DUTERTE’S MILITARY CRONY IN PHILHEALTH: OFW group blasts Duterte’s trust in Philhealth chief Ret. AFP Brig. General Ricardo Morales

Migrante International fully supports the investigations being conducted by the Senate and House of Representatives into the corruption scandal involving Philhealth officials. Philhealth has already lost Php 154 Billion to ghost patients and deliveries in the previous years. Following last year’s appointment of Retired AFP Brigadier General Ricardo Morales by President Duterte as Philhealth’s new president and CEO, it is outrageous that four officials linked into these scams were promoted by Morales.  Right in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis, over Php 15 Billion went into the pockets of corrupt officials according to the agency’s former anti fraud officer. Just as the Filipino people are struck by hardships imposed by Duterte’s military-led COVID-19 task force, another retired AFP general figures in a despicable scandal. The Duterte regime is very much enamored with his military cronies and he places excessive value on them to the detriment of the Filipino public. 

Other irregularities have also been uncovered in the last couple of days like the insertion of 5 thousand ghost members aged 130 in Philhealth’s database, as well as an overpriced laptop worth Php 115 Million included in its Php 2.1 Billion IT project. At the back of all these corruption scandals, Philhealth officials still had the nerve to ask for additional government subsidy despite having Php 110 Billion in contingency funds on top of the Php 63 Billion it receives from sin taxes and the Php 77 Billion premium contributions. Philhealth officials claim that it will get bankrupt by 2022 if it does not get its requested subsidy. 

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PhilHealth President and Chief Executive Officer Ricardo Morales. INQUIRER FILE PHOTO / NINO JESUS ORBETA

This only goes to show that Philhealth does not have the integrity and capacity to virtuously manage healthcare funds and provide efficient delivery of services. Concerned Filipino migrants and families are enraged that despite allegations of widespread corruption, Philhealth chief Ricardo Morales still enjoys the trust of President Duterte. Nevertheless, this no longer comes as a surprise since Morales is among Duterte’s military cronies who enjoy unlimited impunity. 

It is only rightful that OFWs continue to register their thunderous opposition against the mandatory Philhealth and premium rate hike signed by no other than President Duterte himself in his ‘Universal Healthcare Act’ which his regime claims as a ‘landmark’ law. 

Migrante International reiterates its full support to Makabayan Bloc’s House Bill 6698 to remove these unjust provisions from the Universal Healthcare Act. Our hard-earned money should go directly to our families back home in the Philippines who are affected by the ongoing COVID-19 crisis and not to a corrupt government agency like Philhealth. In a country like the Philippines where the healthcare system is dominated by profit-oriented private corporations, Migrante International asserts that a genuine universal health care should be free and readily accessible for the entire Filipino people.

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FROM THE DUMPSTER TO THE GRAVE (SUMA 2020): Duterte’s garbage-like treatment of Filipino migrants and families

State of Migrants

Prepared by Migrante International

26 July 2020

FROM THE DUMPSTER TO THE GRAVE (SUMA 2020): Duterte’s garbage-like treatment of Filipino migrants and families 

Not so long ago, many Filipinos were already surviving on a hand-to-mouth existence. In the last four months however, even the most industrious of our kababayans have been reduced into hapless beggars in the streets as the most corrupt of Duterte’s cronies are living their grandest lives in paradise. The Duterte regime’s over reliance on its Labour Export Program is finally taking a toll as more than 551,000 overseas Filipino workers get displaced by the worst global recession ever to hit the world economy since the Great Depression in the 1930s. 

Battered by the world’s longest and harshest lockdown, the Philippines’ gross domestic product (GDP) likely contracted to a whopping 14.3% in the second quarter according to UK-based Oxford economics. 

Exacerbating roots of forced migration and brewing unrest 

Presiding over the death of Philippine agriculture through the Rice Liberalization Law and the absence of a national industry that would withstand external economic turmoils, the Duterte regime is finding itself overwhelmingly polarized further from the masses with 14 Million Filipinos unemployed and 6.4 to 7 Million underemployed as of April. These numbers add up to 20 Million overall. The country’s 22% unemployment rate is the highest in many decades. Even before the COVID-19 global crisis, the Philippines has been consistent as having the highest unemployment rate in the entire Southeast Asian region. 

At least 5.2 million Filipinos experienced hunger in the last three months and the 20.9% hunger incidence rate is the highest since 2014. The increase in the prices of goods have gone unabated after Duterte signed the TRAIN Law in December 2017. Many Filipino households writhe with bill shock over the cost of electricity, water and other services. Meanwhile, Duterte’s economic mismanagement team is pushing for a cut on corporate income tax rates from 30% to 25% in July. 

In terms of social services, Duterte’s reallocation and realignment of budget through the BAHO Act (Bayanihan Heal As One) brought about the reduction of the education budget by Php 21.9 Billion. Last year, the Duterte regime halved the budget for the health department’s Epidemiology and Surveillance Program from P262.9 million in 2019 to only P115.5 million in 2020 while allocation for the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine was slashed by 57%. Before the COVID-19 lockdown, there have been 19 countries that have standing travel advisories against the Philippines with the reappearance of polio after 19 years, all thanks to a very poor public healthcare system. Healthcare workers in the Philippines are not only being overworked and underpaid but are also being forced to work in overcrowded, underfunded and understaffed hospitals. This is exacerbating brain drain in the Philippines. In a country with a privately-dominated healthcare system, the Duterte regime’s much vaunted ‘Universal Healthcare Law’ which he signed last year is marred by corruption in Philhealth. Moreover, OFWs are strongly against the mandatory Philhealth and premium rate increase. 

At about this period last year, President Duterte had no qualms of vetoing even the sanitized version of the anti-endo bill going with the argument that it ‘destroys balance.’ Hypocritically his minions cited contractualization as one of their reasonings in shutting down ABS-CBN, the Philippine government itself is the chief implementer of contractualization with 600,000 government employees deprived of secure tenureship and access to benefits. 

