“Duterte is the virus. Social justice is the cure!” — Migrante International on the 2020 International Workers’ Day

To commemorate the struggles of the working class, Migrante International extends its militant salutations to all Filipino workers in the Philippines and abroad. This year, we mark International Workers’ Day at a time when the COVID-19 pandemic and recession brought the entire world into a grand scale halt. Prior to its outbreak, many countries have been inundated with torrents of mass protests and national strikes that struck fear and panic among the world’s ruling elite. With workers in colossal numbers displaced from production and commercial facilities, this global crisis has cast a light on those who toil as the real generators of wealth and progress. Woefully, these are the very same people who are oppressed, exploited and alienated from the fruits of their own labour.

In the Philippines, the cycle of forced migration has driven out millions of Filipinos to the farthest corners of the world. Many even found themselves working in war torn and depressed countries, risking life and limbs just to support their loved ones back home. Year after year, President Duterte has been spouting lies, deceptions and false promises to Filipino workers who are up to now tormented by contractualization, slave wages and absence of genuine social safety nets. At this troublesome period, OFWs are among the most vulnerable sectors battered by the onslaught of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

According to the latest figures posted by the Department of Foreign Affairs, there are 1,677 confirmed COVID-19 cases and  201 related deaths among Filipino migrants. These cases come from 46 countries and territories. Deplorably, based on Department Order 212, DOLE’s US$200 cash aid to OFWs will only cover 29 countries. Contradictions abound with DOLE’s numbers in its claim that there are only 89,436 displaced OFWs. Upon looking at the number of requests for assistance, there are now 230,000 OFWs seeking cash aid from the Duterte government. This might even be bigger had there been no repeated suspensions in the processing of aid requests. 

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According to one lawmaker, at least 420,000 OFWs are expected to return to the Philippines due to the global recession. However, due to Duterte’s unpreparedness and his failure to lay out a comprehensive plan, DOLE’s initial targeted number of beneficiaries was only 150,000. Among those excluded from Duterte’s DOLE-AKAP cash aid program are OFW frontliners, stranded OFWs in the Philippines, terminated household workers whose cases are misinterpreted as non-COVID related, jailed OFWs, trafficking victims, education / cultural exchange migrants and vast numbers of OFWs outside of the 29 priority countries enumerated by DOLE. 

Without efficient and steady relief, mass starvation and morbidity awaits hundreds of thousands of OFWs and their families. Worse, the Duterte regime is brushing off calls for a moratorium on state exactions imposed on OFWs. Viciously, there’s no stopping Duterte’s lust to crush our pockets dry by whacking Filipino migrants with a mandatory philhealth premium rate increase. From the current 3%, the Philhealth premium is set to increase annually up to 5% in 2025. This year alone, OFWs are expected to pay between Php 10,835 to Php 21,600 which is a one-year worth of Philhealth contribution and Duterte in his insatiable greed intends to increase this every year. Without a sound public health infrastructure, this is only meant to subsidize private profit in a country dominated by profit-oriented medical facilities.

Furthermore,  repatriated OFWs have repeatedly slammed OWWA for the deplorable treatment they received. At the beginning of April, OFWs in an over-crammed OWWA shelter in Pasay City decried their conditions. They were without food, water and were made to sleep on the floor. This was just a few weeks after OWWA bragged about its prepared hotel accommodations for repatriated OFWs. Due to ‘miscoordination’ between OWWA and DILG, about 320 OFWs were stranded for several hours after getting barred on their way to their quarantine shelters in Lian, Batangas. In March, 131 Filipino migrants from Sabah were stranded after the passenger ships carrying them were denied entry by port authorities. Instead of bringing them to quarantine facilities, AFP’s Western Mindanao Command proposed that the repatriates be brought to Sibakil Island, an uninhabited in Basilan where they will be packed in scorching tents far distant from healthcare and social welfare facilities. AFP literally wanted to convert the entire island into a concentration camp for returning migrants from Sabah. It can’t be denied that AFP Westmincom was at the height of its gross stupidity. 

