DFA checks abusive practices against migrants

President Duterte says the Filipino is no slave to anyone, anywhere, and everywhere.

For many years, our overseas workers in some Middle East countries have had no choice but to submit to a sponsorship system dating back to the 1950s, called "kafala" where the kafeel (employer) “guarantees” the protection of the migrant worker under his custody. It started with good intentions as kafeel also means “to take care of” in Arabic. But its implementation —it covered every migrant worker from top executives to the skilled ones—left them treated like "property."

  The kafala system was abused by some employers, who, instead of protecting their workers, wanted total control. This affected mostly Filipino household service members who live with their employers. Abuse became rampant, from overwork and non-payment of salary, to physical harm and sexual harassment. One case garnered national attention: Joanna Demafelis. 

  Demafelis’ case was shocking because it was gruesome. Her abused body was frozen at her employer’s apartment, kept for over a year. This enraged President Duterte who immediately ordered a total deployment ban of Filipino workers to Kuwait and the repatriation of migrant workers already in that country. 

  Acting upon Duterte's orders, then Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano met with Kuwait’s ambassador amid the strained ties between the two countries. This took place after Kuwait expelled the Philippine ambassador after a video showed Philippine embassy officials rescuing Filipino maids from alleged abusive employers. The Kuwaiti foreign ministry decried the “undiplomatic acts” done by the Philippine embassy. Cayetano apologized for what Kuwait viewed as “flagrant violation of its sovereignty,” but insisted that the embassy had to do what it did as some situations were a matter of life and death.  “We respect Kuwaiti sovereignty and laws,” said Cayetano, “but the welfare of Filipino workers is also very important.”

  This diplomatic crisis became the impetus needed to change the kafala system that had kept OFWs in the Middle East in virtual bondage.  The fight to undo the kafala system gained momentum when the Duterte administration brought it out into the international arena, through the United Nations (UN).  The DFA under Cayetano led the effort to dismantle kafala by providing the leadership that led to the negotiation and international adoption of the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration or GCM, which aims to protect all Filipino migrant workers against all forms of exploitation and abuse, and guarantee decent work.

  The GCM is the first-ever UN global agreement on a common approach to international migration in all its dimensions, grounded in values of state sovereignty, responsibility-sharing, non-discrimination, and human rights.

  Following the withdrawal of the United States from the United Nations-led negotiations on the campaign for a global agreement on the protection of migrants’ rights, the Philippines vowed to take the lead. Cayetano reached out to “our allies in the West” for support, which ultimately resulted in the adoption of the GCM.

  “Our experience in the promotion of the welfare and the protection of the rights of Filipino migrants firmed up our commitment to advocate for the rights of all migrant workers,” Cayetano said at that time. “We remain guided by President Duterte’s directive for us to continue working to promote and protect the interests and welfare of our kababayan abroad. And the GCM process is important to the Philippines and we are ready to assume a leadership role to ensure a successful outcome.” 

  On May 11, 2018, an “Agreement on the Employment of Domestic Workers between the Philippines and Kuwait” was signed by Cayetano and Kuwait’s Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister.  Under the deal, employers cannot keep the passports and other travel documents of Filipino workers. They must also be allowed to use their phones, and their transfer to another employer should be with the consent of the Filipino worker or with the approval of the Philippine Overseas Labour Office.  The agreement also guarantees food, housing, clothing, and health insurance for the workers, and employment contracts, which would be renewed only with approval from Philippine officials.

When the UN General Assembly officially adopted the GCM on December 19, 2018 in Marrakech, Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. had assumed the helm of the Department of Foreign Affairs. “The GCM is of personal importance to me. (It is) hailed as the first UN framework to cover all dimensions of international migration. It provides a 360-degree approach to international migration governance, covering the whole cycle of migration, from pre-deployment to return and reintegration,” Locsin said. 

  Duterte stressed that “the Filipino is no slave to anyone, anywhere, and everywhere.” His directive became the driving force for the DFA, starting with Cayetano to Locsin, to uphold the GCM and to push forward the anti-kafala movement, resulting in more rights for migrant workers. All these present actions would allow future generations of OFWs to be emancipated from poverty, abuse, and intolerance.  

