Tribute to Seafarers: Church missions and advocacy groups call for swift passage of Seafarers’ Magna Carta

As a prelude to the upcoming International Day of the Seafarer on 25 June, an online tribute to maritime workers brought together advocates and mission workers from different organizations and Church groups on Saturday, 21 June. The webinar entitled “Tribute to Seafarers: Where do we go from here?” was jointly organized by the Iglesia Filipina Independiente, Mission To Seafarers (MTS), German Seamen’s Mission, the International Seafarers’ Action Center (ISAC), and Migrante International.

The online event began with a few moments of silence to remember the departed seafarers which was then followed by a prayer offered by Fr. Chris Ablon of the Iglesia Filipina Independiente. Right from the start of the program, Migrante Australia Chairperson Carmelita Baltazar expressed support for Makabayan Bloc’s House Bill 6588.”Let us give our support for the passage of House Bill 6588 on the Magna Carta of Seafarers, to uphold the welfare and protection of seafarers and their families,” Baltasar exclaimed. 

Tribute organizers recognized Filipino seafarers for their outstanding qualities and their contributions to the national economy and the global maritime industry. Nevertheless, the groups lamented that seafarers experience low wages, long working hours, less benefits, less social protection, racial discrimination and hazardous working conditions. The COVID19 pandemic revealed the longstanding vulnerability and exploitation of SF worldwide, leaving thousands stranded for months, receiving delayed or no medical attention and assistance, and limited financial aid and benefits.

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A seafarer for ten years, Charito Bongahoy said, “during the quarantine, it was really a struggle to obtain relief for our boarding house. What’s appalling is that we submitted our applications to DOLE-OWWA-AKAP. They asked for numerous requirements and it really takes a very long time before applications get granted…we’d rather endure hunger than allow our families to starve.”

Lloyd Chris Bacasmot, another displaced seafarer remarked, “I haven’t been back to the ship for three months now, and I have not heard anything from our company. How can I sustain myself for another day without money? I only have 50 pesos in my pocket right now. What will I give to my family?”

Providing an overview of the general situation of migrants amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, Joanna Concepcion of Migrante International deplored that the global health crisis is being used by employers, agencies or brokers to violate the labour rights of our migrant workers. The capacity of migrant workers who are mainly breadwinners of their families to send money to support the basic needs of their loved ones back home in the Philippines have been reduced or cut off. “Thousands of qualified overseas Filipinos who applied for the Philippine government’s one time financial assistance for OFWs displaced by the covid pandemic have not received financial support..given the impact of the pandemic on the global economy, our land based and seabased migrant workers are fearful of how they and their families will survive,” Concepcion stated. 

Citing latest figures, Atty. Edwin dela Cruz of the International Seafarers’ Action Center (ISAC) said that there are about 400,000 stranded seafarers languishing in ships, ports, airports and in host countries. Prior to the pandemic, there were already up to 1.5 Million seafarers worldwide, and among them are 700,000 Filipino seafarers but only 420,000 are hired at any given time. Dela Cruz discussed the various issues faced by seafarers including the high cost of commercialized education, contractualization and the absence of security of tenure. He pointed out that although the 2006 Maritime Labour Convention already contains laudable provisions, it needs enactment of a pertinent legislation in order for it to be enforced locally. “The very good provisions of the Maritime Labour Convention should be implemented through the Magna Carta of Seafarers,” Dela Cruz stated’ 

Among the Magna Carta stipulations being pushed by ISAC are the following: compensation for illness and injury due to fatigue, stress, emotional trauma, due to sea voyage; rights of cadets to decent wages and banning OJT charges exacted by shipping companies; regularization after working cumulatively for 1-year; right to organize; right to raise complaints from third party representatives; and access to shore leave.

The Magna Carta for Seafarers or House Bill 6588 was filed by the Makabayan Bloc on 11 March. “We have high expectations that the Magna Carta for Seafarers will be approved. Nevertheless, without political will from the Philippine government to enforce it, it will be spineless so it is really important that seafarers organize themselves.”

Loved ones and family members of Filipino seafarers who spoke in the program likewise gave their all-out support for the bill and expressed their gratefulness to all groups upholding the rights and welfare of seafarers. Most of these groups also work with the families of seafarers like the Mission To Seafarers (MTS). Lailani Tolentino of MTS saluted the ‘Front liners of the Sea’ for their hard work in maintaining the world’s supply chain. MTS has been mobilizing its volunteers and staff to provide food relief, free transportation and counselling services to seafarers and their families. 

