Help OFWs in distress! Watch Migrante (The Filipino Diaspora)

Gusto mo bang makatulong sa mga kababayan nating OFWs na palagiang dumaranas ng pang-aabuso sa ibayong dagat? 

Suportahan at panuorin ang pelikulang “MIGRANTE (The Filipino Diaspora)” ng batikang Direktor na si Joel Lamangan. Tampok sa pelikula sina Jodi Sta. Maria at Allen Dizon. Kasama din sina Luis Alandy, Bangs Garcia, Chynna Ortaleza, Ryza Cenon, Rich Asuncion, Jaime Pebanco, Raquel Villavicencio, Alex Castro at Tony Mabesa.

Ika nga ng mga taong nasa likod ng pelikula:

Of the many films on the Filipino migrant workers, we are proud to say that “Migrante (The Filipino Diaspora)” makes a difference. While it may have hewed to the commonplace story of a Filipino family forced by circumstances to join the perilous diaspora of migrant workers, it offers a critical insight on the OFW phenomena and the quicksand that is government’s labor export policy.

Ipalalabas ang “Migrante (The Filipino Diaspora)” sa July 15, 2012 sa Robinson’s Galleria Cinema 5, Ortigas.

Ticket prices:
10am screening – P50
1pm – balcony P120, orchestra P100
4pm – balcony P120, orchestra P100
7pm gala premiere – sponsor tickets (limited seats only) P1,000 and P500

Bahagi ng kikitain ay mapupunta sa  Rights and Welfare Assistance Program ng Migrante International – na pinakamalaking alyansa ng mga samahang OFW sa buong mundo. Ang grupong ito ay kilala bilang pinakamasigasig na nakikipaglaban sa kapakanan ng sektor.

Para makakuha ng tickets, makipag-ugnayan lang sa Migrante International sa telepono bilang (02) 9114910. Hanapin lamang si Pam.

Tara nuod tayo!

Overseas Absentee Voting (OAV) in the Philippines

Today we celebrate National Migrant Workers’ Day!

In commemoration of this occasion, I deemed it necessary to focus on Overseas Absentee Voting (OAV), the mechanism by which our kababayans abroad may participate in electing our leaders here in the Philippines.

The OAV

The right to suffrage of Filipino citizens, here and abroad, is enshrined in the highest law of the land.

Section 2, Article V of the 1987 Philippine Constitution states that “Congress shall provide  a system of securing  the secrecy and sanctity of the ballots as well as the system for absentee voting  by qualified Filipinos abroad.”

Thus on February 13, 2003, Republic Act No. 9189 or the “Overseas Absentee Voting Act” was made into law, granting “all citizens of the Philippines abroad” the right to vote for President, Vice-President, Senators and Party-list representatives.

But since its enactment eleven years ago, Filipinos overseas have yet to reap the benefits of full voting rights as promised by the Constitution. Participation by our overseas compatriots in the system remain dismally low.

Migrante International, the biggest alliance of OFW organizations worldwide, maintained that the low participation can not be attributed to the so called  “growing apathy” among overseas Filipino workers (OFWs), contrary to claims by the government and some migrant advocacy groups.

Migrante averred:

While OAV turn-out was indeed low, we believe that it is more important and urgent to review and evaluate the limiting provisions in Republic Act 9189 or the OAV Act , as well as the indifference of some government agencies, particularly the Commission on Elections (Comelec) and the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA), to OFWs’ issues and complaints pertaining the actual processes and implementing procedures of the OAV. These, primarily, are the main reasons for the massive disenfranchisement of overseas Filipino voters.

The group prepared a Position Paper on what they think the government should undertake in order to improve the system.

I believe Congress and the COMELEC should seriously consider Migrante’s proposals.

In the meantime, I strongly urge Filipinos overseas to register as overseas absentee voters. OAV Registration have been running since October 31 last year. It will end on October 31, 2012.

Qualified Filipinos abroad may file their applications for registration at their Philippine Posts or Consulates. They need only bring their passports- and in the case of the seafarers, their Seaman’s Books – to register.

To learn more on the basic features of the OAV, below is a power point presentation prepared by the COMELEC Education and Information Department on the Basic Features of the OAV. Kindly click on the link to download: 2011_oav_regn

OFWs Kalahok sa Pagbabago! Magparehistro para Makaboto! 

OFWs and Financial Literacy

CNN’s “Eye On” made a special report on the Philippines recently, focusing on our Overseas Filipino Workers or OFWs. The report stated that while they earn billions of dollars abroad, our OFWs are faced with the challenge of investing their money wisely.

