“OFW Bank” further institutionalizes bankrupt labor export program

Global alliance of overseas Filipinos Migrante International objects to the creation of an “overseas Filipino worker bank” (OFB), saying that it is geared towards “managing OFW remittances for the perpetuation of a long-bankrupt labor export program”.

President Duterte recently authorized the transfer of shares of the Philippine Postal Savings Bank (PPSB) to the Land Bank of the Philippines (LandBank) for its subsequent conversion into the OFB through Executive Order 44.

The creation of the OFB is in tune with the Duterte government’s economic thrust of “managing migration” as a “tool for development”, a neoliberal prescription that does not in any way address the root causes of forced migration nor even attempt to curb it in the policy-level. Its main objective is to “manage OFW remittances” to enable a more fast-tracked, sufficient and concentrated system of profiting from overseas Filipino workers’ (OFWs’) hard-earned incomes.

This in itself further institutionalizes the decades-long labor export program that continues to exploit OFWs’ cheap labor and remittances in accordance to neoliberal policies and dictates.

Previous administrations have been aggressive in crafting programs and services aimed at facilitating and encouraging forced migration. While acknowledging the many social costs and human rights violations, these are effectively downplayed by the hailing of OFW remittances. Instead, past administrations have unfailingly and resolutely promoted the labor export program as unequivocally beneficial to OFWs and their families. This is particularly done by overstating supposed development benefits for the economy and the income benefits of households.

Precisely, this is what the Duterte regime hopes to achieve anew through the creation of the OFB, to the detriment of our OFWs.

Instead of providing a comprehensive and genuine economic program that decisively deviates from a policy of labor export and focuses on creating domestic jobs to end the cycle of forced migration, Duterte’s economic compulsion is to keep exporting Filipinos to maintain or, especially, to increase, concentrate and manage remittances.

Further, the EO’s supposed vision to “provide OFWs with priority support for their growing financial needs” is plain braggadocio. Encouraging OFWs to embark on “microfinancing” will only bury them in greater debt to big banks and financial institutions, this time facilitated by the state itself. Meanwhile, enticing investments for so-called “microinsurance” may only be deemed as yet another state exaction scheme in which OFWs are encouraged to allot their earnings to premiums and contributions that will ultimately be useless to them. This has long been the case with the controversy-laden and corrupt-ridden OWWA funds.

Migrante International firmly stands on the position that, should there be “OFW banks”, these should ensure that OFWs’ hard-earned money are invested towards genuine rural development and national industrialization that will create jobs at home and end the vicious cycle of forced migration. Unfortunately, this thrust is hardly the case under the Duterte regime’s present economic agenda.

To address the problem of forced migration, the government’s economic policies should focus on developing national economy by advancing local industries, agriculture and basic services. It should depart from neoliberal policies which focus on increasing dependence on OFW remittances. Only then can OFWs look forward to a future in which they will not have to leave their families behind just to survive. ###

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SUMA 2017: A year of big talk, band-aids and business-as-usual for OFWs and families

State of Migrants, Prepared by Migrante International, June 30, 2017

President Rodrigo Duterte, for all his posturing and promises, has so far done nothing substantial to curb forced migration, something that he promised to make “optional and not a necessity” when he assumed office. Instead, what we have seen thus far is a rehash of the same neoliberal policy of labor export when it comes to peddling Filipinos’ cheap and docile labor to the global market.

 

Weak economy resulting in forced migration

Pres. Duterte’s earlier promise to end contractualization by yearend 2016 was widely welcomed even by OFWs because it brought hope of them coming home to decent-paying regular jobs. However, this promise is yet to be fulfilled. In light of the continuing crisis in the Middle East and looming mass deportations of undocumented migrants in the USA and Europe, OFWs are expected to return to the country only to be forcibly driven away again to seek jobs despite risky conditions abroad.

Independent think-tank IBON Foundation estimates that there are still 11.5 million Filipinos who are without work or still looking for more work because of the poor quality of jobs. There were 24.4 million citizens in low-paying and insecure work with little or no benefits in 2016. The most recent Department of Labor and Employment’s (DOLE) Order 174 has been exposed to even fortify the practice of contractualization rather than end it.

With the passage of DO 174-2017, packaged as the government’s solution to workers’ problems, contractualization is legalized, aggravating the already rampant problem of labor flexibilization, depressed wages, and, ultimately, more massive unemployment.

Widespread unemployment and contractualization are root causes of forced migration. Fewer Filipinos were jobless in the first quarter of 2017 compared to 2016, but Filipino optimism on job prospects went down as well, a Social Weather Stations (SWS) survey revealed. According to Trading Economics, a New York-based global economics research institute, unemployment rate in the Philippines rose to 6.6 percent in the first quarter of 2017, from 4.7 percent in the December quarter. This is the highest jobless rate since March 2015.

The gap between the rich and the poor has further widened, with the income of the top 1% of families equivalent to that of the bottom 30% of households (IBON). According to Forbes, 13 of the richest Filipinos made it to its top billionaires of the world in March 2017.

It is in this light that Migrante International fully supports workers’ demand for a P750 national minimum wage. A P750 national minimum wage can significantly reverse the migration of OFWs. If implemented, for every year, around 200,000 workers can opt to stay and contribute their labor and skills to nation-building while living decently with their families.

Based on Migrante’s study, OFWs who receive a basic salary of USD$400-500 per month would prefer to work in the Philippines instead because their income will be at par with the pay they receive abroad.

Data from the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) shows that since 2011 the country has been annually deploying at least 200,000 OFWs to job positions with salaries ranging from USD$400-500 per month. Majority are household service workers and general laborers in the Middle East who receive monthly salaries of USD$400 1,500 Saudi riyals, respectively. According to 2015 data from the PSA, these OFWs account for 33 percent of the total OFW deployment.

Meanwhile, OFWs are coming back home in droves not because they choose to but because of the effects of an ongoing global economic crisis in host countries. Hundreds of thousands of OFWs are being displaced and retrenched in Saudi Arabia and the Middle East. What awaits them in the event of their emergency return? Definitely there are not enough decent-paying domestic jobs available. What the Duterte government offers are mere dole-outs and band-aid solutions that are not long-term solutions to unemployment, low wages and lack of social services.

 

Intensification of labor export

The government’s response to the ongoing crisis in Saudi Arabia is testament to the continuing bankrupty of the Philippines’ labor export policy. Last July 2016, Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) Sec. Silvestre Bello III promised to resolve the issue of stranded OFWs in Saudi Arabia by yearend. Now, a year since, what has the government done so far in response to their plight?

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 (the 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 treacherous on the part of the government.

On one hand, while efforts of relief operations and on-site assistance 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 also been fragmented, with various agencies involved, particularly the DOLE and Department of Foregin Affairs (DFA), “one-upping” each other in terms of who played a command role in the government’s humanitarian mission to Saudi Arabia. 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 labor secretary had been reluctant to conduct a follow-up humanitarian mission after he first one in July.

Thus begging the question: Was the DOLE’s objective in the government’s humanitarian mission to Saudi Arabia 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 Saudi stranded crisis” by yearend 2016 was misleading 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 DO 174 and other deceiving, pro-capitalist and anti-labor policies that the DOLE has been advocating thus far.

Meanwhile, the crisis in Saudi and the Middle East continue 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 Duterte government, however, now appears to deem the Saudi crisis fait accompli, problem-solved, and therefore business-as-usual between the Philippine government and its biggest OFW labor importer.

Remittances from OFWs remain at record-high despite the global economic crisis, reaching a record-high USD$26.9 billion in 2016 and accounting for 10 percent of the country’s Domestic Product (GDP). However, although annual remittances increased, its growth rate has been decreasing in recent years. The continuing decrease in growth rate is a constant worry for the Philippine government. If the trend continues, as it is expected to, the governent will be in big trouble because it relies mainly on remittances for its foreign exchange revenues.

This explains the Duterte administration’s thrust to further to seek job markets abroad and intensify its labor export program. Through remittances, the government earns exponentially without having to shell out much capital investment. Even funds for labor export management through agencies sucha as the POEA or the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) are directly sourced from OFWs or recruitment agencies and employers through an assortment of fees.

