On the ASEAN consensus on the protection and promotion of rights of migrant workers

image from iPleaders Blog

Global alliance of overseas Filipinos Migrante International today said that while the Duterte government hails the pending signing of the ASEAN consensus on the protection and promotion of the rights of migrant workers as the “centerpiece” of the Philippine chairmanship, migrant workers from the Philippines and the ASEAN are yet to assess if the final document adequately protects migrant workers’ rights or provides redress mechanisms, especially for those in distress.

In 2007, the ASEAN made a leap to address the issues of migrant workers by adopting the ASEAN Declaration of the Protection and Promotion of the Rights of Migrant Workers. However, the drafting of the instrument had come to an impasse since 2009 after members of the committee, specifically migrant-sending countries, failed to agree with provisions proposed by committee members and migrant-sending countries like the Philippines and Indonesia. The dispute involves whether the instrument will be legally-binding, will protect undocumented or irregular migrant workers, will cover migrants’ family members and will cover migrant workers who are not from ASEAN member states.

If the consensus still does not address these core issues, then President Duterte just signed a “landmark” spoiler for migrants rights that, ironically, the Philippines has been contesting for 10 years now.

There is also a lack of clarity, consultative process and scarcity in information-sharing with relevant stakeholders, including migrant workers themselves. Proposed changes to the draft instrument, to exclude families, undocumented migrant workers and to remove legally-binding clause of the draft, would have a significantly negative impact on migrant workers. If Duterte brokered the signing of such a consensus, then he cannot boast of having signed a “centerpiece” agreement for ASEAN migrant workers.

Why legally-binding?

With the lack of comprehensive legislative protection of migrant workers in destination countries where most violations happen, it is important in the continuing battle for protection of migrant workers that the consensus on the protection and promotion of the rights of migrant workers is binding. If the implementation is optional for member states, migrant workers will not be able to maximize its benefits wherever they may work or migrate, however strong the principles and provisions may be.

The concept of ‘non-interference’ has been effectively instituted in ASEAN through the ASEAN Charter and had been used consistently as a method to avoid state human rights obligations in deference to the need to ‘respect state sovereignty’. The emphasis on ‘regional particularities’, principles of ‘sovereignty’ and ‘non-interference’ allowed the perpetuation of human rights violations in deference to the goals of regional and inter-governmental collaboration and economic development. The consensus on the protection and promotion of the rights of migrant workers should be legally-binding and obligate ASEAN member states to fully commit to the protection and promotion the rights of all migrant workers.

There is also a need for urgent review of existing legislation and national laws with the aim to harmonize such with a legally-binding consensus. Likewise, existing legislation and national laws that would contradict or be inconsistent with the legally-binding consensus should be repealed. These efforts should also include destination countries outside of the ASEAN if the source countries of migrant workers are in ASEAN in order to better ensure the protection and promotion of the rights of migrant workers.

Why include undocumented migrant workers?

The 2007 draft instrument related only to documented migrant workers so the framework does not correspond with the reality of migration, particularly in the Mekong region where the majority of migrant workers are living and working abroad with undocumented status.

 It is also important to note that undocumented migrant workers are not necessarily only those who entered a destination country illegally. They may include those who lose status when their work permits were not renewed, they leave their employer even if due to abusive and exploitative conditions, and, those whose employers cancelled their work permits.

Most countries in ASEAN and Asia Pacific do not have specific legislations pertaining to the protection of undocumented migrant workers and mostly deny the growing magnitude of this problem. The solution by some states for undocumented persons is typically deportation. Some corrupt immigration officers may also trade detainees to traffickers to be sent to work on fishing boats and other work. Migrant workers who are arrested are charged for working without appropriate permits and violating visa requirements or being involved in prostitution. There are no screening processes for identifying trafficked victims from undocumented migrant workers.

However, sadly, embassies and consulate offices that should serve as sanctuaries and support mechanisms for undocumented workers have been found lacking. In the case of the Philippine government, for instance, the proposal of establishing a diplomatic outpost in Sabah has been denied, mainly because it would risk the country’s diplomatic ties with migrant-receiving Malaysia.

Why include families of migrant workers?

