DUBAI // Jejomar Binay, the vice president of the Philippines, yesterday pledged to work hard to address the problems facing the more than 600,000 Filipinos in the Emirates in his capacity as the presidential adviser on overseas workers' concerns.
"We have a new administration and I will not be a spare tyre," he said. "I will be a working vice president."
Mr Binay's visit is aimed at bilateral talks on labour, trade and investments, including the possible repatriation of workers given refuge at labour office shelters in the Emirates.
"My physical presence here is an additional assurance that the president [Benigno Aquino] is concerned about what is happening in the area," he said.
Mr Binay, who arrived from Kuwait on Monday night, is also monitoring his government's evacuation of Filipino workers from Libya, and the safety and well-being of his compatriots in Bahrain and Yemen.
"Ninety per cent of the 600,000 Filipinos in the UAE are happy and enjoying their stay here. These are isolated cases," he said in response to questions about incidents of mistreatment among housemaids, human trafficking cases and prostitution involving Filipinas.
A total ban on allowing Filipinas to work as maids in the Middle East was not on the table, he said. "We will regulate [deployment]."
Mr Binay said he intended to work on a bilateral labour agreement between the UAE and the Philippines, particularly for domestic workers.
The Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed's visit to Manila last October marked 30 years of diplomatic ties between the two countries.
Benito Valeriano, the consul general in Dubai, said Mr Binay's trip had tremendous significance.
"He wants to see the living and working conditions of Filipinos here, and how we in the government can contribute to the betterment of their welfare," he said.
Mr Valeriano said the diplomatic mission in Dubai was repatriating Filipinas at the Filipino Workers Resource Centre, a women's shelter managed by labour and welfare officials.
He hoped to hasten the process in co-ordination with the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) in Manila, which will provide air tickets.
Mr Binay also said he planned to address the shortage of staff at the consulate, embassies and other offices.
But he said many of the issues involved workers who were not in the country legally. "There are two sets of OFWs [overseas Filipino workers] - the documented and the undocumented," he said. "Eighty per cent of our problems involve undocumented workers."
The Philippine embassy in Abu Dhabi is arranging meetings with Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, and Saqr Ghobash, the Minister of Labour, scheduled for tomorrow.
Mr Binay visited the United International Private School in Dubai, where he addressed a gathering of 1,400 teachers and students yesterday.
Lizabeth Comia, the school principal, said the school was "greatly honoured" by the visit of a such a high-ranking official.
"We are the first Filipino school in Dubai," she said. "We feel privileged that the vice president chose to address our students, considering that there are five other Filipino schools across the UAE."
Juhly Ann Rogelio, 15, a Grade 10 student who is the president of the supreme student council at UIPS, said Mr Binay had done a lot for Makati City, where he served as the mayor since 1986.
"I know that we will see a lot of developments, especially in improving the situation of OFWs," she said.
Mr Binay and his delegation will leave for Manila on Saturday.