Malacañang’s so-called ‘VIP treatment of OFWs’ decoded as ‘Very Important Palagatasan’ or milking cows for the Duterte regime

Since Congress busied itself last week with the Duterte regime’s Terror Bill which criminalizes legitimate dissent, the government has proven anew what it really meant by giving OFWs the ‘VIP treatment.’ The month of May ended with President Duterte failing to certify Makabayan bloc’s House Bill 6698 which aims to make Philhealth membership mandatory for OFWs and seeks removal of the penalties and premium rate hikes. 

President Duterte’s suspension of the mandatory Philhealth and premium rate hike is only temporary and therefore won’t suffice to permanently stop the forcible extortion of OFWs. In a media interview in May, Philhealth Vice President for Corporate Affairs Dr. Shirley Domingo herself said that collections will resume on the 1st of June. She added that only Congress will be able to decide otherwise because it would mean revising the Universal Healthcare Act which was signed and approved by President Duterte in February 2019.

With 42,000 OFWs initially expected to be repatriated in the coming weeks, DOLE reported yesterday that the number has already swelled to 100,000. Migrante KSA (Saudi Arabia) fears that as many as 200 thousand OFWs in KSA stand to lose their jobs due to business closures and retrenchments. According to the media, many distressed OFWs are still languishing in quarantine facilities because the government lost their swab test results. Some of these OFWs have sought help from Migrante International to voice out their anger against the government for treating them like detainees. 

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“LONG WAIT. It’s a long, agonizing journey home for many OFWs stranded in Metro Manila. Here, OFWs wait to get into the PITX terminal in Parañaque City on May 28, 2020.” Image caption by Rappler Photo by Inoue Jaena/Rappler

OFWs are blasting Malacañang for making them appear as recipients of government benevolence when in fact, payments for their swab tests, hotel accommodations and repatriation actually come from their own sweat and blood. All these were sourced from their contributions to Philhealth, OWWA dues and the contractual obligations of their manning or recruitment agencies. Despite handing over billions of OFW contributions to the parasitic government, Filipino migrants themselves attest that they are really indeed treated like garbage. We have heard it from OFWs themselves in media interviews and from their testimonies in social media. 

What Malacañang really means when it says that OFWs are being given ‘VIP treatment’ is that they are ‘Very Important Palagatasan’ or milking cows for the Duterte regime. Filipino migrant communities are weary of the Duterte regime’s empty rhetorics so all over the world they will continue to bang their pots and pans in their Global Kalampagan to demand that they be treated humanely and not like criminals just as how DFA Secretary Teddy Boy Locsin regarded distressed OFWs who escaped from quarantine facilities when he ordered their arrests. Even more appalling is the Duterte regime’s Terror Bill which imputes the terrorist-tag on the legitimate actions of advocacy groups upholding the interests of oppressed and marginalized sectors like workers, peasants and Filipino migrants. No amount of intimidation and persecution will stop Migrante International from carrying out its social justice mission for Filipino migrants and their families neglected, peddled and extorted by the inept Duterte Fascist regime. 

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“Government apology to OFWs is worthless with criminalization of dissent!” — Migrante International

With the Duterte regime hankering to jail dissenters with the adoption of a more ferocious ‘Anti-Terrorism Bill,” it is self-evident that the government’s apology to OFWs through DOLE Secretary Bello is totally worthless. OFWs need more than empty apologies. They need concrete actions from the government by addressing their immediate needs. Thousands of them are going back to their provinces without even receiving a single pence of financial aid. Instead, they are being struck with draconian laws that criminalize organized actions and expressions of legitimate criticisms. 

Migrante International denounces the brazen red-tagging committed by NTF ELCAC in its social media account. In its Facebook page, NTF ELCAC displayed the names and logos of progressive groups whom it accuses of being sectoral organizations of the CPP NPA. This blatant vilification endangers the lives of Migrante members who are persecuted for their open defiance and opposition against the Duterte regime’s anti-people policies, one of which is the imminent imposition of the mandatory Philhealth and premium rate hike. 