Out of 195 countries in the world, the Philippines is among the world’s top 10 worst countries for workers according to the 2020 global rights index of the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC). The country’s labour force are oppressed through contractualization, regionalization of minimum wage rates and the violent repression of workers through union-busting, red-tagging and murder. NCR’s minimum wage rate of Php 537 per day, the highest in the country, is way below the Php 1,400 / day or Php 42,000 / month  family living wage revealed by former Socioeconomic Secretary Ernesto Pernia of the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA)

In December 2019, self-rated poverty was already at 54% which translates to 13.1 million families. Expect this number to be even higher now. The Duterte regime is using all manner of tricks to manipulate data and deceive the public just as how PSA pegged the poverty threshold to Php 10,727/month which is akin to the government telling us that any Filipino individual who earns 71 pesos a day is no longer considered poor. We find this ridiculous knowing that 71 pesos a day will never be enough to give a commuting worker a decent meal three times a day. How much more if we add the bills he has to pay plus other basic expenses? 

VIP treatment of OFWs? 

President Duterte’s promise to Filipinos that working abroad will soon become an option is a hoax. The passage in the Lower House of the bill creating an OFW department only means that the government’s Labour Export Programme (LEP) is set to last far longer. But the current global crisis has really shown that over-reliance on LEP does not spur tenable development in the Philippines. 

Malacañang’s so called ‘VIP treatment’ of OFWs is decoded as ‘Very Important Palagatasan’ in the manner by which the regime has forcefully extorted OFWs with all sorts of state exactions. The government did not even set a moratorium on monthly collections from OFWs at the height of the COVID-19 crisis. Through the compulsory SSS, OFWs are required to pay for the employer’s share as well. Former SSS Chairman Amado Valdez has revealed SSS’ intention to divert reserve funds as additional investments in Duterte’s Build Build Build projects where profits go directly to big private contractors while OFWs would have to meet life-threatening accidents or even death before they could even get the additional insurance benefits promised to them by the government agency. The most despised Overseas Employment Certificate (OEC) remains a money-making scheme that is being used by the government to forcibly collect other state exactions. 

The Universal Healthcare Law signed by President Duterte himself in February 2019 indicated an annual premium rate increase from the current 3% to 5% in 2025. This year alone, OFWs are expected to pay between Php 10,835 to Php 21,600 which is a one-year worth of Philhealth contribution. On 3 May, about 191 Filipino migrant organizations signed a joint position statement against PhilHealth Circular No. 2020-0014 entitled “Premium Contribution and Collection of Payment of Overseas Filipino Member” which was made public on 22 April. Aside from this, there was an online petition opposing the mandatory Philhealth and premium rate hike which garnered 463,696 signatories. Scrambling to save face after a massive uproar from OFWs, Malacanang suspended the mandatory Philhealth and premium rate hike. 

Nevertheless, the Duterte regime is pushing hard once more with its implementation despite enormous opposition from more than 80 Filipino migrant organizations from different leanings during an online consultation hosted by Philhealth on 3 July. Filipino migrants have been arguing that they are already covered by existing health insurance in host countries and Philhealth is not valid in overseas hospitals. The government is unmoved by the objection of OFWs. The Makabayan bloc in Congress has filed House Bill No. 6698 to amend the Universal Healthcare Law and remove the mandatory Philhealth, the penalty and the premium rate increase imposed on OFWs. 

The corruption scandal involving Philhealth officials remains unresolved. The agency lost Php 154 Billion to ghost patients, overpayment and fake deliveries. After Duterte asked all Philhealth board members to resign, Philhealth board member Francisco Duque III is exempted from investigations despite his involvement in the Php 500 Million malversation scandal in 2004. Very recently, COA flagged Philhealth’s overpriced IT project worth Php 2.1 Billion. COA auditors found irregularities. The Duterte regime seeks to penalize wretched OFWs if they fail to remit their Philhealth contributions while Philhealth itself reeks of corruption.  

Between the period 2019 to 2020, OWWA’s cash assets totaled Php 19.5 Billion. DFA has Php 1 Billion for its Assistance to Nationals and Php 200 Million as a Legal Assistance Fund. To date, 3,782 overseas Filipinos continue to languish in jail since there has been no adequate legal support for migrants facing legal cases abroad. 1000 of these jailed OFWs are in Saudi Arabia where 15 are currently on death row. In the case of Mary Jane Veloso, it took 10 years before she was given a chance to finally speak against her traffickers but her deposition is yet to become a reality despite the conviction of Mare Jane’s recruiters in January. Duterte is not doing anything for Mary Jane’s clemency. 

Over 400 OFWs have died in Kuwait alone in the past three years including Constancia Dayag and Jeanelyn Villavende. Duterte’s appointment of Mocha Uson as OWWA Executive director despite her ala rescue mission publicity stunt in Kuwait which endangered OFW lives continues to appall Filipino migrant communities. OFW victims and their families are deprived of welfare justice. During the Taal volcano eruption in January, affected OFW families only received between Php 1,500 and Php 3,000 each from OWWA’s Calamity Assistance Fund even for those OFWs who have been OWWA contributors for more than 20 years.  

We have seen how the government has handled the case of Mary Jean Alberto where it took 11 days before the Philippine embassy provided a lawyer to process the death certificate and reclaim her belongings. By then, the employer’s house had been cleared of possible pieces of evidence.

In the US, 70 Filipino teachers were among 300 victims of human trafficking. No concrete action from the Philippine embassy and consulates to address their pleas. In the Philippines, there has also been a proliferation of Japanese language schools victimizing students who pay up to US$5000 for placement, only to end up as manual labourers in Japan.

The Duterte regime pretends to solve the modern-day slavery of Filipino migrants by simply pimping them out from Kafala-imposing countries into what it sees as newer ‘labour markets’ like Russia and China. 

