On International Migrants Day, OFW community leaders hit state exactions, departmentalization, red-tagging and labour export program under the Duterte regime (18 December 2019)

As part of its observance of the International Migrants’ Day, Migrante International held a Year-end press briefing on the state of Filipino migrants under the Duterte Regime on Wednesday, 18 December at its home office.  In anticipation of the impending congressional approval this month of the Department of Overseas Filipinos at the House of Representatives,  members of migrant groups in South Korea, Hongkong, Japan, New Zealand, UK and USA described the major issues and struggles faced by Filipino migrants and OFWs. 

Shiela Tebia of Hongkong decried the mandatory SSS (Social Security System)  and other state exactions being imposed on OFWs. “The Duterte government exhibits aggressiveness and efficiency in extorting OFWs through these mandatory exactions and yet when we plead for help in times of our distress, they just turn a deaf ear to our cries,” Shiela lamented. About 20 OFW groups and federations in Hong Kong have formed an alliance called RAGE or Rise Against Government Exactions to oppose contribution hikes.


Speaking from Seoul via video conference, Chat Dimaano said that the Duerte government has been planning to reroute OFW insurance contributions in South Korea into SSS. Filipinos in South Korea fear that they will have to wait until they turn 60 or 65 before they benefit from their premium once this scheme is implemented. Dimaano recalled Duterte’s promise on OFWs as he also raised alarm on the exploitation of foreign farm workers in South Korea. “The monthly minimum wage for workers in South Korea is 1.7 Million Korean Won but they are only paid 400,000 Won. Duterte promised that working abroad will soon become an option but we are certain that it is far from being fulfilled,” Dimaano stated.

On the issue of human trafficking, Gary Labao of New York revealed that about 70 Filipino teachers were among the 300 victims of human trafficking in the US. They have been fighting for 10 years to legalize their status. It took these teachers 5 or more years after arriving in the US before they finally got hired. Some of the victims have already given up and just decided to return back to the Philippines. “We already raised this to Philippine embassy and consulate officials but we have never seen any concrete action from them,” Labao said.

Japan has also been a notorious destination for education trafficking through its short-term study program. Butch Pongos of Migrante Japan pointed out to the proliferation of Japanese language schools in the Philippines targetting students and young Filipino graduates desiring to work or study in Japan. Butch said, “these Japanese language schools are engaged in aggressive recruitment by offering job placements. Aspiring students pay up to US$5,000 or 600,000 Japanese Yen only to end up getting exploited as manual labourers once they arrive in Japan. Some even run away to escape their harsh conditions, and in desperation they apply as student refugees to continue their stay.” Migrante Japan blames complicity and connivance on the part of the Duterte government and these language schools as there is no ongoing effort to stop their illegal trafficking operations.

Likewise, Mikee Santos of Migrante Aotearoa related how the New Zealand government has been promoting its international student visa program which gave a false expectation of easier residence pathway to students from the Philippines and other Asian countries. Most student visa holders do not become residents and are forced to enter into unfair labour relations to extend their stay or improve their chances. Santos said that the Duterte government is not doing any concrete efforts for Filipino victims many of whom are sinking in debt after spending up to Php 1.5 Million worth of exorbitant fees.

Meanwhile, OFWs based in the Middle East reel from the political and economic crisis hounding the region. Escalation of conflict in Saudi Arabia this year has led to armed clashes with Yemenite forces flaring within its territory, especially in the border regions of Asir, Jizan and Najran where more than 40 thousand Filipinos live and work. Joseph “Erap” Valenzuela said that Migrante KSA currently handles more than 500 cases of runaways, mostly domestic helpers as well as 1,500 workers laid off due to Saudization. In recent years, Saudi Arabia has been ardently prioritizing the employment of Saudi locals in vital sectors. 

Thousands of Filipino workers were left with unpaid salaries and without access to benefits after operations of big construction firms like Saudi Oger collapsed due to mounting debt. Valenzuela also denounced the absence of a bilateral agreement to ease the repatriation of OFWs restrained by the Kafala system. “Filipino workers were duped into believing false assurances by officials of the Duterte government that they will get their benefit claims after their arrival back in the Philippines. The Duterte government had the audacity to spend huge amounts of money for a ceremonial cauldron while neglecting stranded and despairing Filipino workers. Moreover, OFWs on death row are not even getting a cent for their blood money to save their lives from execution,” Valenzuela lamented. 

