MANILA Philippines — Most of the 6 000 Filipinos working in Palau are considered “illegals” by the Philippine government according to Ambassador to Palau Ramoncito C. Mariño.

The government of Palau disputes the claim.

Mariño said that “about 90%” of the Filipinos working there found employment via illegal recruiters in Manila. Many of them also went to Palau as tourists first before finding work.

He said this is why he is asking the help of the Philippines’ Overseas Workers Welfare Administration to go to Palau and “register” the so-called illegal Filipino workers. This will enable the Philippine government to document them properly and give them the necessary benefits especially for health insurance disability and death benefits for their families in case the workers die while working there.

Philippine Consul J. Anthony Reyes added that most of these “illegals” are “all from the unskilled labor sector i.e. employed as domestic helpers farm hands fishermen construction laborers. Usually people who already work here directly refer them for employment. When a Palauan needs an employee he or she usually asks a Filipino here if they could refer someone … and a relative or friend in the Philippines is contacted.”

He told the Journal when a prospective employee is found some Palauans and even some Filipino recruiters in Palau course the hiring through a Manila-based recruitment agency not accredited by the government-run Philippine Overseas Employment Administration.

“In the sense that [these] Filipino workers did not pass through POEA and are deployed overseas by ‘illegal recruiters’ they are ‘illegals’—but the more exact term for them is ‘non-documented [overseas Filipino workers]’ or ‘illegally-recruited OFWs’. They are illegal from the perspective of Philippine laws.”

But in the view of the Palauan government these Filipinos are not “illegals” because they get a work permit regardless of the mode of recruitment—either through a POEA-accredited or non-POEA accredited recruitment agency or are directly hired by their employer. “Everyone here is registered with the Palau Division of Labor. Even those who enter Palau as tourists — they leave the Philippines as tourists because that is how they can leave the country without going through POEA. But once they are on Palau they acquire foreign worker status by the virtue of the work permit they get from their employer ” he explained.

Reyes said while there are only a handful of Filipino workers about 100 who are considered “illegals” by the Palau government these are people “who entered Palau before the computerization of the Immigration and Labor database and have dodged registry because they do not want to pay the fines and penalties. But that number is shrinking as one by one they go home. After the computerization of the Immigration and Labor systems no one gets to enter Palau as a ‘TNT.’ The term “TNT” or “tago ng tago” translated as “hide and hide ” refers to Filipinos who have no official basis to either live or work in a foreign country.

He admonished Filipinos from taking a shortcut and working here without POEA imprimatur. “While skirting POEA allows a Filipino to get overseas work easily it is often a bane rather than a boon because POEA performs the function of quality control check on the employer and guarantor of fair employment. Many times the employers who recruit Filipinos without going through POEA include previously blacklisted employers or employers who cannot comply with the decent minimum pay rates. Hence the ‘illegally recruited’ domestic help or farm help destined for Palau get a ‘gross’ salary of only US$150 per month (subject to a $18-deduction for social security and tax). And illegal recruiters usually leech recruitment fees of 40 000 pesos (about $800) to 60 000 pesos (about $1 200) for these $150/month jobs.”

According to a fact sheet provided by the Philippine Embassy in Palau most Filipinos work in diverse job categories: professional (doctors engineers journalists); administration or management (accountants restaurant managers business proprietors); and production clerical sales and services.

“The majority of Filipino workers are in unskilled sectors (domestic workers farm hands fishermen construction laborers). The Embassy does not have a quantitative date on the distribution of OFWs among these job categories ” according to the fact sheet.

Filipinos constitute about 16% of the total population of Palau with “Filipino” the third most spoken language after Palauan and English.

Filipinos also comprise the second largest ethnic group in Palau after the Palauans. The third largest are Chinese followed by Bangladeshis Indonesians and Americans.

“The first Filipino workers on Palau were former Navy servicemen who were hired to commission Palau’s first post-war power plant. Filipinos started to come to Palau in substantial numbers in the 1970’s ” the fact sheet said.

Diplomatic relations between the Philippines and Palau were established in 1997. At present both countries are exploring ways to finally forge a fishery agreement that will allow Filipinos to fish in Palau’s waters. (See story “Philippine companies trolling for fishing opportunities in Palau in the April 17 edition of the Journal.). MBJ