Pope of the Poor, Fight for Us: Open Letter of Filipino Migrants to Pope Francis

pope of the poorPope of the poor, fight for us.

We are Filipino migrants, immigrants, refugees from all over the world who, together with our families, call upon Your Eminence, to bear witness to our struggle. We call on you to speak in behalf of overseas Filipinos in our quest for a better life. We have experienced first-hand human and labor rights abuses and exploitation. Hear our stories and join us in our fight against modern-day slavery.

Of present, an estimated 15 million overseas Filipinos are found in over 230 countries. Massive unempoyment, landlessness, poverty and globalization have been forcing our countrymen to migrate. There exists a widespread desolation, hopelessness and desperation that have caused the Filipino people’s diaspora.

Pope of the poor, fight for us. In your tenet to build “A Church without frontiers, mother to all”, we likewise reach out to you with open arms and hearts for our common objective to open the doors of Your Church worldwide in the spirit of genuine service to the people.

Like you, we stand firm that forced migration is an anomaly and a matter of deep concern involving the lives and dignity of our migrant workers. Ours is now an era of modern-day slavery wherein our migrant workers and their families are subjected to most cruel conditions in favor of greed for remittances and the desecration of human rights.

Pope of the poor, fight for us. We have seen the absence of legal frameworks that genuinely promote and protect the rights and welfare of our OFWs and their families. We have dissected and evaluated the efficiency or lack thereof of existing government programs and discussed ways to bring these to the concern of our authorities. We realize that the Philippines has many policies and laws on migration that need to be translated into concrete action.

We have seen that the continuation and intensification of the government’s labor export policy would only add more to the sufferings of our people, making them more vulnerable to human and labor rights abuses. We ask of you to speak out against this policy. We need to address the fundamental conditions of our society, especially the unequal distribution of wealth and work among nations which drives our people to forced migration.

Pope of the poor, fight for us. We agree with you that human trafficking is indeed “a crime against humanity”. It is a violation of our fundamental rights. It breeds the evils of discrimination, criminalization of undocumented migrants and all forms of violence, oppression and enslavement.

We are also greatly disturbed and moved by the tragedy of the separation of families. We cry for the sufferings and pains of children left behind and growing up without proper guidance, parents and couples estranged from each other, and the resulting economic, emotional and psychological implications of loved ones being uprooted from their families.

We call on you to work hand in hand with migrants’ organizations and advocates in support of the plight of our Filipino migrants. There are still many things that need to be done. Pope of the poor, fight for us.

We call on Your Eminence, that through Your Office, you can help us in organizing and broadening our reach and making our voices resound. There is a dire need to consolidate our efforts in various parts of the world. Together, let us face the challenge of holding the cause of Filipino migrants and their families.

Pope of the Poor, fight for us. In the spirit of service to the people, together, let our aspirations and advocacies be realized. ###

On Dec. 18 Int’l Migrants’ Day, OFWs from 16 countries march to Mendiola to call for Aquino’s ouster

oustFive days after the execution of overseas Filipino worker (OFW) Carlito Lana in Saudi, Filipino migrants from all over the world marched to Mendiola calling for the ouster of Pres. Benigno Aquino III.

Migrante chapters in the Philippines and from 16 different countries gathered in Manila today to commemmorate International Migrants’ Day by demanding accountability from the Aquino government for the worsening conditions of Filipino migrants and their families.

The march was participated in by delegates from Migrante chapters in Hong Kong, Macau, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Saudi Arabia, UAE, Qatar, Italy, Austria, United Kingdom, Netherlands, United States, Canada and Australia. Delegates from Migrante chapters in Davao, General Santos, Socsargen, Calabarzon, Tacloban, Nueva Ecija, Bataan, Pampanga, Pangasinan and the National Capital Region were also present.

“Today, we call for an end to forced migration and modern-day slavery. Today, we stand with OFWs all over the world in the continuing protest against a corrupt, anti-people and anti-migrant government that has treated OFWs as milking cows. Today, we stand with Filipinos all over the world in condemning Aquino’s corruption and subservience to foreign dictates,” said Garry Martinez, Migrante International chairperson.

Martinez called on all Filipino migrants and their families to join the movement calling for an end to the Aquino regime. “After four years of corruption, mendacity, puppetry, oppression and human rights violations, Aquino has once again roused the Filipino people into collective action and determination to exercise their democratic power to bring about regime change as mounting calls for his ouster continue to gain strength around the country and all over the world.”