Middle East crisis

Failing to learn from the lessons of Iraq, Syria and Libya, the Duterte regime refused to take heed of repeated warnings and did not even bother to create a comprehensive evacuation plan. As early as the 2nd quarter last year, armed clashes between KSA and Yemeni forces have already reached deeper into Saudi territory especially in the border regions of Asir, Jizan, Najran where more than 40 thousand Filipinos live and work. While in Lebanon, stranded and distressed OFWs flocked to the Philippine Embassy in Beirut in December 2019 for mass repatriation. Many were dejected with the embassy’s instruction for them to submit documents like passport, birth and marriage certificate to avail of the government’s ‘one-time’ repatriation program. OFW victims of maltreatment argued that their documents are being withheld from them by their abusive employers. 

During the US-conflict with Iran, President Duterte did not take a strong stance against US military aggression in the Middle East. The US threat of war against Iran endangered the Middle East where about 2.4 Million Filipino migrants reside and work and the risks they faced were furthered by Duterte’s pro-US default position. Instead of sending a humanitarian mission composed of healthcare professionals, translators and social workers, Duterte tapped 800 soldiers for deployment. The militarization of the evacuation efforts from the Middle East jeopardized OFW safety. Duterte’s enemy tag on Iran only made AFP a hostile force in the Middle East which was detrimental to its supposed task of evacuating Filipinos to safety. It showed how the Duterte regime was more than willing to turn Filipinos in Iraq and Iran into collateral pawns in favour of US aggression against the Iranian people.

The appointment of DENR Secretary Cimatu in January 2020 as Middle East envoy was likewise reprehensible. Lest we forget that in 2003, it was none other than OWWA which confirmed that no evacuation took place at all during the US-Iraq War despite the release of US$293,500 to Pabaon General Cimatu. Instead, the budget allocation was used to purchase military assets and the troops sent were actually ordered to aid the US military in its terrorist war of aggression in Iraq. 

Economies of countries in the Gulf region are in the process of meltdown even before the global pandemic. 270 Filipinos were retrenched by Structurel and Qatar Airways in March. Over 23,000 Filipinos have lost jobs in Kuwait while 81,000 across the UAE were either terminated or under No-Work No-Pay status. Numbers in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia are believed to be even higher. Those who have retained employment are hit with 20% to 70% reductions in their salaries according to Migrante chapters in the Middle East. Contract substitution remains rampant. Many are being forced to work with unpaid salaries for months and subjected to physical and emotional abuse. 

COVID-19 crisis 

With 420,000 OFWs expected to be repatriated due to the crisis, remittances plunged to a 4-yr low  in April at $2.276 Billion, down 16.1% from $2.715 billion year on year. For the first four months of 2020, cumulative remittances was down to $10.494 Billion, a 2.9% decrease from $10.811 billion of the same period last year. In 2019, OFW remittances totaled $33.5 Billion, 10% of the Philippines’ GDP. Analysts expect remittances to plummet between $6.7 Billion to $10 Billion this year due to overseas mass retrenchments and displacements. 

As of 25 July 2020, there are 9,239 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 653 deaths among Filipinos abroad. 381 or 58% of recorded COVID-19 deaths are in the Middle East. The first reported case was in February when a seafarer was infected. Meanwhile, OFW families back in the Philippines are getting impoverished further by the world’s longest and harshest lockdown. Just as how the Duterte regime is mishandling the impacts of the Middle East crisis on OFWs, it does not have a comprehensive plan for Filipino migrants affected by the COVID-19 crisis. Migrante International and other sectoral groups even filed a Mandamus petition before the supreme court on 3 July to demand mass testing and release of accurate data. 

Over 550,000 Filipino migrants are surfacing as either displaced, terminated or under no-work no pay status. Day by day, OFWs are running out of cash to pay for their house rent, food, and other basic necessities.

President Duterte created a COVID-19 interagency task force without a single epidemiologist as member. After overborrowing hundreds of billions in loans and exacting higher state exactions, the government posted a budget surplus of Php 1.8 Billion in June and at the beginning of the lockdown, Duterte still asked for emergency powers despite having Php13 Billion as Contingency Fund and Php 16 Billion Disaster Risk Reduction Management Fund. Migrant workers are always the government’s preferred extortion victims but they are never compensated with adequate welfare assistance. OFW families were also barred from availing DSWD’s Social Amelioration Package. 

Many of those who were repatriated found themselves stuck for a month-long incarceration period instead of the promised 14-days because of delays in the release of test results. Contrary to government propaganda of promised hotel accommodations, OFWs were seen in a viral video clip in April languishing in an overcrowded OWWA shelter in Pasay City. They already underwent proper isolation in Kuwait but were packed like sardines at the OWWA shelter, sleeping on floors, and subjected to food and water scarcity. 

Distressed OFWs fleeing detention-like quarantine facilities were treated like fugitive criminals while NCRPO Chief Debold Sinas, Mocha Uson, Koko Pimentel and Bong Go are enjoying full impunity. To date, nobody in the Philippine Coast Guard has been sanctioned for publishing on social media in May the google drive link containing a masterlist of OFW names who tested negative. The Google link was without online security to safeguard sensitive data and protect OFWs from identity theft.

The Duterte regime’s imposed entry quota in the early months of the lock down, from less than 1,000 then to 1,500 was only meant to buy time as the government scrambles to absorb the almost half a million Filipino migrants demanding repatriation and other assistance. DFA says that it will take until August before it is able to repatriate all 117,000 OFWs requesting for repatriation. The number should still be higher as there are still tens of thousands unable to leave the premises of their abusive employers who refuse to provide them with exit visas. DFA’s complacency with its figures show its lack of foresight which is disastrous for affected OFWs. 

DFA Usec. Sarah Arriola even went to the point of hurling cyberlibel and jail threats against starving OFWs in Saudi Arabia who posted online videos while they were scavenging for food from dumpsters after their pleas for urgent amelioration and repatriation remained unheard for months. DFA even lied claiming that an OFW has already been arrested for posting ‘staged’ videos on social media. The OFWs have denied this and none of them have been arrested. Jeffrey Yape, one of the fellow workers of scavenging OFWs died without receiving substantial help from the government. DFA Usec. Arriola would rather serve as damage controllers for abusive employers of exploited OFWs. Philippine Ambassador to KSA Adnan Alonto on the other hand insulted starving OFWs and tagged the viral video as mere theatrics

The string of suicide cases among stranded OFWs do not seem to alarm the Duterte regime. Without psychosocial support and substantial relief from the government, the militarized lockdown will surely take the hardest toll on the mental health of many OFWs displaced by the COVID-19 pandemic and recession. Experts say that its impact on mental health could outlast the virus itself. Prior to getting repatriated, these OFWs have already endured traumatic experiences while working overseas. 

