“Enough of the Duterte regime’s garbage-like treatment of OFWs” — Migrante International

More than a month after being stuck in NCR, OFWs complain that they are being dumped like garbage in Metro Manila’s airport terminals. Despite huge sums of money squandered by the government’s national task force in funding overseas propaganda roadshows to delude OFWs into believing that things in the Philippines have changed for the better, it cannot be denied that our repatriated kababayans are being made to feel the maximum brunt of the Duterte regime’s ineptitude. Conditions of OFWs waiting at the airport stunned aid workers from Migrante International and Kilusang Mayo Uno who brought some food rations to our starving balikbayans yesterday. 

Famished and made to sit close to heaps of junk airport equipment, our kababayans whom the government repeatedly tag as ‘modern-day heroes’ are treated like outcasts as they haplessly await for their provincial flights. Many of these repatriates are now penniless after a month-long wait for medical services and financial aid that never came. They now rely on meal rations brought to them tardily at the airport. It is mind-boggling at how Duterte’s government officials look impressive at their efficiency in organizing parties and other spectacles but are proven to be repugnant imbeciles when it comes to delivering services for distressed Filipinos. 

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PHOTO: GMA News Online

Migrante International has also received accounts from OFWs themselves that they were asked for their passports at the airport which they are unable to provide because they are being held by their recruitment agencies. Waiting all-day and all-night long, many OFWs deplore that they can’t even take a bath to relieve them from the excruciating heat. Some seafarers recounted that they were already brought to the airport even if they have not yet taken their swab tests. 

The hardships inflicted on OFWs by government negligence is already taking its toll. With thousands of seafarers still stranded aboard ships, we still have not seen any action from the Duterte government to come to their aid. A 32-year old seafarer committed suicide recently on a ship called Scarlet Lady owned by Virgin Voyages. Innumerable Filipino migrant workers both sea-based and land-based are already at the height of mental distress. The Duterte government must see to it that psychosocial services be provided to them before and after repatriation. 

What could be much worse than the Duterte government’s imminent extortion of OFWs through the resumption of the mandatory Philhealth and premium rate hike three days from now? Migrante International calls on President Duterte to put a stop on this day-light robbery and focus on helping Filipino migrants at this period of crisis. OFWs are likewise appealing to OWWA to constantly provide their necessities like food, water, toiletries and comfortable waiting areas at the airport. Medical attention and flight priorities must be given to the elderly, pregnant women and physically challenged OFWs. The national government’s coordination with provincial LGUs is a must so as to avoid further troubles for OFWs whose hopes and energies have already been exhausted by the horrible times they spent in government quarantine facilities. As what Filipino migrants have repeatedly demanded before, they want a comprehensive plan to be laid out as 42,000 more are expected to be repatriated in the next few weeks. Enough of the Duterte regime’s garbage-like treatment of OFWs!

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Duterte gov’t hit for mass incarceration of OFWs and public release of their COVID-19 test results

If it were not for the uproar brought up by OFWs who were subjected to prolonged confinement in quarantine facilities, there’s no telling how many days or weeks more they would have to endure before President Duterte orders their release. This is also on the back of concerns on the shortage of quarantine rooms to take in 42,000 more OFWs who will be returning back to the Philippines in the next several weeks.

Throughout the duration of their confinement, OFWs complained that they have not really received financial aid, regular check ups and psychosocial services especially for repatriates who have histories of abuse and maltreatment from their foreign employers overseas. Under the government’s DOLE-AKAP program, many OFWs are not covered by the Duterte government’s financial aid. 

What was supposed to be a mere 14-day quarantine turned out to be a month-long isolation even for OFWs who already obtained negative results out of their COVID-19 tests. Confusion, frustration and depression vexed those who were still not allowed to leave because of the failure of pertinent government agencies to provide them with certification. The certification requirement only caused bureaucratic nightmares to OFWs who have long been used to more organized and more efficient deliveries from their host countries. 