So to address this, CNN said the Philippine government ventured on providing financial literacy trainings to teach OFWs money management and investment skills and to equip them with the necessary knowhow to “stop their relatives back home from spending all the cash.”

“There’s a lot of money,” Philippine Ambassador to the United Arab Emirates Grace Princesa told the CNN. “If we can guide overseas Filipinos and their families to invest, I think that will be a large source of private-public sector cooperation,” she said.

Ambassador Princesa and the Philippine government appear to be trivializing the almost four-decade old forced Filipino migration and its ruinous social costs. For them the solution to the complex issues and problems besetting our OFWs and their families is as simple as educating them on how to spend their hard-earned cash wisely.

What’s worse, the fact that the government is again turning to our OFWs to invest their money if only to spur economic growth, reveal its parasitic reliance to OFW remittances. It also proves that the government has no plan at all in generating long-term and sustainable jobs in the country.

OFW country

The Philippines has been in the business of exporting Filipinos since the early ‘70s. Right now, we have more than 12 million Filipinos toiling in almost 200 countries worldwide. In 2010, OFWs remitted $18 Billion, according to the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas. The amount contributed to the spike in the country’s growth rate from 5.6% in 2009 to 8.2% towards the end of 2010. The total remittances that year were equivalent to 8.7% of the country’s Gross National Product (GNP).

Indeed, the money generated by our army of OFWs is huge. But we need to dissect this further.

Government data shows that majority of Filipinos overseas works on service, production and skilled job categories such as domestic workers, caregivers, factory and construction workers, among others.

This means, a huge chunk of OFWs labor on jobs that are tagged as ‘dirty, difficult, demeaning and dangerous’ – or jobs that does not pay well, however backbreaking and demanding it is.

In fact according to Migrante International, a global alliance of OFWs and their families, a remittance-dependent family in the country receives only an average of P7, 000 a month from their relatives abroad. A survey conducted by Hong Kong based migrant Filipino groups also reveal that a typical OFW there sends their families here a measly average of $166 (P6, 640) a month.

This goes to show that the money received by remittance-dependent families here in the country simply is not enough if we compare it to the government estimated data of P29, 000 needed by a family of six to survive. Even if their husbands or wives here in the country have jobs, the pay on the domestic front is glaringly insufficient considering the unabated increase in the prices of oil and petroleum products, transportation, education, utilities and other basic commodities.

So, if the majority of our OFWs barely have enough cash to support their families’ needs here at home, where on God’s earth will they find the money to save or even invest?

To say then that the problem lies in our OFWs’ ignorance in money management is tantamount to saying that they and their families that depend on them are ‘waldas’ (irresponsible spenders) and ‘bilmokos’ (local street slang for ‘buy me this, buy me that’).

Our OFWs don’t need ‘financial literacy’ trainings.

What they need and deserve are sustainable and gainful employment here at home. What they need and deserve is a government that is truly responsive to their needs. ###

It’s time for genuine OFW representation in gov’t

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!

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.


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.

Disaster has a passport Mr. Bean, err, Mr. Tsao

chip-tsao as Mr Bean

Yup, Hong Kong based columnist Chip Tsao sure looks like our favorite funny man Mr. Bean. But unlike Mr. Bean, who could make us laugh to tears easily without even muttering a word, Mr. Tsao is not at all funny. And, this self-confessed “patriotic Chinese man” has learned of it the hard way.

Recently, Tsao wrote the article “The War At Home” that appeared on Hong Kong Magazine and on its online site March 27, 2009. In his piece, Tsao ranted about Manila’s claim over the disputed Spratly group of Islands. This, according to him is “beyond reproach.”

“The reason: there are more than 130,000 Filipina maids working as $3,580-a-month cheap labor in Hong Kong. As a nation of servants, you don’t flex your muscles at your master, from whom you earn most of your bread and butter,” wrote Mr. Tsao.

Of course, Mr. Tsao’s unsavory remarks made a whole nation’s blood boil. Filipinos from all walks of life and from all over the planet, lambasted the writer for this out and out “racial slur.”

Outrage

Reactions from angry Filipinos flew in from different directions. This ranged from demanding an unconditional public apology from Mr. Tsao and from the publishers of the magazine; to the filing of a stern diplomatic protest by the Philippine government; to a nationwide boycott of all things Hong Kong. Migrante International, the largest OFW alliance worldwide, even wanted Chip Tsao declared “persona non grata” in the Philippines.

