Open Letter to the 18th Congress, House of Representatives: Filipino migrant organizations and migrants’ rights advocates oppose Anti-Terrorism Bill

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Filipino migrant organizations and migrants rights advocates across different countries around the world unanimously express our strongest opposition to the Anti-Terrorism Bill which undermines democracy in the Philippines. Any attempt to nullify due process and equal protection before the law must be rejected. The Constitution provides that no law shall be enacted depriving any person of his life, liberty and property without due process of law. Warrantless arrests and arbitrary detentions for up to 24 days deprive accused persons of their right to legal remedy and are contradictory to the bill of rights enshrined in the 1987 Constitution. 

Despite the hundreds of billions of funds allocated for intelligence, the police and the military, there was still no assessment made on the implementation of the Human Security Act. This means that there are no concrete reasons that should compel Congress to enact the Anti-Terrorism Bill which creates conditions harsher than what Filipinos have had during the Martial Law period of the Marcos dictatorship. 

It is deplorable that at the height of the global pandemic and economic crisis, the government is prioritizing a bill that enables the weaponization of the law to criminalize legitimate dissent. There has been no attempt at all from the Duterte government to solve the extrajudicial killings perpetrated against rights activists and community defenders. Instead, the open pronouncements of death threats live on national television has become the new normal as the predominating culture of impunity becomes even more glaring. And these threats are being fulfilled by lawless state elements. 

With more than 200 thousand distressed OFWs stranded overseas, Filipino migrants agonize over the fact that the Anti-Terrorism Bill has been prioritized by the Duterte government over more pressing and urgent calls for amendments on the Universal Healthcare Act which imposes mandatory Philhealth and premium rate hike on overseas Filipinos. What the Filipino people really need at this period are mass testing, mass transportation, food relief, quality healthcare services, adequate quarantine facilities, and financial amelioration. 

We appeal to our legislators to listen to the real time demands of their constituents by delivering the urgent needs of the Filipino people at this period of crisis. 

Signed: 