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PHOTO: Raffy Tima

The disorganized and disjointed undertakings of government agencies likewise roused alarms in the manner that the Philippine Coast Guard relayed information to OFWs regarding their release. While we support the use of digital means to expedite the process, it should never be at the cost of breaking the right of OFWs to privacy. Worst, the Philippine Coast Guard has been publishing on its social media account the Google Drive link which contains the masterlist of OFW names who tested negative for COVID-19. The Google Drive link was without any online security to safeguard sensitive data and protect OFWs from possible identity theft caused by privacy breach. Even the process itself of undergoing quarantine should never be revealed publicly without the OFW’s consent. It is really appalling that the google drive link was recklessly made available to everybody online. We demand for heads to roll among task force officials who violated the rights of quarantined OFWs to privacy. Migrante International is looking into possible legal actions against government officials responsible for this massive breach of rights to privacy. 

President Duterte has hundreds of billions of funds granted to him through emergency powers and yet the government can’t even provide a safe online tracker for OFWs to access centralized and updated details about their repatriation, quarantine, release, financial aid and other relevant information. For the lack of substantial aid during their confinement, the mass incarceration of OFWs is reprehensible when all the while we have seen Duterte’s underlings like Sinas, Koko Pimentel, Mocha and Bong Go violating Duterte’s very own ECQ with complete impunity.  

Filipino migrants were not found wanting in their collective efforts to raise their demands to the government through petitions, letters of appeal, phone calls to government agencies, and even testifying in the House Committee on Overseas Workers Affairs. The government should have promptly worked on the release and safe return of quarantined OFWs especially the elderly, pregnant women and those who have physical challenges. 

Early on, there should have already been a comprehensive plan for immediate and systematic mass testing, coordinated and organized quarantine process, transportation assistance plus other services without bureaucratic layers, and with clear and accessible information for our OFWs. We attribute the failure of the Duterte regime for its stubborn insistence on appointing military officials in the task force despite their glaring ignorance in the handling of a public health crisis of pandemic proportions. It created a task force fielded by a gang of military personnel without a single epidemiologist. 

While Filipino migrants are still crawling hapless from the Duterte government’s ineptitude, another menacing offense of the Duterte regime is that whatever diminutive ‘assistance’ OFWs received from the government will be soon blotted out completely with the impending implementation of the mandatory Philhealth and premium rate hike several days from now. FIlipino migrant communities have been banging pots and raising their voices in their Global Kalampagan to oppose the daylight robbery against OFWs perpetrated by the Duterte regime. Migrante International demands a comprehensive plan to ameliorate OFWs in this time of crisis. Tulong hindi kotong!

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OFW group calls for speedy repatriation of OFWs. Demands complete junking of mandatory Philhealth and premium rate hike

With vast proportions of business operations forced to shut down, governments in the Middle East such as the UAE and Kuwait are firming up amnesty programs to allow migrants with visa issues to leave their host countries without having to pay fines or getting penalized. Migrante International calls upon the Duterte government to urgently repatriate all stranded Filipino migrants and persuade governments of other host countries to implement similar amnesty programs or grace periods. 

The surge in the number of stranded Filipinos in the Middle East reflects the grievous impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and recession to migrant workers. Most of the cases are in Saudi Arabia. No work no pay arrangements have made life unbearable for OFWs whose loved ones back home are likewise battered by the Duterte government’s refusal to provide cash aid for OFW families. Another offense would be the government’s limit on the daily number of repatriations. Media reports say that only 600 repatriates are allowed to return each day. This is just one example of the Duterte regime’s appalling treatment of its ‘modern-day heroes’ right in the midst of a global health emergency. With Duterte’s persistent delayed response, he is proving to be outrightly blind to the gravity and urgency of the situations faced by OFWs. 

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PHOTO: DFA-OUMWA

For decades, one Philippine regime after another has relied on labour export to camouflage the uninterrupted crisis generated by neoliberal economic policies. Before the eruption of the COVID-19 recession, the Philippines for the longest time has been the country with the highest unemployment rate in Southeast Asia. DOLE admits that 5 to 10 million workers in the homefront are in grave peril of  losing their jobs as the crisis rears its head for the worst. 

We can really dare say that Duterte’s ‘Balik Probinsya’ program is meant to preempt the boiling resentment of displaced precariats in NCR, majority of them are from the service sector which accounts for 24 million jobs or more than half of the employed workforce. Agriculture which is supposed to be an essential sector to ensure the country’s food security has long been in the throes of death due to unhampered liberalization. Expect that as soon as the turbulence eases, ‘Balik Abroad’ will be their primary resort. 

