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In Dialogue with the Philippines, Experts of the Committee on Migrant Workers Commend Ratification of Key Labour Conventions, Raise Issues Concerning Exploitation by Recruitment Agencies and the Alleged Murder of a Filipina Domestic Worker Abroad
31 March 2023
The Committee on Migrant Workers this afternoon concluded its consideration of the third periodic report of the Philippines on how it implements the provisions of the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families, with Committee Experts commending the ratification of key International Labour Organization conventions, and raising issues concerning exploitative practices in recruitment agencies and the alleged murder of a Filipina domestic worker in Kuwait.
A Committee Expert commended the country for signing eight of the key International Labour Organization conventions as well as 143 and 189, which had links to migration.
Edgar Corzo Sosa, Committee Chair and Country Co-Rapporteur, recalled the Committee’s recommendations that the State party improve a system to accredit recruitment agencies to prevent them from charging excessive fees, or even to outlaw commissions on placements abroad. What steps had been taken to implement these observations?
Further, Mr. Corzo Sosa said the alleged murder of Jullebee Ranara in Kuwait was of concern. How did bilateral agreements ensure access to justice in such tragic cases?
Maria Susana V. Ople, Minister of the Department of Migrant Workers, and head of delegation, said in opening remarks said the Department of Migrant Workers was the newest agency in the executive department. Its mandate was to regulate access to healthcare and legal aid, allow migrant workers to file complaints and monitor the actions of recruitment agencies. Further, in 2023, the Philippines rolled out a regional mechanism, one of two in Asia, to better implement recommendations from the United Nations and other multi-lateral organisations. The State party sought to respond to the nexus between labour migration and climate change, online illegal recruitment and human trafficking of migrant workers and a lack of awareness of the rights of foreign domestic workers.
The delegation said recommendations of the Committee on recruitment agencies were considered and policy was strengthened accordingly. A strict licensing system existed and out of 452 licence applicants, only 104 were granted between 2018 and 2022. Licenced recruitment agencies were required to adhere to strict rules and any violation would result in the cancellation of the licence. In 2022, 124 recruitment agencies were suspended and 59 licences had been cancelled for various offences, including excessive collection of fees. Annual and surprise inspections of these agencies were also carried out.
If foul play was suspected regarding a death abroad, foreign service personnel would ensure collaboration with local authorities to establish the cause of death. Following the alleged killing of Juleebee Ranara at the hands of her employer’s son, a ban on migrant workers travelling to Kuwait was discussed in congress. In the end, labour diplomacy was the chosen route. The Kuwait Government had invited the Department of Migrant Workers for a bilateral meeting. The Philippines was considering disqualifying the employing agencies and the households involved in such incidents.
In concluding remarks, Ms. Ople said the dialogue reminded the State party to constantly strive to engage civil society, uphold the rights of migrants in the country and protect the families of those left behind, especially children, from the social cost of labour migration. The Philippines held the view that migrant workers’ rights were human rights and would continue to care for them in times of need. It would continue to call on receiving States to accede to the Convention.
Jasminka Dzuhmur, Committee Expert and Country Co-Rapporteur, in closing remarks, said that from each periodic report to the next, progress had been made and it was important to continue on that path. The establishment of the Department of Migrant Workers was a big step. Now, the State party was tasked with increasing the capacity of this Department and spreading awareness about its mandate.
Pablo Ceriani Cernadas, Committee Expert and Country Co-Rapporteur, in his closing remarks, said the challenges facing the State party were vast, including domestic structural issues forcing migration and legal challenges in receiving countries. The Committee would respond with constructive short, medium and long term recommendations.
The delegation of the Philippines was made up of representatives of the Department of Migrant Workers; the Human rights Committee Secretariat; the Department of Social Welfare and Development; the Department of Justice; the Office of the Court Administrator; the Department of Foreign Affairs; the Philippine Statistics Authority; the Department of Health; and the Permanent Mission of the Philippines to the United Nations Office at Geneva.
The Committee on Migrant Worker’s thirty-sixth session is being held from 27 March to 6 April. All the documents relating to the Committee’s work, including reports submitted by States parties, can be found on the session’s webpage. Meeting summary releases can be found here. The webcast of the Committee’s public meetings can be accessed via the UN Web TV webpage.
The Committee will next meet in public at 3 p.m., Friday 31 March to continue its consideration of the third periodic report of El Salvador (CMW/C/SLV/3).
The Committee has before it the third periodic report of the Philippines (CMW/C/PHL/3).
