Duterte’s attacks on Filipino migrants denounced during Migrante International’s Pre-SONA event ‘SUMA 2019: The Cost of Duterte’s Labour Export Program’

Just a week before President Rodrigo Duterte presents his 4th State of the Nation Address, Migrante International held its SUMA 2019: The Cost of Duterte’s Labour Export Program. Repatriates, families of distressed OFWs and Migrante members took part in examining how the regime dealt with the various issues hounding the migrant sector.

Recognizing the problem of forced migration, invited striking workers from PEPMACO and NutriAsia decried the worsening local labour situation. In the 2019 ITUC Global Rights Index, the Philippines figured anew as one of the top 10 in the world’s worst countries for workers. Repression of labour rights and violent attacks on Filipino workers have escalated severely since President Duterte ordered his police to shoot striking farm workers in his speech on 28 October 2018. 

Venn Mediodia from PEPMACO attested to their excruciating conditions at the factory where their company’s negligence in providing protective gears has already taken its toll on hundreds of workers exposed daily to harmful and toxic substances. PEPMACO manufactures surfactants including products like Hanna, Systema, Calla and Champion. 

Disdained as one of the world’s top violators of workers’ rights, NutriAsia continues to wage violent assaults on its striking workers as it refuses to abide by the DOLE order to regularize 700 workers, many of whom have been on contractual status for over a decade. The company produces condiments like Silver Swan, Datu Puti, Mang Tomas and UFC. NutriAsia striker Garry Boticarin emphasized the importance of being active in an organized union to expose the abuses inflicted on local workers. 

With over 17 of his fellow strikers on jail for trumped-up and false charges that included robbery, Boticarin shared Mediodia’s call on Filipino migrants to support the boycott campaign against PEPMACO and NutriAsia. 

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“The harrowing labour situation in the Philippine is one of the countless reasons why 6,298 Filipinos continue to leave the country daily in the hope of finding better opportunities abroad,” Migrante International Chairperson Joanna Concepcion stated.

The situation of Filipino migrants is just about as worse as the plight of local workers. Migrante International Chairperson Joanna Concepcion imparted glaring figures that describe how the Duterte regime rips off OFWs through the intensification of the labour export program. In 2018, OFW remittances registered an all time high of US$32.2 Billion. Then another US$8.1 Billion was recorded in the first quarter of 2019. This is higher by 3.7 percent compared to the US$7.8 billion posted in the same period last year

Concepcion however pointed out that the growth in remittances is still tied to the global economy which makes it susceptible to cyclical global financial woes.The 3.1% growth in the 2018 remittances has been the slowest since 2002. From 2000 to 2009, the average growth of OFW remittances was at 11%. After the 2008 global crisis, average growth dramatically fell to 5.9% from 2010 to 2018.

The disturbing slump in the Middle East is a cause for concern for despite absorbing 70% of newly deployed OFWs, a 15.3 % decrease in remittances and a 10% reduction in deployment marked a downturn in a region wrecked by political and economic unrest. As of this writing, the raging war between Saudi Arabia and Yemen sees no sign of subsiding. “OFW Remittances account to 9.7% of the Philippines’ gross domestic product (GDP). 

Despite having most of the world’s countries still reeling from the economic crisis that goes back to 2008, over 2.3 Million Filipinos were still deployed in 2018 under the Duterte regime’s aggressive labour export program. 37% landed in elementary or non-skilled occupations. 1.28 Million Filipino women were sent overseas comprising 55.9% of the country’s total number of deployment. 

“Many OFWs are subjected to deplorable working conditions that amount to  modern-day slavery. They are worn out by extreme stress and depression that takes a toll on their psychological well-being. In many cases, racist attacks, rape attempts and severe maltreatment provoke them to fight back only to end up getting jailed, or worse, sentenced to death. We have numerous cases of government neglect which only fell on deaf ears.” Concepcion lamented.

Migrante International dismissed the Duterte regime’s adoption of the Global Compact on Migration (GCM) as just another “neoliberal myth on projecting migration as a tool for development,” Concepcion noted. “OFWs are not secured and protected under the Duterte regime. Many are only getting murdered and enslaved overseas. There is no other way for us but to strongly oppose all anti-migrant policies imposed by President Duterte,” Concepcion stated.

