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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Tribute to Seafarers: Church missions and advocacy groups call for swift passage of Seafarers’ Magna Carta

As a prelude to the upcoming International Day of the Seafarer on 25 June, an online tribute to maritime workers brought together advocates and mission workers from different organizations and Church groups on Saturday, 21 June. The webinar entitled “Tribute to Seafarers: Where do we go from here?” was jointly organized by the Iglesia Filipina Independiente, Mission To Seafarers (MTS), German Seamen’s Mission, the International Seafarers’ Action Center (ISAC), and Migrante International.

The online event began with a few moments of silence to remember the departed seafarers which was then followed by a prayer offered by Fr. Chris Ablon of the Iglesia Filipina Independiente. Right from the start of the program, Migrante Australia Chairperson Carmelita Baltazar expressed support for Makabayan Bloc’s House Bill 6588.”Let us give our support for the passage of House Bill 6588 on the Magna Carta of Seafarers, to uphold the welfare and protection of seafarers and their families,” Baltasar exclaimed. 

Tribute organizers recognized Filipino seafarers for their outstanding qualities and their contributions to the national economy and the global maritime industry. Nevertheless, the groups lamented that seafarers experience low wages, long working hours, less benefits, less social protection, racial discrimination and hazardous working conditions. The COVID19 pandemic revealed the longstanding vulnerability and exploitation of SF worldwide, leaving thousands stranded for months, receiving delayed or no medical attention and assistance, and limited financial aid and benefits.

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A seafarer for ten years, Charito Bongahoy said, “during the quarantine, it was really a struggle to obtain relief for our boarding house. What’s appalling is that we submitted our applications to DOLE-OWWA-AKAP. They asked for numerous requirements and it really takes a very long time before applications get granted…we’d rather endure hunger than allow our families to starve.”

Lloyd Chris Bacasmot, another displaced seafarer remarked, “I haven’t been back to the ship for three months now, and I have not heard anything from our company. How can I sustain myself for another day without money? I only have 50 pesos in my pocket right now. What will I give to my family?”

Providing an overview of the general situation of migrants amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, Joanna Concepcion of Migrante International deplored that the global health crisis is being used by employers, agencies or brokers to violate the labour rights of our migrant workers. The capacity of migrant workers who are mainly breadwinners of their families to send money to support the basic needs of their loved ones back home in the Philippines have been reduced or cut off. “Thousands of qualified overseas Filipinos who applied for the Philippine government’s one time financial assistance for OFWs displaced by the covid pandemic have not received financial support..given the impact of the pandemic on the global economy, our land based and seabased migrant workers are fearful of how they and their families will survive,” Concepcion stated. 

Citing latest figures, Atty. Edwin dela Cruz of the International Seafarers’ Action Center (ISAC) said that there are about 400,000 stranded seafarers languishing in ships, ports, airports and in host countries. Prior to the pandemic, there were already up to 1.5 Million seafarers worldwide, and among them are 700,000 Filipino seafarers but only 420,000 are hired at any given time. Dela Cruz discussed the various issues faced by seafarers including the high cost of commercialized education, contractualization and the absence of security of tenure. He pointed out that although the 2006 Maritime Labour Convention already contains laudable provisions, it needs enactment of a pertinent legislation in order for it to be enforced locally. “The very good provisions of the Maritime Labour Convention should be implemented through the Magna Carta of Seafarers,” Dela Cruz stated’ 

Among the Magna Carta stipulations being pushed by ISAC are the following: compensation for illness and injury due to fatigue, stress, emotional trauma, due to sea voyage; rights of cadets to decent wages and banning OJT charges exacted by shipping companies; regularization after working cumulatively for 1-year; right to organize; right to raise complaints from third party representatives; and access to shore leave.

The Magna Carta for Seafarers or House Bill 6588 was filed by the Makabayan Bloc on 11 March. “We have high expectations that the Magna Carta for Seafarers will be approved. Nevertheless, without political will from the Philippine government to enforce it, it will be spineless so it is really important that seafarers organize themselves.”

Loved ones and family members of Filipino seafarers who spoke in the program likewise gave their all-out support for the bill and expressed their gratefulness to all groups upholding the rights and welfare of seafarers. Most of these groups also work with the families of seafarers like the Mission To Seafarers (MTS). Lailani Tolentino of MTS saluted the ‘Front liners of the Sea’ for their hard work in maintaining the world’s supply chain. MTS has been mobilizing its volunteers and staff to provide food relief, free transportation and counselling services to seafarers and their families. 

