Grandstanding, band-aid solutions, damage-control for companies and recruitment agencies: Assessment of PH govt’s response to plight of stranded OFWs in Saudi crisis  

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Stranded OFWs in Saudi still awaiting repatriation from the Philippine government.

Prepared by Migrante International, December 13, 2016

Last July, Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) Sec. Silvestre Bello III declared that the Duterte government will resolve the issue of stranded OFWs (overseas Filipino workers) in Saudi Arabia by yearend. December has come, we are well on our way to usher in the new year, and what has the government done so far in response to their plight?

The economy of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) is presently beset with a severe oil price meltdown. Crude oil that sold for over $100 per barrel in 2014 was cut down to half the price by the end of 2015. The price decline strongly influenced KSA’s economy since oil sales account for about 80% of its revenues. It prompted the Saudi government to cut spending, delay projects and sell bonds. This resulted in financial instability of government contractors which employs a large numbers of migrant workers.  Its impact also extended to other branches of the local economy, including public utilities and social services.

The effect of the crisis on OFWs became evident when tens of thousands became stranded in numerous company accommodations in various regions of KSA by 2015. The number of OFWs affected by non-payment of salaries, withholding of benefits,  massive retrenchment and contract violations continued to increase as the oil crisis worsened. The Rapid Response Team to KSA dispatched by the previous Aquino administration only estimated some 11,000 OFWs affected in companies such as Saudi Oger Ltd, Saudi Bin Laden Group (SBG) and Mohammad Al Mojil Grooup (MMG). Migrante, however, projected that at least 50,000 OFWs, to include those employed by smaller companies and sub-contractors, will be affected Kingdom-wide by March of 2016 – and the figure will continue to rise if the government continues to turn a blind eye.

Acknowledging the crisis, then newly-elected President Rodrigo Duterte gave “marching orders” to Sec. Bello to conduct a visit to Saudi Arabia to immediately assess the situation and repatriate the stranded OFWs via chartered flights. In response, the government launched an inter-agency project dubbed, “Operation Bring Them Home”, which conducted two “humanitarian relief missions” to Saudi Arabia in August-September and October-November. The Operation was jointly conducted by the DOLE, Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA), Department of Social Work and Development (DSWD), Department of Health (DOH) the Public Attorney’s Office (PAO) and TESDA (Technical Education and Skills Development Authority).

Prior to the Operation and Sec. Bello’s first trip to Saudi Arabia, Migrante submitted to the government a briefer that summarized the plight, demands and urgent government action needed by the stranded OFWs. Below is a summary of the OFWs’ demands:

  • Negotiate with employers for the payment of salaries and benefits, and issuance of exit visas.
  • Emergency mass repatriation for stranded OFWs. Government to shoulder immigration penalties and other costs related to repatriation.
  • Provide legal assistance and other support (free translations fees, transportation expenses) for distressed OFWs who filed labor cases against their companies, and facilitate the provision of subsistence allowances through the OFW’s recruitment agencies.
  • Ban the deployment workers to bankrupt and crisis-ridden companies.
  • Emergency financial assistance to returned OFWs and families of distressed OFWs.
  • Speedy resolution of cases of repatriated OFWs lodged at the POEA and NLRC.
  • Comprehensive reintegration program and decent-paying jobs for returning OFWs.

 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 (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 problematic at best. It now appears that the Sec. Bello deems the Saudi crisis fait accompli, problem-solved, and therefore business-as-usual between the Philippine government and its biggest labor importer. This is wishful thinking on the part of the Philippine government and downright deceiving.

On one hand, while efforts of relief and on-site assistance by the DSWD 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 been fragmented thus far, with various agencies involved, particularly the DOLE and DFA, “one-upping” each other in terms of who plays a command role in the Operation. 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 former had been reluctant to conduct a follow-up humanitarian mission after the first one in July.

Thus begging the question: Was the DOLE’s objective in the Saudi mission 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 stranded crisis” by yearend has been deceiving 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 the “win-win” solution and other deceiving, pro-capitalist and anti-labor policies that the DOLE has been advocating thus far.

Meanwhile, the oil crisis in Saudi continues 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 Saudi crisis is far from over. What the present administration should ultimalety strive to do as a comprehensive response to the crisis is to decisively deviate from its labor export policy and instead focus on creating decent and sustainable local jobs to end the cycle of forced migration. ###

OWWA refuses to comply with DOLE Chief’s orders re: Saudi stranded

Migrante International, together with Saudi OFWs and families, and DOLE Sec. Silvestre Bello III, August 11,2016, DOLE Office, Manila

Migrante International, together with Saudi OFWs and families, and DOLE Sec. Silvestre Bello III, August 11,2016, DOLE Office, Manila

Migrante International held a dialogue with Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) Sec. Silvestre Bello III last August 11, together with 30 representatives and family members of stranded overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) in Saudi Arabia.

In the dialogue, the OFWs and their families thanked Sec. Bello and the Duterte administration for acknowledging that there indeed is an ongoing crisis affecting at least 50,000 Filipino migrant workers in Saudi Arabia. This is a far cry from the previous Aquino administration’s outright denial of the crisis, resulting in inaction and the aggravation of the sorry conditions of the affected OFWs and their families. They also acknowledged the decisive actions instigated by the Duterte government, based on the seven (7) demands presented by Migrante International and Migrante-Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) to Sec. Bello before his first visit to the Kingdom last August 22-23, 2016.

