It’s (Not) More Fun in the Philippines

The Philippines love their acronyms, so here are a few that I’m dealing with at the moment:

OFW – Overseas Filipino Worker

OEC – Overseas Employment Certificate

POEA – Philippine Overseas Employment Agency

DOLE – Department of Labor and Employment

Sample sentence: I’m an OFW in need of an OEC that’s issued by POEA but requires clearance from DOLE before issuance.

First of all, well done to POEA for having your evaluator mislead me into thinking that the 2-3 week waiting period was DOLE’s fault. Her display of empathy was convincing as she spoke about how awful she felt that we were being forced to wait on one person’s signature as we risked losing well-paid work. I fell for it when she told me that they, at POEA, work quickly and efficiently to serve and support OFWs.

What she failed to tell me, however, was that before my documents could be sent to DOLE, they would need to go through several departments within POEA to get signed off. Two weeks have gone by, and those signatures still haven’t been collected. She did inform me, though, that they made up the figure of 2-3 weeks and they sort of just hope that it gets done within that time.

I had to attend the mandatory PDOS (Pre-Departure Orientation Seminar) as a requirement for receiving my OEC. When it started, the woman facilitating it asked for a show of hands for first-time OFWs, to which roughly half the room raised their hands. She then asked if there were any veterans in the room — anyone who’d been an OFW for ten years. One man raised his hand. She then went on to say that the seminar was really meant for first-time OFWs so the rest of us were free to day-dream for the rest of her presentation, as long as we didn’t day-dream about her.

A few people laughed, but I was far from amused. She basically just told us that we didn’t have to be there, but we didn’t have a choice about it either. Plus the fact that I’d just sat in rush-hour traffic for an hour and fifteen minutes to travel the 5 kilometres to get there — a ten-minute drive without traffic.

The two things I took away from the seminar were:

  1. Don’t become a prostitute
  2. Buckle your seatbelt on the plane

The other thing that I’ve had to deal with is the medical. They’re asking me to provide this even though my visa and employment pass have already been approved with a previous medical that I’d already done. This can’t be done at just any clinic either, it needs to come from a DOH (Department of Health) accredited clinic.

The first piece of advice I was given was to look for the one closest to me and just get it done. The closest clinic turns out to be 10 kilometres away. The second piece of advice I was given was to do it once my clearance was released so that the medical wouldn’t expire again (because I should expect another three months to pass before you release my papers?!).

I called the clinic to enquire. The woman on the phone tells me that she’s unsure if they do medical checkups for Malaysia-bound OFWs. I’m confused. What does that mean? So now it’s not even about finding the closest clinic, but finding the closest clinic that caters to the country you’re bound for. The ridiculous thing is that it’s not even an international requirement but a local one. Malaysia is never going to see this medical, it’s for POEA. She then tells me that results are given after a week. I was under the impression that I could get the results within the same day.

I must have called over ten clinics before I found one. The prices and release of results varied for each one, but none of them were cheap. And to think that every single OFW has to pay that just to leave.

It’s coming up on three weeks now since this whole fiasco began. I’ve been lucky enough so far to have an employer that tells me they understand that it isn’t my fault, but I know they’re suffering, too. They hired me for a reason and they needed me there weeks ago. They’re losing money for every class that needs to be cancelled because the teacher who was meant to be there to teach it isn’t there. They’re potentially losing credibility because of it. They’re possibly regretting hiring me now because hiring someone else could have meant that they could have avoided this entire situation.

I don’t know if it’s nearly over. I don’t know what sort of place takes over two weeks to process a document. I don’t know why it’s so difficult to get this done. This entire thing is meant to be for the well-being of the OFW, but it really feels like it hurts a lot more than it helps.

Finding a decent job isn’t easy. POEA and DOLE need to fix this insanity. When people tell me that there’s a delay because there’s been a change in signatory, reorganisation in departments, and lots of meetings going on, that is not acceptable. The people shouldn’t have to suffer for your lack of organisation. How many people have lost jobs because of this? How many companies have blacklisted Filipino employees because of this? How many qualified, talented Filipinos have lost opportunities because of this?

People say to be patient and wait it out because leaving without compliance will cause problems for me in the future. Being unemployed causes some pretty big problems, too. That’s the trouble with this country. The people are told to just bear it and they do.

