On the recently-held solidarity visit to Mary Jane Veloso in Indonesia

(A report prepared by Migrante International)

During the prison visit to Mary Jane on September 14, 2018, the Veloso family was joined by representatives from Migrante International, National Union of People’s Lawyers and the delegates of the Interfaith Mission for Solidarity and Service with Migrants, Refugees and Uprooted People. Coming from various faith-based, migrant-servicing and migrants’ organizations from Malaysia, Bangladesh, Indonesia and Hongkong, the delegation paid a visit to Mary Jane inside the Wirogunan Penitentiary in Yogyakarta, Indonesia to express their support and solidarity with Mary Jane’s struggle. The visit was an urgent resolution undertaken by the interfaith event. Since Mary Jane’s incarceration in 2010, it was the biggest international group of prison visitors.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

In arranging the visit, representatives from the Philippine embassy and the prosecutor’s office of Indonesia accompanied the team. Mary Jane’s lawyers from the Rudyantho & Partners Law Firm were also present.  They were later joined by Catholic locals who have been regularly ministering to Mary Jane.

At around 9:00 a.m., 12 members of the team entered the penitentiary compound and was welcomed by Mary Jane herself in the visitation area.  Tears of joy flowed from Mary Jane’s eyes the moment she saw Tatay Cesar and her two children. Mary Jane immediately embraced them. Mark Darren and Mark Danielle were showered with hugs and kisses. They were all beaming with smiles.  Mary Jane sat down and tried to carry and kiss Darren like a baby. Mary Jane was frequently heard saying “miss na miss ko kayong mga anak ko.” Seeing her eldest son Mark Danielle who had grown tall, she exclaimed: “Ang laki-laki mo na, Mac-mac! Hindi ka ganiyan kalaki noong huli tayong nagkita! Binata ka na!”  It can be seen from Tatay Cesar’s eyes that he was very happy that his daughter and grand children were together again after almost two years.

The group members introduced themselves to Mary Jane, one after the other.  Everybody was ecstatic. Afterwards, the prison officers guided them to sit on the carpeted floor of the building.   The group formed a circle and Mary Jane sat beside her children. She thanked everyone who visited her that day and expressed appreciation to all who made her family’s visit possible.  She then related her situation inside the prison. Although lonely and longing for her return to the Philippines, she told everyone not to worry so much about her because she has many friends inside the prison and everyone there is kind to her.  She said “Kapag mabait ka sa mga tao sa paligid mo, magiging mabait din sila sa iyo. Walang-wala ako dito, ang tangi ko lang nabibigay sa kanila ay ang pagiging mabuti ko. Tumutulong ako sa kanila sa abot ng makakaya ko, kaya siguro ganoon na lang din ang tulong na nakukuha ko sa kanila.”  She then showed two plastic bags containing pairs of slippers, shirts, foods and other stuff which she received from jail officers and fellow inmates. She said that those who heard about her family’s visit gave those items for her family, especially for her children. Darren was given a yellow watch that transforms into a robot.  Mary Jane put it on his wrist and asked him if he already knows how to read the time. Darren answered “opo..nine hundred twenty-nine,” referring to the time which was already 9:29 a.m.

The visitors, even Mary Jane’s lawyers from the Philippines and Indonesia were not allowed to discuss with her the details about the case or any activity or information related to it.   A representative from the Philippine embassy and Prosecutor Anggraeni, the prosecutor who handles the case of Mary Jane, forewarned the delegation that only the governments of Indonesia and the Philippines could give Mary Jane updates about her case through their “G-to-G” (government to government) coordination.

Imposed with this limitation, the delegation gave Mary Jane some words of encouragement. Mary Jane was elated to find out that many people from around the world are working very hard to fight for her freedom and are waiting for the day when she will finally be released.  The group then sang the Christian hymn “Pananagutan.” Mary Jane then recited a poem for the delegation. The poem, written in Bahasa Indonesia was entitled Sepucuk Harapan (A Spark of Hope).

Everyone listened intently as Mary Jane recited the poem.  Many were unable to hold back their tears. She explained that the poem purely came out from the depths of her feelings. In creating the poem, she related that she was moved by her faith in God and by her confidence that all her supporters, both inside and outside the prison will never forsake her.

The meeting culminated with an ecumenical prayer led by Bishop Joel Tendero of the United Church of Christ in the Philippines.  The offered prayer asked for Mary Jane’s strength with the hope that she will be reunited with her family in the Philippines someday.

