During the 3rd round of formal GRP-NDFP Peace talks: Migrant Filipinos in Rome press GRP to address migrants’ issues and concerns

Migrante chapters from different cities in Italy and Italian organizations in solidarity with Filipino people’s struggles and concerns organized a mobilization in support of the GRP-NDFP peacetalks on Sunday, January 22, 2017 at Piazza delle Escuelino in Rome, Italy.
Filipino overseas workers led by Migrante chapters from Rome, Milan, Firenze, Bologna, and Mantova were joined by leaders and members of the Italy-Friendship Association, Unione Sindicale di Base USB, Comitato Immigrati Italia, CARC and more than fifty members of the delegation of the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) who are participating in the third round of formal peacetalks with the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) in Rome, Italy.
In the said rally, Ann Brusola, Migrante Europe Secretary General, specifically called on the GRP “to address the root causes of the armed conflict by pursuing comprehensive reforms on genuine agrarian reform and national industrialization.” On August 22, 2016, during the first round of formal peacetalks of the NDFP with the GRP peace panel under Pres. Rodrigo Duterte, Migrante-Europe submitted a document stating the concerns and proposals of Filipino migrant workers in Europe in the crafting of the agreement on social and economic reforms, the second substantive agenda in the GRP-NDFP peace negotiations.
Among the immediate concerns and strategic agenda emphasized by Migrante-Europe forwarded to the GRP are the legalization of undocumented Filipino migrants, the abolition of government exactions such as the exorbitant fees which they are required to pay to different government agencies, the full implementation of the United Nations Convention on the Protection of Migrant Workers by migrant receiving countries, to put stop to sex and human trafficking, legislative/executive action to push for pensioners’ bilateral agreements so impediments to the Filipino retirees/pensioners can avail their hard-earned pension benefits,  and to stop human rights violations against migrants committed in the name of anti-terror campaigns.
“We believe that the crisis of migration is a result of the lack of genuine agrarian reform and national industrialization, and of an independent and nationalist foreign policy. Because there is no genuine agrarian reform and basic industries in the country, there are no social conditions to provide jobs and livelihood for the people. Migrant Filipinos need to continue to unite and struggle to continuously assert migrants’ and people’s rights, and the GRP-NDFP peace process is a venue of our advocacy,” said Franklin Irabon of Migrante-Milan.
After the rally, a forum organised by Socio-Cultural and Sport Committee of Sentro Filipino in collaboration with Umangat-Migrante and other Filipino communities in Rome at the Basilica di Santa Pudenziana in Via Urbana 160, where more than 300 members of the Filipino community in Rome heard both the NDFP and GRP agenda in the peace process, including their views on migrants’ rights and concerns.
They also voiced out their support for the calls to release all political prisoners and the implementation of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (CARHRIHL). “We will be vigilant on the GRP’s compliance to the CARHRIHL. One significant test of its adherence to the said agreement is the release of all political prisoners,” Brusola said.
“We will continue to enjoin our fellow Filipino migrants in Europe to actively engage in this process because our futures, and our children’s, are at stake,” Brusola concluded.

The family of Maryjane Veloso arrived last night, January 14, 2016, with high hopes after a four day trip to Jogjakarta, Indonesia, where they visited Maryjane and celebrated her birthday.

The family, accompanied by DFA and Philippine Embassy officials together with their Philippine and Indonesian lawyers and Migrante, arrived in Indonesia on January 11, 2017. They visited Maryjane on January 12, 2017 and held a simple birthday celebration for her inside the Wirongunan Lembaga prison in Jogjakarta, Indonesia.

They returned to Wironguan prison on January 13, 2017 and spent the whole morning with Maryjane. They cuddled, bantered, and exchanged stories. She again recounted her various activities in prison to while away her time, and gave to her family items that she made in prison. Mark Darren, the youngest son rendered a song for her mother, and Maryjane also sang a translated version of My Heart Believes orHatiku Perkaya and the Philippine National Anthem. The Philippine Embassy and Foreign Affairs attended to her needs and bought her a number of personal supplies. She became emotional as the end of the visiting hours came nearer.

Towards the end of the prison visit, the group gathered for a closing prayer led by one of Maryjanes spiritual advisers, a Jesuit brother. She was asked to read the gospel taken from John 15: 4 7, and gave a brief reflection. She said the message of the gospel reading gave her hope and inspiration. She also lead in reciting the Lords prayer and the rosary. While she still can converse in Filipino, she is now much fluent in Bahasa.

The visit ended at 11:30 a.m. As she bade goodbye to her family, she wished that she can soon enjoy their company outside the prison walls and without prison guards hovering around them. She longingly told her expectant children that she is praying hard for her to come home by December to celebrate Christmas with them.

