On the 18th anniversary of the death of Flor Contemplacion, migrant organizations, advocates and other sectoral groups today gathered at the Welcome Rotonda to call on the Philippine government to end human trafficking.
According to Connie Bragas-Regalado, Migrante Partylist chairperson and first nominee, 18 years after Contemplacion’s death and the subsequent passing of the Migrant Workers’ Act of 1995 (Republic Act 8042, amended by RA 10022), the Philippine government has become the top trafficker of its workers.
“Human trafficking is still rampant and operating in record-high levels in the Philippines yet the accountability of perpetrators and their coddlers in government remains low. Worse, the labor export policy, the government program that systematically and aggressively peddles the cheap labor of our Filipino workers abroad, has become more entrenched and institutionalized, especially under the Aquino administration,” she said.
“The government’s labor export policy is the worst form of state-sponsored human trafficking of our Filipino workers,” Bragas-Regalado said.
Stop trafficking of Filipinos to Sabah
Migrante also called on the Philippine government to stop the trafficking of Filipinos to Sabah.
“Sabah has become one of the worst places for any Filipino worker and national. Now with the ongoing conflict and the Philippine government’s complicity, we fear that it will become a more dangerous place for Filipinos and their children,” she said.
Bragas-Regalado condemned the intensification of crackdowns and raids overseas Filipino workers (OFWs), especially on undocumented or “stateless Filipinos” in Sabah, and even elsewhere in Malaysia.
“After the first attack on Sabah, we have already received reports of indiscriminate crackdowns and raids on households whose residents have Filipino-sounding names. This is on the top the long-neglected miserable situation of our OFWs in Sabah,” Bragas-Regalado said.
She added that they have already also received reports of discrimination and racist attacks on overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) based in Malaysia.
Sabah is one of the most common destinations of trafficked Filipinos, mostly women. It is also one of the most common “transit points” of trafficked Filipinos on their way to Malaysia or other nearby parts of Asia. Citing reports from a fact-finding mission conducted by Migrante International and other migrant groups in 2009, Bragas-Regalado said that around 80-90% of OFWs in Sabah were trafficked.
“Now, with recent developments, Filipinos in Sabah have become more vulnerable to crackdowns and abuses. This, without doubt, is the direct result of Aquino government’s defeatist and passive stance on the Sabah issue. Filipinos in Sabah are now being ‘criminalized’ or deemed ‘illegal’ or ‘undocumented’ because our own government does not support the legitimacy of their stay in Sabah.”
“While the diplomatic ties between two governments are strained by the Sabah issue, it should not inhibit the Philippine government, and henceforth the Philippine Embassy in Malaysia, to provide assistance to Filipino nationals, whether documented or not,” Bragas-Regalado said.
Bragas-Regalado said that Migrante will join the People’s Protest on March 20 to protest the Aquino government’s mishandling and inaction on the Sabah dispute.
Human chain vs. human trafficking
Also joining today’s rally was the newly-launched Stop the Traffic! alliance, a global network against human trafficking and modern-day slavery.
Stop the Traffic! is composed of Filipino im/migrants and organizations based here and abroad, human rights activists, among them Liza Maza, Sr. Mary John Mananzan OSB, Makabayan senatorial bet Teddy Casino and Bishop Solito Toquero of the United Methodist Church. It also has victims and the families of victims of human trafficking as convenors.
Stop the Traffic! said that it will launch a year-long campaign against human trafficking and illegal recruitment by “encouraging supporters, advocates and members of the network to forge human chains against human trafficking here and abroad as a symbol of unity and with the aim to raise awareness and broaden support for OFWs and their families who are victims of trafficking”.
The network also said that it would call on the government and host countries of migrant workers to “address this urgent problem that has curtailed labor and human rights of our overseas Filipino workers and in some cases caused their untimely and unjust deaths.”
“We all unite under the creed that it is the main responsibility of the Philippine government and governments of receiving countries to protect and ensure the welfare and rights of our OFWs,” the network said. ###