Lintik na OPH!

When it is the State that is guilty of trafficking its own people

May ongoing pong paghahabol ng mga kinauukulan, yung mga nag e-engage sa illegal human trafficking. Nakafocus po ang DOLE saka yung DFA at DOJ diyan sa problemang yan (Authorities are currently pursuing those who engage in human trafficking. The DOLE, DFA, and DOJ are focused on that problem).”

An article that appeared in the Reader’s Digest October 2010 issue revealed a grim picture of the worsening state of  human trafficking in the country. According to the article, Filipinos are the most trafficked women and children across international borders. The article noted that out of the 800,000 trafficked persons worldwide annually, 500,000 are from the Philippines.

Last June, the US State Department has stated that the number of Filipinos that are victimized by human trafficking is “very significant or is significantly increasing.”

“The Philippines is a source country, and to a much lesser extent, a destination and transit country for men, women, and children who are subjected to trafficking in persons, specifically forced prostitution and forced labor….  Men, women, and children were subjected to conditions of forced labor in factories, construction sites, and as domestic workers in Asia and increasingly throughout the Middle East. Women were subjected to sex trafficking in countries such as Malaysia, Singapore, Hong Kong, South Korea, Japan, and various Middle Eastern countries. Within the Philippines, people were trafficked from rural areas to urban centers including Manila, Cebu, the city of Angeles, and increasingly to cities in Mindanao,” the US State Department said.

This sad state of affairs has prompted the US to put the Philippines  in its Tier 2 watchlist for the second consecutive year.  It pointed to “inefficient judicial system” and “endemic corruption” in government as the reason for the Philippines’ ranking.

“Corruption remained pervasive in the Philippines, and there were reports that officials in government units and agencies assigned to enforce laws against human trafficking permitted trafficking offenders to conduct illegal activities, either tacitly or explicitly. It is widely believed that some government officials partner with traffickers and organized trafficking syndicates, or at least permit trafficking operations in the country, and that law enforcement officers often extract protection money from illegal businesses, including brothels,” said the US State Department.

State-sponsored trafficking

The US couldn’t be more correct when it said government officials engage in human trafficking. Involvement of government officials in this illegal racket that victimizes thousands have been an open secret for the longest time.

February last year, no less than the Chief of the Philippines’ Immigration Bureau, Marcelo Libanan, has revealed that the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) is engaging in large scale illegal recruitment and human trafficking of  at least 10,000 overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) monthly.

Because of this damning revelation, the largest alliance of OFW workers’ groups worldwide, Migrante International, has pushed for a “full blown Congressional probe” on the allegations of  Bureau of Immigration Chief.

“What we have been saying right from the outset was confirmed by no less than the Immigration Bureau; that the Philippine government through the POEA is the biggest illegal recruitment syndicate in the country,” stated Gary Martinez, chairperson of Migrante International.

“We demand a full blown Congressional probe on the matter and to swiftly punish the heartless officials involved in this heinous crime.”

Migrante’s Martinez noted however that the BI Chief’s “whistle blowing does not absolve his agency from any wrongdoing.” “This is why the BI should also be included in the investigation being sought. Illegal recruiters inside the POEA would never get away with their duping activities without the backing of likeminded criminals in the Immigration Bureau,” he said.

No investigation took place on the BI Chief’s allegations.

Smoking gun

 

A copy of an employment contract authenticated by no less than the POLO

Just recently, Migrante International exposed the continuing recruitment of OFWs to Jordan despite the standing ban on deployment of Filipino workers there.

In a press conference, Migrante presented families of 20 trafficked OFWs to Jordan. These set OFWs have recently escaped from their employers due to maltreatment, sexual and physical abuse and non-payment of wages.

They were able to sneak into Jordan via Hong Kong and Dubai, said Migrante. Their employment contracts were authenticated by no less than the Philippine Overseas Labor Office (POLO) in Jordan.

The group called this practice “state sponsored human trafficking.