Presentation of the Report
MARIA SUSANA V. OPLE, Minister of the Department of Migrant Workers, and head of delegation, said that the newest agency in the executive department was the Department of Migrant Workers, which had jurisdiction over the implementation of the country's laws and policies, multilateral and bilateral agreements. It had led the ratification of international instruments relevant to the rights of migrant workers and their families. Its purpose was to protect the rights of migrant workers, valorise Philippine workers no matter their location and to promote a rights-based approach to labour migration and migration governance. Following the devastating earthquake in Türkiye this year, the Department worked in tandem with other Government agencies and the embassy to offer aid but also repatriate Philippines migrants in the region.
The pandemic saw the largest reverse migration of the Philippine diaspora in 50 years, and some chose to stay within the country. Overseas Filipino workers were cared for like family and the country had always adhered to its obligations under the Convention to the best of its ability. The Philippines joined many other countries in their call for a wider ratification of the Convention.
In line with its commitment to the Global Compact for Migration and its according reinforcement of State legislation, two major action plans were developed in partnership with civil society and the International Organization for Migration. The first was the National Action Plan on Fair and Ethical Recruitment and the second was a National Action Plan on Gender-Responsive Return and Reintegration for Overseas Filipino Workers.
The Department for Migrant Workers’ mandate was to regulate access to healthcare and legal aid, allow migrant workers to file complaints and monitor the actions of recruitment agencies. The Department cancelled the operating licences of recruitment agencies that carried out corrupt activities.
Other agencies dealing with migration had achieved significant developments. Cash transfers were distributed to overseas Filipino workers who had lost work due to COVID-19. Social workers were available for families and children left behind by migrant workers and the Department of Social Welfare and Development issued guidelines intended to reduce the requirements and increase support regarding the applications of minors traveling abroad for the purpose of reunion. The country had intensified efforts to combat modern slavery as co-chairs of the Inter-Agency Council Against Trafficking. Further, in 2023, the Philippines rolled out a regional mechanism, one of two in Asia, called the National Recommendations Tracking Database, to better implement recommendations from the United Nations and other multi-lateral organisations.
In the wake of the pandemic, the Philippines sought to respond to myriad challenges in migration, specifically the nexus between labour migration and climate change, online illegal recruitment and human trafficking of migrant workers and a lack of awareness of the rights of foreign domestic workers. The country looked forward to the Committee’s advice and recommendations regarding these issues. The State party would reference these in the creation of national policy and legislation, aiming to develop a rights-based approach to labour mobility and migration governance.
Questions by Committee Experts
PABLO CERIANI CERNADAS, Committee Expert and Country Co-Rapporteur, asked about the causes of migration. Why were so many people migrating from the Philippines to seek well-being for themselves and their families? What policies had addressed the root causes of migration, so that the people of the Philippines could have access to decent work within the country? What concrete data was available on gender equality and the impact of national employment policies aiming to reduce needs-based immigration? There was an over-representation of women in migratory work. Over 70 per cent of the population were women who left to work in domestic labour, though they were highly qualified individuals. Why was this? What migration policies addressed migrant populations within the Philippines? Were they migrants from other countries with irregular status? What was the situation of trafficking in the country? How did the State party intervene to support Philippine migrants abroad in an irregular situation? What did access to justice look like for migrants? Trials reportedly could take up to seven years to conclude. What efforts were made to obtain justice in a shorter time frame?
What programmes, specifically mental health support, were available to support children of parents who had migrated abroad? Were more details available on the programme to unite children with their parents abroad? Were these visits temporary or did the programme unite families for the duration of their stay abroad? Did bilateral agreements allow for families to work overseas?
The Philippines played an active role in the Global Compact for Migration, and in regulating recruiting agencies. What steps were left to further regulate these practices and had the State party considered ratifying International Labour Organization Convention 181? What was the situation of trade unions in the country?
JASMINKA DZUHMUR, Committee Expert and Country Co-Rapporteur, noted the large presence of women in the delegation and thanked them for their presence. She asked if the law allowing the refusal of entry into the country on ill-health or pregnancy had been amended. What was the status of the National Human Rights Commission? Its independence had to be ensured to protect not only the rights of Philippine people abroad but also within the country. How many members did the Commission have? Was it in line with the Paris Principles?
The Department of Migrant Workers was established in 2022. Was it sufficiently resourced? What were the Department’s needs? How did its work directly affect migrant workers and what awareness raising was being done to that end?
Was the periodic report written in consultation with civil society organisations? If so, how was that work organised? Could the delegation provide examples of civil society actors included in the process?