They, however, raised the following concerns with regard the government’s initial responses to the ongoing crisis, to wit:

At the tailend of the dialogue, OWWA officials arrived at the venue. Sec. Bello ordered them to immediately accompany all OFWs and families present at the dialogue to the OWWA Main Office to claim their money. The officials, however, did not accompany the OFWs and families and instead merely instructed them to proceed to the OWWA and look for OWWA Welfare Officer Connie Marquez.

Upon arrival at the OWWA office, only 9 out of the more than 30 OFWs and families present were able to claim “because only the nine (9) are included in their masterlist”. OWWA Admin Rebecca Calzado REFUSED to grant them financial assistance, despite and in spite of direct orders from the DOLE Secretary.

“While we believe that Sec. Bello is sincere in his promise of improved assistance and services to the affected OFWs and families, OWWA’s non-compliance is putting the good secretary in a bad light. As of this posting, we have been receiving more complaints from OFWs and families, on-site and off-site, nationwide and abroad, of the OWWA’s continuous refusal to follow Sec. Bello’s direct orders,” said Garry Martinez, Migrante International chairperson.

OWWA is an attached agency of the DOLE. The DOLE Chief is also the Chairman of the OWWA Board. “OWWA Admin. Calzado’s refusal to comply is outright insubordination and complete disregard of the rights and welfare of distressed OFWs and their families. We believe this is not what Pres. Duterte had in mind when he ordered Sec. Bello to attend to the plight of stranded OFWs in Saudi Arabia,” he said.

Martinez said that Migrante-KSA is also now preparing for Sec. Bello’s planned return to Saudi Arabia on August 15, as well as the arrival of the government’s one-month humanitarian relief mission within August. ###

The Change OFWs Want in A Duterte Presidency

Migrante at mamamayan, salubungin ng protesta ang APEC 2015!

junk apecGabay sa Pagtalakay, Inihanda ng Migrante International, Oktubre 2015

Ano ang APEC?
Ang Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation o APEC ay organisasyon ng 21 bansa sa kalakhang Asya-Pasipiko. Bukod sa mga bansa sa Asya-Pasipiko, kabilang din sa APEC ang US, Japan, China, Russia, Canada at Australia – mga bansang may pinakamalalaking negosyo at pamumuhunan sa rehiyon. Itinatag ito noong 1989 sa layuning buuin ang “kooperasyon” ng mga kasaping bansa para diumano sa “paglago ng ekonomiya” sa buong rehiyon. Nahahati ang malaking porsyento ng yaman at ekonomiya ng daigdig sa mga kasaping bansa ng APEC – 40% ng populasyon ng daigdig, 50% ng pandaigdigang kalakalan at 60% gross domestic product ng buong mundo.

Unang pinatawag ng US ang economic leaders meeting (ELM) ng APEC noong 1993 bilang susog sa Uruguay Round ng World Trade Organization (WTO) sa kabila ng mariin at nagkakaisang pagtutol ng mga maliliit na bansang kasapi nito. Ginamit ng US ang APEC bilang behikulo upang pagtibayin ang mga programang tinututulan ng mga maliliita na bansa sa WTO. Pangunahing layunin ng APEC ang pagtutulak ng mga patakarang liberalisasyon, deregulasyon, pribatisasyon at de-nasyunalisasyon – mga neoliberal na patakaran ng imperyalistang globalisasyon na nagsisilbi lamang sa interes ng mga malaking bansang tulad ng US, Japan at China.

Nang idaos ang APEC Summit sa Pilipinas noong 1996, pinagtibay at sinuportahan ng US at iba pang imperyalistang bansa ang programa ni noo’y Pang. Fidel Ramos na “Philippines 2000” na nangako ng pang-ekonomiyang pag-unlad at ang paghirang sa bansa bilang isang Newly-Industrializing Country o NIC. Sinalubong ito ng dambuhalang mga protesta mula sa iba’t ibang sektor ng lipunan at buong daigdig at hinirang na instrumento ng imperyalista at mga lokal na burgesya upang panatilihin ang paghahari ng imperyalistang US sa pandaigdigang ekonomiya.

Dalawampung taon matapos ang huling APEC Summit dito sa Pilipinas, nasaan na ang ipinangakong kaunlaran? Sa halip na malutas ang malawakang kahirapan, kawalang-trabaho, kawalang-lupa at serbisyong panlipunan, lalong nasasadlak ang mamamayang Pilipino at daigdig sa busabos na kalagayan, habang ang mga mayayamang bansa ay nagpapakasasa sa likas-yaman at lakas-paggawa ng mga mahihirap na bansang tulad ng Pilipinas.

Ano ang lalamanin ng gaganaping APEC ELM ngayong Nobyembre?
Ngayong darating na Nobyembre 18-19, gaganaping muli sa Pilipinas ang taunang Economic Leaders Meeting (ELM) ng APEC sa Maynila. Nagsimula na ang mga serye ng pre-meetings, senior leaders meetings at ministerial meetings ng APEC sa iba’t ibang syudad sa bansa noong Disyembre 2014 pa.