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Kadamay has condemned the killing of its national secretary-general Carlito Badion, whose body was found near a highway in Ormoc City on May 28. Investigators claim they are looking into several motives. But Kadamay said that Badion had been receiving death threats, supposedly from state agents, when he was actively involved in anti-demolition and public housing occupation campaigns in Metro Manila and nearby areas. More details to follow. Photos from investigators courtesy of Kadamay. PHOTO: Pinoy Weekly

Just a day after congress approval of the 2020 Anti-terrorism Bill, Carlito Badion was killed by AFP elements. Badion is the national secretary general of the urban poor advocacy group Kadamay. Prior to his tragic death, he has been subjected to repeated red tagging and has received numerous death threats from state elements. Migrante International condemns this brutal shedding of innocent blood by Fascist mercenaries of the Duterte regime. We call on all our member organizations in different parts of the world to denounce and protest this vicious killing and demand for justice. 

Justice for Carlito Badion! 

Junk terror bill!

Resist tyranny!

Stop the killings!

 

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“Enough of the Duterte regime’s garbage-like treatment of OFWs” — Migrante International

More than a month after being stuck in NCR, OFWs complain that they are being dumped like garbage in Metro Manila’s airport terminals. Despite huge sums of money squandered by the government’s national task force in funding overseas propaganda roadshows to delude OFWs into believing that things in the Philippines have changed for the better, it cannot be denied that our repatriated kababayans are being made to feel the maximum brunt of the Duterte regime’s ineptitude. Conditions of OFWs waiting at the airport stunned aid workers from Migrante International and Kilusang Mayo Uno who brought some food rations to our starving balikbayans yesterday. 

Famished and made to sit close to heaps of junk airport equipment, our kababayans whom the government repeatedly tag as ‘modern-day heroes’ are treated like outcasts as they haplessly await for their provincial flights. Many of these repatriates are now penniless after a month-long wait for medical services and financial aid that never came. They now rely on meal rations brought to them tardily at the airport. It is mind-boggling at how Duterte’s government officials look impressive at their efficiency in organizing parties and other spectacles but are proven to be repugnant imbeciles when it comes to delivering services for distressed Filipinos. 

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PHOTO: GMA News Online

Migrante International has also received accounts from OFWs themselves that they were asked for their passports at the airport which they are unable to provide because they are being held by their recruitment agencies. Waiting all-day and all-night long, many OFWs deplore that they can’t even take a bath to relieve them from the excruciating heat. Some seafarers recounted that they were already brought to the airport even if they have not yet taken their swab tests. 

The hardships inflicted on OFWs by government negligence is already taking its toll. With thousands of seafarers still stranded aboard ships, we still have not seen any action from the Duterte government to come to their aid. A 32-year old seafarer committed suicide recently on a ship called Scarlet Lady owned by Virgin Voyages. Innumerable Filipino migrant workers both sea-based and land-based are already at the height of mental distress. The Duterte government must see to it that psychosocial services be provided to them before and after repatriation. 

What could be much worse than the Duterte government’s imminent extortion of OFWs through the resumption of the mandatory Philhealth and premium rate hike three days from now? Migrante International calls on President Duterte to put a stop on this day-light robbery and focus on helping Filipino migrants at this period of crisis. OFWs are likewise appealing to OWWA to constantly provide their necessities like food, water, toiletries and comfortable waiting areas at the airport. Medical attention and flight priorities must be given to the elderly, pregnant women and physically challenged OFWs. The national government’s coordination with provincial LGUs is a must so as to avoid further troubles for OFWs whose hopes and energies have already been exhausted by the horrible times they spent in government quarantine facilities. As what Filipino migrants have repeatedly demanded before, they want a comprehensive plan to be laid out as 42,000 more are expected to be repatriated in the next few weeks. Enough of the Duterte regime’s garbage-like treatment of OFWs!