EDGAR CORZO SOSA, Committee Chair and Country Co-Rapporteur, asked whether the State party could provide information on hiring and firing processes of National Human Rights Commission members. Several initiatives were slow to pass within the Commission. What did the changes involve and why were they necessary?
In concluding observations regarding the State party’s second periodic report, the Committee recommended that the State party improve a system to accredit recruitment agencies to prevent them from charging excessive fees, or even to outlaw commissions on placements abroad. What steps had been taken to implement these observations? How was the right to vote for Philippine migrants abroad ensured? The presidential election of 2022 saw more than 680,000 foreign voters, with 40 per cent participation. Could migrants abroad vote in local and legislative elections also? Could they become elected representatives?
The creation of the Department of Migrant Workers was commendable, and the Committee remained available to the State party if it ever sought advice or recommendations. How was the Department’s mandate different than other Government agencies and were Philippine migrants aware of all the services it offered?
A Committee Expert noted the recent development of bilateral agreements with the Republic of Korea in agricultural and fishing sectors. What mechanisms existed to ensure that their rights were protected? Rights violations of Philippine migrants in Japan were of concern. How were their rights protected, and how were victims provided with redress?
Another Expert asked about female oversees workers in the Philippines who reportedly felt they had no other choice but to leave. Clauses in these workers’ contracts were often not respected. What mechanisms or services ensured compliance with the work contracts for these female workers? Rights violations in these cases were serious. Did any studies exist on the impact, psychological or otherwise, on the families they left behind? Did a return and reintegration policy exist for migrant workers? Could they learn other professions? What oversight existed for private sector and online recruitment agencies? Could an oversight mechanism sanction these companies? Did a council of overseas workers exist to address their general concerns?
Another Committee Expert asked about how the Convention was disseminated. Was it translated into the national languages or for foreign workers in the Philippines? What work was being done with civil society on this issue? What was the number of associations active in protecting migrant rights? Did trainings exist to raise awareness on migrant rights?
What measures were taken by the State to facilitate the return of migrants and their families in line with the Convention and what support was specifically provided to vulnerable women? In 2020, there were protests calling for State support on the International Day of Migrants. How had the State party responded concretely? How did the role of the migrant mother alter gender relations in the family by changing parental roles? Some studies showed a sense of abandonment for children. Were there mechanisms set up to address this problem?
An Expert commended a bilateral agreement with Canada to allow Philippine nurses to work in Canada. Could more information be provided on it? How was regular migration ensured to protect Philippine nurses in Canada?
A Committee Expert noted that there were Philippine diasporas found throughout the world and there were three types of migration: irregular, regular and seasonal. One specific aspect was the feminine-gendered nature of migration. Figures were contradictory, however. What statistics were available on the gender makeup of migrants? Could the data be disaggregated by the country in which the migrants were working? What studies had been done on the psychological impact on children who had an inconsistent relationship with their mothers? For female domestic workers, what programmes existed to address high levels of harassment, sexual or otherwise? How was the State party involving migrant workers in local development in and outside of the country?
Responses by the Delegation
The delegation said that the Philippines had a long history of labour governance, dating back to the first law on the subject in 1974. The current Marcos administration had an economic development plan which included a focus on tourism and a massive retraining of the workforce. It would increase employment locally and decrease poverty by generating more and better quality jobs. The Department of Migrant Workers was accountable through annual and five-year reporting periods to Congress. The national reintegration centre was tasked with aiding recently returned migrants’ insertion in the workforce, in cooperation with other Government agencies. The Philippines recently joined the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership with countries such as Australia, New Zealand and Japan, which demonstrated its intention to grow economically.
Overseas Filipino workers were the focus of legislation under this administration. To that end, the Government made it clear that would act to make overseas employment a choice and not a necessity. Furthermore, the World Economic Forum had ranked the Philippines 19th in its gender gap index. The Philippines ranked even higher at 16th for economic participation and opportunity. Policies that strengthened employment of women nationally included the recent passage of the Magna Carta of Women, which had a clause on non-discrimination, and laws that supported single working parents; the removal of the prohibition on night work for parents; and increased maternity leave. If women did decide to work abroad, protections existed, especially for vulnerable women. Agencies around the world worked with overseas Filipino workers in case of violation of their rights, offering legal redress and representation. A 2010 law on domestic work establishing a minimum wage for domestic workers was further bolstered by the Association of South-East Asian Nations’ Consensus on the Protection and Promotion of the Rights of Migrant Workers. The Philippines had signed the International Labour Organization convention on domestic labour, and the Abu Dhabi Dialogue and Colombo Process also strengthened the protection of migrants. A variety of services and a “Children’s Circle” catered to the children of overseas Filipino workers, including through values formation and recreational activities.
