OFWS at pamilya na biktima ng pagsabog ng Taal iginiit ang makabuluhang calamity assistance sa OWWA

Sa pangunguna ng Migrante Philippines, dinumog kahapon (Pebrero 22) ng mga returned OFWs at kapamilya ng migrante na matinding nasalanta ng pagsabog ng bulkang Taal ang OWWA Region 4 para igiit ang makabuluhang ayuda. Anila hindi sapat ang P1,500-P3,000 para makaahon mula sa matinding pinsala ng kalamidad sa kanilang kabuhayan.

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Ang mahigit 60 na pamilya na dumulog sa OWWA ay mula sa mga bayan ng Agoncillo, Balete at Talisay ng lalawigan ng Batangas at nakatira sa mga komunidad na kasama sa 7-km danger zone. Marami sa kanila ang dati nang dumulog sa OWWA na dismayado sa programang Calamity Assistance ng ahensya dahil sa maliit na halaga at kumplikadong proseso ng ayuda samantalang malaki na ang naging kontribusyon nila mula sa ilang taong pagiging OFW.

“Ngayong pumutok ang bulkan ay ubos ang aming kabuhayan. Yung aming pinag-abroadan ubos,” sabi ni Virgilio Morta na mula sa Pulo Island sa Brgy. Calawit, Balete na naging OFW noong 1997 hanggang 2018. Aniya wala pa siyang nakuha sa OWWA mula nang mag-abroad. “Kapag kukuha ka ng pera, papahirapan ka pa. Pero kapag ika’y magbabayad madali lang, wala nang kuskos-balungos…Papabalikin pa ako sa bente-sais para sa P1,500, lugi pa sa gasolina,” pahayag ng pagka-dismaya ni Morta.

“Pumunta kami dito at nakailang balik na. Ang P3,000 ba ay saan makakarating sa kalagayan namin ngayon na talagang apektado ng pagsabog ng Taal…Dagdagan ninyo sana ang P3,000… Ang mahalaga ay makapagsimula muli kami,” ayon naman kay Natalia Garcia na taga-Banyaga, Agoncillo na dati ding OFW.

Hinarap sila ng kinatawan ng OWWA Region 4 at sinabing sinusunod lamang nila ang polisiya mula sa main office ng OWWA na P1,500-P3,500 lamang ang nakatakdang ibigay na assistance sa mga nasalanta. Dahil dito hiniling nila, kasama ang Migrante, na makipag-diyalogo sa mga policy makers ng ahensya para igiit ang signipikanteng dagdag-ayuda.

Hinamon ng Migrante ang ahensiya na tugunan ang makatwirang hiling ng mga OFW. “Panindigan ninyo ang inyong binabalandra na OWWA Cares. Dinggin ninyo ang makatwirang hiling ng mga biktima. Hindi kami nanghihingi ng limos. Ginigiit lang namin ang karapatan sa pondo ng OWWA na mula mismo sa pawis at dugo ng OFWs,” hamon ni Arman Hernando, Tagapangulo ng Migrante Philippines.

Ayon sa mga nasalanta, kinakailangan nila sa minimum ng P20,000 para panimulang makaahon sa kalamidad. Kalakhan sa mga dumulog ay kasalukuyang walang kabuhayan dahil sa nasirang mga pananim at natigil na maliit na negosyo.

Ayon sa Migrante, ang kanilang pagdulog sa OWWA ay bunga ng serye ng relief operations at community consultations na kanilang isinagawa sa iba’t ibang bayan ng Batangas mula nang pumutok ang bulkang Taal.

“Ngayong pumutok ang bulkan ay ubos ang aming kabuhayan. Yung aming pinag-abroadan ubos,” sabi ni Virgilio Morta na mula mismo sa Pulo Island sa Brgy. Calawit, Balete na naging OFW noong 1997 hanggang 2018. Aniya wala pa siyang nakuha sa OWWA mula nang mag-abroad. “Kapag kukuha ka ng pera, papahirapan ka pa. Pero kapag ika’y magbabayad madali lang, wala nang kuskos-balungos…Papabalikin pa ako sa bente-sais para sa P1,500, lugi pa sa gasolina,” pahayag ng pagka-dismaya ni Morta.

