Repatriated seafarers file cases at POEA for unpaid wages and benefits. Pushed for higher allocation for OFW assistance during DFA’s budget hearing at the House of Representatives

About a dozen seafarers trooped to POEA on Tuesday morning to file cases against their recruitment agencies for unpaid wages and benefits amounting up to more than 300 thousand pesos for every crew. Prior to their arrival back to the country on the 23rd of July, these distressed seafarers were stranded off China for months without compensation and regular access to food, water, and hygiene items. The seafarers were accompanied at POEA by volunteers and staff of the OFW advocacy group Migrante International. 

Following their case filing at POEA, the group then proceeded to the Batasan Complex in Quezon City where they were joined by other OFWs and advocates for a picket action. OFWs and seafarers raised their demands in time for the Department of Foreign Affairs’ budget hearing at the House of Representatives this afternoon. 

Jesus Gaboni pleaded on behalf of other stranded seafarers awaiting repatriation. “I am calling on DFA for the speedy repatriation of other stranded seafarers in Sri Lanka, Uruguay and elsewhere in South America; including our fellow seafarers in China inside the ship Ocean Star. Some of them are already drinking contaminated water just to survive. There are those who have already died and their remains need to be repatriated. We already experienced what they’re going through right now. We were starved, made to drink rusty water and were deprived of sleep. Our company did not support us during our ordeal,”  Gaboni exclaimed. 

His voice cracking with emotions, John Mark Tacata said, “0ur experiences inside the ship were horrible. We were treated like animals. They made us work for almost 20 hours daily without rest. How can we work efficiently with empty stomachs? Deprived of access to food, water and other supplies, we were really neglected. Our lives were not valued inside the ship…I hope we will finally be able to claim our unpaid wages and benefits which rightfully belong to us. We risked our lives  so I hope our cries won’t fall on deaf ears. We are considered heroes for contributing to the economy but we keep on getting neglected. I am angry because government officials are only good at promises. We demand that we be given our overdue compensation.”

Migrante International Chairperson Joanna Concepcion bewailed the little funding being allotted for assistance to overseas Filipinos. “Only Php 1.2 Billion was allotted for the Assistance to Nationals Fund and the Legal Assistance Fund for distressed OFWs. This is below 1% of DFA’s total budget. Our rights and welfare are not really valued. There are still thousands upon thousands of OFWs needing assistance and repatriation but how come that we are being told that the government is running out of funds when DFA is ranked 6th among government agencies with the highest income. It had an annual earning of Php 2.3 Billion. Why the minuscule budget for distressed OFWs? We demand that the budget for OFW repatriation be increased. Our stranded seafarers and OFWs need food, water and medical assistance. We don’t want public money to be pocketed by corrupt government officials. Even before the pandemic struck, they’ve been using public money to denigrate migrants’ rights advocates,” Concepcion stated. 

Filipino migrant communities have likewise been decrying about military junkets and red tagging seminars being held in many Philippine embassies and consulates overseas. Migrante and other progressive migrant serving groups are usual targets of the Duterte regime’s smear campaign. The Php 16 Billion budget proposal submitted by the Duterte regime for its National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF ELCAC) sparked public uproar for its 3,000 % increase at a time when there’s a public health emergency and big multitudes of stranded overseas Filipinos remain neglected and unrepatriated. 

More than 550,000 OFWs were displaced between February to May and this figure is expected to exceed 1 million between the remaining quarter of 2020 and the last half of 2021. Latest DFA report shows that 174 thousand OFWs have been repatriated so far out of the 420,000 from government estimates. Stranded OFWs continue to face hardships as they run out of the means to support their basic necessities. Included among distressed OFWs are hundreds of thousands of undocumented migrants as well as thousands of Filipinos who are still languishing in overseas jails. With the help of the Makabayan bloc, Migrante International vowed to press the DFA with its demands during the DFA budget hearing at the House of Representatives.