The Philippines is one of the largest sources of migrant workers worldwide. In a 2013 stock estimate of Overseas Filipinos, the Commission on Filipinos Overseas (CFO) reported that there are 10,238,614 Filipinos working or living in 221 countries and territories. The POEA stated that 2.2 million Filipinos or overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) are working abroad or have worked abroad from April to September 2016.

In 2017, OFWs contributed around USD28.1 Billion through direct/cash remittances.1 Their contribution helps advance the economic growth of the country.2

Migrant workers are subjected to human rights violations throughout the whole migration cycle – from recruitment to return and reintegration. They are subjected to debt bondage and forced labor, they suffer maltreatment and physical abuse while onsite, and are vulnerable to gender-based violence, especially women domestic workers.

The promotion and protection of the rights of migrant workers are complicated by the following:

 The responsibility to promote and protect the rights of migrants is supposedly shared between the origin and the host country;

 Within the Philippines, the mandate and corresponding government resources to protect and promote migrants are dispersed among different departments and agencies;

 Philippine law and existing migration management practices entrust the private sector, particularly Filipino private recruitment agencies, with the responsibility to protect workers from abuse and exploitation;

 Data and information on migrants are scattered across different agencies. The data available is not being analyzed and utilized in formulating responses and policies; and

 The country is deploying more domestic workers who, because of the nature of their work, are more vulnerable to abuse and are more challenging to track and rescue from exploitative situations. In 2015, the Philippines deployed 194,835 domestic workers compared with 39,740 professionals.3

Baseline information on OFWs is fragmented in various agency reports, particularly in the Inter-Agency Council Against Trafficking (IACAT), the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA), and the National Labor Relations Commission (NLRC). There is a need to develop a system to integrate a reliable baseline as a starting point for a systematic monitoring of State’s obligations to promote and protect the rights of Filipino migrant workers and members of their families. Likewise, salient provisions from international human rights mechanisms, particularly the Convention on Migrant Workers, is essential to be considered.

Currently, the Commission on Human Rights of the Philippines (CHR) is responding, on a case-to-case basis, to human rights violations committed against OFWs and members of their families through complaints directly received by the institution. There is a need for a more systematic approach to responding not only to specific issues, but also on structural causes of human rights violations against OFWs and members of their families.

It is also essential to look into the process of involving the active support of other national human rights institutions (NHRIs) in the Middle East and the members of the South East Asia NHRI Forum (SEANF). This promotes collaboration and cooperation efforts from NHRIs to help address human rights violations committed against Filipino migrants.

Against this backdrop, the rights of migrant workers and their families is one of the four (4) central themes4 to be prioritized by the CHR, in partnership with the Blas F. Ople Policy Center and Training Institute (Ople Center),5 through the establishment of a Migrants Rights Observatory.6 This prioritization reflects the level of urgency to apply an effective monitoring of human rights obligations to the issues of Filipino migrant workers and their families who are at high risk of human rights abuses not just because of the nature of their work, but the gaps in services by duty bearers to promote, protect and fulfill their rights.

1 Sourced from Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas, 2 Sourced from the Philippine government’s Official Gazette, Aquino Administration Oversees OFW Social Welfare, 20 June 2013 3 Sourced from the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration’s Statistics of Deployed Overseas Filipino Workers 2014-2015, 4 The CHR is establishing a Human Rights Observatory, a sectoral and thematic monitoring of the State’s implementation of its human rights obligations, with focus on the most vulnerable groups: indigenous peoples (Indigenous Peoples Rights Observatory), women, LGBTQI persons and persons with diverse SOGIE (Gender-Based Violence Observatory), internally displaced persons (IDP Observatory) and overseas Filipino workers and members of their families (Migrants Rights Observatory).5 The Blas F. Ople Policy Center and Training Institute is a non-profit organization that handles labor and migration concerns and develops programs to empower the OFW and his or her family. Named after the late Labor and Foreign Affairs Secretary Blas F. Ople, the Center is geared towards continuing his legacy of public service.6 The GOJUST Human Rights Project of the European Union supports the endeavor in conducting research on the particular thematic human rights areas for the Observatory to be established. The data gathered will help strengthen the human rights monitoring and data management as this will be analyzed and eventually reported through a human rights situation report. Likewise, sound policy recommendations may also be developed and forwarded to duty bearers for their consideration and appropriate action. The information and views set out in this project are those of the implementing partners and do not necessarily reflect the official opinion of the European Union. Neither the European Union institutions and bodies nor any person acting on their behalf may be held responsible for the use which may be made of the information contained therein.