Stranded OFWs Seek Redress

Tragic delay

Joel Agana, another recently-repatriated OFW, was more timid and silent. However, behind his diffidence is a appalling experience he suffered not only from his employers but also in the hands of the Philippine Consulate as well.

Agana experienced a substitution of contract upon arriving in Saudi Arabia. He told Bulatlat that his employer deducted so many things from his salary that he had no knowledge of. Because of this, like Rebutar and other stranded OFWs, he ran away from his employer in the hope of finding a better job in Jeddah. Everything was turning out fine until he was informed that his mother was very ill. He paid a fixer to facilitate his return home. “Siningil kami ng 750 SAR pagkatapos iniwan lang kami sa ilalim ng tulay,” (We paid the fixer 750 SAR but we were just left under the bridge.) Agana said.

Agana then sought the assistance of the Philippine Consulate. However, Agana ended up in jail just like Rebutar. Despite the restrictions in using cellular phones while in prison, Agana shared that he was constantly updated about his mother’s condition through text messages. “Itinatago namin. Ayun nakakalusot naman yung iba. Kahit yung mga charger, magpapabili kami dun sa iba ang lahi doon, para makakuha ng balita mula sa Pilipinas” (We kept it hidden. We also asked our co-prisoners from other nationalities to help us buy chargers and we charge our phones secretly to be able to get news from the Philippines regularly.) said Agana

Agana had dialogues with Consulate officials constantly to plead that he be sent home immediately. “Sabi niya wala daw po silang magagawa sa akin. Tapos hanggang sa namatay na alng ang nanay ko eh hindi nila napauwi. Hanggang sa nagluksa na lang kami sa loob ng consulate,”(I was told by consulate officials that they could not do anything. They were not able to facilitate my return home even when my mother died.) Agana lamented.

His family in the Philippines had to extend the wake for two weeks in the hope that Agana would be able to make it in time. However, until the burial, Agana remained imprisoned in Saudi Arabia because of “due process”.

As he mourned for his mother, financial difficulties while inside prison worsened his situation. “Ang problema naming doon, ay yung gastusin tulad ng pambili ng sabon. Wala kami nun. Kaya minsan yung bagong pasok na Pilipino na mayrooon pang pera, nakakabigay sa amin” (Our problem, while in prison, was where to find the money for the things we need such as soap. Sometimes we were just given money by newly-detained Filipinos.) he added. Aside from his daily expenses, he also had to find money for his plane tickets once all his travel documents were cleared. Aside from the long process of repatriation, he also had to wait for the consulate to raise the funds for his plane ticket. Lian Santos, deputy secretary general of Migrante, stressed during the press conference that despite the ability of the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) and the Overseas Workers Welfare Association (OWWA) to fund the repatriation of stranded OFWs, they are still being asked to shell out money for their plane tickets if they wanted to be repatriated immediately.

Agana arrived in the country May 5. To make up for not being able to join the wake and burial of his mother, Agana lighted a candle for her during Mother’s Day May 11. “Nagsindi na lang ako ng kandila. Nakiusap na lang ako sa kanya na siguro alam naman niya kung ano yung nangyari sa akin. Humingi na lang ako ng tawad sa kanya. Binati ko na lang siya noong mother’s day,” (I lighted a candle for her. I told her that perhaps she knows what I went through. I asked for her forgiveness and greeted her during mother’s day.) Agana said.

Seeking redress

Agana and Rebutar are both calling for the resignation of Consul General Ezzedin Tago. “He (Consul General Ezzedin Tago) never lifted a finger to alleviate our plight,” asserted Rebutar. “Unang-una sila ang dahilan kung bakit kami nakulong. Sila ang nagpakulong sa amin dahil kailangan daw ng due process. Yung due process na sinasabi nila ay yung kulungan. Yung maikulong kami,” (In the first place, they were responsible for our imprisonment. They practically sent us to jail by telling us to go through due process. The due process they are referring to is prison, our imprisonment.)

They are also calling for the repatriation of the remaining stranded OFWs in Saudi Arabia. “Hirap na hirap na kami doon kaya ang isinisigaw po namin na sana tulungan yung iba naming kasama dahil madami pa kami naiwan doon. Katulad sa Dammam, sa Gasim, sa Riyadh. Naipit na po yung iba naming kasama doon. Kinuha po sila ng amo at ipinakulong ng mga amo nila” (We had experienced so many hardships there that is why we are asking for your help in having our companions repatriated too. They are in detention facilities in Dammam, Gasim, Riyadh. Our other companions are in tight situations. They were taken and sent to jail by their former employers.) said Agana.

Santos challenged Vice President Noli de Castro to help repatriate the stranded OFWs in the Middle East. “Magpapatuloy pa rin ito”(Our struggle would continue.) said Santos as he concluded the press conference. (

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