The Philippine Consulate in Jeddah reported that 922 overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) who were stranded in the Kingdom with no contracts and jobs have already been deported back to the Philippines. But this happened only after the OFWs have gone through a lot of hardships including living in tents under a bridge.
BY AUBREY SC MAKILAN
Vol. VIII, No. 3, February 17-23, 2008
The Philippine Consulate in Jeddah reported that 922 overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) who were stranded in the Kingdom with no contracts and jobs have already been deported back to the Philippines. But this happened only after the OFWs have gone through a lot of hardships including living in tents under a bridge for more than a year.
Thus, Migrante said, the Arroyo government must take concrete steps to ensure that the “perennial” issue of stranded OFWs in Saudi Arabia is addressed.
Longing up to her last breath
Her longing to see her son Joel Agana, one of the stranded OFWs in Jeddah, had made Fe, who was confined in a hospital because of a heart attack, live for another three weeks.
“Sinasabi namin uuwi na si Joel kaya parang lumalakas loob n’ya,” (We were telling her that Joel is about to go home and it made her feel stronger.) recalled Anita Manota, Joel’s auntie.
Up to the time Fe breathed her last breath, last Feb. 11, she was still longing to see her son. But unfortunately, at the time of Fe’s death, Joel was still among the OFWs protesting outside the Philippine Consulate in Jeddah demanding for their repatriation.
Joel, a heavy equipment operator, ran away from his employer a year ago complaining of contract substitution. Joel did not file a formal complaint with the Philippine Overseas Labor Office (POLO) because he said, “Wala namang mangyayari (Nothing will happen anyway).”
Since then, Joel worked as “extra” in part time jobs. And even if his pay was delayed or worse, not given, he was not able to complain about it because he was already an undocumented worker then with no work contract, his wife Juna told Bulatlat.
“Gusto n’ya sana magkapera para makauwi,” (He wanted to earn enough money to be able to go home.) said Juna. But she said her husband could not save money because he sent them his meager earnings, amounting to about P3,000 ($73 at an exchange rate of $1=P41), to support their two children. For the months that he could not send a single cent, or when his remittance fell short of their expenses, which happened often, Juna asked for money from her siblings.
Joel reportedly sought a fixer’s help to facilitate his immediate return to the Philippines. But he was dropped off at the Al Khandara Bridge where other Filipinos were also waiting to be arrested and deported by the Immigration Police. Stranded migrant workers from different nationalities usually camp out under Al Kandara Bridge while awaiting deportation, making it a virtual tent city. Many of them, including Filipinos, were duped by agents or fixers peddling immediate access to the so-called ‘backdoor,’ reported Migrante.
The Consulate reported that fixers pose as agents of the Philippine Consulate General in Jeddah and collect fees ranging from SR500 to SR2,500 ($133 to $ 666 at an exchange rate of $1=SR3.75) in exchange for the immediate repatriation of overstaying and escaped OFWs.
For his part, even if he wanted to, Joel could not afford to shoulder his airfare because he had no regular job and no savings, like the rest of his fellow OFWs. His relatives could not help him because they were still struggling to find the means to pay for his mother’s hospitalization bill and funeral expenses.
Anita said that they were charged about P5,000 ($121.95) a day while Joel’s mother was in the hospital. Until now, they have not claimed her death certificate because they do not have P1,000 ($24.39) to pay it.
Protesting government inaction
Based on Migrante-Saudi Arabia’s records, the original number of stranded, undocumented OFWs who had run away from their respective employers and were massed up near the Deportation Office of the Kingdom’s Immigration Police in Jeddah since December 2007 was only 50. Among them were two pregnant women and two children less than two years old. But their number eventually swelled.
Carlos Rebutar, spokesperson of the stranded OFWs, said that Consul General Ezzedin Tago repeatedly refused their appeal for repatriation saying that he would not ‘lie’. He then asked them to sign a document indicating their acceptance of ‘due process,’ which the group declined.
“Tago could not answer our questions on how long this ‘due process’ would take and what we would do if the employer fabricated charges against us,” Rebutar said. “When we already gave them our legal names, he even refused to check if we had pending cases in courts unless we sign his so-called ‘acceptance of due process.’”
Migrante-Saudi Arabia chairperson Andrew Ociones said that the OFWs were instead told to go back to the bridge, keep their number to 50 and wait for the police to round them up within three days. Inevitably, the number increased as other stranded OFWs joined the group hoping they too would be repatriated.
The men among the stranded OFWs shaved their heads as a sign of protest, and to mourn the death of Joel’s mother. They also wore shirts bearing their call, ‘Send us home, Now!”
Under the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) Rules and Regulations Governing Recruitment and Employment of Land Based Overseas Workers, “The repatriation of the worker and the transport of his personal belongings shall be the primary responsibility of the agency which recruited or deployed the worker overseas.”