Ipagbunyi ang makabuluhang buhay ni Kasamang Paul Aringo (1992-2017), huwarang lider-kabataan at rebolusyonaryo!

“Ang lahat ng tao ay tiyak na mamamatay, ngunit ang kamatayan ay maaaring mag-iba ng kabuluhan.  Ang mamatay alang-alang sa sambayanan ay higit na mabigat kaysa Bundok Sierra Madre, subalit ang maglingkod sa mga pasista at ang mamatay para sa mga mapagsamantala at mapang-api ay higit na magaan kaysa balahibo.” – Kasamang Mao Zedong
Taos-pusong pakikiramay ang ipinapaabot ng Migrante-Youth sa pamilya, mga kaibigan at kasama ni Paul Aringo.  Ramdam ng bawat isa sa atin ngayon ang pighating dulot ng kanyang pagpanaw.  Nagdadalamhati ang pamilyang migrante at sambayanang Pilipino sa pagkawala ng isang huwarang lider-kabataan at magiting na rebolusyonaryo.

Gayunpaman, sa gitna ng pagdadalamhati ay ang ating pagtanaw ng liwanag ng pag-asang inihatid ng buhay at pakikibaka ni Kasamang Paul.

Mula sa pagiging kabataang manggagawang-bukid sa Cagayan, nagtungo si Paul sa Kamaynilaan upang tumulong sa kanyang mga magulang. Sa Maynila, tumanggap siya ng samu’t-saring trabaho sa palengke ng Bagong Barrio, Caloocan City.

Sa murang edad na 18 taong gulang, pinatunayan ni Paul ang kaniyang kasigasigang matuto at makiisa sa pakikibaka ng mamamayan nang sumali siya sa Anakbayan-Bagong Barrio.  Mula noon ay kumilos siya para mulatin, organisahin at pakilusin ang kabataan at mamamayan. Nanguna siya sa pagtatagumpay ng ilang mga lokal na kampanya at pakikibakang-masa sa komunidad. Isa na rito ang pagresolba sa bangayan ng mga nag-aawayang mga gang ng kabataan sa pamamagitan ng matiyagang pagpapaunawa sa kanila ng halaga ng pagkakaisa ng kabataan sa maralitang-lunsod.

Naging susi rin ang naging papel ni Paul sa pag-oorganisa ng mga migrante at pamilya sa Bagong Barrio.  Ilan sa pinangunahan niyang laban ang pag-oorganisa at pagpapakilos para sa kampanyang “Justice for Rochelle Masubay, isang Saudi DH na misteryosong namatay sa kamay ng kaniyang amo”, at ang “Bring Them Home campaign” o kampanya para sa pagpapauwi sa mga OFW na biktima ng Saudization at mga crackdown sa Saudi Arabia.

Katuwang din siya sa pagtitiyak ng pakikipagkaisa ng kanilang komunidad sa kampanya ng mamamayan laban sa pork barrel at mga paglabag sa karapatang-tao ng Rehimeng US-Aquino.  Sa bawat laban na kanyang sinabakan, tumambad sa harapan ni Paul ang pagkaganid, bangis at abuso ng namamayaning sistema – at kaakibat nito ay ang hamon sa kabataang Pilipino na tahakin ang landas tungo sa tunay na pagbabago.

Gagap ni Paul ang mga pundamental na problema ng lipunan at ang tanging paraan para tuluyang mawakasan ito.  Mula sa paglahok at pangunguna sa mga kampanyang masa sa kalunsuran, nagpasya siyang buong-panahong lumahok sa armadong pakikibaka sa kanayunan at sumapi sa Bagong Hukbong Bayan noong 2015.  Sa probinsiya ng Quezon kung saan siya kumilos, ang dating “japorms” na si Paul ay nakilala nang si “Ka Arki” ng masang magsasaka.  Sa BHB niya ipinamalas walang-maliw na paglilingkod at buong-panahong pagsusulong ng demokratiko rebolusyong bayan bilang pulang mandirigma. Hindi siya bumitiw rito hanggang sa kanyang huling hininga.

Sa pakikiba kasama ng masa, natransporma si Paul mula sa isang kabataang pinanatiling mangmang ng rekasyunaryong estado tungo sa pagiging isang mulat na kabataang tinanganan ang kanyang rebolusyonaryo tungkulin.  Kahanga-hanga ang buhay ni Paul dahil naging makabuluhan ito hanggang sa huli.