Meanwhile, Fr. Jun Mark Yañez of the German Seamen’s Mission said, “We have always been helping our seafarers but we would like to see more of these initiatives from the government.” This was backed by Elmer Labog, chairperson of Kilusang Mayo Uno. “Due to the pandemic, distressed and displaced Filipino workers, both seabased and land based, are returning in huge droves back to the Philippines. During our visit to stranded OFWs neglected in NAIA’s airport terminals, I personally saw the ugly truth behind the Duterte government’s loudly vaunted ‘VIP treatment’ of OFWs. As for DOLE’s (Department of Labour and Employment) AKAP cash assistance program, it is more appropriate to call it DOLE APAK (trample) because it is not true that the vast majority of OFWs are able to avail of such aid. Our support for Makabayan Bloc’s Magna Carta for Seafarers anchors on our strong demand to the Duterte government to respect the basic interest of workers in terms of wages, benefits and rights,” Labog concluded.  

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OFWs to KSA envoy: Your statement on OFWs is the real trash, your concern is mere theatrics

PRESS RELEASE BY MIGRANTE KSA

20 June 2020

An organization of Overseas Filipino Workers in the Middle East condemned the Philippine ambassador to Saudi Arabia for saying on Friday that migrant workers’ efforts to find food in garbage heaps in the country is “mere theatrics” that only aim to get the public’s attention.

Migrante-Middle East said Ambassador Adnan Alonto is wrong and out of touch with the situation of OFWs in saying that “If reports reaching me are true, I’m disappointed with some of our people who have resorted to theatrics to catch attention. Fact is food assistance was given. Mamulot ng basura? (Picking up trash?) C’mon!”

“We are not engaging in theatrics to try to get attention. Truth is, we do not have anything to eat. That is why we would wait for the garbage being thrown by supermarkets and would get the vegetables that are still edible,” said Louie Perez, one of the OFWs who tried to find food in garbage heaps in Riyadh.

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PHOTO: ABS-CBN News


Perez said that because of the economic slowdown caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, OFWs have suffered from job and income loss and delayed salaries, and many are now incapable of paying for their basic needs in the Middle Eastern country.

He also bemoaned the meager food assistance extended by the Overseas Workers Welfare Office (OWWA) and the delay in repatriation promised by the Philippine Overseas Labor Office (POLO).

“For three months, we have been asking and waiting for repatriation because the food assistance given to us is so meager. When we follow up our requests with POLO, the only response we get is ‘still under process.’ If we stay here any longer, we might die of hunger or disease. One of our fellow OFW has already died because of stress,” Perez added.

Perez added that many OFWs have applied for financial assistance under the Department of Labor and Employment-Abot-Kamay ang Pagtulong (DOLE-AKAP) program, but have not received any support.

Meanwhile, according to Migrante-Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Alonto should try to do his job, interact with OFWs and find out their real situation, instead of dismissing and insulting OFWs’ efforts to survive.

“Ambassador Alonto should stop covering up the government’s uselessness amidst the pandemic by shaming distressed OFWs. His government treats us OFWs like garbage. He should focus his time and energy in trying to fix that,,” said Marlon Gatdula, Migrante-KSA chairperson.

The OFW leader added that even before the pandemic and especially now, the Philippine government agency in the KSA is infamous for its callous treatment of OFWs, and its unreliable, almost nonexistent, services for distressed OFWs.

“OFWs in Saudi are all familiar with the Philippine Embassy’s snail-paced services. When you need help, you have to call many times but no one will answer your call. It is no coincidence that many OFWs have not received any assistance from the government yet,” Gatdula added.

The OFW leader said some groups, including the Filipino Artists and Performers Society (FAPS) International, have called on Foreign Affairs Secretary Teddyboy Locsin to recall Alonto for making the statement. FAPS-International said it is witness to the fact that OFWS are now scavenging for food in Saudi Arabia.

“Ambassador Alonto should check his privilege. He can say what he said because he still has his job and continues to receive his huge salary. If Alonto had tried to live for three months with the one-time assistance given to OFWs, he would know that OFWs scavenging for food are not merely engaging in theatrics or are just trying to call the public’s attention,” Gatdula said.

Gatdula cited OFWs’ many social media posts complaining about not having anything to eat because of the economic crisis triggered by the pandemic. He said OFWs are suffering because of the Philippine government’s neglect as shown by meager financial assistance and delayed repatriation.

“Let us tell you, Ambassador Alonto, which is the real theatrics: your government’s claim that we OFWs are modern-day heroes. We do not feel cherished, we feel abandoned and left for dead by the government. C’mon!” Gatdula said.

 

MIDDLE EAST COVID-19 CRISIS: 16 OFW deaths in two days as survivors scavenge for food! OFWs hit Duterte gov’t for criminal negligence!

According to government data, up to 3,926 OFWs were infected with COVID-19 in the Middle East as of 19 June. The numbers in the Middle East have far exceeded figures in Europe and North America making the Middle East a COVID-19 hotspot for OFWs. Based on DFA figures, from 207 Middle East OFW casualties on 17 June, the number surged to 223 two days later on friday, 19 June. Migrante International banged the alarm on the Duterte government’s criminal negligence that has been aggravating the peril brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic to overseas Filipinos in the Middle East. 