Believed to be caused by severe stress, anxiety and depression, an OFW in Pasay City committed suicide on 26 April. According to her fellow repatriates, she has already attempted suicide twice and they have been stuck at the quarantine facility since 3rd of April but were neither provided with substantial aid nor psychosocial support. Two seafarers also died of suicide in May and June aboard their cruise ships. On June 4, Melvin Cacho ended his life in Thailand after a prolonged period of depression. He recounted in the last words he penned that he was without work, without pay and has been unable to eat anything. Thailand is one of the many countries excluded from the Duterte regime’s DOLE AKAP cash aid program. In Alberta, Canada, workers complain that they only received $100 instead of $200. Located in Alberta, Cargill meat processing plant already has 1,000 cases of COVID-19 among its workers, majority of whom are Filipinos under the Temporary Workers Program. 

The DOLE AKAP’s $200 cash aid program excluded so many groups of Filipino migrants like OFWs in jail, trafficking victims, undocumented Halaw’s in Sabah, Au Pairs in Europe and J1 visa holders in the US. In Australia alone, there are 8,000 Filipino international students who have not received assistance from the Philippine government. They are prohibited from applying for work even as they continue to pay for housing rent and other expenses. As of July 4, there have already been 551,000 applications for assistance from land-based and sea-based workers according to DOLE. This reflects the total number of OFWs displaced by the COVID-19 crisis but only 188,000 who have received cash aid so far. Cash aid distribution is very poor considering that in Europe, there are 130,000 undocumented Filipinos and there are 100,000 seafarers worldwide waiting to receive cash aid. Labour secretary Bello fears that as many as 1 Million Filipino migrants will lose their jobs. The $200 cash aid won’t even suffice for one month to sustain the needs of their families. 

On March 29 and 30, there were 1,300 OFWs who trooped to the Philippine Embassy in Riyadh to process the DOLE AKAP cash aid and the food assistance promised by Labor Attache Nasser S. Mustafa.  It turned out that 5 to 9 OFWs were asked to divide among themselves the promised food assistance. The entire process was full of panic and stress. Philippine embassy officials harassed the OFWs and called the police to drive them out. Many OFWs were outraged since they feared being caught by the 3pm curfew and many of them travelled all the way from distant cities and locations in Saudi. 

As for Filipino migrants repatriated back to the Philippines, the world’s longest lockdown has left thousands of OFWs stranded in NCR. Many of these repatriates are now penniless after a month-long wait for medical services and financial aid that never came. OFWs complain that they are being dumped like garbage in Metro Manila’s airport terminals. Starved and made to sit close to heaps of junk airport equipment. Hundreds were likewise seen sleeping along roads, pathways and under bridges leading to NAIA. 

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PHOTO: ABS-CBN News (4 June 2020) Stranded OFWs sleeping at NAIA’s walkway.

It can be also remembered that in April, OFWs en route to their quarantine facility in Lian, Batangas were stranded for almost 24 hours after the LGUs opposed the arrival of busloads of repatriates. LGUs blasted OWWA for failing to coordinate with local officials. The OFWs arrived at their quarantine facility famished and worn out. 

With the cessation of ship operations, 20,000 seafarers are already out of work. Tens of thousands of others remain stranded aboard their ships and are demanding repatriation. Seafarers Raul Calopez and Stanley Jungco died without receiving medical attention. Their cries for help directed to the Duterte government fell on deaf ears. House Bill 6588 or the Magna Carta of Seafarers filed by the Makabayan bloc which could have served better protection for Filipino seafarers remains out of the Duterte regime’s priorities. 

The militarized approach to address a public health emergency situation has made AFP very active in crafting Fascist methods to contain the movements of repatriates. In March, AFP Westmincom proposed to isolate 131 stranded ship passengers from Sabah in Sibakil Island where they will be confined in scorching tents. These Filipinos have already experienced all sorts of sufferings in Sabah including abuse, caning and imprisonment. Instead of prioritizing their welfare, AFP Westmincom was very keen on setting up a concentration camp for them in an uninhabited island far from healthcare and social welfare facilities. 

Duterte’s far-reaching Fascist tyranny

Filipino migrant communities overseas have not been spared by the Duterte regime’s Fascist assaults. The creation of the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF ELCAC) also brought about the fielding of military attaches in Philippine embassies who conduct redtagging seminars to discredit right-based advocacies of migrants’ groups. 

At a time when the pandemic and humanitarian crisis was raging, NTF ELCAC funded military junkets like that of Maj. Gen. Antonio Parlade Jr.’s  ‘peace briefing’ at the Philippine consulate in Melbourne, Australia where he red-tagged Migrante Australia and other progressive groups. NTF ELCAC likewise sponsored a redtagging fora conducted at the University of Negros Occidental – Recoletos and University of St. La Salle on 24 August by 303rd IBPA in Bacolod City where Migrante International along with other rights-based groups were tagged as “NPA recruiters.”

For expressing her criticisms against the Duterte regime’s inutility, Elanel Ordidor was harassed by POLO officials in Taiwan which included Labor Attaché Fidel V. Macauyag. DOLE even raised a deportation order against Ordidor but their attempts were thwarted following denunciations from different rights groups in Taiwan and from Filipino organizations in other countries. 