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On January 12, 2016, two days after her 32nd birthday, Maryjane Veloso celebrated her birthday with her parents, Cesar and Celia Veloso and her two children, Mark Daniel and Mark Darren.

Maryjane’s parents and children flew to Jogjakarta, Indonesia on January 11, 2017 for a 4-day visit accompanied by officials from the Department of Foreign Affairs, her Philippine lawyer from the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL) and a representative from Migrante International. The visit was coordinated by the Migrante International with the Office of the Secretary of the Department of Foreign Affairs who arranged travel and provided provisions for the family. The Philippine Interfaith Movement Against Human Trafficking also extended support for the trip.

It was a happy reunion for Maryjane and her family who last saw each other in January 2016. The children clung to their mother making up for all the time that they were separated from their mother not wanting the moment to end. Makmak was seven years old while Darren was only one year and three months old when Maryjane was arrested in 2010.

Maryjane cheerfully shared her experiences and skills she learned in prison and will use these in the future to help her family. She professed her innocence from the charges against her, and that in her heart, she already forgiven her recruiters but fervently wished that the recruiters will admit what they did to her. The visit, cum birthday celebration, was capped by a simple lunch, courtesy of the DFA and embassy officials in Indonesia.

Maryjane and her family expressed their gratitude to Secretary Perfecto Yasay and the DFA for facilitating the visit and to all the group and individuals who made the trip possible and memorable. The whole family appealed for the continued support to #FreeMaryJane.

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Grandstanding, band-aid solutions, damage-control for companies and recruitment agencies: Assessment of PH govt’s response to plight of stranded OFWs in Saudi crisis  

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Stranded OFWs in Saudi still awaiting repatriation from the Philippine government.

Prepared by Migrante International, December 13, 2016

Last July, Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) Sec. Silvestre Bello III declared that the Duterte government will resolve the issue of stranded OFWs (overseas Filipino workers) in Saudi Arabia by yearend. December has come, we are well on our way to usher in the new year, and what has the government done so far in response to their plight?

The economy of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) is presently beset with a severe oil price meltdown. Crude oil that sold for over $100 per barrel in 2014 was cut down to half the price by the end of 2015. The price decline strongly influenced KSA’s economy since oil sales account for about 80% of its revenues. It prompted the Saudi government to cut spending, delay projects and sell bonds. This resulted in financial instability of government contractors which employs a large numbers of migrant workers.  Its impact also extended to other branches of the local economy, including public utilities and social services.

The effect of the crisis on OFWs became evident when tens of thousands became stranded in numerous company accommodations in various regions of KSA by 2015. The number of OFWs affected by non-payment of salaries, withholding of benefits,  massive retrenchment and contract violations continued to increase as the oil crisis worsened. The Rapid Response Team to KSA dispatched by the previous Aquino administration only estimated some 11,000 OFWs affected in companies such as Saudi Oger Ltd, Saudi Bin Laden Group (SBG) and Mohammad Al Mojil Grooup (MMG). Migrante, however, projected that at least 50,000 OFWs, to include those employed by smaller companies and sub-contractors, will be affected Kingdom-wide by March of 2016 – and the figure will continue to rise if the government continues to turn a blind eye.

Acknowledging the crisis, then newly-elected President Rodrigo Duterte gave “marching orders” to Sec. Bello to conduct a visit to Saudi Arabia to immediately assess the situation and repatriate the stranded OFWs via chartered flights. In response, the government launched an inter-agency project dubbed, “Operation Bring Them Home”, which conducted two “humanitarian relief missions” to Saudi Arabia in August-September and October-November. The Operation was jointly conducted by the DOLE, Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA), Department of Social Work and Development (DSWD), Department of Health (DOH) the Public Attorney’s Office (PAO) and TESDA (Technical Education and Skills Development Authority).

Prior to the Operation and Sec. Bello’s first trip to Saudi Arabia, Migrante submitted to the government a briefer that summarized the plight, demands and urgent government action needed by the stranded OFWs. Below is a summary of the OFWs’ demands:

  • Negotiate with employers for the payment of salaries and benefits, and issuance of exit visas.
  • Emergency mass repatriation for stranded OFWs. Government to shoulder immigration penalties and other costs related to repatriation.
  • Provide legal assistance and other support (free translations fees, transportation expenses) for distressed OFWs who filed labor cases against their companies, and facilitate the provision of subsistence allowances through the OFW’s recruitment agencies.
  • Ban the deployment workers to bankrupt and crisis-ridden companies.
  • Emergency financial assistance to returned OFWs and families of distressed OFWs.
  • Speedy resolution of cases of repatriated OFWs lodged at the POEA and NLRC.
  • Comprehensive reintegration program and decent-paying jobs for returning OFWs.