The onslaught of right-wing policies in Europe, the US and even in the Philippines has also exacerbated the criminalization of migrants. Undocumented and other irregular migrants are threatened by fierce crackdown and prolonged detention according to Fr. Herbert Fadriquela who is based in the UK. He also pointed out to big travel junkets of government officials bringing with them fake Lumad leaders who actually head paramilitary units implicated in the killings of land rights defenders in Mindanao. 

Gary Labao of New York described the situation in the US as similar to Europe where leaders and members of progressive organizations like Migrante International, Migrante Youth, Gabriela and Anakbayan are being vilified by government officials and fake Lumad leaders who hold seminars using taxpayers money in migrant Filipino communities. Labao likewise questioned the setting up of PNP posts in Washington DC and San Francisco. 

Joseph Valenzuela of Migrante KSA said, “The Duterte government is making life hard for overseas Filipinos who are fighting for their rights and welfare but we will never stop serving our fellow Filipinos abroad.” Shiela Tebia of Hongkong said, “if there are only job opportunities in the Philippines, nobody will be forced to leave their loved ones for overseas deployment.”

Migrante International Chairperson Joanna Concepcion concurred with their statements. “Attending committee hearings at the House of Representatives, we were told that the Department of Overseas Filipinos will resolve the tough issues faced by Filipino migrants but for us, it will only facilitate the Duterte government’s greed for extracting OFW money and peddling Filipino migrants through labour export. Departmentalization is not the solution but addressing our demands for stable jobs and just wages in the Philippines is what we want. We observe International Migrants’ Day today to celebrate and honour Filipino migrants in their struggle for genuine change in our country. Duterte seeks to silence us but we will continue to fight for the advancement of our rights as Filipino migrants,” Concepcion concluded.  



The continuing injustice on Mary Jean Alberto and her family

Mary Jean Balag-ey Alberto (Jean), an Igorot, is a forty-four year old OFW and a single mother of three who fell to her death from the 13th floor of a residential building in Abu Dhabi, UAE where she was working. The Alberto family is not convinced that she committed suicide as what the employer claims. According to her children, based on the messages of their mother hours before her death, she was desperate to be rescued because the Moroccan employer attempted to strangle her. Mary Jean Alberto is a victim of exploitation, abuse and maltreatment.

Blind and ailing mother of Mary Jean

Flordeliza Balag-ey, the blind and ailing mother of Maty Jean Alberto laments the tragedy that befell her daughter. The family, supporters and Migrante held a protest action at the Department of Foreign Affairs before proceeding to the airport to claim the remains of Mary Jean.

As her remains arrive today, her family demands that the perpetrator for her tragic death should be brought to justice. Her children are indignant that it took 11 days before the Philippine Embassy was able to help them. By that time, the Moroccan employer has already cleared all traces of possible evidence that might have provided more details about the tragedy surrounding her death. They are also dismayed at the insensitivity of government personnel and the limited assistance that the government is providing them in this time of grief. Until now, the Alberto family is desperate on how to cope with the financial needs on laying their loved one to eternal rest.


  • The family rejects the employer’s account of their mother’s death. For them, their mother did not commit suicide since she wanted to be rescued alive from her employer’s house. Just days before her death, Rohjean, eldest child who is also based in UAE, was with her mother and they were happy.
  • Jean is a victim of abuse and maltreatment by her employer. She rarely got the chance to have rest days and she was being overworked very often from 5:00 am to 3:00 am.
  • Cries for help were sent by Jean as messages to Rohjean and Marie (Jean’s sister who is also working in Abu Dhabi) just hours before her death.
  • Her bereaved family continues to struggle in looking for the financial means to provide a decent burial for Jean once she arrives.
  • The Alberto family regards the many hurdles imposed by government agencies as part of the injustice they are facing. At a time of their grief, their pain could have been somewhat alleviated if they and other OFWs and families in distress are receiving comprehensive support from the government and its agencies.
  • Like 90% of OFWs who came to UAE with tourist visas, Jean took the risk in working abroad just to support her family.

