Migrante welcomes passport validity extension but protests 100% fee increase

Migrante International called on newly-appointed Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano to stop the proposal for a 100% increase in passport fees with 10-year validity.

According to an official of the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA), passports will soon cost P1,900 to P2,000, twice the current price of P950 for passports with 5-year validity.

“Better government services should never be placed on the public’s shoulders, in particular our OFWs’. The extension of passport validity is a welcome relief for OFWs because it will unburden them of the tedious and tiresome passport renewal process, but it should not be used to justify new state exactions. We urge Sec. Cayetano to immediately halt the proposed increase in passport fees and instead focus on improving the services of the DFA with no added costs to the public,” said Arman Hernando, Migrante spokesperson.

News on the proposed increase came out when the upper house approved on third and final reading Senate Bill 1356, which amends the Passport Act of 1996 and extends the validity of Philippine passports from 5 to 10 years.

DFA Sec. Cayetano was one of the authors of said bill. SB 1356 was deliberated under his wing when he was Chair of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations.

“During the senate deliberations, we conveyed to Sec. Cayetano that OFWs must be assured that the extension of the validity of passports will not result in an increase in passport fees. It is illogical to impose fee hikes since  it will not, in any way, bring additional expense to the government. In fact, through this measure, the government can save funds which it can divert to other direct services for OFWs,” said Hernando.

The House of Representatives has already ratified the bicameral report on the proposal to extend the validity of passports. The ratified bill will now be forwarded to Malacañang for President Duterte’s signature.

Hernando also urged Sec. Cayetano to conduct a probe on anomalous exorbitant and varying passport fee rates imposed by Philippine embassies and consulates. He asserted that passport fees in PH posts abroad should not be different from the rates in the Philippines.

“Otherwise, we have reason to believe that passport fees are being utilized for profit and income-generation of embassies and consulates, at the expense of OFWs,” Hernando said.

Based on reports from Migrante chapters abroad, current rates are higher by 200%-300% (for passport renewal) and 350%-650% (for replacement of lost passports) than the costs in the Philippines.passport rates.png

Hernando said that their group is seeking a dialogue with Sec. Cayetano to discuss urgent and pressing concerns and issues of overseas Filipinos in time for the National Migrants Day next month. ###

#LaborDayPH P750 minimum wage can prevent 200K OFWs from working abroad every year

Migrante International today marched with Filipino workers and other sectors in support of the call for a legislated, across-the-board, national minimum wage set at P750 per day.

“A P750 national minimum wage can significantly reverse the migration of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs). If implemented, for every year, around 200,000 workers can opt to stay and contribute their labor and skills for nation-building while living decently with their families,” said Arman Hernando, Migrante International spokesperson.

Hernando said that based on Migrante’s study, OFWs who receive a basic salary of US$400-500 per month would prefer to work in the Philippines instead because their income will be at par with the meager pay they receive abroad.

Data from the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) show that since 2011 the country has been annually deploying at least 200,000 OFWs to job positions with salaries ranging from US$400-500/month. Majority are Household Service Workers and General Laborers in the Middle East who receive monthly salaries of 400 US Dollars and 1,500 Saudi Riyals, respectively.

Further, according to 2015 data from the Philippine Statistics Authority, these OFWs account for 33 percent of the total OFW deployment.

“Meanwhile, OFWs are coming back home not because they opt to but because of the effects of an ongoing global economic crisis in host countries. Hundreds of thousands of OFWs are being displaced and retrenched in crisis-stricken Saudi Arabia. What awaits them in the event of their emergency return? Definitely there are not enough decent-paying domestic jobs available. What the government offers are mere dole-outs and band-aid solutions that are not long-term solutions to unemployment, low wages and lack of social services,” Hernando said.

The situation of OFWs has undeniably worsened since the labor export policy came into full force. Policy-wise, the Duterte government has so far done nothing substantial to curb forced migration and deviate from a policy of labor export. The Philippine economy’s dependence on remittances of OFWs remains unparelleled to this day.

