Migrante fears that recruitment of OFWs bound for war-torn Iraq would intensify in the coming months as the U.S. State Department renewed its contract with Blackwater, a U.S.-based private contractor providing security to U.S. diplomats and personnel in Iraq. This, despite the existing ban on OFW deployments to Iraq, as, Migrante said, the POEA is “sleeping on the job.”
BY AUBREY MAKILAN
Vol. VIII, No. 9, April 6-12, 2008
An alliance of Overseas Filipino Workers’ organizations in the Middle East feared that the recruitment of overseas Filipino workers (OFW) to war-torn Iraq will be intensified as the U. S. State Department renewed its contract with Blackwater, a U.S.-based private contractor providing security to U.S. diplomats and personnel in Iraq.
Moreover, Migrante-Middle East lambasted the Arroyo administration and the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) for allegedly “sleeping on the job” in its task of monitoring and barring recruitment agencies from sending OFWs to Iraq.
“We are aptly raising this concern as we have received reports that there are still some recruitment agencies in the Philippines which are continuously sending OFWs in Iraq to serve in construction, or as drivers and security personnel in the facilities that the U.S. military builds in Iraq and U.S. military camps such as Camp Anaconda and Camp Victory, using Kuwait and UAE (United Arab Emirates) as entry points,” said John Leonard Monterona, Migrante Middle East regional coordinator.
Monterona noted that the continued deployment of OFWs to Iraq, either through legal or illegal means, obviously endangers OFWs’ lives.
He expressed his worries that Blackwater “may likewise renew its contract with local recruitment agencies in Kuwait and UAE which in turn could re-establish its tie-up with private recruitment agencies in the Philippines for recruitment of Filipino workers to work in Iraq.”
Aside from Blackwater, companies like Prime Projects International (PPI) and Kellogg, Brown & Root (KBR), a subdiary of Haliburton Companies which was once headed by U.S. Vice-President Dick Cheney, are also active in the recruitment of migrant workers to be deployed to Iraq.
“We believe that there are still a considerable number of OFWs in Iraq right now, whose very lives are at risk given that the war waged by the Iraqi revolutionary movements against the U.S. military invaders is escalating especially in Basra and inside Baghdad City as well,” Monterona said.
In September 2004, Ambassador Roy Cimatu estimated that there are 4,500 OFWs in Iraq when asked in a Senate hearing on the proposed lifting of the government-imposed deployment ban in Iraq.
But even with a deployment ban, Monterona said, there could be more than 4,500 OFWs in Iraq citing reports that private recruitment agencies in the Philippines are allegedly continuously sending OFWs using Kuwait and UAE as the countries of destination and from there are transported by land to Iraq.
Indeed, the Department of Foreign Affairs January to June 2007 Report to Congress estimated there are 6,108 Filipinos in Iraq: 8 permanent residents, 3,300 temporary migrants, and 2,800 undocumented workers.
Monterona said that OFWs and applicants are swayed to accept job offers in war-torn Iraq as private contractors like Blackwater, PPI, and KBR offer a relatively “fat” employment contract compared to other places of work despite a very risky work environment.
“The above-mentioned U.S. private contractors in Iraq offer an insurance policy of $35,000 dollars plus a local insurance of about Php 200,000 pesos,” Monterona detailed.
With no other option left but to accept dangerous jobs in Iraq, Monterona said, that this insurance coverage is big enough to secure the future of the families of OFWs in case something tragic will happen to them. Most Filipinos would also argue that “it is better to die in Iraq and receive this huge insurance benefit for their family than die in the Philippines and leave their families hungry and destitute,” he added.
The migrant leader said that less than 10 OFWs have already died in Iraq. “We don’t want to see more OFWs die in the coming days.”
Migrante-Middle East urges the POEA to intensify its monitoring drive against recruitment agencies that are continuously sending OFWs in Iraq, using Kuwait and UAE as entry points of destination and other illegal channels, despite the deployment ban imposed by the government.
“If it is really serious in prosecuting recruitment agencies violating the deployment ban in Iraq, (it) should double-check and scrutinize prospective foreign employers and principals of private recruitment agencies by requiring them to submit their foreign employers and principals’ nature of business and other circumstances to be certified by the POLO (Philippine Overseas Labor Office) and Philippine Embassy officials assigned in the host country to ensure that our fellow OFWs and aspiring alike will not be sent to war-torn Iraq,” stressed Monterona.
Monterona also challenged POEA “to prosecute its officials who are found to be conniving with any recruitment agencies that are still sending OFWs in Iraq despite the government imposed deployment ban as we have heard that “pera-pera lang iyan” (money is all that is needed) to acquire an Overseas Employment Certificate (OEC) from POEA.” (Bulatlat.com)