Stop confusing OFWs on financial assistance – Migrants group urged Duterte

Migrante International has accused President Duterte of resorting to violence in order to cover-up for its incompetence in providing the Covid-19 assistance it promised to the Filipino people here and abroad. The group cited the confusion among overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) regarding the promised $200 financial support to those affected by the pandemic.

“It was DOLE Secretary Silvestro Bello himself who was the one who prematurely announced the assistance program without clarifying when it is going to be received by our kababayans abroad. This led to the confusion of OFWs who went to the embassy to seek clarification on the matter. The response they got was similar to the threat made by Duterte to those asking for food in Quezon City,” says Joanna Concepcion, chairperson of Migrante International.

Philippine Embassy officials in Saudi Arabia called the local police last Wednesday to drive out distressed Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) who trooped to the embassy in Riyadh. OFWs claim that they were yelled at and harassed by embassy officials and personnel.


PHOTO: (1 April 2020) Embassy personnel and officials drove out distressed OFWs who were seeking clarification on the $200 cash aid promised by the Duterte government through Labour Secretary Silvestre Bello III.

Concepcion cited the official media release of Bello dated March 25, 2020, promising that the agency is targeting to provide the $200 assistance to about 70,000 Filipinos working abroad. The said announcement did not clarify that the agency is still drafting the guidelines for fund distribution.

“Up to now, DOLE has not provided any guidelines and consequently the funds they promised to distressed OFWs who were expecting the assistance a month ago. This is the problem with the Duterte government: they will give you false hope so they will look good to the media, then inflict police brutality when you want to avail of the promised assistance,” Concepcion lamented.

Migrante International likewise lambasted the confusing memorandum circulars issued by the embassies and consulates in the Middle East that were posted on their respective websites after the incident in Riyadh.

The Philippine Embassy in Abu Dhabi posted a memo on their website that only OWWA members who were infected and confirmed positive of COVID-19 virus are the ones who are eligible for financial assistance. “This is contrary to the statement of Secretary Bello, which promised to assist all OFWs displaced by the pandemic,” Concepcion exclaims.

While on the other hand, the Philippine Embassy in Riyadh clarified through its official statement last March 26, 2020, that they are only providing food assistance and not food allowance to OFWs affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The Duterte government is quick to blame the people in protesting for food and assistance while failing to see itself as the culprit behind the confusion. Then issues a shoot-to-kill order brought about by its incompetence,” Concepcion added.

Migrante asserts that the very same incident had transpired in San Roque, Quezon City, two days ago when people protested on the long-overdue assistance package that Secretary Bello promised to local workers as early as March 17, 2020.

“We condemn the shootdown order of President Duterte against those who are demanding what is due to them. We demand the government to stop creating confusion and mayhem due to their incompetence in assisting the Filipino people here and abroad. We also call on the people to remain steadfast and continue pressuring the government to do its job correctly in addressing the COVID-19 pandemic and stop its useless threats of terrorizing communities due to its failed promises to provide assistance,” Concepcion concluded.


Migrante to Bello: where’s cash aid for Saudi OFWs?

“Where is the cash aid that you promised?” This is Migrante International’s question to Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III. We have received reports from Overseas Filipino Workers in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia that as of March 30, they have not yet been given the USD 200 (PhP 10,000) that was promised by Bello last March 25.

The OFWs said that because of the announcement, as well as Labor Attache Nasser S. Mustafa’s promise of food assistance, around 1,000 OFWs trooped to Philippine Overseas Labor Office (POLO) and Pinoy Supermarket in Riyadh on March 29, while around 300 OFWs did the same on March 30. Our kababayans were not given the financial assistance but were instead asked to fill up a “unified request for assistance.”

saudi flag

PHOTO: Abante Tonite

While the food assistance promised by LabAtt Mustafa was given to the OFWs, the process of releasing it was marred by many problems. The POLO merely gave the OFWs a list of the food items that they will receive, and the OFWs had to pay 20 Saudi Riyals (PhP 250) for public transportation to go to a supermarket where they will claim the food items.

The list given to the OFWs had no control number and did not mention the number of items that the OFWs will receive. It merely stated the following: rice, noodles, sardines, soy sauce, vinegar, cooking oil, sugar, salt, coffee, corned beef, toothpaste, laundry soap, and bath soap. The manner of distribution was so disorganized that physical distancing among the claimants was not observed, with the OFWs fearing the spread of the Coronavirus.

It turned out that five (5) to nine (9) OFWs were asked to divide among themselves the food assistance that was released by the POLO. The OFWs were in hurry to go home because the curfew hours in Riyadh covers 3:00 pm to 6:00 am. The OFWs complained that the entire process was full of panic and stress for them.