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Timeline of significant events:

October 1 – Jean talked to her youngest son Rojan asking him if he likes her mother to just book a ticket and fly back home to the Philippines. It was also the last time her sister Marie would receive messages from her. Jean was desperately crying for help after the employee attempted to strangle her.

October 2 – Rojan, Marie and Rohjean lost contact from Jean. Rohjean then contacted the Moroccan employer thru Whatsapp to inquire about her mother. At 3:52 PM, Rohjean received a message from the employer who replied, “Your mom she died today morning.” News of Jean’s death came less than 24 hours after she sent distressed messages pleading to be rescued from her Moroccan employer.

When Rohjean called the employer, a relative of the employer talked to her and told her to meet them to explain what happened. Rohjean and Marie waited long for the employer but was only messaging them that their “on the way”. They just decided to rush to the Philippine Embassy.

At the Philippine Embassy they were able to talk to an ATN officer. They shared the information and they have and sought for their assistance. They were told that the Embassy has not yet received any report from local authorities. They were only adviced to confirm the sad news from the employer directly. They were only provided with a general email address of the embassy and instructed to send a copy of Jean’s passport.

When Rohjean was called by the employer, she just told her to meet them at the police station. At the Shabiya police station the employer explained that Jean jumped from the 13th floor Shams Meera Tower Al Reem, her employers’ residence, and committed suicide. Jean’s employer also claimed that they were sleeping the whole time in their bedroom at the 13th floor and they only heard the thud sound when she fell. The employer also bragged to the police that the employer is willing to help Rohjean financially and the other needs of Jean’s family.

When Rohjean talked to a police officer, he confirmed that Jean passed away and the report was suicide. Rohjean explained that they strongly believe that she didn’t commit suicide because of her last messages. She was adviced by the police to get the messages translated to Arabic and file it to them. She immediately complied and narrated to the police all the information that she knows that may help them in their investigation.

October 3 – Rohjean informed her brothers Rojan and Ronel about their mom’s death.

She went back to the police station and asked if she can see the remains of her mother.

She then went back to the Philippine Embassy to relay that the local police confirmed the death of her mother. She was told that the embassy would have to wait for the result of the forensic report that is favorable to Jean’s account before they can provide a lawyer. She was then referred to the repatriation department and was given a list of items to accomplish. According to the officer-in-charge, the repatriation is normally shouldered by the employer. If not included in the contract, the Embassy will try to help upon request. Rohjean instantly told them that they need help.

Jean’s relatives in Baguio also heard the bad news through a post in an online group of people from Mountain Province, the home province of Jean. Windel Bolinget, first cousin of Jean and also the Chairperson the Cordillera Peoples Alliance (CPA) contacted Migrante and sought for the groups assistance. At this time, Bolinget has no direct communication line yet with Rohjean and Marie, and Jean’s family in Antipolo.

October 4 – Rohjean went back to the police to seek assistance to see her mother’s remains. She was instructed to go to the hospital and check if she will be allowed to see Jean’s body. The mortuary told her that it is not allowed as it is still under investigation.

October 6 – Rohjean went back to the mortuary. The staff told her that the forensic procedure will take 1-2 weeks. She went back to the Philippine Embassy and was given forms to fill out for the incident report.

October 7 – Rohjean asked the mortuary for an update, she was told that the forensic doctor already examined the body but the results are not yet out.

October 8 – CPA and Migrante allies in UAE finally was able to establish direct links with Rohjean and Marie and offered assistance. Rohjean informed them that the Philippine Embassy would only investigate Jean’s case and look for proof of foul play upon the release of the autopsy report.

October 9 – Sheik Khalifa Hospital in Abu Dhabi gave three documents to the family and instructed them to transmit the documents to the police station. The documents were written in Arabic and the family was not given any explanation regarding the contents of the document.

Jean’s relatives in Baguio went to OWWA-Baguio to ask for assistance on the repatriation of Jean’s remains. They were notified that Jean was an undocumented OFW and therefore not valid for any OWWA assistance. They were referred to DFA Baguio.

Rohjean went back to the Philippine Embassy and was told they still haven’t received any report about her mother’s case.