There are often social costs to the families of migrant workers, including family dislocation with children growing up without a parent or parents. When migrant workers leave their children behind, the children are more likely to suffer academically, have emotional problems, suffer from substance abuse, be forced into the labor force at an early age, and suffer physical or sexual abuse.

Women typically bear the major responsibility for care of the family. Therefore, measures to fulfill women migrant workers’ rights must improve the treatment of women migrant workers as workers, and must minimize the hurdles women migrant workers face in maintaining their family and cultural obligations.

Furthermore, the UN Convention on Migrant Workers recognizes family as the fundamental group unit of society. As such, family unification is a major goal of the Convention. States Parties are directed to “take appropriate measures to ensure the protection of the unity of the families of migrant workers.” This provision benefits not just women who are “left behind” by their migrant worker husbands, but it benefits migrant workers who wish for their families and children to join them. Where children are able to accompany the parent or parents when they migrate for work, there are also protections needed in host countries, such as ensuring that children of migrant workers have access to social security, health care, education and other basic social services.

Family reunification/reintegration in countries of destination is the second-best option as forced migration continues to force families apart. The best option is still for sending countries to come up with alternatives to migration, such as job generation, land reform and the provision of sufficient basic social services.

 

There is also a need for the creation of an ASEAN-level body, structure, commission, or possibly even a tribunal, to address migrant-related violations and concerns. This formation may be a consultative body which would specifically focus on migrant workers, with the powers to investigate and recommend appropriate actions to member states; or in the form of an ASEAN-level tribunal or court dedicated solely, with judicial functions, to facilitate trials of and impose sanctions on violators; or reprimand, if need be, governments that would violate the consensus.

Because there is a lack of support mechanisms in both sending and receiving countries, the tendency is always to deport or repatriate victims of abuse and exploitation resulting in the denial of justice and non-persecution of perpetrators. This attitude of “exporting the problem” limits and hinders migrant workers’, for instance victims of rape and/or sexual harassment, access to justice.

Migrante International believes that national, regional and international migration policy must take place within a human rights framework that protects, promotes and fulfills the rights of migrant workers. Human rights standards in general, as well as those concerning migrants, have been codified into international human rights law, through treaties and conventions, as well as incorporated into domestic law. These have been the foundation of many state efforts in the ASEAN region to realize the civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights of migrants. While there has been progress in the past decades, the achievements have been minimal and, considering the present condition of migrant workers, insufficient.

Also, while there have been efforts within ASEAN member states to defend rights of migrant workers, they have not necessarily led to greater protection and instead even gone against migrants’ rights. For instance, some have resulted in the criminalization of victims, such as of undocumented/irregular workers and trafficked migrant workers. Crackdowns on work places, tightening up on movement, and border controls may have effectively restricted the right of nationals to migrate. The creation of the impression that there are sufficient mechanisms and legal responses to migrants in crisis may have also encouraged migration, resulting in the increasing number of distressed migrant workers unaided upon the onset of crises because of a lack of national and regional level mechanisms of protection.

Migrante International reiterates that the most basic right of migrant workers is to be able to have decent, regular work and livelihood at home without having to seek these in other countries under likely very difficult conditions. This draws attention to how recommendations need to first of all be grounded in a solid understanding of the root causes of forced migration which create the basic conditions for rights violations. Addressing these root causes and implementing policies that prevent forced migration are vital and should proceed astride more immediate efforts to advance migrant workers’ rights.

Another key point is the recognition of the right of migrant workers to organize among themselves. The united action of migrant workers, their families and advocates, to provide venues for redress when there are none is a significant step in the promotion and protection of the rights of migrant workers in the ASEAN. ###

 

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Why OFWs support the 2-day transport strike

Overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) support PISTON and No to Jeepney Phaseout Coalition’s 2-day transport strike not just for sentimental reasons. After all, the iconic “Katas ng Saudi” is symbolized by the very jeepneys that the Duterte government is now pushing to phase-out.

No, OFWs realize that their present conditions can now hardly sustain their families’ daily needs. And their savings, if at all, can hardly afford the P1.6 million cost of one e-Jeep. So, goodbye, “Katas ng Saudi”. There goes another opportunity for our OFWs to invest in something that would contribute to nation-building, in this case, mass transport that benefits millions.

