After DFA announcement on the travel-ban exemption, Migrante International presses government to clarify what it meant by “certain procedural formalities”

Just a day after OFWs and Filipino migrants expressed their demand to the Duterte government for the ban to be lifted, the Department of Foreign Affairs through Undersecretary Brigido Dulay made an announcement that stranded Filipino migrants may now return to Hong Kong and Macau. While this unofficial announcement may be a cause for excitement for many stranded migrants – returning OFWs, permanent residents and students – who are eager to resume their work and get reunited with their families, Migrante International is asking the government to issue its official statement with clarification on what it meant by “certain procedural formalities” to avoid confusion and added burden to returning and newly deployed migrant workers and residents to Hong Kong and Macau.

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PHOTO: Pinoy Formosa

We warn the Duterte government that returning OFWs and migrants should never be required to sign waivers nor provide medical certificates or undergo any other additional process that will prolong their stay just to comply with these so-called “certain procedural formalities” mentioned by Foreign Affairs Undersecretary Dulay. 

The government should not impose additional burdens on stranded migrants. OFWs deserve to obtain clearer information and details from the government regarding the travel ban exemption and migrants should not be obligated by any means to surrender their right to demand and receive government assistance. Migrante International will remain vigilant on how the Duterte government responds to the COVID-19 public health issue. 

 

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Stranded OFWs raise urgent appeal to lift the travel ban to Hong Kong. Daughter of a quarantined Filipino seafarer in Japan calls for medical repatriation

In a press conference held at the Migrante International home office on Monday, 17 February, OFWs affected by the travel ban expressed their demand to the Duterte government to lift the COVID-19 travel ban and grant exemption to returning migrant workers, students and residents. 

Eleveneth Baldero, a domestic helper from Hong Kong relayed her fear of losing her job due to the travel ban. “We are affected by the travel ban because contractual workers like us are fearful of getting terminated if we are unable to return back to our employers on time. My contract is set to expire on 6 March that is why I’m really worried. Financially, I am running out of money to sustain my stay here in the Philippines. This is why I really need to return back to Hong Kong,” Baldero said.

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Rowena Lee was unable to hold back her tears thinking about her ailing mother in Hong Kong who was just discharged recently from the hospital. “This is a very big problem for us since my 75-year old mother in Hong Kong still needs medical attention and I really want to return so I can be with her. She is all by herself. I was only allowed by our manager to spend my leave up to 28 February. We hope that the government will lift the ban because we have needs to address and bills to pay like rent. Our family needs us. It will be very hard for us if we get forced by the situation to borrow money just to extend our stay here. I am pleading to the government to lift the travel ban so we can return to our normal lives. We are struggling because we are not earning anything here.”

Working as a company employee, Tess Aquino is a permanent resident and has been in Hong Kong for 23 years. Aquino arrived here on 15 January for her annual leave and was set to fly back on 9 February. She heard about the travel ban on 2 February and received an email notice from Philippine Airlines informing her about her flight’s cancellation. “I have attempted all possible ways to return back to Hong Kong. I was told by my company to try travelling to Hong Kong via Vietnam. Travel agencies refused to book my flight because of the travel ban and I was told that I will only be wasting my money because even if I make it to Vietnam, they would still not allow us to get to our final destination which is Hong Kong. For now, my company allowed me to temporarily work as home-based but for how long? I don’t think our employers will wait for us forever if this continues.”

Tess Aquino also re-echoed UNIFIL-Migrante Hong Kong’s view on the “terrible state of public health” in the Philippines. “If there are only adequate employment opportunities here in the Philippines, there could have been no need for us to leave the country. The government is now telling us that we cannot return back to our work. This is almost akin to taking away our lives. If we get sick here in the Philippines, local salaries here won’t be enough to shoulder medical expenses. We really need to have the Duterte government grant exemption to returning OFWs, students and residents.”

