OFWs picket VMMC

Members of migrant organizations based in 20 countries today held a picket-protest at the Veterans Memorial Medical Center (VMMC) in Quezon City to demand accountability from former president Gloria Arroyo for corrupting, misusing and abusing funds of the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA).

Overseas Filipinos and their families from Australia, HK, Japan, South Korea, Macau, New Zealand, Taiwan, KSA, Qatar, Libya, UAE, Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Italy, Netherlands, Switzerland, UK, Canada and the United States joined the protest.

The “balikbayans” are presently here in the country to attend the sixth Congress and 15th anniversary celebration of global alliance of OFWs Migrante International.

“We demand that Arroyo be held accountable and give back to OFWs the millions in dollars of OWWA funds she used for her personal and political agenda. She deserves to be placed in a regular jail for her plunder of OFWs contributions and earnings,” said Garry Martinez, Migrante International chairperson.

The migrant workers also demanded a full audit of the OWWA funds and immediate independent investigation of OWWA’s overseas and home-based officers in light of the Commission on Audit (COA) report that more than P21 million in OWWA collections were not remitted to OWWA’s Land Bank- Manila dollar account during the last 10 years.

Martinez said that they have long been calling for an investigation of OWWA funds, prompting Congress inquiries and several graft and plunder cases filed at the Ombudsman and Department of Justice.

He cited, during Arroyo’s time, AFP chief of staff Roy Cimatu’s botched rescue mission during the Lebanon crisis on 2006 when the OWWA released P150 million for the repatriation of OFWs. Out of more than 6,000 OFWs, only 1,000 were repatriated by Cimatu, while the International Organization for Migration (IOM) was able to repatriate 4,000 OFWs. “When asked where the OWWA funds went, Cimatu was mum about it,” he said.

 The incident prompted several Senate hearings and it was then discovered that P6.8 billion of OWWA funds were transferred to the Development Bank of the Philippines and Landbank of the Philippines (P3.4 billion each) without any consultations with the OFW sector.

Former solicitor general Atty. Frank Chavez also filed a case at the DOJ against former president Gloria Arroyo for alleged misuse, re-channel and charge to OWWA funds various projects that had nothing to do with OFWs, among them the supposed evacuation of Filipinos from Iraq, Kuwait and Afganistan in 2003. “(Since) no actual evacuation of Filipino took place, (but) where did the money go?”

Arroyo also reportedly transferred P100 Million Livelihood Development Program from the OWWA to the National Livelihood Support Fund under the Office of the President in September 2003. She and the other respondents are also accused of electoral fraud by “intending, facilitating and ordering the diversion of migrant workers’ trust funds from the OWWA to finance her campaign machinery starting 2003” with regard the release of PhilHealth cards bearing Arroyo’s name and picture as an election campaign tactic in the 2004 elections.

 The OFWs also took the Aquino administration to task for failing to act promptly on demands and cases filed by OFWs against Arroyo. “It has been over a year and a half since Aquino assumed office but nothing has come off its promise to ease the burdens of OFWs. Instead, OFWs’ problems remain neglected and our situation has gone worse since he took office. Mukhang mas masahol pa ngayon ang administrasyong Aquino kaysa kay Arroyo.”

Full audit of OWWA funds and the demand to hold Arroyo accountable are included in OFWs’ demands on December 18, Zero Remittance Day.

The Zero Remittance Day will mark OFWs’ protest over the magnitude of problems that the Filipino migrant labor sector continues to face under the Aquino regime. ###