Scrambling to look for sources of funds to replenish a near-emptied coffer rifled by corruption, the Duterte regime rammed the mandatory Philhealth coverage and premium rate hike into the throats of hapless Filipino migrants. OFWs are no longer buying bogus assurances of benefits from Philhealth after the agency has been mired with issues of ghost patients and deliveries. As Duterte’s suspension on the mandatory Philhealth and rate hike ends on 30th of May, OFWs will find themselves crushed to the point of fatality just to resuscitate the profit of a healthcare sector dominated by big private business and that of the Duterte government which is entrenched in corruption and bureaucrat capitalism. Meanwhile, Duterte’s economic mismanagement team is pushing for a cut on corporate income tax rates from 30% to 25% in July this year. Undoubtedly, this is highly favourable to oppressive oligarchs. 

Filipino migrants and their advocates are fighting hard to stop the Duterte regime from milking OFWs anew for their hard-earned money. Aside from the weekly Global Kalampagan conducted by Migrante members worldwide, overseas Filipinos are also exerting all-out support for House Bill 6698 filed by Makabayan bloc members at the House of Representatives. This seeks to amend the Universal Health Care Act (UHC) to render the membership of overseas Filipinos to Philhealth voluntary, and remove its provisions for premium increase and the imposition of penalty.

What we need to see now are immediate repatriation for stranded OFWs, transportation assistance, steady financial aid and the provision of health services upon their return. OFWs in quarantine are neither getting any psychosocial support nor regular health checks. Without amelioration, their confinement in government quarantine facilities would only amount to them being subjected to mass incarceration. The Duterte government must prioritize the safe return of our kababayans. Forcing them to pay hefty fees for supposed healthcare services which they don’t get in quarantine facilities is tantamount to sequestering them to extract ransom. 

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“Arrest Sinas! Stop criminalizing distressed OFWs fleeing detention-like quarantine facilities! Scrap mandatory Philhealth and premium rate hike” — Migrante International

In an inter-agency task force meeting aired online on Tuesday night, COVID-19 Chief Implementer Secretary Carlito Galvez said that a total of 465 returning OFWs have tested positive for the disease. One solon last month said that 420,000 OFWs are set to return in the next six months as a result of the COVID-19 world health crisis and economic recession. 27,000 are already in Metro Manila and 42,000 are expected to arrive in the next several weeks. 

More than two months into one of the world’s longest and harshest lockdowns, the Duterte regime is still without a comprehensive plan encompassing medical intervention and financial assistance for OFWs.  So just like those who have arrived before them, returning OFWs are expected to undergo the same sorts of ordeal that are afflicting those languishing in temporary quarantine facilities. According to reports, Galvez expressed that there might no longer be enough quarantine rooms to accommodate the additional 42,000 repatriates.

Since the massive influx of OFWs back to the country has already been anticipated early on, there is clear criminal neglect on the part of the Duterte regime. It’s hard to forget the tragic fate that befell one OFW from Kuwait who committed suicide inside a temporary quarantine facility in Pasay City. Fellow occupants of the said quarantine said that they have been stuck there for more than two weeks without getting any medical check-ups nor any financial aid from the government. Prior to their return, many of these OFWs endured abuses from their employers overseas. 

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PHOTO: abs-cbn.com/news

Despairing over the loss of their livelihood while struggling to cope up with emotional traumas are terrible afflictions for OFWs. Migrante International’s call on the Duterte government to provide psychosocial support for OFWs under quarantine has fallen on deaf ears. We therefore find Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin’s arrest order against OFWs who fled quarantine facilities as atrocious. It is such a shame that OFWs traumatized by their experiences abroad and in local quarantine facilities are now being treated like criminals by their own government. The regime’s double standard is glaring considering that President Duterte even praised NCR Police Chief Maj. General Debold Sinas as an “honest” and “good officer” despite fierce criticisms from the public for his ECQ violations. Thanks to Duterte’s hypocrisy, Sinas is now acting like a spoiled princess.  

