By SHARMAINE VILLANUEVA
After a malaria outbreak in a worksite in Madagascar, an island located in Africa, Filipino workers (OFWs) from one of the largest international nickel-cobalt mining factories scrambled to be repatriated to ensure their health and safety.
Malaria is a mosquito-borne disease caused by the multiplication of malaria parasites in the red blood cells of humans. Symptoms of the disease include chilling, fever, headache, and in severe cases, results in death.
“The company refuses to believe that the recent deaths of workers were caused by malaria. They even told us that another illness killed the workers” said Luige Biscocho, 38, one of the OFWs who were recently sent back home after expressing their fear of contracting malaria.
According to Biscocho he had a co-worker who died of malaria. Felicito Abad, an OFW in the Ambatovy Project in Madagascar, was a fit-up pipe worker under Biscocho’s supervision before he died.
Kentz Construction and Engineers has around 2,000 OFWs working in the Ambatovy Project, which Tañada and Biscocho referred to as their main worksite. There are around 10, 000 workers in Kentz Construction and Engineers globally.
One of Biscocho’s colleagues, Carlo Tañada, 41, negotiated with their employer for their repatriation because many of their co-workers were greatly affected by the disease and others died, unfortunately. Along with this, there were 16 other Filipino workers who were afflicted by malaria.
Tañada said mosquitoes in their worksite are “one of the deadliest” and was brought by a cyclone from some farther part of Africa. Tañada and Biscocho, along with other Filipino OFWs, saw their fellow colleagues suffer from chills and high fever.
Biscocho had to bring one of his co-workers to the clinic to be checked up because he had high fever and non-stop nose bleeding. Biscocho said his co-worker was even cracking jokes about his situation saying that “his body looks like that of Pacquiao’s. But, Biscocho added, “he cried like a baby when he saw his nose bleeding”.
On February 21, Tañada along with other Filipino workers in Tamatave, Madagscar went to the Philippine Embassy in Nairobi, Kenya to file a request for repatriation. Tañada said he did not worry about losing his job because he wanted to go home safely. He added that he could land another job but he cannot be reincarnated if he dies of malaria. According to Biscocho, other OFWs chose to stay in Madagascar despite the malaria outbreak to be able to continue sending money back home.
According to Tañada, Donna Gatmaitan and Jonas Unas from the Philippine Embassy personally listened to them when they conveyed their desire to go home right away after cases of death were increasing due to the malaria outbreak. He added, immediately after a week, personnel from the Philippine Embassy along with Gatmaitan and Unas negotiated with Kentz Engineers and Constructors.
Both Tañada and Biscocho, along with their co-workers arrived in the Philippines from Madagascar on March 2, 2011. They said they decided to seek help from Migrante because they wanted to claim the P10,000 financial assistance from OWWA (Overseas Workers Welfare Administration).
The OWWA Board Resolution No. 05, series of 2011 provides for a one-time financial assistance amounting to P10,000 to relocated or repatriated OFWs due to political conflict and natural calamities in host countries. The P10,000 ($232) assistance aims to reduce the impact of income displacement to the repatriated OFWs.
Forced to Work Abroad
Working abroad is not new to Tañada. He worked in different countries, particularly in the Middle East, including in Saudi Arabia and Qatar. He said he decided to work abroad because he could not provide for his family’s needs if he continued earning the minimum wage in the country.
Biscocho also had worked in Saudi Arabia and Singapore. He had to leave the country and work there as an overseas Filipino worker (OFW) to give his family a better life. Tañada further explained that he wanted to explore more of his capabilities and to pursue his own career in the field of engineering.
Both Tañada and Biscocho are married. Their wives stay at home to take care of their kids.
Biscocho mentioned that he had no problem with his other employers as well as his former agencies. While having a short vacation in the country he tried his luck and went to Krisalis Construction Company, an employment agency which soon deployed him to Madagascar.
Both Tañada and Biscocho worked for a construction company in Saudi Arabia and Qatar. Working for different companies, they earned around U$4 an hour. When they were in Madgascar, they were paid 300,000 Ariaris plus allowance per day. 300,000 Ariari is roughly around U$ 150 or P 6,600 pesos.
Biscocho was hired as a piping supervisor, the position he applied for, in Madagascar. Tañada applied for the position of Quality Control Engineer but was deployed with the position of Quality Assurance Control, an inferior position compared to what he applied for.
Tañada and Biscocho worked under Kentz Engineers and Constructors. Both left the country optimistic about earning a decent income and being provided the benefits stipulated in their respective contracts. But things changed when they started working.
The malaria outbreak was not the only problem that Tañada and Biscocho had to face in their worksite. They suffered maltreatment and discrimination in Madagascar.
“They are racists, especially against us Filipinos. They look down on us and give us unfair treatment” said Tañada. His project manager Anthony Mc Cartey, an Irish, was one of them.
He mentioned that one time in their work place he was tasked to take on someone’s job just because that guy is from a First World country and he is a Filipino. He could not complain so he just complied with his superior’s orders.
“They are only listening to the concerns of people from western countries,” said Biscocho.
They were not only discriminated against in the distribution of work among the employees of Ambatovy nickel project. They were discriminated against even in the distribution of meals.