Gov’t response to plight of OFWs ‘unacceptable’; Worst case scenario: 3M Pinoys in danger in MENA region

Global alliance of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) and families Migrante International today joined International Women’s Day protests to call on the Aquino administration to prepare for a worst case scenario in light of impending civil wars that are threatening to grip the whole Middle East-North Africa (MENA) region.

Migrante’s call came after the government’s ‘slow, dismal and disorganized action’ in the evacuation and repatriation of OFWs in strife-torn Libya. Less than 10 percent of the 26,000 OFWs there have arrived safely back in the Philippines, at least 11,000 are still stranded in borders and countries outside of Libya. Some 15,000 Filipinos are still in Libya as war ships of the United States and EU countries are now poised to launch strikes.

“Hindi katanggap-tanggap ang pag-abandona na ng gobyerno sa ating mga kababayan sa Libya. They cannot just force us to accept that they have done everything they could, that the remaining 15,000 in Libya remain there on their volition. That is simply unacceptable. After milking OFWs off their hard-earned remittances to save the economy, ang sagot ngayon ng gobyerno, ‘pasensya na, nagawa na namin ang lahat ng aming magagawa’?” said Migrante International chairperson Garry Martinez.

Martinez cited the Magna Carta for Migrant Workers, RA 10022, that states that in events of war, famine, calamity and other emergencies, it is the government’s “full responsibility” to ensure the protection and facilitate “mandatory evacuation” of OFWs in distress.

“The Aquino government is solely responsible and should be held accountable for this gross neglect. Heads must roll. Dapat ngayon may nagre-resign o sinisibak na sa pang-aalipustang ito sa ating mga kababayang OFW. Hindi pwedeng basta-basta na lang nilang sabihing may hangganan ang kanilang magagawa at sabay-sabay na lang tayong tumunganga at maghintay ng masamang mangyayari sa mga naiwan pa,” he said.

Saudi Day of Rage

On Friday, March 11, protesters in Saudi Arabia have also declared a Day of Rage against the ruling monarchy. Since end of January, sporadic protests have erupted in Jeddah and Riyadh, with hundreds being arrested and injured, including some reports of deaths, following violent dispersals by Saudi authorities as protests continue to escalate.

There are 1.5 million Filipinos in Saudi, most of them working in factories, hospitals and households, while 2.7 million are situated all over the Middle East region.

“In the event of a civil war in Saudi, all hell will break lose. None of us wish this to happen but in light of the government’s poor performance in the Libya crisis, there needs to be a contingency plan for a worst case scenario now. They say that they are ‘closely monitoring the situation’, ganyan din ang sinabi nila sa Libya and look how they scrambled. The Aquino government should act now,” Martinez said.

Martinez said that there are only three posts in Saudi, an embassy in Riyadh, a consulate in Jeddah and a POLO-OWWA office in Al-Khobar.

He also cited Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) estimates that the government needs $2 million for every 1,000 OFW ($2,000/OFW) for evacuation and repatriation of Filipinos in Saudi. “Saan kukuhanin ang napakalaking halagang ito? Saan na naman tatakbo ang ating mga kababayang malayo sa mga embahada at konsulado? May naka-standby na bang mga eroplano at barko para sa kanilang paglikas sakaling pumutok ang gerang sibil?”

Martinez said that apart from Saudi, protests are also escalating and civil wars are in the offing in Yemen, Bahrain, Egypt, Tunisia, Kuwait, Iraq and Jordan.

Jobs at home, not labor export

The migrant leader also said that the worsening crisis of the OFW sector is a “wake-up call” for the government to review and desist from implementing its labor export policy.

“There are roughly 15 million OFWs all over the world, not by choice but because of forced migration as no jobs are available to them here. Iyong mga kakabalik pa lang mula sa Libya at Egypt, pinapalabas na naman ng bansa ng gobyerno. Instead of subjecting our workers to the same old cycle, it should seriously instigate an overhaul of the system and focus on land reform and national industrialization to create more jobs at home,” he said.                                                                                                                                                              

“Pati iyong P10,000 one-time package ng OWWA para sa mga bumalik, hindi galing sa gobyerno kundi sa bulsa mismo ng mga OFW kaya huwag nilang ipagmalaki iyon. Dapat lamang itong ibigay sa mga OFW, pero hindi pa rin ito sasapat. Hindi labor export ang sasagot sa malalim na problemang ito.”

Now, the government says that it is prepared to pledge all of the P13 million OWWA funds for the eventual repatriation of OFWs, paano naman ngayon ang iba pang benepisyo at serbisyo?,” he said.

OWWA funds are from $25 mandatory contributions of OFWs per contract. The OWWA is assigned to administer the use of a “trust fund” from the contributions to provide services to its OFW members. OWWA funds, however, have been placed time and again under controversy because of unresolved allegations of misuse and corruption.

March 17 “OFW Day of Rage”

Migrante’s chapters nationwide and abroad are preparing for a “Day of Rage against state abandonment of OFWs” in the form of internationally-coordinated protests on March 17, death anniversary of Filipina domestic worker Flor Contemplacion. ###