The Philippines actively engaged with civil society organisations, including private sector stakeholders, in the creation and implementation of its programmes. Boards on migrant workers and trafficking in persons decided on rules and the allocation of resources. The Department of Migrant Workers was empowered to appoint civil society organisations to these bodies. Tripartite councils for land- and sea-based workers were involved in drafting the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration rules. Civil society organisations also participated in drafting health policy.
The President had emphasised the importance of assisting overseas workers. The Department of Migrant Workers had a budget of over 200 million United States dollars. Programmes existed to vet private recruitment agencies, promote maritime research, assess skills capacity, as well as to provide medical care to overseas Filipino workers. The inter-agency council against trafficking was also well funded and programmes would be developed to reintegrate migrant workers.
All overseas Filipino workers had to undergo information dissemination seminars including pre-departure, post-arrival and information on the programmes offered by the Department and other relevant agencies. A handbook also existed, as was mandated by law. The State party was in the process of consulting on International Labour Organization Convention 181, but some elements had already been integrated into current policy, such as a limit on fees collected from workers and penalties for recruitment violations.
The head of delegation had formerly led a non-governmental organisation and attested that the Philippines had a large democratic space for systematic engagement with civil society. There was a need to enhance training for civil society in collaboration with the private and Government sectors, as labour migration would only continue to evolve, given events such as the Ukraine war and the pandemic.
The Philippines had signed over 40 bilateral agreements and five multilateral agreements. Most concluded bilateral agreements in the Middle East were for the protection of workers and specifically domestic workers. Agreements in the Americas were geared more toward skilled labour. All bilateral agreements were enforced. The State party implemented regular conduct meetings with the State parties of the partner countries. With Saudi Arabia, a working group met weekly to discuss the concerns of migrant workers. The Government intended to include additional areas of cooperation, including emergency plans for migrant workers in times of crisis, reintegration streamlining following the end of a contract and the establishment of aid offices for overseas workers in their host countries.
Regarding the bilateral agreement with the Republic of Korea, the Department of Migrant Workers immediately established an interagency working group to pre-empt and deal with foreseeable problems before any workers were deployed under the seasonal workers’ programme.
The Department of Migrant Workers recently signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Province of Alberta, Canada to employ nurses. The Alberta Government had committed to helping those who were recruited. The agreement allowed for the registration of previously unregistered nurses in the Province. It was also a pathway to residency and citizenship, and allowed for the reunification of families upon reception of a permanent residency permit.
Measures were undertaken to protect nationals from other countries in the Philippines under the labour code, which ensured equal employment opportunities without discrimination. A 2014 decision by the Supreme Court awarded damages to foreign workers who were unfairly dismissed. There were approximately 9,500 undocumented foreign workers in the country. The Supreme Court upheld that even without an Alien Employment Permit, the rights of a foreign worker to claim the benefits of their contract remained valid.
Recommendations of the Committee on recruitment agencies were considered and policy was strengthened accordingly. A strict licensing system existed and out of 452 licence applicants, only 104 were granted between 2018 and 2022. Licenced recruitment agencies were required to adhere to strict rules and any violation would result in the cancellation of the licence. In 2022, 124 recruitment agencies were suspended and 59 licences had been cancelled for various offences, including excessive collection of fees. Annual and surprise inspections of these agencies were also carried out.
The State party took its responsibilities to Article 68 of the Convention seriously. Information campaigns had been carried out to combat online illegal recruiters in response to their proliferation during the pandemic. The country partnered with Facebook to address online exploitation and was invited to present at the Facebook forum on the subject.
The Government had a three-pillar foreign policy on the protection of the rights and promotion of the welfare of Philippine migrants overseas. This policy was enshrined in the Migrant Workers Act. Each Philippine embassy had consular services such as providing funds for legal aid, including lawyers on retainer and bail bonds to secure temporary release. Periodic reporting took place on all matters related to legal representation of migrant workers abroad.
Republic Act 989 on overseas voting provided overseas Filipino workers with the opportunity to participate in public affairs and vote consistent with the Convention. However, only citizens residing in the Philippines could be voted for. Nevertheless, there were parties that represented the interests of migrant workers.
