After positive test of 2019-nCoV infection on OFW sailor, Migrante International raises alarm on Duterte’s ineffective handling of public health emergency

With the confirmed report of an OFW seafarer as being the first Filipino to contract the dreaded 2019-Novel CoronaVirus, Migrante International is alarmed over the Duterte regime’s incompetence in handling the outbreak and the subsequent travel constraints which have now been causing a whole set of trouble to affected OFWs and Filipino travellers. This most recent case of 2019-nCoV infection on a Filipino seafarer illustrates that OFWs are more vulnerable to contracting the virus and that the Duterte government stands no chance in containing the outbreak under the current state of the country’s public health care and emergency response system. 

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PHOTO: RAPPLER.COM

About 25,000 OFWs are reportedly stranded and in danger of losing their jobs after the Duterte government imposed a travel ban preventing Filipinos from travelling to and fro from China including special administrative regions (SARs) like Hongkong and Macau. 

OFWs have already expressed fears of getting terminated from their jobs. The government’s reckless response after a period of denial has been causing frustration among Filipino permanent residents (from Macau and Hongkong) temporarily vacationing in the Philippines. It is now incumbent that health authorities look for ways to help them get reunited with their families. Estimates suggest that there could be about 20 thousand Filipinos that live and work in mainland China while more than a hundred thousand are in Hongkong and Macau. 

While Health Secretary Francisco Duque is in denial about the true state of the Philippine health care system, the Duterte regime halved the budget for the health department’s Epidemiology and Surveillance Program from P262.9 million in 2019 to only P115.5 million in 2020 according to economic think tank IBON. No wonder, about 20 countries have standing travel advisories on the Philippines with the reappearance of polio after 19 years. In addition, poor pay and government neglect continues to exacerbate brain drain among Filipino health care professionals.

No matter how much the Duterte regime denies its inefficient response to the 2019-nCoV onset and the poor state of health services in the Philippines, it cannot cover up the torrent of confusion and frustration among OFWs who are torn between staying precariously in the Philippines, fearing termination from their jobs or pursuing their deployment abroad at this time of crisis. 

At a time when addressing public health is of prime importance, the Duterte government preferred to prioritize Parlade’s military junket to Australia just to sow division and animosity among the Filipino community by discrediting progressive organizations like BAYAN and Migrante. Instead of sending out inutile government bootlickers and spin doctors who waste taxpayers’ money, the government should deploy humanitarian and rescue teams that would help OFWs seeking transfers to shelters or health facilities for quarantine and other services. 

Migrante International is likewise calling on the government to efficiently extend assistance to stranded Filipinos including those who require repatriation. We challenge the government to be honest and transparent in its measures by sharing informative data to the public and ensure advancement of prevention and awareness. Philippine overseas employment government bodies and health authorities should reach out to the infected Filipino seafarer and to his family. 

We are now appalled that Duterte’s previous racist and ludicrous remarks have now bred xenophobia, panic and misinformation. We call on the Filipino people in the Philippines and abroad to reject stigmatization and assert solidarity with the Chinese people at this time of crisis. Migrante International will continue to monitor developments on this public health issue and we will not allow the Duterte regime to exploit public fear to make life harder for OFWs and their families affected by the 2019-nCoV travel ban. 

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On the “peace briefing” by AFP Chief Parlade and NTF-ELCAC in Melbourne, Australia

Migrante Australia came out of the meeting organised by the newly opened Philippine Consulate General in Melbourne disgusted and deceived by the real intention of the community briefing.

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The Filipino community leaders and organisations became the captive audience of Major General Antonio Parlade Jr, the newly appointed chief of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Southern Luzon Command (Solcom) and who was previously the chief of staff for civil-military operations, J7. He was accompanied by 3 other AFP members.

The briefing was about the National Task Force to End Local Armed Conflict (NTF ELCAC) which – in its own words “aims to implement an efficient mechanism and structure for the whole-of nation approach to end the aspiration of the Filipino people to attain inclusive and sustainable peace”.

From Europe, the NTF has now come to Australia in its frantic attempt to discredit organisations that are exposing the issues and crimes of the Duterte regime. The NTF spread lies, attack critics of the Duterte government and red-tag organisations such as Migrante Australia and other civil society groups opposing Duterte’s anti-people policies and activities.

