this, I found it very absurd that the POEA is now requiring DFA authentication of NBI clearance.

This to me is very abnormal as it is presumed that an act of a government agency is regular. Asking the DFA to authenticate NBI clearances is an insult to the Department of Justice. Forget about the hassles many have to endure lately in getting the NBI clearance.

How much does a construction worker or domestic helper in the Middle East get? And the bulk of our OFWs are deployed here. I have checked and the minimum wage ranges from 210USD to 500USD. Free accommodation, round trip airfare and for most, no day offs, especially the domestic helpers. By the way, most employers only sponsor the Manila to host country airfare. Meaning, the OFW wannabe has to shoulder domestic transportation to Manila. At the current foreign exchange rate, the wages of most OFW ranges from P8,800 to P21,000.00. Not really that much. Cost of money to transfer the remittances from abroad could range from 2.4 percent to a high of eight percent, further inundating the meager salaries.

Along the way, the OFW wannabe spends money in getting the OEC, which includes medical and dental examination fees, passport and other clearances and the OEC fee of more than P4,000.00. Easily, the out-of-pocket expense of the worker is P10,000.00. Airfare to Manila is around P3,500. Add other expenses like allowances while in transit, and the expense could be anywhere from P15,000 – PP25,000.00. And then the “agency” gets around one-month equivalent of salary as processing fee.

The result is that the OFW toils in severe environments and hazardous work places for 12 months but the two months worth of salary is already spent or loaned even before one dives in the searing heat of the desert.

Around the OFW processing community are financing agencies who loan anywhere for a minimum of 12 percent interest to 30 percent per annum. The strictest requirement from these micro finance businesses is the OEC from POEA. I would even suspect that with the dismal work of government to protect the welfare of the OFWs, the OEC on which one spends about P10,000.00 to get serves best the requirement of the micro finance businesses.

Now, I understand why many have to sell their carabao, loan their farm lots and houses just so that a member of the family can go abroad.

Knowing this did not only open my senses to the difficulties one has to endure working abroad, it also further sensitized me to how bad our economy is. How bad our society has become and how inutile our government systems are in fulfilling their mandates to the people.

The front pages of major Philippine broadsheets Tuesday screamed about the Philippines soon legitimizing its claim to gas-rich seas east of Luzon called Benham Rise and soon becoming a gas and oil exporting country.

This news is good to hear, but has nothing new in it. Our country is indeed rich, no doubt about it. Only that its people look for that pot of gold in some of the hottest and coldest parts of the world, in the roughest seas and somewhere else because the Pot of Gold in beloved Pinas is already plundered.

I am embarking on my own journey now, hoping that I’ll be back in a jiffy soon. I hope I would be able to. But what about the hundreds of thousands more?

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