More importantly, OFWs support the transport strike not because they are anti-modernization. OFWs are the last people to shun the benefits of a modern, efficient and systematized mass transport. In progressive host countries where they are, OFWs already experience how mass trains, buses and other means of public transport service and prioritize millions who do not have means. Of course, they want the same for millions Filipinos in the homeland, for their families, children and relatives who are motorists and commuters alike.

OFWs support the transport strike because they reject any and all so-called “modernization” schemes in which they and their families and the general public bear the brunt. They reject the Duterte government’s PUVModernization program because it is anti-poor and anti-masses. It plans to replace the humble jeepney with something “modern” that both drivers/operators and commuters cannot afford. Instead, mass transport will be privatized, monopolized by big corporations that can afford to pay millions and millions for a fleet of 20 units, the minimum number required per operator in the program.

Only the Ayalas, Aboitizes or the multimillionaires who funded Duterte’s presidency can afford the PUVModernization scheme. These multimillionaires are engaged in utilities, manufacturing, mining and infrastracture. According to an investigative report by the PCIJ, Duterte has already appointed at least half a dozen and their relatives to his Cabinet six months after elections. Others are still waiting for payback, it seems, in terms of business and other government “modernization” programs. This is not the type of “modernization” that OFWs support.

Like the general public, OFWs are also exasperated with the incorrigible traffic problem. More so because they experience first-hand abroad how a systematized and efficient mass transport system and urban planning can make the Philippines a country that they would wish to come home to. However, Duterte’s PUVModernization program is not geared towards improving the lives of motorists and commuters alike but towards ensuring more profit for big businesses and foreign investors.

What do OFWs want? OFWs wish for a nationalized public mass transport system that genuinely and sincerely considers the present situation of motorists and commuters alike. Instead, the Duterte government is deliberately dividing the public transport sector and commuters on diversionary arguments, as if both do not share the same interests and vision for a better Philippines.

Is a nationalized public mass transport feasible? OFWs believe it is. If Duterte is really sincere in upgrading old jeepneys and resolving the traffic problem, it should channel government resources to subsidize mass transport, at no cost to both drivers/operators and commuters. It should re-orient Dutertenomics to a pro-masses agenda and depart from neoliberal dictates that burden the public, especially the lowly drivers/operators and the poor masses. Any efforts to “modernize” will not be fruitful if not founded on genuine rural development and national industrialization that would prioritize people over profit. ###

 

“OFW Bank” further institutionalizes bankrupt labor export program

Global alliance of overseas Filipinos Migrante International objects to the creation of an “overseas Filipino worker bank” (OFB), saying that it is geared towards “managing OFW remittances for the perpetuation of a long-bankrupt labor export program”.

President Duterte recently authorized the transfer of shares of the Philippine Postal Savings Bank (PPSB) to the Land Bank of the Philippines (LandBank) for its subsequent conversion into the OFB through Executive Order 44.

The creation of the OFB is in tune with the Duterte government’s economic thrust of “managing migration” as a “tool for development”, a neoliberal prescription that does not in any way address the root causes of forced migration nor even attempt to curb it in the policy-level. Its main objective is to “manage OFW remittances” to enable a more fast-tracked, sufficient and concentrated system of profiting from overseas Filipino workers’ (OFWs’) hard-earned incomes.

This in itself further institutionalizes the decades-long labor export program that continues to exploit OFWs’ cheap labor and remittances in accordance to neoliberal policies and dictates.

Previous administrations have been aggressive in crafting programs and services aimed at facilitating and encouraging forced migration. While acknowledging the many social costs and human rights violations, these are effectively downplayed by the hailing of OFW remittances. Instead, past administrations have unfailingly and resolutely promoted the labor export program as unequivocally beneficial to OFWs and their families. This is particularly done by overstating supposed development benefits for the economy and the income benefits of households.

Precisely, this is what the Duterte regime hopes to achieve anew through the creation of the OFB, to the detriment of our OFWs.

Instead of providing a comprehensive and genuine economic program that decisively deviates from a policy of labor export and focuses on creating domestic jobs to end the cycle of forced migration, Duterte’s economic compulsion is to keep exporting Filipinos to maintain or, especially, to increase, concentrate and manage remittances.

