PRESS RELEASE BY MIGRANTE KSA
20 June 2020
An organization of Overseas Filipino Workers in the Middle East condemned the Philippine ambassador to Saudi Arabia for saying on Friday that migrant workers’ efforts to find food in garbage heaps in the country is “mere theatrics” that only aim to get the public’s attention.
Migrante-Middle East said Ambassador Adnan Alonto is wrong and out of touch with the situation of OFWs in saying that “If reports reaching me are true, I’m disappointed with some of our people who have resorted to theatrics to catch attention. Fact is food assistance was given. Mamulot ng basura? (Picking up trash?) C’mon!”
“We are not engaging in theatrics to try to get attention. Truth is, we do not have anything to eat. That is why we would wait for the garbage being thrown by supermarkets and would get the vegetables that are still edible,” said Louie Perez, one of the OFWs who tried to find food in garbage heaps in Riyadh.
Perez said that because of the economic slowdown caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, OFWs have suffered from job and income loss and delayed salaries, and many are now incapable of paying for their basic needs in the Middle Eastern country.
He also bemoaned the meager food assistance extended by the Overseas Workers Welfare Office (OWWA) and the delay in repatriation promised by the Philippine Overseas Labor Office (POLO).
“For three months, we have been asking and waiting for repatriation because the food assistance given to us is so meager. When we follow up our requests with POLO, the only response we get is ‘still under process.’ If we stay here any longer, we might die of hunger or disease. One of our fellow OFW has already died because of stress,” Perez added.
Perez added that many OFWs have applied for financial assistance under the Department of Labor and Employment-Abot-Kamay ang Pagtulong (DOLE-AKAP) program, but have not received any support.
Meanwhile, according to Migrante-Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Alonto should try to do his job, interact with OFWs and find out their real situation, instead of dismissing and insulting OFWs’ efforts to survive.
“Ambassador Alonto should stop covering up the government’s uselessness amidst the pandemic by shaming distressed OFWs. His government treats us OFWs like garbage. He should focus his time and energy in trying to fix that,,” said Marlon Gatdula, Migrante-KSA chairperson.
The OFW leader added that even before the pandemic and especially now, the Philippine government agency in the KSA is infamous for its callous treatment of OFWs, and its unreliable, almost nonexistent, services for distressed OFWs.
“OFWs in Saudi are all familiar with the Philippine Embassy’s snail-paced services. When you need help, you have to call many times but no one will answer your call. It is no coincidence that many OFWs have not received any assistance from the government yet,” Gatdula added.
The OFW leader said some groups, including the Filipino Artists and Performers Society (FAPS) International, have called on Foreign Affairs Secretary Teddyboy Locsin to recall Alonto for making the statement. FAPS-International said it is witness to the fact that OFWS are now scavenging for food in Saudi Arabia.
“Ambassador Alonto should check his privilege. He can say what he said because he still has his job and continues to receive his huge salary. If Alonto had tried to live for three months with the one-time assistance given to OFWs, he would know that OFWs scavenging for food are not merely engaging in theatrics or are just trying to call the public’s attention,” Gatdula said.
Gatdula cited OFWs’ many social media posts complaining about not having anything to eat because of the economic crisis triggered by the pandemic. He said OFWs are suffering because of the Philippine government’s neglect as shown by meager financial assistance and delayed repatriation.
“Let us tell you, Ambassador Alonto, which is the real theatrics: your government’s claim that we OFWs are modern-day heroes. We do not feel cherished, we feel abandoned and left for dead by the government. C’mon!” Gatdula said.