OFWs’ ‘lantern march’ marks Int’l Migrants’ Day

Overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) in different parts of the world march as one today in commemoration of International Migrants’ Day and to demand protection and promotion of the rights of all Filipino migrants from the Aquino administration.

OFWs, their families, returned OFW victims and advocates, gathered along Morayta today brandishing colorful lanterns as they paraded towards Mendiola Bridge near Malacanang. The colorful lanterns symbolize unity and solidarity for OFWs, as well as hope for thousands of OFWs in distress.

For this year, Migrante International commemorates International Migrants’ Day with the theme, “Fight government neglect and abandonment of OFWs! Punish erring and negligent government officials! Bring home for Christmas OFWs in distress!”

After Pres. Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III’s first 100th day in office, it has become more apparent that his administration is no different from previous regimes with regard OFW affairs. Despite his pronouncements in his inaugural speech and SONA, his consequent actions and overall economic and political programs belie his promise of treating OFWs as an urgent national priority.

For the first time ever in history, funds allotted for OFWs in the Department of Foreign Affairs’ legal assistance fund and assistance to nationals in the 2011 national budget have been cut by a whopping 50 percent. Instead of addressing protests from OFWs worldwide, Aquino, through the DBM and his other apologists, had the gall to deny this injustice and wielded all sorts of lies meant to confuse our ranks and diffuse protests. However, their efforts to sow confusion failed and achieved nothing but further vigilance and protests from OFWs around the world.

When he attended the ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) Summit in Vietnam, Aquino also declared that his main agenda was to ensure the protection and promotion of migrant workers’ rights. Unfortunately, we have yet to see concrete results. Instead, we have seen only how he has committed to continue the government’s implementation of the labor export policy, what OFWs and migrants worldwide identify as the main basis of exploitation and modern-day slavery of peoples and workers of the world.

Instead of addressing the root causes of forced migration through genuine land reform and national industrialization, he had further opened up the national economy to abuse and exploitation of our workers’ cheap labor by foreign capital and interests through his so-called flagship program, the PPP (public-private partnership). Migrante International strongly believes that for as long as the labor export policy is in force, there can be no genuine protection for our OFWs. Government programs and policies, through the continuance of the labor export policy, will not serve to protect and uphold OFWs’ rights but only exist to further exploit and abuse.

This year alone, we have faced the onslaught of many a policy posturing as pro-OFW but meant really to make us milking cows for corruption and profit. Among them, the anomalous e-passport fee hike, impositions such as the mandatory Pag-Ibig contributions and insurance coverage and the continuous misuse and abuse of OWWA (Overseas Workers’ Welfare Administration) funds which to date have not been accounted for. These, while thousands and thousands of our OFWs are in distress and in dire need of government assistance. To date, there are already 112 in death row, 7,000 in jails abroad and tens of thousands stranded and awaiting immediate repatriation.

This year also highlighted government neglect embodied in government and Philippine embassy officials, the very people tasked to serve and protect the rights and welfare of our OFWs. We admire the courage of Hong Kong OFW Agnes Tenorio for standing up against a rude labor attaché who had violated her rights. We enjoin others like her to make their voices heard.

We have also brought to public attention government accountability in the rampant practice of “state-sponsored human trafficking” by exposing the plight of at least 300 OFWs, all women and some of them minors, stranded in Jordan despite the enforcement of a deployment ban. They are victims of state-sponsored human trafficking because their employment certificates were authenticated by no less than the POLO in Jordan, an illegal act in violation of RA 9208 or the Anti Trafficking in Persons Act.

Unfortunately, despite all these, we have yet to hear a categorical statement and reap concrete actions from Malacanang.

On the occasion of International Migrants’ Day, we call on the Aquino government to heed the voices and address the plight of our OFWs. They, our bagong bayani, deserve no less than the government’s utmost priority, protection and assistance.

We likewise demand the prosecution of all abusive and negligent government officials for their abandonment and blatant disregard of our OFWs’ rights and welfare. Migrante International calls on the Aquino administration to hold accountable erring government agencies and officials, especially those involved in trafficking syndicates. The Aquino administration seriously needs to pursue the unending cases of neglect, corruption, unreasonable and onerous state exactions and human rights violations against OFWs.

Lastly, we call on the Aquino government to bring home for Christmas all OFWs in distress and in need of immediate repatriation. ###