Hinarap sila ng kinatawan ng OWWA Region 4 at sinabing sinusunod lamang nila ang polisiya mula sa main office ng OWWA na P1,500-P3,500 lamang ang nakatakdang ibigay na assistance sa mga nasalanta. Dahil dito hiniling nila, kasama ang Migrante, na makipag-diyalogo sa mga policy makers ng ahensya para igiit ang signipikanteng dagdag-ayuda.

Hinamon ng Migrante ang ahensiya na tugunan ang makatwirang hiling ng mga OFW. “Panindigan ninyo ang inyong binabalandra na OWWA Cares. Dinggin ninyo ang makatwirang hiling ng mga biktima. Hindi kami nanghihingi ng limos. Ginigiit lang namin ang karapatan sa pondo ng OWWA na mula mismo sa pawis at dugo ng OFWs,” hamon ni Arman Hernando, Tagapangulo ng Migrante Philippines.

Ayon sa mga nasalanta, kinakailangan nila sa minimum ng P20,000 para panimulang makaahon sa kalamidad. Kalakhan sa mga dumulog ay kasalukuyang walang kabuhayan dahil sa nasirang mga pananim at natigil na maliit na negosyo.

Ayon sa Migrante, ang kanilang pagdulog sa OWWA ay bunga ng serye ng relief operations at community consultations na kanilang isinagawa sa iba’t ibang bayan ng Batangas mula nang pumutok ang bulkang Taal.

 

Bukas na liham sa mga M/V Diamond Princess crew members at kanilang pamilya (Panawagan ng proteksiyon sa kalusugan, kabuhayan at kagalingan)

Hindi matatawaran ang patuloy ninyong pagtatrabaho sa gitna ng peligrong dulot ng COVID-19. Nananatili kayo sa lugar na kontaminado ng virus na matagal nang dapat na nilisan. Nagbibigay-serbisyo kayo sa sitwasyong dapat ay ginagawa ng mga may special skills at kahandaan. Lubos ang aming pagkilala sa inyo dahil dito. Ngunit mas matimbang doon ay nag-aalala kami sa inyong sakripisyo. Higit sa lahat hinahangad namin na kayo ay mailayo sa lubos na kapahamakan.

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PHOTO: Associated Press / File

Kaya naman po kami ay nananawagan na sama-sama tayong tumindig at iparating sa kinauukulan ang inyong kalagayan. Pagtulungan nating maagap na kamtin ang inyong mga makatwirang kahilingan. Dapat lamang na ilaan sa inyo ang mga sumusunod:

1. Kagyat na mabigyan ng impormasyon at mapasailalim sa isang komprehensibong plano ng proteksiyon mula sa impeksiyon ng COVID-19;

2. Tiyakin ang pinakamabilis, walang diskriminasyon, husto at nararapat na serbisyong medikal (physical at mental) sa lahat ng crew members lalo na sa mga may karamdaman at positibo sa COVID-19;

3. Agarang pagbabalik sa Pilipinas sakay ng mga dedicated flights na may kasamang medical team na may kakayahan at sapat na kagamitang tumugon sa lahat ng peligrong dulot ng COVID-19;

4. Makatanggap ng dagdag-kompensasyon sa inilaang serbisyo sa buong panahong pagtatrabaho at reparation sa mga panahong hindi makakapagtrabaho dulot ng peligrosong kalagayang ito;

5. Tiyakin na makababalik sa kaparehong katayuan sa trabaho pagkatapos makaahon sa panganib ng COVID-19.

Katuwang ninyo ang Migrante at hahamigin natin ang suporta ng pinakamaraming bilang ng mga nagmamalasakit na mamamayan upang tiyak na mapangalagaan ang inyong kalusugan, kabuhayan at kagalingan.

Contact:

Hotline – 0921-2709079 / Facebook – Migrante International

Stranded OFWs raise urgent appeal to lift the travel ban to Hong Kong. Daughter of a quarantined Filipino seafarer in Japan calls for medical repatriation

In a press conference held at the Migrante International home office on Monday, 17 February, OFWs affected by the travel ban expressed their demand to the Duterte government to lift the COVID-19 travel ban and grant exemption to returning migrant workers, students and residents. 

