BALI — The Philippines on Thursday called on the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) to sit down and finally tackle the adoption of a legally-binding agreement on the protection of migrant workers.

Communications and Planning Secretary Ricky Carandang, who was tasked to deliver the Philippine statements and positions on behalf of President Aquino at the plenary session of the summit, said it’s about time the regional bloc consider a rules-based accord that will commit all its members in ensuring that the rights of migrant workers are protected.

Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, Carandang said, was the only one who backed the Philippine initiative. The Philippines and Indonesia, the largest contributors of the workers in the region, mainly in Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei, are the only two Asean states strongly advocating for the adoption of such agreement.

Apart from the Philippines, other members of the Asean include: Brunei, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar.

“There is a need for greater protection for migrant workers and we want something that is more binding with regard to how we treat and assist migrant workers,” Carandang said. “We want action on it sooner rather than later.”

In the Philippines alone, about 1.5 million of its more that 8 million Filipino workers abroad are deployed in the region.

Asean signed a similar but non-binding agreement in 2007. The document is seen as a politically important accord to prevent labor abuses but its non-compelling nature and lack of provision to sanction misbehaving members, renders it useless against violations.

The Philippines, according to Carandang, wants to see as “more binding set of rules” for the treatment of the workers.

“There should be certain standards between the receiving country and the deploying country,” he said.

However, getting the consensus of all Asean states may be a tough ask as such agreement would bind all members, including reluctant labor-recipient states like Singapore, Malaysia and Brunei, to comply.

Nevertheless, Carandang said the Philippines hopes members would soon find merit and importance in adopting a more forceful agreement.

“We want it as soon as possible, but you gave to work for it,” he said.  –Michaela P. del Callar, Daily Tribune