Migrante Japan deplored the decision of Ambassador Manuel Lopez to evacuate embassy personnel in japan when a lot of Filipinos are still needing assistance.
By JANESS ANN J. ELLAO
MANILA — An overseas Filipino workers’ group in Japan warned President Benigno S. Aquino III that they would hold him responsible should something bad would happen to a Filipino, working and residing in the country in the wake of the 8.9 magnitude earthquake that hit the country, resulting to a probable nuclear meltdown.
“We have similar demands from both Philippine and Japanese governments to help our fellow Filipinos. But much is expected from the Philippine government who is benefiting so much from OFW remittances,” Butch Pongos of Migrante Japan told Bulatlat.com.
Last March 11, an 8.9 magnitude earthquake shook Japan at 2:46 p.m. local time. It was considered as the biggest to hit Japan in more than 200 years and ranks as the fifth strongest earthquake ever recorded in the world since 1900. Minutes later, a tsunami, about 23 feet high, washed over Japan’s northeastern coastline.
Japanese officials, for the first time, declared a state of emergency at a Japanese nuclear power facility in Fukushima where radiation levels had rose to 1,000 times more than normal. They confirmed that radiation leaked from the said damaged nuclear reactor that prompted authorities to expand the evacuation area from a 10 kilometer to 20 kilometer radius.
Fukushima, Pongos said, is one of the places in Japan where Filipino population is highly concentrated. There are 2,366 Filipinos in Fukushima, the Department of Foreign Affairs reported.
Migrante Japan said the government and Philippine embassy officials “remain wishy-washy” in laying down its immediate evacuation plan for its citizens living within the 20 kilometer radius from the Fukushima nuclear reactor. The OFW group said it seemed that the government is “leaving the fate of its citizens in the hands of Japanese authorities” as the latter promised to help all individuals including foreign residents.
“The purpose of the embassy is to protect its nationals until they are naturalized. We would not stop holding the government accountable for the welfare of Filipinos in Japan,” Pongos said.
The DFA said there are 305,972 Filipinos in Japan, where about 224,558 are living in its central and northern region. Migrante Japan, for its part, estimates about 10,000 to 20,000 Filipinos in Northern Japan, mostly marriage migrants, entertainers, trainees and factory workers.
With such numbers of overseas workers, Migrante International chairperson Garry Martinez said it is not surprising to know that remittances from Filipinos in Japan “surpassed those from other Asian nations, which compromised 12 percent of total OFW remittances in 2010,” or about $883 million.
“The government earns so much from OFWs in Japan and now they would say that we do not have funds for them?” Martinez said, adding that “betrayal and criminal neglect” of OFWs in distress has become a common practice by the Philippine government this past few months.
What do they expect OFWs and their families to do? Just accept their ineptitude and insensitivity and expect nothing from them?” Martinez said.
Pongos said in reality, OFWs in Japan are already in crisis even before the calamity hit them, and consequently the threats of a nuclear reactor meltdown. Companies, for example, have been using the Training System as a sugar-coat ing for hiring cheap labor. Under the said labor scheme, companies hire skilled migrant workers as trainees, who basically have the same job as regular workers but receive only half of the latter’s salary.
The Japan-Philippines Economic Partnership Agreement has also provided leeway for paying Filipino nurses’s very low salaries. They are only receiving half the salary of a regular nurse until they pass the nursing license examinations, which is difficult to pass as it is administered in the Nippongo. Since the deployment of nurses to Japan intensified under JPEPA, only Filipino nurse Ever Lalin has passed the exam.
Pongos estimates that about 60 to 70 percent of the total population of Filipinos in Japan are women, and most are cases of marriage migrants. He said the number of marriage migrants has increased since Japan became stringent in regulating entry of foreign entertainers in 2005. From an estimate of 60,000 to 70,000 Filipino women entertainers, Pongos said, it dropped to about 15,000 to 18,000 as of the present. He added that the current economic and social conditions in the Philippines may have also pushed Filipino women migrants to marry locals of Japan.
Because of this, Pongos said, the toy of assistance that Filipinos in Japan need is different from the demands of OFWs in distress from the Middle East. He said that marriage Filipino migrants would prefer to stay in Japan as they already have a family. But, Pongos said, this should not hinder the Philippine embassy from extending assistance since they have a mandate to protect its nationals until they are naturalized.
Foreign undersecretary Rafael Seguis said the Philippine embassy and the Philippine consulate general in Osaka are “constantly in touch with the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, as well as the local governments of the three hardest-hit prefectures.” He added that they are also coordinating with its four honorary consulates in Japan and different Filipino community groups.
“Filipinos in Tokyo, Osaka and Western Japan are deemed relatively safe,” Philippine ambassador to Japan Manuel Lopez said, “In fact, some of them have pooled their efforts and resources in helping those who were adversely affected by the quake.”
Migrante Japan, however, added that the embassy was “caught flat-footed after 20 Filipino seafarers were trapped after earthquake.
A consular mission was sent on March 14, 2011, or three days after the earthquake and tsunami hit Japan, to rescue 20 Filipino seafarers who were trapped inside a hotel in Fukushima. Migrante Japan said the consular mission, however, had “barely little to offer relief for distraught Filipinos there.”