The invitation letter stated that the briefing will provide attendees, important updates on the peace initiative of the Philippine government under President Rodrigo Duterte. While it was a surprising effort, Migrante Australia nonetheless saw the importance of such an initiative especially as peace talks is a concern for every Filipino including migrant Filipinos who continue to be affected by the state of unpeace in the Philippines. Hence, its attendance to the briefing.

Once again, the “briefing” proves the Duterte government’s insincerity and lack of seriousness in tackling the issue of peace especially its root causes. If it was serious, the government should have not cancelled the peace talks with the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) and should refrain from its off and on “lets resume the talks” innuendos. The Filipino people has been longing for peace – and peace is not just about laying down arms – it is really about addressing genuine land reform and national industrialisation to create jobs so that Filipinos like us do not need to leave our families and seek employment abroad.

Diehard Duterte henchmen like General Parlade are not capable of engaging and holding a decent, factual conversation with any genuine freedom loving Filipino. The attitude they showed today at the briefing is exactly the same one they extended to Renato Reyes Jr, General Secretary of BAYAN (New Patriotic Alliance) at a forum in Melbourne on the 1st of February. These anti-peace mouthpieces of Duterte openly accused Migrante and its allied organisations as fronts of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and the New People’s Army (NPA) and as terrorists.

Parlade and his entourage of military coronels and majors are using public money that is meant to improve the lives of the people, to go around the world spreading lies and red-tagging community organisations critical of and voicing opposition to the Philippine government. In a time when financial resources are needed for victims of Taal Volcano eruption and for ensuring public health against the nCoV, here is the NTF wasting taxpayers’ money on red tagging junkets

Parlade in his presentation, treated the audience like they were stupid and ignorant who knew nothing about the situation in the Philippines. Several community leaders questioned Parlade and told him that members of Migrante and Gabriela and other organisations are not ignorant and will not standby and allow them to continue with their agenda to destroy the organisations that advocate and fight for migrants’ rights and welfare.

Migrante Australia has a track record of advocacy, welfare and support to Filipino migrants in Australia. They do all these with no compensation nor reward. Their members use their own time, resources and efforts in conducting welfare assistance, advocacy and campaign to better the conditions of migrants here especially the workers and students under temporary visas.

No amount of red tagging will stop Migrante Australia from defending the rights and welfare of Filipino migrants and fighting for a just and lasting peace in the Philippines, Australia and anywhere in the world where exploitation and oppression exist. ##

Veloso family, Migrante rejoice after Mary Jane’s recruiters adjudged guilty of large scale illegal recruitment

Justice, hardly fought for by the Veloso family, OFWs and supporters, has been won today. Migrante congratulates the Veloso family, the public prosecutors, NUPL, churches, advocates, organizations and the mass movement who struggled to make this monumental triumph possible. The guilty verdict on Mary Jane’s recruiters Maria Christina Sergio and Julius Lacanilao on a separate large scale illegal recruitment case filed in the Nueva Ecija Regional Trial Court shows the propensity of her recruiters to commit the abominable crime that brought her to the execution line. The outcome of this case shows her innocence and the justness of her desire to be free.

We now challenge the Duterte government to make use of this juncture to assert Mary Jane’s clemency.

We are calling on the innumerable people and groups who sided with Mary Jane until this day to continue the quest to #FreeMaryJaneVeloso.

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The complete file of the decision is available at the link below.

https://1drv.ms/b/s!AjW9HiQrETecdcAc9S-xmY2rjQw

Position Paper for the House Committee on Overseas Workers Affairs Meeting

January 21, 2020
House Committee on Overseas Workers Affairs Meeting
Migrante International Position Paper
Re: OFWs in the Middle East

Attention: Chairman of the Committee Raymond Mendoza and other Committee members

The dialogue today about the US-Iran political tensions and the recent death of OFW Jeanelyn Villavende should not be viewed and discussed as separate and distinct events but as related and key in developing a comprehensive analysis of the state of the Middle East and its impact on the millions of our OFWs in the region.

