Last May 5, 2008, seven OFWs, the most recent batch who have been repatriated, were welcomed home by their families and Migrante staff. Carlos Rebutar, spokesperson of the seven stranded OFWs, said they are seeking justice for the negligence that they have experienced in the process of their repatriation.
BY JANESS ANN J. ELLAO
Vol. VIII, No. 16, May 25-31,2008
Overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) have been hailed by the government as “modern day heroes” for propping up the economy with their dollar remittances. Marching bands, government officials, and Pres. Arroyo herself welcome them occasionally and raffles were held for their benefit. But beneath the pomp and grandeur of these occasional events are stories of abuse and neglect. Among these are the stories of the 279 stranded OFWs in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia: victims of contract substitution, non-payment of wages, and worse, abuse who escaped from their employers and were left to fend for themselves and suffer the harsh conditions in deportation facilities.
Migrante International, an organization of OFWs and their families, said in their report that of the 279 stranded OFWs in their list, 111 have been repatriated from Saudi Arabia. But they added that over 10,000 more are still stranded all over the Middle East. Last May 5, 2008, seven OFWs, the most recent batch who have been repatriated, were welcomed home by their families and Migrante staff.
The seven OFWs faced the public in a press conference a week after they arrived. Carlos Rebutar, spokesperson of the seven stranded OFWs, said they are seeking justice for the negligence that they have experienced in the process of their repatriation.
In an interview with Bulatlat after the press conference, Rebutar shared his experiences without hesitation. In 2005, an employer from Saudi Arabia came to the Philippines to hire him as a color technician for a company supposedly based in Riyadh. His employment was facilitated by an agency based in the Philippines. “Ang usual tactics ng agency ay maghire ng first timer. First timer ako, hinire nila ako,” (The usual tactic of an agency is to hire first timers. I was a first timer so I was hired.) he told Bulatlat.
Rebutar added that upon signing the contract together with the employer, he was offered a salary of 1300 SAR, ($347.62 at today’s exchange rate of SAR 1=$0.267) transportation allowance and accommodations. However, when he reached Saudi Arabia, Rebutar was informed that Riyadh happens to be their entry point. It was only then that he found out that he is going to be based in Gazim, a province of Saudi Arabia. The situation worsened when his employer reduced his salary from 1300 SRI to 1,100 SRI, removed his transportation allowance and gave him very poor accommodations.
“Although andun kami na first timer, hindi kami tanga para hindi malaman na mali yun,” (Although we are first timers, we are not stupid not to know that what they are doing to us is wrong.) said Rebutar.
Other Filipinos, which Rebutar consulted, told him to talk to his employer about the matter. During their dialogue, his employer claimed that Rebutar would be given what was stipulated in the contract, including the transportation allowance, after his three months probationary period. However, his employer did not keep his word. When Rebutar asked to be released from the company, he was told that he could only get his release papers after working for three months without compensation. This prompted him to run away. He and his colleagues were able to find work in Jeddah.
Rebutar worked in Jeddah for two years and four months. When he decided that it was time to go home, he approached the Philippine consulate for assistance. He was told by consulate officials to go through “due process”.
Rebutar said “due process” was an opportunity for their former employers to have them sent to jail. “Yung ginawa nila sa amin ay jail process dahil inikot namin yun lahat ng kulungan sa Saudi. From Jeddah to Riyadh, from Riyadh to Gazi, from Gazim ibinalik kami ng Riyadh,” (What they did to us was ‘jail process’ because we went the rounds of all detention facilities in Saudi Arabia: from Jeddah to Riyadh, from Riyadh to Gazim, and from Gazim we were sent back to Riyadh.) said Rebutar.
Rebutar narrated that in the detention facilities they were sent to at least seven persons shared one plate of food. Thus, fighting over food was common. Rebutar and his companions were detained for three and a half months.
Philippine consulate officials who visited them promised so many times that they would be repatriated soon. But often these turned to be not true. “May time pa na dinala kami sa airport, ibinalik kami without papers. Pagdating sa airport, walang papeles na hawak, walang repatriation papers, walang travel documents, wala lahat. Ang ginawa sa amin, pinaasa lang kami tapos binalik na rin kami ng kulungan,” (Once we were even brought to the airport without papers and travel documents. We were only given false hopes because we were brought back to detention afterwards.)