Eleveneth Baldero, a domestic helper from Hong Kong relayed her fear of losing her job due to the travel ban. “We are affected by the travel ban because contractual workers like us are fearful of getting terminated if we are unable to return back to our employers on time. My contract is set to expire on 6 March that is why I’m really worried. Financially, I am running out of money to sustain my stay here in the Philippines. This is why I really need to return back to Hong Kong,” Baldero said.

17 Feb PR

Rowena Lee was unable to hold back her tears thinking about her ailing mother in Hong Kong who was just discharged recently from the hospital. “This is a very big problem for us since my 75-year old mother in Hong Kong still needs medical attention and I really want to return so I can be with her. She is all by herself. I was only allowed by our manager to spend my leave up to 28 February. We hope that the government will lift the ban because we have needs to address and bills to pay like rent. Our family needs us. It will be very hard for us if we get forced by the situation to borrow money just to extend our stay here. I am pleading to the government to lift the travel ban so we can return to our normal lives. We are struggling because we are not earning anything here.”

Working as a company employee, Tess Aquino is a permanent resident and has been in Hong Kong for 23 years. Aquino arrived here on 15 January for her annual leave and was set to fly back on 9 February. She heard about the travel ban on 2 February and received an email notice from Philippine Airlines informing her about her flight’s cancellation. “I have attempted all possible ways to return back to Hong Kong. I was told by my company to try travelling to Hong Kong via Vietnam. Travel agencies refused to book my flight because of the travel ban and I was told that I will only be wasting my money because even if I make it to Vietnam, they would still not allow us to get to our final destination which is Hong Kong. For now, my company allowed me to temporarily work as home-based but for how long? I don’t think our employers will wait for us forever if this continues.”

Tess Aquino also re-echoed UNIFIL-Migrante Hong Kong’s view on the “terrible state of public health” in the Philippines. “If there are only adequate employment opportunities here in the Philippines, there could have been no need for us to leave the country. The government is now telling us that we cannot return back to our work. This is almost akin to taking away our lives. If we get sick here in the Philippines, local salaries here won’t be enough to shoulder medical expenses. We really need to have the Duterte government grant exemption to returning OFWs, students and residents.”

Former (FMWU-Hong Kong) Filipino Migrant Workers’ Union Chairperson Feliza Guy Benitez said that leave granted to OFWs usually lasts for 14-days . “If OFWs get terminated because they exceeded the 14-day leave, it will be hard for us to get back again to zero just to process all the application papers and the government won’t even pay for it.” Benitez also read the Urgent Appeal Joint Statement signed by 131 Hong Kong-based Filipino organizations. The statement called on the Duterte government to lift the ban imposed on 2 February to Filipinos travelling to Hong Kong. 

The statement cited reported estimates saying that there are around 25,000 overseas Filipino workers who have been unable to leave the country because of the ban. “We all feel that the travel ban which was imposed without a warning or consultation is unjustified and oppressive. It was decided upon without a comprehensive understanding of how it would affect us, and was not even in line with health protocols set by the World Health Organization. The abruptness by which it was carried out also belied the concern for Filipinos abroad that President Rodrigo Duterte has expressed in numerous speeches and interviews.” 

Aside from the 25,000 stranded OFWs, an additional 1,000 are affected by the travel ban consisting of Filipino residents, students and small business proprietors. “Health-wise, we also feel safer in Hong Kong where we are assured of excellent public health care at little or no cost to us. Some of us who have private medical insurance get the added bonus of being treated at private hospitals, also for free,” the joint urgent appeal statement said.

OFWs also blasted the miniscule amount of compensation offered by OWWA to qualified OFWs. “Each stranded OFW was offered Php10,000 compensation from the OWWA Fund, an amount that would not even pay for the expenses they had to bear after being stranded at the airport. Moreover, non-OFWs were given no help at all, when many of them don’t even have houses in the Philippines, and have to pay for food and lodging while waiting for the ban to be lifted. They are also in danger of suffering even more if they lose their jobs, as they pay high rents and other expenses such as school fees for their children in Hong Kong,” the joint urgent appeal stated.

