No more cover-ups; assist and repatriate distressed OFWs from KSA

Protest of stranded OFWs at the POLO-OWWA Office in Al Khobar, Saudi Arabia, August 18, 2016

Protest of stranded OFWs at the POLO-OWWA Office in Al Khobar, Saudi Arabia, August 18, 2016

Migrante Eastern Region-Kingdom of Saudi Arabia strongly denounces the ineptitude and grave neglect of government officials in the region who play deaf and blind to the condition and demands of OFWs.

The continued and sustained lies of POLO-OWWA aimed at hiding the sad plight of our Filipino migrant workers in KSA Easter Region is endangering the security and lives of all distressed, abused and stranded OFWs who are frequently massing the Philippine Labor Office here.

The lies being peddled by these unscrupulous government officials are inimical to the best interest of the Filipino people. Instead of divulging important data to the public, POLO-OWWA officials opted to hide the truth by claiming that there are no stranded, abused or distressed OFWs here in eastern region. Despite receiving hundreds of unattended referred cases, those manning these inutile government agencies have the gall to claim that there is no single distressed OFW in this region.

By not divulging the truth, they contradict the Philippine Government’s thrusts for transparency and accountability, and service to OFWs.

Filipino migrant workers revealed to Migrante that POLO-OWWA officials threatened them with three (3) years imprisonment if they are found to be posting videos in social networks to ask for help from the Philippine government. Instead of providing assistance, these officials even add to the mental stress of OFWs by forcing them to keep mum of their condition – under threats of retaliation – just so they cannot reveal the non-performance of duties of this government agency.

Previously, POLO-OWWA has already put in prison an OFW who recorded his dialogue with a POLO-OWWA official. According to the OFW, he intentionally recorded the meeting to prove the agency’s neglect on his grievance. The OFW is willing to be interviewed by any mainstream Philippine media to expose this unjust and inhumane treatment by a government official.

Even Migrante, whose main objective is to help our distressed OFWs, has also become a target of harassment. Some POLO officials in Al-Khobar have allegedly been gathering information about Migrante Eastern Region officers.

We condemn in strongest terms possible the oppressive acts of Philippine government officials here. Instead of giving assistance to our migrant workers, POLO-OWWA has become the oppressor and abuser of OFWs in KSA.

It is clear that they wish to distort the truth and make people believe that they are effective and clean. They only want to protect their respective careers and personal interests by sacrificing and setting aside the safety and lives of our distressed kababayans and even those who assist them.

Migrante Eastern Region, KSA calls on the Philippine government to immediately intervene and act on our demand to immediately repatriate our stranded and distressed OFWs in KSA. In equal vein, we call for admonition and immediate replacement of erring POLO-OWWA Al Khobar officials.

There is no reason to lengthen the sufferings of our people. The grave neglect and inhumane treatment of our helpless OFWs must stop now.

(Migrante Eastern Region, KSA is willing to share related data and information to all interested media networks, media practioners and concerned agencies in the Philippines)

References:

Faisal Muhammad

Chairperson – Migrante Al Khobar

+96654-107-3001

 

Dhel Macalintal

Information Bureau – Migrante Al Khobar

+96655-1977512

 

Gil Libria

Rights and Welfare Assistance Program

Migrante Al Khobar

+966-53-752-1657

OWWA refuses to comply with DOLE Chief’s orders re: Saudi stranded

Migrante International, together with Saudi OFWs and families, and DOLE Sec. Silvestre Bello III, August 11,2016, DOLE Office, Manila

Migrante International, together with Saudi OFWs and families, and DOLE Sec. Silvestre Bello III, August 11,2016, DOLE Office, Manila

Migrante International held a dialogue with Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) Sec. Silvestre Bello III last August 11, together with 30 representatives and family members of stranded overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) in Saudi Arabia.

In the dialogue, the OFWs and their families thanked Sec. Bello and the Duterte administration for acknowledging that there indeed is an ongoing crisis affecting at least 50,000 Filipino migrant workers in Saudi Arabia. This is a far cry from the previous Aquino administration’s outright denial of the crisis, resulting in inaction and the aggravation of the sorry conditions of the affected OFWs and their families. They also acknowledged the decisive actions instigated by the Duterte government, based on the seven (7) demands presented by Migrante International and Migrante-Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) to Sec. Bello before his first visit to the Kingdom last August 22-23, 2016.

They, however, raised the following concerns with regard the government’s initial responses to the ongoing crisis, to wit:

At the tailend of the dialogue, OWWA officials arrived at the venue. Sec. Bello ordered them to immediately accompany all OFWs and families present at the dialogue to the OWWA Main Office to claim their money. The officials, however, did not accompany the OFWs and families and instead merely instructed them to proceed to the OWWA and look for OWWA Welfare Officer Connie Marquez.

