We, Filipino workers in various countries in the Asia-Pacific region, come together in this statement to express our indignation over the Philippine government’s abandonment of us OFWs in these trying times of severe health risks, loss of jobs, reduction of income, and increased need of our families.
Filipino migrant workers in the Asia-Pacific, who were already in the margins even before the outbreak, have now fallen or are in real danger of falling off the cracks as governments abandon us to fend for our health and economic needs. But instead of responding to our urgent needs, the Duterte government has made our situation worse with its absence of comprehensive assistance plan during lockdown as well as inaction on our concerns in countries where we live and work.
Amidst the pandemic, the following are the realities that Filipino workers across countries in Asia Pacific experience that the Philippine government is yet to respond to:
1. Risk of infection and lack of access to health services
Filipino migrants are present in many countries in Asia Pacific identified with COVID-19 infections with some having a very high concentration of OFWs. Filipinos in these countries work in the frontline – from those working in hospitals to those in service such as retail industry – who are exposed in a daily basis to possibility of infection. Even domestic and other household-based Filipino workers in Hong Kong, Macau, Taiwan and Singapore also get exposed in the conduct of their work.
However, there is no comprehensive and regular program to provide protective equipment to Filipino migrants. They are actually left to fend for their own needs (masks, alcohol, hand sanitizers) as shown by a study done in Hong Kong. It also took pressure from the community in South Korea for the Philippine post to provide masks but still in a very limited quantity considering that there are tens of thousands of undocumented Filipinos there who cannot buy PPEs due to identification requirement.
There are also thousands of Filipino seafarers stranded in various ports in Australia as the cruise ships where they work are refused from docking. The Philippine government has not yet indicated how it can ensure the testing, protection or treatment required by their nationals.
2. Loss of job or reduction of income and the lack of economic relief
Because of the lockdown in various countries, many Filipino workers are now without jobs or no salary as they are in a now-work-no-pay situation. These also include Filipino international students who rely on their part time jobs to sustain their living and studies, as well as musicians whose jobs in restaurants and bars have been affected by the lockdown.
The economic relief announced in Australia, New Zealand, Thailand, South Korea, Japan, Hong Kong and Macau, excluded many Filipinos on a temporary worker’s visa, technical trainee visa, student visa, tourist visa and the undocumented workers.
While the Philippine government was forced to roll out economic relief during the lockdown, the program is proven to be full of holes and multiple sections of OFWs and families have been excluded. Under the current relief program of the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE), the USD200 one-time assistance is estimated to only be given to around 150,000 OFWs considering the long list of exceptions by the program. Many countries in the region, like Thailand, are not considered priority and are therefore excluded from the program. It appears that the program is merely for-show to assuage the Filipinos back home and abroad already restive from the impacts of the pandemic and the lockdown.
The exclusion from relief poses a real danger for Filipinos in terms of food supply and their capacity to pay rent and utilities. They have to rely now on community food drive just so some of their needs can be addressed.
3. Visa and labor problems, and lack of consular and labor assistance
OFWs were already in a vulnerable condition even before the COVID-19 but the pandemic has made their condition even more insecure and more open to labor rights violations.
Household-based workers in Hong Kong, Taiwan and Macau are now explicitly or implicitly coerced to give up their rest day from fear of contracting the virus while outside of their home. They are getting more overworked as their day-off is denied.
Meanwhile, many Filipinos in Thailand are also now in danger of becoming undocumented as they cannot exit and have their status renewed.
The insecurity that OFWs feel is compounded by the lack or even total absence of Philippine government services to assist them in their problems. The Philippine Embassy in Japan has been closed since April 1 while that in South Korea also suspended their services for almost two weeks. Cutdown in service days happened in Hong Kong, Taiwan and also in Thailand. In times of even more urgent needs, the Philippine government’s doors abroad were shut closed from us.
The Philippine government has also not made any appeal or representation to host governments of Filipino workers with regards to problems that arose following the COVID-19 spread.
4. Grave situation of families, and lack of relief
The lockdown in the Philippines has affected and displaced many of our family members. Many of them have either lost their job or their income as they could not report to their work, or do their job such as those in transport sector.
The economic relief by the Philippine government is very limited and our families were exempted from such assistance. The assumption that having an OFW member of the family means the family can survive the crisis by their own is just plain ridiculous. The facts are many OFWs receive very low wage, are already in irregular employment, or are in a no-work-no-pay situation. Many are also excluded from the economic package by host governments.
To deny the family of an OFW assistance means overworking or taking out loans by the OFW especially if family members who previously had work and augmented the family income are now confined home due to the lockdown.
5. Problem of return or suspension of work abroad
Due to the shortage of decent jobs in the Philippines and the lack of sufficient livelihood assistance, Filipino migrants fear going back and staying in the Philippines.
Repatriation is not only about return but also sustaining the needs of the family. This is now the challenge that repatriated seafarers and land-based workers have to address while facing the inadequate assistance and relief from the government.
This is the same condition for Filipino migrants who were caught by the lockdown while in the Philippines. It was reported that Japan cancelled 30,000 approved visas already. Hong Kong has called for the voluntary decision of employers to continue employment later of those who were not able to come and start their work. On top of the daily struggle for survival during the lockdown, they also now have to find ways to repay debts incurred to have their work processed.
With these problems, it is very disappointing that the Philippine government has no regard to how OFWs fare. Its four-pillar socioeconomic strategy against covid-19 is increasingly proven hollow and mere rhetoric as the government could not even respond to the most basic needs of OFWs and our families. While the Philippine government has always lauded its overseas workers as lifeline of the economy, OFWs are always left to their devices in times of crisis proving again that for the government, the worth of Filipino migrants is only as good as when they can send remittance, pay for multiple government fees, and stave off social unrest from the dire unemployment and poverty situation in the country.
