“OFWs are still forced to go abroad because the government has offered them nothing substantive and sustainable to address their families’s economic needs. Instead, what it has offered are mere dole-outs and band-aid solutions that does not do anything to address widespread unemployment and landlessness the root cause of forced migration.” – Migrante International
By JANESS ANN J. ELLAO
MANILA — Fanny Espiritu, 47, stood before protesters in front of the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA). She was agitated while lambasting a government agency, which she referred to as “useless.” But when she went down from their makeshift stage, on top of a jeepney, tears flowed from her eyes.
“It is my first time to speak in a protest rally,” Espiritu told Bulatlat.com, “I do not know how I managed to pluck up the courage. In my heart, there is just too much hatred and disappointment on this government, which neglected my sister.”
Espiritu’s sister, Zosima Monterey, 43, is an overseas Filipino worker. It was her first time to work in Saudi Arabia. Their other sister suffered a bad fate when she worked in Jeddah, so naturally, Espiritu said, they were all against Monterey’s plan. “But she insisted for the sake of his nephews and nieces. She wants to help them because she loves them very much.”?
On June 12, 2007, Monterey left for Riyadh, Saudi Arabia to work as a beautician for Sarah Abdullah Alsaeed Ladies Dress Shop. Her contract stipulates that she would be receiving $500 a month, including free accommodation and food. But like what happened to most OFWs, she received less and her salary was always delayed.
Monterey only managed to receive 1,800 riyals or roughly $460 six times in the four years that she was working with the beauty salon. Early on, Monterey asked her employer several times to send her back to the Philippines. But her employer, Espiritu said, would tell her sister to wait for 5 days, another 10 days, another month, and at some point, after the Ramadan period, before she could go home. Obviously though, the employer never kept her promise for four years.
Espiritu said her sister could not leave her working area because her employer did not apply for their iqama, or residency permit. But sometime in October 2010, Monterey managed to go to the Philippine embassy in Riyadh to ask for help. “But she was told to go to Polo-Owwa (Philippine Overseas Labor Office – Overseas Workers Welfare Administration) because they were already ‘full.’”
Albert Valenciano of Polo-Owwa took Monterey’s case and gave her a lawyer. Monterey’s employer did not attend the first three hearings. On the fourth hearing, the employer arrived not to attend it but to have Monterey arrested for theft.
“I was so shocked that I almost fainted. My sister is a very good person. She would never do that,” Espiritu said when asked how she felt about what happened. She added that she did not know what to do and where to go to ask for help. Her sister’s husband in Riyadh, fortunately, advised them to go Migrante International.
Together with a staff from Migrante , they went to government offices and wrote letters to officials, hoping that they would act quickly on her sister’s case. Every week, Espiritu would pay DFA a visit just to ask how her sister’s case is doing. Yet weeks and months have passed without any news.
Instead, Espiritu said Milet Flores of the DFA’s Office of the Undersecretary for Migrant Workers Affairs dismissed their efforts to find more ways of helping Monterey. For one, when Milet was informed that Migrante is helping the family, Flores reportedly told the family that Migrante would be of no help to them. When Espiritu, out of despair, went to a radio station to ask for help, Flores, again, told her that the media would be of no help. “And you even approached the media!” Espiritu quoted Flores as saying.
This time, Espiritu answered back, saying that the DFA has done nothing for sister. Citing the case of the three Filipinos who were recently beheaded in China, Espiritu said she told Flores, they could have been saved if only the DFA addressed their concerns immediately. “But I was told not to meddle with other people’s business and it is the reason why I look older than my age,” Espiritu said.
This was the last time that Espiritu went to the DFA’s office. She now relies on Migrante International for updates and the recruitment agency Pisces International, which has been relatively of help to the family. One of the last people Espiritu asked for help for her sister was the office of Vice President Jejomar Binay.
“We filed a complaint against (Flores) before the DFA through the vice president’s office. But there are no updates on what happened since the office received my complaint,” Espiritu said.
But what dismays Espiritu more is that no matter what they do, no matter where they go, her sister’s welfare is still in the hands of the government. “Does it mean that we simply have to endure it?”
State of migrants
Monterey’s case, among others, were cited in the protest action outside the DFA office last July 22, a few days before President Benigno S. Aquino III will deliver his second State of the Nation Address. Espiritu was with other relatives of OFWs who felt that Aquino’s promises during his inaugural speech as the country’s president has never been met.
In his inaugural speech, Aquino gave marching orders to all government agencies concerned to secure the welfare of OFWs. But for Migrante, the “State of the Migrants” under President Aquino’s first year is “arguably the worst year for OFWs.”
Garry Martinez, chair of Migrante, said OFWs have been experiencing the following:
1. The failure to address immediate evacuation and repatriation of OFWs affected by the conflict in Libya, Egypt and elsewhere in the Middle East-North Africa region, and also those affected by calamities and disasters in Japan and New Zealand;
2. Government neglect and insensitivity as highlighted by the case of abusive Hongkong labor attache Romulo Salud, as well as the failure to hold accountable erring and negligent officials and ambassadors under the previous administration;
3. The execution of three Filipinos in China, and the increase in the number of Filipinos in death row from 108 to 122;
4. The unprecedented decrease in the budgets for the Legal Assistance Fund and Assistance to Nationals, while 7,000 Filipinos are languishing in jails abroad without legal assistance at least 20,000 are stranded and awaiting repatriation;
5. Inconsiderate blunders and diplomatic faux pas that threatened the well-being of OFWs in Hongkong, Taiwan and China;
6. More fee impositions and state exactions such as the mandatory Pag-ibig contribution, e-Passport fee increase, mandatory insurance, affidavit of support, among others;
7. The failure to investigate allegations of misuse and corruption of the Overseas Filipino Workers Welfare Administration funds and;
8. The lack of a comprehensive and sustainable program for returned OFWs and their families.
“These are glaring examples of how insincere, insensitive and inept the Aquino government is in holding and securing the protection and welfare of OFWs,” Martinez said, “It, ironically, also showcases a more blatant and unapologetic labor export policy that exploits OFWs’ cheap labor and foreign remittances.”
Martinez said, “OFWs are still forced to go abroad because the government has offered them nothing substantive and sustainable to address their families’s economic needs. Instead, what it has offered are mere dole-outs and band-aid solutions that does not do anything to address widespread unemployment and landlessness the root cause of forced migration.”
Meanwhile, Monterey is languishing in Malaz Jail in Riyadh. Her sister Espiritu is still doing her best to get her home. So in Aquino’s Sona, Espiritu only want to hear what he has to offer for the country’s modern day heroes. “Heroes need to be taken cared of, not neglected.”