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Neglected heroes

Posted by lenolea on December 19, 2008

On December 18, 1990, the United Nations General Assembly adopted resolution 45/158 or the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families.

The Convention establishes international standards of treatment to uphold basic human rights of migrants and their families. It also mandates State parties to give due regard not only to labor needs and resources, but also to the social, economic, cultural and other needs of migrant workers and members of their families.

The Philippines is one of the 39 countries that have so far ratified the UN agreement.

In her keynote speech during the 2nd Global Forum on Migration and Development (GFMD) here in Manila, October 29, Mrs. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo said, “We urge all countries which have not yet done so to ratify the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families.”

Arroyo told the representatives of the 163 countries attending the GFMD, “[W]e must embrace them [migrants] as human beings who contribute to our essential well-being in this age of vast movement and change.”

On December 5, Arroyo proved she has taken to heart all her words.

That day, retrenched overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) from Taiwan went to Malacañang, prodded by Labor Secretary Marianito Roque and Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) official Carmelita Dimson.

In a press conference days after the visit to Malacañang, Cristina de Borja, one of the retrenched OFWs recalled that day, “We were expecting to meet and talk with the President. But the President only came when the cameras started rolling…We want President Arroyo to tell us that the Philippine government would do everything in its power to enforce our valid contracts…But she did not speak to us at all. After the photo gimmick, she left without a word.”

The checks worth P50,000 handed over to four of OFWs’ representatives turned out to be a mere part of the gimmick. After members of the media have left, the OFWs were instructed to turn over the checks to the Technological Resource Center (TRC) and told they still have to apply for a livelihood program.

What the OFWs got that day was a bag presented as the ‘assistance package.’ The bag contained brochures of the Social Security System (SSS), PhilHealth, flyers from the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA) and referrals to the Philippine Overseas Employment Agency (POEA).

May Ruiz, another OFW from Taiwan lamented, “They call us modern-day heroes. But apparently modern-day heroes are just worth a bag full of papers.”

This particular incident is just a tip of the iceberg, so to speak. The deep concern of the Arroyo government toward the OFWs is evident in many other cases.

According to Migrante International, the largest global alliance of OFWs, there are 30 OFWs facing death penalty in different parts of the globe.

Five have already been executed in Saudi Arabia since 2001. They were Antonio Alvesa, Sergio Aldana, Miguel Fernandez, Wilfredo Bautista, Reynaldo Cortez and Jenifer Beduya.

In a report to Malacañang in 2007, the Office of the Undersecretary for Migrant Workers Affairs (OUMWA) of the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) boasted that 19 OFWs were ‘commuted through the efforts of the President, the Vice President and the DFA conducting high-level negotiations with the host governments.’

Said OFWs, though saved from death, were sentenced with ‘less severe punishment’ including lifetime imprisonment. Never mind if these OFWs have insisted their innocence or have decried torture to admit crimes they did not commit.

Thousands of stranded and detained OFWs mostly in the Middle East have also been complaining that the government has been sitting down on their cases.

Amid the cold treatment on the plight of OFWs, the Arroyo government continues to promote labor export policy.

Why not? The Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) recently said the country can continue to expect monthly dollar remittances of about $1 billion from OFWs. The bankrupt Philippine economy relies heavily on the blood and sweat of millions of OFWs in order to survive.

The government also earns around P2.92 billion a year from Filipinos seeking employment abroad, Migrante International revealed. Each of the 3,000 Filipinos leaving the country per day needs to shell out P17,665 for 76 documents required of them. OFWs are also charged with a 0.15 percent documentary stamp for every remittance transaction.

Is the Arroyo government treating OFWs as human beings?

The OFWs and their families have the answer.

Garry Martinez, chairperson of Migrante International said in a statement on the eve of the International Migrants Day, “We will do an al-Zeidi. We have already received a lot of suggestions that stilettos or Dutch wooden shoes would create more impact if thrown at President Gloria Arroyo. OFWs from the Middle East prefer safety shoes in construction sites since they have steel frame inside.”

Muntadhar al-Zeidi is the Iraqi reporter who hurled his shoes at US President George W. Bush during a press conference in Baghdad, Iraq.

OFWs in Hong Kong, Canada, Australia, Japan, Korea, Taiwan and the US also held protest actions, reminding Arroyo that they are human beings whose worth is far beyond the dollar remittances they send back home.

2 Responses to “Neglected heroes”

  1. krguda said

    Hi Len! Salamat sa paglink! Kaya lang lumang blog ko yung ni-link mo. Yung bago ko, eto: http://krguda.wordpress.com. Dito na ako since last year pa. Salamat! 😉

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