Duterte, while mouthing local job generation as the government’s core program to eliminate forced migration, continues to hail the “bagong bayani” and their “contribution to the economy” to further promote labor export. To do this, he has become more aggressive and active in lobbying for job markets and signing of bilateral agreements with host countries in the past year though numerous state visits.

Aside from remittances, labor export also provides a tempting alternative to the unemployed and underemployed. Through it, the government insulates itself from its responsibility to create local regular jobs that offer decent wages. Instead, it becomes more convenient to evade genuine and strategic policy reforms to turn the economy around.

The  country’s  economic  situation  has  not  improved  under Duterte’s rehashed neoliberal economic policies. Duterte’s “10-point economic agenda” still relies heavily on foreign investment, debt and export-dependence, particularly the dependence on the export Filipinos’ cheap labor in exchange for remittances.

 

Foreign policy

With regard foreign policies and relations affecting our OFWs and Filipinos overseas, Duterte’s statement that he “will not lift a finger” to help the almost one million undocumented Filipino e/migrants in the US under threat of mass deportation due to US Pres. Trump’s anti-migrant program is very telling of his overall attitude and policy.

According to the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA), there are currently 3.4 million Filipinos in the US, second only to Saudi Arabia in terms of Filipino populace. Of the 3.4 million, close to one million are undocumented and vulnerable to Trump’s repressive crackdown.

It is the government’s duty to assist Filipinos abroad, regardless of their status. Do we turn our backs on them when they direly need the help of their government? Should any harm befall them in the US, Duterte will be to blame if he continues to tolerate and support Trump’s neo-fascism.

The Duterte government’s position calling on all undocumented Filipinos in the US to “just come home” is also a very insensitive stance. Like all other OFWs, they were forced to seek so-called better pastures in the US (or elsewhere in the world) due to widespread joblessness, contractualization and low wages, landlessness and lack of basic social services. Over the years, OFWs in conflict-ridden areas have opted to stay and risk their lives and welfare because they know that no jobs await them in the Philippines.

The plight of OFWs against racism, xenophobia, rights violations and fascism in host countries is also a very important agenda in the peace talks between the Philippine government and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines. Unfortunately, the Duterte government has withdrawn from the 5th round of formal negotiations.

 

Welfare and services

The economic compulsion for the government to keep exporting Filipinos to maintain or especially to increase remittances unfortunately overrides and precludes undertaking any measures that (i.e. OEC partial abolition, extension of passport validity, stopping of “tanim-bala” scheme, etc.), directly or indirectly, constrict the flow of migration – even if such measures would immediately prevent the incidence of abuses and migrant rights violations.

Indeed, there has been a growing clamor among (overseas Filipino workers) OFWs and their families for a “one-stop shop” that would cater to better services and  the protection and promotion of OFWs. This is mainly because the present “one-country-approach” being implemented by agencies tasked to provide direct services to OFWs, namely, the DFA, DOLE, OWWA and POEA, has been deemed dysfunctional, anti-migrant and inoperative.

Migrante therefore sees and appreciates the rationale behind Duterte’s proposal of establishing a “Department of OFWs (DOFW)” that seeks to systematize, consolidate and strengthen government efforts to protect our OFWs. This proposal in itself is already an initial critique of the performance of the above-mentioned government agencies over the years.

Migrante, however, forwards serious apprehensions on the basis of its assessment of the performances of existing agencies concerned with dealing with OFW services and welfare.

If a DOFW is to be established, it is imperative that the Duterte administration first thoroughly investigates how current concerned agencies, as well as existing laws and policies, benefited or failed our OFWs and their families. Duterte’s proposal to create a DOFW should not work to merely further institutionalize labor export, but instead address the decades-long clamor of OFWs and their families to put an end to it.

Filipinos are being forced to migrate because of desperation as a result out of the economy’s lack of development resulting in job loss, low wages and lack of livelihood at home. OFWs have borne witness to how insincere, insensitive and inept past governments have been in upholding and securing the protection and welfare of OFWs. The past four decades of Philippine labor export has showcased a more blatant and unapologetic policy that continues to exploit OFWs’ cheap labor and foreign remittances in accordance to neoliberal interests and dictates.

Migrante can only be compelled to support the formation of a DOFW if, and only if, it would work towards the eventual irrelevance of such a department and instead strive for a society in which families do not need to be torn apart just to survive.

 

Prospects

Unless Pres. Duterte makes good his promise to address the root causes of forced migration, it will be a never-ending and chronic cycle for OFWs and their families. If Duterte sincerely wants our OFWs to come back home, we need more regular jobs, higher wages and pro-labor policies, not a labor export policy that has long gone bankrupt.

To genuinely address the problem of forced migration, economic policies should focus on developing the national economy by advancing local industries, agriculture and basic services.

Migrante International fully supports the call and struggle for national industrialization and genuine land reform as the ultimate solution to the problem of forced migration. ###

 

20 years after Flor Contemplacion’s death, more women OFWs abused, exploited and enslaved under Aquino’s term

flor @ 20 iconOn International Women’s Day, Migrante International gives tribute to all Filipina migrant workers who continue to fight against abuses and exploitation, and stand in solidarity with them in the struggle against forced migration and modern-day slavery being espoused by the Aquino administration’s more aggressive labor export policy.

Under the administration of Pres. Aquino, more women overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) have been forced to migrate and leave their families. An estimated 6,092 Filipinos leave the country daily (IBON Foundation, 2015 data) – among them, mothers, sisters, aunts, nieces, grandparents who were forced to face dire straits and uncertain conditions abroad due to widespread joblessness, landlessness and dismal social services here in the country. This figure is an increase of 50% percent from 4,030 OFWs a day in 2010, when Aquino took office. To date, women OFWs make up more than half (55%) of the stock estimate of OFWs, outnumbering male OFWs especially in the service sector (Center for Filipinos Overseas, 2012).

Women OFWs face very specific vulnerabilities because they are women – sexual discrimination and other gender-specific abuses, exploitation and violence in the sorts of work they tend to predominate. This is especially the case when women OFWs migrate for work that is in line with their traditionally-defined reproductive roles in society (i.e. domestic workers, nurses, caregivers, etc.).

According to Migrante’s annual databank (2013-2014), more women OFWs faced all sorts of hardships and exploitation during the past year. Of the 174 cases of repatriation handled and facilitated by Migrante’s Rights and Welfare Assistance Program (RWAP), 138 are women. Majority of them were physically, verbally and emotionally abused, overworked, underpaid and suffered work-related violations.

Of the 104 cases referred by Migrante to the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) from 2013 to 2014, 88 cases involved women OFWs who were illegally dismissed or terminated or were victimized by abusive recruiters and employers. 45 out of the 60 cases endorsed by Migrante in that same period to the National Labor Relations Commission, meanwhile, (NLRC) involved women OFWs.

For January to February 2015 alone, Migrante’s RWAP has already handled at least 50 cases of violence against women (VAW) OFWs, ranging from physical assault, sexual harassment, attempted rape, rape, sex trafficking to verbal abuse and emotional torture.

The current onslaught of the global economic crisis also further intensifies abuses and violations faced by women OFWs. The worsening crisis makes them more vulnerable to trafficking, criminalization of irregular or undocumented migrants, and drives them to tolerate more abuses in the workplace. The worsening crisis under the Aquino regime conceives for them more desperate conditions, locally and abroad.

Under the Aquino administration, the number of trafficked OFWs, mostly women, has reached a staggering 1.3 million, according to 2012 data by the Commission on Filipinos Overseas. Many of them migrated to work through legal means but were later coerced into exploitative conditions, drug trade or white slavery.

Unfortunately, the Aquino government lacks the political will and competence to fully address these cases. Twenty years after the execution of Flor Contemplacion, many others like her have come after. Many abused, exploited and maltreated women OFWs are yet to attain justice, with government support and assistance generally lacking. Twenty years after Flor Contemplacion’s death, many women migrant workers have organized themselves to continue to organize in efforts to confront the struggles and challenges of their plight.