Noong 1994, inilabas ng APEC ang deklarasyon ng Bogor Goals na lantarang nagtutulak ng liberalisasyon ng kalakalan at pamumuhunan (investment) sa rehiyon hanggang 2020. Mula noon, ginamit na ng US at iba pang malalaking bansang imperyalista ang APEC sa pagsusulong ng mga neoliberal na mga patakaran sa mga maliliit na bansa. Tiyak na pangunahing agenda pa rin ng gaganaping ELM ngayong darating na Nobyembre ang pagsusulong ng interes na ito.

Para sa taong 2015, ang tema ng APEC ay “Building Inclusive Economies, Building a Better World”. Gamit ang mga mabulaklak na terminong tulad ng “inclusive growth”, “human capital development”, “small and medium enterprises” at “resilient communities”, layunin ng APEC na higit pang mapatindi ang pagkubabaw ng interes ng monopolyo kapitalismo sa lakas-paggawa, ekonomiya at maging sa small and medium enterprises.

Kabilang din sa mayor na agenda ng APEC ang Regional Economic Integration(REI) na pagsisilbihin naman para isulong ang ibayo pang pagtalima ng buong Asya Pasipiko sa neoliberal na globalisasyon. Kabilang sa balangkas ng REI ang:

(i) Free Trade Area of the Asia Pacific (FTAAP) – na magtutulak sa mga kasunduan para sa “integrasyon” alinsunod sa layunin ng mga sunud-sunod na nabigong mga pagpupulong ng WTO, mula Uruguay hanggang Bali. Ilan sa mga patakarang mariing tinututulan ng mga mamamayan ng maliliit na bansa ang ibayo pang pagtatanggal ng mga regulasyon sa mga angkating produkto at ang pagluwag sa tariff.

(ii) Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA) – isang mabangis at mapaminsalang kasunduang ibayo pang magbubuyangyang sa ekonomiya ng mga maliliit na bayan sa mga atake ng imperyalismo alinsunod sa US Pivot to Asia. Bahagi ng TPPA ang pagbabago o repaso sa mismong mga batas ng mga bansa upang umayon sa interes ng mga imperyalistang bayan sa ekonomiya at pulitika, tulad ng di mamatay-matay na panukalang charter change sa Pilipinas. Kung maaprubahan, ang TPPA ang magiging pinakamalaking rehiyunal na trade agreement sa buong mundo.

(iii) Ang bansang Tsina naman ay nagtutulak din “Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP)” – sariling bersyon nito ng FTAAP na layuning “tapatan” ang pamamayani ng US sa rehiyon.

Dahil dito, ang paparating na APEC ay nagiging larangan hindi lamang ng kutsabahan kundi paligsahan at palakasan din ng mga malalaking kasaping bansa, partikular sa pagitan ng US at Tsina, sa kapinsalaan ng maliliit at naghihirap na mga bansa.

Sa darating na APEC ELM sa Nobyembre 18-19, tiyak ding ipagmamalaki ng mga lider ng mga nasyon ang diumano’y pagbaba ng “trade barriers” mula 16.9% noong 1989 tungong 5.8% noong 2010. Ipagmamalaki ring tiyak ang pagkakaroon ng nasa 140 “free trade agreements” sa rehiyon.

Sa kabila nito, kailangang mailantad na mahigit na 200 milyon ang walang trabaho sa buong mundo, 2.7 bilyon ang naghihirap (impoverished) at 808 milyon ang nagugutom. Samantala, nananatiling nakakonsentra sa 1% ng populasyon ng daigdig ang higit kalahati sa kabuuang yaman ng mundo at katumbas lang ng yaman ng 80 pinakamayayamang tao ang kabuuang yaman ng nakabababang 50% ng populasyon ng daigdig.

Bakit dapat tutulan at malakas na labanan ng migrante at mamamayan ang darating na APEC ELM?
Napatunayan na ng dalawang dekada ng APEC na kasangkapan ito ng mga imperyalistang bansa upang ipagpatuloy ang pagsasamantala at paghahari sa mga maliliit na bansa at sa buong daigdig. Sa panahon ng pandaigdigang krisis pang-ekonomiya, naipapasa ng mga imperyalistang bansang tulad ng US ang krisis sa kanilang bayan sa mga maliit na bansa sa pamamagitan ng mga kasunduan sa loob ng APEC.

Bagamat “boluntaryo” at “konsenswal” ang mga kasunduan sa loob ng APEC, sa pamamagitan ng mga rehiyunal, ministeryal at bilateral na mga kasunduan ng mga kasaping bansa, naipatutupad ang mga neoliberal na patakaran sa migrasyon. Isang matingkad na halimbawa ang Japan-Philippines Economic Partnership Agreement o (JPEPA) kung saan pinayagan ng Pilipinas ang pagtatambak ng toxic waste ng Japan at walang-taning na access (unlimited access) sa mga kagamitang industriyal ng bansa kapalit ng pagbubukas ng mga “job order” para sa mga Pilipinong health worker sa Japan. Ang JPEPA ang kauna-unahang kasunduan sa kasaysayan ng labor export ng Pilipinas na ginamit ang migrante manggagawa bilang “bargaining chip” sa isang tratado.