“When I went to OWWA, I was told that I am not covered because they are only processing compensation up to 16 February. I really do not know whether I will still receive any compensation from the government,” Eleveneth Baltero added.

Feliza Guy Benitez decried the state of public health services in the Philippines. “People who need medical attention are safer in Hong Kong because of their advanced healthcare system. It will be harder for OFWs to settle back here in the Philippines because of high unemployment, low wages and contractualization.”

When asked about the proposal which seeks to require OFWs to sign a waiver freeing the government from any responsibility should they decide to proceed with their travel to Hong Kong, the stranded OFWs objected. Tess Aquino said that the waiver is “problematic because it is going to free the government from its responsibility towards us OFWs.” Migrante Philippines Rights and Welfare coordinator Lao Castillo said, “The waiver requirement is tantamount to obliging OFWs to surrender their right to receive government assistance. It is a dangerous precedent especially in times of conflict or crisis situations.”

Stranded OFWs at the presscon concurred with the joint urgent appeal statement issued by 131 Hong Kong-based organizations. “For all these reasons, we urge President Duterte to listen to our plea. Exempt Hong Kong from the travel ban. Allow us to go back to Hong Kong,” the urgent appeal stated.

Meanwhile, Victoria Lavado, the daughter of the Filipino seafarer of the cruise ship Diamond Princess is troubled by the situation of her father along with around 500 other Filipino seafarers who were placed under quarantine in Japan after 10 foreign ship crews which include 1 Filipino contracted COVID-19. “It took a long time before they received safety masks and they are still forced to work as if it is business as usual. There is no separate quarantine area for those who are already infected and they can still mix with other crews despite the risks. This is why I was really worried when I found out from reports that there are already 30 to 60 crews who are getting infected with COVID-19 daily. We really want the Duterte government to work on medical repatriation for my father and for the other Filipino seafarers. The government must find a way to provide quality medical services for them here in the Philippines which is unfortunately notorious for its poor public healthcare and medical facilities.”
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On the “peace briefing” by AFP Chief Parlade and NTF-ELCAC in Melbourne, Australia

Migrante Australia came out of the meeting organised by the newly opened Philippine Consulate General in Melbourne disgusted and deceived by the real intention of the community briefing.

Parlade

The Filipino community leaders and organisations became the captive audience of Major General Antonio Parlade Jr, the newly appointed chief of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Southern Luzon Command (Solcom) and who was previously the chief of staff for civil-military operations, J7. He was accompanied by 3 other AFP members.

The briefing was about the National Task Force to End Local Armed Conflict (NTF ELCAC) which – in its own words “aims to implement an efficient mechanism and structure for the whole-of nation approach to end the aspiration of the Filipino people to attain inclusive and sustainable peace”.

From Europe, the NTF has now come to Australia in its frantic attempt to discredit organisations that are exposing the issues and crimes of the Duterte regime. The NTF spread lies, attack critics of the Duterte government and red-tag organisations such as Migrante Australia and other civil society groups opposing Duterte’s anti-people policies and activities.

The invitation letter stated that the briefing will provide attendees, important updates on the peace initiative of the Philippine government under President Rodrigo Duterte. While it was a surprising effort, Migrante Australia nonetheless saw the importance of such an initiative especially as peace talks is a concern for every Filipino including migrant Filipinos who continue to be affected by the state of unpeace in the Philippines. Hence, its attendance to the briefing.

Once again, the “briefing” proves the Duterte government’s insincerity and lack of seriousness in tackling the issue of peace especially its root causes. If it was serious, the government should have not cancelled the peace talks with the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) and should refrain from its off and on “lets resume the talks” innuendos. The Filipino people has been longing for peace – and peace is not just about laying down arms – it is really about addressing genuine land reform and national industrialisation to create jobs so that Filipinos like us do not need to leave our families and seek employment abroad.

