“With the recent developments, Filipinos in Sabah have become more vulnerable to crackdowns and abuses. This, without doubt, is the direct result of the Aquino government’s defeatist and passive stance on the Sabah issue.” – Migrante Partylist
By JANESS ANN J. ELLAO
MANILA – The execution of Flor Contemplacion has shown what is wrong with the country’s labor export policy. But 18 years since then, Migrante International said, the government has done nothing to protect OFWs and has become the top human trafficker of its own people.
“I call on President Aquino to be more humane and look after the welfare of OFWs. They are humans, not mere things,” Nilo Atienza, husband of Terril Atienza, an OFW who died in Mongolia in 2011, said in a protest action last March 17.
Terril’s remains was repatriated here in Manila on Dec. 9, 2011. According to initial autopsy reports from Mongolia, Terril died of “severe intoxication from an unknown source.” But a second autopsy, this time conducted by the National Bureau of Investigation here in Manila, revealed that her death was “probably secondary to hypertensive cardiovascular disease due to a stabbing incident.”
What is even more troubling to the Atienza family is why some of Terril’s internal organs were found to be missing, including her heart and that her internal organs were “sectioned with missing portions.” A rag, according to the NBI autopsy report, was also found inside her body.
Nilo, during the commemoration of Flor Contemplacion’s execution and the kick-off event of “Stop the Traffic,” a year-long campaign of Migrante International against human trafficking, said they are still having a hard time accepting what happened to his wife, saying that his wife left full of dreams but returned home lifeless.
Contemplacion was an overseas Filipino who was sentenced to die in Singapore in 1995 for allegedly killing a fellow Filipino domestic helper.
During the kick-off event, members and supporters of Migrante International and other progressive groups such as Gabriela and Kadamay, formed a human chain to show their resolve to end human trafficking and to hold the government accountable for its inaction on these cases.
“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 Stop the Traffic network said.
Labor export policy
Migrante Partylist said Republic Act 8042, which was amended by RA 10022 or the Migrant Workers Act of 1995, has made the Philippine government become the top trafficker of its workers.
“Human trafficking is still rampant and operating in record-high levels in the Philippines yet the accountability of perpetrators and their coddlers in government remains low. Worse, the labor export policy, the government program that systematically and aggressively peddles the cheap labor of our Filipino workers abroad, has become more entrenched and institutionalized, especially under the Aquino administration,” Migrante Partylist first nominee Connie Bragas-Regalado said.
She added that, “the government’s labor export policy is the worst form of state-sponsored human trafficking of our Filipino workers.”
The government’s labor export policy was supposedly a temporary arrangement under the Marcos administration back in the 1970s to cope with the financial crisis at that time. A previous Bulatlat.com report published in 2009 read that the lack of local job opportunities prompted the Philippine government to supply the increasing demand for male engineers and skilled workers in the Middle East.
But three decades since then, the Philippine government continues to send its workers abroad, resulting in the country being one of the world’s biggest source of migrant labor, with about 10 percent of its population working in countries around the world.
Gabriela Women’s Party Rep. Luz Ilagan, in an interview in 2009, said the government is not just earning from OFW remittances but also from payments for the necessary documents that Filipino migrant workers need to secure, such as passports and clearances.
“Stop the labor export policy,” the protesters chanted last Mar. 17.
Stop the Traffic, in its report, said that the state-sponsored human trafficking has become so alarming that even the United States “had warned the Philippine government to gets its act together lest it remains under Tier 2 of the US Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report.”
Government data show that the number of victims of human trafficking is conservatively pegged at 300,000 to 400,000. “Many of them migrate to work through legal and illegal means but are later coerced into exploitative conditions, drug trade or white slavery,” Stop the Traffic report read.
Under the Aquino administration, Stop the Traffic said, the government only implemented “cosmetic reforms” when it signed the Expanded Anti-Human Trafficking in Persons Act.
Sabah, destination for trafficked Filipinos
Migrante International said Sabah is one of the worst places for any Filipino worker to be in. “Now with the ongoing conflict and the Philippine government’s complicity, we fear that it will become a more dangerous place for Filipinos and their children,” Regalado said.
Crackdown of undocumented Filipinos working in Sabah has recently intensified as Malaysian authorities search for supporters and followers of Sulu sultan Jamalul Kiram, who dramatized the sultanate’s historic claim on the disputed land by sending armed followers into Sabah.
“After the first attack on Sabah, we have already received reports of indiscriminate crackdowns and raids on households whose residents have Filipino-sounding names. This is on top of the long-neglected miserable situation of our OFWs in Sabah,” Regalado said, adding that they have also received reports of discrimination and racist attacks on OFWs based in Malaysia.
In 2009, Migrante International led a fact finding mission in Sabah, where they found out that about 80 to 90 percent of Filipinos residing and working there were victims of human trafficking.
“With the recent developments, Filipinos in Sabah have become more vulnerable to crackdowns and abuses. This, without doubt, is the direct result of the Aquino government’s defeatist and passive stance on the Sabah issue. Filipinos in Sabah are now being ‘criminalized’ or deemed ‘illegal’ or ‘undocumented’ because our own government does not support the legitimacy of their stay in Sabah,” Regalado said.