The delegation was only given an hour during the visit while Mary Jane’s loved ones were allowed to stay until 12:00 p.m.

Reverend Joram Calimotan from the Asia Pacific Mission for Migrants said, “It was heartwarming to witness Mary Jane Veloso’s face light up upon seeing and being reunited with her sons Mark Danielle and Mark Darren as well as her father Cesar. The three were part of the 12-people delegation from the interfaith mission who went to visit Mary Jane in the Yogyakarta prison on September 14. Mary Jane herself was radiant and full of hope, especially when she read a poem she wrote in Bahasa Indonesia. Her poem spoke of a will to go on, of not losing hope. Albeit brief, our conversations with Mary Jane provided us with not only inspiration but a stronger determination to pursue justice for her. We will continue until she is finally free and reunited with her family here in the Philippines.”

On the second and last visit to Mary Jane the following day, the Veloso family had a more private and intimate time with her. She was also provided with updates on the development of the international campaign.

After bidding farewell to her daughter, Tatay Cesar addressed the group and said, “Nagpapasalamat ang aking anak sa lahat-lahat ng sumusuporta na, (quoting Mary Jane) ‘sana Tatay ay huwag po ninyong lubayan ang paghingi ng tulong sa mga tumutulong sa akin. Sana ay gawin nila lahat para makauwi na ako.’ Ang sabi ko naman, anak kahit madalang kaming bumisita sa iyo, maraming sumusuporta sa iyo kaya huwag kang mag-alala at maraming tumutulong at gumagabay sa inyo.”

Migrante International spokesperson Arman Hernando gave his insight on the prison visit, he said. “We visited Mary Jane because we wanted her to feel, that despite all of the adversities, the outpour of support on her struggle for freedom never ceases. But after talking to her, it seems that we are the ones who got inspired by her undying courage and hopefulness.”

“Terima Kasih Mary Jane! I will forever treasure this day! We pledge that we are going to see this through! We will win your freedom,” Hernando concluded.

Advertisements

“Sepucuk Harapan” (A Spark of Hope) by Mary Jane Veloso

 

41869162_282457205696567_5056169572550311936_n

Mary Jane Veloso’s actual handwriting

41739909_2119505881637655_7747424182194929664_n

Mary Jane’s actual handwriting

 

Sepucuk Harapan

Hari demi hari kulalui
Dengan rasa sakit yang kualami
Dimana ketenangan hatiku
Dimana kedamaian jiwaku
Dimana sukacita yang selalu memenuhi hidupku.

Lenyap… Lenyap sudah…

Keterpurukan… ketidakberdayaan mengganggu hati dan pikiranku.
Namun… sepucuk harapan mulai tumbuh saat aku mengenalmu.
Ketenangan.. kedamaian kembali kurasakan.
Kau… adalah sahabat sekaligus guru bagiku.
Darimu… aku banyak belajar dan berserah diri
Karenamu… aku bisa menghargai arti dari hidup ini

Jeruji besi… menjadi kampus kehidupan bagiku
Mengajariku untuk selalu bersyukur…
Berpikir optimis dan tetap berkarya dalam keterbatasan yang ada.

Sepucuk harapan… memenuhi hatiku
Membangun sebuah harapan baru.
Harapan… bahwa suatu hari nanti… kebebasan dan keadilan membawaku keluar di jeruji besi ini.

Menyambut harapan yang baru.
Sepucuk harapku atas asaku.

-Mary Jane Veloso
September 14, 2018
Wirogunan Prison, Yogyakarta, Indonesia

 

A Spark of Hope

With each passing day I endure
The pain that I go through.
Where is the stillness of my heart?
Where is the peace in my soul?
Where is the joy that always fill my life?

Gone. Completely gone.

Frustration and helplessness disturb my heart and mind.
Yet a spark of hope began to grow the moment I met you.
Calmness and peace I feel again.
You are my close friend and teacher.
From you I learned much and in you I put my trust.
Through you I value what it means to be alive.

The prison cell serves as my school grounds,
Teaching me to always be grateful,
To think optimistically and keep working within restricted space.

A spark of hope fills my heart,
Growing a new hope.
A hope that one day freedom and justice will take me out of this prison cell.

I welcome that new hope,
A spark of hope for my sake.

