1 March 2021
WASHINGTON, D.C.— The Philippine Embassy in the United States recently held a series of virtual Town Hall Meetings with Filipino communities in the Caribbean on 25 January, 7 February, and 20 February 2021. The meetings were also livestreamed on the Embassy’s Facebook page in order to reach as many kababayans as possible.
“These Town Hall Meetings are in line with the Embassy’s commitment to maintaining open lines of communication and coordination with our constituents, particularly those in the faraway islands in the Caribbean,” Philippine Ambassador to the United States Jose Manuel G. Romualdez said in a statement.
“The President has strict instructions to provide our kababayan, especially OFWs, with prompt, efficient and professional public service. To this end, the dissemination of important information and getting feedback from our stakeholders is very important,” Ambassador Romualdez added.
The discussions focused mainly on consular services, including those provided by the Philippine Overseas Labor Office-Washington DC (POLO-WDC), as well as COVID-related concerns and planning for future contingencies. The Embassy’s new normal processes were also explained, particularly in terms of how this impacted on the resumption of consular outreach missions.
Consul General Jose Victor Chan Gonzaga and Labor Attaché Angela Librado-Trinidad briefed the participants on the status of consular and POLO-WDC services that have been resumed over the last few months. While it was noted that the physical distance remains a challenge for those requiring in-person transactions, it was reiterated that many transactions may actually be done by mail or electronically. These include extension of expiring passports, applications for OEC or contract verification, and civil registration of births & marriages.
The consular team also fielded questions relating to current travel restrictions, visa requirements, cost of civil registration in some islands that have expensive Apostille fees, and dual citizenship. There was also broad agreement on the importance of adopting new normal processes in order to protect the health and safety of the transacting public and consular staff.
Many participants emphasized the importance of resuming outreach missions some time in 2021 because many OFWs have expired or expiring passports who need to some form of identification, renew their visas/work permits, and/or travel home. They also require a number of POLO services, such as contract verification, renewal of OWWA membership, and consultations on their current terms of employment.
Consul General Chan Gonzaga reassured the Filipino communities that the Embassy is fully sensitive to the importance of addressing the issue of passport renewals, and it is committed to resuming the outreach missions as soon as travel restrictions are lifted and the public health and safety situation allows it. In the meantime, the Department of Foreign Affairs in Manila and the Embassy have been exploring all possible remedial measures so as to assist OFWs in maintaining their immigration and labor status.
On the other hand, Labor Attaché Trinidad reminded everyone that POLO-WDC is able to assist in almost all transactions either online or via email. She also informed OFWs that Zoom meetings could also be organized in case they needed to discuss certain concerns about their terms of employment.
Participants in the Town Hall Meetings, both on Zoom and FB Live, came from Anguilla, Antigua & Barbuda, The Bahamas, Barbados, British Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands, Grenada, Guantanamo Bay, Haiti, Jamaica, Saint Kitts & Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Martin, Saint Vincent & the Grenadines, Trinidad & Tobago, and the Turks & Caicos Islands. There were also representatives from Bermuda & Sint Maarten, which fall under the responsibility of POLO-WDC.“We thank the Filipino Community leaders, coordinators and volunteers in the Caribbean for their selfless and dedicated service to their respective communities, and salute all Filipinos in these far-away islands for truly embracing the spirit of bayanihan, especially in helping their fellow Filipinos during this difficult time,” Ambassador Romualdez also said in his statement.