On March 17, members and supporters of the Stop the Traffic network will gather at Welcome Rotonda in Quezon City to form a human chain to “symbolize the people’s resolve to end the problem.”
By JANESS ANN J. ELLAO
MANILA – Joining Migrante International’s press conference on Thursday, Remedios Miralles, 40, shared her experience as a Filipino victim of human trafficking in Malaysia.
“It would have turned out okay if my employer only made me do household chores, as originally stated in the job description I applied for. But my employers sent me to do other jobs in their businesses such as a sales lady for their curtain store and a worker for their factory all in one day,” Miralles told Bulatlat.com, “Whenever I fail to do everything in time, my employer would scold me.”
Migrante International, in its report, said Miralles was also a victim of physical assault from her employers whenever they were “unhappy with the work she has done.”
“Ms. Miralles was pinched, slapped, punched and kicked while being verbally abused,” Migrante International’s report read.
Miralles left her hometown in Marilao, Bulacan, a province north of Manila, on Dec. 17, 2012. She hoped that by working as a domestic helper in Malaysia, with a promising income of around $350 to $375, she would be able to send her 20-year-old son Norman to college.
But on Jan. 11, 2013, not even a month since she started working there, she left her employer. She returned to her agency’s office, where she was locked up by their employees there. Miralles went back to Manila last Feb. 21, 2013.
“They were forcing me to work for other employers. But I decided that I should go home as soon as I could. Others who were staying there – who also want to go back to the Philippines – told me that my working conditions would be the same even if I move to another employer,” Miralles said.
She added that, “I thought that I was lucky to be able to escape my former employer. I might not be that lucky if I tried it for the second time around. I was determined to go home.”
On Thursday, Miralles expressed her worries that more women would be brought to their agency’s office in Malaysia, only to suffer the same fate as she did. Because of this, she said, she is determined to join the protest action on March 17, Sunday, led by Migrante International to put a stop to the rampant cases of human trafficking in the country.
Under the network of Stop the Traffic, a year-long campaign of Migrante International against human trafficking and illegal network, its conveners and supporters aim to raise awareness and broaden support for OFWs and their families who are victims of trafficking.
It is composed of Filipino migrants and progressive organizations based here and abroad, human rights activists such as Liza Maza, Sr. Mary John Mananzan OSB, Makabayan senatorial bet Teddy Casiño, among others and victims and the families of victims of illegal recruiters such as Melith Ante, Darwin Princesa, and Miralles, herself.
On Mar. 17, members and supporters of the Stop the Traffic network will gather at Welcome Rotonda in Quezon City to form a human chain to “symbolize the people’s resolve to end the problem.”
Just in time
In a press conference, Migrante Partylist first nominee and one of the conveners of Stop the Traffic Connie Bragas-Regalado said this campaign is timely, citing the current situation of Filipinos in Sabah, where Malaysian authorities are conducting a crackdown against them in search of the supporters of Sulu sultan Jamalul Kiram.
Migrante Partylist, in a previous statement, said that Sabah is a nation of migrants. The Commission on Filipino Overseas said that about 170,000 of its undocumented workers are Filipinos, who are hired as workers for large plantations, construction sites and factories.
Malaysia, on the other hand, is one of the biggest receiving Asian country of Filipino migrants. Government data shows that as of 2004, there are about 712,104 Filipinos working thersome 499,104 are said to be undocumented workers.
Regalado said most Filipinos residing and working in Malaysia left their hometowns in Mindanao to flee the heavy militarization in their communities.
Garry Martinez, chairperson of Migrante International, quoting one of the Filipinos interviewed by the fact finding mission they held back in 2005, said, “Who would not leave our homes (back in the Philippines) when it is being bombed every single day?”
Regalado said today’s crackdown, and the violations of human rights that accompany it, is probably even worse than what they have documented back in 2005 when Migrante International held a fact finding mission on the conditions of Filipinos in deportation centers.
She criticized President Aquino for not being “hands on” on the Sabah crisis situation and instead, being busy attending the sorties of his senatorial slate for the Liberal Party.
No government action on human trafficking
In their unity statement, conveners and supporters of Stop the Traffic said the Aquino administration “pursued cosmetic reforms” in its supposed campaign against human trafficking. They said the signing of the Expanded Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act was not enough, adding that these efforts hardly exposed the roots of the problem.
“Though it has set up the Inter-Agency Council against Trafficking in Persons (IACAT), it has only received a total of 146 cases of human trafficking for investigation in 2010. The resolution of cases of human trafficking / illegal recruitment in agencies such as the IACAT or the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration is close to nil, with most of perpetrators or recruitment agencies being given mere administrative sanctions only to be able to operate again,” their statement read.
Stop the Traffic added, “And so the vicious cycle continues.”
Aside from conducting an information campaign to help end human trafficking, the network, led by Migrante International, said they would also call on the government and host countries of migrant workers to “address this urgent problem that has curtailed labor and human rights of our overseas Filipino workers and in some cases caused their untimely and unjust deaths.”
“We all unite under the creed that it is the main responsibility of the Philippine government and governments of receiving countries to protect and ensure the welfare and rights of our OFWs,” the network said.