  1. Migrante International
  2. International Seafarers’ Action Center
  3. United Filipinos in Hong Kong (UNIFIL-MIGRANTE-HK)
  4. Abra Migrant Workers Welfare Association
  5. Association of Concerned Filipinos
  6. Cuyapo OFW Association Hong Kong
  7. Filipino Friends
  8. Filipino Lesbian Organization
  9. Filipino Migrant Domestic Workers Union
  10. Filipino Migrants Association
  11. Filipino Women Migrant Association
  12. Friends of Bethune House
  13. Likha Filipino Migrants Cultural Organization
  14. Luzviminda Migrante
  15. Migrante Naguilian
  16. Migrante Pier
  17. Migrante Shatin
  18. Migrante Tamar
  19. Migrante Tsing Ti
  20. Migrante Tsuen Wan
  21. Migrante Yuen Long
  22. Migranteng Artista ng Bayan
  23. Organic Cultural and Environmental Organization
  24. Philippine Independent Church Choir
  25. Pinatud A Saleng Ti Umili (PSU)
  26. Pangasinan Organization for Welfare, Empowerment and Rights
  27. Samahang Migrante
  28. Sta Maria Migrants Association
  29. Filipino Migrant Workers’ Union (FMWU)
  30. FMWU City Hall Chapter
  31. FMWU Chater Garden Chapter
  32. FMWU Chater Road Chapter
  33. Abra Tinguian Ilocano Society
  34. Annak ti Maeng Tubo-HK
  35. Baggak Cultural Group
  36. Bangued Migrants Workers Association
  37. Bucay Migrants Workers
  38. Bucloc Overseas Workers Association
  39. Ganagan San Juan Association
  40. Lacub Migrants
  41. Lagangilang Overseas Association
  42. Langiden Migrants Organization
  43. Lapaz Migrants Association
  44. Licuan-Baay HK Association
  45. Maeng Tribe of Abra Luba-HK
  46. Malibcong Migrants Association
  47. Timpuyog Ti Tayum
  48. BAYAN Hong Kong & Macau
  49. Cordillera Alliance Hong Kong (CORALL)
  50. GABRIELA Hong Kong
  51. Gabriela Hong Kong Bank
  52. Filguys Association
  53. Promotion of Church Peoples’ Response (PCPR) – Hong Kong
  54. Anakbayan Europe
  55. International Coalition for Human Rights in the Philippines – Europe
  56. Migrante Partylist – Europe
  57. Promotion of Church People’s Response (PCPR) – Europe
  58. Migrante Austria
  59. Ugnayang Pilipino sa Belgium (UPB)
  60. Migrante Cyprus
  61. FOA – Au Pair – Demark
  62. Migrante Denmark
  63. Nagkakaisang Pilipino sa Pransya (NPSP)
  64. GABRIELA – Germany
  65. GABRIELA – Roma
  66. Migrante Bologna
  67. Migrante  Caserta
  68. Migrante Firenze
  69. Migrante Mantova
  70. Migrante Milano
  71. Milan OFW Kapitbisig
  72. UMANGAT – Migrante
  73. GABRIELA Switzerland
  74. Migrante Bern
  75. Kabalikat
  76. Linangan
  77. Makabayang Samahang Pilipino (MkSP)
  78. Migrante Amsterdam
  79. Migrante Netherlands Den Haag
  80. Migrante Utrecht
  81. Pinay sa Holland – GABRIELA
  82. Samahan ng mga Kabataan sa Netherlands (SAMAKA-NL)
  83. Bayanihan Leicester
  84. Campaign for the Human Rights in the Philippines-UK
  85. Filipino Domestic Workers Alliance (FDWA)
  86. GABRIELA London
  87. Kanlungan Filipino Consortium
  88. Migrante Kingdom of Saudi Arabia
  89. Gabriela Kingdom of Saudi Arabia
  90. FAPS INTERNATIONAL – Kingdom of Saudi Arabia
  91. Samahang Migrante Manggagawa Nagkakaisa sa Riyadh (SAMAKABA-MIGRANTE) – KSA
  92. JEDDAH FILIPINO SOCIETY – Kingdom of Saudi Arabia
  93. Migrante Qatar
  94. Gabriela United Arab Emirates
  95. Migrante Seattle, USA
  96. Migrante Portland, USA
  97. Migrante Napa-Solano, USA
  98. Migrante Daly City, USA
  99. PAWIS East Bay, USA
  100. PAWIS San Jose, USA
  101. Migrante Los Angeles, USA
  102. Migrante Long Beach, USA
  103. Migrante Orange County, USA
  104. Migrante New York, USA
  105. Migrante New Jersey, USA
  106. Migrante Youth New York, USA
  107. Migrante Chicago, USA
  108. Migrante Washington D.C., USA
  109. Anakbayan Washington DC
  110. Anakbayan Daly City, USA
  111. Anakbayan East Bay, USA
  112. Anakbayan De Anza, USA
  113. Anakbayan Silicon Valley, USA
  114. Anakbayan Santa Cruz, USA
  115. Anakbayan Los Angeles, USA
  116. Anakbayan University of California, Los Angeles, USA
  117. Anakbayan University of California, Santa Barbara, USA
  118. Anakbayan San Diego, USA
  119. Anakbayan Long Beach, USA
  120. Anakbayan Hawai’i, USA
  121. Anakbayan Chicago, USA
  122. Anakbayan University of Illinois at Chicago, USA
  123. Anakbayan Detroit, USA
  124. Anakbayan Queens, USA
  125. Anakbayan Manhattan, USA
  126. Anakbayan North Jersey, USA
  127. Anakbayan Rutgers, USA
  128. Anakbayan Washington, D.C., USA
  129. Anakbayan Atlanta, USA
  130. League of Filipino Students San Francisco State University, USA
  131. Migrante Manitoba, Canada
  132. Migrante BC, Canada,
  133. Migrante Alberta, Canada
  134. Migrante Ontario, Canada
  135. Migrante Ottawa, Canada
  136. Alberta Care Workers Association, Canada
  137. Kabisig Society of Fort Saskatchewan
  138. Philippine Migrant Society of Canada (PMSC)
  139. PINAY, Canada
  140. Association of Filipino Parents, Quebec, Canada
  141. Filipino Indigenous Association of Quebec, Canada
  142. Aklanon Association
  143. Migrante Canada
  144. MIGRANTE Aotearoa New Zealand
  145. MIGRANTE Aotearoa – Palmerston North
  146. MIGRANTE Aotearoa – Christchurch
  147. PINAY Aotearoa – New Zealand
  148. Migrante Builders Aotearoa
  149. Union Network of Migrants (UNEMIG), NEW ZEALAND
  150. MIGRANTE Australia
  151. Lingap Migrante – Western Sydney Australia
  152. Migrante North Hornsby, Sydney Australia
  153. Migrante South West – Sydney
  154. Philippines Australia Women’s Association
  155. Migrante Kultura
  156. Migrante Melbourne
  157. Migrante Melbourne East
  158. Migrante Melbourne North – Samahang Tatak Pinoy
  159. Migrante Melbourne Northeast
  160. Migrante Melbourne West
  161. Migrante Perth, Australia
  162. Advance League of People’s Artists (ALPA), Australia
  163. AnakBayan Sydney
  164. AnakBayan Melbourne
  165. BAYAN Australia
  166. Gabriela Australia
  167. Gabriela Greater Sydney
  168. Gabriela Victoria
  169. Gabriela Perth
  170. Philippines Studies Network in Australia (PINAS)
  171. Promotion for Church People’s Response (PCPR) Australia
  172. KAFIN Saitama – Migrante
  173. MIGRANTE Japan
  174. MIGRANTE Macau
  175. KASAMMAKO – Katipunan ng mga Samahan ng Migranteng Manggawa sa Korea
  176. New Era Foundation
  177. Pag-Iribang Bicolnon in Korea
  178. TERESA Women’s Organization
  179. EPS Korea
  180. Osan Migrants Centre
  181. MIGRANTE Taiwan
  182. ACTION – Association of Concerned Filipinos in Thailand
  183. Migrante Youth
  184. Migrante Philippines

