By Daisy CL Mandap
All it took was one meeting with concerned Filipino community leaders, and the long queues for the overseas employment certificate or OEC during the pre-Christmas rush was gone in a flash.
Starting Dec. 9, a numbering system was introduced to get rid of the long lines for the OEC to the 16th floor of Admiralty Center where the OECs are being issued in the Philippine Overseas Labor Office (Polo) annex.
Those who stand in line for the document are issued a form stamped with a time period during which they can go directly up to the Polo office to get their OEC.
Before the indicated time, they can while their time somewhere else, doing other things they need to do like running errands.
Each applicant is given only one time-stamped form to avoid people lining up for others, or foil those who have reportedly been selling the blank forms for up to $4 each to those in the queue.
The move came a day after a dialogue was held between leaders of United Filipinos – Migrante Hong Kong and other advocates for the scrapping of the OEC, and Consulate officials led by Consul General Bernardita Catalla.
Unifil secretary-general Eman Villanueva sought the meeting, saying that even if his group was against the OEC requirement, they saw the need to help find ways to ease the burden on the thousands who have been lining up for the document during peak season.
“Walang kain, walang pahinga, walang ihi” was how he described the condition of those who have been lining for up to seven hours just to secure the document needed by an OFW returning from the Philippines.
Their pitiable plight was reportedly made worse by the building’s security staff requiring the Filipina applicants to take the service elevator to the 16th floor, instead of the regular lifts used by other tenants.
One of those herded to the service lift told The SUN: “Nakakasama ho ng loob, kasi di ba discrimination yun?”
The practice, first noted during a massive post-holiday surge in the number of OEC applicants on Dec. 1, was immediately stopped after it was brought to the attention of Consulate officials.
But the meeting which started on a friendly note nearly turned sour when Villanueva lost his cool after repeated stalling by acting labor attache Ma Nena German on various proposals set before her to address the queuing problem.
Villanueva also got irked because of his perception that German was accusing OFWs of not being tolerant enough over the problems related to OEC
“This is not all about inconvenience, it is also about securing the welfare and safety of our kababayans”, he said.
Villanueva said he got the feeling that the meeting was going nowhere because German resisted all suggestions raised to solve the problem, like returning the OEC issuance to Bayanihan Centre even only during the peak season.
German had earlier said the Bayanihan issuance which had been in place for at least 12 years was stopped because Polo now has enough space to accommodate OEC applicants. She also said the shifting of personnel from OEC issuance to other tasks is easier if they are all in the same building.
As to the numbering system which Congen Catalla had put in place when the OEC issuance was still being done at the Consulate, German said Polo decided to stop it after receiving complaints, but did not elaborate.
Catalla forestalled a breakdown in the talks by announcing she was resuming the appointment or numbering system.
The next day, she and her deputy, Christian de Jesus, personally supervised and monitored the OEC issuance at the Polo offices.
Polo records show that at the peak of the OEC applications on Dec. 6, a total of 2,150 OFWs were served, the highest for any single day. Since the start of the month, the number of applicants has reportedly averaged around 1,000 per day.