Meanwhile, Fr. Jun Mark Yañez of the German Seamen’s Mission said, “We have always been helping our seafarers but we would like to see more of these initiatives from the government.” This was backed by Elmer Labog, chairperson of Kilusang Mayo Uno. “Due to the pandemic, distressed and displaced Filipino workers, both seabased and land based, are returning in huge droves back to the Philippines. During our visit to stranded OFWs neglected in NAIA’s airport terminals, I personally saw the ugly truth behind the Duterte government’s loudly vaunted ‘VIP treatment’ of OFWs. As for DOLE’s (Department of Labour and Employment) AKAP cash assistance program, it is more appropriate to call it DOLE APAK (trample) because it is not true that the vast majority of OFWs are able to avail of such aid. Our support for Makabayan Bloc’s Magna Carta for Seafarers anchors on our strong demand to the Duterte government to respect the basic interest of workers in terms of wages, benefits and rights,” Labog concluded.  

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OFWs to KSA envoy: Your statement on OFWs is the real trash, your concern is mere theatrics

PRESS RELEASE BY MIGRANTE KSA

20 June 2020

An organization of Overseas Filipino Workers in the Middle East condemned the Philippine ambassador to Saudi Arabia for saying on Friday that migrant workers’ efforts to find food in garbage heaps in the country is “mere theatrics” that only aim to get the public’s attention.

Migrante-Middle East said Ambassador Adnan Alonto is wrong and out of touch with the situation of OFWs in saying that “If reports reaching me are true, I’m disappointed with some of our people who have resorted to theatrics to catch attention. Fact is food assistance was given. Mamulot ng basura? (Picking up trash?) C’mon!”

“We are not engaging in theatrics to try to get attention. Truth is, we do not have anything to eat. That is why we would wait for the garbage being thrown by supermarkets and would get the vegetables that are still edible,” said Louie Perez, one of the OFWs who tried to find food in garbage heaps in Riyadh.

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PHOTO: ABS-CBN News


Perez said that because of the economic slowdown caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, OFWs have suffered from job and income loss and delayed salaries, and many are now incapable of paying for their basic needs in the Middle Eastern country.

He also bemoaned the meager food assistance extended by the Overseas Workers Welfare Office (OWWA) and the delay in repatriation promised by the Philippine Overseas Labor Office (POLO).

“For three months, we have been asking and waiting for repatriation because the food assistance given to us is so meager. When we follow up our requests with POLO, the only response we get is ‘still under process.’ If we stay here any longer, we might die of hunger or disease. One of our fellow OFW has already died because of stress,” Perez added.

Perez added that many OFWs have applied for financial assistance under the Department of Labor and Employment-Abot-Kamay ang Pagtulong (DOLE-AKAP) program, but have not received any support.

Meanwhile, according to Migrante-Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Alonto should try to do his job, interact with OFWs and find out their real situation, instead of dismissing and insulting OFWs’ efforts to survive.

“Ambassador Alonto should stop covering up the government’s uselessness amidst the pandemic by shaming distressed OFWs. His government treats us OFWs like garbage. He should focus his time and energy in trying to fix that,,” said Marlon Gatdula, Migrante-KSA chairperson.

The OFW leader added that even before the pandemic and especially now, the Philippine government agency in the KSA is infamous for its callous treatment of OFWs, and its unreliable, almost nonexistent, services for distressed OFWs.

“OFWs in Saudi are all familiar with the Philippine Embassy’s snail-paced services. When you need help, you have to call many times but no one will answer your call. It is no coincidence that many OFWs have not received any assistance from the government yet,” Gatdula added.

The OFW leader said some groups, including the Filipino Artists and Performers Society (FAPS) International, have called on Foreign Affairs Secretary Teddyboy Locsin to recall Alonto for making the statement. FAPS-International said it is witness to the fact that OFWS are now scavenging for food in Saudi Arabia.

“Ambassador Alonto should check his privilege. He can say what he said because he still has his job and continues to receive his huge salary. If Alonto had tried to live for three months with the one-time assistance given to OFWs, he would know that OFWs scavenging for food are not merely engaging in theatrics or are just trying to call the public’s attention,” Gatdula said.