“It will be a never-ending cycle, unless Pres. Duterte makes good his promise to address the root causes of forced migration. Unemployment, low wages, contractualization, landlessness, and poor social services have been driving our OFWs away. If the president sincerely wants our OFWs to come back home, we need more regular jobs, higher wages and pro-labor policies, not a labor export policy that has long gone bankrupt,” Hernando said.

To genuinely address the problem of forced migration, economic policies should focus on developing the national economy by advancing local industries, agriculture and basic services.

Migrante International fully supports the call and struggle for national industrialization and genuine land reform as the ultimate solution to the problem of forced migration. ###

Families of OFWs on deathrow troop to Malacanang to appeal for #ClemencyPH

Days before the two-year anniversary of the stay of execution of Mary Jane Veloso, her parents and other families of OFWs on deathrow trooped to Malacanang and appealed to the president to seek executive clemency for all OFWs on deathrow.

“Umaasa kami na gagawin ng ating pangulo ang lahat ng kanyang makakaya para mailigtas ang aming mga mahal sa buhay pangunahin sa pamamagitan ng clemency sa mga pinuno ng ibang bansa. Hiling ko na maisalba niya ang buhay ng mga OFW na biktima ng mga iligal na recruiter at sindikato ng iligal na droga. Tulad ng aking anak, ilang taon na silang nabubulok sa kulungan sa kasalanang hindi naman nila ginawa. Pangulong Duterte, mahabag po kayo, umaasa kami sa inyong panata na ililigtas ang pamilyang Pilipino mula sa pangil ng malalaking negosyante ng droga,” appealed Celia Veloso, mother of Mary Jane Veloso who remains incarcerated in Indonesia.  April 29 marks the second year anniversary of her temporary reprieve from execution.

Celia Veloso also expressed alarm over Philippine Court of Appeals recently issued temporary restraining order (TRO) on the supposed scheduled deposition of Mary Jane Veloso tomorrow, April 27. “Nangangamba ako na baka ituloy na ng gobyerno ng Indonesia ang pagbitay sa aking anak dahil sa bagal ng hustisya sa ating bansa at ang mismong pagpigil pa ng mga ahensiya ng ating pamahalaan sa pagkuha ng testimonya ng aking anak,” decried Veloso.

Alicia Dalquez, mother of Jennifer Dalquez, also plead to the president, “ikinagalak namin ang kanyang pangako na mapapauwi ang ilang OFW na nasa deathrow noong siya ay magpunta sa Middle East. Umaasa kami na gagawin niya ito para sa lahat ng aming mga mahal sa buhay. Umaasa kami sa kanyang pangako sa mga OFW na gagawin ang lahat para mabuo na muli ang aming mga pamilya.”

Jennifer Dalquez is an OFW who was sentenced to death in UAE after she accidentally killed an Emirati police who attempted to rape her. After a few postponements, the Al Ain appellate court is scheduled to release its decision today on the appeal to commute the death sentence on Jennifer Dalquez. She appealed on the basis of honoring her right of self-defense.

Veloso and Dalquiz were joined by families of other OFWs on deathrow (Rose Dacanay – Saudi Arabia and Gregoria Fajardo – Malaysia), Migrante International and church groups under the Churches Witnessing with Migrants (CWWM).

“We urge President Duterte to actively appeal for mercy and compassion for our kababayans, especially the innocent and those who were not given proper legal assistance by the previous administration. Now is the time to correct the misdeeds of the past regimes. Jennifer and Mary Jane’s cases attest to the need for active government intervention in saving the lives of innocent OFWs on death row,” said Laorence Castillo, Program Coordinator of Migrante International.

According to Migrante the first OFW executed under the Duterte administration, Jakatia Pawa, had a strong case to prove her innocence but was deprived of legal assistance by the Aquino administration.

