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.

*******

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.


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Fil-Ams too won’t remit on October 29

An alliance of 12 organizations in five cities across the United States has signified their intention to support the International Migrants Alliance (IMA) and Migrante International’s call for overseas Filipinos not to remit their hard earned cash on October 29 to protest the Global Forum on Migration and Development’s (GFMD) agenda of legitimizing “forced migration and systematic exploitation of cheap labor.”

“We support the call of IMA for a day of no remittance because we believe the Philippine model of outmigration is not an example to be proud of,” Chito Quijano, chairperson of the US chapter of Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (BAYAN) said.

BAYAN USA continued, thus:

“Using the Philippines as a case study (in the GFMD), massive and aggressive outmigration of over 3,000 Filipinos daily is an indicator of domestic economic failure, not development. The Philippines now has the most remittance-dependent economy in the world, and domestically is in a chronic state of economic crisis and massive poverty that will only get worse with the looming global financial crisis. At the same time overseas Filipinos around the world remain oppressed, exploited, abused in their host countries, and unprotected by the very government that pushed them out. This is anything but ‘development’ the people of the world seek. By not remitting for one day, Filipinos all over the world harness their economic power and take a stand against the sick and violative nature of the Philippine labor export program.”

The US-based Pinoys throwing of support for the “zero remittance day” call came after Asian migrants have vowed “zero remittance for the biggest violators of the rights of migrants.”

The Asian Migrants Coordinating Body in Hong Kong recently held protest rallies in the consulates of Nepal, Indonesia, Philippines, Thailand, the US, the office of the European Council and HK’s Central Government Office as part of the internationally-coordinated 10-day countdown against the GFMD.

“The hypocrisy of the GFMD is concretized in the policies on migrants of these governments. There is no way that the GFMD can really serve the interest of migrants if it does nothing to address the anti-migrant policies we are already suffering from,” said Dolores Balladares, AMCB spokesperson.

For Migrante International’s chapter in the Middle East, the “zero remittance day” call is “legitimate and a fair act of protest.” The group stated that OFWs who will be heeding the call on October 29 should not be accused of being “economic saboteurs” by the Arroyo government.

“The Arroyo administration and its minions are the real economic saboteur as we have seen unto the numerous cases of corruptions in the past including this ZTE broadband anomalous deal,” said John Leonard Monterona of Migrante-ME.

So, they are all in with the ZRD. Are you?

Middle East as OFW “shock absorber”

Department of Labor Export Secretary Marianito Roque proudly announced yesterday via phone-patch from Qatar that the Middle East region could be the nation’s saving grace in this time of global financial crisis.

He said OFWs whose jobs will be displaced or those whose deployment will be affected because of constricting labor markets overseas due to the crisis could find employment in the Middle East’s “booming” economy where the global downturn, according to him, is something that is just being “laughed” at.

“[The] Middle East may be our shock absorber. We can bring our workers who might be displaced [by the crisis] there. The region is booming,” he said.

But while the Arroyo government considers the desserts of Middle East as an oasis in this time of global financial dearth, they might be placing the army of displaced workers into an even more precarious situation considering that the issue of human rights is also a subject that is just being “laughed” at in that region.

In the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia alone, where Roque plans to re-deploy our skilled engineers and construction workers to jobs building its four “mega cities”; two or more are being executed per week according to a recent report by Amnesty International. Of those executed in Saudi Arabia, almost half are foreign nationals from poor countries such as the Philippines.

“We had hoped that the much-heralded human rights initiatives introduced by the Saudi Arabian authorities in recent years would bring an end to – or, at least, a significant reduction in the use of the death penalty. Yet, in fact, we have witnessed a sharp rise in executions of prisoners sentenced in largely secret and unfair trials, making the need for a moratorium more urgent than ever,” said Malcolm Smart, Director of the Middle East and North Africa Programme at Amnesty International.

The group noted that in 2007, 158 people were executed in the KSA compared to the previous year’s 39. But what alarmed AI more is the fact that the executions in the Kingdom is carried out “disproportionately and discriminately on national or ethnic grounds against poor foreign workers and Saudi Arabian nationals who lack the family or other connections that, fortunately, help others to be saved from execution.”

The AI report continued:

Execution is usually by beheading, generally in public. In some cases, crucifixion follows execution. Saudi Arabia is one of the few states in the world with a high rate of executions for women. It is also one of the few remaining countries to execute people for crimes they committed when they were still under the age of 18, in breach of international law.

