By BENJIE OLIVEROS
March 30 is a sad day for Filipinos. Three overseas Filipino workers Sally Ordinario-Villanueva, Ramon Credo and Elizabeth Batain were executed after being caught by Chinese immigration authorities and subsequently sentenced to death for carrying heroin into China. Even before the execution, one could already feel the somber mood of the people being shown in television coverages. It’s as if time stood still until the announcement that the three were already dead.
Malacañang came out with a statement expressing sympathies to the families. Deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte reminded the people of the efforts the government exerted in trying to stop the executions. Malacañang also talked tough against drug syndicates.
Reading from the statement, Valte said, “Their deaths are a vivid lesson in the tragic toll the drug trade takes on entire families.” The government also vowed to break the “chain of victimization” being done by drug syndicates and called on the support of the citizens to do this.
However, Migrante International blamed the government for not doing enough to save the three OFWs. It also pointed to the continuing labor export policy of the government as the cause of the woes of OFWs.
The anchors of both Channels 5 and 7 defended the government saying that it has done a lot in trying to save the three OFWs from execution, even sending Vice President Jejomay Binay to China to appeal in behalf of the three OFWs. Tulfo of Channel 5 said the government should investigate Philippine airport authorities to find out how the drugs were slipped out of the country, in the first place.
Well, an investigation of drug syndicates, their network and dealings and a thorough asssesment of the handling of the cases of the three OFWs by the Department of Foreign Affairs(DFA) and consular officials in China are in order. The government, through the Philippine Natonal Police, has a continuing program of breaking drug syndicates and catching the culprits. There is nothing new in that. However, the government really needs to investigate how these drugs were slipped out of the country through the airport. Either some one is sleeping on the job or is earning extra money because the manner by which the drugs were concealed, such as through the lining of suitcases, is not new.
The Aquino administration should also not merely brush aside the allegations of lack of assistance by Philippine embassy officials. After all, Migrante International has received more than enough stories and reports of OFWs in distress who have not been assisted by DFA officials and of OFWs in death row who were not provided with lawyers and were not even visited until their execution was about to be promulgated. By that time, it was too late.
Migrante is also right in pointing to the country’s continuing labor export policy as the root of all these problems. First, because the country is being able to export migrant workers, the government is not pressured to address the worsening unemployment situation by generating jobs. It is even not pressured to solve the country’s economic problems. The government benefits a lot from labor export in the form of revenues from licenses and fees; it is the biggest export earner for the country; it props up the country’s dollar reserves; and it boosts domestic consumption.
The government could just go on implementing the neoliberal prescriptions of the IMF-WB. In the meantime, advanced capitalist countries try to save their failing economies by implementing stimulus programs and generating jobs through government spending, implement protectionist measures and provide hidden subsidies such as in agriculture, and try to gain undue advantage for their investments, multinational companies and export products by pressuring third world countries to further open up their economies and not to deviate from the neoliberal policies of deregulation, liberalization and privatization.
Second, because Philippine embassies have the task of opening up opportunities for the country’s labor export, consular officials walk on eggshells in dealing with officials of host countries and employers of OFWs. This is why they always advise OFWs who escape to return to their employers or to just go back home and not file cases or demand for what is due them. This is also the reason why the Department of Foreign Affairs rarely, if at all, files diplomatic protests against abuses committed against Filipinos abroad. The US was able to spirit out of jail a convicted rapist Lance Cpl Daniel Smith, who was accused of raping a Filipina in Subic in 2005, and even had him acquitted. But the Philippines would never do such a thing. There is truth in the saying, “Do not bite the hand that feeds you.”
Thus, OFWs are always vulnerable to abuse by their employers, unscrupulous recruiters, and even by Philippine embassy officials. The sad thing is that OFWs, even those who have experienced being abused or were subjected to stressful situations such as wars, would still prefer to risk working abroad just to earn a decent income than risk hunger and slow death for his or her family. This makes them vulnerable to the machinations of drug syndicates and white slavery gangs.
During his inaugural address, President Benigno Aquino III promised that his administration would create enough jobs in the country so that Filipinos would no longer feel the need to work abroad. In the meantime, he said, the government would intensify its services to OFWs. Well, the tragic fate of Villanueva, Credo, and Batain shows that this is all rhetoric as of now. And there are no indications that this would change in the future.