Migrante has launched the campaign #ClemencyPH together with CWWM to push Pres, Duterte to actively seek for executive clemency for all OFWs on deathrow. On April 30, the families will be joined by supporters in a gathering of legislators (members of the House Committee on Overseas Workers Affairs) churches and migrants rights advocates in the University of the Philippines, Diliman.

“Clemency for all OFWs on death row” will be one of the main calls of Migrante International in the upcoming Labor Day rally on May 1. ###


On the creation of a “Department of OFWs”

digong-inaugural Indeed, there has been a growing clamor among (overseas Filipino workers) OFWs and their families for a “one-stop shop” that would cater to better services and  the protection and promotion of OFWs. This is mainly because the present “one-country-approach” being implemented by agencies tasked to provide direct services to OFWs, namely, the DFA, DOLE, OWWA and POEA, has been deemed dysfunctional, anti-migrant and inoperative.

Migrante International therefore sees and appreciates the rationale behind President Duterte’s proposal of establishing a “Department of OFWs (DOFW)” that seeks to systematize, consolidate and strengthen government efforts to protect our OFWs. This proposal in itself is already an initial critique of the performance of the above-mentioned government agencies over the years.

Migrante International, however, forwards serious apprehensions on the basis of its assessment of the performances of existing agencies concerned with dealing with OFW services and welfare. If a DOFW is to be established, it is imperative that the Duterte administration first thoroughly investigates how current concerned agencies, as well as existing laws and policies, benefited or failed our OFWs and their families.

In the last four decades, Philippine governments have been aggressive in crafting programs and services aimed to facilitate and encourage forced migration and labor export. While acknowledging the many social costs, these were effectively downplayed by the hailing of OFW remittances. Rather, the Philippine government has unfailingly and resolutely promoted the labor export policy as unequivocally beneficial for OFWs and their families. This is particularly done by overstating supposed development benefits for the economy and the income benefits for households.

The economic compulsion of past Philippine government to keep exporting Filipinos to maintain or, especially, to increase remittances unfortunately overrides and precludes any measures that, directly or indirectly, constrict the flow of migration, as enshrined in Republic Act of 8042 (amended by RA 10022), or the Migrants’ Act of 1995.

The Migrants’ Act of 1995 created the existing concerned agencies, laws and policies that are effective to this day. And twenty-two years after its enactment, the plight of OFWs has worsened.

This two-faced law is riddled with embellishments of migrants’ rights but treacherously traps OFWs into the worst possible scenario of commodification. It allowed past regimes to renege any responsibility in the protection of our rights and welfare while permitting the continuance of government financial exaction.

It is in this light that Migrante International poses this qualification: the creation of a DOFW should not work to merely further institutionalize labor export, but instead address the decades-long clamor of OFWs and their families to put an end to it.

Filipinos are being forced to migrate because of desperation as a result out of the economy’s lack of development resulting in job loss, low wages and lack of livelihood at home. OFWs have borne witness to how insincere, insensitive and inept past governments have been in upholding and securing the protection and welfare of OFWs. The past four decades of Philippine labor export has showcased a more blatant and unapologetic policy that continues to exploit OFWs’ cheap labor and foreign remittances in accordance to US imperialist interests and dictates.

Migrante International firmly believes that the Duterte government should strive towards ending forced migration and scrapping the bankrupt labor export policy. It is very open to work closely with the Duterte administration to ensure that this thrust is realized.

It will support the formation of a DOFW if, and only if, it would work towards the irrelevance of such a department and instead strive for a society in which families do not need to be torn apart just to survive. ###


Migrante to Duterte: Regular jobs, wages, pro-labor policies will entice OFWs to come home