Taxman to run after 'bad eggs'

In this world, a sage once said, nothing is certain except death and taxes.

The part about taxes is the responsibility of one of our two main tax collection agencies, namely the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) and the Bureau of Customs (BoC).

But these two agencies have been identified by President Rodrigo Duterte as among those to be investigated for corruption by a mega-task force led by the Department of Justice. The other agencies include the Department of Public Works and Highways, Bureau of Immigration and the Land Registration Authority.

It is estimated that corruption in the BIR results in billions of pesos pocketed every year by corrupt officials and employees through various schemes. But BIR Commissioner Caesar R. Dulay wants to change the public perception of his agency as hopelessly mired in corruption by going after the 'bad eggs' in the institution, thus ensuring that taxpayers' money really goes to the national treasury and not to private pockets.

In the first ten months of this year, the agency collected P1.58 trillion in taxes as against its goal of P1.424 trillion for the period.

In October alone, the BIR reported, it collected P134.4 billion in taxes, which is 17.8-percent bigger than the P114.1-billion target. But this amount was still lower than last year’s take for the same period as the pandemic caused millions of Filipinos to lose their jobs and many enterprises to either shut down or downsize operations.

Amid the 25.1 percent decline in BIR’s October tax take from P179.3 billion a year ago, it is now pursuing an aggressive tax collection system that seeks to find a happy compromise between prolonged court cases and a serious effort to raise tax awareness in the business community.

The BIR wants the business sector to stimulate economic growth by paying the correct taxes on time despite the difficulties brought about by the pandemic.

The bulk of BIR's October collections came mainly from large corporations, which remitted a total of P88.5 billion to the national coffers. The amount collected from large taxpayers surpassed the P78.6-billion goal by 12.6 percent, even as it declined 21.9 percent from the P113.3-billion take in October last year.

The BIR's above-par performance in the past 10 months of this year has actually elicited commendation from Malacañang's 8888 Citizens’ Complaint Center, which noted the agency's “efforts in ensuring that all tickets (or 100% of citizens’ concerns as of September 30, 2020) are acted upon within the prescribed period.”

In response, Commissioner Dulay said: “We are thankful to receive commendation from 8888. Rest assured that the Bureau will continue to act on citizens’ complaints, queries, suggestions and other concerns. Many of these are valuable feedback from taxpayers that will not only help us identify areas that still need improvement, but more importantly serve as inputs to our ongoing investigations/initiatives to get rid of the remaining ‘bad eggs’ in our agency.”

These “remaining bad eggs” in the BIR, he added, are officials and employees, including examiners, who still continue with their corrupt practices: “We hope that the anti-graft probe of the Department of Justice can help us get rid of these unscrupulous individuals.”

The agency's tax campaign thrust this year, "Mahusay na Serbisyo, Ramdam na Pagbabago" is expected to continue well into 2021, when experts predict the Philippine economy would rebound with a 7-percent growth. The optimistic outlook for 2021 is anchored on government’s ongoing efforts to contain the coronavirus contagion especially now that there's good news on the development of vaccines for the deadly disease. Improved tax collection is what the BIR hopes to achieve with Philippine economic recovery well within sight next year.

Our GDP growth next year is projected by the Asian Development Bank (ADB) at 6.5 percent. “We believe the worst is now over and that the contraction in GDP bottomed out in May or June this year. The package of measures the government rolled out such as income support to families, relief for small businesses, and support to agriculture in the second quarter all helped the economy to bottom out. We expect the recovery to be slow and fragile for the rest of this year, and growth to accelerate in 2021 on the back of additional fiscal support and an accommodative monetary policy stance,” according to the ADB Country Director for the Philippines.

If that's the case, then the BIR needs to really ramp up tax collection efforts for the rest of this year and beyond—and do some serious internal cleansing.

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Topics: Kafala , OFW , BOC , Tax , ADB
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