Former (FMWU-Hong Kong) Filipino Migrant Workers’ Union Chairperson Feliza Guy Benitez said that leave granted to OFWs usually lasts for 14-days . “If OFWs get terminated because they exceeded the 14-day leave, it will be hard for us to get back again to zero just to process all the application papers and the government won’t even pay for it.” Benitez also read the Urgent Appeal Joint Statement signed by 131 Hong Kong-based Filipino organizations. The statement called on the Duterte government to lift the ban imposed on 2 February to Filipinos travelling to Hong Kong. 

The statement cited reported estimates saying that there are around 25,000 overseas Filipino workers who have been unable to leave the country because of the ban. “We all feel that the travel ban which was imposed without a warning or consultation is unjustified and oppressive. It was decided upon without a comprehensive understanding of how it would affect us, and was not even in line with health protocols set by the World Health Organization. The abruptness by which it was carried out also belied the concern for Filipinos abroad that President Rodrigo Duterte has expressed in numerous speeches and interviews.” 

Aside from the 25,000 stranded OFWs, an additional 1,000 are affected by the travel ban consisting of Filipino residents, students and small business proprietors. “Health-wise, we also feel safer in Hong Kong where we are assured of excellent public health care at little or no cost to us. Some of us who have private medical insurance get the added bonus of being treated at private hospitals, also for free,” the joint urgent appeal statement said.

OFWs also blasted the miniscule amount of compensation offered by OWWA to qualified OFWs. “Each stranded OFW was offered Php10,000 compensation from the OWWA Fund, an amount that would not even pay for the expenses they had to bear after being stranded at the airport. Moreover, non-OFWs were given no help at all, when many of them don’t even have houses in the Philippines, and have to pay for food and lodging while waiting for the ban to be lifted. They are also in danger of suffering even more if they lose their jobs, as they pay high rents and other expenses such as school fees for their children in Hong Kong,” the joint urgent appeal stated.

“When I went to OWWA, I was told that I am not covered because they are only processing compensation up to 16 February. I really do not know whether I will still receive any compensation from the government,” Eleveneth Baltero added.

Feliza Guy Benitez decried the state of public health services in the Philippines. “People who need medical attention are safer in Hong Kong because of their advanced healthcare system. It will be harder for OFWs to settle back here in the Philippines because of high unemployment, low wages and contractualization.”

When asked about the proposal which seeks to require OFWs to sign a waiver freeing the government from any responsibility should they decide to proceed with their travel to Hong Kong, the stranded OFWs objected. Tess Aquino said that the waiver is “problematic because it is going to free the government from its responsibility towards us OFWs.” Migrante Philippines Rights and Welfare coordinator Lao Castillo said, “The waiver requirement is tantamount to obliging OFWs to surrender their right to receive government assistance. It is a dangerous precedent especially in times of conflict or crisis situations.”

Stranded OFWs at the presscon concurred with the joint urgent appeal statement issued by 131 Hong Kong-based organizations. “For all these reasons, we urge President Duterte to listen to our plea. Exempt Hong Kong from the travel ban. Allow us to go back to Hong Kong,” the urgent appeal stated.

Meanwhile, Victoria Lavado, the daughter of the Filipino seafarer of the cruise ship Diamond Princess is troubled by the situation of her father along with around 500 other Filipino seafarers who were placed under quarantine in Japan after 10 foreign ship crews which include 1 Filipino contracted COVID-19. “It took a long time before they received safety masks and they are still forced to work as if it is business as usual. There is no separate quarantine area for those who are already infected and they can still mix with other crews despite the risks. This is why I was really worried when I found out from reports that there are already 30 to 60 crews who are getting infected with COVID-19 daily. We really want the Duterte government to work on medical repatriation for my father and for the other Filipino seafarers. The government must find a way to provide quality medical services for them here in the Philippines which is unfortunately notorious for its poor public healthcare and medical facilities.”
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On the airline flight cancellations due to the COVID-19 travel ban

With the COVID-19 travel ban imposed by the Duterte government, thousands of OFWs and overseas resident visa-holders are seriously affected by airline cancellations which have been extended up to the 28th of March. Not only will this have a negative impact on the livelihood and income of OFWs but they are at risk of getting terminated from employment. This is likewise upsetting for overseas Filipino residents who are unable to get reunited with their families in Hong Kong. Migrante International reiterates its demand to the Duterte government to grant travel ban exemption to returning OFWs, residents, and students who will be travelling back to Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan to resume their work, residency and academic studies. 

