Migrant workers to form international alliance

Marites N. Sison
staff writer

Anglican Journal

Mar 27, 2008

Representatives of migrant workers’ groups around the world, some of them church-backed, are scheduled to gather in Hong Kong from June 14-17 for the founding assembly of the International Migrants Alliance, which aims to advance the rights and interests of all migrants, refugees and displaced people.

Connie Bragas-Regalado, chairperson of Migrante International, a global alliance of 130 Filipino migrant groups in 22 countries, said it was crucial for organizations to forge “co-ordinated and joint actions” regarding issues such as just wages, job security, criminalization of undocumented migrants and trafficking of women, among others.

In 2005, the United Nations estimated that three per cent of the world’s population, or 191 million people, lived in a country other than the one in which they were born. Of these, 42 million are legal migrant contract workers, according to the International Labour Organization; the number of undocumented migrant workers is estimated at 35 million.

“We also need to talk about how the war on terror is affecting migrant workers. We need to look into the social cost of migration,” she said. Ms. Regalado, who is based in the Philippines, spoke at a briefing sponsored by Kairos, the ecumenical justice group of which the Anglican Church of Canada is a member.

Ms. Regalado cited that Migrante, which provides assistance to migrant workers in distress, handles about 1,000 cases each year, the majority of them involving women who work as domestic workers in the Middle East. The group’s most recent high-profile case involved Marilou Ranario, who was sentenced to death in 2007 for killing her employer. After a sustained campaign by Migrante and other groups worldwide that forced the Philippine government to appeal on Ms. Ranario’s behalf, her sentence was commuted to life imprisonment. Migrante has maintained that Ms. Ranario had acted in self-defense and was, like other migrant workers, a victim of abuse.

Ms. Regalado said that there are about 5,000 migrant Filipino workers languishing in prison, 26 of them in death row. “A lot of those in prison are undocumented workers who flee from their employers for non-payment of salaries, abuses and rape,” she said. “When a worker leaves, the employer often files a case of absconding and you become a criminal.”

She lamented the fact that the Philippine government has continued to allow the deployment of contract workers to countries where it has no bilateral agreements, despite a Congress-approved Magna Carta banning this.

The Philippines’ labour export program, dating back to 1974, “provides no protection for workers,” she said. “We have an Overseas Workers Welfare Association (OWWA) and the money comes from workers’ contributions. Not a single cent comes from the government budget,” she said.

There are about 10 million migrant Filipinos living in 198 countries and of these, four million are contract workers, said Ms. Regalado.

The real story

In her keynote address to the delegates of the Philippine Development Forum in Clark, Pampanga yesterday, Arroyo happily talked about what she said is the “real story for 2008”.

In front of foreign donors, cabinet members and other government officials who attended the forum, she said she remains “bullish on our economy, optimistic about our future and committed to being a force for good for our nation.” She then went on to yap about her pledge to “modernize” the country, to focus on economic reforms, and to “invest, invest and invest some more in the nation,” for the remainder of her term.

Arroyo was beaming with confidence as she delivered her speech. Why? Because Arroyo believes she is now in the clear.

A day before Arroyo’s story-telling session in Clark, the Supreme Court, by a vote of 9 to 6, ruled in favor CHED Chairman Romulo Neri’s petition not to allow him to divulge all that he knows on the controversial ZTE-NBN deal before the Senate.

The SC vote on the Neri petition has effectively rendered the highest court of the land, irrelevant. From the dignified body that is supposed to be a pillar of what’s left in our democracy, the Supreme Court has just become a mere rubber-stamp body that serves only the most corrupt and murderous Arroyo regime.

That historic 9-6 vote is also a compelling hint on how the high court would rule on future cases especially those that involve Arroyo, her family and all its stooges in the government.

Arroyo now has 9 puppets in the Supreme Court. The House of Representatives is swarming with pro-Arroyo Congressmen. She holds most of the Generals and officers of the Army and the Police by their necks. Arroyo holds the power of the purse, so most of the local government units’ budgets are held hostage by her.

Rallies and demonstrations are violently dispersed. Activists, journalists and even church people and human rights workers are being murdered.