Concepcion’s account of the Duterte regime’s failures were confirmed by Billy Dayag, the son of Constancia Dayag who was brutally tortured and killed in Kuwait. Dayag said, “we’ve gone back and forth to DFA (Department of Foreign Affairs) but we were repeatedly told to just wait. The DFA and the Philippine Embassy in Kuwait are keeping us from finding out the truth. We will not stop seeking answers because our mother deserves justice!” 

Like the Dayag family, ‘Nanay Celia’ Veloso, the mother of Mary Jane Veloso, has also raised her daughter’s case to many agencies and personalities in government but to no avail. Nanay Celia bewailed last year’s Court of Appeals decision that bars Mary Jane from testifying against her illegal recruiters who have already professed her innocence. 

In exchange for all the sacrifices of Filipino migrants, Migrante Philippines Chairperson Arman Hernando said that the government and private recruitment agencies rake in tremendous amount of money exacted on OFWs and applicants. According to a report presented by Migrante Philippines, a total of Php 16,050 is required by various government agencies to process OFW applications.

Migrante Philippines likewise criticized the additional Php11,400 in state exactions where OFWs are now compelled to “squeeze additional money from their empty pockets” prior to deployment like the three-months worth of initial SSS premium and 1-year for Philhealth premium due to the recently enacted Universal Health Care Act. The group likewise decried provisions in RA 11199 and RA 11223 which will divert reserve funds raised by SSS and Philhealth as investments in government projects inked with big private corporations. 

“These horrendous state exactions are compounded by the rising cost of living brought about by TRAIN Law and the supply crisis in rice, water and other basic necessities. Even before they get deployed overseas to earn a living for their families, OFWs are already buried in debt and victimized by loan sharks tied with recruitment agencies. The Duterte regime’s kowtowing to private corporate interests will reorient funds collected from state exactions to pursue big infrastructure projects for private profit,” Hernando stated. 

During the open forum, Jennifer Cabañez an OFW from Hong Kong confirmed that OFWs were never consulted by SSS and Philhealth regarding the imposition of increased mandatory state exactions. “With an average working hours of 16 hours per day and being subjected to all sorts of hardships overseas, we feel very upset on the way the Duterte government is treating us as if we OFWs are instant money-making machines.”

Hernando likewise blamed the heavily commercialized and privatized nature of Duterte’s labour export program for the numerous barriers that OFWs need to hurdle before they can go forward with their claims. “The Duterte regime’s ‘NO PAY, NO SERVICE’ policy on OFWs shields itself from taking responsibility in the protection of their rights and welfare,” Hernando said. 

According to Migrante, DFA’s Php 10 Billion budget allocated for Assistance to Nationals plus the Php 400 Million legal assistance fund accounts for only 0.64% of the total amount of OFW remittances recorded in 2018 and merely 28.17% of the whopping Php 36.91 Billion collected by the government from various exactions. Hernando said “The DFA-OUMWA report cited by CHR in 2018 tells us that 73 OFWs on death row were awaiting execution in 2017. In 2019, 48 Filipinos are on death row in Malaysia while up to 4,000 are languishing in jails overseas. We are at a loss as to how the government is spending this money to assist OFWs in distress.”

Asked about Duterte’s recent remarks pointing to the ‘400,000’ OFWs in China as the main reason for the regime’s soft stance on the issue of China’s encroachment in the West Philippine Sea, Migrante International Chairperson Joanna Concepcion said, “this is just Duterte’s lame alibi to justify his weakling attitude towards China. We are likewise curious as to where President Duterte drew his 400,000 estimate.” The group also frowned on Duterte’s plan to establish the Department of OFWs as it is seen as “just another scheme for the Duterte regime to further systematize its Labour Export Program.”

As for Duterte’s “bloody tyrannical reign of terror,” Migrante International cited the recent disappearance and murder of Bryan Conje, the son of an OFW from Saudi Arabia. Bryan went missing in Navotas on 2 July but then was declared dead three days later in what police say was an “armed encounter.” The police also claim that they found drugs on him, accusing him further of being the main suspect in a robbery incident. The robbery victim however refused to confirm if Bryan was the suspect since she has never seen him before. 

Migrante International concluded with the need for social justice, national industrialization and genuine agrarian reform to address the roots of forced migration. Rallying its members, allies and fellow OFW advocates to oppose Duterte’s “attacks on Filipino migrants,” the group declared its participation in the upcoming 2019 United People’s SONA broad protest on monday, 22 July. 

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