The successive crises that have overwhelmed overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) and their families recently – from the case of the three OFWs awaiting execution in China; the spate of revolutions that has engulfed a number of Middle Eastern and North African countries; and now the current humanitarian disaster in Japan resulting from the massive quake and tsunami last week – brings to the fore the urgent need for genuine OFW representation in government.
You see, aside from the anguish and distress suffered by the thousands of OFWs from these successive crises, the world have also seen glaring proof of the Philippine government’s utter failure to ensure the safety and security of their so-called ‘bagong bayanis.’
OFWs in China Deathrow
The government scrambled on the eleventh hour to save the three OFWs from execution in China. It must be remembered that through the early stages of the OFWs’ trial, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) have been vocal in not extending legal aid to these troubled OFWs. It has even went to the extent of advising the OFWs to just “behave in prison to be pardoned.”
Though the government scored a diplomatic coup recently by managing to defer the scheduled execution last month through the effort of Vice President Jejomar Binay, China has eventually decided to push through with the execution.
It was last Thursday March 17, 2011 – as the nation commemorated the 16th Anniversary of the martyrdom of Flor Contemplacion, the OFW whose unjust hanging in Singapore exposed to the world the harsh realities of the Filipino forced migration – that China announced that the verdict against OFWs Ramon Credo, Sally Ordinario-Villanueva and Elizabeth Batain over drug trafficking charges, was indeed “final” and that the verdict will be carried out “sooner or later.”
In response, the Philippine government (as though ignorant of the weight that date holds for millions of Filipinos toling in all corners of the world and their families here in the country) have apparently raised the white flag and seemed proudly convinced that saving the three from sure death in China will be next to impossible.
DFA Secretary Albert del Rosario admitted that the government is now at a loss as to how they can prevent the execution from happening. Meanwhile, Malacanang has come out advising the OFWs’ kin to just “respect” Chinese laws, adding even that “there is no possibility for a commutation for the three.”
“We respect their decision,” a Presidential Spokesman said.
The execution of three Filipinos in China gallows, it must be emphasized, should not be seen as a victory against efforts to curb the menace of international drug trade, because these so-called ‘mules’ are just victims of big time syndicates that prey on hapless Filipino workers so desperate to earn a few bucks so they can send enough money for their families at home.
The fact that there are Filipinos who are willing to risk their lives and livelihood for a quick buck by delivering illegal drugs, even inserting the merchandise into their privates, tells a lot about the abysmal economic state of the country.
There’ll be no drug mules, no OFWs even, if there are decent and sustainable jobs and farm lands to till here in the country.
So it is the height of official insensitivity and callousness for Malacanang to tell the poor OFWs’ families now to harp the ‘China has spoken and the execution will push through so we just have to respect their decision’ mantra on the very day an OFW was executed in Singapore 16 years ago largely because of government’s criminal neglect!
Meanwhile, the largest alliance of OFW organizations worldwide, Migrante International, has been calling on the government from the very beginning to act on the cases of Filipinos unjustly jailed and on deathrow overseas.
Based on the group’s monitoring, “there are currently 125 OFWs in death row. Of the 125, 85 are drug-related and 79 of these are in China jails. The rest are in the Middle East, Malaysia and Thailand.”
Migrante Chairman Garry Martinez has squarely blamed this to the government’s unfettered “labor export policy”.
“Our Filipino workers will always be subjected to these tragedies for as long as the government sticks to promoting labor export policy unmindful of the welfare and protection of our OFWs. Unless the government creates enough decent jobs at home to curb forced migration, it will always be responsible for every life that is threatened, endangered or lost.”
On OFWs and wars
The tension and violence that gripped the countries such as Egypt, Libya, Bahrain in the past weeks, meanwhile, revealed how vulnerable OFWs are during times of conflicts and wars.
They become even more vulnerable when those who are supposed to protect them during these times are the ones who go missing in action or are the first ones to scamper away for safety.
Take the Philippine government’s response to the Libyan crisis for example.
During the height of hostilities in the strife-torn country, all the embassy and the DFA could tell the thousands of confused, war shocked and distraught OFWs there were “go to the Embassy in Tripoli if you wish to be repatriated or just stay put.”
Of course, this moronic instruction from the embassy and the DFA prompted the OFWs there to just organize themselves, brave the bullets and bombs just to get to the nearest border.
At the onset, the Filipino public had no idea that we indeed have an Ambassador in Tripoli. We only learned of this when the DFA deployed its so-called “Quick Reaction Team” headed by Ricardo Endaya. But when ‘help’ arrived, the fleeing OFWs were half way through their journey to the borders.
And so, the DFA QRT just made themselves comfortable in the Libya-Tunisian border. Some even commented that the team merely acted as a “reception committee” for the hordes of OFWs who escaped conflict-ridden Libya, sans government help.
Instead of getting their acts together, the government agencies concerned contented on blaming each other on the monumental blunder they made in the Libyan crisis.
Meanwhile, as the DFA brandishes their patented incompetence with regard to helping OFWs in distress and while it scrambles to explain why OFWs and their worried family members cant get through their much ballyhooed hotlines, Migrante International kept the nation updated on the latest situation on the ground.