Upon arrival at the OWWA office, only 9 out of the more than 30 OFWs and families present were able to claim “because only the nine (9) are included in their masterlist”. OWWA Admin Rebecca Calzado REFUSED to grant them financial assistance, despite and in spite of direct orders from the DOLE Secretary.

“While we believe that Sec. Bello is sincere in his promise of improved assistance and services to the affected OFWs and families, OWWA’s non-compliance is putting the good secretary in a bad light. As of this posting, we have been receiving more complaints from OFWs and families, on-site and off-site, nationwide and abroad, of the OWWA’s continuous refusal to follow Sec. Bello’s direct orders,” said Garry Martinez, Migrante International chairperson.

OWWA is an attached agency of the DOLE. The DOLE Chief is also the Chairman of the OWWA Board. “OWWA Admin. Calzado’s refusal to comply is outright insubordination and complete disregard of the rights and welfare of distressed OFWs and their families. We believe this is not what Pres. Duterte had in mind when he ordered Sec. Bello to attend to the plight of stranded OFWs in Saudi Arabia,” he said.

Martinez said that Migrante-KSA is also now preparing for Sec. Bello’s planned return to Saudi Arabia on August 15, as well as the arrival of the government’s one-month humanitarian relief mission within August. ###

No to Marcos burial at Libingan ng mga Bayani – Migrante

image from Interaksyon

image from Interaksyon

Migrante International said that overseas Filipinos and their families join other sectors in strongly opposing the Duterte government’s plan to bury the remains of late dictator Ferdinand Marcos at the Libingan ng mga Bayani.

“Marcos is no hero. Generations upon generations of overseas Filipinos and immigrants know this, especially those who were forced to flee the country in fear of their lives during Martial Law. Siya ang dahilan kung bakit maraming mga kababayan natin ang nawalay sa kanilang mga pamilya noong Batas Militar,” said Garry Martinez, Migrante International chairperson.

Martinez said that Marcos, his widow and his family remain an international disgrace to Filipinos around the world for all the crimes and transgressions they caused the Filipino people during the former president’s dictatorship.

The migrant leader also pointed out that it was during Marcos’ time that the labor export policy was institutionalized.

“Now, four decades after, our OFWs continue to bear the brunt of this policy that has placed the domestic economy hostage to neoliberal dictates and the exploitation of our cheap labor. Burying Marcos in the Libingan ng mga Bayani is a grave injustice and insult to our living heroes, our OFWs.” ###

OEC exemption for returning OFWs lauded, permanent abolition of ‘legalized kotong’ urged

abolish OECGlobal alliance of overseas Filipinos and families Migrante International welcomed Governing Board Resolution 12, s.2016 of the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) ordering the exemption of returning overseas Filipino workers (OFWs), otherwise known as Balik Manggagawa, from the overseas employment certificate (OEC).

According to Migrante International Garry Martinez, the exemption is a positive development in the Duterte administration’s thrust of streamlining services for OFWs to afford them ease in transactions and relief from government “red tape”.

However, Martinez said, that the problem with the OEC not merely lies in tedious processing and long queues for returning OFWs during so-called peak seasons for balikbayans.

“The OEC has long been deemed by OFWs and families as a money-making scheme by the government in the form of ‘legalized kotong’, from new hires and Balik Manggagawa alike. Therefore, we urge Pres. Duterte to not only limit the exemption to returning OFWs but to abolish the OEC permanently.”

The OEC is a requirement for every OFW who leaves the country. For new hires, the OEC will not be issued unless they pay a compulsory plethora of fees for every contract processed.

Martinez cited a study by Migrante International estimating an average of Php30,000 cost from every newly-hired OFW processed by the POEA. This amount ballooned from 2010’s average cost of P18,000 per new contract.

“With the increases in Philhealth premium, NBI clearance fees, e-Passport fees, barangay clearance fees, mandatory contributions to Pag-Ibig, OWWA and the mandatory insurance, among other requirements, the average cost for every newly-hired OFW for the issuance of the OEC has more than doubled during the last six years,” Martinez said.

Some 6,000 OFWs leave the country daily. From the OEC alone, the government earns a whopping Php65.7 billion, or Php180 million a day, from various processing fees and state exactions on OFWs. “Sobrang pangongotong, todo-todong kita ang gobyerno mula sa mga OFW. Ang panawagan namin kay Pang. Duterte ay tanggalin nang tuluyan ang OEC na ginagawang gatasang-baka ang ating mga OFW.”