Gayundin, dahil hindi kailanman totoong may “malayang kalakalan” at “malayang pamilihan” at “kooperasyon” sa pagitan ng mga imperyalistang bansa at mga pinaghaharian nito, nagagamit ang APEC upang selyuhan ang mga kontra-mamamayang mga patakaran sa “trade in labor”. Sa TPPA, halimbawa, iwinawasiwas ang “better labor mobility” bilang isa sa mga “haligi” ng naturang kasunduan. Kinakatangian ang “labor mobility” ng higit pang pagpapadulas ng pagpapatupad ng labor export sa pagitan ng mga kasaping bansa, pagbubukas na mas malaking “market” para sa “cheap labor” ng mga migranteng manggagawa, at pagpapatupad ng tinaguriang “employable labor standards” na nakakiling sa interes at dikta ng mga “migrant-receiving” kaysa “migrant-sending” na mga bansa. Dahil nakatuntong sa ibayo pang liberalisasyon ng industriya ng migrasyon, kapalit ng kasunduang tulad ng TPPA ang mas masahol na pagbaratilyo sa mga migranteng manggagawa.

Sa sektor ng migrante, malaon nang isinisigaw ang pagtutol at paglaban sa APEC at mga neoliberal na patakarang itinutulak nito:

(i) Dahil sa malawakang deregulasyon at liberalisasyon, nagresulta ito sa ibayong kawalan ng trabaho, lupang sakahan at serbisyong panlipunan na siyang nagtutulak sa milyong migrante sa pwersahang migrasyon;
(ii) Nagresulta ito sa mas mababangis at pinalawig na pagpapatupad ng patakarang labor export ng mga bansang tulad ng Pilipinas bilang tugon ng gobyerno sa malawakang kawalan ng trabaho;
(iii) Nagresulta ito sa mga kontra-migranteng patakaran at batas, tulad ng “austerity measures” (budget cuts) upang pondohan ang mga bailout o di kaya’y pagluluwag sa mga regulasyon sa mga pribadong kumpanya at/o recruitment agency sa ngalan ng labor export;
(iv) Nagresulta ito sa mas maraming “state exaction” at pagbubuwis dahil sa malawakang pribatisasyon ng batayang mga serbisyo at utilidad (halimbawa, mandatory insurance, pagtaas ng singil sa terminal fee, pagtaas ng singil e-Passport, at iba pa)
(v) Habang binabawasan ang responsibilidad ng gobyerno sa pagbibigay ang welfare at proteksyon para sa mga migrante (hal., OOP, kawalan ng sustainable reintegration program, kawalan ng mga benepisyo, atbp);
(vi) Nagresulta ito sa mga kontra-migranteng mga patakaran, laluna sa host countries, tulad ng ibayong diskriminasyon, xenophobia, ibayong pagbaba ng mga sahod at kawalang benepisyo at pagtitibay sa mga trabahong 3D (dirty, dangerous, demeaning) para sa migranteng manggagawa sa ngalan ng labor export;
(vii) Dahil sa epekto ng pandaigdigang krisis sa ekonomiya, nagiging bulnerable o biktima ang mga migrante sa mga pinahigpit na immigration at labor policies (hal., Saudization, Mos Maiorum sa Europa, EPS sa South Korea, EU Return Directive, TFW Program sa Canada at iba pa), at nagresulta sa kriminalisasyon ng mga migrante at/o malawakang retrenchment (tanggalan) sa mga naluluging industriya sa host countries ng mga migranteng manggawa;
(viii) Nagresulta ito sa mas maraming mga paglabag sa karapatang-tao ng mga migrante at pamilya, laluna kapag sila ay naiipit sa mga imperyalisatang gerang agresyon.

Sa pamamagitan ng APEC, pinagtibay ang ibayo pang komodipikasyon ng lakas-paggawa ng migranteng manggagawa sa pamamagitan ng neoliberal na patakarang labor export. Tumindi ang “trade in human labor” sa iba’t ibang porma, kabilang na ang laganap at mas masidhing human trafficking na isa nang pinakapinagkakakitaang (most lucrative) industriya sa rehiyong Asya-Pasipiko. Halimbawa’y kakatwang itinaas pa ng US ang trafficking rating ng Malaysia mula Tier 2 tungong Tier 1 sa kabila ng notoryus na rekord nito sa trafficking at matapos ang naging papel nito sa krisis ng Rohingya. Ang Malaysia ang isa sa mga pinakatanyag na destination at transit point ng mga biktima ng trafficking sa Asya-Pasipiko. Isa rin ito sa may pinakamasahol na rekord ng paglabag sa karapatan ng mga biktima ng trafficking sa rehiyon.

Bahagi rin ng agenda ng APEC ang mga neoliberal na “reporma” sa edukasyon at paggawa, gaya ng K+12, wage cuts at kontraktwalisasyon, na naglalayong higit na ituon ang sistema ng edukasyon at paggawa sa pangangailangan ng malalaking imperyalistang kapangyarihan.

Malinaw kung gayon sa migrante at mamamayan na ang mga usapan at kasunduang target na abutin ng darating na APEC ELM ay naglalayong lumikha ng ibayo pang “bukas” at “malayang” kalakalan at pamumuhuan, wasakin ang nalalabing mga proteksyon ng mga bansa, at lalupang ibubuyangyang ang kapital, yaman at lakas-paggawa ng mga mahihirap na bansa sa imperyalistang pandarambong at pagsasamantala.

Ano ang ating mga tungkulin?
Dapat ilunsad ng migrante at mamamayan ang malakas at dambuhalang protesta sa Nobyembre 18-19 upang ilantad at labanan ang APEC at ang kinakatawan nitong mga neoliberal na atake sa mamamayang Pilipino at daigdig.

