In a dimly lit avant-garde restaurant at the charming Raffles Hotel in Singapore, I lost my phone and with it, perhaps more than five years of data and memories.
I didn’t have a Singapore Sling – that famous cocktail from 1915 – that night, so I must have been just distracted by the wood-fired gourmet adventure. I was there to chat with sources after a press event. The restaurant was full.
Because the phone is just an emergency or backup unit, even though it still contains valuable data, I didn’t notice it missing until the next day or 20 hours later, long after I left places.
The next day, back at my hotel, when I finally realized that I had lost my phone, a local said to me, “It’s Singapore, you’ll get it back…unless people from other nationalities do not stumble upon it by chance.”
I went back to Raffles, did some research and shortly after I was at the hotel concierge with my lost phone.
It’s Singapore, indeed, but this time it’s not because a Singaporean found it. I learned that the Filipino waiter who served our table that night found it and handed it over to hotel security.
Hearing that made me so proud of my fellow Filipino. I remember him, the only Filipino waiter I saw in the restaurant that night.
You will notice this immediately because he did his job with great passion and enthusiasm. It is as if he were in the service of the British royal family or a powerful sheikh in the Middle East or the president of a superpower.
He was friendly, efficient and gave us great service.
That night, I thanked him for his kind service. I even took a picture of us together. His name is Melvin, although I didn’t catch his full name.
we are everywhere
Melvin is just one of at least 1.7 million overseas Filipino workers worldwide.
They are everywhere and I’m sure every one of us lucky enough to travel abroad must have encountered at least one OFW.
They can be found in airport duty-free shops, five-star international hotels, cruise ships, restaurants, shopping malls and the like.
In my experience with OFWs around the world, they are some of the best foreign workers in any country. They speak good English, they are hardworking, they are kind, warm, hospitable and they are almost always happy to see their fellow Filipinos.
In an international writer’s workshop I attended last year, an author from Canada told me that a Filipina domestic helper was taking care of her children.
It gives her peace of mind, she said, because the Filipina always goes the extra mile. She had to mean malasakit and I understand very well.
That’s how most OFW are and I’m always proud to see them in different corners of the world.
But each encounter, of course, is also a poignant reminder that behind every smile and every laugh are sacrifices and the hardships of being away from loved ones; forced by circumstances to work away from their country of origin.
Thorn in the side
The government should not add to the woes of our OFWs.
Unfortunately, I learned recently that the new online system for Balik Manggagawa, launched by the government in June last year, has been a thorn in the side of OFW.
The new system is an online process to obtain an Overseas Work Certificate (OEC), which is an authorization issued to Balik Manggagawa or those who leave the Philippines for employment purposes. They are those who have an employment contract and who return to the same employer after a stay in our country.
They need the certificate to leave the Philippines. It was intended to protect them from illegal recruiters or employers. The new system was also intended to speed up the process of issuing those work certificates, but that’s not happening in some cases, some OFWs say.
There are many complaints. Many cannot navigate the new online system as the portal sometimes does not work and as a result they cannot obtain their certifications.
Questions, confusion and complaints are all over social media as fix-it-up groups offering assistance to departing OFWs for a fee have sprung up.
On the other hand, those who are able to obtain their certifications go through another tedious process when going through immigration at the airport.
It turns out, one OFW told me, that sometimes the Bureau of Immigration is not able to verify the authenticity of the certifications submitted by departing OFWs.
Thus, they must go to the offices of the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration at the airport to have their certifications verified. This is after they waited in line for hours at Immigration. In the aftermath, some end up missing their flight.
It shouldn’t be. At present, many of them are forced by circumstances to leave their country of origin. The least our government can do is make it easier for them.
As I said, our OFWs are some of the hardest working overseas. They are smart, efficient and go the extra mile to do their jobs, despite the dangers and harsh working conditions in some of their host countries.
At the very least, they deserve a government that is as efficient as they are, a government that goes above and beyond.
“There’s no place like home,” Dorothy says in The Wizard of Oz, as she kicks her heels and yearns for the comfort of her own bed.
Our OFWs should feel exactly that when they come to the Philippines. The least our government can do is not look like the Wicked Witch in Dorothy’s life.
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E-mail: [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter @eyesgonzales. Columns archive on EyesWideOpen on FB.