Let Not Mhelody Bruno Be Just Another Statistic – Let Justice Be Hers!

Migrante Australia, a national alliance of Filipino migrant organisations raises concern over the death of Filipino transgender woman Mhelody Bruno, 25 years old, who was reportedly killed while on holiday in Australia. The police reported that Mhelody was found unresponsive in a home unit on Tarcutta Street, Wagga Wagga, where paramedics conducted CPR before bringing her to the hospital. Despite efforts to revive her, she died shortly after 10:00AM on Sunday, 22 September 2019. Mhelody was about to return to the Philippine but she was killed just a week before her flight home.

We extend our heartfelt condolences to Mhelody’s family in Surigao and will do what we can to assist them in this time of grief and uncertainty. We echo their cry for justice for the crime committed against Mhelody Bruno.

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PHOTO: Rappler

This is the second time this year that a Filipino national died whilst working in regional Australia. Last March 2019, Jerwin Royupa was killed allegedly after jumping from a vehicle following an altercation with his employer. His death remains unresolved.

Also about two years ago, Charma Annear was brutally murdered by her estranged husband in November 2016 in the remote country town of Laverton, Western Australia. The WA Supreme Court found Mr Mervin Annear, guilty of manslaughter and was sentenced in April 2018 with 10-years imprisonment.

This spate of violent and suspicious deaths of Filipino nationals experiencing exploitation as migrant workers or as tourists must be stopped and the Australian criminal justice system must do its work to bring justice to the families of these victims.

We call on all concerned government agencies and the Filipino community in Australia to extend support and assistance to Mhelody Bruno’ family as they seek justice and the repatriation of her body back to the Philippines.

We also extend the invitation of the Filipino community in Wagga Wagga to a Vigil for Mhelody/Justice for Mhelody on Monday, 1 October 2019, 7:00-10:00PM at Victory Memorial Gardens, Wagga Wagga, NSW.

Justice for Melody Bruno!

Migrante Australia P O Box 606, Laverton 3028, Australia * Email: migrante@ilpsaustralia.com Contacts: George (Butch) – 0413 041514(VIC); Mel – 0414 247154(WA);; Manny (Bebot) – 0404 105899(NSW) Lina – 0407 841010(NSW); Berlin – 0499 303911(Albury-Wodonga); Reyvi – 0421 116776(Vic) Steph – 0422 171969(VIC)

On the appointment of Mocha Uson as OWWA Deputy Executive Director

It is not a surprise that Duterte is recycling a degenerate like Mocha Uson. He needs to beef up his army of apologists and attack dogs to distract us from the worsening socio-economic conditions facing millions of Filipino people. Mocha Uson’s active participation in discriminating against and demonizing OFW activists who are critical and outspoken about his policies, poor record and criminal neglect in addressing their concerns serves Duterte’s political agenda in silencing organized voices who are defending their democratic rights.

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Duterte is putting the hard earned money of OFWs at easy disposal of a government official with a record of wasting people’s money in purveying fake news and senseless junkets. He has appointed someone whose actions are contradictory to the mandate of OWWA to care for the welfare of all OFWs, regardless of their beliefs, and whose actions have been more detrimental than helpful to the interests of our OFWs such as the “rescue mission” she co-organized in Kuwait last year– a publicity stunt that only placed the lives of our migrant workers in harm’s way.

It is clear that Duterte is not serious in resolving the mounting problems facing our OFWs and we are extremely concerned that discriminatory practices in the delivery of services to our OFWs who are not loyal to Duterte will be rampant.

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OFW and Church-based groups hope that SC will finally issue ruling on Mary Jane Veloso before 28 October to allow her to testify

With the petition for Mary Jane Veloso’s deposition still left hanging in the Supreme Court after more than a year, the prosecution went through the eye of the needle earlier to secure the green light for the presentation of its lone witness on 28 October. Supporters of Mary Jane Veloso heaved a sigh of relief after Nueva Ecija’s Regional Trial Court Branch 88 ruled in favour of the prosecution’s last ditch appeal. 

The Philippine Consul General has already made a commitment to appear at the 26 September court proceeding to present Mary Jane’s side but mandatory travel protocols prevented her from making it to the hearing. Meanwhile, the prosecution and supporters of Mary Jane are earnestly praying that the Philippine Supreme Court will finally grant Mary Jane Veloso the chance to present her testimony against her traffickers via written interrogatories before 28 October. 

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Edre Olalia of the National Union of People’s Lawyers argued that between the accused couple Cristina Sergio and Julius Lacanilao on one side and Mary Jane Veloso who is a human trafficking victim facing the death sentence on the other side, there is justifiable ground for the reset in the quest to complete the whole picture regarding the involvement of big international drug syndicates in victimizing unsuspecting migrants or travellers.