Democracy is dead in the Philippines. This is the real story.

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Below are the SC Justices that ruled in favor of the Neri petition:

Associate Justices Leonardo Quisumbing, Renato Corona, Dante Tinga, Minita Chico-Nazario, Presbitero Velasco Jr., Antonio Eduardo Nachura, Ruben Reyes and Arturo Brion. The justices were all Arroyo appointees except for Quisumbing.

The 6 who ruled against it were:

Chief Justice Reynato Puno, and Associate Justices Consuelo Ynares-Santiago, Antonio Carpio, Conchita Carpio Morales, Adolfo Azcuna and Ma. Alicia Austria-Martinez.

As I’ve said above, the SC has become irrelevant, a mere kangaroo court of the Arroyo mafia. This is why, I believe Chief Justice Puno and the other five heroic justices who favored the truth, should resign now and join the Filipino people in the movement to oust this dictatorial regime.

Chief Justice Puno must refuse to be party to the Arroyo regime’s crimes and the shameless cover-up of its crimes, against the people.

Big School

Congratulations to my girlfriend Pam for doing a good job in raising her 5 year old son Liam. Liam is set to graduate this end of the month, and because of this, Pam is the happiest person on Earth. I am posting here Pam’s beautiful and touching article on her son’s graduation.
I Love You Pam, mas madami din sa germs!
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BIG SCHOOL

My son’s graduation would be by far the most accomplished day of my life.

After countless days and nights of doubting whether we could make it, here he is marching, wearing his toga proudly, again proving that he won’t fail me.

To be very accurate, it is me doubting myself more than half of the time, always wondering if I could tide this through. Working overtime to pay for tuition, books, school uniform, and school allowance. But not even for a single second have I doubted if he can manage all the pressures of this whole stressful, tedious process called education.

Drama Queen Alert. Alert. Alert. Yes I am being Drama Queen again. My son is indeed graduating soon. From, my dearest friends, Kindergarten. And this is so big for me. I hope you would all forgive me.

I mean I do not consider myself as one accomplished person. I could not boast of anything except that I could cook, do the laundry and clean the house all at the same time. I was not given the chance to harness my talent in singing and dancing, was never on the dean’s list, never the campus crush. I’m so this close to mediocrity. Until my son Liam came.

A sudden realization hit me. Hey, I must not be that bad myself if someone as wonderful as he is came out from me.

Helping him conquer school, I conquered my fears and insecurities.

It’s not easy to let your most precious to be away from home for 3 solid hours. Who knows what’s going to happen. Will his classmates laugh at how I part his hair, or will he trade his sandwich to his seatmate’s toy car? I could hear my knuckles cracking by the mere thought of my son being bullied. And I was wishing to be transported back to the glorious moments when all he needs is me that one day he told me I don’t have to walk him to school.

I always thought the only difference between a tortoise and a turtle is the spelling. Liam told me that they do not only differ in size but also in habitat. Whatever. I’ll still call a tortoise a turtle. I wracked my brains out trying to figure out what creature is it whose name starts with the letter Y  that looks like a cow and a carabao. Who knows? When I was his age, letter Y is always represented by a yoyo, never by a yak.

I know I have done a pretty good job when he got one mistake in social studies. The question: Sino ang dapat na nasusunod sa pamilya? The supposedly correct answer: Tatay. His answer: Nanay. It’s a no-brainer! He truly is his mother’s son! With all due respect to my son’s favorite Teacher Wilma, and whoever is the author of that book, do not give my child any of that crap.

For all my shortcomings he only paid me back with unconditional love.

He asked me if it is true that we are surrounded by germs. I said, “Yes, that is the reason why we should frequently wash our hands”. (Just to prevent him from asking another question that I know would follow and that I do not know the answer to.) Then came the dreaded question, “how many germs are there in the universe”. I answered “madaming madami, too many to mention, lots, gazillions. Go wash your hands now”. Sensing that I want to end the conversation about salmonella and e coli, he said “okay”. As he was walking away he told me, “alam mo mama, lab na lab kita mas madami pa sa germs”.