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PHOTO: Rappler

The Duterte government must provide significant support and compensation for stranded OFWs bound for Hong Kong, Macau, China and Taiwan who have lost income and employment. These Filipino migrants have already been ripped off by the government and by private recruitment agencies with tons of money during their application. It is unacceptable that they should only receive a minuscule amount from OWWA for all the inconvenience and trouble that they are going through. This is an extremely inadequate response by the Duterte government for those who are about to lose their jobs and income. 

OFWs are also expecting DFA to reach out to foreign authorities to facilitate visa extension for Filipino migrant workers and students stranded in the Philippines and in the cited countries. Migrante International chapters are already providing rights and welfare assistance to distressed OFWs and migrants hit by the travel ban and flight cancellations. 

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“Free Tacloban 5! Justice for Jay-ar Mercado!” — Migrante International

In the dead of the night on 7 February, the office of BAYAN-Eastern Visayas was illegally raided by elements of the 8th Infantry Division of the Philippine Army. A journalist, one climate activist and 3 human rights workers were unjustly arrested based on trumped-up charges and fabricated evidence. Migrante International vehemently condemns these criminal acts of state terrorism committed by government troops against people’s defenders. We call for their immediate release and outright dismissal of the spurious charges. Those who led and perpetrated the illegal arrest must be held liable for this atrocity. 

The detainees now known as Tacloban 5 include Marielle Domequil of Rural Missionaries of the Philippines, Alexander Philip Abinguna of Katungod Eastern Visayas, Mira Legion of BAYAN Eastern Visayas, Frenchie Mae Cumpio of Eastern Vista and Marissa Cabaljao of People Surge along with her one-year-old baby. According to them, at about 1:00 am last friday, state troops violently barged into their home office, barking on everyone to come out and kneel on the ground. The military then rummaged around in every room and corner of the building without even reading any search  warrant. Only after more than an hour did the arresting crooks read the warrant signed by RTC 8 Judge Petilla. By then, firearms and IEDs were already illegally planted by government forces on the victims’ belongings. 

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A few weeks back, suspected agents of the Philippine Army’s 4th Infantry Battalion murdered Jay-ar Mercado after his arrest on 25 January in Bulalacao, Oriental Mindoro. Efforts by his loved ones and colleagues to recover his body were met with harassment and intimidation by the military. It is outrageously appalling that criminal brutalities are boldly being committed in the open by mercenaries of the Fascist US-Duterte regime. We demand that justice be served for Jay-ar and for all the victims of injustice and state violence. 

Through Executive Order 70 and the creation of the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) signed by President Duterte, all government functions are being geared towards silencing dissent and eliminating organized struggle against his Fascist reign of terror. At a time when government efforts and resources should be aimed at addressing public health concerns for polio and the 2019-NCoV outbreak through improvement of social services, the onslaught of repression and bloodshed is being unleashed as part of the government’s crackdown on people’s defenders, the media and against every critical voice that dare challenge the predominating system of oppression and despotic rule. 

Using NTF-ELCAC as their main vehicle of corruption, public money is being squandered and looted by the military at the expense of social services. Along with the Fascist US-Duterte regime, NTF-ELCAC must be abolished and its key officials sentenced to face the full brunt of justice. Filipino progressive organizations and their allies overseas must intensify active lobbying to call international attention to these atrocities and ensure that perpetrators will be placed behind bars to pay for their crimes. 