-Mary Jane Veloso
September 14, 2018
Wirogunan Prison, Yogyakarta, Indonesia

 

Isang Kislap ng Pag-asa

Sa araw-araw tinitiis ko
Ang sakit na aking dinaranas.
Nasaan ang kapanatagan ng aking puso?
Nasaan ang kapayapaan ng aking kaluluwa?
Nasaan ang kagalakan na laging pumupuno sa aking buhay?

Naglaho na. Naglaho nang tuluyan.

Pagkabigo at pagkalugmok ay lumiligalig sa aking puso at isip.
Ngunit may kislap ng pag-asang umusbong nang makilala ka.
Kapanatagan at kapayapaan ay muli kong naramdaman.
Ikaw ay matalik kong kaibigan at guro.
Sa iyo marami akong natutuhan at sa iyo ibinigay ko ang aking tiwala.
Dahil sa iyo pinahahalagahan ko ang kabuluhan ng buhay.

Bilangguan ang nagsisilbi kong paaralan,
Nagtuturo sa aking laging maging mapagpasalamat,
Mag-isip nang optimistiko at magpatuloy sa pagkilos sa kabila ng paghihigpit.

May kislap ng pag-asang pumupuno sa aking puso,
Nagpapasibol ng bagong pag-asa.
Isang pag-asang isang araw, ilalabas ako ng kapayapaan at hustisya mula rito sa bilangguan.

Tinatanggap ko ang bagong pag-asa,
Isang kislap ng pag-asa para sa aking kapakanan.

Mary Jane Veloso
Setyember 14, 2018
Bilangguang Wirogunan, Yogyakarta, Indonesia

Isinalin sa Filipino ni Mark Angeles, poetry editor ng Bulatlat.

41917840_309797746271621_2783073008909025280_n

 

APPEAL FOR URGENT ACTION: LET HER SPEAK THE TRUTH! Allow Mary Jane to Testify Against Human Traffickers and Drug Syndicates #SaveMaryJane

Let MJ Speak Postcard Front
In an 8-page resolution dated June 5, 2018, the Philippine Court of Appeals dismissed the motion for reconsideration and affirmed its earlier decision issued on December 13, 2017 prohibiting Mary Jane Veloso from issuing a testimony against her alleged recruiters from her jail cell in Indonesia through a written deposition. According to the appellate court’s explanation, it would prejudice the rights of Sergio and Lacanilao to confront her and scrutinize her testimony face-to-face.

We now find it ironic that a court in Mary Jane’s own country now seems to be the only hurdle in her pursuit of justice and freedom as she still stands to lose her life. For this reason, Mary Jane’s parents Celia and Cesar Veloso submitted a petition to the Supreme Court of the Philippines on September 3, 2018 to reverse the appellate court’s ruling and allow Mary Jane to give her testimony against her wrongdoers.

Moreover, Mary Jane’s deposition in the Indonesian prison will not infringe the constitutional rights of respondents Sergio and Lacanilao since they have the speedy and adequate remedy of proceeding to trial and cross-examining Mary Jane in the form of written interrogatories.

Mary Jane is the principal complainant in the trafficking case against Cristina Sergio and Julius Lacanilao, the live-in couple who recruited her supposedly for work in Malaysia but was instead deployed to Indonesia.

Evidence presented in Philippine courts established that, among others, Sergio and Lacanilao have no license to recruit anyone for employment abroad. It is also established that they asked and was paid by the Velosos for Mary Jane’s trip and the job offer. Sergio’s records also showed that she has traveled very often to Asian countries several years prior. Likewise, it was proven that it was Sergio who gave Mary Jane the luggage and plane ticket for her trip to Indonesia.

The only evidence that remains to be presented is the testimony of Mary Jane herself. Deposition in Indonesia jail, therefore, is the only available, allowable and practicable mode to officially get Mary Jane’s testimony as she is in jail on death row.

Hence, we once again unite and amplify our voices for Mary Jane. We are calling on the Supreme Court of the Philippines and other authorities to allow her to testify in Indonesia.

We are calling on President Duterte to do everything in his power to let Mary Jane speak the truth if he is really serious in pursuing big international drug trafficking syndicates. Through this, we are one step closer in our quest to finally #SaveMaryJane and bring her home.