Further, the EO’s supposed vision to “provide OFWs with priority support for their growing financial needs” is plain braggadocio. Encouraging OFWs to embark on “microfinancing” will only bury them in greater debt to big banks and financial institutions, this time facilitated by the state itself. Meanwhile, enticing investments for so-called “microinsurance” may only be deemed as yet another state exaction scheme in which OFWs are encouraged to allot their earnings to premiums and contributions that will ultimately be useless to them. This has long been the case with the controversy-laden and corrupt-ridden OWWA funds.

Migrante International firmly stands on the position that, should there be “OFW banks”, these should ensure that OFWs’ hard-earned money are invested towards genuine rural development and national industrialization that will create jobs at home and end the vicious cycle of forced migration. Unfortunately, this thrust is hardly the case under the Duterte regime’s present economic agenda.

To address the problem of forced migration, the government’s economic policies should focus on developing national economy by advancing local industries, agriculture and basic services. It should depart from neoliberal policies which focus on increasing dependence on OFW remittances. Only then can OFWs look forward to a future in which they will not have to leave their families behind just to survive. ###

Never again to a fascist dictatorship! – Migrante

Today, wherever we may be in the world, Filipinos come together to mark the 45th year of the declaration of martial law. But this year’s September 21 protests go beyond commemoration and recollection of the crimes of the US-Marcos dictatorship. Today, we unite to hold accountable the fascist US-Duterte regime for crimes perpetrated in its Marcosian all-out war against the people.

We are gathered today with other sectors because OFWs and families stand against Duterte’s fascism and tyranny. We condemn in strongest terms the government’s mass murder under the banner of the regime’s three wars – the war against the Moro people, the bloody “war on drugs” and the anti-people Oplan Kapayapaan. We vow to fight Duterte’s political suppression and repression of its critics and perceived enemies. We vow to resist and reject any and all forms of curtailment of our hard-fought freedoms and civil liberties.

We vow to frustrate any and all moves by Duterte to install himself as a fascist dictator like his idol Marcos.

We are not cowed by President Duterte’s attempts to sabotage, belittle or mock today’s protests. We shall hold no less than Duterte responsible for manoeuvres to disrupt or cause trouble in today’s peaceful mass actions. We are aware that Duterte is more than capable of creating scenarios to serve as pretext for the declaration of nationwide martial law.

We will not be intimidated. Should Duterte make good his threat to declare martial law nationwide, we vow to be ever vigilant and continue with efforts to mobilize the broadest number of Filipinos in the Philippines and around the world to call for an end to his fascist rule.

 

September 21 protests go global

Migrante chapters held different forms of protests around the world today.

In Hong Kong, OFWs trooped to the PH Consulate to condemn the spate of killings. Meawhile, OFWs in Japan distributed leaflets in train stations to call for solidarity with the Filipino people against Duterte’s fascism and tyranny.

OFWs in Qatar, Italy and South Korea held indoor and outdoor protests. Filipinos in Canada, Australia and the United States also held simultaneous protests. In the United Kingdom, Filipinos are set to hold a protest action on September 24.

 In the Philippines, Migrante chapters in Davao, Cebu, Negros, Laguna, Batangas, Cavite, Rizal, Nueva Ecija, Pampanga and Baguio participated in the nationwide protest centers. Manila-based chapters of Migrante joined the big multisectoral rally in Luneta. ###

#JusticeforKian Kian is every OFW’s son

photo from abs-cbn.com

Migrante International extends its most heartfelt condolences to the family and friends of 17-year-old Kian Lloyd delos Santos, the latest victim of President Rodrigo Duterte’s ruthless war on drugs.

We grieve with the delos Santos family, especially Kian’s mother Lorenza, an overseas Filipino worker from Saudi Arabia. Lorenza has captured the hearts of OFWs and their families all over the world. We feel her sorrow because it is also ours. We mourn as she mourns. We rage as she rages. Lorenza’s family has become every OFW’s family, and Kian every OFW’s son.

We feel Lorenza’s hunger for justice. It has fortified our resolve to fight for justice for Kian and every single life lost. We join Lorenza in her battle, as Kian’s death has united every and all OFW and family to win the war against Duterte’s psychopathic rampage.