“POLO, DOLE (Department of Labor and Employment) and DFA (Department of Foreign Affairs) has some serious explaining to do. POLO’s main responsibility, in compliance with the ban, is to immediately assume that any Filipino national they may encounter is a victim of human trafficking and therefore exhaust all efforts to send them home. Bakit nila ina-authenticate ang employment contract? Kung gayon, hindi ba’t nangangahulugan ito ng human trafficking na may basbas mismo ng gobyerno? (Why did they authenticate the employment contract? Is this not a clear proof that the government condones human trafficking?)” said Migrante Secretary General Gina Esguerra.

Relatives of human trafficking victims in Jordan

Matagal na akong nakatutok, may hinihintay na akong pag aresto soon (I’ve been focused on this for a long time, I’m waiting for an arrest soon).”

Despite the alarming figures, convictions on human trafficking cases remain very, very low. Even US Ambassador to the Philippines Harry K. Thomas Jr. attests to this fact.

“The relative low number of convictions since its promulgation relative to the number of cases filed and the prevalence of the problem has for too long created an enabling environment in which exploiters rarely face meaningful penalties and victims wait years for justice,” stated the US envoy.

Visayan Forum, a group that advocates against human trafficking, has stated in ANC’s Dateline Philippines last June that out of almost 400 ongoing cases of human trafficking, there were only eight (8) convictions. “Three months ago, 15 immigration officers in Clark, Pampanga were arrested. What happened to those cases?”  asks Ma. Cecilia Flores-Oebanda, president and executive director of the Visayan Forum. She stressed that there is a need for the government to be more transparent when it comes to its actions on human trafficking cases.

Mabigat po yung mga batas natin e. Kailangan ho mapatupad (The law is tough. It must be implemented).”

The alarming rise in human trafficking cases in the country should push the Aquino government to adopt concrete measures to stem this wicked practice.

Republic Act 9208 or the Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act of 2003 is very specific when it stated that the “State shall give highest priority to the enactment of measures and development of programs that will promote human dignity, protect the people from any threat of violence and exploitation, eliminate trafficking in persons, and mitigate pressures for involuntary migration and servitude of persons…”

But what happens in reality is exactly the opposite. In fact, officials from the government itself have been found to be involved in the rampant practice of human trafficking.

Up until now, we have yet to see even one of them be made to pay big time by our supposed “tough” laws.

The employment contracts of OFWs in Jordan, authenticated no less by the government through the POLO, provides the smoking gun on government’s hand in trafficking its own citizens abroad.

If the officials involved in this heinous racket go unpunished, all talk of the government’s supposed campaign against human trafficking syndicates will remain just that- all talk.

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The quotes that appear in blue are words from Philippine President Benigno Aquino III , taken from his one-on-one interview with GMA 7 reporter Sandra Aguinaldo on September 2010.

This blog post is in support of the global Blog Action Day to uphold and protect the rights of all overseas Filipino workers and demand government accountability.


Save OFW Jakatia Pawa!

Save doomed OFW, workers group appeals
By Jerry E. Esplanada
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 01:18:00 01/23/2010

A MIDDLE EAST-BASED FILIPINO MIGRANT workers’ group has asked Malacañang to make good its promise of saving the life of domestic helper Jakatia Pawa, who was sentenced to death by a Kuwaiti court in 2007 for killing the daughter of her employer.

The Kuwaiti Supreme Court recently affirmed the death verdict on the 31-year-old Zamboanga del Norte native, now detained at the Kuwait Central Jail, according to Migrante-Middle East.

John Leonard Monterona, Migrante-Middle East regional coordinator, appealed anew to the Palace to “exhaust all means to ensure the commutation of (Pawa’s) death sentence,” which was upheld earlier by Kuwait’s Court of Appeals.

In an e-mail, Monterona told the Inquirer they were “preparing for the same battle waged by various OFW groups all over the world to save (Filipina maid) Flor Contemplacion,” who was sentenced to hang by Singaporean authorities in 1995 for the murder of her young ward and a fellow domestic helper.