Mananatiling buhay si Paul sa puso’t isipan ng kabataan, migrante at mamamayang api.  Magsisilbi siyang huwaran sa mga mamamayan at tinitiyak nating may magpapatuloy sa kanyang simulain at dakilang alay sa bayan.

Mabuhay ka, Kasamang Paul!  Ipagpapatuloy ng Migrante-Youth ang iyong pakikibaka at kadakilaan! Isulong at ipagtagumpay ang pambansang demokratikong rebolusyon!

Pahayag ng pagpupugay ng Migrante-Youth, Marso 12, 2017, Iglesia Filipina de Independiente Cathedral, Manila

31 years after EDSA, wield “people power” vs. Duterte’s fascism and broken vows – Migrante

hr-day-tarpOn the 31st anniversary commemoration of the EDSA People Power uprising, global alliance of overseas Filipinos and families Migrante International led protests worldwide in condemning the Duterte government’s “state fascism” and “broken vows”.

“Today’s commemoration happens at a time when the nation is once again engulfed in a new dark era, that of the Duterte government’s rising Marcosian rule amid worsening social injustices. We are gathered here in EDSA today because OFWs and their families stand against human rights violations. We lend our voices against this government’s political suppression and repression of its critics and perceived enemies. We vow to fight any and all forms of curtailment of our civil liberties. What we have stood for in 1986 remains true to this day. Makibaka, huwag matakot,” said Arman Hernando, Migrante-Youth Spokesperson.

Hernando said that today’s EDSA People Power uprising commemoration is also testament to the Filipino people’s continuing clamor for genuine change. “Barely a year into the Duterte presidency, it has become evident that no genuine change awaits the nation. His broken vows include that of ending forced migration and a policy of labor export that cater only to the ruling elite, big business and foreign interests. While we celebrate and commemorate EDSA today, we also affirm our struggle to fight for genuine change. “

“Joblessness, contractualization, landlessness, lack of basic social services and other social injustices are not being addressed. These are the roots of forced migration, the reasons why millions of our OFWs are being forced to leave their families just to survive. These are also the roots of the ongoing armed conflict, that only fundamental societal change can resolve,” Hernando said.

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

“We call on all freedom-loving Filipinos around the world to rise against state fascism. Let us push the Duterte government to address the root causes of the armed conflict through the resumption of the GRP-NDFP peace talks. The lesson of EDSA is that collective action and struggle can and will defeat 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,” he said. ###

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. ###

#MarcosNoHero protests go global: OFWs and families call on Pres. Duterte to end alliance with Marcoses

taksil-hindi-bayaniDifferent time zones, weather conditions and thousands and thousands of miles are not stopping Filipinos worldwide from sending out their statements of solidarity and rage, launching mass actions, protest activities and expressing their outrage through social media.

Migrante chapters and Filipino communities in Hong Kong, Thailand, Taiwan, Japan, South Korea, United Arab Emirates, Australia, New Zealand, Italy, Canada, United Kingdom, the Netherlands, and United States are joining today’s Global Action Day against the hero’s burial of former president and dictator Ferdinand Marcos.

For overseas Filipino workers (OFWs), immigrants and their families here and abroad, a hero Marcos is not. The real heroes are those who fought the Marcos dictatorship, including those who have been forced to flee abroad during the dark days of the dictatorship. The real heroes are those who continue to seek justice, those who have been tortured, jailed, killed and disappeared during Martial Law.

The real heroes are our “bagong bayani” who continue to bear the brunt of Marcos’ labor export policy that continues to exploit our OFWs’ cheap labor, separate us from our loved ones and place us in dire and dangerous conditions.

Four decades ago, Marcos employed a labor export policy to cushion the blows of a weakened economy through the influx of foreign remittances. Four decades ago, Marcos used the labor export policy to quell our people’s dissent due to widespread unemployment, landlessness, growing poverty, massive corruption and dismal social services. Four decades have passed, the labor export policy has gone bankrupt and has done nothing but aggravate the same economic, political and social ills that are the root causes of forced migration.

Having treacherously buried Marcos at the Libingan ng mga Bayani is an insult to our “bagong bayani” who continue to fight and struggle for a society devoid of corruption, tyranny, injustice, imperialist plunder, foreign debt, political turmoil and widespread poverty – factors that continue to drive us away from our homeland for the need to survive.