“Unite against racism! Justice for George Floyd and for all victims of social injustices!” — MIgrante International

Migrante International vehemently denounces the brutal murder of George Floyd by the Minneapolis Police Department. We extend our support and solidarity to the millions of people in the US and around the world who have taken into the streets to demand justice and equality. Filipino migrant communities mourn with the friends and loved ones of George Floyd who are grief-stricken by his tragic passing.

The violent repression by US authorities of poor, black and migrant communities in the United States coincides with the imperialist wars of aggression being waged by the Pentagon in countries whose people are asserting their right to national liberation and self-determination. Aside from the vile and endless military interventions perpetrated by the US war machine, the nations of the world are battered by US-led neoliberal assaults. These crimes against humanity have led to the displacement and forced migration of hundreds of millions of people around the globe including Filpinos who are continually peddled by the Duterte regime’s labour export programme. 

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PHOTO: Anakbayan UIC

US imperialism is designed to oppress and strangulate the people into submission as it gives the utmost breathing space for members of the ruling class who have enriched themselves through plunder and exploitation. In the same manner that the American people have had enough of Fascist tyranny and impunity, Filipinos are standing up against the bloody Duterte regime which has been using US military aid in its fetish for mass bloodshed. We can’t breathe and it is time to fight back and get rid of racism and oppression by creating a democratic society that truly values people’s lives and freedom. 


Justice for George Floyd! 

Black Lives Matter! 

End police and white supremacist terror! 

Down with US imperialism and state fascism!

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Malacañang’s so-called ‘VIP treatment of OFWs’ decoded as ‘Very Important Palagatasan’ or milking cows for the Duterte regime

Since Congress busied itself last week with the Duterte regime’s Terror Bill which criminalizes legitimate dissent, the government has proven anew what it really meant by giving OFWs the ‘VIP treatment.’ The month of May ended with President Duterte failing to certify Makabayan bloc’s House Bill 6698 which aims to make Philhealth membership mandatory for OFWs and seeks removal of the penalties and premium rate hikes. 

President Duterte’s suspension of the mandatory Philhealth and premium rate hike is only temporary and therefore won’t suffice to permanently stop the forcible extortion of OFWs. In a media interview in May, Philhealth Vice President for Corporate Affairs Dr. Shirley Domingo herself said that collections will resume on the 1st of June. She added that only Congress will be able to decide otherwise because it would mean revising the Universal Healthcare Act which was signed and approved by President Duterte in February 2019.

