Bangsamoro overseas workers’ woes gain BTA attention

By Ali G. Macabalang

BARMM Labor Minister Romeo Sema. (File)

COTABATO CITY

Sad plights of Bangsamoro overseas workers, both known and untold, have gained the attention of the regional autonomous government, particularly its interim parliament.

The parliament of the Bangsamoro Transition Authority (BTA), the momentary ruling body of the autonomous region, passed on June 17 on second reading its bill institutionalizing policies for Bangsamoro overseas employment, and establishing standards of protection and promotion the welfare of overseas Bangsamoro workers and their families.

Parliament Bill No. 36 was unanimously approved sans resenting or abstaining votes from members in attendance, physically and virtually, according to regional Labor Minister Romeo Sema.

“This is a significant achievement that shall be part of history of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao,” Minister Sema, the bill principal author, said in reference to the measure’s passage.

“This is a clear manifestation that the Bangsamoro government, thru the Ministry of Labor and Employment (MOLE), is strongly committed to protect our overseas workers against abuses, maltreatment, trafficking, imprisonment, or illegal migration, and provide comprehensive intervention and support to advance their welfare and those of families,” Sema added.

Article IV, Section 24 of the bill provides that the regional government shall allow the deployment of OBWs only in countries where the rights of overseas Bangsamoro workers are protected, and that the MOLE in coordinated with concerned national agencies will establish a help desk for OBWs in every Philippine Overseas Labor and Office (POLO) of the country where a worker has been deployed.

The help desk will assist, monitor, make, and submit inventory of all OBWs in respective countries, their employment status and condition to MOLE, the bill stipulates.

The Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) covers the provinces of Maguindanao, Lanao del Sur, Basilan, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi, the cities of Marawi, Lamitan and Cotabato and 63 autonomy-opting villages in North Cotabato.

Previous reports from the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) and International Organization for Migrants (IOM) had indicated that Maguindanao has been among four provinces in the country noted for having high rates of illegal human trafficking.

Other reports said that the island provinces of Basilan, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi used to serve as the exit and entry points of illegally-trafficked people travelling to or through Malaysia.

Illegal human trafficking issues in Maguindanao peaked in 1990’s when Sarah Balabagan, then a minor from Sultan Kudarat town, was jailed in the United Arad Emirates (UAE) for killing her male employer after allegedly raping her. Balabagan was sentenced to death but strong representations from Philippine authorities gained a reprieve for her.

How Balabagan was able to work abroad with her age bloated in documents is a problem replicated in several cases involving other minors in Maguindanao, POEA and IOM reports said.

In 2018, the Maguindanao Governor Esmael “Toto” Mangudadatu, now a congressman, mulled the establishment in his province of field offices of the National Bureau of Investigation, the Department of Foreign Affairs and the POEA to mitigate cases of illegal human trafficking by creating a “one-stop shop” documentation of jobseekers. The plan has not been pursued after his three gubernatorial terms lapsed in 2019. (AGM)

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