The Middle East is facing an unprecedented economic crisis. A crisis which has already brought detrimental consequences to the welfare and lives of our millions of Filipino migrant workers – both documented and undocumented- in the region. A crisis which has also produced another crisis – the widespread human rights abuses committed against our migrant Filipino workers.

The number and nature of the reported cases of various forms of abuse and exploitation and urgent pleas for help and assistance from our OFWs in the past three years documented by our organization alone reveal the perilous and insecure state facing our OFWs in the Middle East region.

Migrant Filipino Women
Unspeakable and horrific violence are facing our migrant women domestic workers in particular. They are harassed, abused, beaten, raped and killed in the most brutal and inhumane manner. Jeanelyn Villavende, who was killed by her employer in Kuwait and also recently found to be a victim of rape according to the autopsy conducted by the National Bureau of Investigation demonstrates this brutality. Many have requested to be rescued and repatriated but still remain at the hands of their abusive employer.

Countless of female distressed OFWs who are under the care of the Social Welfare Administration in Kingdom of Saudi Arabia have experienced labor and contract violations, physical abuse, unpaid and delayed salaries, working more than 8 hours without overtime pay, no vacation pay, attempted rape and molestation by their employers. Our migrant women are suffering from systematic gender-based violence and vulnerabilities with little to no protections afforded to them.

Deaths and Stranded OFWs
Our migrant workers are dying at an alarming rate—deaths that are due to disturbing patterns of abuse. According to OWWA, there have already been 400 of our OFWs who have died in Kuwait alone in the past three years. Notably, at least half of whom have died under questionable circumstances. Many grieving families and loved ones are seeking answers and justice, and yet find themselves losing hope. Moreover, there are about an estimate of 1,200-1,400 distressed OFWs who remain stranded in emergency shelters run by our Philippine embassies in the region, waiting for months even years to be repatriated back home. Majority of them have run away from their employers due to different forms of abuse and maltreatment. Majority are women.

US-Iran Conflict and Philippine Government response

The US-Iran conflict has brought about even more instability to our OFWs in the Middle East region and we are concerned about how our government has responded to protect the welfare of our OFWs.

First, the President’s declaration of siding with the US in the event that something happens to our OFWs completely disregards that it was the US who instigated the act of aggression towards Iran and places our OFWs in even more danger. Our country should not be involved in this war and we should promote peace in the Middle East region.

Second, by sending combatants – 8,000 soldiers- instead of humanitarian missions composed of teams of health workers, social workers, translators and diplomats who can provide a much more diverse array of services in times of political turmoil and crisis given their special skills — signals a message of readiness for war and not for a comprehensive response to protecting the welfare of our OFWs.

Third, by sending and tasking DENR Secretary Cimatu to lead the special envoy to the Middle East is an insult to OFWs given his past record of misusing evacuation funds during President Arroyo’s administration. It is no less than OWWA who reported that not a single OFW was evacuated during the time of the US-Iraq War.

Fourth, our OFWs and their families have not been informed of the details of the government’s evacuation and contingency plan. Where can OFWs seek safety before they will be evacuated?
Previous government response to wars in the Middle East – Libya and Syria – and challenges

In developing a comprehensive evacuation and contingency plan, it is important to take note of the challenges we faced during the time of war in Libya and Syria.

1. Not having the full accounting of all our OFWs in the Middle East region, especially our undocumented migrant workers who make up about 1/3 of the migrant workers in the region. We must know the exact location of all our OFWs in times of crisis and turmoil. What is the plan of the government to know where they are and how to contact them to communicate the emergency plans?
2. Only a small budget was allotted for the evacuation and there were few diplomatic staff to support millions of our workers. How will the government also ensure that the budget allotted for evacuation and contingency plans will truly be spent to serve the concrete needs of our OFWs and not to advance a US-led war?

3. Our OFWs in Syria were reporting that their employers will ask for a repatriation refund. Employers even raised this fee up to as much as $10,000 per worker. How will our workers be able to afford that? Will the government allot funds for that and where will it get the funds?

4. Many domestic helpers were left behind by their employers and many migrant workers could not leave the country without their employers issuing exit visas. If they run away, they will be vulnerable and placed in immigration jail. How can our government work towards negotiating with host countries for issuance of blanket clearance to ensure safe and efficient evacuation?

