Migrante renews call for scrapping of OWWA Omnibus Policies

OOPMigrante Sectoral Partylist renewed calls for the scrapping of the OWWA (Overseas Workers Welfare Administration) Omnibus Policies (OOP) that effectively made the $25 OWWA contributions mandatory per contract, revoked lifetime memberships of Filipino migrants and families and eroded OWWA’s major welfare programs.

The group reiterated its call in light of a recent Supreme Court ruling, dated January 21, 2015, directing the Pasay City Regional Trial Court to promptly resolve a petition that sought to declare the OOP as unconstitutional.

The OOP or OWWA Resolution No.038 was implemented on September 19, 2003. The OOP stipulated the renewal of OWWA membership per contract. Before the OOP, a one-time contribution of the $25 membership fee meant a lifetime membership for OFWs. When the OOP was implemented, failure to pay and renew the $25 mandatory contribution per contract (usually every two years) meant that an OFW is not entitled to programs and welfare services by the OWWA.

According to Connie Bragas-Regalado, Migrante Sectoral Partylist chairperson, because of the renewal clause in the OOP, OWWA’s services have since discriminated against irregular or undocumented OFWs, which constitute majority of OFWs in distress.

Bragas-Regalado also said that the OOP streamlined benefits and services provided by OWWA to its members. “With the implementation of the OOP, some of the major programs and services were phased out, among them, the General Financial Assistance program, Medicare, Legal Assistance Program and Repatriation program.”

The OOP has since been declared anti-migrant and a money-making scheme. “Support mechanisms should be put in place to accommodate welfare needs of OFWs and their families, regardless of status. This is the OWWA’s constitutional mandate. Even OFWs who were terminated, have become undocumented or those who have decided to come home for good should be entitled to benefits. According to law, the OWWA should give total coverage to all Filipino migrant workers. We call on the Pasay RTC to uphold the law and protect the rights and welfare of OFWs and families.”

Full audit of OWWA funds

Bragas-Regalado added that their group has also long been calling for a “full audit” and an “immediate and independent investigation” of OWWA funds in light of many unresolved issues of abuse, misuse and corruption.

In 2011, a report by the Commission on Audit (COA) revealed that OWWA’s overseas officers failed to remit more than P21 million in collections to OWWA’s Land Bank-Manila dollar account during the last ten years. “The Land Bank also charges a 1% management fee per annual deposits made by the OWWA. This contradicts reason – money deposited to the bank should be earning interest and not the other way around. Where does the money go?”

In 2006, then AFP Chief of Staff Roy Cimatu botched a rescue mission funded by OWWA during the Lebanon crisis. The OWWA released P150 million for the repatriation of OFWs but out of the 6,000 OFWs there, only 1,000 were repatriated by Cimatu. The incident prompted several Senate hearings and it was then discovered that P6.8 billion of OWWA funds were transferred to the Development Bank of the Philippines and Landbank of the Philippines (P3.4 billion each) without any consultations with the OFW sector.

Former solicitor general Atty. Frank Chavez also filed a case at the DOJ against former president Gloria Arroyo for alleged misuse, re-channel and charge to OWWA funds various projects that had nothing to do with OFWs, among them the supposed evacuation of Filipinos from Iraq, Kuwait and Afghanistan in 2003. “(Since) no actual evacuation of Filipino took place, (but) where did the money go?”

“These cases remain unresolved and unless a full audit takes place OFWs have reason to believe that OWWA funds are not trickling down to much-needed service to OFWs,” Bragas-Regalado said. ###

Migrante extends condolences to family, OFW mother, of Yolanda aid worker

pope migGlobal alliance of overseas Filipinos Migrante International extends its most heartfelt condolences to the family of Kristel Pasadas, the 27-year-old Yolanda aid worker who died in Tacloban shortly after Pope Francis finished his celebrating his mass.

“We especially deeply sympathize with her mother who is an overseas Filipino worker (OFW) in Hong Kong. Their family’s is a story of every Filipino migrant family; the tragedy of being forcibly separated from your loved ones out of necessity and desperation and being far away from them in times of hunger, crisis and calamity, and even death,” said Garry Martinez, Migrante International chairperson.

“We can only imagine how her mother must feel. She must have felt so helpless when her family had barely survived supertyphoon Yolanda and now this heartbreak. To Kristel’s mother, may you take comfort in our collective mourning. OFWs around the world feel your loss as we continue to fight against the government’s labor export policy that separates us from our loved ones and, as Pope Francis said, destroys families,” he said.

Martinez said that tragic fate of the young Yolanda aid worker also reminded him of “another Kristel”.