Don’t even get me started on the Grab/Uber lunacy happening right now.

It is definitely not more fun in the Philippines.

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Relocation Limbo

I got my visa nearly a month ago and I still haven’t left the country. Even though I have a visa and employment pass, I can’t just leave the country without exit papers. Before I could get that on my end, I needed papers to get processed in the Philippine Embassy in Malaysia. That entire process took three weeks because they needed to send me something via courier for my signature, which I then had to send back — a process that takes two days each way, but longer if it went through the weekend. So, they sent me papers to sign, I received it, signed it, and sent it back, then they realised they needed me to sign something else because the scanned copy I’d sent wasn’t acceptable to the embassy. When they finally had everything, it took a few days for the embassy to release the papers I needed to apply for the exit papers here. I got my visa on June 6th, and I got the Philippine Embassy papers on June 27th.

That same day, I went to POEA (Philippine Overseas Employment Agency) to get my exit papers — something called the OEC (Overseas Employment Certificate). I tried to get it the same way I’d got it last time, but I was told that since I hadn’t actually started working for my employer, I couldn’t get it that way and had to go to a different office to get it. So, I went to the office, submitted my papers, and I was told that I needed to submit more documents.

They wanted my university diploma, transcript of records, CV, certificates of employment from two previous employers, and a written statement saying how I came across the job and how I got the job — notarised.

I couldn’t believe it. They were asking for credentials that my employer had already checked and deemed acceptable to hire me, why was this necessary? So I asked if I would receive the OEC after submitting all these extra documents and was told, no, it would take around two to three weeks to process. If asking for additional documents was a slap on the face, this information was a punch in the gut.

I was originally meant to start my new job in the first week of June, but after all the delays, my new start date was moved to the 28th — the following day, basically. I was pretty much told that there was nothing I could do except submit the additional required documents and wait for approval.

Disbelief was probably an understatement at that point. Here I was, on the brink of starting a job with my dream employer — a well-known, reputable, international company — and subsequently having my country slam the door on my face.

I’m a patient person, for the most part. But if I’m told to wait for something incredibly, unbelievably stupid and unnecessary, it becomes a problem. It’s frustrating. More so when you know that there’s absolutely nothing that you can do and that your fate basically lies in the hands of people who don’t care what happens to you.

The incredulity did not stop there. When I went back to submit the “required” documents they asked for, I was told that I needed to attend a seminar as another requirement. It’s basically someone talking about what life abroad is like, what to expect, what to do, how to conduct yourself, and so on. I’ve been living and working abroad for over two years. This honestly does not apply to me. The woman handling my papers tells me to just take it since it’s free anyway. I don’t care that it’s free. I care that you’re telling me to go waste my time doing something that’s completely unnecessary.

But wait, there’s more. She tells me I also need a medical check-up. I tell her that I’ve already done one for the visa and employment pass. I show her the papers and she sees that it was done back in April. She then tells me that it’s not acceptable because medical check-ups are only valid for three months. So I argue that it technically hasn’t been three months since the check-up, to which she retorts that it will be by the time my papers are processed and approved.

I understand that Filipino workers are taken advantage of and abused in many places. I understand that this process and these requirements are in place to protect workers from scams and human trafficking, but there has to be an exception somewhere when applicable.

There is no job in the Philippines in my line of work that will compensate me the way jobs abroad can. If there were, I wouldn’t be leaving. My family is here. I don’t voluntarily live abroad on my own for fun. I don’t send my salary home for fun. I’m willing to bet that every Filipino working abroad will tell you the same thing.

My case is by no means unique. There were other people there pleading for their OECs because they were already at risk of losing their jobs. The only thing they needed was one person’s signature. One signature to get them a piece of paper to allow them to leave the country and work. It didn’t matter that their flights were booked. It didn’t matter that they were about to lose their jobs. They were told to wait.

If we lose our jobs because of this, nobody is going to compensate us for all the money we’ve already spent on all the paperwork we’ve done. Nobody is going to reimburse them for their flights. Nobody is going to offer us an alternative job with the same benefits. Sorry nalang.

Correct me if I’m wrong, but I feel like a country should be helping its people to get ahead in life and not preventing them from good opportunities.