In spite of President Arroyo’s statement that it is government policy to “allow our citizens to work only in safe places,” some 1.1 million Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) are still working, and many more are being deployed in danger zones all over the world.
BY AUBREY SC MAKILAN
Two Filipino truck drivers were killed in a span of two months in Iraq. On Aug. 12, Rogelio Alere Saraida, 47, of Bacoor town, Cavite province, died in a grenade attack in Mosul. Saraida worked for the Kuwait-based Parsons International.
Earlier, on July 30, Carlito Sotes Mainit, 52, of Malabon City was killed when the truck that he was driving was hit by a roadside bomb in Iraq. Mainit’s truck was part of a 20-vehicle convoy that was bound for Baghdad from Kuwait. Aside from Mainit, Migrante International said that 10 other drivers in the convoy were Filipinos. The Overseas Workers’ Welfare Administration (OWWA) has only recently confirmed Mainit’s death.
In February, overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) Abel Monterela and Felix Llorando, along with three others, died in Saudi Arabia after being wounded in a shootout between Saudi police and a militant group there.
Meanwhile, 20 Filipino seamen were seized by Somali rebels who held them hostage for 108 days since March 29. They were finally freed, and nine of them were back in Manila on August 5.
Despite previous incidents of hostages and deaths, many OFWs have decided to work and stay on in strife-ridden or war-torn countries.
At present, the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) has suspended deployment in Lebanon and Iraq and restricted work in Afghanistan.
But POEA data showed that deployment of OFWs in Iraq and Afghanistan even increased since 2003 (see Table 1).
Based on the July-December 2004 Report to Congress prepared by the Office of the Undersecretary for Migrant Workers Affairs (OUMWA) of the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA), there are about 6,020 OFWs in Iraq. Of this, about 2,000 OFWs are undocumented.
Migrante International chairperson Connie Bragas-Regalado said that although OFWs are not deployed directly to Iraq, many of them cross over to this war-torn country for higher-paying mercenary jobs.
Based on the DFA report, majority of OFWs in Iraq are semi-skilled workers like laborers. Some are professionals, like engineers and accountants, and skilled workers, like carpenters, and administrative assistants.
In 2003, the Department of Labor and Employment issued a suspension of deployment in some Middle East countries, yet records show the increase of documented OFWs within that year. (See Table 2)
Garry Martinez, spokesperson of Migrante Sectoral Party (MSP), said that aside from the three countries, there are many other countries the government should consider as danger zones, considering the history of being at war or internal conflict in these places.
Migrante said that countries which are considered danger zones are Iran, North and South Korea, Nigeria, Somalia, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Liberia, Israel, and the countries in the Balkan Peninsula.
About 1,160,132 OFWs are in danger in these countries, and in Iraq, Lebanon, and Afghanistan, said Martinez (see Table 3).
In Saudi, Kuwait and Lebanon, most of the OFWs work as domestic helpers. Women in production work as dressmakers while men as construction laborers. Aside from domestics, most women in Israel work as caregivers and nurse aides.
In the Balkan peninsula, OFWs are skilled workers in companies. Some women are domestics for diplomats.
Martinez said that although only seafarers, and no other permanent OFWs are in Somalia, ships carrying Filipino seafarers pass through the Somali waters where several boats have been held hostage by Somali rebels.
In Afghanistan, Iran, Liberia and Nigeria, most OFWs are engaged in construction and oil industries.
Anthony Santos, is an OFW who worked for the American oil service firm Willbros Group in Nigeria. Santos, along with eight other foreign workers, were held hostage by the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND).
The nine foreign workers were on a pipe-laying barge in Nigeria’s Niger Delta when they were abducted on Feb. 18. The incident reportedly took place after a militant commander declared “total war” on all foreign oil interests in the Delta. They were released after 11 days.
Despite the hostage taking of OFWs in Somalia and Nigeria, the POEA issued no restriction of work or deployment ban to these countries.
No bilateral agreement
Bragas-Regalado said that the government should ensure that they have bilateral agreements with host countries to protect the welfare of migrant Filipinos.
But based on the OUMWA-DFA 2004 Report to Congress, the Philippine government has no bilateral agreements with these countries, except Iraq.