And because the DFA’s ‘hotlines’ have become ‘not-lines’, according to some OFWs, Migrante also put up a crisis center and hotlines and posted contact persons and their numbers inside ravaged cities in Libya such as Benghazi and Tripoli.
As expected, the calls poured in and the public was kept abreast on the latest developments in Libya. According to some Migrante staff who manned their crisis center, even the DFA used the data they have gathered and shamelessly pointed OFWs in distress to Migrante’s contact persons in Tripoli, such as Fr. Alan Arcebuche, in case they need help inside Libya.
Those who managed to be repatriated from Libya were assured, however, of receiving baseball caps from the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA), a financial assistance worth P10,000 and promises of job deployment abroad!
Of course, OFWs deemed the government’s response as “unacceptable”
“We are gravely concerned that the Philippine government continues to send our workers abroad when they fail to protect the welfare of our OFWs during critical times,” Migrante Chairman Garry Martinez said. “But above all, Malacañang has not offered any clear and concrete response.”
The best economic alternative, according to Migrante, however, is to implement genuine agrarian reform program and nationalization of basic industries that would become our local economy’s backbone coupled with a well-planned, pro-people economic structural policy towards the desired economic development.
OFWs and natural disasters
If you thought the government learned its lesson during the Libyan crisis, think again. It demonstrated, yet again, their world-class incompetence when a massive 8.9 magnitude earthquake and tsunami hit Japan last March 11, 2011.
According to Migrante’s chapter in Japan, the Philippine Embassy there waited three full days to check on the situation of Filipinos affected by the disaster.
“Para lang silang namamasyal sa koen (park) at nakipag-tsismisan sa mga kababayan natin doon,”Rossana Tapiru, the group’s representative said.
The consular mission was dispatched Monday, March 14, 2011, upon the orders of Ambassador Manuel Lopez following an SOS from 20 Filipino seafarers trapped inside a hotel in Fukushima, one of the areas devastated by the double disaster.
MIGRANTE Japan said that it took the embassy three full days before it could finally send a mission there, but sadly, the mission had barely little to offer relief for distraught Filipinos there.
What’s worse, the Philippine Embassy abandoned the OFWs in their time of need. In the aftermath of the tremor and tsunami that hit Japan, Migrante Japan said, “this is the most dastardly act we’ve seen so far from officials of the Philippine embassy in Tokyo.”
“They have done so little yet, and now they are abandoning their post to save their themselves leaving our distraught compatriots fending for themselves. What a disgrace!”
The group pointed a distress call from Filipino students in Japan who complained of insensitivity and ineptness of the consular team who were on a rush to get back to Tokyo with or without the rest of the Filipinos still in the area.
For its part, Migrante Japan, regularly posts updates and lists down names of Filipinos reportedly missing or found via their hotlines. The said list, by the way, is regularly and shamelessly copy-pasted by the DFA and the PHL embassy in Tokyo to make it appear that they are doing their jobs. (See for yourselves here and compare it to this link here.)
The need for genuine OFW representation
In light of the appalling condition of OFWs and their families brought about by the government’s criminal neglect on their rights and well-being, the need for genuine OFW representation in government has become even more apparent.
Although Migrante Sectoral Party ran during the 2004 party-list race, it didn’t garner enough votes to secure a seat in Congress. The Party, then decided to not participate in the 2007 elections in order to strengthen its organization and prepare for the elections in 2010.
Consolidated and ready, the Migrante Sectoral Party filed its Certificate of Candidacy for the 2010 Party-list race. But the group was delisted by the Commission on Elections (COMELEC) allegedly for failing to get at least two percent of votes in the last two elections prior to 2010.
But the group averred that the delisting reeked of political vendetta as it is widely known to constantly criticize the government’s failure to protect its workers abroad.
“In good faith, we said we will first strengthen the party-list. This time we think we’re ready because now our group has a wider coverage, we are even present in 23 countries,” Connie Bragas-Regalado, chairperson of Migrante, told GMANews.TV.
According to Regalado, the Comelec decision was “politically motivated.”
“We think our delistment is politically motivated because we are a progressive party-list group that is critical of the policies of the government for its forced migration strategies,” she said.
But there seems to be chance for Migrante to finally be allowed to truly represent OFWs and their families interests in Congress.
The Supreme Court on April 29, 2010 ruled in favor of the petition of the Party-List PGBI to annul COMELEC Resolution 8679 which delisted 26 Party-List groups (including PGBI) for failing to garner 2% of the votes in the last two elections.
Remember, Migrante was also among the Party-Lists by the COMELEC delisted citing the same reason.
The dispositive portion of the Supreme Court Decision (G.R. No. 190529) reads as follows:
WHEREFORE, premises considered, we GRANT the petition and accordingly ANNUL COMELEC Resolution No. 8679 dated October 13, 2009 insofar as the petitioner PGBI is concerned, and the Resolution dated December 9, 2009 which denied PGBI’s motion for reconsideration in SPP No. 09-004 (MP). PGBI is qualified to be voted upon as a party-list group or organization in the coming May 2010 elections.
So you see, OFWs have the chance to be truly represented in Congress after all. When Migrante so decides to again gun for a Congressional seat or seats via the Party-List System in the 2013 elections, the COMELEC will have no reason any more to deny their accreditation.
Let us just hope that Migrante will be able to gather enough votes to win seats in the 2013 polls!