MANILA, AFP - 2001/3/1 - A Philippine legislator on Wednesday called for a congressional probe into reports that some 613 Filipino migrant workers, including 173 women, died abroad last year.
Most of them died as a result of work-related ailments, murder, suicide or "unidentified and unreported causes" while the others fell victim to accidents, House of Representatives member Ernesto Herrera said.
Citing data from the foreign office's unit for migrant workers' affairs, Herrera said last year's fatalities were slightly higher than the 607 who died abroad in 1999.
He said the number of deaths had risen steadily since 1997, despite government's passage of a law setting higher standards of protection for the estimated 4.5 million Filipinos working abroad.
It also imposed strict measures to deter illegal recruiters and expedite resolution of cases involving their victims.
"In view of the widespread perception that OFWs (overseas Filipino workers) are still not enjoying the full protection and benefits accorded them under the law, a congressional investigation is definitely in order," said Herrera, who is also the secretary-general of the moderate Trade Union Congress.
"It seems that the welfare and protection programs instituted by the law have not been set into motion, judging from the reports of unabated abuses and poor government response to incidents of abuse," Herrera said.
The Philippines is a major supplier of English-speaking laborers abroad, whose annual monetary remittances contribute significantly to the country's economy.
Many of the estimated 4.5 million migrant workers however are undocumented aliens often ending up working under dire conditions abroad, officials say.
The migrant workers' law was passed shortly after 1995 when Filipina
maid Flor Contemplacion was hanged in Singapore for murder, triggering
a diplomatic row that was soon resolved.