Adding to the troubles faced by OFWs is the impending mandatory Philhealth collection and premium rate hike that will ensue following the expiration of the moratorium on premium payments after the 30th of May. The Duterte regime’s much-vaunted Universal Healthcare Law is just another scam to bleed OFW pockets dry. OFWs in quarantine facilities can attest that they are not getting the healthcare services they deserve. Migrante International supports the demand of OFWs for the complete junking of the mandatory Philhealth membership and premium rate hike. OFWs fed up by the Duterte regime’s inutility are not criminals. Without the financial aid, psychosocial support, medical and transportation services that OFWs deserve to get, the Duterte regime’s temporary quarantine shelter are nothing but detention facilities. 

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Makabayan’s amendatory bill on mandatory Philhealth gets strong backing from OFW advocacy group Migrante Int’l

Following the filing of House Resolution No. 00827 by Makabayan bloc legislators on Tuesday, 5 May 2020, directing the House Committee on Health to conduct an urgent review of President Duterte’s Republic Act 11223 or the Universal Healthcare Act, an amendatory bill was filed today pushing for voluntary Philhealth membership of overseas Filipinos. Bayan Muna Representatives Ferdinand Gaite, Carlos Isagani Zarate, Eufemia Cullamat, ACT Teachers Party-List Rep. France Castro, Gabriela Women’s Party Rep. Arlene Brosas and Kabataan Party-List Rep. Sarah Elago led the introduction of House Bill No. 6698 to the Congressional session today, 7 May 2020.

Welcoming the house resolutions initiated by the Makabayan bloc, Migrante International Chairperson Joanna Concepcion is hopeful that it will pave the way to finally put a stop on the imposition of the premium rate hike. “We are very grateful to the Makabayan bloc in Congress for raising the collective sentiments of Filipino migrants against the mandatory Philhealth exaction. This was signed and approved by President Duterte himself and even without the scourge of the COVID-19 crisis, OFWs will surely oppose this unjust and extortionate law.” 

President Duterte recently ordered suspension of Philhealth’s premium rate hike following international outrage from Filipino communities abroad. The resolution cited initiatives from Filipino migrants opposing its implementation. Among them is the online petition which has already garnered more than 410,000 signatories. A joint position statement was also launched by Migrante International signed by about 200 Filipino migrant organizations from different countries around the world. 

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PHOTO: First Makabayan Bloc Zoom Presscon (7 May 2020) regarding the ABS-CBN Franchise, PhilHealth and the Universal Healthcare Law, and human rights violations and other concerns during the Enhanced Community Quarantine (Screengrabbed from Gabriela Women’s Party)

One of the arguments raised by House Resolution No. 00827 states, “PhilHealth should not be allowed to impose a premium rate hike, considering that it has P97 billion reserve funds and net income of P11.6 billion in 2018, not to mention its investment portfolio at P149 billion.” 

Meanwhile, the amendatory House Bill No. 6698 pointed out: “Suspending the PhilHealth premium increase only temporarily relieves the overseas Filipinos of the additional burden. There is a need to truly unburden the overseas Filipinos by allowing voluntary membership, removing the “double” payment, compounded interest for unpaid premium, and unjust premium increases by amending certain provisions of the Universal Health Care Law.”

Discontented by President Duterte’s mere suspension of the mandatory Philhealth collection and premium rate hike, Filipino migrant groups led by Migrante International are set to conduct an online protest on Tuesday, 12 May 2020 to express opposition against what they call “unjust and extortionate” provisions of Duterte’s Universal Healthcare Law. 

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“ABS-CBN shutdown order, a violation against the right of the Filipino people to access information. Bolsters Duterte’s Martial Rule” — Migrante International

NTC’s cease and desist order against ABS-CBN is not only an attack on press freedom but an act of hostility against its 11,000 employees. Just as President Duterte’s underlings attempted to harass and deport a Taiwan-based OFW for merely voicing out her legitimate criticisms, the regime is now launching a much larger scale of assault against free speech and the people’s right to information. It wants fuller control over the flow of information to pervert the everyday accounts of the Filipino public.

Migrante International stands in solidarity with the thousands of ABS-CBN employees whose families will now have to face grimmer days ahead due to the loss of their livelihood and employment. Duterte’s wranglings against ABS-CBN attest to his personal vendetta against the company. How can this regime even do such monstrosity to the thousands of families right at this terrible period of crisis? The country is now lying flat on its back but the Duterte regime would rather see to it that thousands upon thousands are added to the vast number of Filipinos gripped by hunger and deprivation. 

