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. 

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IN PHOTOS: Global Day of Mourning and protest vs. state-sponsored killings

 

In several cities overseas, Migrante International’s chapters and allies held their observance of the Global Day of Mourning to protest against state-sponsored killings in Negros, Philippines.

#DefendNegros #StopTheKillings 

 

AUSTRALIA

 

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CANADA

 

 

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FRANCE

 

 

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HONG KONG

 

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UNITED KINGDOM

 

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CHICAGO, USA

 

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IN PHOTOS: Migrante International at the United People’s SONA 2019 (Global protest actions)

PHILIPPINES

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Migrante International Chairperson Joanna Concepcion at the SONA ng BAYAN program held just outside the Commission on Human Rights compound in Quezon City.

 

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Marching from CHR, Commonwealth Avenue, Quezon City

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AUSTRALIA

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CANADA

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FRANCE

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HONG KONG

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ITALY

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JAPAN

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NETHERLANDS

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NEW ZEALAND

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SAUDI ARABIA

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SOUTH KOREA

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UNITED KINGDOM

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Right at the belly of the beast, UNITED STATES OF AMERICA

 

Filipinos overseas all set for global protest led by Migrante International and other broad groups

Days before President Rodrigo Duterte’s State of the Nation Address (SONA), overseas-based Filipino organizations under Migrante International, Malaya Movement, BAYAN (Bagong Alyansang Makabayan) and the International Coalition for Human Rights in the Philippines (ICHRP) are all set for the UNITED PEOPLE’S SONA 2019: Global Protest Against Duterte’s Dictatorship

With the theme “Tama na! Sobra na! People Power na!”, preparations are already in full swing and progressive Filipino communities abroad will be assembling the largest and broadest alliance ever formed not only for  the United People’s SONA 2019 but for future actions related to countering “Duterte’s Fascist tyrannical reign.” 

 

Malaya mov

On their website, the Malaya movement stated, “The Filipino people have suffered long enough under Duterte’s anti-people agenda, with the majority of the country and even overseas Filipinos being greatly affected by the TRAIN law of increased taxes and prices on basic commodities. The issue of human rights has caused international alarm at the number of extrajudicial killings in the drug war alone reaching to 30,000.” All actions in the US were organized by the Malaya Movement. 

 

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Meanwhile, Migrante International will be leading most of the protest actions in key cities in Europe, Asia-Pacific region, the Middle East and North America with the theme “Pilipino Ako! Makabayan Ako! Ayoko sa traydor, bentador at diktador!” This weekend and on monday, Migrante members in New Zealand, Hongkong, South Korea, Japan and Australia will be conducting protest actions before their respective Philippine Embassies and consulates. Protest assemblies will also be convened in the UK (London), Italy and Austria.   

Joanna Concepcion, Chairperson of Migrante International said, “Duterte’s subservience to China and the US is outright treachery. Our sovereignty is being sold out by the regime so that through foreign imperialist backing, Duterte can keep himself in power at the cost of thousands of innocent lives. We are fed up with this massive plunder and bloodshed. Enough is enough!” 

Along with hundreds of other groups coming from various sectors like workers, farmers, academics, students, urban poor and the religious sector, Migrante International is set to join the main mobilization along Commonwealth Avenue in Quezon City for the United People’s SONA. 

The main broad action will be preceded by a separate BAYAN program at the Commission of Human Rights (CHR) compound at 11 am in the morning. Marching towards the stage in front of St. Peter’s Parish, they will be joined by other groups and alliances under the broad umbrella movement of the United People’s Action which is expected to raise Duterte’s violations in compelling issues related to human rights and national sovereignty. 

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OFW group Migrante International held pre-SONA picket at SSS

Members of Migrante International held a picket protest before the national office of the Social Security System (SSS) on friday, 19 July to denounce the neoliberal attacks of the Duterte regime on the Filipino migrant sector.

“It is outrageous that OFWs are being squeezed to death with Duterte’s plunderous policies that rip off our hard-earned money. State exactions like the mandatory SSS, mandatory insurance and the mandatory 1-year premium exaction for Philhealth will only serve the interests of big private corporations lusting after OFW contributions for Duterte’s Build, Build, Build projects,” Migrante Philippines Chairperson Arman Hernando said.

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Rex Margallo from labour group Kilos Na Manggagawa hit the impact of Duterte’s anti-labour policies. “Aside from these state exactions, poor workers in the Philippines are cast aside with poor social services coupled with TRAIN Law that only favors the rich through tax cuts as the poor contends daily with the rising cost of living.”