Migrante couldn’t be more correct when they said:

“The article written by Mr. Chip Tsao smacks of unqualified racial bias that vilifies the hundreds of thousands of Filipinos in Hong Kong and puts them in danger of persecution and harm. We demand no less than a public apology from Mr. Tsao and from the Hong Kong Magazine for allowing this bigoted garbage to appear on its pages.”

The Philippines’ Bureau of Immigration (BI) responded to Migrante’s call. In a directive issued Monday, BI chief Marcelino Libanan ordered that columnist Chip Tsao be barred from entering the Philippines pending a public apology on his part for the national insult. Libanan even volunteered to one day give Tsao a personal tour of the Philippines if only to drive home the point that ours is not a “nation of servants” but a “nation of professionals.”

Of late, and after stirring up a hornet’s nest of outrage, Tsao’s publisher and editors have apologized “unreservedly” for any offense caused by the article. But Tsao has yet to issue his.

In a recent AFP report, Tsao even hinted that “people in Hong Kong,” Filipinos included, who were riled at his writing, couldn’t take a joke. He explained that he has just “taken a dramatic role to express the sentiment of Chinese nationalism.”

“It’s my usual tongue-in-the-cheek, satirical writing style. People in Hong Kong are not used to this style, but native English speakers would have no problem understanding my message,” he said.

State of denial

From his own words, we can deduce that Tsao is in a state of denial and that he’s not about to say sorry in spite of the international indignation that he has caused. Tsao is still bent on passing off his racist article as a “satire,” sorely missing the point that no one’s even laughing.

United Filipinos in Hong Kong (UNIFIL-MIGRANTE HK), a group of Filipino workers in the former British colony, through its Chairperson Dolores Balladares, a domestic worker; gave Tsao, “a best selling author and columnist,” a dressing down and a lecture on what really constitutes a political satire.

“Political satire as a journalistic device is used to challenge or even make fun of authorities and the status quo. Mr. Tsao did not do so in his latest column. Instead, he further beats up the already low and downtrodden.

Behind such lines that Mr. Tsao may likely but wrongly justify as satire, there lies the precarious reinforcement of the master-slave treatment of domestic workers. Mr. Tsao makes it appear that it is alright to denigrate us and take potshots at us.

In his failed attempt to be witty, Mr. Tsao regrettably trivialized the very serious domestic workers’ situation in Hong Kong society. Such an article to appear publicly is very dangerous for it projects that it can be socially-permissible to treat domestic workers as no more than slaves ready to be lectured, ordered around, easily threatened with termination, and made to jump at every whim of employers.”

Disaster has a passport

Chip Tsao has to realize the lesson that – as a by-line in Mr. Bean’s recent movie goes – ‘Disaster has a passport.’ This lesson was learned quite bitterly by Filipino journalist and self-confessed “diva” Malu Fernandez after she collectively derided the army of Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) when she said in an article that she would rather slash her wrist than be trapped in a plane loaded with OFWs; and the US TV giant ABC who aired a ‘Desperate Housewives’ episode in 2007 which belittled the Philippines’ medical profession.

As a nation that is buttressed by the hard-earned money sent home by almost 10 million overseas Filipino workers scattered in 192 countries all over the world, we are a country that is easily fumed each time somebody attacks the dignity of even a single OFW.

Almost all of us have a parent, a better half, a sibling or a friend overseas, courtesy of the past and present regime’s three decade old Labor Export Program that is why we automatically relate to racial slurs as that of our own.

But while Chip Tsao deserved the disaster he’s in right now and that it is but just to rile at every Chip, Malu and Susan Meyers (character in Desperate Housewives played by actress Teri Hatcher) out there, we should also hold the Philippine government accountable for exporting three thousand Filipinos on a daily basis to dirty, difficult and dangerous jobs overseas in exchange for their billions of dollars of remittances.

If only we Filipinos could channel our impressive demonstration of collective outrage at the successive racial slurs we have encountered, into militant resolve and action to radically change the socio-political landscape in the country so no one would be forced to be an OFW and run the risk of being denigrated, humiliated and treated as second class citizens abroad; I’m sure Mr. Chip Tsao wouldn’t be enjoying the international attention he’s in right now because “Luisa,” his Filipina maid, wouldn’t be working for him in Hong Kong, cleaning his toilet and windows for “16 hours a day.”

Luisa would be in Hong Kong as a tourist and not as a maid. Otherwise, she’d be with her family here at home, happily cleaning her own toilet and windows while contributing, in her own little way, to the betterment and progress of her country.

This is the kind of society we Filipinos should rage about and work hard for.