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Filipino migrant leaders hit Duterte’s mandatory Philhealth and premium rate hike due to resume next week. Raised calls for amendments through Makabayan bloc’s House Bill 6698

Five days to go before the full-scale implementation of President Duterte’s mandatory Philhealth membership and premium rate hike under his Universal Healthcare Law, leaders and representatives from different Filipino migrant communities overseas faced the media on Wednesday morning, 27 May, in an online press conference to voice out strong opposition against the imposition of this new state exaction amidst the damaging impacts of the COVID-19 crisis and pandemic. 

Migrante International Chairperson Joanna Concepcion attributed the temporary suspension of the aforestated law’s implementation to the collective actions and resounding protests organized by OFWs. “Our fight is not yet over for what we really demand is the complete abrogation and junking of the unjust mandatory Philhealth requirement and annual premium rate increase,” Concepcion asserted. The OFW advocacy group believes that the temporary suspension was only meant to tranquilize OFWs and avert their indignation. “We will not allow ourselves to be fooled.  The mandatory Philhealth and premium rate increase is rooted from the Universal Healthcare Law enacted in February 2019 which was hastily signed and approved by President Duterte himself,” Concepcion added. 

Marlon Lacsamana, the secretary general of Migrante Europe decried the state abandonment that befell OFWs in the continent. Lacsamana said, “embassies and consulates closed down so we no longer feel their presence that is why we migrants ourselves are helping each other to bring relief to our kababayans affected by the COVID-19 crisis. While there were some embassies and consulates that extended some help, it was not enough and it did not cover all Filipinos across Europe.” Lacsamana likewise  blasted the Duterte regime in its manner of distributing the $200 financial aid from DOLE. “We do not understand why they still have to deduct OWWA’s $25 exaction from the $200 cash assistance.”

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According to Chat Dimaano of Migrante Korea, the 60 thousand documented OFWs in South Korea are already covered by the host country’s medical insurance which entitles them to free medical treatment. For Migrante Korea, this itself makes Duterte’s mandatory Philhealth useless and unnecessary. “With the exacerbation of the crisis in South Korea as many workers lose their jobs, this is already too burdensome for us that is why we support Makabayan bloc’s House Bill 6698. Our hard earned money should go directly to our families and not to government agencies like Philhealth which is riddled with corruption,” Dimaano pointed out. 

For Mikee Santos of Migrante Aotearoa (New Zealand), President Duterte’s new state exaction is out of touch with reality and an insult to OFWs. “Many migrant workers who have been residing here for more than two years are already covered by New Zealand’s healthcare system. This mandatory Philhealth and premium rate hike is another addition on top of all the other state exactions already being imposed on us by the Duterte government which did not even bother to check out the real pulse and sentiments of Filipino communities here in New Zealand. ”

Speaking from Washington DC, Jeremias David of Migrante USA said, “This is not beneficial for migrants because Philhealth is not recognized in US hospitals. The Philippine government is robbing us of our hard-earned money which we should be sending back to the Philippines to support our families.” Many Filipino migrants in the US are hit hard by the crisis.  David added, “we have so many J1 visa holders who lost their jobs after the closure of hotels and restaurants here in the US. We demand that the Duterte government extend assistance to Filipino J1 workers. They are really enraged due to the absence of any effort from the government to reach out to them.”

In Saudi Arabia, many OFWs are afflicted by ‘no-work, no-pay’ arrangements. Marlon Gatdula of Migrante KSA related that the costs of goods have gone up due to Saudi Arabia’s imposition of the value added tax and the removal of subsidies to basic commodities. Gatdula also recounted the ruckus that occurred due to the disorganized distribution of food stubs in POLO-Riyadh. “OFWs reject this new Philhealth exaction because employers here in KSA are already obligated under state policy to ensure healthcare for their workers,” Gatdula remarked.

