Migrant workers and their families push to get a seat in Congress.
By JANESS ANN J. ELLAO
MANILA – For overseas Filipino workers who believe they have long been neglected, the time is ripe to land a seat in Congress.
This is the fourth time that OFWs and migrant rights advocates under Migrante Partylist would push their bid for a seat in House of Representatives.
Noticeable in Migrante Partylist’s national convention on Sept. 30 at the convention center of the Iglesia Filipina Independiente in Manila were banners of chapters, not just abroad, but in various provinces in the country as well. Migrante Partylist second nominee Connie Bragas-Regalado said those are the fruit of their persistent effort to reach out to communities where there are OFW families.
“They are the ones who would bring us to Congress,” Regalado said.
The migrant rights leader said Migrante has a big name recall among voters due to their stand and campaigns on various issues, such as on the plight of Mary Jane Veloso, the balikbayan boxes, and the dire condition of OFWs, especially those working in the Middle East.
From migrant workers to activists
Migrante Partylist’s first nominee is Garry Martinez, chairperson of Migrante International. Celia Veloso, mother of Mary Jane Veloso, a Filipina on death row in Indonesia, said the migrant rights leader was their “source of strength” in the days leading to the scheduled execution of her daughter. Martinez, who is currently in the United Kingdom, was an OFW in Korea.
Meanwhile, Regalado, the second nominee, was a social worker before she was forced to work abroad as a domestic helper in high hopes of bringing a brighter future for her family. She also had a short stint as peasant organizer in Dole plantations in Mindanao.
Regalado worked abroad twice, and both times, she was lucky to have good employers, unlike many other OFWs. She became an active member of the United Filipinos in Hong Kong, and was eventually elected president in 2004.
Caridad Bachiller, its third nominee, was a former Physics and Mathematics teacher in a private school in Abra. Her low salary, which was only around P600 to P800 a month back then, pushed her to work as a domestic helper in Saudi Arabia for six years. When she returned to the country, she again applied for work abroad and landed a job, again, as a domestic helper in Hongkong, where she worked for 26 years.
On her days off, Bachiller would attend gatherings along with other Filipino workers in Hongkong. She said that it was in these gatherings that she learned of harrowing tales of other Filipino domestic helpers – the worst were those who died under mysterious circumstances but were reported to have committed suicide. These cases had opened her eyes and made her become a migrant rights advocate. She served as president of Abra Tinguian Ilocano Society in Hongkong for 20 years.
Last year, Baciller returned to the Philippines to “retire.” But soon she realized “retirement” is not an option for migrant rights advocates.
“There are policies being implemented that are not pro-people and even anti-migrants. It worsens our situation and it must be stopped,” she told Bulatlat.com.
The partylist’s fourth nominee, Flor Chan, is the wife of a former OFW in distress. From a wife whose concern was to bring home her husband Lito, Chan became one of the most determined organizers in Southern Tagalog.
“When her husband returned, he did not approve of her being an activist. But she is truly a good organizer. In the end, he agreed,” Mic Catuira said during the national convention.
Urban poor leader Estrelieta Bagasbas, a resident of North Triangle in Quezon City, is its fifth nominee. Bagasbas was forced to leave her hometown in South Cotabato due to the then widespread landgrabbing in their community. She was among the first settlers of North Triangle.
Due to lack of livelihood, she was recruited and agreed to work as a domestic helper in Yemen from 1989 to 1992.
When she returned to North Triangle, Bagasbas noticed how the number of houses had increased tremendously. She used to have a big vegetable patch near her house but these were destroyed by her new neighbors to give way to their houses that were being constructed at the time.
In 2010, when the government first attempted to demolish their homes, Bagasbas was very reluctant to join people’s organizations in their community. Soon, she became a community leader and now a national officer of Kadamay, one of the biggest urban poor groups in the country.
Regalado said, “It is with wholeheartedness that we are pushing for this fight, to make Migrante Partylist win. Nothing is impossible if we are determined.”