5. About 80% of the 1,800 OFWs repatriated from Syria were victims of human trafficking according to a report provided by the Inter-Agency Council Against Trafficking (IACAT). This is significant and alarming. How can our government ensure our OFWs who will be repatriated will not fall victim to human trafficking?

How should our Congress act and respond?

We recommend our members of Congress to:
1. Develop a comprehensive response and plan to the political and economic crisis in the Middle East in order to fully protect our OFWs
2. Consult with OFWs who have experienced previous wars in the Middle East and learn from their experiences and the weaknesses of government response
3. Conduct a full auditing of our OFWs in the region – especially our women and children
4. Immediately repatriate our distressed OFWs who are stranded in the emergency shelters of our embassies
5. Declare a position of neutrality and stand for peace in the Middle East region, not war.

 

Migrante International on the Global Day of Action against US imperialist aggression on Iran (25 January 2020)

Dropping more bombs and waging the most number of wars more than any global power, US imperialism is indeed the world’s number one terrorist. Wherever there’s wide-scale death, destruction and bloodshed, capitalist war freaks from the military industrial complex are thrilled over the heaps of money they are earning from these US-instigated wars. US terror has destroyed millions of lives in Libya, Syria, Iraq and Yemen for the sake of private profit as oil giants have long been salivating over Iran’s nationalized oil assets and rich gas reserves. 

The US threat of war against Iran further endangers the Middle East where about 2.4 Million Filipino migrants reside and work. Adding fuel to the fire is the Duterte regime’s outrageous enemy-tag on Iran and its pro-US default position at a time when even the big allies of the US are urging de-escalation and distancing themselves from this conflict. May we remind the Duterte regime that raising war as a national policy is not only unconstitutional but likewise reprehensible since it seeks harm against another sovereign country which has never exhibited any iota of animosity against our country.

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What’s even more ludicrous is that just after President Duterte pronounced his willingness to fall down and lick the feet of US imperialist interest, he’s now threatening to scrap the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) based on his lechery of serving as a travel agent for Bato dela Rosa — another buffoon whose major fixation in going to the US is to watch boxing matches. What if the US decides to reissue Bato’s visa? Will Duterte eat his own words? No matter how pompous his words are, we do not see Duterte fulfilling this threat for his fear of upsetting pro-US officials in the military. This only means that the Duterte regime has no interest in upholding Philippine sovereignty before its US imperialist master but is merely offering words of consolation to his troubled crony. 

The Duterte regime’s puppetry to US terrorist interest will not in any way benefit the Philippines. Instead, it will only imperil millions of Overseas Filipino Workers in the Middle East including Filipino seafarers who navigate the waters of the Persian Gulf. Worst, corrupt officials like Pabaon General Cimatu will make the most out of this conflict by putting his hands again on emergency funds intended for the welfare of Filipino workers who might need immediate evacuation should this crisis gets aggravated. 

Migrante International is one with all the peace-loving people of the world in detesting the US imperialist aggression and threats of war on Iran. We are one with the people of Iran in their desire to remain free from the clutches of US imperialist domination and preserve peace. Now is the time for action. Now is the time to assert for a just peace in the Middle East!   

No to US war on Iran!

End US occupation of Iraq!

US troops out now!

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“Militarization of evacuation mission to the Middle East detrimental to OFW safety” — Migrante International

With the Philippine government’s deployment of two battalions of military combatants to the Middle East, the Duterte regime is adding more fuel to the fire in an already conflict-ridden region. Their presence as foreign combatants sent by a warmongering president who holds a pro-US default position makes this military contingent a hostile force in the region and is therefore a menacing threat to the safety and security of OFWs. This only goes to show that the Duterte regime is apathetic to the welfare of Filipino migrants in the Middle East. If there is any genuine concern and sincerity on the part of the Philippine government for the imperiled OFWs, it should be sending social workers, health care professionals and translators instead of militarizing evacuation operations. 