Gatdula cited OFWs’ many social media posts complaining about not having anything to eat because of the economic crisis triggered by the pandemic. He said OFWs are suffering because of the Philippine government’s neglect as shown by meager financial assistance and delayed repatriation.

“Let us tell you, Ambassador Alonto, which is the real theatrics: your government’s claim that we OFWs are modern-day heroes. We do not feel cherished, we feel abandoned and left for dead by the government. C’mon!” Gatdula said.

 

MIDDLE EAST COVID-19 CRISIS: 16 OFW deaths in two days as survivors scavenge for food! OFWs hit Duterte gov’t for criminal negligence!

According to government data, up to 3,926 OFWs were infected with COVID-19 in the Middle East as of 19 June. The numbers in the Middle East have far exceeded figures in Europe and North America making the Middle East a COVID-19 hotspot for OFWs. Based on DFA figures, from 207 Middle East OFW casualties on 17 June, the number surged to 223 two days later on friday, 19 June. Migrante International banged the alarm on the Duterte government’s criminal negligence that has been aggravating the peril brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic to overseas Filipinos in the Middle East. 

In a press conference held on friday, distressed OFWs decried the inefficient and/or absence of support from the Philippine government. Bernadette Erlano who works as a cleaner along with 300 other Filipino women under Jawa Human Resources in Al Khobar said that from March 1 up to now, they have not received their salaries and were only provided with company allowances. 

With many of them caught by the lockdown with expired or expiring contracts, they sought help from the embassy’s Philippine Overseas Labor Office (POLO)  but no support came in. Refusing to go to work with their expired contracts, they were threatened by the company that their food allowances will be cut off. They pleaded with POLO officials in the hope that they will be able to claim their benefits and be repatriated urgently to the Philippines. Some of them were even brought to the police stations for questioning after posting their plight on social media. 

Louie Perez works as an aluminum installer in Riyadh and was among the group of OFWs who went viral on social media after uploading their video when they were scavenging for food from garbage bins. “We followed the process for the government’s AKAP cash assistance program but we were told that we are not qualified. Having a co-worker who died in distress and finding ourselves scavenging for food from garbage bins should be enough reason for the government to consider us qualified and have all of us repatriated,” Perez implored. 

Pablito de Ocampo, one of the OFWs who resorted to scavenging said, “We have always relayed our pleas to POLO. We feel like we are being used like playful objects where after being lent here in Saudi, our own government refuses to give us help. POLO is inutile!”

Rogelio Rivalde blamed POLO for the death of their fellow co-worker Jeffrey Yape. Rivalde said that Yape died in distress without receiving any substantial hellp from POLO. “They even pressured us to resign but we refused because we will be forced to pay thousands of Saudi Riyals.” Yape died of cardiac arrest on 21 May. 

Migrante International Chairperson Joanna Concepcion blasted the Duterte government’s ineptitude. “The government is hell-bent in imposing state exactions like Philhealth to extract more money from OFWs. However when it comes to providing relief services and financial assistance, OFWs are being deprived by their own government. OFWs are rummaging through trash bins just to find food so where are the promised food and financial assistance? Why is it that they are just allowing OFWs to die from hunger and neglect?”

Marife Torres and Yolanda Lorica have been begging their companies to allow them to return back to the Philippines but their pleas were denied. Torres is fearful that she has already contracted COVID-19 from her employer who recently tested positive. Lorica said that she and her co-workers are being coerced to pay 15,000 Saudi Riyals if they want to be granted exit visas. 

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June 19 PRESS CON: Yolanda Lorica and her fellow Arco workers in Al Khobar

Concepcion of Migrante lamented that the Duterte regime still does not have any contingency plan up to this very moment. She said, “we demand for immediate actions to repatriate our kababayans and deliver assistance for the families of OFWs who died from COVID-19. Stranded OFWs should not be made to pay for flights just to be repatriated. They should be provided with free repatriation and medical assistance.”

Slavelike conditions describe the plight of John Michael Solis along with his fellow OFWs in Khatif. They have been forced to work overtime for a scaffolding company without pay and without allowance. Their passports are being withheld from them by their employers. 