In a press conference held on friday, distressed OFWs decried the inefficient and/or absence of support from the Philippine government. Bernadette Erlano who works as a cleaner along with 300 other Filipino women under Jawa Human Resources in Al Khobar said that from March 1 up to now, they have not received their salaries and were only provided with company allowances. 

With many of them caught by the lockdown with expired or expiring contracts, they sought help from the embassy’s Philippine Overseas Labor Office (POLO)  but no support came in. Refusing to go to work with their expired contracts, they were threatened by the company that their food allowances will be cut off. They pleaded with POLO officials in the hope that they will be able to claim their benefits and be repatriated urgently to the Philippines. Some of them were even brought to the police stations for questioning after posting their plight on social media. 

Louie Perez works as an aluminum installer in Riyadh and was among the group of OFWs who went viral on social media after uploading their video when they were scavenging for food from garbage bins. “We followed the process for the government’s AKAP cash assistance program but we were told that we are not qualified. Having a co-worker who died in distress and finding ourselves scavenging for food from garbage bins should be enough reason for the government to consider us qualified and have all of us repatriated,” Perez implored. 

Pablito de Ocampo, one of the OFWs who resorted to scavenging said, “We have always relayed our pleas to POLO. We feel like we are being used like playful objects where after being lent here in Saudi, our own government refuses to give us help. POLO is inutile!”

Rogelio Rivalde blamed POLO for the death of their fellow co-worker Jeffrey Yape. Rivalde said that Yape died in distress without receiving any substantial hellp from POLO. “They even pressured us to resign but we refused because we will be forced to pay thousands of Saudi Riyals.” Yape died of cardiac arrest on 21 May. 

Migrante International Chairperson Joanna Concepcion blasted the Duterte government’s ineptitude. “The government is hell-bent in imposing state exactions like Philhealth to extract more money from OFWs. However when it comes to providing relief services and financial assistance, OFWs are being deprived by their own government. OFWs are rummaging through trash bins just to find food so where are the promised food and financial assistance? Why is it that they are just allowing OFWs to die from hunger and neglect?”

Marife Torres and Yolanda Lorica have been begging their companies to allow them to return back to the Philippines but their pleas were denied. Torres is fearful that she has already contracted COVID-19 from her employer who recently tested positive. Lorica said that she and her co-workers are being coerced to pay 15,000 Saudi Riyals if they want to be granted exit visas. 

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June 19 PRESS CON: Yolanda Lorica and her fellow Arco workers in Al Khobar

Concepcion of Migrante lamented that the Duterte regime still does not have any contingency plan up to this very moment. She said, “we demand for immediate actions to repatriate our kababayans and deliver assistance for the families of OFWs who died from COVID-19. Stranded OFWs should not be made to pay for flights just to be repatriated. They should be provided with free repatriation and medical assistance.”

Slavelike conditions describe the plight of John Michael Solis along with his fellow OFWs in Khatif. They have been forced to work overtime for a scaffolding company without pay and without allowance. Their passports are being withheld from them by their employers. 

Meanwhile, James Cabugsa has been on a No-Work-No-Pay arrangement for three months in Dubai, UAE. “I applied for DOLE’s AKAP cash assistance way back on the 24th of April but I have never heard anything from them. I just don’t understand why community groups, organizations and even individuals are able to provide relief to us while in contrast, we are not getting any response at all from our very own government. All we are asking is for the government to urgently come to our aid and respond to our pleas,” Cabugsa entreated.

Tormented over the terrible condition of her daughter Mary Jane Veloso who is still on death row in Indonesia after being victimized by traffickers, Nanay Celia is calling anew on the government to help her eldest daughter Lea who tested positive for COVID-19 in Dammam. “I am asking our president to help my daughters. Mary Jane Veloso is ill. Her blood pressure went down to 80/60 and she also has an ulcer. At the same time, my eldest daughter in Damman is already COVID-19 positive. I feel so much misery over their afflictions and if it were not for Migrante, and other generous supporters like church people, I wouldn’t know what to do. I hope Mary Jane will return soon and my eldest daughter [in Dammam] recover swiftly so that we all can be reunited here. I hope the president is watching, and come to the aid of my daughters.”

Hearing the testimonies of Filipino migrants, Joanna Concepcion of Migrante International said, “This only shows that OFWs are not getting the ‘VIP-treatment’ loudly trumpeted by Malacañang. They are not being prioritized by the Duterte government. In fact, while Philippine embassies and consular services were halted by suspensions, POGO operations in the Philippines are being opened. The cessation of consular services overseas at this time of crisis is proof of the government’s abandonment of OFWs. The welfare of OFWs is the responsibility of the government and its agencies. Migrante International has been documenting the situation of distressed OFWs and we will not hesitate to resort to legal actions if the government continues to neglect them. ”

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Presscon link: https://www.facebook.com/watch/live/?v=263404624994654&ref=watch_permalink