OFWs, Groups Fight Human Trafficking

Dec 8, 2010

Exactly ten days before the commemoration of International Migrants’ Day, overseas Filipino workers together with various support organizations gathered at the Bantayog ng mga Bayani in Quezon City today to commence the fight against human trafficking.

The activity is spearheaded by “Bring Them Home”, an anti-human trafficking alliance calling on the government to facilitate the immediate repatriation of overseas Filipino victims of human trafficking.

Bring Them Home was conceived following the cases of 200++ OFWs in Jordan, mostly women and some as young as 14 years old, who have been awaiting repatriation for as long as two years now.

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The Jordan 200++ OFWs were all victims of human trafficking and sought refuge in the POLO-Jordan after they escaped their employers due to maltreatment, non-payment of wages, sexual and physical abuse and harassment and slave-like conditions. Based on accounts of the OFWs and their families, most of them were able to enter Jordan via HongKong, Malaysia and Dubai to evade the existing deployment ban to Jordan. When they entered Jordan, however, their employment contracts were authenticated by the POLO in Jordan.

The Philippine government estimates the number of Filipino victims of trafficking from 300,000 to 400,000, with the number of children victims ranging from 60,000 to 100,000. Many of them migrate to work through legal and illegal means but are later coerced into exploitative conditions, drug trade or white slavery.

Because of this, the Philippines was placed in Tier 2 in the 2007 US Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report for not fully complying with the Trafficking Victims Protection Act’s minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking. Correspondingly, Migrante International receives an average of 1,500 cases yearly, majority of which is related to human trafficking.

One of the leading convenors of the Bring Them Home alliance is Melith Ante, herself a victim of human trafficking and one of the more fortunate who was able to come home from Jordan. Other convenors of Bring Them Home include, Sr. Mao Catabian of the Religious of the Good Shepherd, Gina Esguerra, Secretary-General of Migrante International, Rev. Sol Villalon, Rev. Homar Rubert Distajo and Rev. Corazon Abugan of the United Council of Churches in the Philippines (UCCP), Joms Salvador of Gabriela and the St. Bridget College-Batangas City Social Workers. Organizations of migrant workers, migrants’ rights advocates, women organizations and children’s rights advocates are also part of the alliance.

Rep. Lani Mercado-Revilla, a staunch advocate of women migrant workers’ rights, also attended the event.

According to Sr. Catabian said, ““There is an immediate and urgent need to investigate the continuing recruitment of OFWs to Jordan despite the ongoing deployment ban issued by the Philippine government following cases of abuse from the region in 2007. We have verified with the POEA and they have affirmed that the ban is still in effect. This is clear violation of the law.”

For her part, Esguerra said, “POLO, DOLE (Department of Labor and Employment) and DFA (Department of Foreign Affairs) have some serious explaining to do. POLO’s main responsibility, in compliance with the ban, is to immediately assume that any Filipino national they may encounter is a victim of human trafficking and therefore exhaust all efforts to send them home. Bakit nila ina-authenticate ang employment contract? Is this not state-sponsored human trafficking?”

“The case of Jordan 200++ highlights that although there is a law and existing government mechanisms against human trafficking, there seems to be a lack of political will and resources to fully address the cases. There are also reports of immigration and government officials who are coddlers of trafficking syndicates but so far none have been prosecuted,” Esguerra said.

For Melith, it is the government’s prime responsibility to protect and ensure the welfare of the Jordan 200++. “Umalis kami ng bansa kahit na kapit sa patalim para lamang mabigyan ng mabuting kalagayan ang aming mga pamilya sa gitna ng kahirapan dito. Mas masakit pa sa naranasan namin sa Jordan ang malaman na hindi namin maasahan ang ating gobyerno sa mga panahon ng kagipitan. Ang hiling lang namin ngayong darating na Pasko, makasama namin ang aming mga mahal sa buhay,” said Melith.

Bring Them Home called on the Aquino administration to bring OFWs in distress home before December 18, International Migrants’ Day, in time for Christmas.

December 18 will be marked by internationally and nationally-coordinated protests against government neglect of OFWs, the group announced.

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