 

RECOMMENDED ACTIONS:

 

As ORGANIZATIONS, send letters, emails or fax messages calling on:

  • The Supreme Court of the Philippines to reverse the apellate court’s ruling and allow Mary Jane to give her testimony through written deposition in her prison cell in Indonesia.You may use this letter template: http://bit.ly/2Nb5SrB.
  • Philippine President Rodrigo Roa Duterte to exhaust all means to save Mary Jane’s life and pave the way for her to be reunited with her family.
  • Indonesian President Joko Widodo to grant Mary Jane Veloso clemency on grounds of a mistrial and for humanitarian reasons. Letters may be coursed through respective Indonesian embassies.

 

As INDIVIDUALS or GROUPS, you can:

 

ADDRESSEES:

Office of the Chief Justice
Supreme Court of the Philippines
3rd Floor, New Supreme Court Building Annex,
Padre Faura Street, Ermita, Manila City,
1000 Metro Manila, Philippines

Telephone (632) 5225090; 5225094
Telefax (632) 5268129
Email pio@sc.judiciary.gov.ph




Office of the President
Republic of the Philippines
Malacañang Complex
J.P. Laurel Street,

Telephone : (632)7368645; 7368603; 7368606; 7368629; 7368621
Telefax: (632)7368621
E-mail Address : pcc@malacanang.gov.ph




Office of the President
Republic of Indonesia
Istana Merdeka
Jakarta Pusat 10110, Indonesia
Telefax: (62) 213864816; 213442233
Email: ppid@setkab.go.id


FACT SHEET: Allan B. Rafael

Personal Background:

Allan Rafael, 35, from Dagami, Leyte, is a father to an eight-year old boy and the second eldest among five male siblings. He was born from a family of poor peasants who gravely suffered in the Yolanda storm in 2013.

Allan graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Hotel and Restaurant Technology in Eastern Visayas State University. Before working abroad, he worked as a crew for various restaurants such as Dad’s, Saisaki and Kamayan in Quezon City.

39257279_291235491460036_643765754574929920_n

In 2012, he started working as a waiter in The Bellevue, a restaurant in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. For his outstanding skills, he was trained to be a chef by his employers. In 2016, after finishing his second contract, he returned to the Philippines. Eyeing a better future, he took the SOLAS (Safety Of Life At Sea) training to qualify as an international cruise ship employee. While applying to be a seaman, he failed in the medical examination because he was diagnosed with Lymphoma.

Since 2017, while undergoing medication, he took residence in Manila with his live-in partner. He underwent chest surgery and was undergoing a series of chemotherapy treatments at the Philippine General Hospital. According to his family, he was close to recovery and was very optimistic of securing a new job abroad upon completion of his medical treatment.

39032266_2063949953655221_7297672038934642688_n

Case Timeline:

August 2 – About five in the afternoon, while driving a motorcycle, Allan was flagged by an unidentified police officer in Recto Avenue corner Loyola Street in Manila while he was on his way to fetch his partner in Malate, Manila. Rafael’s family got worried when he went missing that night. But trusting that he would never be involved in any altercation, their worry at that point was that Allan might have gotten involved in a motorcycle accident. They did not receive any information from the police regarding Allan’s arrest.

August 3 – Around 6:00 a.m, Allan’s partner was informed by a neighbor that Rafael was detained at the Barbosa Police Station in Quiapo, Manila. She immediately went to visit him while Allan’s siblings went to the prison in the evening of the same day. Allan narrated to his younger brother Aaron the details of his arrest. According to Allan, the police out of nowhere, appeared and ordered him to stop his motorcycle. He was apprehended by the police for no reason. The police showed immediate interest on the watch Allan was wearing and upon frisking they also noticed his Iphone. The police then asked Allan if his watch and cellphone are original items. However, since he kept on reasoning out with the police, he was taken to the Barbosa Police Station. Inside the police station, his belongings, including his watch, cellphone, wallet and motorcycle, were taken by the police officers.

Allan told Aaron that policemen in civilian clothing beat him up to force him to confess drug use as they allegedly found 0.43 grams of shabu in Allan’s belongings. Their drug accusation was solely based on his thin and frail appearance, even though Allan consistently argued about his medical condition. Allan suggested that he undergo a drug test to prove that he is not into using illegal drugs but the policemen denied his request.
PNP told the family that charges against Rafael would be dropped if they hand over P35,000 to the police.

August 4 – Rafael underwent inquest in the Manila City Prosecutor’s Office and was charged with “illegal possession of dangerous drugs.”

August 5 – During Aaron’s visit, Allan told him that his newly-operated chest was painful because of the persistent beatings carried out by the police. Although in pain, according to Aaron, Allan was still strong, resilient and optimistic. Allan was supposed to undergo his next chemotherapy on August 13.