Migrante International calls on all its member chapters all over the world to denounce and launch protest actions against this spate of attacks on the democratic rights of the Filipino people and to all progressive groups that actively organize and raise legitimate grievances on behalf of the marginalized grassroots. The Filipino people can no longer expect peaceful and meaningful lives under this rotten and murderous regime. To its very core, the US-Duterte regime is possessed by all manner of vileness and monstrosity. Only by our enduring resistance shall the forces of doom be finally smitten to infernal ruin. 

Free Tacloban 5!

Free all political prisoners!

Justice for Jay-ar Mercado!

Junk EO70!

Abolish NTF-ELCAC!

Resist crackdown!

Stop the killings!

Stop the attacks!

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SAGIP MIGRANTE: TAAL VOLCANO ERUPTION (February 1-2, 2020)

SAGIP MIGRANTE: TAAL VOLCANO ERUPTION

February 1-2, 2020

Municipalities of Sto. Tomas ,Tanauan, Balete in Batangas

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On January 12, the Taal Volcano erupted, prompting the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (PHIVOLCS) to raise the alert level to 4, meaning that hazardous explosive eruption may occur within any hour. Due to the threat of explosion, continuing earthquakes and heavy ashfall, the provincial government of Batangas immediately issued a declaration putting the entire province under a State of Calamity. Since then, 459,300 residents within the 14 kilometer radius of the volcano were forced to evacuate from their homes.

SAGIP MIGRANTE, Migrante International’s calamity assistance program, launched its relief drive and fund raising campaign on the same week to aid the affected families in Batangas and Cavite. Donations poured in through the facilitation of Migrante members in Canada, Australia, South Korea, Hong Kong, Italy and other countries in Europe.  

After a series of consultations with local leaders and peoples organizations, Migrante was able to hold its first relief operation on the 1st to 2nd of February. The SAGIP team, which comprised of Migrante members from Caloocan and University of Rizal System, and volunteers of the Home Office, distributed out more than 200 Hygiene Kits to evacuees in Brgy. Sta. Maria in Sto. Tomas City and Brgy. Luyos in Tanauan City; and conducted a Needs Assessment Survey in both barangays and also in Brgy. Looc, Balete. 

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Profile of Area Beneficiaries

 

1. Brgy. Sta. Maria, Sto. Tomas City

 

Brgy. Sta. Maria in Sto. Tomas City housed about 2,000 evacuees primarily from the municipalities of Talisay, Agoncillo, Taal, Malvar, Lemery, Tanauan, Laurel and Cuenca. Most of those who evacuated went back to their residences since the alert level was lowered to 3.

On the day of the relief operations, there were still 251 families of evacuees staying in Sta. Maria, spread out in different households, as the schools weren’t available for evacuation use due to the oncoming school year. Still, those from municipalities inside the 7 kilometer danger zone (San Nicolas, Agoncillo, Balete, Laurel, Mataas na Kahoy, Talisay and Lemery) are still prohibited from returning to their homes while the volcano is still on alert level 3. 

More than 80 families benefited from the distribution of hygiene kits and bottled water, 25 of whom are OFW families (OFW dependents or families with returned OFWs) mostly from barangays Caloocan and Leynes of Talisay that are along the shoreline of Taal Lake. The affected families mainly subsist on farming and informal jobs. Majority of the OFW families have relatives working in Taiwan as factory workers, and as HSWs and laborers in the Middle East. 

 

2. Brgy. Luyos, Tanauan City

 

Brgy. Luyos is situated inside the 14-km danger zone. The SAGIP team were able to reach the area through the Barangay secretary who also supervises its Migrants Desk. 

More than 90 families were given, 17 of whom are OFW families. The residents just returned from evacuation centers since PHIVOLCS lowered the alert level. They are now occupied with cleaning their Barangay as it was heavily ridden with ash fall, resulting to most of its trees wilting from lahar.

Most of the residents are industrial workers in neighboring municipalities. 

