By SHARMAINE VILLANUEVA
MANILA — “Of course we would fight for the financial assistance due to us no matter what happens. I have sacrificed so much for this. Financial assistance is financial assistance. For me, and for everyone here, we will continue with our fight,” Carlo Tañada, 41, leader of the repatriated overseas Filipino workers from Madagascar, said in a statement.
The OFWs from Madagascar, together with Migrante International, the largest OFW group, held a picket in front of the office of the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration in Pasay City around 10:30 a.m. last April 14. They were demanding for the release of the P10,000 ($2,313) financial assistance from OWWA. Their claim, however, was rejected.
The OWWA Board Resolution No. 5, Series of 2011 stipulates that all Filipino workers who are repatriated or relocated due to political conflicts and natural calamities in their host countries are eligible to receive an aid to lessen the impact of income displacement to the repatriated OFWs.
“We came here so they can hear us out. We have three wishes waiting to be granted” said Tañada, 41, who asked for voluntary repatriation due to a malaria outbreak in an Ambatovy nickel project located in Madagascar. He added that they went to OWWA peacefully just to state their demands and claim what is due to them.
A number of OFWs from Madagascar picket in front of OWWA’s main office to re-appeal for their financial assistance demand. (Photo by Sharmaine Villanueva / bulatlat.com)
Holding protest action is not new to Tañada. Back in Madagascar, he, together with his fellow Filipino workers, held protest actions against their company when it refused to sign their repatriation papers. This resulted to a massive work stoppage, consequently paralyzing the operations in their work site.
Migrante International chairman Garry Martinez said OFWs, in times of crisis, have every right to seek financial assistance from OWWA, insisting that these are, anyway, funds generated by OFWs themselves. The OFW group has been assisting Filipino migrant workers from Madagascar since April 7, 2011.
The group agreed to ask for 1) ten-thousand financial assistance from OWWA, 2) Medical assistance and 3) Transportation assistance for those OFWs who are living in the provinces.
Tañada, Martinez and two more OFWs from Madagascar went to OWWA deputy administrator Josefino Torres to negotiate regarding their claims. Tañada, speaking in behalf of his group, said that they need the assistance for the obvious reason that they are now jobless and have no source of income. He added that like the OFWs from Libya, who were repatriated as a result of the political turmoil there, they, too, are entitled to get the same financial assistance.
Torres, for his part, said that the Madagascar workers should not compare their situation with those who were repatriated from Libya. He said that those who were repatriated from Libya were forced to leave the host country and that they were sent back home not of their own volition.
Torres said that the OFWs should seek redress from the Labor secretary Rosalinda Baldoz instead. He added that there is an on-going medical assistance, in partnership with San Lazaro Hospital, for the OFWs from Madagascar, adding that the 31 OFWs from Madagascar who were screened and tested, were not afflicted with malaria.
He added that only those OFWs who could not go home to their provinces are the only ones who would be entitled to transportation assistance. But he said that a formal request is needed and it will have to go through some process of verification.
Tañada said they did not come from Libya where guns and bullets are there to kill them anytime but they came from Madagascar where deadly mosquitoes have been killing people silently. He risked losing his source of income to ensure his safety so technically, the situation of OFWs from Libya is no different from theirs, he said from an interview.
He also said that he had been receiving texts messages from unknown numbers warning him that he sould leave the group and stop leading in the protest actions or else he will regret it at some point.
An OFW from Madagascar disapproves the decision of BOA (Board of Trustees) of OWWA (Overseas Workers Welfare Administration) in rejecting their financial assistance demand. (Photo by Sharmaine Villanueva / bulatlat.com)
“We were like talking to empty bells ringing, we were not convinced. What we want is to help these OFWs to get their financial assistance since they came home because of a malaria epidemic in Madagascar without their own volition” said Martinez.
They are disappointed once more with the Aquino government. They will continue their struggle with the help of Migrante International.
“They (Aquino government and OWWA) seemed selective on who will benefit from their services but all of us are OFWs who have been repatriated.” said Tañada.
After the negotiations, the OFWs from Madagascar and Migrante International went to the Department of Labor and Employment to appeal for the financial assistance that is due them from OWWA.