Today, marching with us are modern-day Flor Contemplacions, courageous women OFWs from different parts of the world and their families who braved their plight and survived. They continue to call for justice. They realize that forced migration and modern-day slavery can only ever be stopped on a day when our citizens will no longer be forced to face dire and dangerous conditions overseas out of desperation, poverty and hopelessness. They unite with other women and sectors of society in calling for the removal of Aquino from office. Migrante marches with them in solidarity with the women’s struggle for freedom and national democracy. This International Women’s Day, we salute and honor them and other women OFWs around the world.

Twenty years after the death of Flor Contemplacion, Filipino migrants and their families are once again roused into collective action and determination to exercise their democratic right to bring about regime and system change. Migrante International is part of NOW! (Noynoy Out Now!), a broad multisectoral formation calling for Aquino’s resignation and the formation of a People’s Council to replace him. On March 17, the 20th death anniversary of Flor Contemplacion, Migrante and its chapters and affiliates worldwide will be holding a “Global Day of Action for Aquino’s Resignation”. ###

 

Thank you, Pope Francis, for acknowledging gov’t neglect of OFWs – Migrante

pope migGlobal alliance of overseas Filipinos expressed tremendous gratitude to Pope Francis for acknowledging the real plight of overseas Filipinos workers (OFWs) and their families.

In his speech delivered in Malacanang, Pope Francis made mention of OFWs and the Filipino diaspora. The Pope said that he “cannot fail to mention” the OFWs “who are often neglected and whose contributions to society are not fully appreciated”. The Holy Father also said that the Filipino diaspora is “helping the life, culture and religious heritage” of other countries.

“Thank you very much, Pope Francis, for hearing our cries! Thank you for speaking in behalf of the 15 million overseas Filipinos all over the world who are being neglected, abused and exploited and abandoned by the Aquino government. Filipinos all over the world are overjoyed and empowered to further fight for our rights and to struggle for genuine social justice so that our common endeavors may be realized,” said Garry Martinez, Migrante International chairperson.

Martinez also noted the Pope’s mention of “families being destroyed.”

“One of the main reasons of Filipino families being torn apart is the phenomenon of forced migration. Our OFWs are separated from their families because of desperation and the need to survive. Pope Francis, who hailed from a family of migrants, knows this by heart. We agree with the Pope that what we should strive for is a ‘society of authentic justice, solidarity and peace’, something that is very far from what we have now which is a society of corruption, greed and conflict under the Aquino administration,” Martinez said.

The migrant leader said that he hopes the Pope’s statement will “open new doors and networks among churches and their brethren for the promotion and protection of the rights of Filipino migrants and their families around the world”.

Lastly, Martinez called on all OFWs and families to continue to organize, unite and struggle for social justice and revolutionary reforms. “The Pope himself said, ‘Dear migrants and refugees! You have a special place in the heart of the Church… Do not lose your faith and hope!’. For us, this should translate to the message that, despite and in spite of all our sufferings and torments, the people united shall never be defeated.” ###

SUMA-Total: Filipinos around the world want BS Aquino out (Summing-Up of the State of Migrants Under Aquino 2014)

marching banner no more BS

Prepared by Migrante International, July 2014

After four years of corruption, mendacity, puppetry, oppression and human rights violations, Pres. Benigno Simeon Aquino III (BS Aquino) has once again roused the Filipino people into collective action and determination to exercise their democratic power to bring about regime change as mounting calls for his ouster continue to gain strength around the country and all over the world.

The ever-worsening socio-economic conditions of the Filipino people underscore the urgent need to struggle and work for the ouster of the BS Aquino regime. By putting forward the demands for genuine land reform, higher wages, employment, sufficient social services, lower prices, justice and other democratic demands, Filipinos around the world can effectively expose and oppose BS Aquino’s claims of “tuwid na daan” and “economic miracle”.  

Chronic crisis: BS Aquino’s perpetuation of a backward, pre-industrial economy belies “economic growth”

26 years of bogus land reform

65 years old na ako. Araw-araw nagbubungkal pa rin ako para sa pagkain (I am 65 years old. I still till the land everyday for food),” said Nanay Leoning, a farmer from Brgy. Mapalacsiao, Hacienda Luisita, Tarlac. Her small parcel of land in the hacienda is currently under dispute following the distribution of Certificate of Land Ownership Awards (CLOAs) by the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) to farmworker-beneficiaries under the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP).

Last year, Nanay Leoning’s small parcel of land was raffled off and awarded to another farmer-beneficiary as part of the DAR’s implementation of the landmark 2012 Supreme Court decision ordering the distribution of 4,500 hectares of land to 6,296 farmworker-beneficiaries in Hacienda Luisita. “Mas masahol pa sa sabong ang ginagawa nila sa amin. Nangako sila ng pamamahagi ng lupa pero kami-kami ang pinag-aaway nila dahil sa iskemang ito’. (What they’re doing to us is worse than a cock fight. They promised to give us land but this distribution scheme is dividing us and turning us against each other).” Nanay Leoning, like countless farmers and farmworkers in Hacienda Luisita and other vast farmlands in the country, is testament to the failure of the Philippine government’s land reform program.

CARP, or Republic Act 6657, was passed in 1988 by former Pres. Corazon Aquino as the centerpiece of her administration’s professed social justice legislative agenda. It was initially effective for 10 years and was extended for another 10. By its deadline in 2008, some 1.2 million hectares of agricultural lands remained undistributed to farmers. It was further extended through RA 9700, more popularly known as CARP with Reforms (CARPER), when Pres. Benigno BS Aquino III took office in 2010. CARPER is set to expire on June 30, 2014.

According to DAR, from 1987 to June 2009, CARP had covered 2,321,064 hectares of private agricultural lands and 1,727,054 hectares of non-private agricultural lands, or 4,048,118 hectares all in all distributed to 2,396,857 beneficiaries. For 2002 to 2013, it said, it had already issued 67,577 notices of coverage (NOCs) for 628,745 hectares for compulsory acquisition. An NOC mandatorily places an agricultural landholding under the CARP.

Further, the DAR said that, under CARPER, it had distributed 196,055 hectares of private agricultural lands and 209,151 hectares of non-private agricultural lands from July 2009 to December 2012, awarded to 210,586 beneficiaries. The DAR said that it is geared to distribute 5,635 NOCs covering 48,344 hectares by the June 30, 2014 deadline.

According to a study by think-tank Ibon Foundation, however, land reform and distribution in the Philippines had been on a steady decline since 1972, when then Pres. Ferdinand Marcos passed Presidential Decree No. 27 that created the DAR. During that time, fully-owned lands accounted for 63 % of total agricultural farmlands. By 2002, the number had decreased to around 50 %. The Annual Poverty Indicators Survey (APIS) of 2002 also reported that only 11 % of families who owned lands other than residential properties obtained their land ownership through CARP.

In terms of post-Marcos regimes, the BS Aquino administration is now at the helm of implementing the longest-running, and most spurious, agrarian reform program in the world – 26 years since the implementation of CARP and 41 years since Marcos’ PD No. 27. It comes as no surprise that despite protests and declaration from farmers that CARP had failed them, a haciendero president like BS Aquino is still now advancing the passage of yet another law extending the effectivity of the CARPER.

Pres. BS Aquino had already certified as urgent for the next Congress House Bill 4296 that seeks to extend CARPER until 2016.According to data from the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas, almost 95 % of the estimated 900 million hectares of land covered by CARPER has not yet been distributed to farmers as of the second half of 2013. Seventy-five % (75%) of these lands comprise of haciendas and hacienda-type farms located in 25 provinces in the country. DAR Sec. Virgilio delos Reyes himself admitted that at least 500,000 hectares with NOCs will remain undistributed by the June 30, 2014 deadline.

The most controversial land up for distribution is the Aquino-Cojuangco-owned Hacienda Luisita.

