By KATHRINA MANUEL
Gloomy weather welcomed me, as I walked the street of Cambridge – not in the United Kingdom –but in Cubao, Quezon City at around 9 a.m. on May 7. I was searching for the place that houses the advocacy group for migrant workers, when a flowering tree caught my eye.
My feet pulled me to the tree with purple and pink flowers, and as I approached, I saw banners calling to “Save Mary Jane Veloso” on the walls. Then I realized that it was the house that I was looking for: the office of Migrante.
It was a typical old house that reminded me of our ancestral house in Bulacan, which was made of wood. I saw a number of men seated in the receiving area as I asked for Miss Len, who was the one who was going to give us a migrant workers’ situationer.
Len, a Migrante staff, was medium-built and fair-skinned, and I noticed her tattoos but did not have the courage to ask because I know that my agenda in the place should first be accomplished.
As Bulatlat interns, Lhea, a student from another school and I, were assigned to interview the workers of Rajeh H. Al Marri & Son Company (RHM) from Saudi Arabia who were recently repatriated and are set to file cases against their former employer.
Len introduced us to the 10 workers who had gone head to head with RHM and their recruitment agency, the Joseline International Manpower Corporation. She discussed the sufferings of these men in the hands of the RHM and the collusion of the agency with the company.
Anthony Cajucom, and some of the RHM workers were eager to talk about their experience, as if they were unburdening a heavy load from their chest. I interviewed some of the men and asked why they went to Saudi, what were their experiences, how life was in the RHM compound.
In the interview, I realized how difficult it was for them to accept that they became victims of labor trafficking, and how angry they were at the agency that fooled them.
It was disappointing to hear that the government agencies in other countries such as the Philippine Overseas Labor Office-Overseas Workers’ Welfare Agency (Polo-Owwa) who should help the migrant workers in case of problems seem to even take the side of the company who abused their rights and did not follow the conditions in the contract.
The RHM workers also mentioned a fellow Filipino worker who was their Human Resources Manager in the company, as the one who threatened them instead of helping them out.
After the interviews, Len asked me and my co-intern Lhea if we want to contribute for our lunch and so we did.
They bought a whole chicken and rice, which served as our lunch. I took just one piece of chicken, though I would’ve wanted two, but I don’t think that everyone will have a share if I did.
When we finished our lunch, we set out to the National Labor Relations Commission (NLRC), and by this time, the heat outside was scorching. We took a jeep from Cubao and got off at E. Rodriguez Avenue, and under the heat of the sun, we walked for, I think 30 to 40 minutes to the NLRC office in Quezon Avenue.
I was already exhausted when we arrived at the building of the NLRC. We took the elevator, which was shockingly too narrow to take in its maximum capacity of nine persons, and seemed to have only a three-to-four person capacity.
We got off on the 3rd floor and I was thankful that the temperature was cool. I saw many people waiting outside each door of the labor arbitrators, and I realized that labor problems in the country is really at its peak.
We waited for two hours, and when their time came, all of them went inside the room while Lhea, Len and I waited outside. We were surprised that after 5 minutes, the men all went out.
It turned out that the recruitment agency was not there. They will have to file another case against the agency in the main office. As we went out of the NLRC, I can see on the men’s faces that some of them were irritated because their two hours of waiting amounted to nothing.
As we parted ways with them, I realized how hard it was for an OFW to find justice and to seek help from the government whenever they are in trouble. The OFWs are the ones who bring in income and keep the economy of the country afloat. The government should take care of them and the government officials in the other countries must help protect them and assure their safety.