Responding to reports in the Philippines on mandatory Social Security System (SSS) membership and payments of overseas Filipino workers, Migrante Europe expressed strong disapproval to the government agency’s proposal.
“With the OFWs’ huge contribution to the Philippine economy, basic social services should be provided freely to them by the government.” said Fr. Herbert Fadriquela Jr., Migrante Europe Chairperson.
Fr. Fadriquela argued that there is already the law for the protection of migrants that mandates the government to look after their welfare.
He referred to RA No. 10022, an act amending Republic Act (RA) 8042 or the Migrant Workers and Overseas Filipino Act, signed to law in March 8, 2010 by then-president Gloria Arroyo.
According to the Philippine Statistics Authority, there are 2.4 million OFWs as of 2016, and only 20% or 500,000 are paying members of the SSS, with contributions reaching P4.64 billion in 2016.
In the same year, SSS disbursed P779 million in benefits to its OFW members. These disbursements included initial and lump sum benefits to retirement, death, (funeral with grant) and disability, and short-term benefits for sickness and maternity (for female workers).
Migrante Europe recalled a global protest of Philippine migrant groups in 2007 when the Gloria Arroyo government attempted to impose mandatory SSS contributions, and also made it a requirement for the issuance of Overseas Employment Certificate (OEC). The Arroyo government backed down on its proposal amid the protests.
News on mandatory SSS membership and payment for OFWS broke out Monday, March 27, with media reporting from an e-mail sent to reporters over the weekend.
“We are pushing for our OFWs to be covered on a mandatory basis in order to secure their basic safety net in time of contingencies. Their SSS contributions is essentially a form of long-term savings for the future, especially when they decide to return home and retire,” SSS President and Chief Executive Officer Emmanuel F. Dooc said in the statement.
Dooc said that even OFWs covered by their host countries may also end up not being entitled to social security benefits because they cannot satisfy various requirements.
“Our objective is not just to strengthen enforcement of compliance for the coverage of employers and employees in the private sector, but also to encourage self-employed individuals and voluntary members like OFWs to register and be active in the system,” Dooc said.
The mandatory OFW coverage is one of the proposed amendments to the SSS charter now pending in Congress.
Migrante Europe, however, believe that every individual should be free to choose to be an SSS member or not, and it should not be obligatory.
“We are definitely against the mandatory SSS membership and payments. This is a double burden for us and a blatant attempt to extract more money from OFWs’ hard-earned income,” said Fr. Herbert.
Some members of Migrante Europe wondered whether this proposal was one of the SSS’ moves to regain income after the long-awaited move to increase the SSS pension by P1,000 was finally implemented this month.
Another move to recoup income for the agency, the SSS also moved to increase member contributions as the Duterte administration signed the order to increase SSS pension on February 22. Dooc and some officials from Malacañang said a 1.5% to 12.5% increase in member contributions will be implemented, but Bayan Muna Rep. Neri Colmenares said this is not contained in the president’s order increasing the pension. Any increase in the contribution must requires presidential approval. The P2,000 increase in SSS pension, authored by Rep. Colmenares, passed through both houses of Congress but was vetoed by then-president Benigno Aquino III in 2015.
Some relief under the Duterte administration
Migrante recognized some long-standing burdens of the OFWs that have been addressed by the Duterte administration.
On August 4, 2016, Resolution Number 12 was passed by the governing board of the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA), chaired by Department of Labor and Employment Secretary Bello and vice chaired by the then POEA Administrator Cacdac. It removed the Overseas Employment Certificate (OEC) requirement for vacationing OFWs who are bound to return to the same employer at the same job site. OFWs were also required to pay Philhealth and Pag-ibig contributions before they could apply for OECs. The cumbersome application for OECs become more brutal during Christmas and graduation seasons when applications reached up to 5,000 to 7,000 per day.
On March 15, a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) signed by 41 airline companies with the Manila International Airport Authority (MIAA) would abolish the P550 terminal fees paid by OFWs on April 30 for face-to-face ticket purchases, and in July for online purchases. OFW exemption from travel and airport fees was already stated in the implementing rules of RA 8042 in 1996.
However, Migrante Europe deplored the continuing labor export policy of the Philippine government. The group considers this to be the biggest burden of OFWs and their families and of the Philippine economy as well, that keeps itself afloat only through OFW remittances. One manifestation of the government’s continued implementation of the labor export policy is their continually coming up with income generating schemes targeting OFWs as milking cows, like the mandatory SSS membership and payment.