A few days before Aquino’s State of the Nation Address (SONA), Migrante International accompanied families of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) in distress in a picket-protest at the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) to demand assistance and to protest government neglect.
Families of OFWs in jail, OFW victims of human trafficking in Jordan and OFWs who died under mysterious circumstances called on the DFA to provide urgent assistance for the cases of their loved ones.
OFWs in jail
Since Aquino took office, Migrante International has handled at least 258 new cases of OFWs in jail. Most of the detained OFWs are in the Middle East – in Malaz, Dammam Central, Dammam Reformatory, Al Hair, Iranian, Tuqbah, Briman and Kuwait Central jails. Of these, 36 in Malaz and Dammam Central jails are still incarcerated despite having already finished their jail terms. Only 58 have been released and repatriated back to the Philippines. Majority were jailed due to alcohol- and drug-related offenses, theft, “immorality”, absconding and work-related cases. A handful was arrested for arson, embezzlement and murder.
“The common occurrence is they get arrested and undergo investigation by the police without any representation or legal assistance from the PH embassy. Dahil sa kawalan ng agarang aksyon, hindi na dumadaan sa due process ang mga akusasyon sa kanila at dinederecho na sila agad sa kulungan,” said Garry Martinez, Migrante International chairperson.
Martinez said that it usually takes three to six months before a hearing. During this whole period, the OFW remains in jail. “Ang problema, marami sa kanila ay hindi man lang naaaninag ang mukha ng mga taga-Embada.” He said that almost all of the cases they are presently handling were referred by family members here in the Philippines after their jailed relatives abroad found a way to contact them. “Hindi man lang embassy o DFA ang nagpaabot sa kanila ng sitwasyon ng mga kamag-anak nila. Most of the time, when we go to the DFA, they are clueless about the cases of these jailed OFWs,” he said.
According to government records, there at least 7,000 OFWs in jails abroad.
Cases of OFWs’ mysterious deaths have also mounted. “Under Aquino, 15 more unresolved cases of OFWs who died under mysterious circumstances were brought to us. All of their cases suggest foul play. When their remains were repatriated, there were also indications of organ trafficking,” Martinez said.
He cited the case of OFW Terril Atienza. “When Atienza’s remains were flown back to the country last December 9, her heart was missing. Her whole body was bruised, beaten and burnt. Autopsy conducted by the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) Medico-Legal Division further revealed that her other internal organs were ‘sectioned with missing portions’. A rag was extracted from inside her body.” He added, “The DFA, OWWA or POEA had no records of her working in Singapore or Mongolia, virtually exonerating her local agency here in the Philippines and their counterpart in Singapore of any accountability.”
“There needs to be an active intervention and clamor for justice from our government officials. We call on the DFA and the Philippine Consulate in Mongolia to actively and aggressively intervene on behalf of the victims’ families,” he said.
In Jordan, some 200 OFWs are still stranded at the POLO-OWWA shelter. The Philippine government imposed a deployment ban on Jordan in 2008 because of many cases of abuse and maltreatment of OFWs there. However, most of the stranded OFWs in the shelter arrived in Jordan 2010 onwards.
According to the workers, they are being asked to pay “overstaying” fees and their ticket fares by the POLO-OWWA. They have no means to pay because they are “runaways”, having escaped their employers due to unpaid wages and physical abuse. Some have resorted to borrowing or begging for alms to raise funds. Philippine Overseas Labor Office (POLO) case officers in Jordan have allegedly told them that they could not help “since they have all become undocumented”.
“Of course they are undocumented, they were trafficked in Jordan despite the ban. The question now is how were they able to enter the country when a ban was in place?” said Martinez.
Some of the stranded OFWs have already left the shelter to seek work. “Ang gobyerno mismo ang nagtulak sa kanila sa mga human traffickers. Because of the PH post’s inaction, some have been forced to succumb to the lure of trafficking agents in Jordan in search for work,” he said.
Most of the OFWs have been in the POLO-OWWA for several months, while some have been stranded there for years. In 2010, DFA-OUMWA Executive Director Ricardo Endaya promised to provide tickets for the OFWs’ repatriation but two years have passed and this had not yet materialized. OFWs who were able to return home from Jordan were able to do so because they raised the funds themselves.
“What the government should have done was to pinpoint, pursue and punish human traffickers of OFWs to Jordan. Mas inuna pa nila ang pagpapa-lift ng ban,” Martinez said.
Moreover, the migrant leader said that the Aquino administration had done nothing to address the roots of human trafficking and forced migration.
“Justice for the victims will not be realized unless the government takes drastic action against the recruiters, and most especially their coddlers in government. And ultimately, the Philippine government will not be able to put a stop to human trafficking until it decisively addresses the root causes of forced migration that make our workers more desperate and vulnerable to trafficking syndicates.”
The families of OFWs will march with Migrante International on July 23, People’s SONA. ###