 In a press conference in Malacanang last November 22, Sec. Bello announced that “only 2,000 OFWs remain to be repatriated in Saudi Arabia”. In the same breath, Sec. Bello said that they “have succeeded in bringing back 3,000 OFWs while the rest have managed to find good-paying jobs in other companies”. This statement is very problematic.

Firstly, the government merely accounts for some 5,000 affected OFWs, still a far cry from the 11,000 it vowed to repatriate early on – and still yet a small percent of the actual number of affected OFWs outside of the three big companies, Saudi Oger Ltd, Saudi Billadin Group (SBG) and Mohammad Al Mojil Group (MMG).

Sec. Bello, in the same press conference, announced that the OFWs opting to transfer to other companies “made it easier for us (government)”, but he also admitted that the OFWs have not yet been paid their withheld wages and necessary money claims.

These statements are not only contradictory but problematic at best. It now appears that the Sec. Bello deems the Saudi crisis fait accompli, problem-solved, and therefore business-as-usual between the Philippine government and its biggest labor importer. This is wishful thinking on the part of the Philippine government and downright deceiving.

On one hand, while efforts of relief and on-site assistance by the DSWD should be lauded, these are short-term and  band-aid solutions that do nothing to address the major issues of emergency repatriation, labor issues and comprehensive reintegration for affected OFWs and their families.

Government efforts have been fragmented thus far, with various agencies involved, particularly the DOLE and DFA, “one-upping” each other in terms of who plays a command role in the Operation. Migrante’s sources in the DFA claim that after the initial and only press conference, where Sec. Bello and DFA’s Perfecto Yasay publicly flanked Pres. Duterte as he welcomed a handful of repatriated OFWs from Saudi, the former had been reluctant to conduct a follow-up humanitarian mission after the first one in July.

Thus begging the question: Was the DOLE’s objective in the Saudi mission not really for the main purpose of repatriating stranded OFWs but conducting damage control for the beleaguered Saudi companies and local recruitment agencies through the facilitation of job transfers?

If so, the promise to “end the stranded crisis” by yearend has been deceiving and bound to fail from the start. Job transfers of crisis-ridden OFWs have been the thrust of the previous governments – as in the case of the MMG workers who initially called for emergency mass repatriation in 2014, were convinced by the PH government to be transferred to other companies, only to enlist yet again for repatration in 2015 after the company they transferred too was also affected by the Saudi crisis.

If Sec. Bello worked mainly to facilitate job transfers, then he only succeeded in buying time for and “rescuing” the companies and local private recruitment agencies instead of the affected OFWs. This is unsurprisingly in line with the “win-win” solution and other deceiving, pro-capitalist and anti-labor policies that the DOLE has been advocating thus far.

Meanwhile, the oil crisis in Saudi continues to worsen. OFWs, those who Sec. Bello said “opted” to stay on, have not become impervious to the crisis just because they were transferred to different companies. The crisis is also now affecting not only OFWs in industrial and construction sites but those in the service and health sectors as well.

The Saudi crisis is far from over. What the present administration should ultimalety strive to do as a comprehensive response to the crisis is to decisively deviate from its labor export policy and instead focus on creating decent and sustainable local jobs to end the cycle of forced migration. ###

Free all political prisoners! Fight for just and lasting peace! – Migrante

solidarity-fastMigrante International joins other sectors in demanding justice and calling for the unconditional release of for more than 400 political prisoners, among them 130 sick and elderly political detainees through a general amnesty.

As International Human Rights Day nears, Migrante reminds Pres. Duterte and the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GPH) of the commitment to a just and lasting peace. The release of political prisoners is a major part of the GPH’s political obligation to correct the injustices of previous, as well as proof of its commitment to uphold all previously signed agreements between the GPH and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP), including the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (CARHIHL).

“To demand for decent wages and employment, land for the landless, food and shelter for the impoverished, and basic social services for the people is not a crime, yet more than 400 political prisoners remain incarcerated for having fought and struggled for these basic rights. Their demands are same as ours, their fight not isolated from the Filipino people’s. Their struggle is our struggle. Their freedom is our freedom,” said Mic Catuira, Migrante International deputy secretary-general.

“Unless the Duterte government makes good its promise, we have reason to doubt the GPH’s sincerity in the ongoing peace talks with the NDFP. We also condemn in strongest terms violations of the unilateral ceasefire by the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP). We call on Pres. Duterte to do away with Marcosian actions and tactics. He must prove himself still worthy of the people’s trust and confidence by holding accountable all human rights violators in the military, police and in government. He must cease from carrying on the legacies of Martial Law by putting a stop to Oplan Bayanihan that continues to terrorize communities,” he said.

Catuira called on all freedom-loving Filipinos around the world to continue to call for the release of all political prisoners and to continue to fight for a just and lasting peace. ###