Here is a video of OFWs trooping to the Riyadh POLO:

We expect that the food assistance provided to our OFWs in Saudi Arabia is different from the USD 200 that was promised by Bello. We demand that Bello’s cash assistance be released immediately.

At the same time, we condemn the manner by which the POLO released the food assistance to our OFWs. The process of providing assistance to our OFW should uphold transparency, physical distancing and ultimately the health and lives of our OFWs, whom we have always called the country’s “new heroes.” We wish to keep our OFWs alive and healthy, and not expose them any further to a virus that causes a deadly disease.

Bello, LabAtt Mustafa and the entire Philippine government should be reminded of the situation of our fellow Filipinos in Saudi Arabia. Because of Saudi government measures against the spread of the Coronavirus, around 20,000 do not work and are on standby as the companies that employ them have stopped operating and they are under a “no work, no pay” arrangement.

This is on top of the 2,500 distressed and undocumented OFWs in the country because of the Saudization policy, which prioritizes Saudi over foreign nationals in job hiring. There are also 15 Filipinos on death row and 1,000 Filipinos in jails in various parts of the country because of petty crimes.

By itself, the USD 200 cash assistance promised by Bello is not enough to cover the financial needs of OFWs in Saudi Arabia, especially of their families. The Philippine government should immediately release it to our OFWs and in an orderly way that observes physical distancing.

In fact, the Philippine government should come up with a more comprehensive assistance package for our OFWs who will not be working and will not receive wages in the coming weeks and months because of government measures against the spread of the Coronavirus.


Labor Unions, Port Workers, Filipino Advocates Rally Together In Support of 500+ Filipino Grand Princess Cruise Ship Workers Amidst Covid-19 Scare

On Saturday, March 14, 2020, Migrante Northern California and National Alliance for Filipino Concerns (NAFCON) joined several Bay Area based labor unions and workers advocates for a press conference raising concern about the treatment and well-being of the more than 500 Filipino seafarers aboard the Grand Princess Cruise Ship, as well as the thousands of passengers who were at risk of exposure to a Covid-19 outbreak on the ship. The Grand Princess Cruise Ship, which was anchored 10 miles off the coast of SF was finally allowed to dock at the Port of Oakland on March 9 and remained there until Sunday, March 15. 


Health experts already decried the example of the Diamond Princess cruise ship in Japan, where so many more passengers and workers were infected than needed to be, by quarantining them on a contaminated ship kept off the Japanese coast. 700 people tested positive for Covid-19 on the Diamond Princess, 80 of whom were Filipino crew members, and 6 people died from their exposure. 

While measures to disembark passengers were immediately attended to, the foreign workers of the cruise were kept aboard the ship. “Workers were being treated with less concern and dignity than the passengers who were disembarked first. There’s a need for transparency, cooperation, and government action for humanitarian relief and the health and safety of everyone – the passengers, the foreign workers, the port workers, and the surrounding community,”  said Terry Valen, President of NAFCON and Executive Director of the Filipino Community Center in San Francisco. 

Shortly after the press conference on Saturday afternoon, the Filipino workers were disembarked, screened, and repatriated back to the Philippines. “We’re relieved that the workers were able to finally leave the ship and go home,” said Nap Pempeña of Migrante-USA. “ The workers should receive appropriate and comprehensive medical and mental health services upon their return to the Philippines, and they should receive fair compensation and appropriate protection from lost wages based on their contract and their collective bargaining agreement (CBA) if applicable. With more ships expected to be infected and to dock all over the world, the Philippine government must be ready to receive and support repatriating Filipino seafarers.” 

There are close to half a million Filipino seafarers on cargo ships, cruise ships, fishing and other vessels on the seas at any given time, making up to a third of all crew members on maritime vessels. Forced to work abroad due to unemployment, dismal wages and crushing poverty in the Philippines, Filipino workers experience exploitation, harassment, discrimination and hazardous working conditions aboard. The contractual and seasonal nature of their work exacerbates their hardship as shipping companies, recruitment agencies and government agencies sometimes evade liability when seafarers’ rights are violated. 

The case of the Grand Princess Cruise Ship highlights the challenges faced by Filipinos and other seafarers in general and exacerbated by inadequate response to the Covid-19 health crisis. With the service workers on land and offshore crucial to the healthcare system and to the upkeep of commercial establishments, travel and tourism industry as well as other workplaces, their vulnerability to contracting the disease increases due to their nature of work requiring physical presence and constant contact with other people. 

As the crisis worsens and deals negative impacts on various industries, workers will need not just access to healthcare, but also economic support to sustain themselves and their families.