October 10 – The home office of Migrante was able to reach out to the other children in Antipolo City. It was arranged that Migrante would assist Ronel (second child of Jean) in dealing with government agencies.

Rohjean, meanwhile, demanded for her mother’s possession from the Moroccan employer. The police informed them that they are yet to retrieve Jean’s belongings.

Jean’s relatives in Baguio went to DFA-Baguio to further ask for government assistance. They were informed that Rohjean already filed a report in DFA Abu Dhabi and that Ronel should file the same report to DFA Manila for immediate processing.

It was also this time that media interviews for Rohjean, Marie and CPA were conducted.

October 11 – News of Jean’s death was picked up by both UAE and Philippine media.

Ronel, with Migrante, went to DFA and was only informed of specific documents they needed to submit. Jimarie of DFA is the assigned officer to this case. Ronel went straight to the Office of the President and was dismayed by their lack of assistance and overall inefficiency.

Rohjean related that the Philippine Embassy is passively waiting on the result of the autopsy and did not even coordinate directly with the police and the morgue. The embassy expects Rohjean to single handedly process overwhelming documents needed for her mother’s repatriation and for the attainment of justice for her horrible death.

Justice for Jean Alberto Facebook page was published.

Relatives in Baguio, CPA and Innabuyog-Gabriela, holds a press conference in Baguio.

October 13 – As the news about Jean’s death was already making the rounds in the press and outcry from netizens erupted on social media, it was only this time that the Philippine Embassy reached out to Rohjean and Marie and offered to assist them in seeking updates from the police station and the morgue. This was the embassy’s first time to proactively help in Jean’s case after more than a week of being informed about her death.

Together with embassy officials, Rohjean was escorted by the local police to Jean’s residence. The Moroccan employer was notably angry and defensive upon seeing Jean’s daughter. Jean’s belongings were already packed, Rohjean finally got hold of her mother’s belongings from the employer’s house which are crucial in the investigation – mobile phone and diary (many pages were taken out).

The Embassy also brought Rohjean to the government-hired lawyer for consultation.

Migrante Philippines visited Jean’s family in Antipolo to express condolences and unite on the legal steps needed in seeking justice for Jean. It was arranged that the family would prepare documents for a Special Power of Attorney, and Affidavits of Rojan and Rose (confidante and workmate). Migrante and Jean’s family agreed to conduct a press conference and a small gathering composed of residents of Brgy. Dela Paz’s community, Jean’s family and friends.

October 15 – Together with Migrante and SANDIGAN (Samahan ng mga DH sa Gitnang Silangan), the children of Jean held a press conference to call for justice and air their grievances on the slow and inefficient assistance from government agencies.

October 15 to 16 – Rohjean processed the Special Power of Attorney or SPA with the lawyer

October 17 to 18 – Members of the media and Cordillerans based in the UAE reached out and met with Rohjean and gave her support.

October 19 to 20 – Rohjean went to the Shabiya Police Station and to the court for case updates and procedures.

October 20 – Rohjean and Marie went to the Philippine Embassy to talk with Ambassador Quintana and other high ranking officials. They laid down all their concerns including all the assistance that they need for repatriation and burial. They promised to endorse her to various government units.

October 23 – Rohjean visited OWWA Abu Dhabi and was told that financial support needs to get approval from OWWA’s main office in the Philippines. She went back to the Philippine Embassy for the promised endorsement letter but was instructed to write a letter herself to OWWA and they will just endorse it to them. The Ambassador also informed her to coordinate with LBC for the repatriation of remains.

October 25 – Supporters and family held a picket-dialogue at the OWWA office in Pasay, Philippines to demand welfare justice for Jean and for her bereaved children. Jean’s sons Ronel and Rojan faced OWWA administrator Hans Leo Cacdac in the afternoon. OWWA reiterated that their assistance will be limited because “OFWs might get angry” if they will extend full assistance to an “undocumented” OFW like Jean. They can only assist her because Marie is an OWWA member.

Migrante International asserts that distressed OFWs and their families must receive assistance from OWWA regardless of their status. The group hit the government agency for functioning like a profit-oriented business entity.

