Migrant Workers' Program OK'd; ASEAN Officials to Wear Pina Shirts, Feted by Beauty Queens First Accord Reached at Summit in Cebu

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MANDAUE CITY, Cebu -- Millions of migrant workers around Asia will soon get better pay and more humane working conditions as senior officials of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) agreed on the general principles of the declaration that pushes for the protection and promotion of rights of migrant workers during the opening day of the 12th ASEAN Summit yesterday.

Ambassador Victoriano Lecaros, 12th ASEAN Summit spokesman, said that other than the issue of language use, ASEAN senior officials and ministers yesterday agreed on the general principles of the Cebu Declaration on the Protection and Promotion of the Rights of Migrant Workers.

"Ours will be a community that will recognize the indispensable contribution of migrant workers and will pledge to protect them," said Foreign Affairs Secretary Alberto G. Romulo, chairman of the ASEAN Standing Committee, in a statement read by Lecaros yesterday afternoon.

Lecaros said the ASEAN officials had no major disagreements during their meeting that tackled the migrant workers' rights yesterday.

"There was no more discussion about these or that aspect, they were discussing consensus on how to work on what they have agreed upon," said Lecaros at yesterday's press conference at the Cebu International Convention Center (CICC).

The proposed declaration, which will be signed by the ASEAN leaders on the culmination of the 12th ASEAN Summit, calls for equal wages and employment conditions for migrant workers, as well as decent housing and protection from illegal recruitment, trafficking and prostitution.

The declaration also aims to aid migrant workers from any ASEAN member-country that may be caught in a conflict outside the region.

"There was no question on whether the country was receiving or sending out workers. They all agreed that the workers should be safe and should not be subjected to abuse," said Lecaros.

The Philippines is one of the world's biggest exporters of labor with over 8 million Filipinos, around 10 percent of the country's estimated 87 million population, working overseas. Lecaros said the declaration will surely benefit the country, being one of the three leading source countries for labor in the region. The other two are Vietnam and Indonesia.

Meanwhile, the ASEAN leaders are also expected to affirm the Mutual Recognition Arrangement (MRA) on Nursing Services, when they meet this Saturday. The MRA, which opens new and greater opportunities for Filipino nurses to work within the member countries of ASEAN, was signed by economic ministers of the 10 ASEAN member countries last Dec. 9 before the first scheduled summit was postponed due to Typhoon "Seniang."

Ramon Kabigting, director of the Bureau of International Trade Regulation (BITR) of the Department of Trade and Industry, said the arrangement offers new opportunities to Filipino nurses who will now be allowed wider access to nursing employment in the ASEAN region.

ASEAN, with a combined population of 470 million, groups Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam. The regional grouping has been fasttracking efforts to open its economies to free trade in services and goods. Under the MRA, rules were liberalized to allow free exchange of nursing services within the region.

First, an individual must be registered and/or licensed as a professional nurse by the nursing regulatory authority in his/her country of origin.

Nurses seeking jobs within the ASEAN member countries may then apply for registration or license in a host country to be recognized before being allowed to practice nursing in accordance with the laws and regulations of the host country. …