So one can only imagine the dread these OFWs had upon hearing Roque’s brillant idea of shipping them to the Middle East, especially since his announcement came only days after another OFW had his head chopped off in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. (The latest OFW beheaded in the KSA was Jennifer Biduya aka Venancio Ladion, the 7th under the Arroyo presidency according to Migrante International).

But what is even more blood curdling is the fact that the Arroyo government plans to dump them in a region where incompetent and criminally negligent Philippine embassy and consular officials abound.

Take the case of Jeddah Consul General Ezzedin Tago (I’m still at a loss why up until now he’s still not given the boot for gross negligence), who was caught on-air that they only provided Biduya a “translator” during the critical period of his trial and that he was only given a lawyer when the case was already at the appelate stage.

I remember hearing Tago’s interview with Vice President Noli de Castro last Saturday in his weekly morning radio program. Even de Castro, who currently advises Arroyo on OFW affairs, was obviously dumbfounded upon learning of Tago’s non-action in the Biduya case that he almost ran out of excuses and rehashed rhetoric to defend the government’s so-called record of “protecting” OFWs.

Of course Tago’s admission is enough for us to believe that de Castro, Tago and the Department of Foreign Affairs were lying when they said they did all they can to save Biduya from execution.

So if the Arroyo government is really determined at re-deploying our displaced OFWs to the Middle East despite its deplorable human rights record  – which is further aggravated by the fact that the place is teeming with incompetent Philippine embassy officials – I only have one message for them:

I hope you have enough supply of body bags.

An OFW’s appeal from Saudi death row


“Life is the most important and sacred human right… The human blood is impermissible and nobody dares shed it… He who endangers the life of one person is considered to be endangering all mankind…”


Dear Sir / Ma’am

A greetings from Dammam Central Jail, Dammam, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia…

I, Mr. Rodelio Don2 Celestino Lanuza, 34, was incarcerated since
August year 2000 here in Dammam Central Jail. I was sentenced to die
in Public Execution by Beheading but was delayed and have to wait the
Aggrieved Children to reach their majority Age before the
implementation of the said sentenced…

I have the word of truth, my conscience is clean and God knows that im
just a victim of circumstances. Anyone will do the same what i have
done in case of any unexpected evil attack…

I have my wife and kids and families waiting for me…

For sure that you’re aware also of my unceasing solicitation because
of our present predicaments. My wife is working in Government Hospital
here in Eastern Region of Saudi Arabia but her meager salary is not
enough to sustain our daily needs…

Our Kids are getting grown and we are facing more difficulty that is
so hard for a single parents working with a meager salary to cope our
needs…

Im begging your kindness some financial assistance for our Kids
Welfare and their Education…

Im on Deathrow and have to face the 36″ Sword to decapitate my head
and i keep praying harder to God asking Him to give me a new lease of
life for my family who are waiting for me…

Im not a murderer. I came here in KSA to work hard for our living but
destiny put me here. Please help us…

Your kind help and utmost attention regarding this matter would really
be highly appreciated…

May Almighty God continue to bless you and your family…

More power po to you…

Brotherly yours
Don2 Lanuza
+966551028601
begging your help… Please help us..

Zero Remittance day on October 29!

The International Migrants Alliance (IMA) has declared October 29 as “Zero Remittance Day” in protest of the Global Forum on Migration and Development’s (GFMD) exploitative agenda of exacting more profits out of migrant workers.

“The Zero Remittance Day principally takes the GFMD to task for being an elitist, anti-migrant forum aimed to perpetuate the greater commodification of migrants worldwide. All over the globe, the growing migrants’ movement views the GFMD as a sham assembly with the sole objective to consolidate and legitimize attacks on migrants’ rights and welfare,” the IMA said.

The IMA will challenge the GFMD and expose it’s exploitative character in its own assembly on October 28-29 in Manila.

The IMA’s call:

Uphold and protect our rights!

Stop forced migration!

Ensure jobs back home!

End poverty!

Nothing less.

————————————–

OFWs urged not to remit on October 29

By Jerome Aning
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 16:14:00 10/19/2008

MANILA, Philippines — Overseas Filipino workers’ groups will join an international “Zero Remittance Day” on October 29, according to a coalition of migrant labor groups.

The International Migrants Alliance, an alliance composed of 112 grassroots migrants’ organizations worldwide, called on migrant workers on Sunday to withhold sending money home for a day to express their opposition to the 2nd Global Forum on Migration that the Philippines has been set to host from Oct. 28 to Oct. 29.