In one temporary quarantine lodge in Pasay City, an OFW with a history of abuse from his previous employer in Kuwait committed suicide just a few days ago. Her fellow OFW occupants in that lodge related that they’ve already exceeded the two-week quarantine period and yet they have not undergone health check-up nor received any psychosocial support throughout their stay. Just before their repatriation, many of them endured maltreatment and exploitation from their employers abroad and yet the Duterte government has not provided psychosocial support for these troubled OFWs in quarantine. By now, these OFWs should already be spending their time with their families since they have already exceeded the two-week quarantine period but they’re still confined up to this very moment. Without financial aid and medical attention, quarantine shelters are nothing but plain detention facilities. 

President Duterte’s intentional misplacement of priorities is glaring. It started as early as 2016 when he made a Php 31 Billion budget cut for health. Despite the Philippines being ravaged by waves of epidemics like measles, polio and dengue, the 2020 budget allocation for the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine was slashed by 57 percent. Under Duterte, polio resurfaced in the Philippines after almost two decades of successful eradication. In March, Filipinos were at a loss after Duterte’s war chest for COVID-19 consisted of a Php 14 Billion allocation for Tourism. President Duterte still has Php 85 Billion accumulated from his emergency and contingency funds. Moreover, unpaid taxes from POGO has reached Php 50 Billion. All these could be used to address the impacts of the COVID-19 crisis. Yet, he would rather drag the country further into debt and has even rejected calls for a debt moratorium. 

Turning a blind eye to the pleadings of the Filipino masses, the Duterte regime is resorting to Fascist violence to quell legitimate dissent. Eager to look for a punching bag and divert people’s attention from the regime’s inutility, Duterte’s bootlickers in DOLE and MECO ganged up on Linn Ordidor, an OFW in Taiwan whom the Philippine government wanted to be deported for openly criticizing Duterte’s ineptness. Thanks to Roque’s stupidity, what started out as DOLE’s ass licking servitude towards Duterte is now turning into a full-blown rift with Taiwan. 

It has gone further to criminalizing volunteerism and humanitarianism. Just yesterday (30 April), suspected state elements from PNP gunned down Jory Porquia, a former OFW and one of the leading voices in Iloilo upholding the rights and welfare of Filipino migrants and their families. His murder follows weeks of harassment and black propaganda campaign by PNP, led by Molo PNP Chief Engelbert Banquillo. During the protest caravan held today in Iloilo to offer tribute and demand justice for Porquia, PNP disregarded social distancing measures themselves by cordoning dozens of protesters to arrest them. Humanitarian volunteers delivering food relief to starving urban poor communities are likewise harassed and arrested while civilians committing petty quarantine violations suffer a similar fate, worse, others end up getting killed. In contrast, Malacañang defended Mocha Uson’s violation of quarantine rules by organizing a mass gathering for quarantined OFWs in Batangas. The Duterte regime’s hypocrisy and the impunity of the likes of Koko Pimentel and Mocha Uson are absolutely detestable. 

The Duterte regime’s ‘shoot them dead’ policy bares its extreme hatred towards the Filipino masses. It is an outright declaration of war with the all-out support of Duterte’s imperialist masters. Starving Filipinos are compelled to either stay home and bite the dust or go out to be devoured by Duterte’s predatory state forces and mercenaries who are proving to be worse than the COVID-19 virus itself. 

History has shown us that there is a limit to the forbearance of the Filipino people. In a twinkling of an eye, the all-consuming fire of our collective rage will explode right on Duterte’s face. No power on earth will stop the Filipino people from rising up again. With full conviction, Migrante International is one with all the workers and oppressed people of the world in holding high the torch of the international struggle for liberation, democracy, social justice and the total emancipation of the world’s toiling masses from the grip of imperialist domination and all forms of neoliberal and social oppression. Holding fast to our national democratic struggle, we shall bring forth a new future. May we never waver in finding strength from one another. From every vale and hill, let justice and freedom ring. Migrant workers of the world unite! Let us charge ahead and vanquish our foes.

Ayuda hindi diktadura!

Lunas hindi dahas!

Solusyong medikal, hindi militar!

Mass testing, hindi killings!

Resist tyranny!

Duterte resign!