 “State exactions have caused OFWs and their families to become debt-ridden, contributing greatly to the widespread landlessness and poverty of many. It is not unheard of for peasant families to mortgage or sell their small parcels of land or to submit their children to unpaid labor just to be able to pay debtors or produce the sum needed to pay for exorbitant pre-departure and placement fees,” Martinez said. ###

Welcome change for distressed OFWs: OWWA Releases PhP500-M Relief Assistance to distressed OFWs in Saudi

saudi ofws for changeMigrante-KSA (Kingdom of Saudi Arabia), an alliance of various Filipino groups in Saudi Arabia, welcomed the announcement of the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration’s PhP500 Million Relief Assistance Program (RAP) for distressed overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and their families.

In a recent Memorandum of Instruction, OWWA announced an emergency financial assistance to each affected worker who are still at jobsite – Php20,000 (equivalent to SAR 1,590/-) to stranded and distressed OFWs and Php6,000 to their families back home.

Marlon Gatdula, Migrante KSA Western Region Chairperson stressed “that this relief assistance is very timely in light of thousands of OFWs in various construction companies who are not receiving their salaries and benefits.  And OWWA’s usual stance of turning a deaf ear to the plight of OFWs hopefully will finally end.”

“This is a welcome change indeed, a breath of fresh air that can only be attributed to the ascendance of President Rodrigo Duterte to the national government and the persistency of Migrante and its affiliate organizations in fighting for the rights and welfare of OFWs,” Gatdula added.

However, only OFWs in the following companies are listed as beneficiaries of OWWA’s Relief Assistance Program as stated in the Memorandum:

  1. Saudi bin Laden Grup of Companies
  2. Saudi Oger Ltd.
  3. Mohammed al-Mojil Group
  4. Mohammad Hameed Al-Bargash & Bros. Trading & Construction Co.
  5. Alumco LLC
  6. Rajeh H. Al Merri Contracting & Trading Co.
  7. Fawzi Salah Al Nairani Contracting Co.
  8. Arabtec Construction LLC
  9. Real Estate Development & Investment Co.

Thus, Migrante Western Region begs to question “the limited scope of beneficiaries and demand OWWA to include other OFWs whose employers and/or sponsors are not on the list but were likewise affected by the situation in Saudi Arabia,” Gatdula asserts.

Migrante chapters in KSA has a growing list of affected OFWs in manpower suppliers or sub-contractors of the companies listed in the Memorandum, as wells as other small employers who are not providing the salaries and benefits to the worker, such as SMASCO, Al-Aman Contracting and Alzeeme in Jeddah, SMACO in Al-Khobar and Fiberglass Factory in Rabigh, among others.

Furthermore, Migrante KSA urged OWWA officials in Riyadh, Jeddah and Al-Khobar to “immediately visit the affected OFWs at their jobsites to gather the required documentation and enable the OFWs to avail of the program, in accordance with the Memorandum.”

Gatdula also said that the emergency financial assistance should not be dependent on OWWA membership, as had been the practice of the OWWA in past. “It will be unfair and divisive to the OFWs and their families. Because of their stranded status, majority of them are undocumented (no iqamas) and therefore have been rendered stripped off their active OWWA memberships. If active OWWA membership is a pre-requisite, close to none will be able to avail.”

“We also reiterate that while the emergency financial assistance is a welcome development, it is only one of the demands put forth by stranded OFWs and their families,” Gatdula added.

Last July 20, Migrante International in Manila submitted a briefer on the situation of stranded OFWs to DOLE Sec. Silvestre Bello before he embarked to Saudi Arabia. Elaborated in the briefer are the following demands:

  1. Negotiate with employers for the payment of unpaid wages and benefits, and issuance of exit visas of stranded OFWs.
  2. Emergency mass repatriation of stranded OFWs. Government should shoulder immigration penalties and other costs related to repatriation.
  3. Provide legal assistance and other support for distressed OFWs who filed labor cases, and facilitate the provision of subsistence allowances and mandatory insurance benefits through OFWs’ recruitment agencies.
  4. Ban the deployment of OFWs to bankrupt and crisis-ridden companies.
  5. Emergency financial assistance to all distressed OFWs and their families.
  6. Speedy resolution of cases of repatriated OFWs lodged at the POEA (Philippine Overseas Employment Administration) and NLRC (National Labor Relations Commission).
  7. Comprehensive reintegration program for returned and returning OFWs. ###

Reference:

