Migrante International, global alliance of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) and their families, fully supports the resumption of the formal peace negotiations between the Government of the Philippines (GPH) and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP).
We commend both parties for sincerely pursuing the talks, as demonstrated by the GPH’s release of NFDP consultants and the New People’s Army’s release of its prisoners of war (POWs). We hope that the ongoing peace negotiations will also pave the way for a general and unconditional amnesty for more than 520 political prisoners who are still detained.
We also welcome the declaration of a unilateral reciprocal ceasefire. We hope that this results in the urgent and immediate pull out of military troops in the countryside, and puts a stop to illegal arrests, harassment and persecution of activist leaders and organizers.
Migrante International especially welcomes the upholding of previous agreements between the GPH and the NDFP and looks forward to the talks’ undertaking of much-needed socio-economic and political reforms. We trust the peace talks to tackle the root causes of the armed conflict, namely, unemployment, low wages, contractualization, landlessness and poor social services resulting in widespread poverty of the Filipino people. These are the very same reasons for the phenomenon of forced migration, or the impetus of millions of Filipinos to seek employment abroad.
There are currently 15 million OFWs and at least 6,000 leave the country daily to work abroad. Filipino people are being forced to migrate and be separated from their families because of desperation and the need to survive. It is indeed a tragic consequence when our labor force is uprooted from their families, forced to endure unfair labor practices and abuses, and in some cases, suffer death, in exchange for cheap labor because of government failure to address forced migration and stop the policy of labor export.
The struggle of OFWs and their families is not isolated from the struggle of other marginalized and neglected sectors. The problem of forced migration is deeply rooted in the fundamental problems of Philippine society. Our struggle for dignity, rights and welfare, against government neglect and against forced migration plays a very important role in the struggle for genuine freedom and national democracy. The only solution to the problems of the Filipino migrant sector and their families is genuine social change so that families would not have to separated and broken apart in order to survive.
To address the problem of forced migration, the Duterte administration’s economic policies should focus on developing national economy by advancing local industries, agriculture and basic services. It should depart from neoliberal policies which focus on increasing dependence on OFW remittances, foreign investments, debt-heavy infrastructure projects.
The past four decades of Philippine labor export has showcased a more blatant and unapologetic policy that continues to exploit OFWs’ cheap labor and foreign remittances in accordance to neoliberal policies and dictates. Previous administrations have been aggressive in crafting programs and services aimed to facilitate and encourage forced migration. While acknowledging the many social costs and human rights violations, these were effectively downplayed by the hailing of OFW remittances. Instead, past administrations have unfailingly and resolutely promoted labor export as unequivocally beneficial for OFWs and their families. This is particularly done by overstating supposed development benefits for the economy and the income benefits for households.
Effects of the ongoing Middle East crisis on OFWs and their families is testament to the bankruptcy of four decades of Philippine labor export. Since 2010, thousands upon thousands of OFWs in distress have been deported or forcibly repatriated back to the country due to civil unrests, calamities, economic instabilities and other similar factors in migrant-receiving countries. However, OFW deployment has picked up considerably over the past few years despite ongoing and worsening crisis in host countries.
With the continuous repatriation of distressed OFWs from Saudi, Kuwait, Syria and Libya, a “reverse migration” phenomenon could be expected in the coming months. Despite and in spite of this, OFWs will not be stopped from being forced to leave the country due to record-high unemployment rate, low wages and the lack of a comprehensive and sustainable reintegration program for returning OFWs. And so the cycle continues.
The economic compulsion of past Philippine governments to keep exporting Filipinos to maintain or, especially, to increase remittances is something that should be urgently corrected and addressed in the peace talks. Migrante International fully supports the call and struggle for national industrialization and genuine land reform as the ultimate solution to forced migration and to end the labor export program. ###