Meanwhile, repatriated OFWs in the Philippines are languishing in quarantine facilities without substantial aid from Duterte’s government agencies. Laorence Castillo, the head coordinator of Migrante Philippines’ Rights and Welfare Assistance Program lamented, “their troubles and anxieties are aggravated by the harsh reality of returning home without any form of livelihood. The entire process from repatriation to swab testing, from their subjection to the prolonged period of quarantine while awaiting for the test results are likened to marching into Calvary. Besides the swab testing, they have not received amelioration from any of Philhealth’s programs.” Castillo likewise revealed that quarantined OFWs like pregnant women, mentally distressed and the elderly  did not receive their required medical attention. 

In addition to the impending 3% premium rate hike on Philhealth contributions, Migrante Philippines also expressed disgust over corruption issues plaguing the government agency. Philhealth is currently embroiled in the public uproar over overpriced test kits aside from the Php 154 Billion lost to overpayments and fraudulent claims. Castillo also scorned Philhealth for the alleged Php 16 million worth of questionable receipts issued by recruitment agencies. “The Duterte government is using the pandemic to rake in more profit from our troubled kababayans.”

Calling on all Filipinos to rise up and oppose President Duterte’s unjust Philhealth scheme, Dolores Balladares Pelaez of Migrante Hong Kong urged all Filipino migrants to unite and continue their protest against extortionate state exactions imposed by the government. “We are not merely asking for a suspension  but the complete scrapping of the mandatory Philhealth and premium rate increase. Right in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis, the Duterte regime abandoned us OFWs and our families as what we’ve seen with the gross ineptitude of the Duterte government in delivering services for stranded OFWs. They closed down many embassies and consulates around the world at a time when we badly needed their help. Instead of giving us relief and protection, the Duterte regime is assaulting us with additional state exactions. Let us unite together as Filipino migrants and reject Duterte’s dreadful policies,” Balladares-Pelaez concluded. 

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Duterte gov’t hit for mass incarceration of OFWs and public release of their COVID-19 test results

If it were not for the uproar brought up by OFWs who were subjected to prolonged confinement in quarantine facilities, there’s no telling how many days or weeks more they would have to endure before President Duterte orders their release. This is also on the back of concerns on the shortage of quarantine rooms to take in 42,000 more OFWs who will be returning back to the Philippines in the next several weeks.

Throughout the duration of their confinement, OFWs complained that they have not really received financial aid, regular check ups and psychosocial services especially for repatriates who have histories of abuse and maltreatment from their foreign employers overseas. Under the government’s DOLE-AKAP program, many OFWs are not covered by the Duterte government’s financial aid. 

What was supposed to be a mere 14-day quarantine turned out to be a month-long isolation even for OFWs who already obtained negative results out of their COVID-19 tests. Confusion, frustration and depression vexed those who were still not allowed to leave because of the failure of pertinent government agencies to provide them with certification. The certification requirement only caused bureaucratic nightmares to OFWs who have long been used to more organized and more efficient deliveries from their host countries. 

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PHOTO: Raffy Tima

The disorganized and disjointed undertakings of government agencies likewise roused alarms in the manner that the Philippine Coast Guard relayed information to OFWs regarding their release. While we support the use of digital means to expedite the process, it should never be at the cost of breaking the right of OFWs to privacy. Worst, the Philippine Coast Guard has been publishing on its social media account the Google Drive link which contains the masterlist of OFW names who tested negative for COVID-19. The Google Drive link was without any online security to safeguard sensitive data and protect OFWs from possible identity theft caused by privacy breach. Even the process itself of undergoing quarantine should never be revealed publicly without the OFW’s consent. It is really appalling that the google drive link was recklessly made available to everybody online. We demand for heads to roll among task force officials who violated the rights of quarantined OFWs to privacy. Migrante International is looking into possible legal actions against government officials responsible for this massive breach of rights to privacy. 

President Duterte has hundreds of billions of funds granted to him through emergency powers and yet the government can’t even provide a safe online tracker for OFWs to access centralized and updated details about their repatriation, quarantine, release, financial aid and other relevant information. For the lack of substantial aid during their confinement, the mass incarceration of OFWs is reprehensible when all the while we have seen Duterte’s underlings like Sinas, Koko Pimentel, Mocha and Bong Go violating Duterte’s very own ECQ with complete impunity.  