August 6 – Around 7:00 a.m., Allan’s partner visited the police station to deliver Allan’s breakfast. But upon entry to the police station, she was surprised that her partner was not there. She asked one of the police officers about Allan’s whereabouts. One of the policemen answered that Allan was rushed to the emergency room of Jose Reyes Memorial Hospital after vomiting blood and suffering shortness of breath that morning.

Allan’s partner immediately went to the hospital and arrived at the emergency room past 8:00 a.m. She was once again stunned by the fact that Allan was not there at the emergency room. One of the hospital employees told her that Allan’s body was already in the morgue. She then went to the morgue and positively identified Allan’s body. Allan’s siblings arrived at the hospital past 9:00 a.m. Upon inquiry, the family found out that Allan was declared dead on arrival by 6:15 a.m. Aaron then took pictures of Allan’s body which showed signs of physical abuse especially on the neck, chest and legs.

Clueless on what to do next, Allan’s body was immediately taken by the staff of Cruz funeral parlor and brought to its own mortuary. From there, an NBI medico-legal conducted an autopsy of Allan’s body. The autopsy too was not properly sanctioned by the family.

39304934_269305897231082_6963904911977218048_n

August 7 – Allan’s body was transported to Dagat-Dagatan, Caloocan City for the wake. On the same day, Aaron called for justice for his brother. On his Facebook account:

“Malakas pa siya noong nakausap namin nung Linggo bakit kinabukasan patay na kaagad? Bakit niyo ipina-embalsamo eh wala pang miyembro ng pamilya? May tinatago ba kayo? Dumating yung mag-otopsy tapos nang maebalsamo. Paano malalaman ang totoong dahilan ng pagkamatay ng kuya ko kung inembalsamo na agad? Bakit kayo nagmamadali? Umaasa kaming pinahahalagahan pa ang buhay dito sa Pilipinas at naniniwala kaming gumagana pa ang hustisya dito sa bansa.”

(He was still strong when we visited him on Sunday, why did he suddenly die the very next day? Why did you embalm him without our presence? Are you hiding something? He was autopsied after the embalmment. How would we
know the cause of death if he was already embalmed? Why were you in a rush? We’re hoping that life is still valued in the Philippines. We believe that justice still works in the country.”

August 8 – Migrante received news from concerned citizens about Allan’s case and immediately looked for ways to reach Allan’s family in Metro Manila.

August 9 – In a report by the Philippine Daily Inquirer, the PNP denied that Allan was beaten up. A statement by the Manila Police District (MPD) sent by Police Chief Supt. Guillermo Eleazar, Director of the National Capital Region Police Office (NCRPO), was received by the media outfit saying:

“We would like to clarify that the detainee was not subjected to torture or inhumane treatment.”

“He was not slain contrary to the allegation of some.”

In the same report, it revealed that Aaron “claimed that the police officers stole Allan’s watch and forced him to withdraw cash from the bank before taking him to the Barbosa Police Community Precinct on August 2.”

August 9 – Migrante attended Allan’s wake and offered assistance to the family in their pursuit for justice. Migrante offered support in facilitating the re-autopsy and is seeking for an independent investigation through the Commission on Human Rights.

August 10 – Rappler reported that the NBI has started its investigation into the death of Allan. MPD head Chief Superintendent Rolando Anduyan confirmed this to Rappler through a phone interview.

References:
1. Accounts of Allan Rafael’s family
2. Aaron Rafael’s Facebook account
3. http://newsinfo.inquirer.net/1019645/former-ofw-dies-under-police-custody-cops-deny-he-was-beaten-up
4. https://www.rappler.com/nation/209268-nbi-investigation-allan-rafael-death-under-police-custody

SUMA 2017: A year of big talk, band-aids and business-as-usual for OFWs and families

State of Migrants, Prepared by Migrante International, June 30, 2017

President Rodrigo Duterte, for all his posturing and promises, has so far done nothing substantial to curb forced migration, something that he promised to make “optional and not a necessity” when he assumed office. Instead, what we have seen thus far is a rehash of the same neoliberal policy of labor export when it comes to peddling Filipinos’ cheap and docile labor to the global market.