Dapat malakas na ilantad na salot sa bayan ang APEC at ang pananalasa ng imperyalistang globalisasyon. Ilunsad ang pinakamaraming mga pag-aaral, talakayan, aktibidad at protesta sa mga komunidad, eskwelahan at iba pang konsentrahan ng migrante at pamilya. Katuwang ng gabay na ito, maramihan at malawakang talakayin din ang “Panunupil at Pandarambong, Tigilan Na! (KPMM, 2015)”, “Ang migranteng Pilipino sa panahon ng imperyalistang krisis at gera (Migrante International, Pebrero 2012)”, at “Ang Imperyalismong US at Paglaban ng Sambayanang Pilipino (Prop. Jose Maria Sison, April 2014).
Pagsilbihing “palaman”, pagpapatotoo at “build-up” ang malakas na pagtutol at protesta ng sektor sa mga neoliberal na patakaran sa migrasyon, tulad ng mga kampanya laban sa OOP, budget cuts sa serbisyo para sa mga migrante at laban sa di-makatarungang mga pangongotong/pagbubuwis at kawalang-benepisyo. Dapat ipabatid sa migrante at mamamayan kung paanong ang mga lokal at sektoral na mga suliranin at laban ay epekto ng pagtutulak ng mga makadayuhan at kontra-mamamayang imperyalistang mga patakaran.

Mahalagang pagkakataon din ang paparating na APEC ELM sa Nobyembre upang ibayong ilantad at labanan ang walang-kahihiyang pagpapakatuta ng rehimeng US-Aquino sa mga dikta ng imperyalistang globalisasyon. Dapat malaman ng buong mundo kung paanong isinusuka ng migrante at mamamayan ang mga neoliberal na patakarang isinusulong ng rehimeng US-Aquino. Si Aquino ang pinakamasahol at pangunahingpapet, tagapagtanggol at tagapamandila ng imperyalista. Si Aquino ang pinakamatinding tagapanatili ng bulok na sistemang malakolonyal at malapyudal sa bansa.

Sa pagtatapos ng termino ni Aquino, tiyak na marami pang mga neoliberal na patakaran at kasunduang nakatakdang selyuhan tulad ng pagpapatindi ng pribatisasyon, ibayong labor export at pwersahang migrasyon, charter change bilang rekisito sa TPPA, pagpasok ng tropang dayuhan at muling pagtatayo ng mga base militar at iba pa.

Dapat ilahad sa migrante at mamamayan na tanging ang pambansa-demokratikong program at alternatiba ang siyang solusyon sa bulok na sistemang malakolonyal at malapyudal – at tanging sa pagbubuo at pagkakaisa ng pandaigdigang kilusang anti-imperyalista ng mamamayan ng daigdig makakamit ang tunay na kalayaan at demokrasya. ###

Justice for Marilyn Restor! “Missing” OFW found in Saudi Arabia morgue, PH embassy neglect slammed

photoA Filipina domestic worker who was reported “kidnapped and missing” last year by her family to the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) and the Philippine Embassy was recently found dead in a morgue in Saudi Arabia.

The body of Marilyn Restor, 45 years old, was discovered by her family after a hospital in Saudi Arabia informed the employers of her husband Arnulfo that her remains had been resting in their morgue for 42 days. It was only when Arnulfo called the PH Embassy in Saudi Arabia that PH authorities confirmed her death.

According to the PH Embassy, Marilyn  was “pushed” and “fell” from a rooftop.

Marilyn, 45 years old, a mother of four, hailed from North Cotabato. Her three children are based in General Santos City while her youngest child (8 years old) was born in Saudi Arabia. The youngest presently still lives in Saudi Arabia with Arnulfo. Marilyn and Arnulfo had been working as household service workers for a Saudi royal couple together with other Filipino domestic workers. (Note: The names of the royal couple and their relatives are withheld upon request of Marilyn’s family, for security purposes)

On the night of July 13, 2014, according to Arnulfo’s account, Marilyn went out of the house to dump garbage when she was abducted by one of the royal couple’s relatives, Princess Jada (not her real name), along with armed men. He said that earlier that day, Princess Jada went to their employers’ house furious about the “absconding” of her Filipina maid. The princess blamed the royal couple’s Filipino household staff and accused them of “conspiring” with her maid to help her escape.

Arnulfo and their employers immediately reported the kidnapping to the Northern Riyadh Police. When authorities failed to take action, Arnulfo and his male employer went to the house of Princess Jada on June 25, 2014 to retrieve custody of Marilyn. They were accosted by Princess Jada’s husband, a ranking official of the Saudi military. The prince reportedly fired gunshots at them and ordered the arrest of Arnulfo’s male employer.

Days after, Saudi police conducted an investigation and learned that there were several existing complaints against Princess Jada and her husband by members of their Filipino household staff. The Saudi police then advised Arnulfo to seek the help of the PH Embassy which he urgently and diligently did.

Meanwhile, Marilyn’s family here in the Philippines also sought the help of the DFA. Her children in General Santos also wrote letters to various government agencies, including the offices of the President and the Vice-President, but received no replies. Marilyn’s sister, Lani, went to the DFA Main Office in Manila on August 2014 and filed a request for assistance.

