OFW group slams ‘state-sponsored human trafficking’; Calls on Congress to investigate deployment bans, bilateral agreements on OFW deployment

Migrante International today sought the immediate investigation of what it called “state-sponsored human trafficking” of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) in Jordan.

According to Migrante International secretary-general, “There is an immediate and urgent need for the government to investigate the continuing recruitment of OFWs to Jordan despite the ongoing deployment ban issued by the Philippine government following cases of abuse from the region in 2007. We have verified with the POEA and they have affirmed that the ban is still in effect.”

If this were the case, Esguerra said, the Philippine government has to explain the most recent cases of OFWs in distress brought to Migrante International, who mostly have only arrived in Jordan within the last six months.

In a press conference, Migrante International presented to the media families and relatives of 20 OFWs in Jordan who recently staged a hunger strike to call on government posts and authorities to address their plight. Last month, a national public affairs television show also featured the miserable conditions of hundreds of OFWs languishing in deportation centers in Jordan.

The 20 OFWs were all victims of illegal and human trafficking and sought refuge in the POLO (Philippine Overseas Labor Offices) in Jordan after they escaped their employers due to maltreatment, non-payment of salaries, sexual and physical harassment and slave-like conditions. They are seeking immediate repatriation and the waiver of deployment costs that they are being charged with.

Esguerra said that according to accounts by the OFWs and their families, most of them were able to enter Jordan via HongKong and Dubai and then later had their employment contracts authenticated by the POLO in Jordan.

“POLO, DOLE (Department of Labor and Employment) and DFA (Department of Foreign Affairs) has some serious explaining to do. POLO’s main responsibility, in compliance with the ban, is to immediately assume that any Filipino national they may encounter is a victim of human trafficking and therefore exhaust all efforts to send them home. Bakit nila ina-authenticate ang employment contract? Kung gayon, hindi ba’t nangangahulugan ito ng human trafficking na may basbas mismo ng gobyerno?”

Esguerra also expressed concern over the deadline set by the government for overseas posts to submit to the DFA certification that their respective countries of responsibility are safe for deployment. The deadline has been set on November 20, as mandated by the amended Republic Act 10022 or the Migrants’ Act. “The Philippine embassy, POLO and ambassador in Jordan have no basis to certify the country safe for deployment in light of the recent cases.”

Countries that had recently submitted certification to and were declared safe by the DFA are Cambodia, Timor-Leste, Kuwait, Laos, Myanmar, Ireland, Saipan, Norway, Syria, and Vietnam. Of these, Migrante International has recorded cases of human rights violations and abuses from Syria and Kuwait.

Esguerra urged Congress to investigate the strict implementation of deployment bans, as well as seek a review and evaluation of existing bilateral agreements between the Philippine government and countries of destination of OFWs.

The Philippines is said to have signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the Jordan government on the protection of OFWs but its substance has not been made known to the public. She added that it is up to now unclear if the MoU has indeed been signed by both parties.

The DOLE reported to Congress recently that the Philippines has more than 100 bilateral agreements with different countries concerning OFW deployment and the protection of Filipino migrant workers. ###