 

Weak economy resulting in forced migration

Pres. Duterte’s earlier promise to end contractualization by yearend 2016 was widely welcomed even by OFWs because it brought hope of them coming home to decent-paying regular jobs. However, this promise is yet to be fulfilled. In light of the continuing crisis in the Middle East and looming mass deportations of undocumented migrants in the USA and Europe, OFWs are expected to return to the country only to be forcibly driven away again to seek jobs despite risky conditions abroad.

Independent think-tank IBON Foundation estimates that there are still 11.5 million Filipinos who are without work or still looking for more work because of the poor quality of jobs. There were 24.4 million citizens in low-paying and insecure work with little or no benefits in 2016. The most recent Department of Labor and Employment’s (DOLE) Order 174 has been exposed to even fortify the practice of contractualization rather than end it.

With the passage of DO 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.

Widespread unemployment and contractualization are root causes of forced migration. Fewer Filipinos were jobless in the first quarter of 2017 compared to 2016, but Filipino optimism on job prospects went down as well, a Social Weather Stations (SWS) survey revealed. According to Trading Economics, a New York-based global economics research institute, unemployment rate in the Philippines rose to 6.6 percent in the first quarter of 2017, from 4.7 percent in the December quarter. This is the highest jobless rate since March 2015.

The gap between the rich and the poor has further widened, with the income of the top 1% of families equivalent to that of the bottom 30% of households (IBON). According to Forbes, 13 of the richest Filipinos made it to its top billionaires of the world in March 2017.

It is in this light that Migrante International fully supports workers’ demand for a P750 national minimum wage. A P750 national minimum wage can significantly reverse the migration of OFWs. If implemented, for every year, around 200,000 workers can opt to stay and contribute their labor and skills to nation-building while living decently with their families.

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

Data from the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) shows that since 2011 the country has been annually deploying at least 200,000 OFWs to job positions with salaries ranging from USD$400-500 per month. Majority are household service workers and general laborers in the Middle East who receive monthly salaries of USD$400 1,500 Saudi riyals, respectively. According to 2015 data from the PSA, these OFWs account for 33 percent of the total OFW deployment.

Meanwhile, OFWs are coming back home in droves not because they choose 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 Saudi Arabia and the Middle East. What awaits them in the event of their emergency return? Definitely there are not enough decent-paying domestic jobs available. What the Duterte 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.

 

Intensification of labor export

The government’s response to the ongoing crisis in Saudi Arabia is testament to the continuing bankrupty of the Philippines’ labor export policy. Last July 2016, Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) Sec. Silvestre Bello III promised to resolve the issue of stranded OFWs in Saudi Arabia by yearend. Now, a year since, what has the government done so far in response to their plight?

In a press conference in Malacanang last November 22, Sec. Bello announced that “only 2,000 OFWs remain to be repatriated in Saudi Arabia”. In the same breath, Sec. Bello said that they “have succeeded in bringing back 3,000 OFWs while the rest have managed to find good-paying jobs in other companies”. This statement is very problematic.

Firstly, the government merely accounts for some 5,000 affected OFWs, still a far cry from the 11,000 it vowed to repatriate early on – and still yet a small percent of the actual number of affected OFWs outside of the three big companies, Saudi Oger Ltd, Saudi Billadin Group (SBG) and Mohammad Al Mojil Group (MMG).

Sec. Bello, in the same press conference, announced that the OFWs opting to transfer to other companies “made it easier for us (the government)”, but he also admitted that the OFWs have not yet been paid their withheld wages and necessary money claims. These statements are not only contradictory but treacherous on the part of the government.

On one hand, 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.

Government efforts have also been fragmented, with various agencies involved, particularly the DOLE and Department of Foregin Affairs (DFA), “one-upping” each other in terms of who played a command role in the government’s humanitarian mission to Saudi Arabia. Migrante’s sources in the DFA claim that after the initial and only press conference, where Sec. Bello and DFA’s Perfecto Yasay publicly flanked Pres. Duterte as he welcomed a handful of repatriated OFWs from Saudi, the labor secretary had been reluctant to conduct a follow-up humanitarian mission after he first one in July.

Thus begging the question: Was the DOLE’s objective in the government’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 yearend 2016 was misleading and bound to fail from the start. Job transfers of crisis-ridden OFWs have been the thrust of the previous governments – as in the case of the MMG workers who initially called for emergency mass repatriation in 2014, were convinced by the PH government to be transferred to other companies, only to enlist yet again for repatration in 2015 after the company they transferred too was also affected by the Saudi crisis.