A former OFW from Macau was likewise present to express disgust over the worsening roots of forced Migration. Emer de Lina of Migrante Caloocan retorted, “Many OFWs are from peasant families. Under the US-Duterte regime, farmers are being slapped with adverse policies like the Rice Tarrification Law. More Filipino farmers will be driven to look for overseas jobs just to survive.”

Joanna Concepcion, chairperson of Migrante International, said that the OFW group will join thousands of protesters on Monday, 22 July to present the true People’s SONA. “Even the OFW sector is not spared from Duterte’s reign of terror. Just a few weeks ago, an OFW-son named Bryan Conje went missing, only to be declared dead under the custody of the Navotas police. Enough of Duterte’s bloodshed! United with other sectors, OFWs and their families will march in the streets to assert our collective right to life and liberty. ”

As build-up for the upcoming State of the Nation Address of President Duterte, Migrante International will be conducting protests this weekend in different cities around the world where there are large concentrations of Filipino migrant workers and residents.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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“The day of reckoning is at hand!” – Migrante International on the UN resolution against the Duterte regime

After much striving in the international arena, Migrante International joins other Human Rights groups in welcoming the adoption by the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) of the resolution calling for a comprehensive report on the bloody human rights record of the Duterte regime. This would impute accountability to the government as it gets compelled to allow independent investigations to be carried out so that perpetrators will finally be brought to justice. 

For this feat, we laud all groups including Karapatan, the National Union of People’s Lawyers (NUPL), and the International Coalition for Human Rights in the Philippines (ICHRP) for their triumphant lobbying work and determination. Most notably, we are very grateful to Iceland for sponsoring the resolution.

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The Iceland-drafted resolution was affirmed by 18 member countries and backed by 28 non-member states. We view this development as a light that dispels the wretchedness confronting many Filipino families and communities struck by state terror. Duterte himself has admitted to his primary role in the brutal drug war killings that have claimed thousands of lives, the overwhelming majority of whom are from poor localities. 

In addition to the council’s concern on the Tokhang-related extrajudicial killings, the violent persecution of rights advocates and critics will be taken into account in upcoming probes. Tensions have been running high after the Duterte regime intensified its vicious assaults on the people’s defenders. A tremendous upswing in the cases of carnage and illegal arrests of activists and human rights workers occurred in the last few weeks.

Migrante International was never left untouched by harassment and intimidation. Right after we issued the Global Petition of Filipino Migrants which was submitted to the United Nations Human Rights Council, Migrante International has been enduring a more intensified vilification and intimidation campaign from state-sponsored hooligans. 

On 7 July, members of UNIFIL-MIGRANTE in Hongkong were pestered by a bunch of OFWs who introduced themselves as members of Makabayang Pilipino sa Hong Kong. They were posting banners and distributing leaflets of NTF-ELCAC (National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict). The propaganda materials contained hate-filled messages vilifying Migrante International and other progressive organizations that are opposed to the tyrannical rule of the Duterte regime. 

When confronted by UNIFIL-Migrante members, they were quick to brag about having the stamp of approval from the Philippine Consulate General (PCG) in Hong Kong. Members of UNIFIL- MIGRANTE in Hongkong are now verifying this claim from PCG officials. 

Just a few days later, on 10 July, staff members of our home office in Quezon City were rattled by a barrage of phone calls from somebody who identified himself as a media personnel. The enraged caller played back the Hongkong incident and kept yelling and hurling expletives at our staff, telling her that Migrante is a terrorist organization.

Furthermore, Migrante members in Saudi Arabia and Europe fielded reports about the so called “Aming Pinoy Community Leaders” seminar being conducted within the premises of Philippine embassies and consulates where Migrante International and other progressive groups are constantly red-tagged and disparaged during seminar sessions. 

Using publicly-funded government resources, the Duterte regime is keen on stamping out dissent at all cost by capitalizing on pro-Duterte groups. Under the direction of NTF-ELCAC and other agencies used as instruments of suppression, it wages a black propaganda war against progressive organizations like Migrante International which for a long time have upheld the rights and welfare of OFWs and their families. This tactic of tagging Duterte’s critics as terrorists is the regime’s way of justifying the killings, enforced disapperances, torture, illegal arrests and repression perpetrated against human rights defenders. 

Given the immensity of the bloodshed inflicted on the Filipino people, Migrante International holds the Duterte regime accountable for the extrajudicial killings and human rights violations it committed all for the sake of gratifying the interests of his fellow criminals in the ruling class. Before the international community, the victims of injustices bear witness to these atrocities. We shall not back down for the day of reckoning is at hand. Neither defamation nor bullets shall ever stop the waxing resistance of the Filipino masses against the Duterte terrorist regime. 

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