ONE of the Middle East countries that employs the most number of Filipino migrant workers is the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
As of December 2019, there are 865,121 Filipino migrant workers in Saudi Arabia who will stand to benefit from the abolition of the controversial “kafala system” or visa sponsorship system which the Philippine government had fought hard and advocated in the United Nations and other international fora.
Effective March 14, 2021, the Kafala system will be abolished. All foreign workers in Saudi Arabia will no longer be required to secure their employer’s consent should they decide to leave or change jobs. They will also be allowed to travel even without approval from their employers.
The less restriction to be put in place is a far cry from the old system which is vulnerable to abuse where an employer can confiscate the foreign worker’s passport and can even pursue a case if the worker leaves the employer without obtaining consent.
The International Organization for Migration in the Philippines lauded the new labor reforms of the Saudi Arabian government, describing it as a “game-changer” in terms of worker protection.
The IOM also recognized efforts of the Department of Foreign Affairs in pushing hard for the reform to ensure the welfare of the overseas Filipino workers.
It was former DFA Secretary and now Taguig Representative Alan Peter Cayetano who initiated the fight for the abolition of the Kafala system way back in 2017. Three years later, the fight ended in victory which will somehow ensure protection to hundreds of thousands of Filipino workers employed in Saudi Arabia.
To recognize his outstanding and dedicated service as DFA secretary, President Duterte conferred him the Order of Sikatuna with the rank of Datu when he left the DFA in 2018. Cayetano deserves such recognition for his unparalleled and extraordinary feat in the DFA and for pursuing pro-OFW programs.
Aside from advocating the abolition of the Kafala system, it was also through the efforts of Cayetano that the allocation for the Assistance to Nationals fund increased from P400 million to P1 billion, and that of the Legal Assistance Fund (LAF) from P100 million to P200 million.
The additional fund for the ATN paved the way for the DFA to help 14,995 distressed OFWs and to provide legal assistance to 685 migrant workers facing charges. All of these were accomplished during the term of Cayetano in the DFA.
Cayetano also instituted reforms in the old policies and procedure for them to reach out to as many as OFWs needing assistance, and to help them as soon as possible. Because of this, the DFA was able to provide financial assistance to OFWs who were stranded due to calamity or typhoon or because of an accident.
The pro-OFW programs Cayetano initiated did not stop even when he left the DFA. He brought this advocacy before Congress. Hence, when he became the House Speaker, he pushed for the passage of the bill that facilitated the creation of the Department of OFW that will focus on the welfare and protection of the Filipino migrant workers.
In March 2020, the Department of OFW bill authored by Cayetano passed the third and final reading before the House of Representatives. However, its counterpart bill before the Senate is still pending.
Other noteworthy programs of Cayetano include the launching of the Passport on Wheels which hastened the process of passport application, and the opening of consular offices in Ilocos Norte, Isabela, Laguna, Bulacan, Cavite, Rizal, Davao del Norte, Misamis Occidental and Tarlac.
With Cayetano taking the helm of the DFA for one and a half year, the processing of passport application greatly improved. From 9,500 passports being processed daily, the capacity increased to 20,000 passports a day.
With the introduction of the e-payment system, he also managed to address the issue on fake passport appointment leading to an increase in the applicants’ show-up rate from 65-percent to 95-percent.
The courtesy lane has been expanded, with senior citizens and persons with disability (PWD) entitled to bring with them one relative during the term of Cayetano at DFA. Minor passport applicants are also accorded with privilege as they are allowed to be with their parents in the courtesy lane. The courtesy lane privilege is also accorded to pregnant, returning OFWs and solo parents along with their minor child.
Last but not the least, Cayetano also successfully implemented the 10-year validity of the Philippine passport which put a lot of smiles to many travelling Filipinos.
People are usually happy when they get the kind of service they deserve.
In Tagalog, we call this kind of service rendered ‘sulit’.
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