Baguio City – According to government data, majority of OFWs from 1981 to 2017 are women. There are 67 men for every 100 women OFWs. Women OFWs are vulnerable to abuse. Filipina workers are not just workers. They are family to every household. They offer love, care, and patience. Women OFWs, however, remain vulnerable to abuse and discrimination. Sometimes the reality is, women OFWs are victimized even before they leave the Philippines. Contract substitution, debts, make them more at risk once deployed.

Department of Labor and Employment Secretary Silvestre H. Bello III has implemented a stringent labor regulation to prevent contract substitution, illegal recruitment, sub-standard conditions, exploitation, maltreatment, and other abuses on migrant workers.

“Katrina”, a Hong Kong based OFW paid HKD 48,000.00 (P280,000.00 pesos) for a “commercial visa” to go to Russia. According to the Philippine Overseas Labor Office (POLO) in Hong Kong that illegal deployment is fairly small, but is worth looking at because of a new twist: The illegal recruitment takes place in Hong Kong, among Filipinas already working there.

The Illegal Recruiter had promised “Katrina” a job better than as a domestic helper in Hong Kong, with a company in Russia endorsing the application and having listed the OFW as a professional. As promised she reached Russia and was left on her own. She found out that the “commercial visa” actually do not allow her to work and has to be renewed every three months. To cut the story short, Katrina came back to the Philippines, with no savings to pay back the debts she owed from people. At that moment, she realized how valuable her country was, how comfortable she can move around, how freely she can express herself. She suddenly realized that she didn’t need to go to other countries, because the Philippines is a better place to live. Experience is the best.

There are still thousands of “Katrinas” abroad and the government has a reintegration program for distressed women OFWs. The program is handled by the National Reintegration Center for OFWs (NRCO), an attached agency of the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) and there is abright future for them if they decide to come home.

DOLE Administrative Order No. 120, Series of 2016 “Guidelines on the Implementation of Balik Pinay, Balik Hanapbuhay” to effectively provide and expand the employment and economic opportunities of distressed women overseas Filipino workers.

The DOLE Balik Pinay, Balik Hanapbuhay (BPBH) is a combination of training and production intervention program to provide distressed women OFWs with livelihood skills to improve their socio-economic well-being by expanding their employment and economic opportunities.

“Under the Balik Pinay, Balik Hanapbuhay, livelihood skills training and starter kits are provided to distressed women OFWs to enable them to start self or wage employment undertaking,” said Baldoz.

The beneficiaries who may avail of the Balik Pinay, Balik Hanapbuhay program are distressed women OFW returnees and those who were sheltered in Migrant Workers and Overseas Filipinos Resource Centers (MWOFRCs)

Under A.O. No. 120-16, Philippine Overseas Labor Office (POLO) personnel shall prepare all distressed women OFWs, whether returnee to sheltered in MWOFRC, for productive reintegration to the country.

The POLO personnel shall complete on-site processing of all requirements for entitlement to BPBH program; train the BPBH beneficiaries on their preferred livelihood skills and on the fundamentals of entrepreneurship and business planning; and ensure the submission of business plan as a requirement for graduation and issuance by POLO of the Certificate of Training on Livelihood Skill and Fundamentals of Entrepreneurship and Business Planning.

For on-site livelihood training, the heads of POLO shall ensure the availability of livelihood skills training courses at MWOFRC based on the need and viability of the undertaking. The POLO head shall ensure that all the skills training are TESDA guided in terms of training facilitation, assessment, and certification; handled only by trainers with National TVET Trainer Certificate; and in instances where POLOs are able to partner with external entities or institutions in the host country. The POLO heads shall ensure that training programs will lead to the acquisition of the National Certificate or Certificate of Competency.

The administrative order also stated that training expenses shall be cost-shared by the Labor Attaché and Welfare Fund as indicated in the POLO Work and Financial Plan, while the National Reintegration Center for OFWs (NRCO) shall fund the starter kits to be distributed to the beneficiaries.

The DOLE Regional Offices shall, through the NRCO, shall identify and select priority clients and submit a copy of the passport with picture and page stamp and accomplished NRCO form and Business Plan.

The NRCO, as program manager, shall conduct regular field visit to assess program implementation and provide technical advisory assistance to program implementers. The DOLE Assessment Team composed of the NRCO, Internal Audit Service (IAS), Financial Management Service (FMS), and Planning Service (PS) may conduct actual site visit/consultation with project beneficiaries to assess the overall impact of the livelihood activities and to make appropriate recommendations for improvements.

The Balik Pinay Balik Hanapbuhay Project was institutionalized under DOLE Administrative Order No. 77 Series of 2011 to assist returning OFWs through livelihood grants of P10,000. Priority is given to victims of illegal recruitment and trafficking, and other distressed and displaced household service workers.

Under the Balik Pinay, Balik Hanapbuhay Project, returning women OFWs may avail of skills training and grants in the form of business starter kits for home-based income generating occupations, such as cosmetology, haircutting, foot spa, food processing, massage, reflexology, baking, native snack preparation, handicraft, flower arrangement, dress making, beauty care, and pedicure and manicure. The business starter kits come in the form of equipment, tools and jigs, raw materials, and small start-up capital.

For more information visit us @ www.nrco.gov.ph or www.dole.gov.ph / Patrick T Rillorta