From 1988 to 2004, CARP allowed the implementation of a sneaky circumvention of land distribution in Hacienda Luisita through the Stock Distribution Option (SDO). The SDO declared Luisita farm-workers as “stockholders”, in effect re-concentrating the lands up for distribution back to the hands and ownership of the Aquino-Cojuangcos. Through the SDO, the Aquino-Cojuangcos were able to re-organize Hacienda Luisita into a corporation, and in lieu of subjecting its lands to distribution, ownership of the agricultural portions of the hacienda were transferred to the corporation; and stock shares, instead of land, were distributed to Luisita farm-workers. The unjust SDO was met with militant protests by the farm-workers resulting in the violent dispersal of the strike of farm-workers, now infamously known as the Hacienda Luisita Massacre, that killed seven strikers on November 16, 2004. Several other peasant leaders, activists and advocates also became victims of harassment and extra-judicial killings in the succeeding years.

Moreover, because CARP gives absolute premium to the right of landlords to so-called “just compensation”, the BS Aquino government had graciously disbursed a generous sum of Php471.5 million to the Aquino-Cojuangcos for the 4,500-hectare supposedly distributed lands. This, even before any minimal land transfer to the tenant-beneficiaries could be completed.

The Aquino-Cojuangcos have cleverly maneuvered to exempt Hacienda Luisita from land acquisition and distribution over the years. Their most recent scheme was carried out on more than 350 hectares of agricultural land being disputed by Luisita farm-workers and the Tarlac Development Corporation (TADECO), the Luisita estate administrator . The BS Aquino-Cojuangcos cunningly declared that the said lands are not covered by CARP because they have been classified as a “residential area” in 1985 by the Tarlac City Council. Last December 2013, the DAR issued an NOC subjecting said lands for distribution. TADECO, however, disregarded the NOC and has since been employing all sorts of attacks intended to expel farmers who have been tilling the area since 2005 – bulldozing and setting fire to kubols (nipa huts), crops and even houses set up by farm-workers asserting their right to the land. The DAR, for its part, could not do anything and has ironically cited principles of the CARP in defense of TADECO, stipulating that NOCs do not necessarily mean automatic land acquisition and distribution.

Now, after 26 years, CARP remains a failure, an insult to farmers and a bogus land reform scheme. The extensions it had been given, including the CARPER, underlines its bankruptcy. Hacienda Luisita is not an isolated case but rather a prototype of the very antithesis of land reform. A similar “tambiolo system” is being implemented in Hacienda Dolores in Pampanga; Hacienda Looc in Batangas is being land-grabbed by business tycoon Henry Sy and Fil-Estate Lands; Haciendas Arloc and Ilimnan are being claimed by the governor of Negros Occidental. Likewise, farmers in these haciendas are holders and beneficiaries of CLOAs but they are still currently engaged in intense land disputes and struggles.

These land struggles intensified under the BS Aquino regime despite statements by DAR and Malacanang that claim otherwise. The fact is CARP’s failure is rooted in its very orientation. It is not about free land distribution, which is the core program of any genuine land reform. It is not pro-farmer because it gives primacy to landlord compensation by the state whilst requiring farmer-beneficiaries to pay for the very land that they have been tilling for generations. What it is, fundamentally, is an agreement and connivance between the government, landlords and big corporations, with the government successfully acting as comprador.

And CARP, CARPER or any so-called land reform especially under BS Aquino’s haciendero presidency is nothing but “promised” land to tillers, and a smokescreen for land-grabbing, land conversion, corruption and social injustice in favor of the “kamag-anak, kaklase at kabarilan”.

25 years of labor contractualization

In 1989, the Labor Code was amended to institutionalize and legitimize labor contractualization, or the hiring of workers for short-term, non-regular employment. The amended Labor Code is tantamount to the deprivation of benefits and privileges accorded by law to regular workers, and the practice of labor contractualization has ran rampant among business and industrial enterprises in the country since.

Labor contractualization, combined with the ever-worsening state of unemployment, has been plaguing workers, especially so under the present BS Aquino administration. In his past State of the Nation Addresses (SONAs), BS Aquino attempted to downplay the jobs crisis by claiming lower unemployment rates (1.4 million jobs created in 2011 and 3.1 million jobs created in 2012). However, he failed to mention that the jobs created were either short-term, contractual or highly disproportional to the ever-growing labor force.

By 2012, the growing number of job loss in growing sectors belied any attempts to face-lift the figures. On the third quarter of 2012, wholesale and retail recorded 728,000 job losses, real estate 45,000 job losses, financial and insurance 15,000 job losses and agriculture 694,200 job losses (IBON).

To cover-up the record-high jobs crisis in the first quarter of 2013, Malacanang placed a very unbelievable Labor Force Survey data of a mere 7.2 % – a very huge discrepancy from figures released by the National Statistics Office (NSO), Social Weather Stations (SWS) and other economic surveys. Presidential Spokesperson Edwin Lacierda even cited that the peak in unemployment in the first quarter of 2013 was a result of an “employment bonanza” during the Christmas season when “seasonal jobs” were on the rise.

On the other hand, those who do land domestic jobs still suffer very low wages. Since 2001, the gap between the mandated minimum wage and the family living wage (FLW) in the National Capital Region (NCR) had considerably widened. In 2001, the minimum wage was 52 % of the FLW. By March 2013, the P456 NCR minimum wage is only 44 % of the P1,034 FLW. Worsening joblessness feeds on already chronically low wages, with the current minimum wage grossly inadequate to sustain even the most humble of families. Family incomes are not keeping up with the inflation. By the end of 2012, the average family in NCR lived on P22 to P37 a day (IBON data).

Minimum Wage Family living wage Wage gap
2001 P265 P509 P244
2014 P456 P1200 P744

Source: IBON Foundation, estimates on data from National Wages and Productivity Commission

Labor contractualization has succeeded in further depressing wages and repressing the rights of workers to strike and form unions. It has spawned union-busting schemes among industries beleaguered by labor disputes, much to the advantage of big local capitalists and foreign-owned corporations.

Presently engaged in struggle for a significant wage hike and against labor contractualization and union-busting are workers of the NXP Semiconductors Cabuyao, Incorporated (NXPSCI).

NXPSCI, formerly Philips, is a subsidiary of NXP Semiconductors, one of the top semiconductor manufacturers in the world, operating in 25 countries. In the Philippines, it has 5,000 workers, of which 1,600 are regulars and 1,700 are contractuals, the rest are supervisors. Located in Light Industry and Science Park 1 (LISP 1) in Cabuyao, Laguna, one of the country’s special economic zones under the jurisdiction of the Philippine Economic Zone Authority (PEZA), it is one of the biggest semiconductor manufacturers in the country. It produces microchips and is a supplier of well-known brands Apple, Bosch, Continental, Delphi, Huawei, Panasonic, Samsung, among others.

The NXP workers are demanding an 8% increase in wages (Php 80), but the management is offering a mere 3.5% hike (Php 25). They are also demanding that contractual workers, some of whom have been working in the company for more than two years, be regularized. The management’s refusal to enter into a CBA and unfair labor practices brought on series of protest actions by the workers in the form of taking leave from work on four official holidays: April 9 Araw ng Kagitingan (Day of Valor), April 17 Maundy Thursday, April 19 Black Saturday, and May 1 International Labor Day.

In response, the NXP Management fired 24 union leaders and issued an “explanation slip” threatening to dismiss 1,700 contractual workers. Condemning the illegal dismissals and harassment of workers, the NXPSCI Workers’ Union assert that their leave from work are within bounds of their right to take holidays and have since launched “silent protests” in their workplaces to demand the reinstatement of their union leaders. The NXP Management, in turn, is now threatening to dismiss all regular workers. The real reason, the union stresses, more than the protest actions, the company has long been gearing to transform all its workers into contractuals and is now utilizing the labor dispute to commence its massive retrenchment of workers. The NXP management has been hastening the training of contractuals since the labor dispute erupted.