I must say, I have learned more than he did. I have learned to be more patient, trusting, brave and confident. Liam was able to get through it, why wouldn’t I. I have a long way to go. I am preparing him for Big School now but he taught me how to be big in this equally big and nasty world. And I know that he will always be with me to guide me and tell me everything is worth it. And for the first time in my life, I might be enjoying school after all.

 

Rice shortage?

The media is currently teaming with news stories that carry contrasting opinions and explanations from government officials and others concerned on whether or not the country is on the brink of a catastrophic rice shortage.

Some senators have raised the alarm bells lately and urged the President to come clean and admit that there really is a looming crisis. The militant Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas has even disclosed two government memos that say we actually are in trouble.

Malacanang and the Agriculture Department however, are standing pat. There is no crisis, and those crying famine are just “alarmists,” they said.

But still, the people deserve to know the truth. Nahihilo na ang tao! Instead of issuing vague and defensive statements, Malacanang should answer all the contentions already raised, point per point.

If there really is no looming crisis in the country’s staple food, why do we have to import more than 2 million metric tons of rice from Vietnam? And, why the frantic call to conserve rice? Agriculture Sec. Arthur Yap even went to the point of asking restaurants to serve rice in half portions. And if indeed there is enough supply, why the hell rice prices are going up?

These unanswered questions justify the people’s doubts on the real state of our nation’s staple food supply.

But are we really facing a rice crisis?

Come to think of it, do we really have to ask if we are indeed facing famine because of rice shortage? Of course we are. And this is because of the past and the present regime’s all-out liberalization of agriculture, all in the name of neo-liberal globalization.

The fact that we need to import rice from other countries is a sign that we are in a food emergency. Last year alone, we imported 1.87 million tons of rice, according to the Department of Agriculture. And this year, we intend to buy 100,000 tons of rice from the US; 15,000 tons from Thailand under the East Asia Emergency Rice Reserve and 2.1 million tons from Vietnam. Last year we imported 1.4 million tons from Vietnam.

This in truth is very sad, considering the fact that the Philippines were once the “go-to” place in the region in terms of rice production. We even consider ourselves an agricultural country! Sad.

Rampant land conversion too, has made the country’s rice production dwindle. Vast tracts of agricultural lands are now either golf courses, subdivisions, industrial parks and plantations that are intended for export.

Corruption also contributed. The P728 million fertilizer funds that mysteriously vanished along with then Agriculture Undersecretary Joc-Joc Bolante would certainly be of big help right now.

What to do?

What else, implement genuine land reform. Stop land conversion. End the liberalization of our agriculture.

In the short-term, abolish rice cartels. Rechannel Gloria’s and Congress’ pork to help avert the crisis.

Note:

The government seems confident that Vietnam will deliver on its commitment to export more than 2 million metric tons of rice to the Philippines. But now that no less than Vietnam’s Agriculture Minister Cao Duc Phat is saying that they may “no longer have extra rice for export,” would the government be changing their tune?

Arroyo could capitalize on the rice crisis by extending dole-outs and rice rations to the country’s poor and hungry to bolster her declining popularity. Maybe this is why she’s hesitant to push the panic button.

MIGRANTE holds nat’l meet to tackle OFWs’ role in social change


Faced with increasing attacks on all fronts from the Arroyo regime such as the intensification of labor export, its inaction to the drastic nosedive in the value of the US dollar and the imminent eruption of yet another people power uprising because of the ‘un-moderated greed’ and high-level corruption of those in power; Migrante International on March 16 and 17, 2008 gathered its regional chapters and advocates from different sectors in a national consultation that aims to discuss how migrant Filipinos and their families can contribute to the country’s pursuit for societal change and progress.
 
With the theme: “Harnessing the Role of Migrant Filipinos for Social Change,” the two day meeting was held at the National Council of Churches in the Philippines compound in Quezon City. It was attended by Migrante leaders from the Ilocos-Cordillera Region, Central Luzon, National Capital Region, Central Visayas, Negros and Davao .
 
Migrante International Chaiperson, Connie Bragas-Regalado opened the meeting that  was purposely held to coincide with the 13th death anniversary of migrant hero Flor Contemplacion,  with a compelling discourse on why OFWs are “a force to reckon with,” that if harnessed, can certainly help effect genuine changes in our society.
 
