Photo by Daisy CL Mandap/The Sun-HK
HONG KONG – "Scrap the OEC (Overseas Employment Certificate)!"
That is the cry often heard among overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) in Hong Kong now, after thousands found themselves queuing for up to 9 hours for the $20 (P950) document that they need to be able to exit the Philippines' airports after a vacation, and return to their work.
Many OFWs choose to go home in March and/or April as it is graduation time, or family members are off work because of the long Easter holidays.
At the peak of the applications on March 15, the queue extended all the way to the footbridge connecting United Center (where the consulate is located) to the next building.
On the 14th floor where the consulate offices are, every inch of public space was packed with applicants that getting in and out of the lifts became a nightmarish experience.
Most had to skip lunch. The few who tried to get food brought to them said friends balked at the idea of having to queue up as well just to get to them.
On March 8, consulate volunteers said a woman fainted. It was just plain luck that she was the only apparent casualty, given the huge number of people who kept pouring into the consulate for nearly the whole month.
Though the number of applicants has always been huge at this time of the year, the overcrowding has not been as bad, mainly because the OEC issuance was held at the Bayanihan Center in Kennedy Town, which has a huge outdoor space.
For reasons still unclear, the Philippine Overseas Labor Office (POLO) decided, with apparently no prior consultation or test run, to move the applications to the consulate starting March 1.
The chaos was witnessed by no less than a group of Philippine legislators who conducted a public hearing at the consulate on March 15.
In an earlier interview with The SUN, Consul General Bernardita Catalla admitted that even she was taken aback when she saw the huge crowd at the start of the month. She said she immediately asked POLO staff who had already moved to their new offices at nearby Admiralty Center, to open more windows for OEC processing to decongest the service area.
And what is this all-important document that the OFWs were so desperate to get? It is what they are required to produce at Philippine airports to prove that they are OFWs entitled to exemption from travel tax, and for a refund of the terminal fee they were forced to pay along with their air ticket.
But many OFWs have long balked at the idea of having to secure the OEC when they already have their work visas and contracts to prove their status. Many say that it is just another reason to extract money from them.
The SUN posted pictures of the long queues for the OEC the past few weeks and asked the question, “Is the OEC really necessary?”
Most said no, and gave varied reasons. Here are some of them (some are edited slightly from text language):
Abbygail Garnet Salamat at nakita nyo po it. Noong December na uwi ko, halos kalahating araw kami pumila. Gabi na nakakuha ng OEC. Last week kumuha naman ako, halos 4 na oras din ako pumila. Dagdag sakripisyo po ito.. at sayang ang oras. Kahit amo ko nagtatanong kong bakit ganito sistema ng konsulado. Sa totoo lang minsan nakakahiya na sa mga amo pag nagtanong sila tungkol sa sistema ng Pilipinas. Sobrang kurakot ng gobyerno. Nagbabayad tayo nang hindi natin alam kung saan napupunta binabayad natin.... Sana maaksyunan naman po ito..
(Thanks for seeing this. Last December I went home and lined up for almost half a day. It was't until evening that I was able to receive the OEC. Last week I went to get another one and waited almost 4 hours. This adds unnecessary sacrifice and wastes time. Even my employer was asking why is there such a system at the consulate. Honestly, sometimes, it's a shame.
Chemaroel Lactaoen Mga nasa gobyerno natin ang nagpapahirap talaga sa ating OFW. Tatawagin pa tayong bayani kung puro naman singil at pahirap inaabot natin? Lalo sa amin dito sa Russia, andaming hinhinging papel. Nakakainis lang kaya nakakatakot umuwi at baka hindi na makabalik.
(Those in our government are really working hard for our OFWs. They call us heroes, but always ask up for money – and all we are greeted with is hardship? It's even more difficult for those of us here in Russia, there are so many documents asked from us. It's just annoying because we are scared to go home because we might not be allowed to return.)
Linda Diaz May nabasa ako non sa newspaper na ang sabi nitong bagong opisyal na pumalit eh mas lalo daw nila papabilisin ang serbisyo nila para sa OEC para daw di maabala ang mga OFW pero kabaligtaran naman pala. Dahil sa hirap ng mga OFW na pumila may nahihimatay pa dahil nalilipasan na ng gutom. Mga sirs, mga madam, maawa naman kayo sa mga OFW na tulad namin. Gawan naman ninyo ng paraan na mapadali ang pag-issue ng mga kailangan ng mga OFW dahil limitado lang ang aming oras para sa pagkuha ng OEC o pagproseso ng mga dokumento.
(I read that before in the newspaper and a new official said that they would work faster for the OEC so OFWs wouldn't be hassled, but it turns out to be the opposite. Because of the difficulties OFWs have to go through lining up, someone has passed out from hunger. Sirs and madams, have pity on OFWs like us. Please find a way to expedite the process of issuance (of the OEC) because our time is limited.)
Au Sante March 22 pumila yong kaibigan ko para kumuha ng OEC start siyang pumila from 8:30 am, nakakuha siya ng OEC at 4 na sa hapon. May nahimatay doon sa gutom. Sana tanggalin na ang OEC. Ako 2x na bumalik para kumuha ng OEC, grabe pa rin ang pila.
(On March 22 my friend and I lined up for an OEC. He or she started lining up at 8:30 am and was able to get the document by 4 pm that afternoon. Someone passed out from hunger. I hope that the OEC is scrapped. I've been back twice to get the OEC, but the line is always ridiculously long.) – Rappler.com