Interestingly, even former Sen. Ernesto Herrera, main author of the 1989 Labor Code, has endorsed a bill filed in Congress seeking an end to labor contractualization. House Bill 4396, authored by Gabriela Women’s Partylist Reps. Luz Ilagan and Emmi de Jesus, is a revised version of an earlier bill filed by the late Rep. Crispin Beltran and former Reps. Satur Ocampo and Liza Maza. Salient points of the bill include a clause preventing employers from terminating workers without just cause, the setting up of a six-month probationary period for contractual workers to become regularized, and the repeal of Articles 106-109 in the Labor Code which gives license to the Labor Secretary to authorize so-called “flexibilization” of labor under the guise of “increasing efficiency and streamlining operations”. Indeed, Articles 106-109 of the Labor Code institutionalize labor contractualization as a state policy.

According to labor group Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU), the case of the NXP workers “is not just the violation of workers’ rights but the government’s collusion with big capitalists as shown in its inaction on labor disputes. The government is standing idly by as violations of trade-union rights continue to be committed”. The Center for Trade Union and Human Rights (CTUHR), for its part, slammed the unjust dismissal of the NXP union leaders, saying that it is a “deliberate move to weaken union organizing in export processing zones”.

The BS Aquino administration’s anti-worker and pro-capitalist government and its continued and more rabid subservience to neoliberal policies will surely bring forth a more aggressive policy of labor contractualization – and, in effect, worsened wage depression and “cheap labor policy” in favor of big local businesses and foreign-owned corporations. Under the BS Aquino administration, union-busting schemes were also employed in Carina Apparel Inc. and Hoya Glass Philippines, resulting in the retrenchment of 3,600 workers in February and 2,600 workers in April, respectively.

For four years, BS Aquino has consistently rejected demands for a significant wage hike and has instead implemented so-called non-wage benefits which come from workers’ taxes and premium contributions. It has taken great advantage of chronic unemployment to coerce workers into accepting starvation wages and slave-like conditions in the workplace, contractualization and union rights violations.

Weakened economy, intensified chronic crisis aggravate forced migration

The problem lies in the BS Aquino government’s perpetuation of a semi-feudal semi-colonial economy through its refusal to implement genuine land reform and national industrialization to generate decent employment. The country’s economic situation has not improved under BS Aquino’s policies. Development policies, including the Philippine Development Plan (2011-2016), continue to rely heavily on foreign investment, export-import dependence, debt and the so-called free market. BS Aquino’s essential economic thrust is clear-cut: strict adherence to policies of neoliberal globalization, implement these more thoroughly and systematically through his Private-Public Partnership (PPP), and more recently, through a proposal for a charter change.

This explains why a more intensified and aggressive labor export policy has been further entrenched in the BS Aquino administration.Through remittances from overseas Filipino workers (OFWs), the government earns exponentially without having to shell out much capital investment.

Top 10 OFW remittance-sending countries

Country 2008 2009 2010 2011
United States 7,825,607 7,323,661 7,862,207 3,232,073
Canada 1,308,692 1,900,963 2,022,611 830,863
Saudi Arabia 1,387,120 1,470,571 1,544,343 616,193
United Kingdom 776,354 859,612 888,959 382,347
Japan 575,181 773,561 882,996 381,192
UAE 621,232 644,822 775,237 307,964
Singapore 523,951 649,943 734,131 317,786
Italy 678,539 521,297 550,515 242,411
Germany 304,644 433,488 448,204 194,475
Hong Kong 406,134 339,552 362,524 148,873

(Source: Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas)

The BS Aquino administration, while mouthing local job generation as its core program to eliminate unemployment, continues to hail the “remittance boom” to further promote labor export. To do this, it has become more aggressive in lobbying for job markets abroad in the past four years. Even funds for labor outmigration management through agencies such as the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration and the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) are directly sourced from OFWs or recruitment agencies and employers through various fees.

However, the so-called remittance boom does not necessarily translate to economic growth, nor does it automatically translate to higher investments or economic relief for families of OFWs – factors that are supposed to have contributed greatly to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth.

The latest survey of the BSP’s Consumer Expectations Survey conducted on the second quarter of 2013 showed that the increase of households in the higher-income group with savings was overshadowed by the decline in savings among households in the low- and middle-income groups. Of the total number of 5,884 number of households, 525 respondents in the survey were remittance-dependent families. Of this number, 95.4% said that remittances from their relatives abroad were spent mainly for food, 67% for education, 54.9% for medical expenses, and 42.1% for debt payments. The percentage of remittance-dependent families that used remittances for savings fell significantly, from 42.5% to 39.4% during the first quarter of 2013.

The latest BSP report also showed that OFW households that allotted part of their remittances for investments such as the purchase of real estate and other real properties suffered a steep drop compared to previous years. Savings, if any, were prioritized for emergency, education and hospitalization.

With the continuous spates of onerous price hikes of basic utilities, tuition fee increases and privatization of services and hospitals, and in the wake of the devastation brought by supertyphoon Yolanda and other calamities, this figure is expected to further decline in the coming years. Further, although annual OFW remittances increased amid the global economic crisis, its growth rate has been decreasing in recent years. From a 25% record growth in 2005, it dropped to a lowest 5.6% in 2009, a year after the global economic erupted. In the US where 50% of remittances originate, the growth rate had decreased from 7.8 % in 2008 to 7.3% in 2009. It had a slight increase to 7.9% in 2010 but has been suffering a steady decline since the US debt crisis ensued.

Trend in Remittances (Source: POEA, BSP)

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The continuing decrease in growth rate of remittances is a constant worry for the Aquino government. If the trend continues, the government will be in big trouble because it relies mainly on remittances for foreign exchange revenues.

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Source: Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas

Relationship of Remittances to Other Philippine External Income (Source: BSP, ADB, WORLD BANK, DOT, INQ7)

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Policy-wise, there are no indications that BS Aquino would instill much-needed reforms to curb forced migration and deviate from a policy of labor export. If anything, the Philippine economy’s dependence on labor outmigration and remittances has become unparalleled under the BS Aquino administration.

Anatomy of Forced Migration: The case of trafficked Filipino teachers to the US A group of teachers victimized by an elaborate trafficking scheme today launched a manhunt for their trafficker after he was released from detention following the dismissal of a case against him by the Makati Regional Trial Court.

GURO, or “Grupo ng mga Gurong Umuusig kay Rodriguez”, bewailed the Makati RTC’s release order for trafficker Isidro L. Rodriguez, dated April 14, on grounds that the first batch of teachers who filed an estafa and illegal recruitment in large scale against him failed to appear as witnesses in court.

GURO represents at least 200 teachers who were victimized by Rodriguez. Rodriguez, through his agency Renaissance Staffing Support Center (formerly Great Provider Service Exporters, which is licensed by the Philippines Overseas Employment Administration), was able to dupe hundreds of teachers by offering them fictitious jobs in the United States. Rodriguez was able to collect an average of P500,000 from each of his victims. He recruited teachers in batches, with each batch consisting of about 10 to 15victims. Migrante International is currently aware of at least 20 batches in the Philippines and some 70 teachers in the US who have filed cases against him.

Some of the teachers were able to leave the country, only to realize that no jobs awaited them in the US. The US-based teachers have already filed human trafficking cases against Rodriguez in the US and some have been granted T-Visas (trafficked visas) by US courts. Meanwhile,majority of the teachers remain in the country and only learned about Rodriguez’ treachery when he was arrested last November 2013. The Philippine-based teachers have filed case upon case of estafa and illegal recruitment in large scale against Rodriguez et al, while three batches have already filed trafficking in persons cases against him. GURO questioned the Makati RTC’s dismissal of the first case, “People of the Philippines versus Isidro L.Rodriguez, docketed criminal case nos. 13-2830 to 13-2834”. They learned that the first batch of teacher-complainants came into settlement with Rodriguez. While this may be true and is very unfortunate, there is no logic and justice behind the release order when the Makati RTC, the PNP-CIDG and the Department of Justice are fully aware that there are numerous other pending cases against Rodriguez. Also, under the amended Migrant Workers’ Act (Republic Act 10022), since Rodriguez was arrested via entrapment, investigators and his arrestors can act as witnesses against him in the absence of witnesses.

Rodriguez remains at large to date. He was expected to appear at previous hearings of the trafficking cases against him but failed to attend.