Meanwhile, James Cabugsa has been on a No-Work-No-Pay arrangement for three months in Dubai, UAE. “I applied for DOLE’s AKAP cash assistance way back on the 24th of April but I have never heard anything from them. I just don’t understand why community groups, organizations and even individuals are able to provide relief to us while in contrast, we are not getting any response at all from our very own government. All we are asking is for the government to urgently come to our aid and respond to our pleas,” Cabugsa entreated.

Tormented over the terrible condition of her daughter Mary Jane Veloso who is still on death row in Indonesia after being victimized by traffickers, Nanay Celia is calling anew on the government to help her eldest daughter Lea who tested positive for COVID-19 in Dammam. “I am asking our president to help my daughters. Mary Jane Veloso is ill. Her blood pressure went down to 80/60 and she also has an ulcer. At the same time, my eldest daughter in Damman is already COVID-19 positive. I feel so much misery over their afflictions and if it were not for Migrante, and other generous supporters like church people, I wouldn’t know what to do. I hope Mary Jane will return soon and my eldest daughter [in Dammam] recover swiftly so that we all can be reunited here. I hope the president is watching, and come to the aid of my daughters.”

Hearing the testimonies of Filipino migrants, Joanna Concepcion of Migrante International said, “This only shows that OFWs are not getting the ‘VIP-treatment’ loudly trumpeted by Malacañang. They are not being prioritized by the Duterte government. In fact, while Philippine embassies and consular services were halted by suspensions, POGO operations in the Philippines are being opened. The cessation of consular services overseas at this time of crisis is proof of the government’s abandonment of OFWs. The welfare of OFWs is the responsibility of the government and its agencies. Migrante International has been documenting the situation of distressed OFWs and we will not hesitate to resort to legal actions if the government continues to neglect them. ”

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Presscon link: https://www.facebook.com/watch/live/?v=263404624994654&ref=watch_permalink

 

 

 

FILIPINO MIGRANTS JOIN INDEPENDENCE DAY GRAND MAÑANITA PROTEST 12 June 2020

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PHILIPPINES

 

Grand Mañanita Protest

10 AM assembly along University Ave., UP Diliman 

 

 

EUROPE

 

Take Back Our Roots: A Fundraising Event for Typhoon Ambo Victims

Links: 

Part 1: https://www.facebook.com/permalink.php?story_fbid=122767886124437&id=110942717306954 

Part 2: https://www.facebook.com/SilakboMedia/posts/148451916799956 

Part 3: https://www.facebook.com/AnakbayanEurope/posts/3480451651984910/ 

 

ASIA-PACIFIC

 

9:30 am Panalanging Bayan, Philippine Consulate, Hong Kong SAR

 

10:30 am Kalampagan vs. Terror Bill, South Korea

 

11:00 am Protest Action to Junk Terror Bill, Philippine Consulate, Hong Kong SAR

 

12:00 nn Konsyerto ng Paglaban, Thailand

 

1:30 pm Candle-light Vigil and Protest, New Zealand

 

2:00 pm Mga Awit ng Paglaban at Paglaya, Online Concert, Hong Kong SAR

 

2:30 pm Mañanita sa Macau laban sa Terror Bill, Macau SAR

 

3:00 pm Kalampagan sa Japan laban sa Terror Bill, Japan

 

4:00 pm Vigil Protest, Australia

 

For more information on People’s Mañanita events in the Asia Pacific, please visit this link: https://www.facebook.com/migrante.aspac/?__tn__=%2Cd%2CP-R&eid=ARADBbBstDajADcRv9twCDARgIUGKXY7D3WPzELdjxJnhw1z4SWda_K4ID6-vuM1e3noHY1MIaQ85EFO

 

 

USA

 

Webinar: Organizing Solidarity from the Border to Our Homelands

 

Thursday, June 11 at 8:30 PM EDT

 

Link: https://www.facebook.com/events/684438399019228/

Scrap mandatory PhilHealth membership for OFWs and Filipino migrants in Australia Calls for Dialogue with Philippine Envoy

Migrante Australia echoes the call of Filipino migrant organisations around
the world calls to scrap mandatory membership to and collection by
PhilHealth, the government agency mandated by law to insure accessible
health care for Filipino citizens.  President Rodrigo Duterte signed into
law the Universal Health Care Act of 2019 (Republic Act No 11223) on 20
February 2019.  In the middle of the pandemic, Circular No. 2020-0014 dated
22 April 2020 was issued listing all Filipinos as mandatory members which
includes land based OFWs, seafarers, dual citizens, Filipinos migrants,
overseas Filipinos in distress,  and those not previously classified
elsewhere.