Migrante International holds President Duterte accountable for this audacious revision of history and blatant disregard of the Filipino people’s collective outrage. His alliance with the Marcoses is a poisonous pact that can and will isolate him from the people, especially from our OFWs and their families for whom he has promised a “better Philippines”. Continuing this poisonous pact means that he subscribes to and accepts Marcos’ governance of dictatorship, puppetry and state fascism.

Migrante International calls on Pres. Duterte to put an end to his alliance with the Marcoses. We call on the president to make good his promise to respect human rights, work for a just peace that would put an end political turmoil and employ an independent foreign policy that shuns imperialist neoliberal dictates. This is what a “better Philippines” means for OFWs and our families.

Filipinos, wherever we are in the world, will never allow the return of the Marcoses to power, nor will we tolerate any moves from the Duterte administration to bring us back to the dark days of Martial Law. Never again. ###

(Photo credits to Migrante International)

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Migrante International Chairperson Garry Martinez in London, UK

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Meme made by OFWs in Hong Kong who will hold their own protest action there later today.

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Filipinos and international supporters in The Hague, Netherlands.

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Filipinos brave the cold weather in Rome, Italy.

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Filipinos and international supporters at the Philippine Embassy in the United Kingdom.

Peace talks should address root causes of forced migration, “bankrupt” labor export – Migrante

digong inauguralMigrante International, global alliance of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) and their families,  fully supports the resumption of the formal peace negotiations between the Government of the Philippines (GPH) and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP).
We commend both parties for sincerely pursuing the talks, as demonstrated by the GPH’s release of NFDP consultants and the New People’s Army’s release of its prisoners of war (POWs). We hope that the ongoing peace negotiations will also pave the way for a general and unconditional amnesty for more than 520 political prisoners who are still detained.
We also welcome the declaration of a unilateral reciprocal ceasefire. We hope that this results in the urgent and immediate pull out of military troops in the countryside, and puts a stop to illegal arrests, harassment and persecution of activist leaders and organizers.
Migrante International especially welcomes the upholding of previous agreements between the GPH and the NDFP and looks forward to the talks’ undertaking of much-needed socio-economic and political reforms. We trust the peace talks to tackle the root causes of the armed conflict, namely, unemployment, low wages, contractualization, landlessness and poor social services resulting in widespread poverty of the Filipino people. These are the very same reasons for the phenomenon of forced migration, or the impetus of millions of Filipinos to seek employment abroad.
There are currently 15 million OFWs and at least 6,000 leave the country daily to work abroad. Filipino people are being forced to migrate and be separated from their families because of desperation and the need to survive. It is indeed a tragic consequence when our labor force is uprooted from their families, forced to endure unfair labor practices and abuses, and in some cases, suffer death, in exchange for cheap labor because of government failure to address forced migration and stop the policy of labor export.
The struggle of OFWs and their families is not isolated from the struggle of other marginalized and neglected sectors. The problem of forced migration is deeply rooted in the fundamental problems of Philippine society. Our struggle for dignity, rights and welfare, against government neglect and against forced migration plays a very important role in the struggle for genuine freedom and national democracy. The only solution to the problems of the Filipino migrant sector and their families is genuine social change so that families would not have to separated and broken apart in order to survive.
To address the problem of forced migration, the Duterte administration’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, foreign investments, debt-heavy infrastructure projects.
The past four decades of Philippine labor export has showcased a more blatant and unapologetic policy that continues to exploit OFWs’ cheap labor and foreign remittances in accordance to neoliberal policies and dictates. Previous administrations have been aggressive in crafting programs and services aimed to facilitate and encourage forced migration. While acknowledging the many social costs and human rights violations, these were effectively downplayed by the hailing of OFW remittances. Instead, past administrations have unfailingly and resolutely promoted labor export as unequivocally beneficial for OFWs and their families. This is particularly done by overstating supposed development benefits for the economy and the income benefits for households.
Effects of the ongoing Middle East crisis on OFWs and their families is testament to the bankruptcy of four decades of Philippine labor export. Since 2010, thousands upon thousands of OFWs in distress have been deported or forcibly repatriated back to the country due to civil unrests, calamities, economic instabilities and other similar factors in migrant-receiving countries. However, OFW deployment has picked up considerably over the past few years despite ongoing and worsening crisis in host countries.
With the continuous repatriation of distressed OFWs from Saudi, Kuwait, Syria and Libya, a “reverse migration” phenomenon could be expected in the coming months. Despite and in spite of this, OFWs will not be stopped from being forced to leave the country due to record-high unemployment rate, low wages and the lack of a comprehensive and sustainable reintegration program for returning OFWs. And so the cycle continues.
The economic compulsion of past Philippine governments to keep exporting Filipinos to maintain or, especially, to increase remittances is something that should be urgently corrected and addressed in the peace talks. Migrante International fully supports the call and struggle for national industrialization and genuine land reform as the ultimate solution to forced migration and to end the labor export program. ###