“Let us allow Mary Jane Veloso to give her side for after all, the defense will have its chance to cross examine her. We have so many OFWs who are vulnerable to human traffickers and these OFWs may find themselves in a grave situation like that of Mary Jane even if they are only victims,” Olalia said. 

If perchance the SC remains unsettled on the petition to allow Mary Jane Veloso to testify in the human trafficking case against Cristina Sergio and Julius Lacanilao, prosecutors will have no other recourse but to present the Consul General as witness in her place. 

Once Mary Jane Veloso is allowed to prove through her testimony that she is really a trafficking victim, Olalia said that it may pave the way for permanent reprieve, pardon or commutation of the sentence.

Prior to the court session, supporters under Save Mary Jane Alliance conducted an ecumenical prayer service. In their prayer, they recited, “we pray that she will receive compassion.  We pray that she will be able to speak the truth and testify before this court.” After the hearing, it was followed by a fellowship lunch with members of the Veloso family and their supporters. 

In the evening, a 6:00 pm solidarity mass for Mary Jane Veloso was conducted at the Sta. Cruz Church in Binondo, Manila. Church-based groups from the National Council of Churches in the Philippines, Migrante International along with other allies under the Save Mary Jane Alliance vowed to step up the campaign as letters of support poured in the past couple of weeks from various groups in the international community inquiring about latest developments on Veloso’s case and expressing their call to allow Mary Jane to testify. The letters were delivered straight to the Supreme Court. 

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#LetMaryJaneSpeakTheTruth: Solidarity action for Mary Jane Veloso held before the Supreme Court during En Banc session 

Supporters of Mary Jane Veloso under the Save Mary Jane Alliance conducted a picket solidarity action before the Supreme Court in anticipation of the En Banc session that was set to convene Tuesday afternoon, 24 September 2019. Justices at the En Banc were expected to decide when to hear the petition for Mary Jane’s right to testify against her traffickers. 

Migrante Internatonal Chairperson Joanna Concepcion said, “as a victim of human trafficking, Mary Jane has the right to present her testimony against her traffickers. We entreat the Supreme Court to allow Mary Jane to speak the truth as various groups in the international community continue to seek updates on the latest developments about her case here in the Philippines.”

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Concepcion was referring to the outpouring of letters in the last couple of weeks sent by different organizations and institutions who are calling on the Philippine Supreme Court to intervene on her behalf. The letters were from different countries like USA, Canda, Italy, Australia, Hongkong, etc. Among the groups that sent its letter to the Supreme Court was the Presbyterian Church (USA) or PCUSA which is the largest Reformed denomination in the US. 

In its letter, PCUSA stated, “As a church, we pray that these legal proceedings will uphold Mary Jane’s individual worth and responsibility. As a human trafficking victim, these proceedings should help her to asser her rights, including the right to testify against her recruiters.”

Last week, the National Council of Churches in Australia representing 18 mainstream Christian denominations in Australia including the Roman Catholic Church, the Anglican Church and the Lutheran Church stated in its letter, “Allowing Mary Jane to speak the truth gives voice to victims of human trafficking and affirms their rights as one of the most vulnerable and neglected in society. Giving a place to her parents Cesar and Celia as intervenors in the legal petition grants recognition to the legitimate and immediate stake of families who are lamenting the loss of their loved ones from illegal trafficking.”

The Philippine Interfaith Movement Against Human Trafficking (PIMAHT) wrote, “We reiterate our stand that Mary Jane Veloso is the face of many other victims of human trafficking and we firmly believe that she deserves the opportunity to speak the truth. Her statement is vital to shed light on the case, to penalize the perpetrators, and serve justice to Mary Jane and other victims.”

The Veloso family have been in Indonesia since 18 September last week for their visit to Mary Jane at the Wirogunan penitentiary in Yogyakarta. Celia and Cesar Veloso were joined by Mark Daniel and Mary Jane’s eldest sister Lea. They are set to arrive back in the Philippines Wednesday morning 25 September at NAIA Terminal 3. 

Also present during the solidarity action at the Supreme Court were Reverend Marie Sol Villalon of the United Methodist Church and Migrante Philippines Chairperson Arman Hernando. Both gave messages supporting the call to #LetMaryJaneSpeakTheTruth.

Since last week, over 20 other groups have already sent letters to the Supreme Court as the last hearing will be conducted by the regional trial court in Nueva Ecija on 26 September for the presentation of prosecution witnesses in the cases for human trafficking, illegal recruitment and estafa filed against Mary Jane Veloso’s recruiters namely Ma. Cristina P. Sergio and Julius Lacanilao.