“The Pope asked us to pray in silence for Kristel, and we call on him to also pray for justice and call on the public to never forget another Kristel – Kristel Tejada who was driven to take her own life out of despair and hopelessness,” he said.

Tejada was a 16-year-old student of the University of the Philippines who committed suicide in 2013 because her low-income parents could not afford the high cost of tuition in the university. During the time, UP tuition increased from P300 to P1,500 per unit.

“Kristel Tejada, like millions of youth in the country, was a victim of poverty, the ever-soaring high cost of education and the Aquino administration’s abandonment of basic social services. Her parents, as with millions of Filipino parents here and abroad, are forced into slave-like and exploitative conditions because of Aquino’s anti-poor and anti-people policies. If there was one other testimony that would have reflected the general situation of the Filipino youth at the Pope’s ‘encounter with the youth’, it would have been Tejada’s story,” Martinez said. ###

Pope Francis’ sincerity and humility a stark contrast to Aquino’s insincerity and arrogance – Migrante

pope of the poor“Aside from spiritual guidance and inspiration, the Pope’s visit provides the Filipino people a stark reminder of Pres. Aquino’s insincerity and arrogance, especially during times of crisis and calamity.”

This was the statement of Migrante International chairperson Garry Martinez on the fourth day of the Papal Visit in the Philippines.

In his homily in Tacloban, Pope Francis said that when he saw the devastation of supertyphoon Yolanda, his first wish was to be with the Filipino people. “In times of grave calamity and devastation, this is what is expected from a leader. Our people expected comfort and commiseration from the President and received none.”

“We cannot recall a time when the President has been anything but defensive, arrogant and unrepentant. Instead of taking accountability for his government’s corruption and anti-poor policies, he is always ready to either blame others or point the finger at his critics. His shameful speech in Malacanang attests to the fact that he has no mercy and compassion for poor Filipinos. We sincerely pray that the Pope’s visit presents this contrast, and urges the Filipino people to continue to work for genuine change and social justice,” Martinez said.

He said that Filipino communities and overseas Filipino workers abroad will be staging “Thank you, Pope Francis” activities as the Holy Father is set to celebrate his final mass in Luneta.

“We appreciate the Pope’s sincere concern for poor Filipinos, his stance against corruption and social inequalities, his respect for human dignity and human rights, and his honest and heartfelt advocacy for Filipino migrants and families.” ###


Thank you, Pope Francis, for acknowledging gov’t neglect of OFWs – Migrante

pope migGlobal alliance of overseas Filipinos expressed tremendous gratitude to Pope Francis for acknowledging the real plight of overseas Filipinos workers (OFWs) and their families.

In his speech delivered in Malacanang, Pope Francis made mention of OFWs and the Filipino diaspora. The Pope said that he “cannot fail to mention” the OFWs “who are often neglected and whose contributions to society are not fully appreciated”. The Holy Father also said that the Filipino diaspora is “helping the life, culture and religious heritage” of other countries.

“Thank you very much, Pope Francis, for hearing our cries! Thank you for speaking in behalf of the 15 million overseas Filipinos all over the world who are being neglected, abused and exploited and abandoned by the Aquino government. Filipinos all over the world are overjoyed and empowered to further fight for our rights and to struggle for genuine social justice so that our common endeavors may be realized,” said Garry Martinez, Migrante International chairperson.

Martinez also noted the Pope’s mention of “families being destroyed.”

“One of the main reasons of Filipino families being torn apart is the phenomenon of forced migration. Our OFWs are separated from their families because of desperation and the need to survive. Pope Francis, who hailed from a family of migrants, knows this by heart. We agree with the Pope that what we should strive for is a ‘society of authentic justice, solidarity and peace’, something that is very far from what we have now which is a society of corruption, greed and conflict under the Aquino administration,” Martinez said.

The migrant leader said that he hopes the Pope’s statement will “open new doors and networks among churches and their brethren for the promotion and protection of the rights of Filipino migrants and their families around the world”.

Lastly, Martinez called on all OFWs and families to continue to organize, unite and struggle for social justice and revolutionary reforms. “The Pope himself said, ‘Dear migrants and refugees! You have a special place in the heart of the Church… Do not lose your faith and hope!’. For us, this should translate to the message that, despite and in spite of all our sufferings and torments, the people united shall never be defeated.” ###

Why OFWs oppose the MRT-LRT fare hikes

mrt lrt fare hikeFare hikes has increased most humble OFW families’ monthly spending by 92%

Migrante Partylist today said that overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) and their families strongly oppose the increase in MRT and LRT hikes because it is an anti-people privatization scheme meant solely to appease big businesses at the expense of basic social services.