“Uphold SC decision on Mary Jane’s deposition! Make it a reality!” — MJ Veloso’s supporters to PH government

Just less than a week away from the scheduled final RTC hearing on the presentation of prosecution witnesses, supporters of Mary Jane Veloso gathered anew to reiterate their call to uphold the Supreme Court decision allowing the deposition of her testimony through written interrogatories. 

In a press forum held at the UCCP National Office chapel in EDSA on Wednesday morning Atty. Edre Olalia from the National Union of People’s Lawyers elaborated on the significance of the recent SC decision and its implications on the local cases against accused traffickers Cristina Sergio and Julius Lacanilao. “I cannot preempt the RTC judge’s ruling but there is already a Supreme Court decision. I’m sure the defense will have their chance to explain why there’s a need for deferment but it is about time that they ask themselves, why anyone should be afraid of the truth? If they really believe that their clients are innocent, would it not be beneficial that we hear it directly from Mary Jane speaking to us whether the accused traffickers are really involved or not?” Olalia asked.

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“We want to see and hear both sides but how can we equally hear both sides when they (PAO: Public Attorneys Office) keep on gagging her down to the gallows? God forbid but perchance she gets executed because of these numerous motions set by the legal counsel of the accused, will they be willing to hold themselves accountable for the life of Mary Jane? There can no longer be any motion for consideration in heaven. Nobody can bar the testimony of a material witness. Do not keep on invoking legal niceties and technicalities because this is not just about Mary Jane. We have so many OFWs victimised by human traffickers and illegal recruiters. The legal counsel of the accused will have their chance to cross examine Mary Jane’s written testimony.” Olalia added.

Olalia then directed attention to the relation of MJ’s case on Duterte’s war on drugs. “The Duterte government is claiming that it is waging war against drugs and they should be aware that Mary Jane as a victim, knows vital information about this international drug trafficking syndicate involving drug trafficking criminals from West Africa and other countries. This should help trace the flow of their criminal operations that have victimized unsuspecting OFWs.”

Asked about how the government can relate to these legal developments, Olalia said, “They really don’t have to wait for a decision from the RTC case here. The defense are due to present 30 of their witnesses. Are we going to wait for them to complete their presentation with only one hearing every month for one or two of their witnesses? We are afraid that these witnesses will only be there to claim that the accused couple Sergio and Lacanilao are kind people but that it is not the main issue. The main issue is their direct involvement in human trafficking against Mary Jane.” 


The lawyers’ group NUPL represented by Olalia has long been active on the Mary Jane campaign. He added, “The key not only lies with legal strategies. There are other things that can be done to keep Mary Jane alive and be able to speak. We can continue to plead and implore. After all, the Supreme Court has already made a lot of statements on where the decision should lead. The government can work on Mary Jane’s behalf, either for commutation or for other ways that will pave the way for her eventual freedom.”

Expressing elation over the SC decision, Rev. Frank Hernando, the current Executive Secretary for Administration of the United Church of Christ in the Philippines, worked for 14 years ministering to Filipino migrants in South Korea. He said, “The Church is very active and passionate in defending the rights and saving lives of OFWs. This is the consequence of Forced migration on Filipinos who are seeking better lives abroad. UCCP sent letters to SC urging the judicial authorities to allow MJ to testify. This will help other Filipino trafficking victims who are in jail. Di lang si MJ ang nagkaroon ng ganitong kaso (It’s not only MJ who have this case).”

Representing CWWM (Churches Witnessing with Migrants), Church Task Force for Mary Jane and PIMAHT or Philippine Interfaith Movement Against Human Trafficking, Rev. Marie Sol Villalon said, “We hope that before the 28th of October, we’ll hear the Duterte government committing to save Filipino victims of trafficking and all the rest of OFWs who are now suffering because of forced migration and the government’s labour export program.”

Grateful to all their supporters, Cesar Veloso, father of Mary Jane said, “We are very thankful to the Supreme Court for giving the chance to my daughter to testify. I hope that she will finally get her freedom and be reunited with us. I am very grateful to the lawyers and to all the supporters, if it were not for them, we would have been clueless on what to do. When Mary Jane’s sons heard about the SC decision, they really leaped for joy. They are looking forward to having their mother come home. We recently visited Mary Jane in prison, she was full of hope and she kept on encouraging us. I urge everyone to keep us in your prayers. We are calling on PAO to allow Mary Jane to speak.”