The Save Mary Alliance will have solidarity activities on 26 September. An ecumenical prayer service will be held at 8:00 am in Nueva Ecija before the start of the court session at 8:30 am. In the evening, a solidarity mass for Mary Jane Veloso will likewise be held at the Sta.Cruz Church in Binondo, Manila at 6pm. 

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“Resist and remember the continuing horrors of Martial Law!” — Migrante International on the 47th anniversary of the Martial Law proclamatio

Coveting after autocratic rule, President Ferdinand E.Marcos signed Proclamation No. 1081 (PROC. 1081) dated 21 September 1972 placing the entire Philippines under Martial Law. Following this declaration, the US-Marcos regime wasted no time arresting activists and shutting down hundreds of institutions deemed critical of government policies.   

Hundreds of media outlets were closed down and Marcos assumed both legislative and executive powers. It did not take long before the impoverished many sank further into the abyss of economic cataclysm. Contrary to the delusional claims of Marcosian worshipers about the Philippines being among the richest countries in Asia that time, it was actually during this period that our country saw itself overtaken by one Asian country to another in terms of development.

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Fast forward to 2019, the Philippines is still trapped within the pangs of Fascism and constant economic crisis. The US-Duterte regime seeks to outdo the dictator Ferdinand Marcos by turning the Philippines into Asia’s largest killing field. Ordinary people and activists alike risk illegal arrests, trumped-up charges, torture and execution. 

On 5 July 2019, Bryan Conje, the son of a Saudi-based OFW was found lifeless after being shot by the Navotas police. No stable jobs await OFWs returning to the Philippines. Only death, terror and misery abound. Similar cases of killings in the name of Duterte’s “war against drugs” and “crimes” have resulted in casualties numbering thousands. 

Most of the bloody operations conducted by the police target poor communities. Meanwhile, Mayor Sanchez who was convicted in the rape and murder of UP students along with other big time criminals from wealthy families were let loose by Duterte from incarceration. 

The bloodbath in the countryside is just as worse as in the cities. From 2017, rights groups have already recorded 87 people killed in the island of Negros alone. Fifteen (15) of which were shot in just one week by military and police elements during the last week of July this year. It is no coincidence that these violent killings are rampant in places where Duterte sends additional military and police forces to contain perceived “threats against national security.” 

Duterte has been augmenting the number of troops in Negros since November 2018 when he signed Memorandum Order 32. This is just a part of Duterte’s Executive Order 70 institutionalizing the “Whole-of-Nation Approach.” With most of the slain coming from poor peasant communities fighting for their small farms against big wealth landowners and landgrabbers, it is President Duterte himself that should be branded as the number one threat to national security. 

In accordance with EO70, the Duterte regime has likewise formed the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict under the guidance of officials from both AFP and PNP. Attacks against progressive organizations are becoming more brazen even in the arena of public media. The entire state machinery has been parading an array of fake news and false information to delegitimize the advocacies of people’s defenders.

In seminars conducted by NTF attaches overseas, red tagging and vilification of Migrante International is prevalent. Military Attache – Col. Antonio Faro Olaguera and Philippine Embassy Second Secretary Allan Hencel U. Campos have been visiting international schools in Saudi Arabia where there is a significant number of Filipino students to conduct such seminars. 

Using government resources, the Duterte regime is driving a wedge among overseas Filipino communities to prevent OFWs from finding out the truth about the government’s rotten labour export programme. 

At a time when the armed conflict between Saudi and Yemen has already escalated into a full-blown ground battle deeper inside Saudi territory as early as June this year, Philippine embassy and consulate officials should have been spending their time working on concrete contingency measures to secure 40 thousand Filipinos in border regions. 

For more than two decades, Migrante International has upheld the rights and welfare of overseas Filipino workers. It has served to amplify the voices of OFWs in distress left unheard and neglected by a government reeked by greed and corruption. We will not stand idly as the Duterte regime intensifies its brutal repression of dissent to prevent us from raising the legitimate grievances of Filipino migrants. 

As we march with democratic forces to magnify our resistance against Duterte’s Fascist rule, let us remember those who have gone before us in their sacrifices. Altogether, we shall smash the Duterte regime’s abuse of power and make him accountable for his crimes. More than ever before, let us stand united and surge forward to wrest power from those that seek to oppress and slay us. Only the people’s active resistance will save our country from being thrown back into the bloody clutches of absolute tyranny and dictatorship. 

Never again! Never forget!

Demokrasya, hindi diktadura! 

