Various OFW advocacy groups, partners, church ministries, grassroots migrants and families gathered on Sunday, 16th of March at the Nativity of the Lord Parish – Bulwagang Razon in Quezon City to lay down the migrants’ agenda for ending modern-day slavery. The event was held to commemorate the 24th death anniversary of Flor Contemplacion who was executed on 17 March 1995.
Migrante Philippines Chairperson Arman Hernando said, “Flor Contemplacion’s tragic fate continues to reflect the plight of Filipino migrants.” One of the factors that Hernando expounded was the social cost of migration among OFW families.
After Flor’s execution, RA 8042 or the Migrant Workers Act of 1995 was enacted and as the government claimed then, it was meant to protect OFWs and forestall the repetition of another Flor Contemplacion. However, there have been more OFWs executed ever since and Filipino migrants continue to suffer maltreatment and deprivation overseas.
Fast forward to the Duterte administration, Hernando recounted that hopes were high in 2016 as President Rodrigo Duterte vowed to fulfill his dream for OFWs when he declared that “in about 10 years, hindi na kayo (OFWs) lalabas.”
Just days after President Duterte emerged as the winner in the 2016 presidential election, Migrante International submitted a letter to Malacañang entitled “Change OFWs want to see.” It included 10 doable points, some of which OFWs believed Duterte could fulfill in his first 100 days. They expressed hope that President Duterte will address the roots of forced migration like contractualization, landlessness, low wages, corruption, etcetera. Three years on, many OFWs are still facing the same problems brought about by the government’s labour export program.
Gemma Concepcion, a victim of human trafficking, expressed frustration after many unsuccessful attempts of getting hired here in the Philippines. “Pagbalik namin sa Pilipinas, naghanap na kami agad ng trabaho dito pero talagang mahirap at walang trabahong sapat na makakatugon sa mga pangangailangan ng aming pamilya. Mula noon, hanggang ngayon, walang pagbabago sa Pilipinas,” she lamented.
Mycelle Sulit from Kuwait likewise testified about her struggles to make ends meet after OWWA deprived her of disability claims. She was crippled after jumping off from the third floor of a building as she escaped from her cruel employers. Also present was Nanay Celia Veloso who sobbed as she related the uncertainties and fears she have for her daughter Mary Jane Veloso who has been languishing on death row in Indonesia.
Meanwhile, the situation of seafarers does not fare better. Atty. Edwin dela Cruz of International Seafarers Action Center hit POEA and manning agencies for continually violating the seafarers’ rights under the Maritime Labour Convention. Atty. Edwin dela Cruz blames the absence of a legislation in the Philippines that would enforce the international agreement.
Another important highlight was a discussion on the Social Security Act of 2018. This law which was recently signed by Duterte is set to impose mandatory SSS exaction on OFWs. Migrante expressed previously that the government is really hell-bent into carrying out the long-held fears of OFWs. Their fears have materialized as they are now about to carry the entire burden of the SSS exaction even in the absence of a bilateral agreement with host countries that would obligate employers to remit contributions.
Under the mandatory SSS exaction, OFW new hires will be squeezed with Php 2,400 off their pockets while rehires will have to present Php 7,200 first before they get deployed abroad. Laorence Castillo, head of Migrante International Secretariat said that OFWs should not bear the brunt of the failure of SSS to collect billions and billions of unremitted contributions from delinquent employers.
The Flor at 24 commemoration is just one of many planned actions and activities leading to the National Summit of Migrants and Families which will be held on 29 April 2019.