The 2020 census of population and housing recorded 1.967 million overseas workers considered to be residents in the Philippines. The Philippine statistic authority reported in 2021 1.8 million overseas Filipino workers, and women accounted for 60 per cent of that population. The authority spearheaded the creation of an inter-agency committee that was helping to create a harmonised data collection system without compromising privacy. One example to improve migration statistics was the Overseas Filipino Information Office project, a joint project between several concerned Government agencies.
Follow-Up Questions by Committee Experts
PABLO CERIANI CERNADAS, Committee Expert and Country Co-Rapporteur, asked for more information on how Philippine domestic workers were protected, especially given that in some countries, domestic work was not regulated? What concrete measures were in place to that end? How was access to justice and reparation ensured for victims of violations? It was reported that upon entry into the country, workers were asked to sign substitute contracts which included less protections than in the Philippine contracts. Employment bans in certain countries sometimes made migration to those countries more difficult. What was best way to protect workers? A new law to prevent trafficking that considered persons up to 24 years of age to be children limited migration. The State party was signatory to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which qualified the age of a child to be up to 18. Why was 24 decided upon?
Reports of killings of migrant workers in Qatar were disturbing. What was the State party doing to investigate and remedy these incidents, which could also occur in other places? In many receiving countries, social protections for migrant workers were lacking. Were there social security schemes such as pensions for overseas Filipino workers? Could workers receive social security payments in any country in which they resided?
EDGAR CORZO SOSA, Committee Chair and Country Co-Rapporteur, noted a proliferation of falsified documents to skirt the minimum age requirements for workers. In response, the status of the crime had been upgraded and a heftier punishment was now issued. What was the result of that reform? There was also a problem with birth registration for children born abroad and especially in the Middle East, which produced statelessness. A mission was undertaken in Kuala Lumpur to register births of Philippine workers. What was the result of this mission and what was being done in other regions? There was reportedly a requirement that remittances or a portion of wages had to be sent back to the migrant’s family. How was it ensured that the family received this money and not another party?
A Committee Expert noted that the State party had migrants leaving but also an inflow of migrants coming to work in the country. Eight of the key International Labour Organization conventions had been ratified, which was very positive, as well as 143 and 189 which had links to migration. The State party was in a position to demand protection of its workers abroad. Was it planning to ratify Conventions 89 on Labour Inspection and 129 on Inspections in Agricultural Work? These instruments were the frontline in protecting workers abroad. Convention 181 was also important and was worth ratifying, as it established mechanisms and procedures which encouraged trade union oversight domestically and abroad. Convention 190 on violence and harassment was also important to consider. Did the State party plan to ratify these Conventions?
Responses by the Delegation
The delegation said that information dissemination campaigns were underway regarding the mandate of the Department of Migrant Workers, disseminated through town hall meetings, zoom meetings and social media. People could also submit complaints and issues via those meetings and social media. The State had concluded agreements with Saudi Arabia ensuring protection against wage theft for skilled labourers if a company were to declare bankruptcy. For domestic workers, the same responsibility fell on the employers. The Crown Prince would assure the payment of unpaid wages for a group of unpaid overseas Filipino construction workers. The State party had a rights-based approach in all aspects of recruitment and reintegration, especially of women workers returning to their families permanently.
The Department of Migrant Workers allowed for a ban on the deployment of migrant workers if conditions in the country did not provide for the safety of the workers. Such a ban would only be decided following consultation of all stakeholders, including workers themselves, an advisory board and the Department of Foreign Affairs. The protection of overseas Filipino workers was the most important element in these decisions.
The Philippines had strengthened complaints procedures to ensure adequate protection to overseas workers. Contract substitution was unlawful in line with the Convention. National legislation assisted migrant workers in claims against their foreign employers and the State party had disqualified 92 foreign employers participating in the overseas employment programme for contract substitution in 2022. Further, the Department of Migrant Workers had cancelled the licence of a recruitment agency that worked mainly in Taiwan for charging excessive fees.
The State party continued to protect its overseas workers through bilateral agreements. Several agreements with Middle Eastern countries such as Saudi Arabia, Lebanon and Jordan had established mechanisms such as joint working groups to ensure the rights of all workers were respected. Specific improvements included increased freedom for an overseas worker to change their contract, medical insurance, support that was gender-specific and the establishment of blacklists and whitelists of recruiting partners. The Department mandated the creation of Welfare Desk Officers and Counsellors, who were responsible for monitoring the status and welfare of overseas workers and offering immediate assistance in cases of rights violations.