Migrante International Chairperson Joanna Concepcion lamented that it took almost ten years before Mary Jane was given the chance to finally speak against her traffickers. Concepcion stated, “This case is very important not only for Mary Jane Veloso but also for all victims of human trafficking. Up to this moment, we are still asserting that Mary Jane is indeed a trafficking victim and must be given the chance to present her testimony. She should never be silenced. Thousands of OFWs are unjustly locked in jails, many of whom are victims of government neglect without any access to lawyers. Once we succeed in getting MJ’s testimony, it will be considered an unprecedented legal victory and a precedent that will be beneficial for many OFWs faced by similar situations.”

A caravan organized by Mary Jane’s supporters is expected to head to the Branch 88 of the Nueva Ecija Regional Trial Court on the 28th of October to attend the scheduled hearing on the trafficking cases against Sergio and Lacanilao. 




Sons of slain Abu-Dhabi OFW Mary Jean Alberto demand justice

“We will never believe that Mama committed suicide,” Ronel Alberto asserted as he expressed frustration on the slow pace of the ongoing investigation on the case of his mother Mary Jean Alberto. Ronel is Mary Jean’s eldest son.

Mary Jean Alberto is a 44-year old OFW working for a Moroccan employer in Abu Dhabi, UAE. Her family heard of her death after being told by Mary Jean’s female employer via phone call on 2 October. 

She originally went to Abu Dhabi for a job offer as a family driver but later found herself doing household work, cleaning the house and serving as a nanny to her Moroccan employers’ 3-year old child. 

Justice for Jean by Migrante

Rojan Alberto, youngest child of Mary Jean said that it is impossible that their mother died of suicide. “We have always known her as a strong woman. She never failed to give us words of encouragement whenever we faced problems. Days before we found out about our mother’s death, we can no longer contact her so we were very worried knowing that she has already been being subjected to maltreatment and abuse at the hands of her employers.”

Mary Jean’s sons also recounted that their mother is always gripped by fear whenever they talk to her on the phone through video call or on social media. She also sent photos showing her bruises after being physically assaulted by her employers.  

“What’s really suspicious is that our mother’s employer claims that on the day of Mama’s death, she was awoken by a loud thud on the ground so she got up from bed and saw a lot of policemen. How can she even hear that when their unit is on the 13th floor of a high rise building?” Rojan said.

Ronel also recounted the difficulties that their family experienced from following up on their mother’s case from government agencies like DFA in Manila and Philippine Embassy in Abu Dhabi . They were told that the only thing government agencies could do is to repatriate her remains. “Without even asking for the cause of Mama’s death, the first thing they asked me is if I brought the requirements.”

Rohjean, eldest daughter of Mary Jean, just received Mary Jean’s death certificate last October 13. However, the cause of death was not indicated on the death certificate. Her children fear that there could be whitewash on their mother’s case.

“We want justice for Mama. This is what we are asking from the government,” Ronel and Rojan concluded. 

Marina Sarno, Spokesperson of SANDIGAN or Samahan ng mga DH sa Gitnang Silangan said, “We strongly stand with the Alberto family in their quest to attain justice for Mary Jean Balag-ey Alberto. Like the Alberto family, we have also experienced government inaction after suffering from the hands of our cruel employers.” 

Migrante International Chairperson Joanna Concepcion said that it is important that the Duterte goverment takes the demands of the Alberto family seriously. She then urged the Philippine government to work closely with Abu Dhabi authorities to conduct an impartial investigation and facilitate the repatriation of her remains. “The Duterte government must strictly coordinate with the family and never withhold any information. As long as the perpetrator is not made liable, we will continue to seek justice for Mary Jean Alberto.”



OFW and Church-based groups hope that SC will finally issue ruling on Mary Jane Veloso before 28 October to allow her to testify

With the petition for Mary Jane Veloso’s deposition still left hanging in the Supreme Court after more than a year, the prosecution went through the eye of the needle earlier to secure the green light for the presentation of its lone witness on 28 October. Supporters of Mary Jane Veloso heaved a sigh of relief after Nueva Ecija’s Regional Trial Court Branch 88 ruled in favour of the prosecution’s last ditch appeal. 