The marchers presented a chain- and whip-brandishing Aquino effigy depicting how Filipino migrants have become “modern-day slaves” because of the regime’s more aggressive and unapologetic labor export policy.

Martinez said that under the Aquino administration, OFWs have experienced unforgivable government neglect, the biggest budget cut for OFW services, more exorbitant state exactions and fee impositions, anti-migrant policies that have placed their welfare at stake and an ever-worsening domestic crisis that has aggravated forced migration.

Meanwhile, Aquino and his cohorts’ involvement in the pork barrel scam and the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) is yet another “unforgivable” for Filipino migrants and their families.

Martinez said that it is indefensible reprehensible and outrageous how Aquino and his cohorts have squandered billions of pesos in DAP and pork while scrimping on funds for Filipino migrants in distress and their families. “DAP is not savings. DAP is not good. DAP was not done in good faith. DAP did not produce good results. What Aquino did through DAP was to pull in billions of pesos into a huge sum of presidential pork. DAP was used for bribery, patronage politics and to consolidate Aquino’s clique in government in time for the 2016 elections. Filipinos around the world want Aquino out. We do not want him to stay until 2016,” he said. ###

Most number of OFWs on death row executed under Aquino – Migrante

photo from remate.ph

photo from remate.ph

Global alliance for overseas Filipinos Migrante International expressed deepest sadness and sympathy for the family of Carlito Lana, an overseas Filipino worker who was beheaded for murder by the Saudi government.

“This is a dark day for migrant Filipinos, especially for those on death row abroad. We call for an investigation on why there have been the most number of executions that pushed through under Pres. Benigno Aquino III’s term,” said Garry Martinez, Migrante International chairperson.

Lana was the sixth OFW on death row executed within Aquino’s four years in office, the most number of executions under one regime since the Philippine labor export policy was implemented in the 1970s.

Martinez said that Lana’s family sought their help when he was arrested and that they have been monitoring the status of case since. Lana admitted to killing his employer out of self-defense.

“He was suffering abuses in the hands of his employer. When the crime happened, he even rushed his employer to the hospital but they met a vehicular accident on their way. That was when the Saudi police arrested him. From the start, we have questioned the Philippine government if he was given legal assistance given the nature of his case,” Martinez said.

He said, “We are deeply concerned over the fate of other OFWs on death row and those in detention. There are 123 more OFWs on death row, and at the rate the Aquino government is going, we can expect more executions in the next few years. The government has not shown transparency nor accountability for failing to save the lives of our OFWs on death row.”

Migrante also demanded an explanation from the government on why funds for legal assistance for OFWs in distress have been slashed since 2010, while there have been reports that P52 million in legal funds for OFWs were unused since 2011.

The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) attributed the unused funds to a clause in the Migrant Workers Act stipulating a “ceiling” to the amount of assistance that is allowed per OFW in distress. “We find this justification unacceptable and extremely irrational. On top of OFWs on death row, there are at least 7,000 OFWs in jails abroad, some awaiting death row sentences. The common occurrence is they get arrested and undergo investigation without any representation or legal counsel. Because of this, they are deprived of due process and go straight to jail without any legal assistance from the PH government,” Martinez said.

“In the case of Lana, we will not be surprised if, at all, it will be discovered that legal assistance was offered only at the last minute. The same happened to the first five who were executed.”

Lana’s execution came a mere five days before December 18, International Migrants’ Day.

The plight of OFWs on death row will be one of the major issues that Migrante International will bring forth on December 18. Members of Migrante International from all over the world will march to Mendiola to reiterate their call for Aquino to step down from office. “We do not want more OFWs to die of government failure and criminal neglect. We want Aquino out.” ###

International Day Against Trafficking: Labor export policy is state-sponsored trafficking, Aquino is “Trafficker-in-Chief”

Today, December 12, is the International Day Against Trafficking in Persons. In commemoration, Migrante International called for justice for victims of trafficking and for accountability from the Philippine government for failing to punish and prosecute perpetrators.

According to Garry Martinez, Migrante International chairperson, labor trafficking of Filipino workers, especially women, is still rampant and operating in record-high levels in the Philippines yet the accountability of traffickers and their coddlers in government remains low.