The specifics of each case vary slightly, but all follow a disturbingly similar trajectory: A licensed recruitment agency like Great Provider and Renaissance will recruit and process applications from potential victims. The local agency will affiliate itself with a foreign agency in the US, usually also controlled or founded by the local agency’s owner. It will introduce itself as having connections with employers, or in this case, schools, in Washington, DC or other states in the US.

The local agency will ensure that it appears, for all intents and purposes, legitimate. It will open an online advertisement and will strive to maintain its good standing status in the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA). Should anyone complain, causing the cancellation of its license, the owner or the same people who founded the agency will be able to get another license from the POEA by registering another agency with a different name.

In transacting with the applicants, the agency will ensure that they pay an initial deposit, usually the biggest amount that they will be asked to pay in the whole application process. They will call this the “processing fee”, in the case of the teachers amounting to USD$6,500. This will be the “point of no return” for the applicants. They will not be able to easily retract their applications because they already invested a huge amount of money – acquired through debts with onerous interest rates.

To evade suspicion and preempt protests, the agency will give the applicants false hope by staging a detailed and comprehensive application process – seminars, updates with the US embassy, meetings with “employers”, and if needed, “deploy” a handful of applicants toleave the country. Through these, the applicants will continue to be at the agency’s mercy and the modus operandi is maintained. The victims are left with no choice but to shell out more money to fulfill all “requirements”, and the agency retains its good standing status at the POEA. In other words, the agency’s illegal processes are “legalized”.

A modus operandi as intricate and sophisticated as this cannot be made possible if Rodriguez is not in cahoots with agencies such as the POEA, US Embassy, the Bureau of Immigration, among others, as well as connections with paralegal services in the US.

Most of the teachers victimized by Rodriguez are teachers from public or small private schools. While they do have job security and regular incomes, they still chose to apply for teaching jobs abroad even if it meant going into debts or mortgaging their meager properties. Why?

According to the Alliance of Concerned Teachers (ACT), a licensed teacher receives only Php18,549 in salary every month. This amount is a far cry from the monthly allowance, for example, of a high school cadet in the Philippine Military Academy who receives Php21,709 a month.

According to a study by Ibon Foundation, Php1,054 or Php31,620 per month is needed to fulfill the Family Living Wage (FLW) in the National Capital Region (NCR). The teachers’ salaries are certainly not enough to fulfill their families’ monthly needs.

Meanwhile, for fiscal year 2014, BS Aquino enjoys Php1.1 trillion in presidential pork while only Php3.2 billion is allotted to fund teachers’ proposed 75% salary increase for salary grade Teacher 1.

In search of jobs, higher wages and livelihood, the number of OFWs has increased significantly since BS Aquino took office. By 2012, at least one-fourth of the country’s labor force has gone abroad to find work. According to the Labor Department, there are now 12 million OFWs abroad. Migrante International pegs the number of overseas Filipinos between 12 to 15 million, to include undocumented OFWs. The International Organization for Migration (IOM) still places the Philippines as the fourth leading migrant-sending country in the world, next only to China, Mexico and India. According to data from the POEA, 1.5 million Filipinos were deployed abroad on the start of BS Aquino’s term in 2010. This figure is 50,000 or 3.4 % higher than the deployment rate in 2009. POEA-OFWDeployment2008-2012

Source: POEA

Under the BS Aquino administration, the number of OFWs leaving the country increased from 2,500 daily in 2010 to 4,884 in 2013. In 2013, the BS Aquino government has breached the two million mark in deployment of OFWs for a year, the highest record in history.

Corruption and dirty politics in “daang matuwid”

Patronage politics and cronyism are basic characteristics of a semi-colonial semi-feudal order – practices that BS Aquino have promoted, protected and benefited from despite his posturing of “good governance” and “tuwid na daan”.

The use of political power and privilege for personal gain or political favors for the “kamag-anak, kaklase, kabarilan” remains rampant under the BS Aquino regime. His anti-corruption rhetoric now rings hollow amid obvious attempts by the government at cover-ups and whitewash involving the pork barrel scam. What has become more clear now is that, a year since the disclosure of the pork barrel scam, corruption and dirty politics continue under the BS Aquino administration.

The pork barrel scam has evolved into a more complex web of lies, deceit and exploitation of the Filipino people, with BS Aquino and his allies in full control. The pork barrel is still present in the 2014 budget, only this time concentrated within and controlled by the Executive branch. The government’s selective prosecution of political foes, while protecting the likes of administration allies Sec. Abad and Sec. Alcala, whose names appeared in the notorious “Napolist”, has caused widespread doubt and skepticism among the public of the BS Aquino government’s sincerity and political will to punish all plunderers.

Since BS Aquino took office in 2010, allocation for the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) increased exponentially. The biggest chunk of this allocation went to the presidential pork. According to a study by the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ), 57% of the national budget went to discretionary special purpose funds, unprogrammed funds and lump-sum funds under the presidential pork.

For the 2014 fiscal year, in the Php2.6 trillion national budget, Php1 trillion in unprogrammed and lump-sum funds again went to the presidential pork. Former National Treasurer Leonor Briones broke down the Php1-trillion presidential pork into the following: (1) SPFsBudgetary support to state-owned corporations; Allocations to local government units; Calamity fund; Contingent fund; DepEd school building program; E-government fund; International commitments fund; Miscellaneous personnel benefits fund; Pension and gratuity fund; PDAF; at, Feasibility studies fund. (2) Unprogrammed fundsBudgetary support to government-owned and controlled corporations; Support to foreign-assisted projects; General fund adjustments; Support for infra projects and social programs; AFP modernization program; Debt management program; Risk management program; and, People’s survivial fund. These are all under the complete discretion of the president and do not have to undergo scrutiny by the Commission on Audit (COA). The trillion-peso presidential pork is on top of the funds allotted for the Office of the President in the General Appropriations Act, amounting to Php2.8 trillion for 2014.

In 2010, BS Aquino gave the biggest pork barrel to congressmen, senators and local government units who delivered the biggest votes for him and his allies in the previous elections. They also enjoyed the largest funds for their Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program, or the conditional cash transfer, ballooning its budget to Php23 billion in 2011 despite proposals to junk the program due to allegations of corruption. During BS Aquino’s first two years as president, large sums of pork allocation, now revealed as the Malacanang-concocted Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP), were given as bonuses to solons who voted to impeach former Supreme Court Justice Renato Corona.

BS Aquino has favored his cronies, allies, big businesses and the ruling elite in the awarding of infrastracture contracts under the Public-Private Partnership Program. The most lucrative PPP contracts were awarded to his biggest contributors in the 2010 presidential elections – among them, Danding Cojuangco, Henry Sy, Manuel Pangilinan, the Ayalas and other big businesses. Even rehabilitation and reconstruction efforts in the wake of supertyphoon Yolanda were also awarded to these same beneficiaries. Such PPP negotiations were allegedly brokered by his sisters and closest allies – as in the cases of Ballsy Aquino’s involvement in the purchase of new trains for the MRT-3 project, and Executive Sec. Paquito Ochoa’s hand in the awarding of huge infrastrature contracts to his brother-in-law Jojo Acuzar of the New San Jose Builders.

Despite these, BS Aquino signed Administrative Order 31, calling on all government heads and agencies to “rationalize the rates of their fees and charges, increasing their rates and impose new fees and charges”. He has incessantly raised taxes and imposed state exactions while his administration’s tax policies are heavily tilted to favor big business. According to IBON, at least 40% of the top 100 companies in the Philippines are not included in the Bureau of Internal Revenue’s top 500 corporate taxpayers, while foreign corporations, including oil and mining companies, are among the biggest beneficiaries of tax exemptions.

The BS Aquino administration’s blatant plunder of public funds is an unforgivable crime against the people considering the continuous decline in the quality of social services.

This is especially scandalous for OFWs who have been getting a share of less than one % (1%) of aggregate funds in the national budget since 2010. Each OFW only gets roughly Php260 per capita spending per fiscal year. Since 2010, the BS Aquino government has slashed funds for direct services to OFWs, and passed on the burden to OFWs through various fees and collections.

