Dubai: A Filipino rights group on Friday denounced some Philippine government sanctioned services that require mandatory membership and payment from Overseas Filipino Workers (OFW).

All OFWs are mandated by Philippine laws to be members of the Home Development Mutual Fund (Pag-Ibig) with a monthly contribution of Php100 (Dh10) and the Philippine Health Insurance Corporation (PhilHealth) with an annual premium of Php2,400.

Migrante-UAE, in a forum on Friday in Dubai, said membership in these institutions should be made optional because it is a form of state exaction.

“With all these mandatory fees that we have to shoulder monthly, it’s as if we are being mugged by our own government. We believe these services, especially health services, should be given to the public for free just like in other countries,” said Nhel Morona, country coordinator of Migrante-Middle East.

The group also questioned a recent decision by Pag-Ibig to stop collecting fees at the Philippine labour office beginning January 2014.

Instead, Pag-Ibig members can only pay their contributions through authorised remittance centres in the UAE. This meant an additional payment of Dh20 for remittance fees.

The decision became even more controversial because Filipinos who travel to the Philippines have to secure an exit clearance at the Philippine labour office. Without proof of payment at Pag-Ibig, a Filipino will not be issued an exit clearance and won’t be allowed to fly back to the UAE from Manila. Pag-Ibig representative Lowella Recto, who was invited to clarify issues regarding Pag-Ibig, said the decision was made after consultations with Filipino expatriates in the UAE.

“We wanted to reach as many Filipinos as we can and enable them to make their contributions from wherever they are through the centres. Also, we wanted to change the mindset of Filipinos because they only think about saving through Pag-Ibig when they’re going for their annual vacation,” Recto said.

“But I will inform our head office in Manila to reconsider this decision following this discussion,” Recto assured the group.

At the moment, Recto said they issued a grace period until April this year to issue exit clearances to Filipinos at the labour office even without proof of payment from Pag-Ibig.

During the forum, Philippine Social Security System Representative (SSS) Lydia Cabagnot clarified that SSS, which provides insurance cover to members, is optional to OFWs contrary to what most people believe.

At the end of the forum, the group proposed for all three government agencies — Pag-Ibig, PhilHealth, and SSS — to merge since their services and benefits duplicate each other unnecessarily.