 

3. Brgy. Looc, Balete

 

On the second day, February 2, the SAGIP team dispatched social work students to conduct a Needs Assessment survey and ocular inspection in Brgy. Looc, just 7 kilometers from Taal Volcano. It is home to 651 families.

Residents started evacuating on the 13th of January, seeking refuge in various municipalities in Batangas, primarily in Sto. Tomas City and in the neighboring province of Cavite. Looc residents are still prohibited from returning to their homes while the volcano alert level is still raised to level 3, as they face the danger of volcanic earthquakes.

For the needs assessment, the team interviewed a total of 349 families, 118 of whom are OFW families. Majority of the OFW families have relatives working in Taiwan as factory workers, and as HSWs and laborers in the Middle East. 

Major residential occupations include fishing, backyard farming and driving public transportation vehicles. Most of the farmers lost their livestock and poultry since they evacuated. They are in need of financial assistance for medications, fixing their houses and their vehicles.

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Findings and Recommendations:

Contrary to government pronouncements, the lives of the affected families remain in limbo especially those that are in the 14-km danger zone. Most vulnerable are the families whose houses were destroyed or are in areas that are still prohibited to be occupied. Support and assistance is badly needed because of lost properties and livelihood.

  1. The evacuation process was a nightmare for the affected families. After they were forcibly evacuated from their homes, there was no clear system from the national and provincial government on where to evacuate. The government mainly relied on barangay officials who are eruption victims themselves. There are still no clear relocation sites for those who will not be able to go back to their residences.
  2. Distribution of relief goods was poorly coordinated. There was abundance in some evacuation centers but many areas were barely reached by relief goods. Evacuees are still in need of food, hygiene items and bedding.
  3. Aside from basic needs, livelihood is the urgent concern of evacuees. There are still no available government resources where they can access grants to rebuild their lives. OFW families have requested for calamity assistance at OWWA, but the government agency has no declaration yet if they will allocate funds for such purpose.
  4. Transportation assistance is a daily need. Every day, evacuees who are from 7-km danger zones, would go to their homes to clean and keep their properties safe but they must also leave the area by 6pm. Since this has become the daily routine of evacuees, the government must provide vehicles for mass transportation.
  5. Health and sanitation has become a major concern. Aside from the ash fall as a health risk, the decay of dead fish and marine life along the shoreline of the lake might cause an epidemic. Clean-up drives are highly necessary.

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“Lack of coordination among PH officials for nCoV crisis to blame for confusion and misinformation” — Migrante International on the death of the 58 year old Dubai-based OFW

Migrante International is deeply saddened by the passing of the 58-year old Filipino household worker in Dubai on 2 February. According to UAE Health officials, the OFW, a single mother, succumbed to Pneumonia and was tested negative of Novel coronavirus (NCoV) on 1 February. 

We cannot help but be dismayed at the poor coordination being exhibited by government agencies in response to the 2019-nCov outbreak. We are strongly asking Labour Secretary Silvestre Bello to accept responsibility for his pronouncements and reveal how and from whom did he get his initial information on the cause of death of the 58-year old OFW.

As advocates of OFW welfare and health security, we are expecting to hear more from the Duterte government about its emergency response and crisis management particularly to the Filipino migrant sector. It is likewise imperative that the Duterte government take into account all distressed OFWs who are neglected in hospitals and for government agencies to urgently respond to their needs. 

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PHOTO: Al Jazeera

After DOLE Secretary Silvestre Bello’s announcement on 6 February, wherein he confirmed that the death was due to 2019-NCoV, a UAE senior official denied the report as “baseless.” The lack of coordination between Philippine authorities and its labour attaches in host countries is abhorrent as this could lead to more confusion and misinformation at a time when the public is keeping close attention to the outbreak. 

Migrante calls on the Philippine government to extend assistance to the family of the deceased and ensure that further investigation is conducted to find out possible factors behind the reported medical condition and whether the Pneumonia contraction was work-related or not.