“It is more than an inconvenience but a great disservice to our daily commuters. Billions of pesos from commuters’ pockets will not go to better services but to the pockets of huge private corporations. Even the DOTC has admitted that revenue from the fare hikes will not go to repairs and improvements in the train systems. The public is being made to shoulder the subsidy for a train system that is almost obsolete and nearly dilapidated. This is privatization at its worst. Gatasang-baka na nga ang mga OFW, pati mga pamilya nilang naiwan sa Pilipinas gatasang-baka rin ng gobyerno ni Aquino,” said Connie Bragas-Regalado, Migrante Partylist chairperson.

According to a study by Migrante Partylist, the MRT and LRT fare hikes has increased the monthly expenses of the most humble of remittance-dependent families by at least 92%.

Below is a case study of a humble remittance-dependent family with three school children based in Cubao, Quezon City. The family spent an average of P19,070 month before the increase in MRT-LRT fares:

Food – P6,000/month (P200/day)

Rent – P4,000 (one studio-type space)

LPG – P400 (2 “Superkalans”/month)

Electricity – P800/month

Water – P250/month

Toiletries – P900/month

Transportation costs of two family members (both minimum wage-earners in Manila) – P14 x 2 daily fare from Cubao to Taft or P1,120/month

Mobile phone load – P300 x 2 or P600/month

School supplies and needs – P5,000/month for 3 school children in public schools

TOTAL: P19,070

Their breadwinner is a domestic worker in the United Arab Emirates. She sends P21,000 every three (3) months, or P7,000 a month. Before the MRT-LRT fare increase, her remittance already fell P12,070 short of her family’s monthly expenses.

Her husband and her eldest son, both minimum wage-earners, allot almost most of their wages to their respective transportation costs and other daily operational needs. The OFW and the two other wage-earners in the family are also still paying debts incurred for the OFW’s job application abroad.

“With the recent increase in the MRT and LRT fare hikes, expenses for transportation costs of the two other wage-earners in the family shot up to P2,240 per month or a 100% increase, making the already monthly deficit remittance short by P13,190 or a 92% rate of increase in their monthly spending,” she said.

She added, the increase in monthly spending stated in this case study only reflects the effect of the MRT-LRT fare hikes on OFWs and their families. It does not yet include the definite onerous effects of the impending price hikes of other utilities such as water, electricity and other basic commodities on their monthly expenditure.

“At the end of the day, it is not the Aquino government, big businesses or contractors who will be making the hard decision but our workers, OFWs and their families. This is the glaring reality. While Pres. Aquino seems to be appeasing big businesses through the MRT-LRT fare hikes and other privatization schemes, OFWs and their families will be made to bear the brunt of the continuously dwindling real value of OFW remittances because of unending price hikes,” Bragas-Regalado said. ###

Aquino’s “doomsday” statement mars Pope’s imminent joyous visit – Migrante

pope migGlobal alliance of overseas Filipinos Migrante International today slammed Pres. Benigno Aquino’s seemingly “doomsday” statement on the upcoming Papal visit.

In Aquino’s message to the public on the arrival of Pope Francis, dated January 12, he called on the public “to exercise utmost discipline…cooperate with authorities…remain vigilant, take all precautions necessary…keep calm; do not push; do not run.”

“It is as if instead of a joyous affair, the President and Malacanang are expecting chaos to ensue. This is not a very welcoming message to the Pope and it sends a message to the international community that the Filipino people are nothing but an unruly bunch,” said Garry Martinez, Migrante International chairperson.

Martinez said that Aquino may also be pre-empting expected activities appealing to the Pope to heed the cries of the poor and oppressed Filipino people against wrongdoings in government.

“Aquino knows too well that the Papal visit will once again bring the Philippines under international scrutiny. He cannot have the Pope, a staunch advocate against corruption and greed, denouncing transgressions in his government. With this statement, Aquino may well be attempting to prevent international humiliation by passing off well-meaning welcomers as nothing but rowdy, undisciplined hooligans.”

Martinez said Aquino “is nothing like the Pope who is much-loved by the Filipino people”.

“Unlike the anti-poor Aquino, Pope Francis has high regard for the masses. He is humble enough to listen to the cries and pleas of the people and to speak on their behalf. He is open to dialogue and gives primacy to the interests of the poor and oppressed. This is why Aquino is loath to have him see the sentiments and real conditions of the Filipino people under his presidency.”

Migrante International is part of the multisectoral People’s Committee to Welcome the Pope (People’s Welcome) which will holding series of activities in time for the Papal visit on January 15-18, 2015. ###