After several months and still no clear response from the PH authorities, Arnulfo demanded documents related to Marilyn’s case from the PH Embassy in Saudi and learned the following:

  • That the PH Embassy was well aware and informed of Marilyn’s case along with the cases and complaints of nine other OFWs who have experienced grave abuse and maltreatment in the hands of Princess Jada and her husband;
  • Through official letters dated September 16, 2014, the PH Embassy requested the Saudi Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) to: 1) create a committee that will conduct an investigation on the cases of OFWs abused by Princess Jada and her husband; 2) furnish the PH Embassy a full report on the investigation conducted into each of the 10 cases; and 3) direct the Saudi police to immediately secure Marilyn and two others, Dorothy Blancaflor and Levine Batague, and present them to the Embassy. (Blancaflor and Batague remain missing to this day. Blancaflor’s family has relayed unconfirmed reports to Migrante that Dorothy might be in a mental facility in Saudi.)

Since Marilyn’s family reported her abduction to Saudi police and PH authorities, they have not received any updates from the PH Embassy or the DFA. Her family had lost contact with Marilyn since the kidnapping save for a very brief call to Arnulfo last year.

Marilyn’s family sought the help of Migrante in March of this year. On March 24, 2015, Migrante accompanied Lani to a dialogue with DFA officials and case officers. The DFA did not disclose any information but agreed to provide the family with a written report on Marilyn’s case within the week. However, the family was later disappointed to receive a letter merely stating that the “Embassy is coordinating with Saudi authorities, will follow-up the reply with the MOFA”. In Saudi Arabia, Arnulfo was merely told by the PH Embassy that they wrote a letter to the new head of the MOFA.

A year after the abduction, last June 17, Arnulfo’s employers received a call from a hospital informing them that Marilyn is dead and that her remains have been resting in their morgue for 42 days. As of this posting, the DFA and the PH Embassy are yet to provide Marilyn’s family with police, forensic and medical reports related to her death, her death certificate and other pertinent information on her mysterious fall. It is also not clear when her remains are scheduled to be repatriated back to the Philippines.

Justice for Marilyn Restor!

According to Sol Pillas, Migrante International secretary-general, “Marilyn’s family is overcome with grief but they are understandably very, very angry. Angry at Princess Jada and her husband, and as furious with the PH government. It has been a year since they sought the government’s help, only to learn that she had already died, that the PH embassy knew about it and did not even have the courtesy to inform them officially. If Arnulfo had not contacted the PH Embassy to confirm the call his employer received, they would still be in the dark right now.”

Pillas said that this pattern of negligence and passive action from PH Embassies is “like a broken agonizing record for OFWs like Marilyn who died under mysterious circumstances” under Pres. Aquino’s term. She cited the cases of Terril Atienza, Romilyn Ibanez and Rochelle Masubay, all were reported to have been abused and maltreated by their employers, all sought the help of the DFA and their PH embassies, only to be learned later by their families that they have already died. Like Atienza, Marilyn’s employers are persons with high-ranking government positions in their respective host countries.

“There was clearly no active intervention or urgent action from the PH Embassies to rescue them despite their dangerous circumstances. In Marilyn’s case, PH embassy neglect is apparent. This is blood on their hands. The mere fact that nine others had existing complaints against Princess Jada and her husband should have been a ‘red flag’, an alert for the PH Embassy to act with haste before it is too late. Unfortunately and sadly, for Marilyn, it was,” Pillas said.

In the case of Marilyn, Pillas said, the DFA and the PH Embassy in Saudi are well aware and were properly informed of her case as well as the urgent requests for “rescue and repatriation” of nine other OFWs employed by Princess Jada. Of the 10 OFWs, six are cases being handled and facilitated by Migrante.

“We learned of the other four OFWs from the OFWs and their kin who sought our help and expressed concern for their companions who are still under the princess’ custody. Four of them have already been repatriated and have filed appropriate complaints in different government agencies,” Pillas said.

Migrante called on Congress to launch an investigation on the case of the mysterious death of Marilyn Restor, and on how the DFA and PH Embassy officials addressed her urgent case. It said that it will also bring Marilyn’s case to international human rights bodies. “It is the PH Embassy’s task to ensure that Marilyn’s murderer/s are held accountable for her death and justice be served. And should it be found that PH embassy officials failed to urgently act on her case resulting in her untimely death, heads must roll.” ###

Executive Summary of Death Row/Candidates for Death Row/Jailed Cases of OFWs being handled by Migrante International

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file photo courtesy of Bulatlat

Updated as of June 7, 2015   Profile of the cases: Migrante International is currently handling and monitoring 18 cases involving 35 overseas Filipinos (11 women and 24 men) in six countries (Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Iran, China, Indonesia). Majority of whom (13) are in Saudi Arabia. The nature of the cases are:

  1. Drug-related: 5 (Veloso, Aquino, San Juan, Madurog, Mayari)
  2. Murder: 6 (Rosario et al, Zapanta, Gonzales et al, Cruzado, Dacanay, Dalquiz,)
  3. Embezzlement: 2 (Azares, Matibag)
  4. Homicide: 1 (Magtoto)
  5. Others: 21 (Theft – Parilla, Serious physical injury – Sia, Human trafficking – Carbonel, Immorality – Lalis)