Migrante International on Duterte’s 1st SONA

 

Migrante at the #SONAngBayan 2016

Migrante at the #SONAngBayan 2016

Pres. Rodrigo Duterte’s first State of the Nation Address (SONA) is a welcome and refreshing change from the past Aquino administration’s SONAs of empty promises, posturing and pomposity.

Migrante International welcomes Pres. Duterte’s announcement of a unilateral ceasefire in relation to the resumption of formal peace talks between the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GPH) and the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP)-New People’s Army (NPA)-National Democratic Front (NDF).

We are hopeful that this goodwill measure will be preceded by the immediate and unconditional release of all 550 political prisoners, including his earlier declared plan to release all NDF peace consultants. Further, Pres. Duterte’s declaration should also urgently result in the immediate pull out and withdrawal of military troops from communities, schools and ancestral lands of indigenous peoples.

Migrante fully supports the resumption of the GPH-NDF peace talks. We fully support the call and struggle for national industrialization and genuine land reform as the ultimate solution to forced migration and to end the labor export program. These are the fundamental changes and reforms that OFWs (overseas Filipino workers) and their families need in a Duterte presidency.

The plight of OFWs and their families is not isolated from the struggle of other marginalized and neglected sectors. The problem of forced migration is deeply rooted in the fundamental problems of Philippine society. Our struggle for dignity, rights and welfare, against government neglect and against forced migration plays a very important role in the struggle for genuine freedom and national democracy.

Hence, while we welcome Pres. Duterte’s efforts of streamlining and improving government services, specifically his order to extend the validity of passports and the creation of a one-stop shop for OFWs, we take notice that he did not present in concrete terms how he plans to make overseas employment “optional and not a necessity”.

The SONA made no mention of genuine agrarian reform, wage increase, ending contractualization and other neoliberal attacks on the economy. It also made no mention of a genuine reintegration program for returned and returning OFWs so that they will not be forced to again seek so-called greener pastures abroad. Filipino workers are being forced to migrate and be separated from their families because of desperation and the need to survive. The economy’s lack of development resulting in job loss, low wages and contractualization, poverty, landlessness and poor social services continue to drive them away.

Ultimately, genuine change for OFWs and families will only be achieved if Pres. Duterte takes on the path of eradicating forced migration and ending the labor export policy. His administration should work and strive for a society of authentic justice, solidarity and peace. Migrante shall continue to support the Duterte administration for as long as he continues to tread this path.

Further, while OFWs unite with the president’s fight against illegal drugs and criminality, we fear that some of his pronouncements may be misconstrued as an encouragement of the latest series of vigilante killings. We believe that Pres. Duterte will be true to his oath to respect human rights and due process in the war against illegal drugs.

In the end, only through the collective action and determination of OFWs and families, together with other sectors of society, to exercise and assert their democratic rights can genuine change fully be realized. ###

#SONA2016 What OFWs need to hear in Duterte’s 1st SONA

du30On Pres. Rodrigo Duterte’s first State of the Nation Address (SONA), overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) and their families need to hear the administration’s concrete plans on its thrust of making overseas employment “optional and not a necessity”, as well as on its promise to place OFWs as a top priority in its labor agenda.

Migrante International earlier welcomed Duterte’s announcement that one of the main reasons of Filipinos being torn apart is the phenomenon of forced migration. There are currently 15 million overseas Filipinos and at least 6,000 leave the country daily to work abroad. Filipino workers are being forced to migrate and be separated from their families because of desperation and the need to survive. The economy’ lack of development resulting in job loss, low wages and contractualization, poverty, landlessness and poor social services continue to drive them away.

It is a tragic consequence when our labor force is uprooted from their families, forced to endure unfair labor practices and abuses, and in some cases, suffer death, in exchange for cheap labor because of government failure to address forced migration and stop the policy of labor export. We agree with Pres. Duterte in the analysis that in order to totally eradicate forced migration there is a need to generate more stable jobs in the country. In order to achieve this, his administration should work and strive for a society of authentic justice, solidarity and peace. How he plans to achieve this is what we need to hear in his first SONA.

