Overseas Filipino workers are dubbed as “modern-day heroes” by government. Rightly so, because their remittances prop up the economy by bringing in the much-needed dollars and stimulating domestic consumer spending. They are also “modern-day heroes” because they risk life and limb just to provide a decent income for their families. The sad part about being heroes is that they are left to fend for themselves when disaster strikes, just like the wars in the Middle East. And in spite of news releases by government announcing various forms of assistance allotted to them, the reality on the ground is that many among them have not received what is due them because of “lack of funds.”
BY AUBREY SC MAKILAN
Part 3: Terrorized in Iraq
President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s all-out support for the war in Iraq has caused the death of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs), said Connie Bragas-Regalado, Migrante International chairperson. Among those killed in U.S. military camps were Rodrigo Reyes, Raul Carlos Flores and Raymond Natividad.
Just recently, Filipino truck drivers Rogelio Alere Saraida and Carlito Sotes Mainit suffered the same fate in two separate incidents, a grenade attack and a roadside bomb in Iraq.
But other OFWs who only suffered injuries felt luckier for being alive.
Natividad’s co-workers, Leopoldo Soliman and Roland Dayao were among the Filipino workers wounded in Camp Anaconda, the U.S. military base in Balad, north of Baghdad, capital city of war-torn Iraq. The mortar that killed Natividad, on May 11, 2004, also hit Soliman who was wounded in the left thigh and Dayao who was hit by shrapnel causing his intestines to protrude.
Both went home on May 19, 2004 with other OFWs and Natividad’s remains.
Soliman and Dayao were just two of thousands of Filipinos who have risked their lives to work for the reconstruction of Iraq after the United States’ invasion. At least 25,000 workers were hired for the reconstruction effort. The offer of a salary of U.S. $615 a month was too much for undergraduates like Soliman to ignore.
Dayao had 74 stitches. Soliman underwent skin grafting, an operation to attach healthy skin from another part of his body to the damaged part of his left thigh. Soliman said he had the operation in the Philippines because he needed the assistance and care of his family.
Soliman and Dayao were reluctant to agree to interviews, saying they have been over-exposed but nobody has paid any attention to their plight.
When Bulatlat interviewed Soliman in 2004, he said he has not received a single centavo of financial support from the government. Soliman paid for his medical expenses out of his own pocket, which included his weekly physical therapy sessions costing P3, 000 ($59.41 at an exchange rate of $1=P50.49) per session for several months.
Soliman has not fully recovered yet. Bragas-Regalado said they heard that he was still injecting steroids to heal the damaged part. But the migrant group also said that Soliman has expressed readiness to take the risk once more as a U.S. military camp aide in Iraq. As he was injured at work, he is considered “on emergency leave” and will be rehired as soon as he completely recovers.
More in danger zones
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. Bragas-Regalado said that although OFWs are not deployed directly to Iraq, many of them cross over from other countries for higher-paying mercenary jobs.
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. (Bulatlat.com)