The Philippines was the main sponsor of United Nations resolutions to prevent violence against female domestic workers and called upon Governments to take a people-centred approach to fighting exploitation and abuse, as well as to take a gendered perspective into account in employment practices. It invited all State parties to ratify the Convention as well as relevant International Labour Organization conventions to protect the rights of migrant workers. The Philippines was committed nationally and internationally to the strengthening of protections of female domestic workers.
Under the migrant workers act, the Department of Foreign Affairs assessed the situation on the ground in any country that might pose a risk to migrant workers and their families. Depending on the risk level, overseas workers could be repatriated. Currently there were deployment bans in Ukraine, Myanmar, Libya and Syria.
The age of deploying household service workers was raised to 24 in 2022. The change was aligned with State policy to give highest priority to protecting persons, eliminating human trafficking and preventing involuntary migration and servitude. The revised law gave a higher level of protection to overseas domestic workers.
As a receiving State of migrant workers, the Philippines was committed to the protection of foreign migrant workers within the country. The Philippine Anti-Trafficking Law stipulated that legal services were available to foreign nationals. Reporting of abuses of foreign migrants could be done through helplines to any anti-trafficking task forces, any village or barangay officials, police stations or any civil society, non-governmental or faith-based organisation. In 2021 to 2022, 64 foreign nationals were rescued through anti-trafficking operations. Of them, three filed charges against their traffickers. They returned to their countries and would continue to participate in their trials remotely. Social protection services available to victims of trafficking focused on recovery and reintegration. These services were also available to those who had returned to the Philippines and their families. In 2022, the programmes served 1,959 victim-survivors, 172 of whom were victims of illegal recruitment. The State also had a trafficking in persons centre that offered services to victim-survivors regardless of their nationality.
Guidelines for minors traveling abroad existed to assist minors in reuniting with their parents. The Department of Social Welfare and Development elaborated programmes for unaccompanied minors. The State ensured that abandoned children had a family experience at temporary shelters at State cost while attempting to locate their parents. The Foundling Protection and Recognition Act stipulated that any abandoned child found in the Philippines or in a Philippine embassy was assumed to be a natural-born citizen. Abandoned children without relatives were declared eligible for adoption.
The Philippines adhered to its responsibilities under the International Health Regulations of 2005 to prevent the spread of infectious diseases. In line with this instrument, those found to have a contagious infection were not allowed into the Philippines. The Department of Public Health ensured the enforcement of this instrument. There was no prohibition on the entry of pregnant women, however. Under domestic labour law, foreign nationals were also offered some coverage, as part of the State party’s aspirations to universal health care.
A plan for judicial improvements from 2022 to 2027 aimed to modernise all court procedures and operations to expedite processes, digitise services and consolidate a database of associations providing free justice. Further, the Hague Service Convention would be acceded to and implemented to minimise delays in legal processes.
The Commission of Human Rights provided advisories, mainstreamed human rights in governance, and encouraged civil society to claim human rights for themselves. Specific to the Convention, the State recognised the Commission’s mandate to conduct independent investigations into complaints by overseas and migrant workers. The Commission also granted financial aid to overseas Filipino workers and their families. The Migrants’ Rights Observatory established in 2019 monitored the implementation of the Convention and was linked to the complaints mechanism of the Commission. The State had always supported the Commission of Human Rights’ role in conducting surprise visit in detention facilities and assess conditions of the detained. The Commission was ranked with “A” status, being fully in line with the Paris Principles. The State had increased the Commission’s budget threefold to 18 million United States dollars in 2023, which had positively impacted its investigations, outreach and programme creation. Human Rights Commissioners were selected from a shortlist submitted by multiple stakeholders from civil society and non-governmental organisations to be submitted to the President.
Questions by Committee Experts
JASMINKA DZUHMUR, Committee Expert and Country Co-Rapporteur, asked about access to justice. Had the Government banned the death penalty? There was a large backlog of cases for overseas workers. How was the Government expediting these processes? What were the regulations for foreign nationals to work in the country? Information was received that migrant workers were given employment in call centres without proper documentation. Could the delegation address this? How was changing the legal age of a child to 24 preventing trafficking in persons? It conflicted with the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
PABLO CERIANI CERNADAS, Committee Expert and Country Co-Rapporteur asked for more information on Philippine migrants abroad. In the past decade, what had been the trend of growth of sustainable, decent employment within the country versus migrant work trends? What was the time frame to generate 6.5 per cent growth in employment offers? The Committee had previously issued recommendations on reciprocity. What were the working conditions on Chinese offshore casinos? There had been reports of visa cancelations and targeting of Chinese nationals, with their faces published as wanted under an irregular status. The security of these individuals was at risk. Could the delegation address this? The Immigration Act from 1940 had been amended over the years, but was there a newer law governing this issue or was that still the legal framework for migrants in the Philippines? The information on the bans was noted, but what were their goals? Did they provide effective protection? Information indicated that the bans produced more precarious immigration.