Migrante International lauds the ongoing repatriation efforts of the PH government, as Pres. Duterte arrives home today with stranded OFWs who availed of the amnesty program of the Saudi Arabia government for undocumented migrant workers.
Repatriation efforts, however, will fall short if thousands upon thousands of returned OFWs will only fall victim anew to forced migration, the group said.
“We have stressed the need for a comprehensive reintegration program since the Saudi crisis came full force. We expect more OFWs to be repatriated or deported in light of the ongoing economic crisis in the Middle East and looming mass deportations of undocumented OFWs in US and Malaysia. They are to return home only to leave again in search of decent-paying jobs abroad that they will not be able to find here,” said Arman Hernando, Migrante Spokesperson.
Hernando said that while efforts of relief operations and on-site assistance should be lauded, these are short-term and band-aid solutions that do nothing to address the major issues of emergency repatriation, labor issues and comprehensive reintegration for affected OFWs and their families.
“It will be a never-ending cycle, unless Pres. Duterte makes good his promise to address the root causes of forced migration. Unemployment, low wages, contractualization, landlessness, and poor social services have been driving our OFWs away. If the president sincerely wants them to come back, we need more regular jobs, higher wages and pro-labor policies, not a labor export policy that has long gone bankrupt,” Hernando said.
Returned OFWs from Saudi Arabia and the Middle East are expected to join Labor Day protests on May 1. ###


#ClemencyPH Duterte urged to seek clemency for all OFWs on death row

Migrante International today urged President Rodrigo Duterte to seek clemency for all overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) on death row, especially the innocent and those who were not given proper legal assistance by the previous administration.

Duterte is set to arrive in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia today to seek audience with King Salman. Before he left, he vowed to bring home OFWs on Saudi death row. Malacanang, however, through Sec. Abella, announced yesterday that the president will not be bringing up the plight of OFWs on death row with the King.

Migrante-Saudi Arabia and members of the Filipino community will take up the appeal for OFWs on Saudi death row when they meet with the President today.

Today, April 12, is also the the date of the UAE Court of Appeal’s hearing on the case of Jennifer Dalquez, a Filipina domestic worker who killed her employer in self-defense for attempting to rape and kill her.  The court has called on the two children of Jennifer’s deceased employer to attend today’s hearing, where they will be asked to swear 50 times in the name of Allah that Jennifer killed their father. If this happens, the UAE Court of Appeals will uphold the death sentence on Jennifer today.

Jennifer’s supporters will hold a candle-lighting vigil later at the Boy Scout Circle in Timog in anticipation of the outcome of the court hearing. Jennifer’s family and supporters will also be holding candle-lighting vigils in Davao City and General Santos in Mindanao.

Meanwhile, the Philippine Court of Appeals recently issued a temporary restraining order (TRO) on the scheduled deposition of Mary Jane Veloso in Indonesia. Mary Jane’s lawyers filed a Motion for Reconsideration before the PH Court of Appeals last Monday, April 10, to lift the TRO. Mary Jane is supposed to deliver her deposition on April 27.

April 29 marks the second year anniversary of Mary Jane’s temporary reprieve from execution.

Migrante expressed alarm over the PH Court of Appeals’ decision as that this might deliver a negative message to the Indonesian government. “It has been two years, the Indonesian government has been lenient enough, patiently allowing for Philippine legal processes to take its course. This development may not bode well (with the Indonesian government). Justice delayed is justice denied in the case of the TRO on Mary Jane’s deposition. We call on the PH Court of Appeals to lift the TRO and allow Mary Jane to give her full testimony once and for all,” said Arman Hernando, Migrante spokesperson.

“In the spirit of the Holy Week, we urge President Duterte to actively appeal for mercy and compassion for our kababayans, especially the innocent and those who were not given proper legal assistance by the previous administration. The first OFW executed under the Duterte administration, Jakatia Pawa, had a strong case to prove her innocence but was deprived of legal assistance by the previous administration. Jennifer and Mary Jane’s cases attest to the need for active government intervention in saving the lives of innocent OFWs on death row,” Hernando said.

There are currently 81 OFWs on death row, according to latest data from the Department of Foreign Affairs. Migrante called on families and supporters of OFWs on death row to come forward to collectively appeal to President Duterte to seek clemency for their loved ones.