Filipino migrants were not found wanting in their collective efforts to raise their demands to the government through petitions, letters of appeal, phone calls to government agencies, and even testifying in the House Committee on Overseas Workers Affairs. The government should have promptly worked on the release and safe return of quarantined OFWs especially the elderly, pregnant women and those who have physical challenges. 

Early on, there should have already been a comprehensive plan for immediate and systematic mass testing, coordinated and organized quarantine process, transportation assistance plus other services without bureaucratic layers, and with clear and accessible information for our OFWs. We attribute the failure of the Duterte regime for its stubborn insistence on appointing military officials in the task force despite their glaring ignorance in the handling of a public health crisis of pandemic proportions. It created a task force fielded by a gang of military personnel without a single epidemiologist. 

While Filipino migrants are still crawling hapless from the Duterte government’s ineptitude, another menacing offense of the Duterte regime is that whatever diminutive ‘assistance’ OFWs received from the government will be soon blotted out completely with the impending implementation of the mandatory Philhealth and premium rate hike several days from now. FIlipino migrant communities have been banging pots and raising their voices in their Global Kalampagan to oppose the daylight robbery against OFWs perpetrated by the Duterte regime. Migrante International demands a comprehensive plan to ameliorate OFWs in this time of crisis. Tulong hindi kotong!

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OFW group calls for speedy repatriation of OFWs. Demands complete junking of mandatory Philhealth and premium rate hike

With vast proportions of business operations forced to shut down, governments in the Middle East such as the UAE and Kuwait are firming up amnesty programs to allow migrants with visa issues to leave their host countries without having to pay fines or getting penalized. Migrante International calls upon the Duterte government to urgently repatriate all stranded Filipino migrants and persuade governments of other host countries to implement similar amnesty programs or grace periods. 

The surge in the number of stranded Filipinos in the Middle East reflects the grievous impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and recession to migrant workers. Most of the cases are in Saudi Arabia. No work no pay arrangements have made life unbearable for OFWs whose loved ones back home are likewise battered by the Duterte government’s refusal to provide cash aid for OFW families. Another offense would be the government’s limit on the daily number of repatriations. Media reports say that only 600 repatriates are allowed to return each day. This is just one example of the Duterte regime’s appalling treatment of its ‘modern-day heroes’ right in the midst of a global health emergency. With Duterte’s persistent delayed response, he is proving to be outrightly blind to the gravity and urgency of the situations faced by OFWs. 

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PHOTO: DFA-OUMWA

For decades, one Philippine regime after another has relied on labour export to camouflage the uninterrupted crisis generated by neoliberal economic policies. Before the eruption of the COVID-19 recession, the Philippines for the longest time has been the country with the highest unemployment rate in Southeast Asia. DOLE admits that 5 to 10 million workers in the homefront are in grave peril of  losing their jobs as the crisis rears its head for the worst. 

We can really dare say that Duterte’s ‘Balik Probinsya’ program is meant to preempt the boiling resentment of displaced precariats in NCR, majority of them are from the service sector which accounts for 24 million jobs or more than half of the employed workforce. Agriculture which is supposed to be an essential sector to ensure the country’s food security has long been in the throes of death due to unhampered liberalization. Expect that as soon as the turbulence eases, ‘Balik Abroad’ will be their primary resort. 

Scrambling to look for sources of funds to replenish a near-emptied coffer rifled by corruption, the Duterte regime rammed the mandatory Philhealth coverage and premium rate hike into the throats of hapless Filipino migrants. OFWs are no longer buying bogus assurances of benefits from Philhealth after the agency has been mired with issues of ghost patients and deliveries. As Duterte’s suspension on the mandatory Philhealth and rate hike ends on 30th of May, OFWs will find themselves crushed to the point of fatality just to resuscitate the profit of a healthcare sector dominated by big private business and that of the Duterte government which is entrenched in corruption and bureaucrat capitalism. Meanwhile, Duterte’s economic mismanagement team is pushing for a cut on corporate income tax rates from 30% to 25% in July this year. Undoubtedly, this is highly favourable to oppressive oligarchs. 