Eni Lestari, IMA’s chair who is now in Manila, said in a statement that member-groups from sending and destination countries such as the Philippines, Indonesia, Hong Kong, US, Canada, the Netherlands, Italy, Saudi Arabia, Bangladesh, Taiwan, and Australia committed to participate in the activity.

“The Zero Remittance Day principally takes the GFMD to task for being an elitist, anti-migrant forum aimed to perpetuate the greater commodification of migrants worldwide. All over the globe, the growing migrants’ movement views the GFMD as a sham assembly with the sole objective to consolidate and legitimize attacks on migrants’ rights and welfare,” explained Lestari, an Indonesian migrant workers organizer.

Lestari said the GFMD “cannot be expected to become a significant tool to its supposed stakeholders, migrant workers themselves, when it fails to tackle the fundamental problems and issues concerning the unprecedented growing number of migrants.”

IMA will be conducting in Manila its own gathering, the International Assembly of Migrants and Refugees, also on Oct. 28-29, to call for the end of labor export policies, for the creation of jobs at home, and for intensified defense of migrants’ rights.

Department of Labor Export

The Arroyo government, by way of a press release and after weeks of deafening silence, has finally disclosed their contingency plan to assist the thousands of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) that will surely be displaced by the global economic crisis.

In a statement posted on its website yesterday, Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) Secretary Marianito Roque said its “action agenda” consists of “two sets of interventions such as those that shall be provided onsite and those that shall be extended to OFWs upon their return to the country.”

As expected, the government, Roque says would assist OFWs “find employment in other overseas destinations;” and for those who would opt to stay here in the country, they would give them “livelihood or business enterprises” instead.

I, however, find the Department of Labor’s “action agenda” quite disturbing. Roque’s official pronouncements confirms the unmistakable fact that the Arroyo administration, despite its boasts of “sound economic fundamentals,” is utterly incapable of providing long term and viable jobs for the mass of OFWs who are about to be displaced.

Even their promises of livelihood options brings to memory how the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration’s (OWWA) “Groceria Project” failed miserably and how it was just used by Ms. Arroyo as a campaign tool during the 2004 elections.

Still, their plan to re-export these workers to other “overseas destinations” speaks volumes about the Arroyo regime’s thrust with regard to jobs generation. It exposes how Ms. Gloria Arroyo was lying through her teeth, again, when she declared during the media launch of the 2nd Global Forum on Migration and Development (GFMD) in Malacanang two weeks ago that “our policy is not to export labor.”

On October 27-30, the Arroyo regime shall host the 2nd GFMD minus the credibility and moral ascendancy to even pretend that our government “cares” for the well being of our bagong bayanis. One need only look at the inhumane deportation of Filipinos from Sabah, Malaysia; the recent beheading of OFW Venancio Ladion in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia; the death sentence by firing squad to OFW Nemencia Armia in Taiwan; the anxiety befalling our OFWs on death row and the growing number of OFWs trickling back to the country because of the crisis; as proof how bankrupt the Arroyo government and the GFMD’s line that migration leads to development.

2nd GFMD: It’s like drinking and driving. They don’t mix!

Global Forum on Migration and Development (GFMD) Chairman and Department of Foreign Affairs Undersecretary Esteban Conejos says the 2nd GFMD, which will be held here in Manila this end of the month, will “shine the spotlight on the human face of migration.”

Well shine your spotlight on this Mr. Chairman…

Laid-off OFWs return from Romania

Laid-off OFWs return from Romania

Human Faces

The “human faces” in the picture above (courtesy of Business Mirror’s Recto Mercene) are the batch of overseas Filipino workers who has just returned home yesterday because they lost their jobs in Romania due to the biting global financial crisis.

Today’s Business Mirror says these returning OFWs “provide the first human face of the global turmoil’s impact on OFWs.” Well, they do provide a human face to it, but they are not the first; and by all means, they won’t be the last.

Every time host governments feel the crunch of the economic crisis, it is always the migrant workers who bear most of its heavy brunt. They always find themselves at the receiving end of unjust mass retrenchments, wage cuts; and for the most vulnerable among their ranks – the undocumented workers – violent crackdowns and inhumane deportations.

The logic here is very simple; these migrants are guests in those countries, so they are always the first ones to be eased or kicked out. So for the Department of Labor to claim that OFWs won’t be affected at all by this crisis is like saying that we won’t be seeing the sun set later on the day.