Marlon Gatdula, Chairperson, Migrante Western Region KSA Chapter

(Migrante WRKSA), Contact No.: +966543452289

 Dhel Macalintal, Spokesperson, Migrante Al-Khobar KSA Chapter

Contact No.: +966551977512

 Mario Ben, Chairperson, Migrante Saudi Arabia Chapter

Contact No.: +966557267069

 Faisal Muhammad Torres, Chairperson, Migrante Al-Khobar KSA Chapter

Contact No.: +966541073001

 Don Berlin Borbe, Chairperson, Migrante Riyadh KSA Chapter

Contact No.: +966541073001

 Garry Martinez, Chairperson, Migrante International

Contact No: 0939-3914418

 

Migrante International on Duterte’s 1st SONA

 

Migrante at the #SONAngBayan 2016

Migrante at the #SONAngBayan 2016

Pres. Rodrigo Duterte’s first State of the Nation Address (SONA) is a welcome and refreshing change from the past Aquino administration’s SONAs of empty promises, posturing and pomposity.

Migrante International welcomes Pres. Duterte’s announcement of a unilateral ceasefire in relation to the resumption of formal peace talks between the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GPH) and the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP)-New People’s Army (NPA)-National Democratic Front (NDF).

We are hopeful that this goodwill measure will be preceded by the immediate and unconditional release of all 550 political prisoners, including his earlier declared plan to release all NDF peace consultants. Further, Pres. Duterte’s declaration should also urgently result in the immediate pull out and withdrawal of military troops from communities, schools and ancestral lands of indigenous peoples.

Migrante fully supports the resumption of the GPH-NDF peace talks. We fully support the call and struggle for national industrialization and genuine land reform as the ultimate solution to forced migration and to end the labor export program. These are the fundamental changes and reforms that OFWs (overseas Filipino workers) and their families need in a Duterte presidency.

The plight of OFWs and their families is not isolated from the struggle of other marginalized and neglected sectors. The problem of forced migration is deeply rooted in the fundamental problems of Philippine society. Our struggle for dignity, rights and welfare, against government neglect and against forced migration plays a very important role in the struggle for genuine freedom and national democracy.

Hence, while we welcome Pres. Duterte’s efforts of streamlining and improving government services, specifically his order to extend the validity of passports and the creation of a one-stop shop for OFWs, we take notice that he did not present in concrete terms how he plans to make overseas employment “optional and not a necessity”.

The SONA made no mention of genuine agrarian reform, wage increase, ending contractualization and other neoliberal attacks on the economy. It also made no mention of a genuine reintegration program for returned and returning OFWs so that they will not be forced to again seek so-called greener pastures abroad. Filipino workers are being forced to migrate and be separated from their families because of desperation and the need to survive. The economy’s lack of development resulting in job loss, low wages and contractualization, poverty, landlessness and poor social services continue to drive them away.

Ultimately, genuine change for OFWs and families will only be achieved if Pres. Duterte takes on the path of eradicating forced migration and ending the labor export policy. His administration should work and strive for a society of authentic justice, solidarity and peace. Migrante shall continue to support the Duterte administration for as long as he continues to tread this path.

Further, while OFWs unite with the president’s fight against illegal drugs and criminality, we fear that some of his pronouncements may be misconstrued as an encouragement of the latest series of vigilante killings. We believe that Pres. Duterte will be true to his oath to respect human rights and due process in the war against illegal drugs.

In the end, only through the collective action and determination of OFWs and families, together with other sectors of society, to exercise and assert their democratic rights can genuine change fully be realized. ###

#SONA2016 What OFWs need to hear in Duterte’s 1st SONA

du30On Pres. Rodrigo Duterte’s first State of the Nation Address (SONA), overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) and their families need to hear the administration’s concrete plans on its thrust of making overseas employment “optional and not a necessity”, as well as on its promise to place OFWs as a top priority in its labor agenda.

Migrante International earlier welcomed Duterte’s announcement that one of the main reasons of Filipinos being torn apart is the phenomenon of forced migration. There are currently 15 million overseas Filipinos and at least 6,000 leave the country daily to work abroad. Filipino workers are being forced to migrate and be separated from their families because of desperation and the need to survive. The economy’ lack of development resulting in job loss, low wages and contractualization, poverty, landlessness and poor social services continue to drive them away.

It is a tragic consequence when our labor force is uprooted from their families, forced to endure unfair labor practices and abuses, and in some cases, suffer death, in exchange for cheap labor because of government failure to address forced migration and stop the policy of labor export. We agree with Pres. Duterte in the analysis that in order to totally eradicate forced migration there is a need to generate more stable jobs in the country. In order to achieve this, his administration should work and strive for a society of authentic justice, solidarity and peace. How he plans to achieve this is what we need to hear in his first SONA.