Filipino migrants and their advocates are fighting hard to stop the Duterte regime from milking OFWs anew for their hard-earned money. Aside from the weekly Global Kalampagan conducted by Migrante members worldwide, overseas Filipinos are also exerting all-out support for House Bill 6698 filed by Makabayan bloc members at the House of Representatives. This seeks to amend the Universal Health Care Act (UHC) to render the membership of overseas Filipinos to Philhealth voluntary, and remove its provisions for premium increase and the imposition of penalty.

What we need to see now are immediate repatriation for stranded OFWs, transportation assistance, steady financial aid and the provision of health services upon their return. OFWs in quarantine are neither getting any psychosocial support nor regular health checks. Without amelioration, their confinement in government quarantine facilities would only amount to them being subjected to mass incarceration. The Duterte government must prioritize the safe return of our kababayans. Forcing them to pay hefty fees for supposed healthcare services which they don’t get in quarantine facilities is tantamount to sequestering them to extract ransom. 

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“Arrest Sinas! Stop criminalizing distressed OFWs fleeing detention-like quarantine facilities! Scrap mandatory Philhealth and premium rate hike” — Migrante International

In an inter-agency task force meeting aired online on Tuesday night, COVID-19 Chief Implementer Secretary Carlito Galvez said that a total of 465 returning OFWs have tested positive for the disease. One solon last month said that 420,000 OFWs are set to return in the next six months as a result of the COVID-19 world health crisis and economic recession. 27,000 are already in Metro Manila and 42,000 are expected to arrive in the next several weeks. 

More than two months into one of the world’s longest and harshest lockdowns, the Duterte regime is still without a comprehensive plan encompassing medical intervention and financial assistance for OFWs.  So just like those who have arrived before them, returning OFWs are expected to undergo the same sorts of ordeal that are afflicting those languishing in temporary quarantine facilities. According to reports, Galvez expressed that there might no longer be enough quarantine rooms to accommodate the additional 42,000 repatriates.

Since the massive influx of OFWs back to the country has already been anticipated early on, there is clear criminal neglect on the part of the Duterte regime. It’s hard to forget the tragic fate that befell one OFW from Kuwait who committed suicide inside a temporary quarantine facility in Pasay City. Fellow occupants of the said quarantine said that they have been stuck there for more than two weeks without getting any medical check-ups nor any financial aid from the government. Prior to their return, many of these OFWs endured abuses from their employers overseas. 

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PHOTO: abs-cbn.com/news

Despairing over the loss of their livelihood while struggling to cope up with emotional traumas are terrible afflictions for OFWs. Migrante International’s call on the Duterte government to provide psychosocial support for OFWs under quarantine has fallen on deaf ears. We therefore find Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin’s arrest order against OFWs who fled quarantine facilities as atrocious. It is such a shame that OFWs traumatized by their experiences abroad and in local quarantine facilities are now being treated like criminals by their own government. The regime’s double standard is glaring considering that President Duterte even praised NCR Police Chief Maj. General Debold Sinas as an “honest” and “good officer” despite fierce criticisms from the public for his ECQ violations. Thanks to Duterte’s hypocrisy, Sinas is now acting like a spoiled princess.  

Adding to the troubles faced by OFWs is the impending mandatory Philhealth collection and premium rate hike that will ensue following the expiration of the moratorium on premium payments after the 30th of May. The Duterte regime’s much-vaunted Universal Healthcare Law is just another scam to bleed OFW pockets dry. OFWs in quarantine facilities can attest that they are not getting the healthcare services they deserve. Migrante International supports the demand of OFWs for the complete junking of the mandatory Philhealth membership and premium rate hike. OFWs fed up by the Duterte regime’s inutility are not criminals. Without the financial aid, psychosocial support, medical and transportation services that OFWs deserve to get, the Duterte regime’s temporary quarantine shelter are nothing but detention facilities. 

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