EDGAR CORZO SOSA, Committee Chair and Country Co-Rapporteur reiterated questions on birth registration. Information on prohibiting immigration based on health concerns was noted. Civil servants and those in the foreign service had reportedly been abusing their authority with migrant workers. Complaints had been received on internal forced displacement in the country. Reports indicated that there were over 170,000 displaced persons in the Mindanao region; were those figures correct? Was there any legislation addressing the needs of displaced persons? The Committee on the Rights of the Child also expressed concerns on birth registration within the country. Had the State party established a birth registration that was efficient, accessible and free of charge?
The murder of Jullebee Ranara in Kuwait was of concern. How did bilateral agreements ensure access to justice in such tragic cases? 65 overseas Filipino workers were facing the death penalty overseas. What crimes had they committed and what was the State party doing to ensure their access to due process?
A Committee Expert said that contract substitution was a legal problem. What was the legislation to address the problem? Were employers and recruiting agencies sanctioned? Were there mechanisms to receive complaints about contract substitution and legally pursue them, in consulates for example?
Another Expert asked if migrant workers were free to organise in unions? Were there restrictions on the right to unionise for migrant workers regardless of their immigration status? Were irregular migrants unionising? How did the Government ensure access to medical care for all migrants, specifically in emergency circumstances?
Another Committee Expert noted that women were very active in transferring of remittances back into the country and many regions in the country lived off them. What measures had been put in place to prevent the money from falling into the black market? Morocco, for example, had a banking network wherever there was a significant presence of Moroccans abroad. Could a Philippine bank be established in the Gulf region, for example?
Responses by the Delegation
The State Party would revisit legislation involving the transfer of remittances. For sea-based workers, it was mandatory because of the specifics of being confined to a ship. For land-based workers there were no requirements of restrictions on remittances.
The State party had recently ratified the Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness and had released a memorandum which required immediate registration for all births. All children born abroad could be declared by affidavit in the Philippines’ embassy or consular services. In cases where a local birth certificate was required for an exit visa, a fund existed to cover all legal costs to obtain such documentation. Further, in 2022, the Statistic Authority launched a birth registration project aiming to register two million vulnerable Philippines people, targeting Muslims, indigenous persons and people living outside of their places of birth. To date, 59,012 birth registrations had taken place. The project carried out the mandate of the Statelessness Convention and aimed to have 99 per cent of the Philippine population registered by 2024.
The pre-departure orientation seminar informed overseas workers on work standards, the environment in the destination country and financial literacy. Recently, modules on mental health had been added. A sub-programme targeting domestic workers served over three million workers.
Civil servants and foreign service officers found to have abused their power were investigated and disciplined accordingly. The Philippines was a party to the Second Optional Protocol of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. The Government used diplomatic lines to prevent death sentences from being carried out. Most death sentences were handed down following convictions for murder or drug trafficking. A legal assistance fund for those abroad had been doubled this year.
In the State’s protocols on investigations abroad, the immediate priority was to relay information to the next of kin. If foul play was suspected, personnel of the foreign service posts would ensure collaboration with local authorities to establish the cause of death. Lawyers were on retainer. The Minister of the Department of Migrant Workers personally visited the family of Juleebee Ranara to assure them of the Department’s commitment to justice regarding the incident. A ban on migrant workers travelling to Kuwait was discussed in congress. In the end, labour diplomacy was the chosen route. The Kuwait Government had invited the Department for a bilateral meeting.
Deployment bans were enacted to protect overseas Filipino workers. Labour diplomacy was very important to establish bilateral agreements to correct the possible adverse effects of deployment bans. The State party did not take the decision of banning deployment lightly. Bans were established following rigorous legal processes. They were opportunities to reflect on ways to prevent crimes from happening in the future. As a result of the son of her employer allegedly killing Ms. Ranara, the State party was considering the disqualification of the employing agencies but also households that were involved in such incidents.
Migrant workers enjoyed the same rights as Philippine workers. In that vein, they had access to freedom of association and collective bargaining subject to Philippine regulations. Overseas Filipino workers were subject to local laws in their host countries, however. Migration and development issues were part of Philippine development plans. Regional and local councils oversaw their capacity building activities.