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PHOTO: Migrante Hong Kong

Ms Carmelita Baltazar, chairperson of Migrante Australia said that members
of the Filipino Australian community are so disappointed that the Philippine
government did not consult any migrant organisations in formulating its
healthcare programs and medical insurance and then passed a law mandating
them become members of PhilHealth insurance. “It is dodgy as we will
automatically become members of PhilHealth even without signing a membership
form. The automatic membership will legitimise taking 3% of our basic pay
starting June 2020 and increasing yearly by half percent to 5% through a
system generated billing statement”, Ms Baltazar added.

Mr. Danny Ladera said that our Australian employers will also be made to pay
their counterpart contribution for each Filipino citizen they employ on
their business. “I wonder if the Australian government was consulted on
PhilHealth insurance scheme Certainly, the Australian healthcare system is
one of the best in the modern world. Placing Filipinos in Australia under
mandatory PhilHealth private insurance is an insult to Australian health
care system itself. Why enforce the PhilHealth private insurance to
Filipinos here? There is already an existing and reliable medical system in
Australia and temporary migrants such as workers and international students
have private health insurance as part of their visa requirements. It doesn’t
make sense, ” he concluded.

Ms. Baltazar said that they will organise a nationwide dialogue with the
Philippine Ambassador, Ma. Hellen De La Vega to ventilate their concerns
over PhilHealth insurance scheme.

Filipino migrant leaders hit Duterte’s mandatory Philhealth and premium rate hike due to resume next week. Raised calls for amendments through Makabayan bloc’s House Bill 6698

Five days to go before the full-scale implementation of President Duterte’s mandatory Philhealth membership and premium rate hike under his Universal Healthcare Law, leaders and representatives from different Filipino migrant communities overseas faced the media on Wednesday morning, 27 May, in an online press conference to voice out strong opposition against the imposition of this new state exaction amidst the damaging impacts of the COVID-19 crisis and pandemic. 

Migrante International Chairperson Joanna Concepcion attributed the temporary suspension of the aforestated law’s implementation to the collective actions and resounding protests organized by OFWs. “Our fight is not yet over for what we really demand is the complete abrogation and junking of the unjust mandatory Philhealth requirement and annual premium rate increase,” Concepcion asserted. The OFW advocacy group believes that the temporary suspension was only meant to tranquilize OFWs and avert their indignation. “We will not allow ourselves to be fooled.  The mandatory Philhealth and premium rate increase is rooted from the Universal Healthcare Law enacted in February 2019 which was hastily signed and approved by President Duterte himself,” Concepcion added. 

Marlon Lacsamana, the secretary general of Migrante Europe decried the state abandonment that befell OFWs in the continent. Lacsamana said, “embassies and consulates closed down so we no longer feel their presence that is why we migrants ourselves are helping each other to bring relief to our kababayans affected by the COVID-19 crisis. While there were some embassies and consulates that extended some help, it was not enough and it did not cover all Filipinos across Europe.” Lacsamana likewise  blasted the Duterte regime in its manner of distributing the $200 financial aid from DOLE. “We do not understand why they still have to deduct OWWA’s $25 exaction from the $200 cash assistance.”

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According to Chat Dimaano of Migrante Korea, the 60 thousand documented OFWs in South Korea are already covered by the host country’s medical insurance which entitles them to free medical treatment. For Migrante Korea, this itself makes Duterte’s mandatory Philhealth useless and unnecessary. “With the exacerbation of the crisis in South Korea as many workers lose their jobs, this is already too burdensome for us that is why we support Makabayan bloc’s House Bill 6698. Our hard earned money should go directly to our families and not to government agencies like Philhealth which is riddled with corruption,” Dimaano pointed out. 