“We’re watching closely the case of Jakatia Pawa. Mrs. Arroyo once said she would intervene on her case, as well as those of 40 other OFWs on death row. We’ll see if the President will be true to her word or break her promise,” Monterona said.

Was he focusin’ on the ‘person’ on this one?

Speaking of poverty, today being Blog Action Day and all, I am reposting here Migrante International’s press release on the yesterday’s beheading of another OFW in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. The 8-10 million OFWs after all is one of the most palpable indications how extreme poverty is in the Philippines.

On October 27-30, the Philippine government will host the 2nd Global Forum on Migration and Development. It is expected to be attended by 192 states worldwide and even the UN head honcho is expected to grace the event.

GFMD 08 Chairman and Department of Foreign Affairs Undersecretary Esteban Conejos says the forum intends to “shine the spotlight on the human face of migration” and that it would “not focus on the money. (But) on the person itself.”

So where on Earth was his and his agency’s focus when OFW Jenifer Bidoya was beheaded in KSA yesterday? Ah, he was busy answering questions in this interview.

Migrante says it right, he’s busy promoting the GFMD. He’s busy selling OFWs.

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OFW beheaded while Conejos promotes global forum on migration

As Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) Undersecretary Esteban Conejos is boasting of the protection of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) that the upcoming Global Forum on Migration and Development (GFMD) will bring about, a Filipino was executed in Jeddah yesterday.

“At approximately 10 a.m. yesterday (Saudi time), OFW Jenifer Bidoya a.k.a. Venancio Ladion was executed in Jeddah, one and a half hour before Conejos was shamelessly bragging the benefits of hosting the GFMD to OFWs welfare protection”, according to Gina Esguerra, coordinator of Migrants Assistance Committee of Migrante.

Bidoya was convicted of the crime of murder of a Saudi national and sentenced to death by the Jeddah Sharia’h Grand Court in April 2007.

“Conejos said the GFMD will focus on the ‘person’ itself, the migrants. But how will he explain the death of Ladion?, Esguerra said.

Esguerra added that the case is just a part of the whole picture of migration’s ill effects.

Migrante’s Migrants Assistance Committee receives almost a thousand of OFW cases annually ranging from illegal recruitment, human trafficking, non payment of wages, physical, mental and sexual abuse, mysterious deaths and OFWs in death row.

Esguerra said her committee is currently handling other cases of Filipinos in death row like the case of brothers Edison and Rolando Gonzales in Jeddah and Cecilia Alcaraz in Taiwan.

“Families of these OFWs fear for the lives of their loved ones. They handed the cases to Migrante because the government is doing nothing to save them” she added.

Esguerra slammed Conejos for saying that GFMD will focus on migrants and insisted the forum will focus really on the commodification of Filipinos as cheap and docile labor.

“Aggressive marketing of Philippine government made it the biggest recruitment agency not only in the country but in the whole world. This only shows how desperate and how dependent our government is in overseas employment and remittances. They sell us in the name of so called ‘development’ at our expense”, Esguerra added.

Esguerra also said Conejos should not take pride in hosting the GFMD because it is tantamount to hosting representatives of host countries who are conducting crackdown on undocumented Filipino migrants, inhumane deportation of refugees, torturing them to forcibly admit crimes they did not commit, and inflicting various human rights violations on OFWs.

“GFMD is actually a gathering of anti-migrant governments and a market place for modern-day slave trading. That’s why the main stake holders, the migrants themselves, are not invited in the forum to voice out their real situation” she said.

Esguerra also chided Conejos for saying that migration of Filipinos is a supply and demand thing.

“It’s not a supply and demand thing. Filipinos are going abroad not out of free will but were forced to be separated from their loved ones due to their family’s need to survive,” said Esguerra.