If Sec. Bello worked mainly to facilitate job transfers, then he only succeeded in buying time for and “rescuing” the companies and local private recruitment agencies instead of the affected OFWs. This is unsurprisingly in line with DO 174 and other deceiving, pro-capitalist and anti-labor policies that the DOLE has been advocating thus far.

Meanwhile, the crisis in Saudi and the Middle East continue to worsen. OFWs, those who Sec. Bello said “opted” to stay on, have not become impervious to the crisis just because they were transferred to different companies. The crisis is also now affecting not only OFWs in industrial and construction sites but those in the service and health sectors as well.

The Duterte government, however, now appears to deem the Saudi crisis fait accompli, problem-solved, and therefore business-as-usual between the Philippine government and its biggest OFW labor importer.

Remittances from OFWs remain at record-high despite the global economic crisis, reaching a record-high USD$26.9 billion in 2016 and accounting for 10 percent of the country’s Domestic Product (GDP). However, although annual remittances increased, its growth rate has been decreasing in recent years. The continuing decrease in growth rate is a constant worry for the Philippine government. If the trend continues, as it is expected to, the governent will be in big trouble because it relies mainly on remittances for its foreign exchange revenues.

This explains the Duterte administration’s thrust to further to seek job markets abroad and intensify its labor export program. Through remittances, the government earns exponentially without having to shell out much capital investment. Even funds for labor export management through agencies sucha as the POEA or the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) are directly sourced from OFWs or recruitment agencies and employers through an assortment of fees.

Duterte, while mouthing local job generation as the government’s core program to eliminate forced migration, continues to hail the “bagong bayani” and their “contribution to the economy” to further promote labor export. To do this, he has become more aggressive and active in lobbying for job markets and signing of bilateral agreements with host countries in the past year though numerous state visits.

Aside from remittances, labor export also provides a tempting alternative to the unemployed and underemployed. Through it, the government insulates itself from its responsibility to create local regular jobs that offer decent wages. Instead, it becomes more convenient to evade genuine and strategic policy reforms to turn the economy around.

The  country’s  economic  situation  has  not  improved  under Duterte’s rehashed neoliberal economic policies. Duterte’s “10-point economic agenda” still relies heavily on foreign investment, debt and export-dependence, particularly the dependence on the export Filipinos’ cheap labor in exchange for remittances.

 

Foreign policy

With regard foreign policies and relations affecting our OFWs and Filipinos overseas, Duterte’s statement that he “will not lift a finger” to help the almost one million undocumented Filipino e/migrants in the US under threat of mass deportation due to US Pres. Trump’s anti-migrant program is very telling of his overall attitude and policy.

According to the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA), there are currently 3.4 million Filipinos in the US, second only to Saudi Arabia in terms of Filipino populace. Of the 3.4 million, close to one million are undocumented and vulnerable to Trump’s repressive crackdown.

It is the government’s duty to assist Filipinos abroad, regardless of their status. Do we turn our backs on them when they direly need the help of their government? Should any harm befall them in the US, Duterte will be to blame if he continues to tolerate and support Trump’s neo-fascism.

The Duterte government’s position calling on all undocumented Filipinos in the US to “just come home” is also a very insensitive stance. Like all other OFWs, they were forced to seek so-called better pastures in the US (or elsewhere in the world) due to widespread joblessness, contractualization and low wages, landlessness and lack of basic social services. Over the years, OFWs in conflict-ridden areas have opted to stay and risk their lives and welfare because they know that no jobs await them in the Philippines.

The plight of OFWs against racism, xenophobia, rights violations and fascism in host countries is also a very important agenda in the peace talks between the Philippine government and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines. Unfortunately, the Duterte government has withdrawn from the 5th round of formal negotiations.

 

Welfare and services

The economic compulsion for the government to keep exporting Filipinos to maintain or especially to increase remittances unfortunately overrides and precludes undertaking any measures that (i.e. OEC partial abolition, extension of passport validity, stopping of “tanim-bala” scheme, etc.), directly or indirectly, constrict the flow of migration – even if such measures would immediately prevent the incidence of abuses and migrant rights violations.

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 therefore sees and appreciates the rationale behind 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, 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. Duterte’s proposal to create 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 neoliberal interests and dictates.

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

 

Prospects

Unless Pres. Duterte makes good his promise to address the root causes of forced migration, it will be a never-ending and chronic cycle for OFWs and their families. If Duterte 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.

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. ###

 

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. ###