THE head of the Philippine senate foreign relations committee is calling for a permanent ban on the export of Filipino domestic helpers because of skyrocketing cases of abuse. Senator Blas Ople, who was labour minister when the overseas employment programme was launched in the 1970s, has said he wants the Philippines to stop exporting domestic helpers within the next two or three years. But Hongkong Filipina aid workers say a ban is not the answer to ending abuse. They say unscrupulous employment agencies are guilty of the majority of abuse cases, and have called on the Philippine Government to monitor agencies more strictly and impose stiffer fines on offenders. Mr Jun Tellez, of the Mission for Filipino Migrant Workers, said banning Filipinos from working abroad was unfair: ''Why penalise the victims? They are desperate to go abroad. There are no jobs for them in the Philippines.'' Hongkong has about 90,000 Filipino domestic workers, and diplomats claim the Philippine consulate in the territory deals with an average of 10 grievances a day on unscrupulous employment agencies alone. Consul-General of the Philippines in Hongkong Mr Antonio Villamor described abuse cases as a continuing problem and said he had occasionally paid the return air fare for a stranded Filipino worker out of his pocket. These cases involving abuses against domestic helpers has put a huge strain on the resources of the Philippine Labour Department. Senator Ople said that while domestic helpers represented 20 per cent of the more than one million Filipino overseas contract workers, they accounted for up to 90 per cent of the cases recorded by the department. The senate's foreign relations and labour committees are undertaking a joint investigation into the overseas contract workers (OCW) programme, which was initiated by then-president Ferdinand Marcos to boost foreign exchange earnings and alleviate unemployment problems at home. Annual foreign exchange earnings from the programme are as much as US$1 billion (HK$7.8 billion). Senator Ople said abuse against Filipino domestics were highest in Singapore and Kuwait. He said the OCW programme was only meant to be a temporary one, but had been retained by successive administrations for almost 20 years. ''There has yet to be a far-reaching, independent and systematic inquiry into all aspects of overseas employment,'' the senator said.