“How can the Aquino administration have the gall to assert that the Philippines is a ‘tiger economy’ when we continue to drive workers out of the country because of joblessness, low wages, lack of basic social services and unending price hikes?” – Migrante
By JANESS ANN J. ELLAO
MANILA – Though Marian Guinto, 34, is half a world away, her sister Marilyn Martillan feels fulfilled that she could be of help to her sister who is in dire need.
“Whatever they are doing there to press the government to act on their situation, we are also doing here. We went through the same difficulties when we had our campout. The weather was hot and we were hungry at times. But no matter what, I know that her situation is more difficult,” Martillan, 33, told Bulatlat.com.
Guinto, Martillan said in a previous report, was a domestic helper in Jeddah. But she was forced to leave her employer when their driver started making sexual advances on her. Since then, she lived with other undocumented Filipinos and worked as part-time nanny.
When the crackdown against undocumented migrant workers in Saudi Arabia intensified, mainly due to the implementation of Nitaqat Scheme or Saudization policy, many Filipinos, including Guinto, went to the Philippine consulate in Jeddah to seek repatriation. Migrant right group Migrante Middle East estimated that the number of Filipinos who joined the campout in the Philippine consulate has already soared to nearly 3,500.
Back in the Philippines, their relatives are also doing what they can to press the government to look into their situation.
On April 29 Monday, relatives, together with members of Migrante International, held a campout outside the Department of Foreign Affairs office in Pasay City. They held the activity in solidarity with their loved ones who are currently struggling to be repatriated.
“Whatever sacrifice we are doing here, it could not compare with what they have to go through. But at least, I am one with them, especially my sister,” Martillan said.
Dialogue with DFA officials
During the campout outside the DFA office, three high ranking officials, whom Garry Martinez, chair of Migrante International and second nominee of Migrante Partylist refers to as the “three kings,” went down from their offices to meet the relatives.
Assistant secretary Raul Hernandez, Undersecretary Rafael Seguis and Foreign Affairs Secretary Alberto del Rosario himself went out to talk to the families of the stranded OFWs.
On the second day of the campout, relatives and members of Migrante International had an opportunity to have a dialogue with Del Rosario, who, according to reports, assured the kin of stranded OFWs that the government is eyeing a 90-day amnesty period for undocumented workers in Saudi Arabia.
This, he added, would give the DFA more time to look into the situation of stranded OFWs and how they could be repatriated.
Migrante International, in its earlier statement, said they consider the campout a success because they were able to engage DFA officials in a dialogue.
“The solidarity campout was a victory. It was a symbolic action that showed how collective action and struggle can bring about results. Through the campout, we were able to pressure the government into listening to the demands of the OFWs and their families and to rouse them into urgent action,” Martinez said.
But it is not the end of their struggle, yet.
Martinez added that their fight is far from over, citing that what they were able to get are still promises. No commitment, he said, was made by the DFA.
“We have yet to see the first batch of OFWs being repatriated en masse. The DFA made no commitments to the demand for free, immediate and mass repatriation for the stranded OFWs. The fight continues,” he said.
Relatives, too, were told that their stranded relatives would be prioritized but Martinez said they were not appeased.
“Like their relatives at the Tent City, they will stick with each other. They are not just after the welfare of their relatives but of all the 4,000 seeking repatriation. They are united in the demand for free, immediate and mass repatriation of their loved ones,” Martinez said.
The campout, on its second day, proceeded to Mendiola, just a stone’s throw away from the Malacañang Palace. Martinez said after getting no concrete commitment from DFA officials, “it’s time to bring our demands to their boss, President Aquino.”
“We want to hear what President Aquino has to say. It has been 24 days since the Jeddah Tent City was put up and we have not heard any statement from the president. If he’s still too busy campaigning for his candidates, then we hope that this could finally get his attention,” Martinez said.
Like Martinez, Martillan, too, does not believe in what DFA officials said before the media and during the dialogue. “I will only believe that he has done something to address our concerns once I am reunited with my sister.”
On Labor Day
Relatives and members of Migrante International concluded their three-day campout by joining the workers in commemorating Labor Day. Martinez, in a statement, said the dire situation of stranded Filipinos in Jeddah “is a concrete manifestation of the crisis of the Philippine government’s labor export policy.”
“This is not an isolated case. This is not merely an effect of the Saudization or any immigration or labor law. The plight of our OFWs in Saudi reflects how the Philippine government disregards the welfare and protection of our Filipino workers in exchange for remittances,” Martinez said.
He added that the increasing number of Filipinos leaving to find work abroad belies the government’s claim on economic resilience and progress.
Martinez said, “How can the Aquino administration have the gall to assert that the Philippines is a ‘tiger economy’ when we continue to drive workers out of the country because of joblessness, low wages, lack of basic social services and unending price hikes? How can Aquino claim economic development when no jobs await those calling for immediate repatriation?”