The Philippine Consul General has already made a commitment to appear at the 26 September court proceeding to present Mary Jane’s side but mandatory travel protocols prevented her from making it to the hearing. Meanwhile, the prosecution and supporters of Mary Jane are earnestly praying that the Philippine Supreme Court will finally grant Mary Jane Veloso the chance to present her testimony against her traffickers via written interrogatories before 28 October. 

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Edre Olalia of the National Union of People’s Lawyers argued that between the accused couple Cristina Sergio and Julius Lacanilao on one side and Mary Jane Veloso who is a human trafficking victim facing the death sentence on the other side, there is justifiable ground for the reset in the quest to complete the whole picture regarding the involvement of big international drug syndicates in victimizing unsuspecting migrants or travellers.

“Let us allow Mary Jane Veloso to give her side for after all, the defense will have its chance to cross examine her. We have so many OFWs who are vulnerable to human traffickers and these OFWs may find themselves in a grave situation like that of Mary Jane even if they are only victims,” Olalia said. 

If perchance the SC remains unsettled on the petition to allow Mary Jane Veloso to testify in the human trafficking case against Cristina Sergio and Julius Lacanilao, prosecutors will have no other recourse but to present the Consul General as witness in her place. 

Once Mary Jane Veloso is allowed to prove through her testimony that she is really a trafficking victim, Olalia said that it may pave the way for permanent reprieve, pardon or commutation of the sentence.

Prior to the court session, supporters under Save Mary Jane Alliance conducted an ecumenical prayer service. In their prayer, they recited, “we pray that she will receive compassion.  We pray that she will be able to speak the truth and testify before this court.” After the hearing, it was followed by a fellowship lunch with members of the Veloso family and their supporters. 

In the evening, a 6:00 pm solidarity mass for Mary Jane Veloso was conducted at the Sta. Cruz Church in Binondo, Manila. Church-based groups from the National Council of Churches in the Philippines, Migrante International along with other allies under the Save Mary Jane Alliance vowed to step up the campaign as letters of support poured in the past couple of weeks from various groups in the international community inquiring about latest developments on Veloso’s case and expressing their call to allow Mary Jane to testify. The letters were delivered straight to the Supreme Court. 


#LetMaryJaneSpeakTheTruth: Solidarity action for Mary Jane Veloso held before the Supreme Court during En Banc session 

Supporters of Mary Jane Veloso under the Save Mary Jane Alliance conducted a picket solidarity action before the Supreme Court in anticipation of the En Banc session that was set to convene Tuesday afternoon, 24 September 2019. Justices at the En Banc were expected to decide when to hear the petition for Mary Jane’s right to testify against her traffickers. 

Migrante Internatonal Chairperson Joanna Concepcion said, “as a victim of human trafficking, Mary Jane has the right to present her testimony against her traffickers. We entreat the Supreme Court to allow Mary Jane to speak the truth as various groups in the international community continue to seek updates on the latest developments about her case here in the Philippines.”

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Concepcion was referring to the outpouring of letters in the last couple of weeks sent by different organizations and institutions who are calling on the Philippine Supreme Court to intervene on her behalf. The letters were from different countries like USA, Canda, Italy, Australia, Hongkong, etc. Among the groups that sent its letter to the Supreme Court was the Presbyterian Church (USA) or PCUSA which is the largest Reformed denomination in the US. 

In its letter, PCUSA stated, “As a church, we pray that these legal proceedings will uphold Mary Jane’s individual worth and responsibility. As a human trafficking victim, these proceedings should help her to asser her rights, including the right to testify against her recruiters.”

Last week, the National Council of Churches in Australia representing 18 mainstream Christian denominations in Australia including the Roman Catholic Church, the Anglican Church and the Lutheran Church stated in its letter, “Allowing Mary Jane to speak the truth gives voice to victims of human trafficking and affirms their rights as one of the most vulnerable and neglected in society. Giving a place to her parents Cesar and Celia as intervenors in the legal petition grants recognition to the legitimate and immediate stake of families who are lamenting the loss of their loved ones from illegal trafficking.”