Alberto family calls for vigilance after Mary Jean Alberto’s employer get 5-year sentence — Migrante International

An Abu Dhabi court handed down a 5-year sentence to the female Moroccan employer accused of being behind the death of Mary Jean Alberto, a 44-year old Filipino domestic helper who only started working for the Moroccan household in July 2019. Mary Jean’s daughter Rohjean who also works in UAE expressed her gratefulness. “We sincerely thank each and everyone of you for all the support, effort, and love you have given us, especially to me and my siblings. On behalf of our beloved mama, thank you so much! Definitely this is not yet the end of this fight but at least we reached this point.”


PHOTO: Mary Jean’s daughter Rohjean holding her mother’s photo after the court decision.

Rohjean however urged for more vigilance following the elevation of the case to Abu Dhabi’s court of appeals. “As far as I know, the convict still has three chances of appeals, so her years in prison could still be increased or reduced depending on the outcome of the appeals,” Rohjean cautioned. 

Migrante International Chairperson Joanna Concepcion backed Rohjean’s call for vigilance. “Migrante International welcomes the court verdict but we still need to be more vigilant in view of the possibility that the prison sentence could either be reduced or overturned in response to the employer’s ensuing appeals.”

Mary Jean Alberto died on 2 October 2019 after falling from the 13th floor of the high rise residential building where she worked inside the unit of her Moroccan employers. Just hours before her death, Mary Jean sent messages of distress to her daughter Rohjean and to her sister Marie pleading to be rescued from her employer. Her Moroccan female employer however denied accusations and argued that Mary Jean committed suicide by jumping from their unit. Recounting their mother’s terrible experience of abuse and maltreatment, the Alberto family rejected the employer’s version of their mother’s death.  

In media interviews last year, Mary Jean’s sons Ronel and Rojan decried the Duterte government’s snail-paced response to their mother’s case. It took eleven days before the bereaved Alberto family received offers of help from the Philippine Embassy in UAE. “It was only after the media covered our demand for justice that government officials scrambled to deal with our mother’s case. By that time, pieces of evidence that could have helped in the case have already been cleared by her Moroccan employer.” Ronel said. 


PHOTO: Candle lighting by the SATS Community in Quezon City

Responding to this latest development in Mary Jean’s case, prayers were offered for the Alberto family during the community mass held at the St. Andrews Theological Seminary Chapel (SATS) in Quezon City on Thursday morning, 3 March. Students, faculty and staff of SATS along with community members of the Episcopal Mission Center also lit candles to express their support in continuing the fight for justice for Mary Jean Alberto.


Students, faculty and staff of St. Andrews Theological Seminary after the community mass at the seminary chapel.

“This stride in the case of Mary Jean Alberto is attributed to the collective action of all her supporters: from the Alberto family, their community in Antipolo, the OFW community in UAE, the Cordillera Peoples Alliance, the United Church of Christ in the Philippines (UCCP) and the vigorous support of other Churches and Migrante members across the world. Right now and from day one, our commitment to support the Alberto family in their fight for justice is stronger than ever. May all Filipinos stand with them as their legal battle takes on a higher course,” Joanna Concepcion of Migrante International stated.  


Appeal for travel ban exemption by OFWs from Mainland China, raised at the HOR Committee meeting

Presenting their appeal for a travel ban exemption, OFWs from Mainland China attended the Committee meeting on Health at the House of Representatives on Wednesday morning, 11 March 2020. They were accompanied by Migrante International Chairperson Joanna Concepcion and House Rep. Arlene Brosas of Gabriela Women’s Partylist. 

Marjorie Reyes, an OFW who works as an Electronics Engineer in a factory in Zhuhai, China was among the panelists who raised the group’s concerns to the Department of Health, represented by Secretary Francisco Duque III. Marjorie Reyes said that OFWs have already been asked by their companies to return to work. Reyes likewise mentioned that there have been zero cases in the past few weeks in Zhuhai and the last two cases have already been discharged after their healthy recovery.  


PHOTO: Gabriela Rep. Arlene Brosas with Engr. Marjorie Reyes, an OFW from Zhuhai, Mainland China.

“There are no new recorded cases, and we’re not just talking about days of no new recorded cases. It’s [been] more than three weeks already…China is so big. We don’t need to generalize it to Wuhan,” Reyes said.  

DFA-OUMWA Senior Special Assistant Olivia Palala stated that they will carefully study whatever information they will get from their posts in Mainland China and they will then raise it to the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID). Health Secretary Francisco Duque III revealed that the OFW group’s appeal  will be discussed tonight in his meeting with the Chinese Ambassador and President Duterte. The IATF-EID is scheduled to hold another meeting on Tuesday, next week. 

Deploring the poor state of health care and public services in the Philippines and the impact of COVID-19 to ordinary Filipinos, Gabriela Rep. Arlene Brosas said, “It’s a bigger problem for us if the people will be deprived of their livelihood. No wealthy person will ever share even a bottle of alcohol…we are all seriously affected but most of all, the poor.” 