For Mikee Santos of Migrante Aotearoa (New Zealand), President Duterte’s new state exaction is out of touch with reality and an insult to OFWs. “Many migrant workers who have been residing here for more than two years are already covered by New Zealand’s healthcare system. This mandatory Philhealth and premium rate hike is another addition on top of all the other state exactions already being imposed on us by the Duterte government which did not even bother to check out the real pulse and sentiments of Filipino communities here in New Zealand. ”

Speaking from Washington DC, Jeremias David of Migrante USA said, “This is not beneficial for migrants because Philhealth is not recognized in US hospitals. The Philippine government is robbing us of our hard-earned money which we should be sending back to the Philippines to support our families.” Many Filipino migrants in the US are hit hard by the crisis.  David added, “we have so many J1 visa holders who lost their jobs after the closure of hotels and restaurants here in the US. We demand that the Duterte government extend assistance to Filipino J1 workers. They are really enraged due to the absence of any effort from the government to reach out to them.”

In Saudi Arabia, many OFWs are afflicted by ‘no-work, no-pay’ arrangements. Marlon Gatdula of Migrante KSA related that the costs of goods have gone up due to Saudi Arabia’s imposition of the value added tax and the removal of subsidies to basic commodities. Gatdula also recounted the ruckus that occurred due to the disorganized distribution of food stubs in POLO-Riyadh. “OFWs reject this new Philhealth exaction because employers here in KSA are already obligated under state policy to ensure healthcare for their workers,” Gatdula remarked.

Meanwhile, repatriated OFWs in the Philippines are languishing in quarantine facilities without substantial aid from Duterte’s government agencies. Laorence Castillo, the head coordinator of Migrante Philippines’ Rights and Welfare Assistance Program lamented, “their troubles and anxieties are aggravated by the harsh reality of returning home without any form of livelihood. The entire process from repatriation to swab testing, from their subjection to the prolonged period of quarantine while awaiting for the test results are likened to marching into Calvary. Besides the swab testing, they have not received amelioration from any of Philhealth’s programs.” Castillo likewise revealed that quarantined OFWs like pregnant women, mentally distressed and the elderly  did not receive their required medical attention. 

In addition to the impending 3% premium rate hike on Philhealth contributions, Migrante Philippines also expressed disgust over corruption issues plaguing the government agency. Philhealth is currently embroiled in the public uproar over overpriced test kits aside from the Php 154 Billion lost to overpayments and fraudulent claims. Castillo also scorned Philhealth for the alleged Php 16 million worth of questionable receipts issued by recruitment agencies. “The Duterte government is using the pandemic to rake in more profit from our troubled kababayans.”

Calling on all Filipinos to rise up and oppose President Duterte’s unjust Philhealth scheme, Dolores Balladares Pelaez of Migrante Hong Kong urged all Filipino migrants to unite and continue their protest against extortionate state exactions imposed by the government. “We are not merely asking for a suspension  but the complete scrapping of the mandatory Philhealth and premium rate increase. Right in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis, the Duterte regime abandoned us OFWs and our families as what we’ve seen with the gross ineptitude of the Duterte government in delivering services for stranded OFWs. They closed down many embassies and consulates around the world at a time when we badly needed their help. Instead of giving us relief and protection, the Duterte regime is assaulting us with additional state exactions. Let us unite together as Filipino migrants and reject Duterte’s dreadful policies,” Balladares-Pelaez concluded. 

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OFWs pushes for the passage of HB 6698 and held more protests against mandatory Philhealth and premium increase

Filipino migrant workers are refusing to be complacent after Duterte’s pronouncements that OFWs should be voluntary members to Philhealth and are instead raising the momentum of the global campaign to put an end to the unjust, extortionate and burdensome mandatory PhilHealth and premium rate hike among overseas Filipinos and migrant workers.

Led by Migrante International member organizations, they staged global noise barrage protests this weekend on the streets, their workplaces, and their homes to register their roaring opposition and discontentment with the mere suspension of the Philhealth mandatory premium collection.

From Germany, Korea, Rome, New Zealand, to Hong Kong, Filipino migrants hold banner signs “Scrap, not Suspension” and “Dapat Forever, Hindi Pay Later” while expressing their strong and united support for the urgent passage of House Bill 6698 filed by the Makabayan Bloc on May 7, 2020 which would amend the Universal Health Care Act (UHC) and render the membership of overseas Filipinos to Philhealth voluntary, and remove its provision for premium increase and imposition of penalty.

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Understanding the necessity of amending the UHC law, member organizations and allied supporters of Migrante International will begin sending letters this week to the Congressmembers of the House Committee on Health to put forward their position and demand for the immediate approval of House Bill 6698.