Regalado said migrant Filipinos can become a major political force if it struggles alongside the oppressed Filipino masses. She noted that the Arroyo regime has even developed a stoking fear in the capacity of Filipino migrants, now ten million strong, to rise up and unite in a common cause. “Notice how the regime quivers every time we OFWs decide to collectively air our grievances. Government agencies and officials are sent rushing just to calm and appease us!” she said.
 
But the OFWs’ importance is never limited to the noise that they can generate in their protests and how the regime dreads the day they rise-up. Regalado said it lies on OFWs crucial role in uplifting the Philippine economy and its undeniable political influence to the country’s vast majority – that even cuts across different classes – who thrives on the money that they send home. OFWs also have a natural tendency to develop a deep sense of patriotism and love of country even if they are physically detached from their homeland. Migrants all yearn to return someday with the country’s eventual freedom and advancement in mind, she said.
 
“The litany of sufferings, slavery, and abuse on migrants will never end [if we don’t rise-up to put an end to all of them]. As migrants, we can employ plenty of means to fight for our own rights and welfare and that of our families’ and our beloved country. And among them is the fruit of our labor, our remittance” Regalado emphasized.
 
Recently, OFWs embarked on a worldwide “zero remittance days” campaign as part of the migrant sector’s efforts to intensify the Filipino peoples’ search for truth and accountability and to demand the immediate resignation or ouster of Mrs. Arroyo. This call from the OFWs ‘discomforted’ Malacanang and the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas, saying that this will truly have a damaging effect in the country’s economy.   
  
Regalado concluded in her speech: “Our consistent effort to arouse, organize and mobilize migrants and their families not only serve to advance the national democratic struggles of the Filipino people, it also serves to further strengthen the surging migrants’ movement worldwide against imperialism and all forms of reaction.”
 
Migrante’s national consultation was also attended by Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas Chairperson Rafael “Ka Paeng” Mariano, Gabriela Partylist Rep. Luzviminda Ilagan and Anakbayan Chairperson Eleanor de Guzman.
 
The meeting ended on a migrants’ march towards the Malacanang palace to amplify the same issues that OFWs and the Filipino people raised when Contemplacion was unjustly hanged in Singapore exactly 13 years ago. ###

Congress’ pathetic way of justifying pork

House Speaker Prospero Nograles wants a pamphlet entitled “Understanding the Pork Barrel” printed and distributed to schools nationwide allegedly “to erase the generations of misconception about the pork.”

He also wants his colleagues to conduct public meetings in their districts to discuss and “educate the people” on their Priority Development Assistance Fund (popularly known as pork barrel) utilization.

Pathetic. The pamphlet should instead carry the title, “How Congressmen steal from the poor.”

DOLE issues call center guidelines

The Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) has successfully managed to cash-in on the booming call center industry in the country through Department Circular No. 1, series of 2008 which outlines policy guidelines governing the occupational safety and health of call center employees.

Not that I am opposed to ensuring the health and well being of the country’s kolboys and kolgels (my girlfriend is one), but I think this move from the labor department is nothing but a scheme to squeeze more money out of our overworked, sleep deprived, call center workers.

If we are to carefully examine the DOLE’s guidelines, they are requiring all call centers to have their employees undergo trainings in line with the DOLE’s Occupational Safety and Health Center’s “Zero Accident Program.” They said they will enforce and monitor the compliance of call centers to the guidelines through the DOLE Regional Offices’ Labor Inspectorate.

The problem here is that it is the poor employee who’ll shoulder the training costs, an added burden for them who are already heavily taxed by this corrupt and morally bankrupt government.

Aside from this, the DOLE’s imposition of yet another layer of training is very unnecessary. I heard, most of the call centers provide medical insurance to their employees and this is on top of their other health programs.

My forecast:

Call center agents would certainly bawl at this latest extortion scheme by the government. I won’t be surprised if I see more and more politicized call center agents from Makati and Ortigas joining anti-Arroyo rallies in the near future. Now that’s a sight!