Migrante is worried that the news on the beheading of Jenifer Bidoya will only exacerbate the depression already being suffered by the families of Edison and Rolando Gonzales and Eduardo Arcilla whose death sentence where affirmed by the Tameez Appellate Court in Jeddah just a month ago.

“We are afraid that the longer this government promotes GFMD, the more OFWs will come home in coffins. We demand that the millions of pesos that the government plans to spend in this international forum be re-channel instead to saving lives of OFWs and for the immediate relief of their suffering families,” Esguerra concluded.## #

Hard times ahead: What awaits our OFWs?

Massive repatriation of Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) likely in the next few months as a result of impending mass lay-offs. The vast army of those who toil in the service and production sectors comprising nearly 40% of all OFWs deployed in 2007 would be the hardest hit.

For those whose jobs will be spared, their wages will soon be drastically cut to as much as half in some countries in Asia and the Americas.

Discrimination and xenophobia against OFWs will worsen as they will be blamed for stealing jobs from the local workers. As we have seen in the past, this phenomenon will be whipped up by host governments if only to ward off accountability in the crisis.

The same thing happened during the 1997 Asian financial crisis. Now on to the scary part.

More Filipinas will likely end up in the flesh trade just to cope up with the hard times. Others may even be forced to sell their blood and internal organs just to survive.

Deportations and crackdowns all over the world will intensify. Expect host governments especially in the western countries to employ more brutal measures in ridding their countries of undocumented workers.

Incidents of suicides and mental illnesses among our OFWs will also shoot-up especially during the Christmas season.

Despite all this, the deployment of Filipinos overseas will continue in its upward trend as it is expected that the Arroyo government would be more aggressive than ever to scour the ends of the Earth for more labor markets.

Needless to say, this government will collapse if it loses even a morsel of the average US$1 billion monthly remittance of our OFWs. So knowing that remittance flows will start to dwindle, the government will certainly cover up for this by deploying more workers.

And this is their central game plan on the upcoming 2nd Global Forum on Migration and Development (GFMD) that the Arroyo regime will be hosting here in Manila this end of the month. Arroyo and the entire government overseas employment machinery will endeavor to peddle the Filipino worker to the lowest bidder in exchange for the gargantuan profits they will bring in to the crisis ridden economy.

What about the thousands of OFWs who will be repatriated back to the country?

Up until now, the government is still mum on their contingency plans for those will be affected by the crisis. But odds on, the returning army of unemployed workers will be offered two options by the government: to either train for a vocation that is currently “in-demand” abroad like welding and butchery etc or work for a call center.

Expect the Technological Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA), the government’s training arm that is devoted to producing workers for export, to dish out scholarships to them. You guessed it; the government’s plan is to ship them out again as soon as they equip them with the skills needed in other countries.

It is also likely that the government will strike a deal with leading call center companies for them to consider hiring “English speaking” OFW returnees.

Of course a job in a call center couldn’t guarantee that these returnees wouldn’t be packing their bags as soon they have the opportunity. The Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) sector will also start to feel the effects of this crisis. Wages in call centers will be drastically cut and foremost to be affected by this will be the new hires.

As for the rest of us here in the country, what awaits us are more taxes and repressive measures from the government. As the crisis grows bigger and bigger, so will the government’s authoritarian tendencies to maintain a semblance of order and rule.

This is how grave poverty is in the Philippines. What’s even graver is the past and present regime’s skewed economic priorities that keeps us in a perpetual state of stagnation and dejection.

Instead of generating gainful employment here in the country, the government looks at the systematic export of its citizens abroad as a way out.

Instead of setting up our own industries and developing our agricultural base to serve the needs of our people, this government allows the unbridled plunder of our economy to foreign countries and their local ruling class cohorts.

This is why it is no surprise why three thousand Filipinos leave the country on a daily basis. Now Arroyo wants to call them ‘expats’ instead of OFWs!

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This post is part of Blog Action Day 2008 in the Philippines and all over the world.