Even worse, the Duterte regime is systematically persecuting and having a killing rampage against migrants rights advocates and ordinary members of OFW families. Bryan Conje, the son of a Saudi-based OFW was a victim of extrajudicial killing after he was reportedly abducted by elements of PNP in Navotas in July 2019. Anne Kreuger who worked closely with Migrante during the justice campaign for slain OFW Henry Acorda was among the Bacolod57 illegally arrested in November based on trumped-up charges and fabricated evidence planted by Bacolod PNP. On April 30, Jory Porquia was assassinated right inside his place of residence in Iloilo City. Porquia was a founding organizer of Migrante Iloilo and whose profession as an architect brought him to Saudi Arabia, Singapore and China as an OFW and migrant rights’ activist. 

The recent passage of the Terror Law is the Duterte regime’s nullification of democratic rights. Human rights groups know for certain that this will be used by the Duterte regime to persecute his critics and keep himself immune from liability for all atrocious crimes committed by state forces under his watch. 184 Filipino migrant organizations sent an open letter to the 18th Congress urging house representatives to prevent its enactment. Ignoring widespread opposition, President Duterte signed the Terror Bill. 

For freedom-loving Filipino migrants and their families, they will no longer be deceived by flowery and colourful words from President Duterte when he delivers his 2020 State of the Nation Address. Even outside of the Phlippines, Filipino migrants themselves are experiencing extortion, criminal negligence, harassment and terrorism from the Duterte regime. Filipino migrants and their families are more determined than ever to unite with the Filipino masses, to stand up and speak in the struggle to terminate the Duterte regime’s puppetry, corruption and tyranny. 

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OFW families and advocates hold candle lighting service for dead seafarers and stranded Filipino migrant workers. Makabayan bloc cited the government’s lack of foresight as disastrous to OFW welfare.

In a symbolic action before the head office of the Department of Foreign Affairs on friday, 17 July, a prayer service and candle-lighting was conducted by families of stranded seafarers and OFWs along with advocates from various groups like the Mission to Seafarers, the International Seafarers’ Action Center and Migrante International. In his prayer, Fr. Mario Quince of the Iglesia Filipina Independiente said, “We are united in the call for the urgent repatriation of seafarers and OFWs who are currently stranded in different corners of the world. We hope that DFA will devote plenty of time to provide immediate response to the pleas of stranded OFWs, seafarers and their families so that they can return back home.”

Mary Rose Valenzona longs for the safe return of her sister Michelle from Saudi Arabia. “Every day and night, before we go to sleep, we are always hoping that tomorrow, she will be with us so that we will no longer have to worry for her life. All we are asking is for our loved ones to be rescued from their abusive employers. Our troubles are already consuming us. Please have mercy on us.”

Anti-trafficking and migrant rights’ advocate Pastor Marie Sol Villalon from the United Methodist Church prayed that the “DFA will give justice, welfare and service to fellow Filipinos who had to leave for overseas deployment because there are no secure jobs in the country. We offer our thoughts for OFWs who have died and whose remains are still not recovered and brought back. Their families are suffering for being unable to see their loved ones.”

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Holding the photos of deceased seafarers, Migrante International Chairperson Joanna Concepcion said, “We are honouring OFWs who died overseas after not getting medical attention from their employers, their companies, the host country and of course, from their very own government. Raul Calopez and Stanley Jungco died without receiving medical attention. They have long been asking for help but the government is not responding. As early as march, our stranded seafarers in China have been pleading with government agencies but it was only after their plight was featured in the media that they began taking some steps. Is the government waiting for OFWs to die or get sick before they come to their aid?”  

The prayer service closed with a candle lighting ceremony to honour OFWs and seafarers who have passed away during the COVID-19 global crisis. The families of OFWs and seafarers then proceeded to the Assistance to Nationals desk to file for repatriation requests. They also sought for a dialogue with OWWA which is expected to be held Saturday afternoon, 18 July. 

During a hearing conducted by the Committee of the Overseas Workers’ Affairs (COWA) at the House of Representatives, Bayan Muna Rep. Ferdie Gaite raised the issue of stranded OFWs who were denied exit visas by their employers who abandoned them. DFA pointed to labour attaches whom it claims are responsible for facilitating the exit visas but are hesitant in shouldering the deployment costs necessary for exit visa issuance.

According to DFA, there are 10,151 OFWs requesting for repatriation from Saudi Arabia. Bayan Muna Rep. Kaloi Zarate questioned DFA figures saying that there might be more, even up to a million OFWs worldwide, who will want to be repatriated in the coming months and years. Zarate cited the lack of foresight which will be disastrous for the welfare of affected OFWs. Gabriela Representative Arlene Brosas called the attention of DFA on OFW families who have been seeking for a dialogue. Philippine ambassador to KSA Adnan Alonto promised to engage but DFA Undersecretary Sara Arriola did not respond categorically. 

Migrant advocates from the Mission to Seafarers, International Seafarers’ Action Center, Migrante International and Makabayan bloc legislators vow to continue raising the call for the immediate repatriation of stranded Filipino migrants and putting pressure on the Philippine government to urgently act on the long-standing demands of affected OFWs both sea-based and land based. 

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AYUDA HINDI DIKTADURA: Filipino migrants stage indignation protest against Duterte’s Terror Law

Just when tensions were brewing among PNP and AFP officials over the killing of intel officers in Jolo, Sulu last week, President Duterte signed the contentious Terror Law on friday,  3 July 2020 despite mounting opposition from the public. Human rights groups fear that the law will surely be used by the Duterte regime to persecute its critics and nullify the democratic rights of the civilian population. In response, OFWs staged a global online indignation protest and noise barrage on Wednesday, 9 July 2020 which was streamed live on Migrante International’s Facebook account.

Migrante International Chairperson Joanna Concepcion lashed out at President Duterte for signing the terror law with the intent to sow fear and silence outspoken Filipinos who want to express their opinions and criticisms against the unjust and inhumane policies of the Duterte regime. “Fascism and the criminal negligence of the Duterte regime are the primary threats to the lives of the Filipino people in the last four years and even more so at this time of the pandemic..the government is tormenting the lives of our OFWs further with the absence of a comprehensive, organized and coordinated plan to protect their health and welfare. OFWs are crying out and asking, ‘Where’s the promised relief?’”, Concepcion lamented.

