2008: A Year of Confronting Attacks, Coping with Gov’t Neglect for Filipino Migrants

Gov’t neglect, anti-migrant policies

Filipino migrant groups have decried continuing government neglect.

The Migrante International cited the case of seven Filipino welders who were forced to beg for food in Qatar in order to survive.

Willy Catian, a 39, one of the seven OFWs, slammed Philippine Overseas Labor Officer (POLO) Hector Cruz for failing to help them when they asked for an Arabic interpreter to assist them in their labor case. The OFWs filed a complaint against their employer who retrenched them in October 2008.

Catian said Cruz told him, “I don’t care if you win the case or not, what is important is that I can work for your immediate deportation.”

As of press time, the DFA said the seven workers won their case against their employer.

Another classic example of abandonment is the case of Hazel, a Filipina who was raped by American soldier Sgt. Ronald Edward Hopstock Jr. of 1st Battalion, 1st Air Defense Artillery Regiment in a hotel in Okinawa, February 18, 2007.

In a mission to Okinawa, the Gabriela Women’s Party found out that Hazel was not provided with a lawyer during the investigation of the rape case filed at the Naha District Public Prosecutor’s Office. No Philippine government representative attended Hazel’s hearings. The rape case was subsequently dismissed.

OFWs also had to contend with what they call as anti-migrant policies of the Arroyo government.

The Migrante International decried as stupid the proposed mandatory psychiatric test for domestic helpers. It also opposed the proposed mandatory AIDS test for OFWs.

The group has also called for the scrapping of fees imposed by the Philippine government to OFWs, particularly the 0.15-percent documentary stamp tax.

Continuing struggle, challenges

Garry Martinez, chairperson of Migrante International, holds a placard in a protest action against the Global Forum on Migration and Development. (Photo by R. Olea)

OFWs fought back through zero-remittance days. The Migrante International marked International Women’s Day and Mrs. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s birthday last year by withholding their remittances during those days.

On October 29, 2008, OFWs and migrants from other countries also called for a zero-remittance day as a protest to the 2nd Global Forum on Migration and Development (GFMD).

Filipino migrants linked up with migrants of other countries and held a counter assembly to the GFMD, the International Assembly of Migrants and Refugees (IAMR). The IAMR was spearheaded by the newly-formed International Migrants Alliance (IMA) and the Migrante International.

OFWs also joined their compatriots in the country in calling for the ouster of Arroyo. At the height of the National Broadband Network-ZTE controversy, OFWs launched a global petition as part of their campaign BABAY Gloria (Bagong Bayani Ayaw kay Gloria or Modern-day Heroes Against Gloria).

Protest actions were launched in different countries, from Asia to as far as US and Europe.

The Migrante International said that this year, OFWs anticipate more retrenchments, lower wages and worse working conditions abroad even as the government targets to deploy two million Filipinos overseas.

Martinez said, “We will hold the Arroyo administration fully accountable for being hell-bent in exporting the most number of Filipinos abroad amid the worsening global crisis.”

He said that labor export is neither a tool for development nor an answer to the present crisis.

Martinez said OFWs are bracing for harder times with a deeper resolve to fight for their rights and welfare.(with reports from Angie de Lara)

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