Supporters rally outside the Indonesian Embassy in Makati City on Friday appealing for clemency for Filipino Mary Jane Veloso, convicted of drug trafficking in Indonesia. Veloso has been moved to an island prison and is awaiting final word on her execution from Indonesian authorities. (MNS Photo)

Supporters rally outside the Indonesian Embassy in Makati City on Friday appealing for clemency for Filipino Mary Jane Veloso, convicted of drug trafficking in Indonesia. Veloso has been moved to an island prison and is awaiting final word on her execution from Indonesian authorities. (MNS Photo)

MANILA, May 1 (Mabuhay) – As the country celebrates Labor Day, at least two senators on Friday pushed for policies that they believe would prevent another Filipino migrant worker from being placed on another country’s death row like Mary Jane Veloso.

Senator Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos, Jr. called for a review of the country’s law on anti-trafficking in persons and the performance of the Inter-Agency Council Against Trafficking (IACAT).

“The case of Mary Jane Veloso serves as a rude awakening for all of us that despite our efforts much remains to be done to combat all forms of human trafficking,” Marcos said in a press statement.

He said there is a need to revisit the anti-trafficking in persons law to find out if we need to improve its provisions and review the performance of the IACAT to determine if it’s in the side of implementation where our effort is lacking.

He said that based on the US State Department’s Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report released on June 2014, the Philippine remains on Tier 2 classification or countries whose governments do not fully comply with the TVPA (Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act of 2000) minimum standards but are making significant efforts to comply.

“Tier 1” countries are those whose governments fully comply with the TVPA’s minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking while “Tier 3” countries are those whose governments do not fully comply with the TVPA’s minimum standards and are not making significant efforts to do so.

In the TIP Report the US Department of State places each country into one of three tiers based on their government’s efforts to comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking as found in the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act of 2000 (TVPA).

Marcos said while the TIP recognized the Philippine government’s efforts to prosecute sex and labor trafficking offenses and to impose stringent sentences on convicted sex traffickers “it did not make progress in convicting labor traffickers and its overall number of convictions remained low compared to the size of the problem.”

Higher-paying jobs

Senator Juan Edgardo Angara, on the other hand, urged the government to provide local employment programs and higher-paying jobs in the country to encourage Filipinos to stay and work in the Philippines.

“The cost of Filipinos working overseas is higher than we think. Yes, we can talk about their remittances that spur our economy but do we really want to become the world’s employment agency? If we ask most of our countrymen, I think they would definitely still prefer to stay at home but with higher-paying jobs,” said Angara, acting chairman of the committee on labor, employment and human resources development.

He said the labor force grows an addition of almost one million every year, and the number cannot be absorbed by available jobs here in the country, forcing Filipinos to seek better-paying jobs abroad to support their families even with the risk of facing abuse and exploitation.

A total of 1,135 person have been victims of human trafficking in 2013  while the number of OFWs facing death penalty cases, most of which are drug-related, has reached a total of 88 as of March this year, based on Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) records.

Angara said that what would really make migration a matter of choice and not a necessity is by providing higher-paying jobs in the country.

“We are pushing for the expansion of the Public Employment Services Office (PESO) to serve as job placement agencies in provinces and municipalities to help people find work amidst reports that it takes up to two years for new graduates to get work,” he said.

He is also pushing for the passage of the Apprenticeship Training Act to provide young Filipinos with skills and access to employment, noting that a majority of apprentices are hired by the companies where they have their apprenticeship.

“Aside from job-generating programs, one way of ensuring higher wages is by amending our outdated tax system that overburdens our middle-income workers and make it more progressive and equitable—one that promotes upward mobility and a just society,” said Angara.

With the current system, which remained unchanged since 1997, an upper middle-income earner who makes around P60,000 a month is already at the top tax bracket and is paying the same tax rate as the millionaires and billionaires in the Philippines.

The ways and means committee chairman stressed that tax brackets should be adjusted to keep up with inflation and to make them more sensitive to current salaries of Filipinos.

Convicted for bringing in over two kilos of heroin in Indonesia, Veloso was due for execution along with eight other foreigners Tuesday but got a last-minute reprieve to allow her to testify against her alleged illegal recruiter.

The reprieve came after Ma. Cristina Sergio, the woman who allegedly recruited her to work as domestic helper abroad and tricked her into carrying the illegal drugs in Indonesia, turned herself in to the police. (MNS)