OFWs especially household workers are vulnerable to many health issues and are more likely to be enfeebled with serious medical conditions due to stress, overwork, sleep deprivation, starvation and maltreatment. Their anxieties over the economic difficulties faced by their families back home due to rising prices and inadequate social services compel them to endure pain and continue working overseas even through debilitating physical and mental ailments. 

In a country where the poor have no access to quality health services, accountability points to the Duterte regime’s negligence. The absence of a national pharmaceutical industry that could have been providing the public with cheap and highly effective medicines is compounded by the brain drain among health professionals who flock overseas due to low salaries and poor benefits from working in the Philippines. Such is the poor state of the Philippine health care system from which Health Secretary Francisco Duque III and President Duterte turns a blind eye on. 

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After positive test of 2019-nCoV infection on OFW sailor, Migrante International raises alarm on Duterte’s ineffective handling of public health emergency

With the confirmed report of an OFW seafarer as being the first Filipino to contract the dreaded 2019-Novel CoronaVirus, Migrante International is alarmed over the Duterte regime’s incompetence in handling the outbreak and the subsequent travel constraints which have now been causing a whole set of trouble to affected OFWs and Filipino travellers. This most recent case of 2019-nCoV infection on a Filipino seafarer illustrates that OFWs are more vulnerable to contracting the virus and that the Duterte government stands no chance in containing the outbreak under the current state of the country’s public health care and emergency response system. 

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PHOTO: RAPPLER.COM

About 25,000 OFWs are reportedly stranded and in danger of losing their jobs after the Duterte government imposed a travel ban preventing Filipinos from travelling to and fro from China including special administrative regions (SARs) like Hongkong and Macau. 

OFWs have already expressed fears of getting terminated from their jobs. The government’s reckless response after a period of denial has been causing frustration among Filipino permanent residents (from Macau and Hongkong) temporarily vacationing in the Philippines. It is now incumbent that health authorities look for ways to help them get reunited with their families. Estimates suggest that there could be about 20 thousand Filipinos that live and work in mainland China while more than a hundred thousand are in Hongkong and Macau. 

While Health Secretary Francisco Duque is in denial about the true state of the Philippine health care system, 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 according to economic think tank IBON. No wonder, about 20 countries have standing travel advisories on the Philippines with the reappearance of polio after 19 years. In addition, poor pay and government neglect continues to exacerbate brain drain among Filipino health care professionals.

No matter how much the Duterte regime denies its inefficient response to the 2019-nCoV onset and the poor state of health services in the Philippines, it cannot cover up the torrent of confusion and frustration among OFWs who are torn between staying precariously in the Philippines, fearing termination from their jobs or pursuing their deployment abroad at this time of crisis. 

At a time when addressing public health is of prime importance, the Duterte government preferred to prioritize Parlade’s military junket to Australia just to sow division and animosity among the Filipino community by discrediting progressive organizations like BAYAN and Migrante. Instead of sending out inutile government bootlickers and spin doctors who waste taxpayers’ money, the government should deploy humanitarian and rescue teams that would help OFWs seeking transfers to shelters or health facilities for quarantine and other services. 

Migrante International is likewise calling on the government to efficiently extend assistance to stranded Filipinos including those who require repatriation. We challenge the government to be honest and transparent in its measures by sharing informative data to the public and ensure advancement of prevention and awareness. Philippine overseas employment government bodies and health authorities should reach out to the infected Filipino seafarer and to his family. 

We are now appalled that Duterte’s previous racist and ludicrous remarks have now bred xenophobia, panic and misinformation. We call on the Filipino people in the Philippines and abroad to reject stigmatization and assert solidarity with the Chinese people at this time of crisis. Migrante International will continue to monitor developments on this public health issue and we will not allow the Duterte regime to exploit public fear to make life harder for OFWs and their families affected by the 2019-nCoV travel ban. 

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