The Philippine Interfaith Movement Against Human Trafficking (PIMAHT) wrote, “We reiterate our stand that Mary Jane Veloso is the face of many other victims of human trafficking and we firmly believe that she deserves the opportunity to speak the truth. Her statement is vital to shed light on the case, to penalize the perpetrators, and serve justice to Mary Jane and other victims.”

The Veloso family have been in Indonesia since 18 September last week for their visit to Mary Jane at the Wirogunan penitentiary in Yogyakarta. Celia and Cesar Veloso were joined by Mark Daniel and Mary Jane’s eldest sister Lea. They are set to arrive back in the Philippines Wednesday morning 25 September at NAIA Terminal 3. 

Also present during the solidarity action at the Supreme Court were Reverend Marie Sol Villalon of the United Methodist Church and Migrante Philippines Chairperson Arman Hernando. Both gave messages supporting the call to #LetMaryJaneSpeakTheTruth.

Since last week, over 20 other groups have already sent letters to the Supreme Court as the last hearing will be conducted by the regional trial court in Nueva Ecija on 26 September for the presentation of prosecution witnesses in the cases for human trafficking, illegal recruitment and estafa filed against Mary Jane Veloso’s recruiters namely Ma. Cristina P. Sergio and Julius Lacanilao.

The Save Mary Alliance will have solidarity activities on 26 September. An ecumenical prayer service will be held at 8:00 am in Nueva Ecija before the start of the court session at 8:30 am. In the evening, a solidarity mass for Mary Jane Veloso will likewise be held at the Sta.Cruz Church in Binondo, Manila at 6pm. 


OFWs and Makabayan bloc file Supreme Court petition to stop mandatory SSS employer contribution from OFWs

NEWS RELEASE (27 August 2019)

OFWs and their families trooped to the Supreme Court on Tuesday, 27 August 2019 to lodge a legal petition to nullify the mandatory SSS exaction on OFWs under the Social Security Act of 2018. The petition filed was Certiorari and Prohibition with Prayer for Writ of Preliminary Injunction and/or Temporary Re-straining Order

Several OFWs are signatories on the petition including petitioners from Migrante International and Makabayan house representatives. Their petition sought to register their disapproval on requiring OFWs themselves to pay for employers’ contribution for the mandatory SSS in the absence of a bilateral agreement with the host country. 

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Respondents include SSS Chairman Carlos G. Dominguez III and Vice Chairman Aurora C. Ignacio. Other government agencies tagged as respondents are Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA), Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) and the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA).

In a belatedly convened public consultation by SSS on 3 May, Migrante International decried the absence of grassroots migrant organizations representing land-based OFWs during Senate deliberations for its draft version. It was signed into law as Republic Act No. 11199 by President Duterte on 7 February 2019. 

Bayan Muna Chairperson Neri Colmenares questioned the constitutionality of the mandatory SSS. He said, “we are here at the Supreme Court because this mandatory SSS exaction signed by President Duterte requiring OFWs to shoulder employer contributions in the absence of a bilateral agreement with the host country is unjust and unconstitutional.” 

Feliza Guy Benitez who worked for more than 20 years in Hong Kong was one of the petitioners. “By withholding their OECs (Overseas Employment Certificate) and not allowing them to be deployed if they don’t get to pay for their employer’s SSS contributions, we feel that OFWs will just be held as hostages by the Duterte government. It will be hard for us to be forced to pay for employer contributions that is why SSS coverage should remain voluntary and not mandatory,” Benitez asserted. 

According to Migrante Philippines Chairperson Arman Hernando, paying for both employee and employer contributions is burdensome for OFWs. “It is no secret that most OFWs are poorly paid. Many are even maltreated and get nothing at all. This is too much for OFWs to bear at a time when the prices of goods and services are soaring under Duterte’s watch,” Hernando lamented. 

Meanwhile, Filipino workers in Hongkong also conducted a picket action at the lobby of the Philippine Consulate led by Migrante International Chairperson Joanna Concepcion. She was joined by members of Gabriela Hongkong, Migrante Hongkong and Filipino Migrant Workers Union.