 

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As last hearing nears, Migrante International implores SC to allow Mary Jane Veloso to testify against her traffickers

On September 26, the last hearing for the presentation of prosecution witnesses in the cases for human trafficking, illegal recruitment and estafa filed against Mary Jane Veloso’s recruiters namely Ma. Cristina P. Sergio and Julius Lacanilao will be held at the Nueva Ecija Regional Trial Court (RTC). Migrante International ardently yearns for the Supreme Court to uphold the right of Mary Jane Veloso to present her testimony via written deposition. 

As a victim of human trafficking, it is incumbent that Mary Jane Veloso be allowed to participate in the legal process as it is the only way for the judicial authoritities to accord her the chance to see that perpetrators are brought to justice. It is the major function of the criminal justice system to ensure that victims like Mary Jane Veloso obtain redress through judicial procedures. 

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PHOTO: (GMA News) Mary Jane’s mother Nanay Celia Veloso during a picket held before the gates of the Court of Appeals last year.

The country’s Anti-Trafficking Act adopted from the UN Protocol underscores a “victim-centred approach” to minimize retraumatization of victims. Languishing in prison for almost a decade, Mary Jane Veloso is currently being made to pay for a crime she did not commit. Worst, vital testimony against a big international drug trafficking syndicate remains unheard by entities in our very own criminal justice system following the Court of Appeals decision to deny Mary Jane Veloso of her appeal to testify against her traffickers in the only mode allowed by Indonesian authorities.

The plight of migrants wretched by government negligence and inaction is epitomized in the life of Mary Jane Veloso herself. May the Supreme Court rise to the occasion and bring deliverance to Mary Jane who walks through the valley of the shadow of death on a daily basis. She is still on death row and the time to save her life is now.

May her voice be heard as we amplify our struggle to uphold the rights of those who are forever condemned to neglect and oblivion. Migrante International calls on all Filipinos to gird on their armour in the battle to end the scourge of illegal trafficking. May justice prevail and we long for the day when Mary Jane Veloso will finally be reunited with her loved ones just as we long for a future where society will no longer be torn apart by the need to survive. 

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OFWs and Makabayan bloc file Supreme Court petition to stop mandatory SSS employer contribution from OFWs

NEWS RELEASE (27 August 2019)

OFWs and their families trooped to the Supreme Court on Tuesday, 27 August 2019 to lodge a legal petition to nullify the mandatory SSS exaction on OFWs under the Social Security Act of 2018. The petition filed was Certiorari and Prohibition with Prayer for Writ of Preliminary Injunction and/or Temporary Re-straining Order

Several OFWs are signatories on the petition including petitioners from Migrante International and Makabayan house representatives. Their petition sought to register their disapproval on requiring OFWs themselves to pay for employers’ contribution for the mandatory SSS in the absence of a bilateral agreement with the host country. 

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Respondents include SSS Chairman Carlos G. Dominguez III and Vice Chairman Aurora C. Ignacio. Other government agencies tagged as respondents are Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA), Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) and the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA).

In a belatedly convened public consultation by SSS on 3 May, Migrante International decried the absence of grassroots migrant organizations representing land-based OFWs during Senate deliberations for its draft version. It was signed into law as Republic Act No. 11199 by President Duterte on 7 February 2019. 

Bayan Muna Chairperson Neri Colmenares questioned the constitutionality of the mandatory SSS. He said, “we are here at the Supreme Court because this mandatory SSS exaction signed by President Duterte requiring OFWs to shoulder employer contributions in the absence of a bilateral agreement with the host country is unjust and unconstitutional.” 

Feliza Guy Benitez who worked for more than 20 years in Hong Kong was one of the petitioners. “By withholding their OECs (Overseas Employment Certificate) and not allowing them to be deployed if they don’t get to pay for their employer’s SSS contributions, we feel that OFWs will just be held as hostages by the Duterte government. It will be hard for us to be forced to pay for employer contributions that is why SSS coverage should remain voluntary and not mandatory,” Benitez asserted. 

According to Migrante Philippines Chairperson Arman Hernando, paying for both employee and employer contributions is burdensome for OFWs. “It is no secret that most OFWs are poorly paid. Many are even maltreated and get nothing at all. This is too much for OFWs to bear at a time when the prices of goods and services are soaring under Duterte’s watch,” Hernando lamented. 

Meanwhile, Filipino workers in Hongkong also conducted a picket action at the lobby of the Philippine Consulate led by Migrante International Chairperson Joanna Concepcion. She was joined by members of Gabriela Hongkong, Migrante Hongkong and Filipino Migrant Workers Union. 

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