Adelaida ‘Nene’ Legazpi, a trafficking victim bewailed the inaction of government and Philippine embassy officials to a formal complaint she filed in 2018 along with 70 other trafficked professional Filipino teachers who were swindled by their recruiters. “Through Migrante, I was able to learn about my rights. It is important to fight for our rights and break our silence especially at this time when we migrants are being repressed.”

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Even if she was able to graduate after completing her studies, Lourdes,’ (not her real name), was still forced to leave the Philippines because of the scarcity of regular jobs. She has worked as a domestic helper in Hongkong and as a caregiver in Taiwan. Lourdes eventually landed in Canada as a legal worker but was later deprived of a work permit renewal after transferring to Toronto where she was ripped off by a fake agent. As a vulnerable undocumented worker, Lourdes fell victim to exploitation in a sandwich-processing factory which was forced to closed down at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. “The DOLE-AKAP cash aid worth 277 Canadian dollars is not enough that is why I’m risking my life to survive and to continually support my loved ones back home. With the enactment of oppressive laws like the mandatory Philhealth and Terror Law, instead of receiving government help, we fear that we will be tagged as terrorists for merely speaking up about the issues we face.”

Marlon Lacsamana, secretary general of Migrante Europe assailed the Duterte regime’s Fascist attacks against migrants and the democratic rights of the Filipino people. “We have disproven all their black propaganda against us especially now that they’ve shut down the operations of embassies and consulates as overseas Filipinos are left without aid. We are outraged because the Philippine government prioritized the Terror Law and the trampling of our democratic rights that is why Migrante Europe calls for the ouster of the Fascist Duterte regime,’ Lacsamana said. 

Nick Delfin of Hongkong denounced the Duterte regime’s imposition of rate hikes in mandatory state exactions like SSS and Philhealth. Delfin used to only pay around Php 1760 for SSS, but was utterly shocked when it rose to Php 2400 in April 2019. “The government should know that OFW salaries are not increasing and our loved ones in the Philippines whom we financially support are struggling daily with painful increases in the prices of goods and services,” Delfin deplored. 

During the online protest, indignation against the Terror Law was also expressed through artistic performances by Danny Fabella and HIMIGRANTE of Thailand. A video clip sent by 11 seafarers who have been stranded in China for three months was also shown. The seafarers called for their immediate rescue since they had not been receiving their salaries and their passports were confiscated by the ship’s captain. One of the seafarers said, “we do not have access to medication that is why we are so worried over our health. Our family back home have been raising our plight to government agencies like OWWA and we have already informed the Philippine embassy but nothing is happening. We appeal that we be rescued immediately.”

Seafarers are among the sectors heavily affected by the COVID-19 crisis. According to Atty. Edwin dela Cruz of the International Seafarers’ Action Center, there are 300,000 stranded seafarers worldwide. Dela Cruz decried the government’s abandonment of seafarers and the very small number beneficiaries of the $200 financial aid that is not even enough to sustain their needs in the last four months of the lockdown. Due to the government imposed quota of 2,000 OFW repatriations daily, the number of stranded migrants are mounting due to flight cancellations. Those who managed to return back to the Philippines are standed locally due to a shortage in transportation. “Since many are starting to speak up, seafarers are being repressed to prevent them from expressing their real sentiments. Some seafarers are even being asked to sign papers that forbid them from accepting media interviews or posting their grievances online. Now that there’s a Terror Law, dissent can now be misinterpreted as inciting to terrorism. Including telling the truth that may terrify the Filipino people since we know that government actions have really been terrifying. This is what the Terror Law does,” Dela Cruz concluded. 

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Philhealth met with strong opposition by OFW groups against its mandatory Philhealth and premium rate hike

About 80 representatives from various OFW groups and overseas Filipino migrant communities attended an online forum or consultation organized by Philhealth on Friday, 3 July 2020. The OFW groups sought to express their positions on the Duterte government’s mandatory Philhealth and premium rate hike. Facilitators of the forum however asked OFW representatives to limit their presentation to their proposed premium rate.

Migrante International, Migrante Europe, BAYAN Hong Kong and Gabriela Hong Kong were among the progressive groups which reiterated strong opposition to the mandatory Philhealth and premium rate hike. The overwhelming majority of the rest of the 80 other OFW groups expressed the same position with many raising concerns like the absence of aid during the COVID-19 pandemic and the unresolved issue of corruption within Philhealth. They insist that Philhealth membership should be voluntary and not mandatory since Filipino migrants are already covered by existing healthcare programs in host countries and would not benefit from the Philhealth insurance. OFWs have also complained that there were no consultations conducted by the government with overseas Filipino communities prior to Duterte’s signing of the Universal Healthcare Act. Moreover, Philhealth is not recognized as valid in overseas hospitals.

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Migrante International views the numerous state exactions imposed by the Duterte government as burdensome to hapless Filipino migrants affected by the COVID-19 crisis. President Duterte cannot simply wash his hands as if he has nothing to do with the mandatory Philhealth membership and premium rate hike. These impositions were clearly indicated in the Universal Healthcare Act which Duterte himself signed on 20 February 2019. Sans bilateral agreements with host countries, OFWs will be forced to pay for employer contributions as well. Worse, they’ll be penalized if they fail to remit their Philhealth contributions.

OFW and Filipino migrant groups from different leanings have already spoken. Whatever recommendation or submission out of the online forum that Philhealth will be forwarding to congress, we expect that it will reflect the prevalent position expressed by the OFW groups which is the call to make Philhealth voluntary and that there should be no increase. The Duterte regime must heed their call and completely scrap the mandatory Philhealth and premtoium rate hike. Migrante International fully supports Makabayan Bloc’s House Bill 6698 to remove these unjust provisions from the Universal Healthcare Act. Our hard-earned money should go directly to our families back home in the Philippines and not to a corrupt government agency like Philhealth. In a country whose healthcare system is dominated by profit-oriented private corporations, Migrante International asserts that a genuine universal health care should be free and readily accessible for the entire Filipino people.