We condemn and hold accountable the Philippine National Police, Kian’s cold-blooded murderers, who have long been given license by no less than Duterte himself to conduct an unbridled killing spree. Duterte has launched a full scale use of state violence against the people that has resulted in countless human rights violations, the terrorizing of communities and extrajudicial killings under the guise of his government’s notorious war on drugs.

How many more Kians will suffer the same fate? The Duterte government remains unremorseful, it continues to condone the senseless killings. Innocents like Kian are being victimized yet big operators of the illegal drug trade remain scot-free. What thrives now instead is a climate of impunity of unprecedented proportions, ever worse than before.

The killings must stop. Heads must roll. Kian’s life is blood on Duterte’s hands. All those who committed, operated and tolerated the spate of killings are complicit and should be held accountable by the Filipino people.

We call on all Filipinos around the world to rise up against Duterte’s tyranny and fascist rule. We do not want more Kians to die because of Duterte’s psychopathic war on drugs. He has already proven himself unworthy of the people’s trust. He has betrayed the people by failing to hold accountable all human rights violators in the military, police and government.

Migrante International stands firm that only through the upholding of the social and economic rights of the people can the root causes of poverty and social problems be thoroughly and genuinely addressed. We must demand a change to the very system that victimized Kian and took his innocent life. Only through this can Kian, Lorenza and every Filipino family get the justice that they truly deserve. ###

 

#SONA2017: OFWs protest Duterte’s fascism and ‘broken vows’ in People’s SONA

On Pres. Duterte’s second State of the Nation Address (SONA), global alliance of overseas Filipinos Migrante International led protests worldwide condemning the regime’s martial law and empty promises.

“Today’s protests are happening at a time when the nation is once again engulfed in a new dark era, that of the US-Duterte regime’s militarist authoritarian rule amid worsening social injustices. We are gathered here today with other sectors because OFWs and families stand against Duterte’s martial law and all-out war against the people. We lend our voices against the government’s political suppression and repression of its critics and perceived enemies. We vow to fight any and all forms of curtailment of our hard-fought freedoms and civil liberties,” said Arman Hernando, Migrante International spokesperson.

Hernando said that martial law in Mindanao has resulted in countless deaths, destruction and numerous human rights abuses brought on by the military’s indiscriminate bombings and air strikes.  It has also been used by state forces to carry out harassment, extrajudicial killings, illegal arrests and the filing of trumped-up charges against activists, progressives and civil libertarians, not only in Mindanao but in Visayas and Luzon.

“The extension of martial law in Mindanao represents a clear and present threat of an expansion of military rule not only in Mindanao but a military takeover of the government. Such a move has paved the way for a possible declaration of martial law nationwide,” he said.

“History has proven that martial law cannot and will not pave the way to peace and stability. Instead, most vulnerable to human rights and violations are the Filipino people — unionists who strike for better wages, farmers and national minorities who struggle for land, the poor who fight for better services and against state repression. The extension of martial law in Mindanao has set the stage for the large-scale violation of human rights by the AFP and other state forces.”

Hernando said that today’s SONA protests around the world is also testament to overseas Filipino workers’ (OFWs’) continuing clamor for genuine change.

Joining the Migrante contingent in the People’s SONA in Manila are returned OFWs and families of stranded OFWs in Saudi Arabia; the family of Mary Jane Veloso; and, the family of Teresa Quedding, an OFW victim of mysterious death whose remains arrived from Kuwait without internal organs and with apparent signs of torture and maltreatment.

Migrante also raised OFWs’ strong opposition to fees and tax impositions brought on by the new OFW ID, or the iDOLE, and the Bureau of Customs’ Memorandum Order 04-2017 on balikbayan boxes which will be effective on August 1.

“After a year of Duterte’s presidency, it has become evident that no genuine change awaits OFWs and their families. Duterte vowed to end forced migration and the policy of labor export but continues to cater only to the ruling elite, big business and foreign interests. Joblessness, contractualization, landlessness, lack of basic social services and other social injustices are not being addressed. These are the root causes of forced migration, the reasons why millions of our OFWs are compelled to leave their families just to survive. These are also the root causes of the ongoing armed conflict, that only fundamental societal change can resolve,” Hernando said.

Like in the Marcos era, he said, Duterte’s martial law and all-out war against the people will only further force Filipinos to seek security and refuge abroad.

