What is the Philippine Labour Export Policy (LEP) all about?

In 1974, President Marcos issued a decree that created three government institutions within the Ministry of Labour to systematize the outflow of Filipino workers: the Overseas Employment Development Board; the Bureau of Employment Services; and the National Seamen Board. This was part of the government’s efforts to mitigate social unrest from widespread joblessness and poverty, while reaping economic benefits from the dollar remittances of migrant workers.

In 1980, the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) was created by Presidential Decree 1694.  It is an independent financial agency that manages the welfare fund of overseas workers and provides services to its contributing members. It was created to add a focus on protecting migrant workers’ rights, alongside the promotion and recruitment of overseas employment.

In 1982, the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) was created, which merged the three institutions created in 1974.  The purpose of the POEA is to manage the recruitment and deployment of Filipinos for overseas contract work to cope with an ever-increasing number of overseas Filipino workers.

Why are Filipinos migrating in large numbers?

Widespread unemployment, low wages and precarious jobs are the main reasons why Filipinos leave their country.  Unemployment and underemployment are estimated to be roughly 30%. Nearly 40 percent of jobs are part-time, most likely low-pay and insecure work.

About 7 in 10 peasants do not have land and thus have very low incomes. This is fuelling the high level of poverty in the Philippines. Poverty in the Philippines is estimated to be about 60% to 70%.

The legislated minimum daily wage is much lower than the income levels that families need to survive. It is estimated that the legislated daily wage is roughly 43% of what a family of 6 needs.

Why is the case of Flor Contemplacion important for migrant workers?

On March 17, 1995, the Government of Singapore executed Flor Contemplacion, a migrant domestic worker.   She was convicted of the May 1991 murders of Delia Maga, a Filipino domestic worker, and the four-year-old child she was taking care of. During her trial and incarceration Flor Contemplacion received minimal support from the Philippine government.  Being a migrant worker, unprotected by her own government, Flor did not stand a chance in Singapore’s court system.

To Filipino migrants, the case of Flor Contemplacion unlocked the political power of migrant workers. Rallies of support, church prayer vigils and petitions from around the globe pressured the Philippine government to action.  Her case became a touchstone for what was wrong with the situation of migrant workers and provided a foundation of a powerful global network for action on migrant issues. 

Within a year of the execution of Flor Contemplacion, the Magna Carta for Overseas Workers, otherwise known as the 1995 Migrant Workers and Overseas Filipinos Act, was signed into law.  Within 18 months, the global movement for action to protect migrant workers led to the formation of Migrante International to defend the rights and interests of migrant Filipinos.

What are the rights of migrant workers under the Magna Carta?


The Philippine government shall

  • Afford full protection to labour, local and overseas, organized or unorganized, and promote full employment and equality of employment opportunities for all.
  • Provide migrant workers free access to courts and quasi-judicial bodies.
  • Recognize the rights of migrant workers to participate in democratic decision making processes and the right to be represented in institutions relevant to overseas employment.
  • Regard non-government organizations as partners in the protection of migrant workers


  • Travel advisory/information services.
  • Repatriation. Mandatory repatriation of under-age workers.
  • Re-integration of migrant workers in the Philippine economy.
  • Migrant Workers and Other Overseas Filipinos Resource Centre in countries with at least 20,000 migrant workers.  Services to be provided: counselling and legal services; welfare assistance; information programs to promote social integration in the receiving country; registration of undocumented OFWs; training and skills upgrading; gender-sensitive programs; orientation programs for returning workers; monitoring of conditions of OFWs and other overseas Filipinos.
  • Migrant Workers Loan Guarantee Fund – P100 million earmarked to pre-departure loans and family assistance loans.

These rights and many more provisions have not been implemented by the Philippine government, and resources have not been allocated to protect migrant workers.