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2008: A Year of Confronting Attacks, Coping with Gov’t Neglect for Filipino Migrants

Posted by lenolea on January 5, 2009

The year 2008 is replete with different forms of attacks against overseas Filipino workers (OFWs). The year is also marked by the continuing struggle of today’s modern-day heroes not only for their rights and welfare but also against government policies affecting the majority of the Filipino people.

BY RONALYN V. OLEA

YEAREND REPORT – MIGRANTS

Bulatlat

The year 2008 is replete with different forms of attacks against overseas Filipino workers (OFWs). The year is also marked by the continuing struggle of today’s modern-day heroes not only for their rights and welfare but also against government policies affecting the majority of the Filipino people.

Death row

Another overseas Filipino worker was executed in 2008, bringing the number of OFWs executed since 2001 to six.

Venancio Ladion, alias Jennifer Bidoya, 27, was executed in Saudi Arabia in October for the alleged murder of a Saudi national in 2005.

The five other OFWs executed were all from Saudi Arabia. They were Antonio Alvesa, Sergio Aldana, Miguel Fernandez, Wilfredo Bautista and Reynaldo Cortez.

Migrante International, the largest alliance of OFWs said that Bidoya did not receive legal assistance, and was only provided an interpreter and not a lawyer during the early stages of the trial. The group further revealed that Mrs. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo merely sent a letter to the Saudi king to appeal for Bidoya’s commutation.

News of Bidoya’s execution came days before the hosting of the Arroyo government of the 2nd Global Forum on Migration and Development (GFMD).

According to Migrante International, there are 30 OFWs facing death penalty in different countries, mostly in the Middle East. Among them are Gonzales brothers Rolando and Edison and Eduardo Arcilla, Cecilia Armia-Alcaraz, Rodelio ‘Dondon’ Lanuza, among others.

Mysterious deaths

The number of mysterious deaths has also risen. Most of these OFWs allegedly committed suicide but their bodies bore signs of maltreatment and torture. Among of them were Eugenia Baja and Evelyn Milo.

The Migrante International chapter in the United Arab Emirates (Migrante-UAE) has expressed alarm over the rise in mysterious deaths of OFWs. The group cited the cases of Roderick Miranda, Norayda Ayuman, Jeffrey Alberto So, Mitos Vergara, Remedios Waayan and Myrna Baylosis.

The United Filipinos in Hongkong (UNFIL-MIGRANTE-HK) also raised questions on the real cause of death of domestic helper Vicenta Flores who was found dead April 11.

Detention, deportation

John Leonard Monterona, regional coordinator of Migrante Middle East, said that aside from the 16 distressed OFWs in Saudi Arabia, there are still 139 OFWs in different Filipino Resource Centers in the Middle East. Another 163 distressed OFWs are in Kuwait.

The Migrante International cited the case of 25 OFWs languishing at Salmiya jail in Kuwait. The said OFWs are all female and mostly work as domestic helpers. Migrante said the Filipina workers ran away from their abusive employers and were later arrested by the police for absconding.

The group identified them as Eva Ilagan, Jonalyn Hechanova, Josie Calicdan, Elena Tamparia, Florifel Francisco, Rosalinda Hasim, Rahima Castillo, Evelyn Sale, Annie Rose Guzman, Elizabeth Guinto, Leonora Quintero, Noriam Abdulmama, Erlinda Pena, Janet Yago, Janet Cabatu, Arolin Calma, Vivian Velziz, Roselyn Balanion, Ma. Elena Ancillas, Dely Talandang, Sorayna Timpoluc, Analeah Amil, Wilijada Damasina, and Canora Paloma.

Garry Martinez, chairperson of Migrante International, lamented that Philippine embassy officials failed to support the 25 OFWs and have not even visited them at all.

The group said that about 3,000 OFWs were stranded in Kish Island in Iran. They were denied entry to the United Arab Emirates.

Thousands of Filipino deportees from Sabah, Malaysia suffered inhumane treatment, a fact-finding mission in October 2008 revealed.