“History has also proven that martial law failed to address the root causes of the CPP-NPA-NDF armed rebellion as well as the Moro people’s struggle for the right to self-determination. Martial law extension in Mindanao, and its possible expansion nationwide, is a momentous stumbling block to the Filipino people’s aspiration and commitment to a just and lasting peace,” Hernando said.

Migrante also condemned the apparent US-hand not only in the Marawi conflict but in moves to extend martial law in Mindanao and expand it nationwide.

“Filipinos here and abroad resist and reject the US’ involvement in the Marawi conflict and in Philippine affairs. Our nation should not fall prey to the US ploy of wreaking terror and division to advance their economic and political interests in the country and in the region, similar to what they are waging in Syria, Venezuela and other countries where people are asserting their independence,” Hernando said.

“Nothing good ever comes out of US interventionist wars. The Filipino people will not allow Pres. Duterte to fall into the same trap that happened in Syria, Libya and elsewhere. In line with the US pivot to Asia, the US-hand in the Marawi conflict and the declaration of martial law in Mindanao, enabled by US puppets in the Duterte government, has already been exposed. Migrante International calls for the lifting of martial law and the immediate pull out of US troops from Philippine soil.”

“We call on all Filipinos around the world to rise against state fascism. Only through collective action and struggle can the Filipino people ultimately topple the rotten, corrupt system that has produced one tyrant leader after another,” Hernando said. ###

No to martial law extension, stop the AFP’s “all-out war” against the people – Migrante

Migrante International strongly opposes moves by the Duterte regime and the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) to extend martial law in Mindanao.

Martial law in Mindanao has resulted in countless deaths, destruction and numerous human rights abuses brought on by the military’s indiscriminate bombings and air strikes.  It has also been used by state forces to carry out harassment, extrajudicial killings, illegal arrests and the filing of trumped-up charges against activists, progressives and civil libertarians, not only in Mindanao but in Visayas and Luzon.

It is no secret that militarists and opportunists in the Duterte government want to extend and expand martial law for their own interests. The extension of martial law in Mindanao represents a clear and present threat of an expansion of military rule not only in Mindanao but a military takeover of the government. Such a move will further pave the way for a possible declaration of martial law nationwide.

Migrante International condemns in most vehement terms orders by Defense Sec. Lorenzana to utilize the martial law in Mindanao to carry out and intensify the AFP’s “all-out war” counter-insurgency operations. History has proven that martial law cannot and will not pave the way to peace and stability. Instead, most vulnerable to human rights and violations are the Filipino people — unionists who strike for better wages, farmers and national minorities who struggle for land, the poor who fight for better services and against state repression. Extending martial law in Mindanao will set the stage for the large-scale violation of human rights by the AFP and other state forces.

History has also proven that martial law failed to address the root causes of the CPP-NPA-NDF armed rebellion as well as the Moro people’s struggle for the right to self-determination. Extending martial law in Mindanao, and its possible expansion nationwide, will be a momentous stumbling block to the Filipino people’s aspiration and commitment to a just and lasting peace.

Migrante also condemns in strongest terms the apparent US-hand not only in the Marawi conflict but in moves to extend martial law in Mindanao and expand it nationwide. Filipinos here and abroad resist and reject US involvement in the Marawi conflict and in Philippine affairs. Our nation should not fall prey to the US ploy of wreaking terror and division to advance their economic and political interests in the country and in the region, similar to what they are waging in Syria, Venezuela and other countries where people are asserting their independence.

Nothing good ever comes out of US interventionist wars. The Filipino people will not allow Pres. Duterte to fall into the same trap that happened in Syria, Libya and elsewhere. In line with the US pivot to Asia, the US-hand in the Marawi conflict and the declaration of martial law in Mindanao, enabled by US puppets in the Duterte government, has already been exposed. Migrante calls for the lifting of martial law and the immediate pull out of US troops from Philippine soil.

Migrante enjoins all OFWs and their families here and abroad to join the protest against the Duterte regime’s attempt to convene a joint session of Congress on July 22 to extend martial law in Mindanao.

On July 24, Migrante International calls on all peace-loving and freedom-fighting Filipinos all over the world to join the People’s SONA to call the for lifting of martial law, the pull out of US troops and the resumption of the GRP-NDF peace talks. ###