The modern heroes are now the forsaken people of the Duterte government.
In these most urgent times when our health, livelihood and life are in danger, we demand the Philippine government to:
1. Develop a comprehensive plan to urgently respond to our worsening conditions in health, livelihood and lives both abroad and for our families back home.
2. Ensure uninterrupted services to all Filipinos by all Philippine overseas posts especially during these times of the COVID-19 crisis. Open Embassies/Consulates for those in need of service.
3. Provide Filipinos overseas with free masks, alcohol and hand sanitizers especially to workers at risk, undocumented and frontliners. Conduct food relief drives to Filipinos abroad who lost economic means to survive.
4. Immediate financial assistance for all OFWs in need irrespective of visa status. Aid – including food provision and shelter service – to our undocumented workers, international students and other workers in dire need overseas. Swift and free repatriation should also be made available. Repatriated workers should also be fully assisted until they reach their final destination.
5. Moratorium on monthly collection from OFWs. Immediately stop the premium increase and mandatory collection of PhilHealth and SSS to OFWs.
6. Free processing of travel documents especially to undocumented workers, and those detained and in need of repatriation.
7. Expand the economic relief in the Philippines to cover everyone in need including OFW families.
8. Stop militarist actions and the attacks on human rights of the Filipino people
9. Mass Testing Now in the Philippines.
10. Make representation to host governments to ensure protection of rights and provision of services to all migrants regardless of status
These are the demands that we shall continuously bring up in various actions practicable during this period such as the weekly “Kalampagan ng Migrante”.
These are the calls that we shall hold the Philippine government accountable for as we also join our compatriots in the Philippines in the campaign for free mass testing, medical solution and not military actions, broadest coverage of sufficient economic relief, job security and even for Duterte himself to answer for his neglect, irresponsibility, and failure to act quickly, efficiently and comprehensively to address the COVID-19 crisis.
AOTEAROA – NEW ZEALAND
· MIGRANTE Aotearoa NZ
– MIGRANTE Aotearoa – NEW ZEALAND
– MGRANTE Aotearoa – Palmerston North
– MIGRANTE Aotearoa – Christchurch
· PINAY Aotearoa – New Zealand
· Migrante Builders Aotearoa
· Union Network of Migrants (UNEMIG)
· MIGRANTE Australia
– Lingap Migrante – Western Sydney
– Migrante North – Hornsby – Sydney
– Migrante South West – Sydney
– Philippines Australia Women’s Association
– Migrante Kultura
– Migrante Melbourne
– Migrante Melbourne East
– Migrante Melbourne North – Samahang Tatak Pinoy
– Migrante Melbourne Northeast
– Migrante Melbourne West
– Migrante Perth
· Advance League of People’s Artists (ALPA)
· AnakBayan Sydney
· AnakBayan Melbourne
· BAYAN Australia
· GABRIELA Australia
– Gabriela Greater Sydney
– Gabriela Victoria
– Gabriela Perth
· Philippines Studies Network in Australia (PINAS)
· Promotion for Church People’s Response (PCPR) Australia
HONG KONG SAR
· United Filipinos in Hong Kong (UNIFIL-MIGRANTE-HK)
– Abra Migrant Workers Welfare Association
– Association of Concerned Filipinos
– Cuyapo OFW Association Hong Kong
– Filipino Friends
– Filipino Lesbian Organization
– Filipino Migrant Domestic Workers Union
– Filipino Migrants Association
– Filipino Women Migrant Association
– Friends of Bethune House
– Likha Filipino Migrants Cultural Organization
– Luzviminda Migrante
– Migrante Naguilian
– Migrante Pier
– Migrante Shatin
– Migrante Tamar
– Migrante Tsing Ti
– Migrante Tsuen Wan
– Migrante Yuen Long
– Migranteng Artista ng Bayan
– Organic Cultural and Environmental Organization
– Philippine Independent Church Choir
– Pinatud A Saleng Ti Umili (PSU)
– Pangasinan Organization for Welfare, Empowerment and Rights
– Samahang Migrante
– Sta Maria Migrants Association
– Women of Philippine Independent Church – WOPIC Antique
· Filipino Migrant Workers’ Union (FMWU)
– FMWU City Hall Chapter
– FMWU Chater Garden Chapter
– FMWU Chater Road Chapter
· Abra Tinguian Ilocano Society
– Annak ti Maeng Tubo-HK
– Baggak Cultural Group
– Bangued Migrants Workers Association
– Bucay Migrants Workers
– Bucloc Overseas Workers Association
– Ganagan San Juan Association
– Lacub Migrants
– Lagangilang Overseas Association
– Langiden Migrants Organization
– Lapaz Migrants Association
– Licuan-Baay HK Association
– Maeng Tribe of Abra Luba-HK
– Malibcong Migrants Association
– Timpuyog Ti Tayum
· BAYAN Hong Kong & Macau
· Cordillera Alliance Hong Kong (CORALL)
· GABRIELA Hong Kong
– Gabriela Hong Kong Bank
– Filguys Association
– Filipino Lesbians Organization (FILO)
· Promotion of Church Peoples’ Response (PCPR) – Hong Kong
· KAFIN Saitama – Migrante
· MIGRANTE Japan
· MIGRANTE Macau
· KASAMMAKO – Katipunan ng mga Samahan ng Migranteng Manggawa sa Korea
– New Era Foundation
– Pag-Iribang Bicolnon in Korea
· Osan Migrants Centre
· MIGRANTE Taiwan
· ACTION – Association of Concerned Filipinos in Thailand