#ScrapHindiSuspension

#ProteksyonHindiKoleksyon

#TulongHindiKotong

#SerbisyoHindiNegosyo

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JUNK TERROR LAW! Filipino migrants will never be silent. We’ll fight against tyranny with all our might!

Almost a month after the Terror Bill was submitted to Malacañang, President Duterte finally signed the Terror Bill into law. Migrante International vehemently denounces this Fascist attack against the Filipino people’s democratic rights and civil liberties. The nullification of due process and equal protection is an affront to the Philippine constitution which clearly provides that “no law shall be enacted depriving any person of his life, liberty and property without due process of law.”

The pandemic thrusted almost half a million Filipino migrants overseas who are now either distressed, terminated or stranded while thousands of repatriates are facing a severe humanitarian crisis back in the Philippines and yet the Duterte regime is bull-headed in voraciously gratifying its greed for absolute power and impunity. As the Philippines is buried further into an abysmal pit of foreign debt, the Duterte regime continues to reject calls for mass testing, adequate mass transportation, food relief, quality healthcare services, adequate quarantine facilities, and financial amelioration. Filipino migrants will be among those who will bear the brunt of Duterte’s borrowing spree as the mandatory Philhealth membership and premium rate hike in the Universal Healthcare Act remains unamended. We refuse to be deceived by his treachery. 

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While we fully know that President Duterte has been itching to bolster his Fascist reign to ensure a favorable succession that would protect him from international indictment for crimes against humanity, the signing was timely as it was made at the back of brewing tensions among members and officials of AFP and PNP over the killing of army intel officers in Jolo, Sulu. To the detriment of public welfare and democratic rights amidst the COVID-19 crisis, the enactment of the Terror Law is not only Duterte’s way of assuaging the military but without a doubt to give full sanction to an all-out and overt persecution of critics and dissenters. If armed agents of the state are not even safe from the butchery of their fellow mercenaries, the public have more than enough valid reasons to reject Duterte’s Terror Law as 30 thousand cases of extrajudicial killings against civilians remain unresolved. 

The killing of Jory Porquia who served as a founding organizer of Migrante Iloilo, the government’s deportation attempt against a Taiwan OFW who was critical of the Duterte regime and the relentless red tagging of Migrante and its members overseas wholly illustrate the extent of the Duterte regime’s gory despotism. In the last four years, we have been seeing how murderous state mercenaries are carrying out Duterte’s open pronouncements of death threats uttered live on national television. 

Migrante International calls on Filipino migrant communities far and wide to surge forward and never allow a doomed and moribund Duterte regime to silence us. Duterte’s tyranny is bound to perish at the castigation of the wrathful Filipino masses and the international community for his monstrous crimes. Let us continue to fight with all our might to junk the regime’s detestable Terror Law and for Duterte’s ouster.

Junk Terror Law!
Oust US-Duterte! 

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Supreme court petition for mass testing and release of accurate data, filed by OFW and other sectoral advocates

A Mandamus petition was filed today at the Supreme Court compelling the Duterte government to conduct proactive mass testing and to release reliable and accurate data on COVID-19. Joanna Concepcion, the chairperson of Migrante International was joined by petitioners from other sectors like medical frontliners, senior citizens, scientists, K-12 students, teachers, public utility drivers, factory workers, professionals and homemakers. 

Data from the World Health Organization shows that the Philippines is leading in the rise of COVID-19 cases in the Western Pacific region with 1,274 deaths. For more than three months, the Duterte regime has been sticking to its militarized approach, parading armoured vehicles in urban communities and yet expecting a different result. OFWs have incurred moral damages in the government’s mishandling of the repatriation and quarantine process. Majority of OFWs being transported back to their provinces are returning to their families without receiving any of the Duterte regime’s promised financial aid. Despite a reported suicide case and serious concerns on depression among quarantined OFWs, no psychosocial services are being provided.

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 While neighboring Vietnam, a country which geographically lies next to China has triumphed over COVID-19 by employing medical and public welfare solutions, the Duterte regime is addressing COVID-19 by burying the Philippines further into a humanitarian and debt crisis. From a record of Php 8.6 Trillion, government debt is seen to surge up to Php 9.59 Trillion in the coming months as the Duterte regime resorts to a borrowing spree. Malacañang’s ‘congratulations’ remarks are being mocked by the public following disclosure of June 30 DOH data showing that there were already 47,347 positive COVID-19 cases. The reporting of data into “fresh” and “late cases” further aggravated public mistrust. 

With the poor delivery of amelioration and other services to OFWs and other sectors, one wonders where and how the Duterte regime will be spending this huge amount of borrowed money. This is why Migrante International fully supports the Mandamus petition filed today by different sectors at the Supreme Court to compel the Duterte regime to prioritize the lives of Filipinos affected by the COVID-19 crisis. As stated in the petition, we demand that the Duterte regime’s Department of Health and all other related agencies “to conduct proactive mass testing, efficient contact tracing, and isolation and effective treatment of positive cases.” Protecting the right to health of Filipinos and providing them with accurate and reliable information on COVID-19 is the government’s duty and obligation. 

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DUTERTE REGIME AT FOUR: OFWs cast into hell as Duterte’s cronies enjoy paradise — Migrante International

“I do not care if I burn in hell for as long as the people I serve live in paradise.” This is one of the famous quotes attributed to President Rodrigo Duterte during his electoral campaign back in 2016. Four years later, it is evident that OFWs along with the rest of the Filipino people are being roasted in the deepest recesses of hell while Duterte and his cronies are living their grandest lives in paradise. 

Today marks President Duterte’s four years in office and Filipino migrants vividly remember the words he uttered when he took his oath. He “solemnly” vowed to faithfully and conscientiously fulfill his duties as President, to “preserve and defend its Constitution, execute its laws, do justice to every man”, and “consecrate himself to the service of the Nation.” All of these are being violated with utmost conceit. At this period of COVID-19 crisis, Duterte’s military approach to a public health emergency situation has catapulted the Philippines into the epicenter of the pandemic in the Western Pacific region. 