(I’ve even read somewhere this stupid notion from a stupid Filipino official that Filipino domestic helper’s jobs are safe and they won’t be getting the axe anytime soon because their services are badly needed while both of their employers find work just to make ends meet at this trying times. Stupid.)

Crackdowns galore

Ever since the United States drummed up the “anti-terror” hysteria after the 9/11 attacks, to justify its imperialist wars of aggression in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere; several governments imposed stricter immigration rules and the result was, to say the least, devastating.

The US’ immigration rules legitimized mass arrests on a nationwide scale and even the organizations or churches that give aid to the undocumented were not spared and were given harsh jail time.

We’ve seen batches of Filipinos deported from the US who arrived in the country handcuffed and restrained in the entire duration of their flight. They were treated like common criminals. Whole families were also uprooted in the States in the course of such deportations. Such fate happened to the Manalastas and Cuevas families.

Of late, thousands of OFWs treated inhumanely and deported from Sabah, Malaysia made the headlines. A recently concluded fact finding mission led by Migrante International found out that Filipino deportees from Sabah were “harassed, humiliated and maltreated.” They were subjected to deplorable conditions and made to eat rotten food teeming with maggots, according to them.

European Countries has, also recently, voted to flush out the thousands of illegal workers within their territories. South Korea too has stepped up their own campaign. We have over a hundred thousand undocumented Filipinos in the EU countries while we have more than 30,000 working incognito in South Korea.

We also saw 6,000 OFWs who were stranded at Kish Island near the United Arab Emirates border as a result of UAE’s new and more stringent visa requirement. Reports coming from migrant organizations say that quite a number of them have been “sick, hungry and dying.”

All of this unfortunate events (and in fact there are lots more) are happening because of the intensifying global economic turmoil. And the OFW returnees from Romania are just one of the many.

That said, lets go back to Conejos and his asinine assertions.

Usec. Conejos photo courtesy of Reuters

Usec. Conejos photo courtesy of Reuters

He says the focus of the GFMD debate in Manila will be on “migration and its interlinkages to development,” and on “how migration can be made to work for development.” Such claims betray his ignorance on the very nature of migration in the Philippines.

Contrary to his beliefs, Filipinos migrate because development in the Philippines is enjoyed only by a miniscule 1% percent of our population. Filipinos grudgingly leave by the thousands (3,000 or so to be not so exact) daily to uncertain shores overseas because the very government Conejos represents failed to provide them gainful and decent employment.

What we have is forced migration simply because of the fact that no one in his right mind would choose to leave their families behind – most of the time to tend to somebody else’s children or take care of somebody else’s aging parents abroad – if there are opportunities here.

The Philippine government has “been in the business for a long time,” Conejos says and fact is, he’s right. But why the hell the screaming fact that we are still the backward, underdeveloped and crisis ridden nation escaped his melons?

If we are to follow his logic, then we should be a first world country by now since we have been in the “business” of systematically exporting humans abroad for the last thirty years. Migration leads to development right? Wrong!

Migration leads to broken families, human rights violations, de-skilling of our work force, the destruction of our health care system (because even our doctors scramble to become nurses just to go abroad), and a national government and economy that is heavily dependent on the remittances that migrants bring home. It has led us to a situation that even if our own currency rallies strength,the whole nation mourns and only Malacanang rejoices.

It’s like drinking and driving. Migration and development don’t mix.

But still, our GFMD poster boy insists that the migration we have now “benefits also the economies of the sending countries…” According to him also, people leave because there is a demand for them overseas. “It’s a supply and demand thing,” he argues.

If so then why the hell his boss in Malacanang is so hell-bent on deploying more than one million of our precious workers abroad annually? Why is it that the Philippine government has become the biggest migrant recruitment agency in the planet?

No, it is NOT because of the flimsy reason Conejos pointed out. It is because, it is their POLICY to export our workers in exchange for the billions of dollars they inject in to our economy.

I am no fan of the GFMD that Conejos and the entire Arroyo regime is trying so hard to pass off as a blessing to the migrants of the world. It’s only aim is to work out ways how governments can squeeze more profits from the migrants’ labor.

It’s not surprising that legitimate and grassroots migrants organizations has shunned the forum. I salute them for standing up against the GFMD and exposing its evil agenda.

To the organizations not invited to Conejos’ sham forum, and will hold instead the International Assembly of Migrants and Refugees (IAMR) where “migrants will speak for themselves,” MABUHAY KAYO!