We find it woeful for this to occur just days after International Workers’ Day and World Press Freedom Day. While we were still left baffled by ABS-CBN’s closure, we were struck anew by the horrible news of a media worker shot dead in Dumaguete City. Migrante International is one with the media community in demanding justice for Rex Cornelio of 93.7 FM Dumaguete. 

In many provinces outside of Metro Manila, ABS-CBN is the only TV station available on air. Tens of millions are now without access to important news and information at a time when COVID-19 is ravaging the country. In places where communication signals are too weak, watching ABS-CBN’s TV programs could be the only way for them to keep track of the general situation in places, whether it be in the Philippines or abroad, where their loved ones live. 

President Duterte is just too spooked by the mass awakening and growing outrage of the Filipino people against the injustices being committed by his regime. For OFWs and their families, the ABS-CBN shutdown is Duterte’s way of clamping down on media entities exposing his extortionate agenda against OFWs as in the mandatory Philhealth exaction and premium rate hike. The closure of the Philippines’ largest network comes at a time when the Duterte regime is repelling enormous criticisms due to the Philhealth controversy. 

Just as how crony capitalism got ahead during the Marcos years, POGO operations and Dennis Uy’s expansion into entertainment and media business are expected to reach their apex at the back of a hard-pressed media community.  Even without an official declaration, it is pretty evident that Martial Law is currently underway, and Duterte is using the same Marcosian tactics to suppress civil liberties in favour of his despotic rule. Migrante International calls on all Filipinos to fight for their right to information and defend the media community from Duterte’s Fascist attacks. 

#NoToABSCBNShutdown

#DefendPressFreedom

#MediaFightBack

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“Suspension won’t suffice for long. Scrap Philhealth premium hike now!” — Migrante International

Scrambling to save face from the uproar caused by the Philhealth premium hike which Duterte himself signed and approved, Malacañang and Health Secretary Duque directed its temporary suspension. This initial gain is attributable to the strong opposition raised by Filipino migrant communities far and wide. One of the petitions raised by OFWs calling for the removal of the mandatory premium hike has already garnered more than 400 Thousand signatories. In addition, a joint position statement launched by Migrante International is also gaining ground, signed by 180 Filipino migrant organizations from different parts of the world. 

One thing is clear though from Spokesperson Harry Roque’s announcement – suspension will not suffice for long. The Duterte regime is merely dousing cold water to the Philhealth issue in its attempt to sedate the loud outrage of Filipino migrants against this unjust and extortionate law. OFWs are not asking for a mere suspension. They want it completely scrapped. 

 

Migrante International likewise backs the strong opposition of OFWs against Senator Bong Go’s call for a ‘palugit’ or extension of the pre-IRR status quo. Even without the COVID-19 pandemic and recession, the premium hike will still be rejected by Filipino migrants. Senator Bong Go is the current chair of the Senate Committee on Health so we are not surprised why he is still vouching for Duterte’s disgraceful UHC Law. As seen on his Facebook page, OFWs are refuting his claim that the benefits under Duterte’s mandatory Philhealth exaction outweigh premium payments since there are no Philhealth accredited hospitals abroad. Furthermore, Filipinos have never lost sight of the corruption scandals that have been plaguing Philhealth year in year out.

President Duterte better avail himself of the resumption of Congressional session today by ordering for a complete repeal of the mandatory Philhealth exaction from the Universal Healthcare Law. Duterte can’t just simply wash his hands clean from responsibility when he even certified UHC as urgent back in 2018 and the tiered premium hike is clearly stipulated in Chapter 3 – Section 10 of Republic Act No. 11223. Until we see efforts to amend the Universal Healthcare Law, Duterte’s recommendation to make the payment for OFWs voluntary, still is yet to be seen. His recommendation also leaves out overseas Filipinos who are dual citizens when both overseas Filipinos and migrant workers will be severely affected by the mandatory premium increase.

In support of Filipino migrants, Migrante International will continue to register its protest against President Duterte’s Philhealth premium hike and other unscrupulous state exactions. OFWs deserve to get steady and efficient relief at this time of crisis. The Duterte regime better stop treating Filipino migrants as milking cows to subsidize big private profit in a country dominated by profit-oriented healthcare facilities. 

#ScrapHindiSuspension

#ProteksyonHindiKoleksyon

#TulongHindiKotong

#SerbisyoHindiNegosyo

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