Global alliance of overseas Filipinos Migrante International criticized the appointment of former undersecretary of the Office of the Undersecretary for Migrant Workers’ Affairs (OUMWA) of the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) Esteban Conejos, Jr. as Chairman of the WTO Preparatory Committee on Trade Facilitation.
Conejos was recently elected as chairman following consultations held by Amb. Sahid Bashir, chairman of the Dispute Settlement Body, and Amb. Mario Matus of Chile, former chairman of the WTO General Council. With the appointment, Conejos is now in charge of facilitating, coordinating and accelerating the implementation of the WTO’s much-opposed trade agreements.
For Migrante International, Conejos’ recent appointment as chair of the WTO PrepCom on Trade Facilitation spells the Philippines’ more persistent commitment to intensify its labor export policy, at the expense of the rights and welfare of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs).
“Conejos’ exemplary slave-trading skill is undoubtedly the reason why he was appointed to the post. His track record in serving overseas Filipino workers during his term as OUMWA Usec. was marked by numerous complaints from OFWs in distress. In fact, it was the same track record that prevented him from winning the Deputy Director General post for the International Organization Migration (IOM) in 2010,” said Garry Martinez, Migrante International chairperson.
Martinez said that Conejos vied for the IOM position at the same time that Migrante International submitted its shadow report on the plight and conditions of Filipino migrant workers and the situation of Philippine migration to the United Nations. In the report, the group criticized Conejos’ leadership and the Philippine government’s onerous labor export program.
Despite this, Conejos was re-assigned by Pres. BS Aquino as undersecretary of the OUMWA when he took office in 2010. It was also Pres. Aquino who deployed Conejos to Geneva as Permanent Representative to the WTO. Pres. Aquino also conferred the Order of Lakandula to Conejos, the highest honors given by the government for officials in diplomatic positions.
He said that Conejos is “anti-migrant” and “rabidly pro-labor export”. “(These are) Characteristics that would make him perfect for the WTO post and detrimental to the already sorry plight of overseas Filipino workers all over the world. These are also the reasons why he continues to enjoy the confidence and full backing of Pres. BS Aquino.”
In December 2013, Migrante International joined other people’s organizations worldwide in protesting the agenda of the 9th WTO Ministerial Conference in Bali. “Precisely, one of the highlight programs we opposed then was the WTO’s negotiations for the Agreement on Trade Facilitation, the first multilateral trade agreement that was given a stamp pad since the WTO was established in 1995,” Martinez said.
He enumerated top five reasons why Filipino migrant workers are opposed to trade facilitation pacts within the WTO, namely, that the:
– WTO worsens forced migration of Filipino workers;
– WTO promotes the Philippines’ anti-migrant labor export policy;
– WTO tolerates human trafficking and coddles state-sponsored human trafficking;
– WTO “opens” labor markets but restricts migrants’ rights and mobility, and;
– There are alternatives to the WTO.
“Filipinos are being forced to migrate because of desperation. The economy’s lack of development resulting in job loss, low wages and lack of livelihood at home is the primary push factor. OFWs have borne witness to how insincere, insensitive and inept the WTO is in upholding and securing the protection and welfare of OFWs. Instead, it showcases a more blatant and unapologetic labor export policy that exploits OFWs’ cheap labor and foreign remittances.”
“And with Conejos’ recent appointment, OFWs now have more reason to call for the junking of the WTO,” said Martinez. ###