Diehard Duterte henchmen like General Parlade are not capable of engaging and holding a decent, factual conversation with any genuine freedom loving Filipino. The attitude they showed today at the briefing is exactly the same one they extended to Renato Reyes Jr, General Secretary of BAYAN (New Patriotic Alliance) at a forum in Melbourne on the 1st of February. These anti-peace mouthpieces of Duterte openly accused Migrante and its allied organisations as fronts of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and the New People’s Army (NPA) and as terrorists.

Parlade and his entourage of military coronels and majors are using public money that is meant to improve the lives of the people, to go around the world spreading lies and red-tagging community organisations critical of and voicing opposition to the Philippine government. In a time when financial resources are needed for victims of Taal Volcano eruption and for ensuring public health against the nCoV, here is the NTF wasting taxpayers’ money on red tagging junkets

Parlade in his presentation, treated the audience like they were stupid and ignorant who knew nothing about the situation in the Philippines. Several community leaders questioned Parlade and told him that members of Migrante and Gabriela and other organisations are not ignorant and will not standby and allow them to continue with their agenda to destroy the organisations that advocate and fight for migrants’ rights and welfare.

Migrante Australia has a track record of advocacy, welfare and support to Filipino migrants in Australia. They do all these with no compensation nor reward. Their members use their own time, resources and efforts in conducting welfare assistance, advocacy and campaign to better the conditions of migrants here especially the workers and students under temporary visas.

No amount of red tagging will stop Migrante Australia from defending the rights and welfare of Filipino migrants and fighting for a just and lasting peace in the Philippines, Australia and anywhere in the world where exploitation and oppression exist. ##

Veloso family, Migrante rejoice after Mary Jane’s recruiters adjudged guilty of large scale illegal recruitment

Justice, hardly fought for by the Veloso family, OFWs and supporters, has been won today. Migrante congratulates the Veloso family, the public prosecutors, NUPL, churches, advocates, organizations and the mass movement who struggled to make this monumental triumph possible. The guilty verdict on Mary Jane’s recruiters Maria Christina Sergio and Julius Lacanilao on a separate large scale illegal recruitment case filed in the Nueva Ecija Regional Trial Court shows the propensity of her recruiters to commit the abominable crime that brought her to the execution line. The outcome of this case shows her innocence and the justness of her desire to be free.

We now challenge the Duterte government to make use of this juncture to assert Mary Jane’s clemency.

We are calling on the innumerable people and groups who sided with Mary Jane until this day to continue the quest to #FreeMaryJaneVeloso.

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The complete file of the decision is available at the link below.

https://1drv.ms/b/s!AjW9HiQrETecdcAc9S-xmY2rjQw

Position Paper for the House Committee on Overseas Workers Affairs Meeting

January 21, 2020
House Committee on Overseas Workers Affairs Meeting
Migrante International Position Paper
Re: OFWs in the Middle East

Attention: Chairman of the Committee Raymond Mendoza and other Committee members

The dialogue today about the US-Iran political tensions and the recent death of OFW Jeanelyn Villavende should not be viewed and discussed as separate and distinct events but as related and key in developing a comprehensive analysis of the state of the Middle East and its impact on the millions of our OFWs in the region.

The Middle East is facing an unprecedented economic crisis. A crisis which has already brought detrimental consequences to the welfare and lives of our millions of Filipino migrant workers – both documented and undocumented- in the region. A crisis which has also produced another crisis – the widespread human rights abuses committed against our migrant Filipino workers.

The number and nature of the reported cases of various forms of abuse and exploitation and urgent pleas for help and assistance from our OFWs in the past three years documented by our organization alone reveal the perilous and insecure state facing our OFWs in the Middle East region.

Migrant Filipino Women
Unspeakable and horrific violence are facing our migrant women domestic workers in particular. They are harassed, abused, beaten, raped and killed in the most brutal and inhumane manner. Jeanelyn Villavende, who was killed by her employer in Kuwait and also recently found to be a victim of rape according to the autopsy conducted by the National Bureau of Investigation demonstrates this brutality. Many have requested to be rescued and repatriated but still remain at the hands of their abusive employer.