“The PH government’s labor export policy that systematically and aggressively peddles cheap labor of our Filipino workers and professionals abroad, has become more entrenched and institutionalized under the present Aquino administration. In his four years in office, Aquino has indisputably become the ‘Trafficker-in-Chief’ of our Filipino workers,” Martinez said.

“The Aquino government’s labor export policy is the worst form of state-sponsored trafficking of Filipinos. Under the Aquino administration, abusive recruitment agencies and traffickers continue to operate and victimize Filipinos.”

Trafficked teachers to the US

Despite the US State Department’s upgrade of the Philippines from the Tier 2 Special Watch List to Tier 2 on its 2012 Trafficking in Persons Report, Migrante International said that the Philippine government is still the top trafficker of its workers.

“In the US, the victims, direct- or agency-hires, all had approved job contracts that went through the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA). Concerned government agencies are just as accountable as the Manila-based traffickers because they were given license to operate. The government also has no mechanism to take action against the accomplices of the Manila-based recruiters in the US,” Martinez said.

In the case of Washington teachers, their trafficker Isidro Rodriguez duped them through his agency, Renaissance Staffing and Support, Inc., formerly Great Provider Service Exporters, Inc., with its US partner Green Life Care International, LLC. The PH Embassy in the US said that Rodriguez tops its list of most notorious illegal recruiters and traffickers.

Rodriguez’ victims are all licensed and professional teachers. They were all promised teaching positions in different schools in the United States, only to later learn that the said jobs were fictitious and all part of a grand trafficking scheme.

Rodriguez was able to collect a staggering average of Php500, 000. 00 from each of them as payments for their “processing, service, pick-up, housing and interview fees”. Most of the payments were made from their hard-earned savings, while majority of them resorted to borrowing money from relatives and friends, banks and loan institutions with high interest rates.

Last November, a Manila regional trial court sentenced Rodriguez to 11 years in prison for victimizing a Filipina teacher. He was convicted for just one crime when he has numerous other pending cases of large-scale and syndicated illegal recruitment and estafa lodged against him by some 500 Filipino teachers here in the Philippines and in the United States. Three batches of teachers have also filed cases of trafficking-in-persons against him at the Department of Justice (DOJ).

Rodriguez remains at large as of this posting.

For her part, Engelyn Belmonte, one of the trafficked teachers, said, “Now that he has been convicted, we expect authorities to launch an active manhunt for his arrest. We also call on our fellow teachers, supporters and advocates to join us in the manhunt for Rodriguez and our quest for justice. We call on our teachers, let us teach them, people like Rodriguez, a lesson.”

“Teach Them A Lesson”

The teachers, through their group GURO (Grupo ng Gurong Umuusig kay Rodriguez) and other advocates recently launched a global campaign entitled, “Teach Them A Lesson: A Campaign for Justice for Trafficked Teachers”,  a year-long campaign against illegal recruitment and trafficking.

GURO said, “Through ‘Teach Them A Lesson’, we hope to push for the speedy resolution of specific cases of trafficking and highlight the gravity of the trafficking problem itself.  We hope to make perpetrators like Rodriguez accountable. More importantly, it shall expose the government’s ineptitude and hypocrisy in the anti-trafficking campaign in the light of its continuing program for labor export.

Teach Them A Lesson aims to raise awareness and broaden support for victims of human trafficking. It shall stress the need for unity and solidarity between victims and survivors, on one hand, and their allies and supporters, on the other hand, by highlighting the importance of our teachers in our personal lives and in society.

Teach Them A Lesson means forging the broadest global unity possible against human trafficking through various activities and actions that would link international participation through grassroots activities, militant actions, global linkages, lobbying efforts, social media and other creative means of protest.

On December 18, International Migrants’ Day, Migrante International and members of its chapters from Asia, North America, Canada, Australia and Europe will march to Mendiola to protest the government’s failure to address the trafficking of Filipino workers abroad. ###


On Bonifacio Day, Filipino migrants resound calls to oust Aquino

10514212_10152541089884788_1235910304734341551_oFilipino migrants and their families today gathered at the Liwasang Bonifacio calling for the ouster of Pres. Benigno Aquino III.