A study by Migrante International estimated that since 2010 the BS Aquino government has been collecting an average of at least Php26,267 from every OFW processed by the POEA. This amount was higher than the average Php18,000 the government collected before 2010.

With the recent increases in the Philhealth premium, NBI clearance fees, e-passport fees, barangay clearance fees, and the mandatory contributions to Pag-Ibig, OWWA and mandatory insurance, among other requirements, the average cost for every OFW for the processing of their Overseas Employment Certificates (OECs) has reached an estimated Php31,000. If 4,884 OFWs leave daily to work abroad, the government now earns an average of Php146.5 million a day from processing fees and other costs shouldered by OFWs, even before they leave the country.

Aside from the hike in costs of requirements for the OEC, other fees and tax schemes being imposed on OFWs include the affidavit of support (AOS) in UAE, Macau and some parts of Europe and the discriminatory P75 Comelec certificate of registration, other onerous fees specifically charged to seafarers and entertainers, and House Bill 3576 dubbed as the “forced remittance bill”.

Ironically, the further institutionalization of state exactions and tax impositions has not translated to improved welfare services for OFWs in distress. Unresolved cases of OFWs continue to pile up at the POEA, National Labor Relations Commission (NLRC), OWWA and the DFA. OFWs are plagued with an assortment of issues and problems throughout the entire migration cycle yet the BS Aquino government has barely done any decisive action to support and protect migrant workers and their families. The BS Aquino government’s ability to uphold Filipino migrants’ rights and promote their welfare has lagged behind its apparent success in money-making schemes.

Fees charged to OFWs for the Overseas Employment Contract (OEC)
Basic document requirements P12,000 (approximate)
E-passport (minimum) P1,200
OWWA fee (USD $25) P1,100
POEA fee (for new hires) P7,500
Pag-ibig mandatory premium contribution P600
Mandatory insurance coverage (minimum premium USD $144) P6,336
Philhealth premium P2,400
TOTAL P31,136

Source: Migrante International estimates, 2014

State exactions have caused OFWs and their families to become debt-ridden, contributing greatly to the widespread landlessness and poverty of many. It is not unheard of for peasant families to mortgage or sell their small parcels of land or to submit their children to unpaid labor just to be able to pay debtors or produce the sum needed to pay for exorbitant pre-departure and placement fees. The continuous onslaught of state exactions on OFWs, combined with the BS Aquino government’s lack of welfare service and assistance to OFWs in distress and the overall economic conditions of OFWs and their families amid widespread corruption and criminal neglect of the government are enough reasons for Filipino migrants to call for BS Aquino to step down from office.

EDCA and Cha-cha: Unparalleled surrender of sovereignty and plunder of patrimony

BS Aquino’s remorseless subservience to US-imposed policies and dictates has totally stripped the country of its sovereignty and independence, and has further endangered the lives of millions of OFWs around the world.

The BS Aquino administration’s recent signing into the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) and its underhanded tactics to implement charter change (cha-cha) are paving the way for US re-occupation and re-colonization of the Philippines. History is testament to how US military occupation and domination over national industries and lands have undermined national patrimony and sovereignty.

Under the EDCA, a much bigger, uninhibited and unlimited number of US troops and their armaments are allowed to be stationed on Philippine soil. US troops can now easily set up base virtually anywhere in the country for an indefinite period of time. Needless to say, US military presence in the Philippines has never been more strongly established than under BS Aquino’s presidency.

The EDCA is much worse than the return of the former US bases in Clark and Subic that were expelled from Philippine soil after the historic rejection of the Philippine Senate of the bases agreement in 1991. It in fact multiplies US military presence beyond the 1947 Military Bases Agreement. Under the EDCA, US troops are allowed to “preposition and store military equipment inside Philippine military bases”; and, to exercise “operational control” over airfields, ports, public roads and other “agreed locations”, including those used for civilan purposes. It will convert Philippine military bases into US bases and, worse, will turn the entire country into one huge US facility.

Since he took office, BS Aquino has dangled the “China bogey” to justify military and defense decisions it has made. The EDCA is supposed to “modernize” the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and, thus, increase its chances of defending the country against China’s incursions. However, nowhere in the EDCA does it state that US troops are required to come to the AFP’s aid should any attack take place. Even US Pres. Barrack Obama was not able to give a categorical response when asked by Philippine media during his state visit this year. Critics argue that then, as now, there is no imminent threat of a China invasion. And even if the threats were genuine, the Philippines should be able to assert its sovereignty from territorial threats on its own terms, instead of allowing itself to become a battleground of US proxy wars in light of the US military pivot to the Asia Pacific.

The US government’s continued vested interest in the Middle East-North Africa (MENA) region, for instance, is cause for unending conflicts in the said countries – imperiling the lives and welfare of tens of thousands of OFWs in the region.

The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) recently again raised the crisis alert in Libya and Iraq to Alert Levels 3 and 4, respectively, or mandatory and voluntary repatriation for OFWs. Alert Levels 3 and 4 also mean the imposition of a total deployment ban of OFWs to Iraq and Libya.

The Philippine government first enforced a total ban to Iraq in 2003, during the Gulf War. In 2004, Iraqi insurgents fighting the US-led overthrow of Saddam Hussein kidnapped OFW Angelo dela Cruz and condemned then Pres. Gloria Arroyo’s support for the US. In 2011, the total ban was partially lifted to allow the deploymen of OFWs particularly in US military bases. Another total ban was imposed in 2012, and it was only last year that the total ban was lifted, allowing the processing of job orders from Iraq. There are currently approximately 10,000 OFWs in Iraq.

Dela Cruz had said then that the conflict in Iraq will not simply end because what the Iraqis want is for US troops to leave. The situation is still the same now. Since the overthrow of Hussein and the installation of a US-backed government, violence in Iraq has erupted time and again. For as long as the US government refuses to leave Iraq to fend for its own, conflict in the region will not end. The most recent crisis in Iraq is yet another civil war waiting to happen, with the US goverment at its helm.

Pres. Obama had already hinted of a possible military action targeting Iraq. Presently, the US aircraft carrier USS George H.W. Bush and its strike groups have been spotted in the Arabian Sea, presumably waiting to act on Obama’s orders on Iraq. Meanwhile, Libya, where an estimated 13,122 OFWs are located, has largely remained in conflict. At the height of the Libya civil war in 2011, the US government was accused of funding terrorists to sow violence and conflict in the country. Libya’s Gadhafi was a staunch anti-imperialist leader who was outspoken about his objection to US policies.

Like before, OFWs in crisis-riddled countries – Iraq, Libya, Syria, Kuwat, Afghanistan – are caught between the devil and the turbulent sea. They left despite risks posed in working in these countries because of worsening domestic unemployment. And like before, a number of them will surely opt to stay because no jobs await them should they decide to return. OFWs continue to be placed in precarious conditions in these countries due to US interventionist wars to protect its vested interests, and the BS Aquino administration’s dogged support for the US continue to place them in dangerous situations.

The Aquino government’s railroading of cha-cha, on the other hand, will allow 100% foreign ownership and control of lands, businesses, industries and resources and will make Filipinos squatters in their own homeland.

Cha-cha will also pave the way for the signing of the US-PH Transpacific Partnership in trade which will further aggravate forced migration and the labor export policy. It will mean a more systematic and no-holds-barred privatization, deregularization and denationalization of the country’s resources, lands and industries which will result in massive unemployment, wage depression, landlessness and dismal social services.

Once again, the BS Aquino administration’s recourse will again be to further seek job markets abroad and intensify its labor export policy at the expense of the rights and welfare of OFWs. The labor export policy is nothing but a big business venture, which cha-cha will allow without restriction or obstruction, from which both the US and PH governments profit, with OFWs as milking cows.

Oplan Bayanihan: Anti-peace, anti-development

The BS Aquino administration has a habit of labelling its policies with blatant misnomers, and its “peace and development” program is no exception.