There are more than half a million Filipino migrant workers in Sabah. In August 2002, there were 8,838 refugees from Sabah. In 2005, 30,000 undocumented workers and refugees were deported. As of October 2008, there were 35,000 Sabah deportees and the number was expected to increase to 200,000 by the end of the year, the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) in Zamboanga City said.

Lay offs

The global economic crisis has been taking its toll on OFWs.

In Taiwan, 1,083 workers have been laid off as of November 2008.

The Hope Workers Center (HWC), a migrant NGO in Taiwan, reported that 781 have been terminated in Taoyuan alone.

Worse, the laid off OFWs from Taiwan did not get support from the Arroyo government.

The Arroyo government has announced it will deploy OFWs in the Middle East. However, the Migrante chapter in UAE said OFWs have also been laid off there. The group reported that about 500 workers were fired by the Nakeel company and 200 workers terminated by DAMAC-2 company, both are construction companies. Another 100 OFWs will be laid off from work in Abu Dhabi, said Migrante.

Gov’t neglect, anti-migrant policies

Filipino migrant groups have decried continuing government neglect.

The Migrante International cited the case of seven Filipino welders who were forced to beg for food in Qatar in order to survive.

Willy Catian, a 39, one of the seven OFWs, slammed Philippine Overseas Labor Officer (POLO) Hector Cruz for failing to help them when they asked for an Arabic interpreter to assist them in their labor case. The OFWs filed a complaint against their employer who retrenched them in October 2008.

Catian said Cruz told him, “I don’t care if you win the case or not, what is important is that I can work for your immediate deportation.”

As of press time, the DFA said the seven workers won their case against their employer.

Another classic example of abandonment is the case of Hazel, a Filipina who was raped by American soldier Sgt. Ronald Edward Hopstock Jr. of 1st Battalion, 1st Air Defense Artillery Regiment in a hotel in Okinawa, February 18, 2007.

In a mission to Okinawa, the Gabriela Women’s Party found out that Hazel was not provided with a lawyer during the investigation of the rape case filed at the Naha District Public Prosecutor’s Office. No Philippine government representative attended Hazel’s hearings. The rape case was subsequently dismissed.

OFWs also had to contend with what they call as anti-migrant policies of the Arroyo government.

The Migrante International decried as stupid the proposed mandatory psychiatric test for domestic helpers. It also opposed the proposed mandatory AIDS test for OFWs.

The group has also called for the scrapping of fees imposed by the Philippine government to OFWs, particularly the 0.15-percent documentary stamp tax.

Continuing struggle, challenges

OFWs fought back through zero-remittance days. The Migrante International marked International Women’s Day and Mrs. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s birthday last year by withholding their remittances during those days.

On October 29, 2008, OFWs and migrants from other countries also called for a zero-remittance day as a protest to the 2nd Global Forum on Migration and Development (GFMD).

Filipino migrants linked up with migrants of other countries and held a counter assembly to the GFMD, the International Assembly of Migrants and Refugees (IAMR). The IAMR was spearheaded by the newly-formed International Migrants Alliance (IMA) and the Migrante International.

OFWs also joined their compatriots in the country in calling for the ouster of Arroyo. At the height of the National Broadband Network-ZTE controversy, OFWs launched a global petition as part of their campaign BABAY Gloria (Bagong Bayani Ayaw kay Gloria or Modern-day Heroes Against Gloria).

Protest actions were launched in different countries, from Asia to as far as US and Europe.

The Migrante International said that this year, OFWs anticipate more retrenchments, lower wages and worse working conditions abroad even as the government targets to deploy two million Filipinos overseas.

Martinez said, “We will hold the Arroyo administration fully accountable for being hell-bent in exporting the most number of Filipinos abroad amid the worsening global crisis.”

He said that labor export is neither a tool for development nor an answer to the present crisis.

Martinez said OFWs are bracing for harder times with a deeper resolve to fight for their rights and welfare.(with reports from Angie de Lara)

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