The plight of OFWs and their families is not isolated from the struggle of other marginalized and neglected sectors. The problem of forced migraton is deeply rooted in the fundamental problems of Philippine society. Our struggle for dignity, rights and welfare, against government neglect and against forced migration plays a very important role in the struggle for genuine freedom and national democracy.

This is why Migrante fully supports the resumption of the GPH-NDF peace talks. We fully support the call and struggle for national industrialization and genuine land reform as the ultimate solution to forced migration and to end the labor export program. These are the fundamental changes and reforms that OFWs and their families need in a Duterte presidency.

We commend Pres. Duterte for immediately having exemplified political will on issues that have plagued our OFWs during the past Aquino administration. His sweeping move to put a stop the to tanim-bala extortion scheme is a stark contrast to how Aquino effectively further emboldened notorious syndicates and their coddlers in government by refusing to even acknowledge their existence. We hope that this initial step leads to a thorough investigation of all involved so that perpetrators may be held accountable.

Moreover, the Duterte administration’s recognition that there indeed is an ongoing huge crisis affecting our OFWs in Saudi Arabia is a far cry from the Aquino government’s attempts to downplay it. Through Labor Sec. Silvestre Bello III, the Duterte administration has demonstrated a no-nonsense hands-on approach to address the call for an emergency mass repatriation of tens of thousands of stranded OFWs in Saudi Arabia. We welcome Sec. Bello’s announcement of the immediate recall of two negligent labor attaches in Saudi Arabia, as well as the government’s promise to provide emergency financial assistance to distressed OFWs and their families.

Now comes the real and present problem of the need for a comprehensive reintegration program for our OFWs. What awaits tens of thousands of OFWs in the event of their emergency return? Definitely there are not enough domestic jobs available. Past administrations’ so-called reintegration programs have been meager dole-outs and band-aid solutions that are not long-term solutions to unemployment, low wages, contractualization and lack of social services. The past government’s reintegration program for returned OFWs were merely made up of loans and one-time livelihood programs.

One such example is the Overseas Workers’ Welfare Administration’s (OWWA) “Balik-Pinas” reintegraton program. It has been deemed an insult to OFWs, funded by OFWs’ USD$200 contributions per contract but being held hostage by the OWWA Board. These loan packages and “starter kits” are not accessible to distressed OFWs and have done nothing to sustain them upon their return.

Over the years, the OWWA funds have been met with controversy due to allegations of corruption and government abuse and misuse. Despite these, the OWWA funds have not been subjected to a full audit and no public accounting of how the funds  were used has been available to OFWs. We call on Pres. Duterte to conduct a full audit of the OWWA funds and to re-open investigation of all unresolved cases of corruption of the welfare funds.

Aside from the OWWA, we have also forwarded to the Duterte  administration our serious criticisms of the performances and orientation of existing government agencies in charge of dealing with OFW services and affairs. For these agencies to be able to address the decades-long clamor of OFWs and their families for better welfare services, they should not work to merely further institutionalize labor export but instead truly commit to advance the rights and welfare of OFWs, as well as work for a just and prosperous society that will eliminate the root causes of forced migration and put an end to it.

Indeed, the Duterte administration has been off to a good start, and we wish to see more sweeping reforms and resolute actions in his first 100 days. We specifically call for Pres. Duterte’s urgent attention (1) on the case of Mary Jane Veloso who remains on death row in Indonesia, and others like her who have been victimized by drug traffickers and illegal recruitment syndicates but have received no legal assistance from the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA); (2) on the immediate recall of all notorious abusive and erring embassy officials; (3) on the quick resolution of illegal recruitment and trafficking cases filed by countless OFW victims at the Department of Justice (DOJ), Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) and National Labor Relations Commission (NLRC); and, (4) on the scrapping of unnecessary fees that are viewed by our OFWs as nothing but “legalized kotong”, such as Overseas Employment Certificate (OEC), among others.

Ultimately, what OFWs and their families need to hear in Pres. Duterte’s first SONA is how he plans to decisively deviate from the labor export policy and instead focus on creating decent and sustainable local jobs to end the cycle of forced migration. It is high time the government reviews past governments’ recourse to chronically seek job markets abroad in exchange for remittances despite the ongoing global crisis and to the detriment of OFWs and their families. This cycle has got to end.

Migrante firmly believes that the Duterte administration should be committed and oriented towards these goals. We remain very open to work closely with the Duterte administration to ensure that this thrust is realized in the next six years. ###