Families of stranded OFWs at the Jeddah Tent City set up Day 1 of their “Solidarity Campout” this morning at the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) Main Office in Manila to demand “free, immediate and mass repatriation” for their loved ones. Likewise, families of the stranded OFWs in Laguna, Pampanga and Davao today held simultaneous protest actions at DFA and Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) satellite offices in their respective provinces.
OFWs, including women, children and now a new-born baby girl, who are presently camped outside the Philippine Consulate in Jeddah has surged to 4,397, according to the most recent head count done by Migrante Partylist-Jeddah last April 27. The OFWs have been camped out of the PH Consulate in Jeddah for the past 23 days. The PH Consulate, on the other hand, pegs the number of stranded OFWs at 3,424.
Two deaths and a baby
According to Migrante Partylist 2nd Nominee and Migrante International chairperson Garry Martinez, they received reports that a pregnant OFW at the campout just gave birth to a baby girl last April 27. The mother and new-born baby were rushed by fellow stranded OFWs and Filipino volunteers to a nearby polyclinic. Fellow OFWs chipped in to settle the hospital bill of 2,500 Saudi riyals.
Meanwhile, since the Tent City was set up, two OFWs have already died due to illnesses. Danilo Grefadilyo, a native of Sorsogon, in his 60s, and Eliseo Araneta from Calamba, Laguna died of ailments while seeking repatriation at the PH Consulate. The families of both OFWs are still awaiting the repatriation of their remains.
Martinez said that more OFWs are being afflicted with illnesses. “The terrible heat, combined with lack of food, adequate accommodations and medical assistance from the Aquino government is taking its toll on the stranded OFWs, especially the children. The mosquitos are also a big problem, as well as the lack of toilet and sanitation facilities.”
He said that the OFWs are very grateful for all the help coming from Migrante and other Filipino communities in Saudi. “But these, of course, are not enough. What they need are urgent on-site help and medical assistance. All PH officials in Jeddah have to do is to go out of their air-conditioned offices and assist our OFWs.”
Some of the OFWs, Martinez said, still have to leave the campout site during the day to work part-time. “Ganun na nga kasahol ang kalagayan nila, kailangan pa rin nilang makipagsapalaran para sa kanilang pang-araw-araw na pangangailangan at para makapagpadala pa rin kahit papaano sa kani-kanilang mga pamilya.”
Recall ambassador, officials should resign
“It’s been almost a month and not one OFW has been repatriated by the Aquino government. This is a far cry from how quick migrant workers of other nationalities have been repatriated en masse since the Saudi government implemented its martial law-style crackdowns,” said Martinez.
He said that it was understandable why OFWs were greatly dismayed and angered by the recent visit of PH government officials to the Tent City. “First of all, they were too late the heroes. The campout has been there since April 6. Next, they merely gave token relief, such as the so-called shelter that could only accommodate around 200 people. At the time of their visit, the stranded OFWs have already reached a number of more than 3,000.”
DFA-OUMWA Usec. Jesus Yabes flew to Jeddah last April 24 only to be greeted by the OFWs’ ire. He was met there by PH Ambassador to Saudi Arabia Ezzedin Tago and other PH labor and welfare officials. “Wala nang tiwala ang mga OFW sa kanila.”
Martinez said that the OFWs are calling for the recall of Amb. Tago “for his consistent neglect and apathy towards distressed OFWs in Saudi” and for the resignation of Yabes and Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) Sec. Rosalinda Baldoz “for their incompetence, inefficiency and insincerity in assisting OFWs in distress.”
All for one, one for all
Martinez said that the OFWs are resolved to stand their ground and sustain the campout until a clear and concrete plan for free, immediate and mass repatriation is in place. “This was why they rejected the offer of temporary shelter. Walang iwanan sila. Kaya naman hindi rin sila iiwanan ng kanilang mga pamilya. Handa ring mag-campout ang mga kapamilya nila dito sa Pilipinas para ipaglaban ang kanilang mga kahilingan.”
The families’ Solidarity Campout will run from April 29 until May 1, Labor Day. “No more promises. The families demand concrete actions for our overseas Filipino workers on Labor Day,” said Martinez. ###