Death row: 7 (Veloso, Zapanta, Gonzales brothers, Arcilla, Dalquiz, Rosario) Candidates for death row: 3 (Dacanay, Madurog, San Juan) Jailed (life imprisonment/serving jail terms): 25 (3 life imprisonment) Of the five drug-related cases, four were victimized by drug syndicates. Interestingly, one of these cases (San Juan) involves a licensed recruitment agency (First Select, still in Philippine Overseas Employment Administration’s roster of licensed agencies and currently operating). Of these cases, two were already given convictions: Veloso was meted the death penalty while Aquino was given life imprisonment. The others are still under trial but two (San Juan and Madurog) are most likely to be given death sentences due to the volume of drugs reportedly found in their belongings as per existing laws in their respective host countries (KSA and China). Of the murder cases, three admitted to the crimes on account of self-defense – Dalquiz and Rosario were almost raped by their assailants while Zapanta was beaten up by his employer because of his failure to pay rent. They are presently in different jails abroad as death convicts. In the case of Rosario etal, the four OFWs from whom Rosario asked for help were sentenced to several years of imprisonment. Zapanta was asked to raise blood money, the deadline of which has already lapsed in November 2013. Cruzado, on the other hand, was provoked by her victim. She was sentenced to life imprisonment. The Gonzales brothers, Arcilla and Dacanay all vehemently denied the charges against them. In the Gonzales et al case, one of them was forced to confess to the crime after they were tortured during police interrogations. Because of this, three of them were given capital punishment. In the case of Dacanay, she firmly claimed innocence and said that she was a victim of attempted rape by the real perpetrators. Her case is still under trial but the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) admitted in a dialogue with Migrante and her mother Editha that she is a candidate for death row. Of the two cases of embezzlement, Matibag is still serving several years of imprisonment while Azares has already finished his jail term but remains in prison because his company is awaiting payment of the amount he was accused of stealing. Both of them denied the accusations. Of the other cases, three were already handed out convictions. Magtoto was sentenced to life imprisonment with a blood money of SR300,000; while Carbonell, whose violation was raised from “illegally picking-up passengers” to “being implicated on human trafficking,” was sentenced to one-year imprisonment. The other cases are still on trial.   Philippine Government’s response to the cases: Based on the information gathered by Migrante through its interventions, the DFA and consular offices did too little, too late in securing and ensuring the rights and welfare of these Filipinos. They also gave limited and impassive attention to the concerns of the families who continue to desperately seek their assistance:

  1. Absent representation and intervention in the period of arrest and investigation. In almost all of these cases, the concerned embassies failed to assist or visit the apprehended OFWs to ascertain their conditions, secure their rights and provide sufficient legal assistance and advice.
  • In the case of Veloso, the Philippine Embassy in Jakarta was only able to visit Mary Jane on July 28, 2010, three months after her arrest and a month after Indonesian authorities informed them that the investigation had been completed and the case files had been turned over to the public prosecutor (June 24, 2010). It was only on the last visit that they were able to hear/get her account.
  • Worse, in the case of Rosario etal, the Philippine Consulate in Jeddah refused to take custody. According to Rosario’s account, when he stabbed the two men who were forcing him to have sex with them in self defense, he immediately ran, bruised and bleeding, to the Consulate. Because he was denied custody and assistance he went to his friends instead.
  1. No private lawyers were provided during the phase of prosecution. They relied mostly on the counsels supplied by the governments of the host countries. The general pattern of these cases show that the Philippine government only hired private lawyers AFTER the convictions have been meted out. In all of these cases, the Philippine government only procured private legal services for capital offenses and none were given for the relatively minor crimes. In almost all instances, they failed to provide competent translators, as in the case of Veloso.
  • In the case of Aquino who was arrested on 3 October 2009, he was advised by the fiscal (November 15, 2009) that if he still had no defense lawyer within 20 days the court would hand down a sentence of 10 to 20 years imprisonment. This urgent concern was immediately relayed by the family and Migrante to the Philippine Embassy and DFA. The Embassy simply replied that, based on their knowledge, the Iranian government provides legal assistance to foreigners and that they “expect the same assistance will be provided to him.” They also mentioned that they have not yet been informed if the case had already been brought to court and that they still needed to verify the imminent verdict.
  • In the case of Gonzales etal, they were only given a private lawyer to appeal their case two years after they were arrested (April 2006) and almost a year (April 2008) after the verdict was delivered (July 2007). The family held much hope in the appeal because there were strong evidences to support their innocence. Surprisingly, the Court of Appeals upheld the death sentences on the Gonzales brothers and Arcilla and increased the jail terms of the others from 8 to 10 years.
  1. In cases where OFWs were given the death penalty or life imprisonment, the common track of the Philippine government was to appeal for executive clemency while not considering other possible legal options when there are strong indications that the OFWs were/are innocent. In the case of Veloso, for instance, it had not been clear what grounds were stated in the appeals made by Pres. Aquino to Pres. Widodo, if they were based on assertions of her innocence and being a victim of drug syndicates or simply perfunctory written appeals. Statements made by the Indonesian Attorney General during Aquino’s last-minute appeal that signified the Philippine government’s intent to make Veloso a witness against her traffickers (“Why only now?) strongly suggest otherwise.
  • In the case of Veloso, when the Indonesian Supreme Court upheld the death sentence, Pres. Aquino only sent a Letter of Clemency (August 2011) to President Jokowi and did not instruct the embassy to strategize thoroughly for a judicial review despite proposals to explore the trafficking angle from Veloso’s embassy-hired Indonesian lawyers. The first petition for judicial review was only made in January 2015. The petition was denied due to lack of merit and did not pursue the track that Mary Jane was a victim of drug trafficking syndicates.
  • This limited strategy was also employed to cases involving “blood money”. The Philippine government came in only during the stages of having to raise the blood money (usually costing millions of pesos), again after conviction, instead of exploring ways to acquit or reduce the sentences of the OFWs. This track, prevalent in cases in the Gulf region, placed the sole burden of raising blood money on the families or “private” entities (as in the case of Dondon Lanuza) and, in fact, absolved the Philippine government from any responsibility. 
  • In the case of Zapanta, the aggrieved family pegged a blood money worth SR5 million or roughly P55 million, an amount impossible to acquire by the Zapanta family (or any common family) who are poor farmers from Central Luzon. The Philippine government-hired lawyer did not pursue the self-defense argument and did not engage the many witnesses that would have supported Zapanta’s claim. Instead, what the DFA did was to open a bank account calling on the public to help raise the blood money, and left it to the family to monitor and organize fund-raising efforts. Zapanta himself, in an interview with the local media last year, said that he was resigned to his fate and that any and all funds that could be raised just be given to other OFWs on death row. 
  • In the case of Cruzado, the Philippine embassy did not appeal her case on grounds of her mental state. While in prison, she suffered a mental breakdown and is still presently undergoing treatment. The Philippine Embassy in Kuwait is well aware of her situation. Although her death sentence was commuted to life imprisonment, her family, who only subsists on vending cooked corn, does not have any means to pay the blood money worth KD10,000.
  1. Families of the jailed OFWs were kept in the dark and were not actively engaged in the processes of the cases. In several incidents, DFA legal officers were not sensitive to the situation of the families some even resorted to derogatory insinuations.
  • In all of these cases, because of the desperation and grave concern of the families for the security and welfare of their loved ones, they regularly visited or called the DFA to request for updates and/or report any information that they were able to gather. But the case officers just dismissed them/their reports with the following standard responses: (1) they do not have updates; (2) to just follow-up again; and/or, (3) the person in charge is away/on leave/not present, instead of giving them substantial advice on how they can coordinate with the government in the resolution of the cases of their loved ones.
  • In the case of Dacanay, her mother only knew of her predicament a month after her arrest through a phone call from a friend. Since then, she went back and forth to the DFA and other government offices since July 2013 until early of this year but was not able to get any substantial response. She was even able to meet Philippine Ambassador to Saudi Arabia Ezzedin Tago last year but again was not supplied any information. It was only through a dialogue facilitated by Migrante with DFA officials and DFA case officers last March 24 that they revealed Dacanay’s case status as “candidate for death row.” They agreed to provide a written report to the family but are yet to fulfill their promise.
  • In the cases of Aquino and Veloso, relatives experienced derogatory insinuations from DFA personnel. DFA legal officer Bert Manayao told Aquino’s mother that her son should suffer in prison even though his case is still being heard. DFA legal officer Patricia Mocom, after failing to assist the Veloso family in their passport applications, belittled the family’s financial capacity to travel.