In 2011, the regime, through the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), claimed to have fashioned a counter-insurgency program that is focused on “winning the peace, not just defeating the enemy”. Oplan Bayanihan, which will run until the end of BS Aquino’s term in 2016, is said to prioritize on non-combat strategies. Unlike its predecessors Oplan Bantay Laya 1 and 2, which drew the ire and condemnation of human rights groups and the internatonal community for numerous gross human rights violations, the AFP promises to operate under the premise of protecting human rights and respecting international humanitarian laws.

Oplan Bayanihan is patterned after the Unites States’ Counter-Insurgency Guide of 2009 (US COIN Guide 2009). It supposedly banks mainly on two strategies: the “whole of nation approach” and “people-centered approach”. As such, Oplan Bayanihan involves a so-called multi-stakeholder approach that would include various stakeholders in the promotion of “peace and development”, namely, government agencies, the AFP, civil society organization and the general Filipino public – with the aim to end insurgency through civic-military operations, social services, relief and rehabilitation efforts and the like.

Fast forward to 2014. The AFP is now tangled in a web of its own lies and broken promises when it declared that the Oplan Bayanihan is still focusing on “triad operations” to combat insurgency. Triad operations involve the employment of a combination of combat and non-combat operations that are far from being “people-centered”. Non-combat and intelligence operations mainly serve to fortify military intelligence and intensify militarization of civilian communities.

Oplan Bayanihan turned out to be no different from, and is actually worse than, Oplan Bantay Laya 1 and 2. Under ostensible “peace and security operations”, the AFP uses it to deceive the masses, vilify revolutionary movements as well progressive and activist organizations, increase the mobilization of civilian entities for counter-insurgency and intelligence networks, and deodorize the AFP’s image.

The BS Aquino administration aimed to project Oplan Bayanihan as pro-peace and pro-people progam but has failed miserably. Human rights group KARAPATAN records 192 victims of extrajudicial killings (EJKs) since BS Aquino took office, 21 of whom were victimized in the first quarter of 2014 alone. Most of the victims were farmers and indigenous peoples who fought for their land, environmental protection from big mining companies and foreign corporations, and those who denounced human rights violations by state perpetrators.

Recently, more than 1,300 Manobos were forcibly evacuated from their communities in Talaingod, Davao del Norte after a series of indiscrimintate aerial bombings, firings and other rights violations by the 68th Infrantry Battalion, 60th IB PA of the 1003rd Brigade and the 4th Special Forces of the AFP since March 3, 2014. In the whole of Mindanao, Oplan Bayanihan’s direct detrimental effect is the deployment of five divisions, or an estimated 60%, of AFP forces. According to the AFP, their concentration in Mindanao, particularly in the Davao region, is aimed at annihilating strongholds of the New People’s Army (NPA), the armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP). As a result, towns and villages where the AFP are situated suffer the most number of human rights violations by the government’s military and para-military forces.

What is happening now in Talaingod and the massive militarization of countrysides underline the urgent need for the BS Aquino government to resume peace talks with the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP), something that the Philippine government has unfortunately blatantly abandoned. Countless human rights violations show the BS Aquino administration’s utter disregard for previously signed agreements such as the Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees (JASIG) and the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (CARHRIHL), among others. The recent arrest of Benito Tiamzon and Wilma Austria, senior leaders of the CPP and NDFP peace consultants, is another testament to the BS Aquino government’s contempt and insincerity in working for a just and lasting peace. For the BS Aquino government, capitulation and ceasefire are preconditions to peace talks.

The “peace deal” between the Aquino government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), for instance, gives much emphasis on”decommissioning”, or the surrendering of arms of the MILF. Article No. 5 of the GPH-MILF Framework Agreement on normalization states, “The MILF shall undertake a graduated program for decommissioning of its forces so that they are put beyond use”. This, while the BS Aquino government continues to circumvent key issues in the “peace deal” that are instrumental in addressing the root causes of the centuries-old Bangsamoro conflict.

The stalled GPH-NDFP peace negotiations, on the other hand, should by now have tabled the second substantive agenda in the peace talks – socio-economic reforms addressing the root causes of the communist insurgency. BS Aquino’s low prioritization of the peace talks with the NDFP is yet another indication of its unwillingness to go beyond rhetorics, propaganda and psywar. In essence, the regime’s “peace and development” agenda is nothing but a program for pacification and a cover-up of the actual fundamental problems of a semi-feudal semi-colonial system. Its main objective is to crush armed revolution and other movements struggling against anti-national, anti-masses and anti-democratic rule. All that Oplan Bayanihan is offering are superficial solutions that do nothing to address the historical and real problems of landlessness, lack of social services, poverty, oppression and injustice.

To achieve a just and lasting peace, the BS Aquino government should take up the core issues of rebellion and armed conflicts. It should focus on genuine land reform, decent wages, social justice and the right to self-determination. Without these, the deteriorating socio-economic and political conditions in the country will further fuel the people’s resistance and unrest.  

Oust the US-BS Aquino regime!

BS Aquino should be made accountable for his anti-people and pro-imperialist regime that continues to perpetuate and worsen the chronic crisis of the semi-feudal semi-colonial economy. His subservience to imperialist dictates to the extent of allowing 100% foreign ownership of lands and industries and the re-occupation of US military troops in the country should be vehemently opposed and fought.

BS Aquino’s cacique presidency and patronage leadership make him responsible for massive corruption in government in favor of big businesses and political cronies amid widespread poverty and hunger. He is primarily accountable for the government’s criminal neglect of millions of Filipino people who suffered from calamities and catastrophies.

BS Aquino should be made accountable for the continuous rising costs of health care, education and other social services as a result of privatization and deregulation. He should be denounced for imposing labor contractualization and a wage-freeze policy amid price hikes and various state exactions and tax impositions. As an haciendero president, he can never be expected to implement genuine land reform but will instead continue to condone land-grabbing, land transformation and the plunder of the environment and natural resources.

BS Aquino should be condemned for widespread human rights abuses and attacks on civil liberties in the use of militarization against the people. His is a fascist government hiding behind rhetorics for so-called “peace and development”.

These are the reasons why Filipino im/migrants and their families want BS Aquino out. They do not want him to remain until 2016. They know that BS Aquino has the capacity and gall to exploit his power over various government agencies and sectors in society for his political expediency and to escape accountability. Filipinos around the world are now resolved more than ever to work more vigorously to compel him to resign, have him impeached or ousted from power. Migrante International fully supports the establishment of a transition council that will hold BS Aquino responsible for all his crimes against the Filipino people. A transition council borne out of a broad mass movement that can facilitate clean and honest elections for regime change.

History has proven twice that the Filipino people can succeed in effecting regime change: in overthrowing the fascist Marcos dictatorship in 1986 and ousting the corrupt Estrada regime in 2001. History has also proven the significant role of the Filipino migrant sector all over the world in successfully exposing and opposing puppet, corrupt and fascist presidents. By bringing to the fore the demands and plight of OFWs compelled by dire situations in the country to leave their families in order to work abroad; by fighting for their rights abroad and struggling against modern-day slavery, exploitation, discrimination and oppression; by exposing and opposing government neglect and abandonment of OFWs in distress; and, by arousing, organizing and mobilizing Filipinos all over the world to unite and fight, Filipinos all over the world, comprising of more than 10% of the population and situated in more than 100 countries, are a potent political force for the ouster of the US-BS Aquino regime – and, ultimately, for the struggle for national democracy.

The Filipino migrant sector’s struggle is not isolated from the struggle of other sectors in society. The problems of the Filipino migrant sector are deeply rooted in the fundamental problems of Philippine society. Its struggle for dignity, rights and welfare, against government neglect and against forced migration play a very important role in the struggle for genuine freedom and national democracy. The only solution to the problems of the Filipino migrant sector is genuine social change so that families would not have be separated and broken apart in order to survive.

To genuinely address the problem of forced migration, economic policies should focus on developing the national economy by advancing local industries, agriculture and basic services. Migrante International fully supports the call and struggle for national industrialization and genuine land reform as the ultimate solution to the problem of forced migration and to end the labor export program. ###