KSA remains key OFW destination—DMW OIC

    A report on Tuesday night that President Ferdinand R. Marcos, Jr. will visit  Saudi Arabia this month to attend the ASEAN-Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) summit brought to mind memories of the Kingdom.

    It is a major destination for overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) just like America was in the early part of the 20th century when thousands upon thousands of Filipino migrant workers traveled in steerage across the Pacific in search of the proverbial greener pasture. They included the famous writer Carlos S. Bulosan who landed in Seattle, Washington state on July 22, 1930 at age 17.

    He told his story in his book “America is in the  Heart” with, as it were, regretful longing.

    But while those Filipinos who went to the United States worked as fruit pickers, laborers or lowly-paid  workers  in Alaskan canneries, OFWs in the Kingdom provide for their families by working in various sectors in relatively better  conditions.

    The first batch of Filipino workers arrived in Saudi Arabia in 1973. They were initially called overseas contract workers (OCWs).

    “Saudi Arabia has remained a major destination for Filipino workers over the years, playing host to hundreds of thousands of OFWs,” said Undersecretary Hans Leo J. Cacdac, officer-in-charge (OIC) of the Department of Migrant Workers (DMW).

     Cacdac said that “Filipinos are hired because of skill, experience, work ethic, reliability and good attitude”.

    At present, the number of OFWs in the Kingdom is about 726,000, according to Charge d’Affaires Rommel Romato of the Philippine Embassy in Riyadh, the Saudi capital, as told to retired career Ambassador Rafael E. Seguis.

   Of the number, 250,000 to 300,000 are in the Western region including Jeddah, according to Consul General Edgar “Gary” Q. Auxilian of the Philippine Consulate.

    During the stints of  Seguis and (the late) Gen. Romulo Espaldon  and Antonio P. Villamor, the number of OFWs in the Kingdom was estimated at 1.2 million.

    For the first batch of Filipino workers and those who followed them, life was good: cost of living in the Kingdom was low then.

    For many years they could have lunch or dinner consisting of a tasty plate of rice and grilled chicken for SR5 (P75.95) and a small bottle of mineral water for SR1 (P15.11).

    They called it kabsa. Others unwittingly called it khamsa or “five” in Arabic because the meal cost SR5.

    But things have changed. The easy and leisurely life is gone—for now.

    Life has become difficult, to which OFWs are not used, whether they are on vacation in the Philippines or elsewhere.

    Roberto Garcia, president of the Filipino-Australian Business, Industry and Communities Council of Queensland, Inc. (FABICCQ), said, “Increase in prices is pervasive. It happens everywhere. Many are affected … as a result of external pressures in the world.’

    A resident of Toowoomba city, Queensland, Garcia remains optimistic, though, regarding the Australian economy. He is also the development officer of the Toowoomba Regional Council (TRC).

    Like Garcia, many OFWs are optimistic regarding their future in Saudi Arabia. They are of the firm belief that the Kingdom can ride out any recession that comes and urge fellow Filipinos to stay.

    Restituto “Resty” C. de Jesus, a community leader  in Riyadh, said, “If kababayan or compatriots have stable jobs, I recommend that they stay. What they receive monthly is still double, if not more than, the salaries they would receive  in the Philippines if they are lucky enough to get a job.“

   Like other Filipino community leaders he helps needy compatriots in his own way.

    De Jesus, who comes from Bulacan, works as cashier and accountant at the Saudi Industrial Trading Company (SITCO) in Riyadh.

    He also advises them to “avoid spending on unnecessary things”.

    Florante Marmolejo Catanus, community leader in Al-Khobar and Bagong Bayani Awardee in Community and Social Service for 2018, said aside from having a close family, OFWs should also guide their children so that they would become good and responsible citizens in the future.

    He and his wife Analiza sent their two older children—Rolf Azil and Nikos  Fluiz— to the Philippines for their college education but the youngest, Ranzil Emir, is with them so they could guide him.

    “When he graduates from high school, we plan to go home for good so we could stay together either in our home in San Fernando, Pampanga or in Iloilo where I come from,” said Catanus, a correspondent of the TFC News.

    Marcial “Jun” L. Nacion, Jr., retired community leader in Riyadh, advised OFWs to minimize hanging out with barkada or friends and stay close to the family.

   He and his wife Cora  were providing service to distressed domestic helpers at the Bahay Kalinga in Riyadh when they were in the Kingdom.

   They are now staying in their retirement home in Norzagaray, Bulacan.

    “They should also avoid spending unnecessarily, like buying expensive gadgets, and save for the rainy days or invest,“ he said.

    Saving is the order of the day.

     Congen Auxilian in Jeddah said,  “Just as I have been telling kababayan or compatriots here, they should consider plans for the long term. Because I am sure they don’t want to be here forever.

    “I tell them to always save money for the future,”   said Auxilian who is always available even on weekends regarding OFWs.

    Messages on how they could help OFWs on investment were sent to DMW Assistant Secretary Venecio Vano Legaspi and Director Francisco “Jun” S. Aguilar but feedback could not be received as of press time.

    Every piece  of advice serves OFWs in good stead during these difficult times. To many, especially displaced OFWs, life has become a bane instead of a boon.

    The cost of gasoline has  spiked causing a chain reaction and prices of goods and basic needs have been spiraling.

    Taib Domado, former driver who is now connected with the Consular section of the Philippine Embassy, said when he arrived in 2001 in the Kingdom, the cost of gasoline was only 60 halalahs (0.60 Saudi Riyals or P9.144) per liter for both 91 and 95 petrol.

    Now, 91 and 95 petrol per liter costs SR2.18 (P32.93) and SR2.36 (P35.65), respectively, according to  Al-Khobar-based Sir Zane M. Thirlwall, a community leader  married to a Filipino nurse, Glynda T. Javier of Ibaan, Batangas.

    A five-percent value-added tax (VAT) for most goods and services has likewise increased, with certain exceptions applicable.

    Starting July 1, 2020, the standard VAT rate was increased by the government to 15 percent.

    To make matters worse, the Kingdom has also imposed taxes on dependents in addition to the cost of Iqama (residence certificate) renewal.

    While employers take care of employees’ Iqama, OFWs who had retired and decided to stay for a limited period pay for renewal themselves.

    Cenon “Nonie” C. Sagadal, Jr., a bank marketing representative, said his and his wife Sol’s Iqama expired on Aug. 17.

    He paid SR200 (P3,022) for each month or SR600 (P18,132) for three months. He had to pay the same amount for Sol’s Iqama renewal.

   “Kaya nagbayad ako ng SR1,200 (P18,132) para sa aming  dalawa para sa tatlong buwang extension,“ he said.

    (That is why I paid SR 1,200 for both of us for a three-month extension.)

    The Kingdom started collecting a SR100 (P1,511) fee for each dependent on July 1, 2017, a move seen to boost the country’s revenues amid weak oil prices.

    From July 2018 to June 2019, the tax per dependent was raised to SR 200 (P3,022).

   Then from July 2019 to June 2020, it became SR300 (P4,533). From July 2020 to June 2021, it was raised to SR400 (P6,044).

   After that, the fee remained the same but OFWs have been reeling from the spike in dependents’ taxes.

    OFWs substantially contribute to the economy in terms of boosting the country’s dollar reserves and they hope (against hope) that in a year or two they will not experience the difficulties they have at present that evokes a sense of deja vû.

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