Conclusions and Recommendations: 

  1. There is a general state policy of neglect and apathy for OFWs facing criminal charges abroad, and their families.
  2. OFWs facing criminal charges are denied due process and “criminalized” EVEN BY the Philippine government.
  3. Philippine government comes in only AFTER conviction, and even then, selective assistance is only limited to cases meted capital punishment.
  4. The DFA has not been transparent, and in majority of these cases “clueless”, in the on-goings and processes faced by OFWs from the time of arrest to conviction. Most of these cases they learned only UPON REPORT to the DFA of the families themselves, instead of the other way around.
  5. Philippine government should actively evaluate what it can do domestically legally as part of legal assistance for OFWs, especially those victimized by illegal recruiters and traffickers, as in the Veloso case.
  6. Philippine government should conduct a transparent FULL AUDIT of how funds for legal assistance (LAF) and assistance to nationals (ATN) are utilized for these cases, as stipulated in Republic Act 8042, amended by RA 10022, or the Migrant Workers and Overseas Filipinos Act of 1995. Particularly, there is an urgent need to investigate why the intended allocations for the LAF have been decreasing since 2010, as well as the Presidential Veto of the LAF for the 2015 national budget.
  7. Congress is urged to also look into the closure of at least 10 Philippine posts/embassies in 2012, supposedly as part of the government’s “austerity measures”. The closure of Philippine posts in some countries has a direct negative effect on the provision of legal assistance to OFWs facing criminal charges abroad.
  8. Congress is urged to summon, investigate and sanction negligent and callous embassy and DFA officials who treat OFWs and their families seeking legal assistance as mere nuisances. On the other hand, there is a need to increase and train more competent and compassionate case officers and embassy officials in the spirit of genuine public service.

  /eof

#SaveMaryJane Sworn affidavits of Celia, Cesar and Maritess Veloso

Presscon of Veloso family with Migrante in front of the DFA Photo: Migrante International

Presscon of Veloso family, Nanay Celia, Tatay Cesar and Maritess, with Migrante in front of the DFA Photo: Migrante International

Still in the spirit of transparency, we are re-releasing the sworn and notarized affidavits of Celia, Cesar and Maritess Veloso, Mary Jane’s mother, father and sister, respectively.

These affidavits were first made public during the press conference of Mary Jane’s PH legal team, led by the National Union of People’s Lawyers (NUPL), last April 20 at the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP).
Attached herewith, with English translations.
Migrante International Media Desk