In an online show by ABS CBN Global Kabayani Talks held on May 16, Dr. Shirley Domingo from PhilHealth made it clear that Philhealth will resume its collection of fees by the month of June per its mandate given in the Universal Health Care Act signed and approved by President Duterte. Therefore, the Duterte regime should expect deafening protest actions among Filipino migrant workers worldwide to only intensify.

Filipino migrants are firmly resolved to continue its global kalampagan protests until Duterte moves to act on his declaration by swiftly calling on Congress to amend the Universal Health Care Act.

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“Scrap forever, hindi pay later!” Overseas Filipinos slam Duterte’s mandatory Philhealth as ‘legalized robbery.’

Angered by President Duterte’s mere suspension of the mandatory Philhealth membership and premium rate hike, Filipino migrants from all over the world staged an online global protest on Tuesday, 12 May, to demand the elimination of what they call “unjust” and “extortionate” state exactions. Migrante International members from North America, Europe, the Middle East and Asia Pacific likewise related the plight of OFWs and Filipino migrants hard hit by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and recession. 

Migrante International Chairperson Joanna Concepcion slammed the Duterte administration’s “new scheme of legalized extortion” imposed on migrant workers. “We will not allow migrants to be robbed anew of their hard-earned salaries just to fund large-scale corruption in Philhealth. We will not forget the fake [ghost] patients, fake receipts, and the billions of funds lost to corruption,” Concepcion stated. She further argued that the pandemic has exposed the failure of neoliberal policies in addressing the enormous problems faced by the country’s healthcare system. 

Marlon Gatdula of Migrante KSA reminded the Duterte administration that Filipino workers in Saudi Arabia already have existing health insurance provided to them by employers. Gatdula pointed out that when it comes to providing relief, Philippine government officials are not exerting concrete actions to aid OFWs who are under No-Work, No-Pay arrangements. 

Europe being one of the most severely affected continents by the pandemic, Marlon Lacsamana of Migrante Europe raised its objection to the Duterte administration’s intent to overburden OFWs. “If the government is able to fund militarization in communities and in the countryside, that money should be taken back and be used for public health services for the people. The government is spending billions on debt servicing for owed money which has not contributed anything for the people’s welfare. That money should likewise be retrieved and be allocated to provide free services for Filipinos.” Lacsamana added that they are not just calling for the total scrapping of the mandatory Philhealth but for Duterte’s ouster.

Amidst the pandemic, many migrants are not only being afflicted by the Duterte government’s extortionist policies. Nap Pempeña of Migrante USA decried government negligence towards J1 visa holders victimized by recruitment agencies. He said that these young interns were promised professional training but actually ended up as replacements for the domestic workforce. Due to the closure of hotel and resort operations, thousands of young interns were laid off and are now without any income to support their basic needs. This is on top of the huge amounts of debt they incurred from the exorbitant fees charged by recruitment agencies. Pempeña deplored DFA’s failure to utilize the Php 1 Billion Assistance to Nationals fund to aid distressed J1 visa holders.

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Speaking on behalf of seafarers, Atty. Edwin de la Cruz of the International Seafarers’ Action Center (ISAC) revealed that there are 150 thousand stranded seafarers whose manned ships are unable to dock in international ports choked by unclaimed cargoes. There are also 21 thousand stranded seafarers in Manila who are unable to return back to their respective provinces due to lockdown restrictions. “Access to health services is part of our basic rights but this is contradicted by the continuing privatization of healthcare in accordance with neoliberal policies. It is private hospitals that will really benefit the most from Philhealth funds and not public hospitals. Furthermore, seafarers are already being extorted to pay for mandatory SSS, OWWA, Philhealth and other exactions charged on them by the government and private manning agencies.” Atty. Edwin de la Cruz likewise reiterated that seafarers are already covered by healthcare programs and free hospitalizations offered to them by their employers, agencies and trade unions. 

From the land down under, Mel Baltazar of Migrante Australia sounded the alarm against the forcible collection of Philhealth dues. “We were not even consulted and given information on what we Filipinos in Australia will get as benefits from the mandatory Philhealth. We are already covered by existing medical insurance programs in Australia. We do not need another one so the mandatory Philhealth membership will be useless.” 