The plight of OFWs and their families is not isolated from the struggle of other marginalized and neglected sectors. The problem of forced migraton is deeply rooted in the fundamental problems of Philippine society. Our struggle for dignity, rights and welfare, against government neglect and against forced migration plays a very important role in the struggle for genuine freedom and national democracy.

This is why Migrante fully supports the resumption of the GPH-NDF peace talks. We fully support the call and struggle for national industrialization and genuine land reform as the ultimate solution to forced migration and to end the labor export program. These are the fundamental changes and reforms that OFWs and their families need in a Duterte presidency.

We commend Pres. Duterte for immediately having exemplified political will on issues that have plagued our OFWs during the past Aquino administration. His sweeping move to put a stop the to tanim-bala extortion scheme is a stark contrast to how Aquino effectively further emboldened notorious syndicates and their coddlers in government by refusing to even acknowledge their existence. We hope that this initial step leads to a thorough investigation of all involved so that perpetrators may be held accountable.

Moreover, the Duterte administration’s recognition that there indeed is an ongoing huge crisis affecting our OFWs in Saudi Arabia is a far cry from the Aquino government’s attempts to downplay it. Through Labor Sec. Silvestre Bello III, the Duterte administration has demonstrated a no-nonsense hands-on approach to address the call for an emergency mass repatriation of tens of thousands of stranded OFWs in Saudi Arabia. We welcome Sec. Bello’s announcement of the immediate recall of two negligent labor attaches in Saudi Arabia, as well as the government’s promise to provide emergency financial assistance to distressed OFWs and their families.

Now comes the real and present problem of the need for a comprehensive reintegration program for our OFWs. What awaits tens of thousands of OFWs in the event of their emergency return? Definitely there are not enough domestic jobs available. Past administrations’ so-called reintegration programs have been meager dole-outs and band-aid solutions that are not long-term solutions to unemployment, low wages, contractualization and lack of social services. The past government’s reintegration program for returned OFWs were merely made up of loans and one-time livelihood programs.

One such example is the Overseas Workers’ Welfare Administration’s (OWWA) “Balik-Pinas” reintegraton program. It has been deemed an insult to OFWs, funded by OFWs’ USD$200 contributions per contract but being held hostage by the OWWA Board. These loan packages and “starter kits” are not accessible to distressed OFWs and have done nothing to sustain them upon their return.

Over the years, the OWWA funds have been met with controversy due to allegations of corruption and government abuse and misuse. Despite these, the OWWA funds have not been subjected to a full audit and no public accounting of how the funds  were used has been available to OFWs. We call on Pres. Duterte to conduct a full audit of the OWWA funds and to re-open investigation of all unresolved cases of corruption of the welfare funds.

Aside from the OWWA, we have also forwarded to the Duterte  administration our serious criticisms of the performances and orientation of existing government agencies in charge of dealing with OFW services and affairs. For these agencies to be able to address the decades-long clamor of OFWs and their families for better welfare services, they should not work to merely further institutionalize labor export but instead truly commit to advance the rights and welfare of OFWs, as well as work for a just and prosperous society that will eliminate the root causes of forced migration and put an end to it.

Indeed, the Duterte administration has been off to a good start, and we wish to see more sweeping reforms and resolute actions in his first 100 days. We specifically call for Pres. Duterte’s urgent attention (1) on the case of Mary Jane Veloso who remains on death row in Indonesia, and others like her who have been victimized by drug traffickers and illegal recruitment syndicates but have received no legal assistance from the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA); (2) on the immediate recall of all notorious abusive and erring embassy officials; (3) on the quick resolution of illegal recruitment and trafficking cases filed by countless OFW victims at the Department of Justice (DOJ), Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) and National Labor Relations Commission (NLRC); and, (4) on the scrapping of unnecessary fees that are viewed by our OFWs as nothing but “legalized kotong”, such as Overseas Employment Certificate (OEC), among others.

Ultimately, what OFWs and their families need to hear in Pres. Duterte’s first SONA is how he plans to decisively deviate from the labor export policy and instead focus on creating decent and sustainable local jobs to end the cycle of forced migration. It is high time the government reviews past governments’ recourse to chronically seek job markets abroad in exchange for remittances despite the ongoing global crisis and to the detriment of OFWs and their families. This cycle has got to end.

Migrante firmly believes that the Duterte administration should be committed and oriented towards these goals. We remain very open to work closely with the Duterte administration to ensure that this thrust is realized in the next six years. ###