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Many Filipinos not so long ago were already surviving on a hand-to-mouth existence but the Duterte regime’s monstrous follies in the last three months decisively reduced even the most industrious among our kababayans into hapless beggars in the streets. Our very own OFWs dubbed as ‘modern-day heroes’ are scouring trash bins for food while Duterte’s most loyal stooges from DFA and DOLE are outrightly dismissing migrant miseries as mere “theatrics.” With 8,467 total COVID-19 cases among OFWs, Nine (9) from the Middle East have died in the last two days alone. 

Untold thousands of Filipino migrants are stranded overseas as multitudes are left without aid under No-work-No-pay schemes while those who have been repatriated remain stuck in holding facilities after spending their most gruesome days in quarantine. As if Filipino migrants have not suffered enough, the Duterte regime is itching to extort hundreds of billions from OFWs through his mandatory Philhealth and premium rate hike. If it weren’t for the strong opposition registered by OFWs, even its suspension would have been unimaginable. To date, Duterte’s thorny Universal Healthcare Act which saddled OFWs with this additional exaction remains unaltered while the Makabayan bloc’s amendatory House Bill No. 6698 languishes in Congress since the Duterte regime prioritized its rubbish Terror Bill. 

Duterte’s litany of praises to NCRPO Chief Debold Sinas despite his bloody crimes in Negros and his violation of quarantine protocols in plain sight demonstrates the culture of impunity at its extreme point. The Philippines has been Asia’s largest killing field in the last four years. Violent persecution of activists and the extrajudicial killings of civilians continue despite repeated denunciations from international bodies like the UN Human Rights Council. His fake war on drugs alone has already claimed more than 30 thousand lives. 

We have nine days left before the Duterte regime’s Terror Bill lapses into law and it is incumbent upon Filipino migrant communities to charge forward in their path of resistance against the Duterte regime’s neoliberal and Fascist assaults. OFWs and their families find foremost strength in their unity with the Filipino masses and other progressive sectors in the struggle for the defense of our human rights and democratic interests. Migrante International and its member organizations worldwide shall launch actions in the coming days to express the collective rage of Filipino migrants against Duterte’s crimes against humanity. For presiding over the worst kind of state-enforced terrorism, a hard-core criminal like Rodrigo Roa Duterte must no longer be accorded any place in the Philippine government. For his orders to shoot all of us dead for daring to stand against his detestable tyranny, we call for the Duterte terrorist regime’s immediate ouster.

Ayuda hindi diktadura!
Junk Terror Bill!

Oust US-Duterte regime!

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#FreePRIDE20: Migrante International condemns arrest of PRIDE protesters

Even before the Terror Bill lapses into law, and despite the fact that the Bayanihan Heal As One (BAHO) Act has already expired, the Duterte regime’s Fascist machinery has been unleashing brute violence against progressive groups and activists who are merely practicing their democratic right to express legitimate dissent. Migrante International condemns the violent dispersal and illegal arrests of about 20 protesters who held a PRIDE program at Mendiola this Friday morning. 

As seen in media footages, the PRIDE protesters strictly followed social distancing measures all throughout the event. It was the officers of the Manila police who violated social distancing protocols when they illegally rounded up and arrested the protesters. The Philippine Constitution is very clear in protecting the right of the people to peacefully assemble and express their demands for redress of grievances. The arresting officers transgressed the right of the protesters. We despise PNP’s hypocrisy in its all-out effort to preserve the impunity of those in power who commit real crimes while PNP continually inflicts draconian attacks against Filipino civilians. In clear violation of community quarantine rules, NCRPO Chief Debold Sinas went partying during the ECQ period but he remains unpunished up to this very day. 

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PHOTO: (Rappler) PRIDE protesters observing social distancing were illegally arrested by Manila police, Friday morning.

We stand in solidarity with the PRIDE community in their struggle for equality and social justice. Migrante International demands that the PRIDE protesters be immediately released and all baseless charges raised against them by the Manila police be dismissed.

Free Pride20!

Junk Terror Bill!

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“Why don’t you resign and apply as PR for abusive OFW employers?“ — Migrante International to DFA Usec. Arriola

DFA Undersecretary Sarah Arriola’s pronouncements on Wednesday presented to us a fuller picture of the Duterte regime’s priorities. Arriola’s own mouth condemns her for spending more time on social media to do intelligence work for the tyrannical Duterte regime instead of urgently delivering the amelioration demanded by our starving OFWs. Leveling up as an attack dog for her inept master, Arriola went to the extent of lying just to hurl cyberlibel and jail threats against distressed OFWs. None of the OFWs who uploaded the video were actually arrested and they reject Arriola’s claims as utter lies meant to intimidate our kababayans into silence. 

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PHOTO: (ABS-CBN News) Starving OFWs scavenging for food.

How can DFA claim that dumpster-diving OFWs were merely resorting to ‘theatrics’ and that everything was staged when Jeffrey Yape, one of the fellow workers of scavenging OFWs died without receiving any substantial help from the agencies of the Duterte government? Before he died, Yape was struck with terrible agony over the government’s criminal negligence that they have been facing. 

Migrante International would like to remind Arriola that her position in DFA mandates her to help ensure the welfare and security of OFWs. That should be the top priority of the Duterte government’s DFA. If DFA’s main agenda is to serve as a damage controller for the abusive employers of exploited OFWs, then it would be better for Arriola and all the rest of DFA officials who have the same idiotic frame of mind to resign from their posts and apply as public relations officers for those employers and companies who have been depriving our kababayans of their salaries and benefits.

The Duterte regime despises the truth that is why it is hell-bent on imposing its rubbish Terror Bill to suppress outspoken OFWs and propagate the government’s own lies and theatrics. Filipinos need not go far to see how the Duterte regime is treating OFWs. One only has to see and hear the plight of stranded OFW repatriates who ended up sleeping along pavements, roads and bridges leading to NAIA’s airports. Garbage-like treatment of OFWs is real. We will never forget and we will never forgive! We warn the Duterte regime that the time of reckoning will come! 

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