Countless of female distressed OFWs who are under the care of the Social Welfare Administration in Kingdom of Saudi Arabia have experienced labor and contract violations, physical abuse, unpaid and delayed salaries, working more than 8 hours without overtime pay, no vacation pay, attempted rape and molestation by their employers. Our migrant women are suffering from systematic gender-based violence and vulnerabilities with little to no protections afforded to them.

Deaths and Stranded OFWs
Our migrant workers are dying at an alarming rate—deaths that are due to disturbing patterns of abuse. According to OWWA, there have already been 400 of our OFWs who have died in Kuwait alone in the past three years. Notably, at least half of whom have died under questionable circumstances. Many grieving families and loved ones are seeking answers and justice, and yet find themselves losing hope. Moreover, there are about an estimate of 1,200-1,400 distressed OFWs who remain stranded in emergency shelters run by our Philippine embassies in the region, waiting for months even years to be repatriated back home. Majority of them have run away from their employers due to different forms of abuse and maltreatment. Majority are women.

US-Iran Conflict and Philippine Government response

The US-Iran conflict has brought about even more instability to our OFWs in the Middle East region and we are concerned about how our government has responded to protect the welfare of our OFWs.

First, the President’s declaration of siding with the US in the event that something happens to our OFWs completely disregards that it was the US who instigated the act of aggression towards Iran and places our OFWs in even more danger. Our country should not be involved in this war and we should promote peace in the Middle East region.

Second, by sending combatants – 8,000 soldiers- instead of humanitarian missions composed of teams of health workers, social workers, translators and diplomats who can provide a much more diverse array of services in times of political turmoil and crisis given their special skills — signals a message of readiness for war and not for a comprehensive response to protecting the welfare of our OFWs.

Third, by sending and tasking DENR Secretary Cimatu to lead the special envoy to the Middle East is an insult to OFWs given his past record of misusing evacuation funds during President Arroyo’s administration. It is no less than OWWA who reported that not a single OFW was evacuated during the time of the US-Iraq War.

Fourth, our OFWs and their families have not been informed of the details of the government’s evacuation and contingency plan. Where can OFWs seek safety before they will be evacuated?
Previous government response to wars in the Middle East – Libya and Syria – and challenges

In developing a comprehensive evacuation and contingency plan, it is important to take note of the challenges we faced during the time of war in Libya and Syria.

1. Not having the full accounting of all our OFWs in the Middle East region, especially our undocumented migrant workers who make up about 1/3 of the migrant workers in the region. We must know the exact location of all our OFWs in times of crisis and turmoil. What is the plan of the government to know where they are and how to contact them to communicate the emergency plans?
2. Only a small budget was allotted for the evacuation and there were few diplomatic staff to support millions of our workers. How will the government also ensure that the budget allotted for evacuation and contingency plans will truly be spent to serve the concrete needs of our OFWs and not to advance a US-led war?

3. Our OFWs in Syria were reporting that their employers will ask for a repatriation refund. Employers even raised this fee up to as much as $10,000 per worker. How will our workers be able to afford that? Will the government allot funds for that and where will it get the funds?

4. Many domestic helpers were left behind by their employers and many migrant workers could not leave the country without their employers issuing exit visas. If they run away, they will be vulnerable and placed in immigration jail. How can our government work towards negotiating with host countries for issuance of blanket clearance to ensure safe and efficient evacuation?

5. About 80% of the 1,800 OFWs repatriated from Syria were victims of human trafficking according to a report provided by the Inter-Agency Council Against Trafficking (IACAT). This is significant and alarming. How can our government ensure our OFWs who will be repatriated will not fall victim to human trafficking?

How should our Congress act and respond?

We recommend our members of Congress to:
1. Develop a comprehensive response and plan to the political and economic crisis in the Middle East in order to fully protect our OFWs
2. Consult with OFWs who have experienced previous wars in the Middle East and learn from their experiences and the weaknesses of government response
3. Conduct a full auditing of our OFWs in the region – especially our women and children
4. Immediately repatriate our distressed OFWs who are stranded in the emergency shelters of our embassies
5. Declare a position of neutrality and stand for peace in the Middle East region, not war.

 

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.

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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.  

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