With 42,000 OFWs initially expected to be repatriated in the coming weeks, DOLE reported yesterday that the number has already swelled to 100,000. Migrante KSA (Saudi Arabia) fears that as many as 200 thousand OFWs in KSA stand to lose their jobs due to business closures and retrenchments. According to the media, many distressed OFWs are still languishing in quarantine facilities because the government lost their swab test results. Some of these OFWs have sought help from Migrante International to voice out their anger against the government for treating them like detainees. 

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“LONG WAIT. It’s a long, agonizing journey home for many OFWs stranded in Metro Manila. Here, OFWs wait to get into the PITX terminal in Parañaque City on May 28, 2020.” Image caption by Rappler Photo by Inoue Jaena/Rappler

OFWs are blasting Malacañang for making them appear as recipients of government benevolence when in fact, payments for their swab tests, hotel accommodations and repatriation actually come from their own sweat and blood. All these were sourced from their contributions to Philhealth, OWWA dues and the contractual obligations of their manning or recruitment agencies. Despite handing over billions of OFW contributions to the parasitic government, Filipino migrants themselves attest that they are really indeed treated like garbage. We have heard it from OFWs themselves in media interviews and from their testimonies in social media. 

What Malacañang really means when it says that OFWs are being given ‘VIP treatment’ is that they are ‘Very Important Palagatasan’ or milking cows for the Duterte regime. Filipino migrant communities are weary of the Duterte regime’s empty rhetorics so all over the world they will continue to bang their pots and pans in their Global Kalampagan to demand that they be treated humanely and not like criminals just as how DFA Secretary Teddy Boy Locsin regarded distressed OFWs who escaped from quarantine facilities when he ordered their arrests. Even more appalling is the Duterte regime’s Terror Bill which imputes the terrorist-tag on the legitimate actions of advocacy groups upholding the interests of oppressed and marginalized sectors like workers, peasants and Filipino migrants. No amount of intimidation and persecution will stop Migrante International from carrying out its social justice mission for Filipino migrants and their families neglected, peddled and extorted by the inept Duterte Fascist regime. 

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“Government apology to OFWs is worthless with criminalization of dissent!” — Migrante International

With the Duterte regime hankering to jail dissenters with the adoption of a more ferocious ‘Anti-Terrorism Bill,” it is self-evident that the government’s apology to OFWs through DOLE Secretary Bello is totally worthless. OFWs need more than empty apologies. They need concrete actions from the government by addressing their immediate needs. Thousands of them are going back to their provinces without even receiving a single pence of financial aid. Instead, they are being struck with draconian laws that criminalize organized actions and expressions of legitimate criticisms. 

Migrante International denounces the brazen red-tagging committed by NTF ELCAC in its social media account. In its Facebook page, NTF ELCAC displayed the names and logos of progressive groups whom it accuses of being sectoral organizations of the CPP NPA. This blatant vilification endangers the lives of Migrante members who are persecuted for their open defiance and opposition against the Duterte regime’s anti-people policies, one of which is the imminent imposition of the mandatory Philhealth and premium rate hike. 

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Kadamay has condemned the killing of its national secretary-general Carlito Badion, whose body was found near a highway in Ormoc City on May 28. Investigators claim they are looking into several motives. But Kadamay said that Badion had been receiving death threats, supposedly from state agents, when he was actively involved in anti-demolition and public housing occupation campaigns in Metro Manila and nearby areas. More details to follow. Photos from investigators courtesy of Kadamay. PHOTO: Pinoy Weekly

Just a day after congress approval of the 2020 Anti-terrorism Bill, Carlito Badion was killed by AFP elements. Badion is the national secretary general of the urban poor advocacy group Kadamay. Prior to his tragic death, he has been subjected to repeated red tagging and has received numerous death threats from state elements. Migrante International condemns this brutal shedding of innocent blood by Fascist mercenaries of the Duterte regime. We call on all our member organizations in different parts of the world to denounce and protest this vicious killing and demand for justice. 

Justice for Carlito Badion! 

Junk terror bill!

Resist tyranny!

Stop the killings!

 

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“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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