In 2018, the Philippines HIV and AIDS policy act repealed the previous law on the subject. It provided “safety nets” for foreign nationals and Philippine citizens alike. HIV/AIDS services were delivered without discrimination through public and private entities. The State encouraged voluntary HIV testing for migrant workers and their families and required written consent. There was no exclusion on pregnant women immigrating. The Public Health System provided health care universally regardless of immigration status. A migrant health unit was established within the Department of Health, covering overseas Filipino workers but also migrants, refugees and asylum seekers. It provided access to health care in emergency situations.
To address forced displacement, the State first identified the causes, such as terrorist activity. Multi-national collaboration with the Office of the High Commissioner for Refugees and the Philippine Red Cross and other civil society organisations inspired the State to enact the Marawi siege act to return internally displaced persons to their homes and ensure their security. A second major cause of forced internal displacement was climate change. Transitory family support, livelihood support, cash for work programs and psychosocial support were made available to those displaced by climate related events.
Mechanisms existed to settle monetary claims against overseas employers. The Mandatory Conciliation Proceeding was a mode of dispute settlement. Recruitment agencies and employees followed a process involving at least two meetings to settle claims, and claims could be appealed or settled through arbitration. From 2016 to 2019, cases were settled to benefit over 19,000 workers. Following the pandemic, over 8,000 workers’ cases had been settled. Another mechanism for claims was through the National Labour Relations Commission. The overseas employment programme prevented contract substitutions through bilateral agreements, standardising labour contracts and accrediting foreign employers and verifying contracts on-site. In case a contract substitution took place, mediation took place through a migrant workers officer. This service was also available online. If the employer refused or did not appear, their accreditation was revoked and the migrant workers office could pursue claims in local courts.
The delegation confirmed the reports of cancelled visas of those working in offshore casinos. Their visas were revoked because their employers did not have the proper authorisation to employ them, or they had violated local laws and regulations themselves. In line with the State party’s commitment to humane treatment, the migrants were given 59 days to leave before any proceedings would be filed against them. Further, if they were found to be victims of trafficking, they would benefit from a longer stay and be referred to the proper services. Philippine offshore gaming operators’ working conditions were monitored by the bureau of working conditions. Over 39,000 people were employed in 138 operators, 19,000 of whom were of Philippine nationality and 18,000 of whom were foreign nationals.
The expanded anti-trafficking act related only to household service workers who would be deployed abroad and did not change the legal age of a child.
The State party felt the impacts of climate change in changes of weather patterns but also calamities. Typhoon Haiyan devastated the Leyte province, which led to an increase in sex trafficking and forced people to consider going abroad to cover loss of income. The delegation asked the Committee to take note of illegal recruitments between already contracted overseas workers into sex trafficking. Shared responsibility was important and labour receiving countries had to be held to account. More receiving countries needed to sign the Convention and take the protection of the human rights of migrants seriously. Social media interrupted the closed processes of recruitment between inbound and outbound agencies, resulting in further trafficking. The Philippines was trying to increase the participation of women workers in its economy, which involved skills-training as well as possible new legislation to reduce the need for more women to look for jobs overseas.
MARIA SUSANA V. OPLE, Minister of the Department of Migrant Workers, and head of delegation, thanked the Committee for the constructive dialogue. The delegation was honoured to represent its country. The dialogue reminded the State party to constantly strive to engage civil society, uphold the rights of migrants in the country and protect the families of those left behind, especially children, from the social cost of labour migration. Concerns were raised on the feminisation of migration. A whole of Government approach was implemented to address the root issues that produced this environment. The Philippines held the view that migrant workers’ rights were human rights and would continue to care for them in times of need. The Philippines would continue to call on receiving States to accede to the Convention.
JASMINKA DZUHMUR, Committee Expert and Country Co-Rapporteur, in closing remarks, thanked the delegation for their informative report, which allowed for a productive dialogue. From each periodic report to the next, progress had been made and it was important to continue on that path. The establishment of the Department of Migrant Workers was a big step. Now, the State party was tasked with increasing the capacity of this Department and spreading awareness about its mandate.
PABLO CERIANI CERNADAS, Committee Expert and Country Co-Rapporteur, thanked for delegation for the constructive dialogue and highlighted the impressive female representation within the delegation. The challenges facing the State party were vast, including domestic structural issues forcing migration and legal challenges in receiving countries. The Committee would respond with constructive short, medium and long term recommendations.
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