Migrante International Chairperson Joanna Concepcion aired the same sentiment on Monday during a press conference held for OFWs from Mainland China. Concepcion said, “the livelihood of OFWs is at risk. The government should have looked at the impact of the travel ban to our dear OFWs. We have heard how hard it is for OFWs and their families. They are calling for a travel ban exemption for OFWs who are employed outside of Hubei province. They have been deprived of income for more than a month and they are seeking additional financial assistance because of the protracted travel ban period.” 

The OFW group also called for higher budget allocations for health services. “The Duterte government needs to ensure the welfare of OFWs in terms of health and job security. Now that travel restrictions have already been imposed by Qatar and Kuwait, it is essential that the budget for public health and medical services be increased instead of getting slashed further as what has been happening under the Duterte government,” Concepcion concluded.


OFWs from Mainland China demand travel ban exemption

Fearful of losing their livelihood, OFWs from mainland China flocked to Migrante International’s office on Monday morning, 9 March 2020, to raise their demand to be granted exemption from the travel ban imposed by the Duterte government. 

Liberty Torres, a single mother, has been an English teacher in China for 15 years.”I am a single mother and I have ran out of money to pay for our household expenses and other obligations. We hope that we will be granted exemption from this travel ban,” Torres related. 

“We’ve been to many government agencies, wrote a letter as instructed by the Immigration, and we’ve also spoken to DOLE but nothing happened. When we went to DOH, nobody from their office faced us. They only talked to us by phone when we went there. Our experience with government agencies is really lamentable. We really hope that our pleas to return back to our jobs will be granted,” Torres added.  



Villapon Sarmiento Jr. expressed his worries for his family. “If we will not work, we’ll have nothing to eat. We can’t tell our children to stop going to the university while this travel ban is ongoing. Companies in China can’t resume operations unless they have approval from health authorities. We are now being asked to return to work so I hope that the government will respect our right to get back to our jobs.”

This same sentiment was echoed by Shiela Lerias. A professional singer and musician for 5 years in Sanya, Hainan. She went back to the Philippines in the 3rd of February just to renew her passport but found herself being stranded even after placing herself under self-quarantine for 14 days. Lerias was shocked when her return flight to China was cancelled on March 3. 


An online petition was initiated by Reggie Medestomas with over 700 signatories as of last week. He said, “Every OFW is a breadwinner for his or her family. More often, they also provide support for their parents and their other relatives.”


Medestomas also related that they constantly get updates from China. He said, “our colleagues from Singapore, Indonesia and Thailand have already returned to their posts in our company. It is only us Filipinos who have not yet returned.”

According to Villapon and Medestomas, the Chinese government issues health certifications to companies before they can resume operations. Medestomas also showed an infographic map from Expat Focus, an online community of foreign workers and residents in China. The infograph showed cities and provinces in China that have had zero (0) cases in the past few weeks.


Khristian Natividad likewise elaborated about the safety mechanisms being imposed by the Chinese government to address the COVID-19 outbreak. Natividad said that aside from daily medical assessments, the Chinese government has also a method of gradually resuming operations until every safety precautions have already been met.

A letter of apology from the company including travel and health advisory guidelines were also sent to Silva Mingoy and to all her foreign colleagues. “I have bills and household expenditures to pay for. I have been stranded here for more than a month and I am running out of money,” Mingoy said.

Cherrylyn Raposon has been an OFW in China for 17 years. “The future of our children is at stake. Their education is already affected. We are ready to sacrifice for our family but it’s hard for us to see them now experiencing hardships because of this travel ban.”

When asked about the 10 Thousand financial assistance from OWWA, Raposon said, “We felt relieved for the 10 Thousand peso assistance we received from the government but this is not sufficient to address all our needs.”

Migrante International Chairperson Joanna Concepcion reiterated the demands of OFWs from Mainland China. “The livelihood of OFWs is at risk. The government should have looked at the impact of the travel ban to our dear OFWs. We have heard how hard it is for OFWs and their families. They are calling for a travel ban exemption for OFWs who are employed outside of Hubei province. They have been deprived of income for more than a month and they are seeking additional financial assistance because of the protracted travel ban period.” 

The OFW group also called for higher budget allocations for health services. “The Duterte government needs to ensure the welfare of OFWs in terms of health and job security. Now that travel restrictions have already been imposed by Qatar and Kuwait, it is essential that the budget for public health and medical services be increased instead of getting slashed further as what has been happening under the Duterte government,” Concepcion concluded.

Representatives of different OFW communities from Mainland China have vowed to work together until the Philippine government grants them exemption from the travel ban.