The government does not treat overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) fairly and properly despite hailing them as the country's modern-day heroes, according to presidential aspirant Sen. Grace Poe.
Speaking at a forum on migrant workers' issues on Friday, Poe said the government had not done enough for the OFWs who continue to face a lot of problems, and are treated unequally when they return home.
OFWs have been branded as the country's modern-day heroes for boosting the economy through the dollar remittances and gifts they send home to their relatives.
"But when you're running, you're no longer seen as a hero," said Poe, who used to live and work in the United States, before going home to the country for good when her father, the late action star Fernando Poe Jr., died.
"I think that is where there is some kind of unfair treatment. There are many good Filipinos who return home to put up businesses here to provide opportunities, or to serve. Let us look at the kinds of persons they are. Love for country is not determined by territory. Wherever we are, we remain Filipinos," she said.
Poe made these remarks when asked about the disqualification cases filed against her, aimed at eliminating her from the presidential race due to her alleged lack of residency.
She said she left the country after getting married to seek better opportunities abroad, and life was not always easy.
She also used to be a dual citizen, but has since renounced her American citizenship.
Those who go abroad become more Filipino because they miss their home country, Poe said.
She thinks OFWs could sympathize with her plight because they know how it is like to live abroad.
Poe also said that OFWs, with their remittances of about US$26 billion (S$36.7 billion) a year, have long been propping up the Philippine economy. The Philippines, which grew by 6 per cent in the third quarter this year, was the third fastest among Asian countries next to China's 6.9 per cent and Vietnam's 6.8 per cent.
"We hear that the OFWs are the new heroes. The first thing that comes to my mind is, why is this just publicity for a number of years? Publicity because that is an empty phrase," she said.
It would be hard to point fingers at who's at fault, but she said the concerns of OFWs have not been properly taken care of.
"We know that the government has not adequately addressed the needs of the OFWs," she said
"Why do I say this now? From listening to you now, it's very clear that there are many things that we should, and not just could, do," she said.
She cited the case of household helper Thelma Gawidan in Singapore, who was starved by her employer. She said concerned government agencies should extend all the help they could to Gawidan.
Bayan Muna party-list Rep. Neri Colmenares, who is running for the Senate under Poe's slate, said OFWs should harness their power and should realise they wield a lot of influence over the government and candidates for public office.
Aside from their remittances, their votes would also be important to all those seeking public office. There are some 1.5 million OFWs registered as voters, Colmenares noted.
These numbers could play a crucial role especially in a close electoral race, he pointed out.
Given the power they have, OFWs could also demand that those who seek public office include in their platforms various programs that would address the concerns of migrant workers, he said.
"No candidate could ignore the votes of OFWs," he said.
Through social media, Filipinos abroad could further expand their influence, Colmenares said.
He pointed out that the workers' social media campaign against the "balikbayan" box inspection and the bullet-planting scam had worked to get the government to stop these practices that victimize OFWs and their families.
"Because you are strong, you are a very powerful sector, your influence and your calls would bear fruit not just for the migrant workers' sector, but also for the Filipino nation," he added.