Under Duterte’s mandatory Philhealth, Baltazar cited that for newly arrived Filipinos earning 4,500 Australian dollars a month, they will end up getting charged by at least 1,620 Australian dollars a year which is equivalent to 56,700 pesos. “There are more than 300 thousand Filipinos in Australia so collecting Philhealth dues from 60,000 Filipinos alone would already allow the Duterte government to rake in 3 Trillion pesos worth of collections but how are we going to benefit from it? Scrap mandatory Philhealth! Scrap forever, hindi pay later,” Baltazar exclaimed.   

Garnering 12 thousand online views, Migrante International extolled migrants, OFWs and Filipino community leaders who participated in the global online protest. Overseas Filipinos vowed to launch more actions to oppose the Duterte administration’s extortionist policies. 

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“Scrap not suspension!” — OFWs on their Kalampagan protest against Duterte’s mandatory Philhealth and premium hike

Disappointed by Duterte’s mere suspension order on the mandatory Philhealth coverage and premium hike, OFWs demanded the scrapping of relevant provisions in Duterte’s Universal Healthcare Law. Following social distancing measures, Filipino migrants continued their weekly ‘Kalampagan’ protest to oppose what they call “unjust” and “extortionate” exactions imposed by the Duterte government. 

Dolores Balladares Pelaez of Migrante Hong Kong said, “we oppose this because no consultation was conducted among migrant workers. This is a burden for migrant workers and we really find this unnecessary since migrant workers are already covered by existing insurance programs in their respective countries.” Hong Kong based-Filipino migrant organizations have been banding together under RAGE Hong Kong or Rise Against Government Exactions, a broad alliance formed to express dissent against various state fees and collections. 

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“As long as the law is not amended, our Philhealth membership is far from becoming permanently voluntary,” Pelaez added. Meanwhile, Chat Dimaano of Migrante Korea urged Filipinos to support the amendatory House Bill No. 6698 filed by the Makabayan bloc on Tuesday last week, 7 May.

Mikee Santos of Migrante Aotearoa (New Zealand) stated, “the law and its guidelines should be amended to ensure that we’ll not end up with a mere suspension. We demand that the mandatory Philhealth for OFWs, legal residents and dual citizens be junked now.”

In addition to the global Kalampagan protest held every weekend, members of Migrante Philippines have been conducting relief missions under Cure COVID’s Damayang Migrante to reach out to stranded OFW domestic helpers and seafarers in dormitories and shelters in Metro Manila. Hundreds of stranded OFWs joined the StrandedPH community to call for mass testing, financial and transportation assistance for all OFWs experiencing the same plight. 

Migrante International Chairperson Joanna Concepcion said that an online global protest will be conducted by Filipino migrant organizations around the world to register their call for the immediate scrapping of the mandatory Philhealth and premium hike. “If OFWs did not raise their collective voice, the Duterte regime could have already succeeded in extorting OFWs through the mandatory Philhealth and premium hike. Filipino migrants are tired of being treated as milking cows by the Philippine government. We will continue to protest the unjust provisions of the law until it is totally scrapped. ” Concepcion concluded. The online global protest will be aired live from 1 PM to 2:30 PM (PH Standard Time) through Migrante International’s official Facebook page on Tuesday, 12 May 2020. 

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OFWs in quarantine submit appeal letter to OWWA Deputy Admin Mocha Uson

Over 50 repatriated OFWs from Kuwait, Qatar and Hong Kong who are quarantined in an OWWA Shelter in Pasay have written an appeal letter addressed to the Philippine government, DOLE and OWWA officials urgently calling for the release of the one-time financial assistance promised to OFWs who are displaced by the COVID19 pandemic. 

Many of them have been terminated or under “no work, no pay” policy and have applied for financial assistance as early as the first week of April but still have not received any responses as to the status of their application. They are frustrated with the delay and are worried because they do not have savings and have not been paid their final wages by their employers. 

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Additionally, the migrant workers expressed concerns about the lack of regular health check ups and are requesting for health services, including psychosocial counseling especially for those who have a history of mental health concerns. Lastly, the migrant workers are requesting for transportation assistance to return to their respective provinces.

 The OFWs have been staying in the shelter for over three weeks and many of them have experienced physical abuse, rape and other forms of labor exploitation from their employers. One of them, sadly committed suicide recently. The OFWs handed a copy of their appeal letter to OWWA Deputy Administrator Mocha Uson this afternoon when she visited the temporary OWWA shelter. 

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