“Clemency for all OFWs on death row” will be one of the main calls of Migrante International in the upcoming Labor Day rally on May 1. ###

Duterte’s “broken vows” slammed as OFWs commemorate Flor Contemplacion’s 22nd death anniversary

On the 22nd death anniversary of overseas Filipino worker Flor Contemplacion, OFWs and families took to the streets alongside workers and other sectors to condemn the Duterte regime’s “broken vows”, among them the failure to end all forms of contractualization, the failure to provide free and decent housing for the poor and the implementation of other neoliberal attacks on Filipino labor.

These, along with widespread unemployment, landlessness and lack of basic social services, are the root causes of forced migration – something that Pres. Duterte promised to make “optional and not a necessity” when he assumed office.

“Now, with the passage of DOLE Department Order 174-2017, packaged as the government’s solution to workers’ problems, contractualization is legalized, aggravating the already rampant problem of labor flexibilization, depressed wages, and, ultimately, more massive unemployment. This without doubt will result in the forced migration of millions more of our workers to seek employment abroad because of desperation and the need to survive,” said Mic Catuira, Migrante International secretary-general.

Duterte’s earlier promise to end contractualization by 2016 was widely welcomed even by OFWs because it brought hope of coming home to a country with decent-paying regular jobs. “Now, with the passage of the DO, in light of the continuing crisis in the Middle East and looming mass deportations of undocumented migrants in the USA and Malaysia, our OFWs are to return to the country only to be forcibly driven away again to seek jobs despite risky conditions abroad,” Catuira said.

Joining the rally were the parents of Jennifer Dalquez, OFW on death row in Dubai, returned OFWs from Saudi Arabia and their families and OFW victims of government neglect.

 Labor export intensified

Catuira also criticized Duterte for perpetuating a more aggressive and detrimental labor export policy in his labor agenda. “Duterte, for all his posturing and promises, has not proven himself different from his predecessors when it comes to peddling Filipinos’ cheap and docile labor to the global market.”

He said that the government’s response to the worsening crisis in Saudi Arabia is testament to the continuing bankrupty of the Philippines’ labor export policy. In July 2016, Duterte promised to repatriate some 11,000 stranded OFWs in Saudi Arabia by yearend. However, on November 22, 2016, DOLE Sec. Bello announced that they “have succeeded in bringing back 3,000 OFWs while the rest have managed to find good-paying jobs in other companies”, saying that the OFWs opted to transfer to other companies, yet their withheld wages and necessary money claims have not been resolved.

“These statements are not only contradictory but treacherous. It now appears that the government deems the Saudi crisis fait accompli, problem-solved, and therefore business-as-usual between the Philippine government and its biggest OFW labor importer.”

“Was the DOLE’s humanitarian mission to Saudi Arabia not really for the main purpose of repatriating stranded OFWs but conducting damage-control for the beleaguered Saudi companies and local recruitment agencies through the facilitation of job transfers? If so, the promise to ‘end the Saudi stranded crisis’ by the end of 2016 was misleading and bound to fail from the start. Bello only succeeded in buying time and ‘rescuing’ the companies and local private recruitment agencies instead of the distressed OFWs. This is unsurprisingly in line with the ‘win-win’ solution and other deceiving, pro-capitalist neoliberal policies that the DOLE has been advocating thus far,” Catuira said.

OFWs support #OccupyBulacan

Catuira said that OFWs around the world also express solidarity with urban poor families under the flag of Kadamay who launched the #OccupyBulacan campaign on March 8.

“They are an inspiration to all sectors and testament to the correctness and strength of unity and collective action to secure the people’s rights and demands. That they remain steadfast despite harassment and threat of state fascism is proof of the Duterte regime’s neglect of the poor and yet another empty promise of change. The #OccupyBulacan families are also Filipino workers who suffer from depressed wages, contractualization and absence of adequate shelter and basic social services. We call on all OFWs and their families to support the #OccupyBulacan campaign,” Catuira said.

Migrante International also called for support for OFWs for food, water and other material support to help the barricades now being staged by Kadamay members in 5 different sites in Pandi, Bulacan. ###