“Today, we call for an end to forced migration and modern-day slavery. Today, we stand with OFWs all over the world in the continuing protest against a corrupt, anti-people and anti-migrant government that has treated OFWs as milking cows. Today, we stand with millions of Filipino modern-day heroes in condemning Pres. Aquino’s corruption and subservience to foreign dictates,” said Sol Pillas, spokesperson for Migrante International spokesperson.

Pillas said that today’s Bonifacio Day protests “symbolize the continuing struggle of the Filipino people against neo-colonialism and the greed for profit of modern-day foreign and local exploiters”.

“We call on all Filipino migrants to emulate Andres Bonifacio’s patriotism and heroism by calling for an end to the Aquino regime. Filipinos around the world want Aquino out. We do not want him to stay until 2016. If Bonifacio were alive today, he would surely be at the forefront of the struggle against imperialist exploitation and the Aquino administration’s puppetry and betrayal of the Filipino people,” Pillas said.

She said that Filipino migrants honor Bonifacio because, like him, they also mostly come from the worker and peasant sectors. “We come from exploited classes and were forced to migrate and leave the country out of desperation and poverty, because of joblessness, landlessness, measly wages and lack of social services, because of the growing divide between the rich and the poor.”

Like Bonifacio, Pillas said, Filipino migrants are fully aware of foreign exploitation of cheap labor and the effects of the present global economic crisis on workers of the world. “We feel the effects of the global crisis locally, through its effect on our families, and abroad where our migrant workers are located. Because of the crisis, migrant workers have become more vulnerable to all sorts of abuses and violations, such as trafficking, illegal state exactions, crackdowns, labor exploitation, racism, discrimination and xenophobia.”

She called on overseas Filipino workers and migrants all over the world to continue Bonifacio’s revolution. “Today, we are here not only to commemorate history but to affirm our commitment to carry on Bonifacio’s struggle for nationalism and democracy. Like Bonifacio, Filipino migrants all over the world are organized. We realize that the labor export policy is not a tool for development but the manifestation of lack of development in countries where migrants workers hail. We recognize the importance of collective action and unity of migrants of the world.”

“We remain firm that for as long as the root causes of forced migration are not addressed, migrants and their families will not be emancipated.”

Pillas said that global protests against Aquino’s corruption and puppetry will continue to escalate until December 18, International Migrants’ Day. ### 

Migrante lauds OFWs in Saudi for passage of new rules protecting HSWs

domestic work as workGlobal alliance of overseas Filipinos Migrante International welcomed the new rules protecting household service workers (HSWs) in Saudi Arabia, saying that it is a victory of the continuous unity and collective action of migrant workers in the country.

The Saudi government has recently approved Household Regulations on Service Workers and Similar Categories, under Resolution No. 310.

Under said resolution, new rules outlining the rights and obligations of employers and household workers include (1) the implementation of a minimum monthly wage of SR 1,500; (2) the requirement of providing accommodation and daily rest of at least nine hours for HSWs; and, (3) the prohibition of “renting out” HSWs to others. Employers are also now required to personally attend or send an official representative to any court case or complaint lodged against them by HSWs.

“This is a step in the right direction, considering the numerous cases of abuses, maltreatment, and lack of venues for redress for distressed overses Filipinos workers (OFWs), particularly HSWs in Saudi,” said Sol Pillas, Migrante International spokesperson.

Of the 1.8 million OFWs in Saudi, at least 300,000 are HSWs, mostly Filipina domestic workers.

Kafala system

Migrante International, however, called on the Saudi government to follow Qatar’s lead in replacing the kafala or sponsorship system.

Migrante has since identified the kafala or sponsorship system as one of the main policies that has caused the surge in number of distressed and undocumented migrant workers in Gulf countries. It has long called for the abolition of the kafala system and the improvement of the conditions of migrant workers in the Gulf region.

The kafala is an immigration and labor system imposed by governments of some Gulf countries on migrant workers. Under the kafala, no migrant worker is allowed to enter the country without an “in-country” sponsor, usually the employer. The sponsor is primarily responsible for the workers’ visa and legal status.

Also under the kafala, migrant workers’ residency permits are bound to their sponsors whose written consent is required for workers to change employers or leave the country. Employers often abuse this power to confiscate passports, withhold wages and force migrant workers into slave-like conditions. In effect, the kafala makes migrant workers more vulnerable to abuses and modern-day slavery.

“The kafala system is in direct violation of Article 13 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Universal Declaration on the Protection of Migrant Workers and their Families,” Pillas said. ###