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PHOTO from GMA News

Lest we forget that in 2003, it was none other than OWWA which confirmed that no evacuation took place at all during the US-Iraq War despite the release of US$293,500 to Cimatu. Instead, the budget allocation was used to purchase military assets and the troops sent were actually ordered to aid the US military in its terrorist war of aggression in Iraq. We fear that the evacuation fund allocated for this operation might once again be converted into a ‘war fund’ with Cimatu being tapped anew as mission envoy by the corrupt Duterte administration. 

Migrante International reiterates our ardent call and challenge to the Duterte regime to save OFWs in the Middle East and renounce the US imperialist war of aggression against the people of Iran. 

 

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Duterte’s enemy tag on Iran and appointment of Cimatu as MidEast envoy, pose dangers to OFWs — Migrante International

The Duterte regime’s tagging of the Iranian side as the ‘enemies’ and his default position of siding with the US terrorist aggressor points out to his apathy towards the welfare of OFWs in the region. He is neither capable of guarding his repulsive tongue nor of exercising prudence in this turbulent moment in history. By eating his own words thereafter and saying that he might still reconsider his neutrality, Duterte is implying that he is more than willing to allow the Philippines to become the US military’s launching pad against Iran. This then makes AFP a hostile force in the Middle East which is detrimental to its supposed task of evacuating Filipinos to safety. Worst, the Duterte regime should have realized that by putting OFW lives at stake for his pro-US default position, he has only turned Filipinos in Iraq and Iran into collateral pawns in favour of US aggression against the Iranian people. 

If this regime is really concerned about the situation of OFWs in the Middle East, then Duterte should make a clear stand of opposing US intervention in Iraq. He should have known that it was the US imperialist war freaks who started this strife by luring an Iranian general on an official diplomatic mission to attend de-escalation talks arranged by Trump which was later unveiled as a US-planned assassination operation. 

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PHOTO from GLOBALRESEARCH.CA: US-Saudi drops neutron bomb to impoverished outskirts of a city in Yemen.

The last thing imperiled OFWs need at this time is a thief sent by Malacañang in the person of Cimatu. Migrante International is appalled that the ‘Pabaon General’ is once again being tapped by the US-Duterte regime for evacuation coordination in the Middle East. May we remind the Duterte administration that it was none other than OWWA which confirmed back in 2003 that no evacuation took place at all during the early stages of the US-Iraq war.  The former Arroyo regime allocated US$293,500 to Cimatu’s massive evacuation operations in the Middle East but as it turned out, the funds were spent to deploy 51 Filipino soldiers and to purchase military equipment to aid the US military in its terrorist invasion of Iraq. 

Aside from Cimatu’s involvement in the Php 150 Million botched repatriation mission in Lebanon during the 2006 Israel-Hezbollah conflict, Cimatu was likewise one of the notorious ‘Pabaon Generals’ who were accused by former AFP budget officer Col. George Rabusa of receiving at least Php 50 Million send-off money from the former Arroyo regime. 

Notwithstanding the fact that he is assigned as Environment Secretary, the Duterte regime can’t simply get enough of him for his corruption skills and this only demonstrates Duterte’s insincerity in securing the safety and security of OFWs. We warn the Duterte regime that concerned Filipino migrants and their families will pay close attention to evacuation fund outflows to ensure that efficient and actual repatriation of affected OFWs occur and that not a single cent will end up in the pockets of corrupt government officials especially with Pabaon General Cimatu in charge. 

Cimatu is bound to fail on his supposed mission to rescue imperiled OFWs as his appointment was forwarded by US puppets and war hawks in AFP. Given his notorious record of corruption, his appointment as evacuation head is a slap in the face of migrants who are longing to return safely to their families. 

The Philippines has nothing to gain from Duterte’s warmongering and conspiring follies against the Iranian people. It is incumbent that the government focuses all its energy in saving Filipinos from emergent perils instead of having Duterte spout hostile wranglings against Iran. Migrante International strongly condemns the Duterte regime’s warmongering stance and puppetry to US imperialist interests at the expense of the safety and security of OFWs. Together with peace-loving Filipino migrants and their families, we say NO to the US terrorist wars of aggression. We pronounce PEACE and SOLIDARITY with the struggling Iranian and Iraqi people. 

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