“The Aquino government had been too busy defending its Disbursement Acceleration Program and trillions of its presidential pork while allocating a paltry P50 million ($1.15 million) repatriation fund in the 2014 budget and a P2 billion ($46 million) reintegration fund for those who will be repatriated home.” – Gabriela Women’s Party Rep. Luzviminda Ilagan
By JANESS ANN J. ELLAO
MANILA — Migrante International said thousands of stranded overseas Filipino workers are now in danger of being dispersed, arrested and even detained as the crackdown on undocumented workers in Saudi Arabia resume.
“We fear the worst. We expect more wipeout efforts and drastic measures by the Saudi government on and after the actual day of resumption of crackdowns. Should any untoward incident happen to our overseas Filipino workers in the light of the crackdowns, we only have the Aquino government to blame,” Garry Martinez, chairperson of Migrante International, said.
The Saudi government is conducting a crackdown on undocumented workers in relation to the implementation of the Saudization policy or the Nitaqat Scheme, a labor policy that requires companies to hire Saudi nationals who should comprise at least 10 percent of its total work force.
Migrants group said the Saudization policy is the government’s response to the growing unemployment among its own citizens. The crackdown does not only affect Filipinos but other nationalities as well such as Bangladeshi, Indonesians, among others.
The Philippine government, when the Saudization policy was first announced in 2011, denied that it would affect Filipino overseas workers working there. But Migrante International, in its previous statements, said there are some 7,000 undocumented Filipino workers in Saudi Arabia, most of them lost their jobs after running away from their abusive employers.
In Jeddah alone, Migrante International estimated that there are 1,700 stranded Filipino workers waiting for repatriation. Thousands more, they added, are residing in Riyadh, Al Khobar and Dammam.
The Saudi government has provided several extensions of the deadline. Undocumented workers were given an opportunity to either be repatriated or correct their status. But Martinez said the Philippine government’s “efforts to implement a free, urgent and mass repatriation of the remaining stranded OFWs have been dismal despite the four-month extension.”
Tent cities in Riyadh and in Jeddah have served as refuge for thousands of undocumented Filipino workers demanding for repatriation. But Migrante International said that the slow processing of the repatriation, lack of assistance, medical services and financial aid to affected Filipinos have resulted to a dismal state if not a humanitarian crisis that the Philippine government failed to address.
There were six stranded Filipino workers and two children who have reportedly died during the camp outs while awaiting their repatriation, according to news reports.
Filipino women who were desperate to go home were allegedly pressured by no less than a Philippine labor official in Saudi Arabia to give in to his dirty scheme, more known as “sex for fly scheme.”
There were also 18 stranded Filipino workers in Riyadh who were arrested after holding a peaceful sit-in demonstration inside the Philippine Overseas Labor Office. Migrante International said they were only airing their grievances against embassy officials, who, they said, were “dilly-dallying on their repatriation.”
Migrante Middle East, in a statement, said they have received reports that it was Labor attache Adam Musa and Philippine ambassador Ezzadin Tago who ordered POLO-OWWA officer Abdullah Umpa to complain about the protest action to Saudi officials, which resulted to the arrest of the 18 migrant workers.
John Leonard Monterona of Migrante Middle East and North Africa then said that instead of providing sanctuary to stranded Filipino workers, the Philippine embassy has brought danger to OFWs who are in dire need.
Last Oct. 22, Saudi authorities dismantled a part of the tent city in Jeddah, which has served as refuge for undocumented OFWs.
The slow repatriation process is attributed to the Philippine government’s lack of funds.
“OFWs and their families are outraged when they heard about how billions of public funds are being wasted to corruption and trillions are under the control of no less than the president,” Martinez said, referring to the pork barrel scam that the Philippine government is currently facing.
Too late, too little
On Oct. 30, Vice President Jejomar Binay asked the Saudi government to give another extension for undocumented migrant workers to correct their status. He said the Philippine government is “exerting its utmost to assist undocumented Filipino workers to legalize their status.”
But, Binay added, many Filipinos might not be able to meet the Nov. 3 deadline due to the large number seeking correction of their status in Saudi Arabia.
Philippine consular officials are checking jails and detention centers to see if Filipino have been so far included in the crackdown, Interaksyon.com reported.
Gabriela Women’s Party, for its part, said the government’s last ditch efforts to provide assistance to Filipino workers affected by the crackdown is “too little and too late.”
“It is but a token, ill-prepared response to the crackdown that everybody knew was going to happen. Now, thousands of Filipino migrant workers are in danger and will most likely fall to the crackdown that the Saudi Arabia government will be implementing starting today,” Gabriela Women’s Party Rep. Luzviminda Ilagan said.
The slow repatriation process, she added, is tantamount to criminal neglect.
Gabriela Women’s Party, along with other partylist groups in the Makabayan bloc, has filed House Resolutions 52 and 53, calling for an investigation on the plight of OFWs in distress and the dispersal of migrants camping out at the Philippine embassy in Riyadh. They also filed House Resolution No. 95, calling for an investigation on the crackdown that Filipinos are facing not just in Saudi Arabia but also in Japan and South Korea. But as of this writing, no hearings have been set yet.
“The Aquino government had been too busy defending its Disbursement Acceleration Program and trillions of its presidential pork while allocating a paltry P50 million ($1.15 million) repatriation fund in the 2014 budget and a P2 billion ($46 million) reintegration fund for those who will be repatriated home,” Ilagan said.
“What would happen to those who cannot go home because they are already languishing in jails? Is the government going to neglect that?” she added.
The Philippine government claimed that there are 4,111 Filipinos who have been repatriated and that only 1,716 are still waiting for repatriation. Deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte said in a GMA News report that the government would continue to provide assistance to Filipino workers in Saudi.
Affected Filipinos in the Saudi crackdown, on the other hand, are entitled to avail of a reintegration program. Presidential Communications Operations Office secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. said in a Daily Tribune report that the Aquino government is allocating $46 million for them.
Martinez, however, said the fund recently allocated by the Aquino government for returning OFWs comes “too late in the game,” saying “Aanhin pa ang damo kung patay na ang kabayo?,” a Filipino idiom translated as “What use is the grass if the horse is already dead.”
He also criticized the government for failing to provide services to Filipinos, not even hotline numbers or urgent guidelines should there be an arrest or other similar incidents.
“At this time, when the government should be pro-active, it has again taken the passive stance and simply requested for an extension of the deadline,” Martinez said, adding that OFWs need on-call legal assistance and protection.
“What they need now is for Philippine posts to open their doors to the stranded OFWs, to provide them sanctuary,” he said.
Martinez said families of stranded OFWs may get in touch with Migrante International’s hotline number 911-4910 or 0921-2709079. There are also hotline numbers for different regions in Saudi Arabia: Migrante-KSA hotlines, 00966 55 726 7069 (Riyadh and Central Region), 00966 56 203 1626 (Jeddah and Western Region) and 00966 50 737 3906 (Al Khobar and Eastern Region).
“We are expecting an intense crackdown of all undocumented migrants in the Kingdom in the coming days. The undocumented migrants should be treated humanely as there were reports of abuses, manhandling, slapping, kicking during the previous crackdown,” Monterona said in a statement.
He added that they established the hotlines to ensure that rights of undocumented workers are being upheld and respected by concerned authorities. “Though undocumented, they have rights too,” said.
Martinez said, “We have already called for the resignation and recall of negligent embassy and labor officials in Saudi. We will not hesitate to call on the resignation of Aquino himself. He should be held accountable for his criminal neglect of our OFWs.”