“Philippine officials reported and asked the Saudi police to disperse the 40 stranded OFWs who were protesting inside the POLO compound.” – Migrante
By JANESS ANN J. ELLAO
MANILA — Migrante-Middle East decried the arrest of 18 undocumented and stranded Filipino workers in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.
“We see no violation of Saudi laws as the sit-in demonstration by the 40 stranded OFWS was peacefully done,” John Leonard Monterona, coordinator of Migrante Middle East and North Africa, said.
In a statement, Migrante said that about 40 Filipinos staged a sit-in peaceful demonstration inside the Philippine Overseas Labor Office in Riyadh to “air a legitimate grievance because they see that embassy and labor officials are not properly giving them assistance and are dilly-dallying in their repatriation.”
Undocumented Filipino workers have been holding their tent cities both in Jeddah and Riyadh. They have been demanding a free and immediate mass repatriation of Filipinos affected by the Saudization Policy or Nitaqat Scheme, a labor policy implemented by the Saudi Arabia government in 2011 that requires companies to hire Saudi nationals to comprise at least 10 percent of their total work force.
Saudization policy has also resulted to crackdowns on undocumented workers, which is not limited to Filipinos but also include Bangladeshi, Indonesians, among others.
The deadline for undocumented workers to either fix their papers or leave the country, which was supposed to be last July 3, 2013, was extended by the Saudi government to November 3, 2013. According to news reports, this should give ample time for Filipinos, estimated to be about 17,500.
Philippine consul general Uriel Normal Garibay said, in an Arab News report, that the extension is a relief for about 11,500 Filipinos who want to fix their papers and about 6,000 who want to go back home.
Monterona said the sit-in demonstration is very understandable, adding that Philippine embassy and labor officials in Riyadh should have “faced and talked to the stranded OFWs to explain to them the repatriation formalities and assure them of their utmost assistance.”
“Instead, Philippine officials reported and asked the Saudi police to disperse the 40 stranded OFWs who were protesting inside the POLO compound,” he said, adding that about three Filipinos were allegedly nabbed and manhandled by Saudi authorities.
Monterona said they have received reports that it was Labor attaché Adam Musa and Philippine ambassador Ezzadin Tago who ordered POLO-OWWA welfare officer Abdullah Umpa to report the protest action to Saudi authorities. Such action, he said, “highlighted Philippine embassy and labor officials’ incompetence to handle situation like this.”
In a related development, progressive groups welcomed the extension of the deadline. But, Migrante International said, it should not mean that the Aquino government could “slacken its efforts to repatriate stranded OFWs.”
“This should serve as a wake-up call to the Aquino government. The government should clean its act, systematize its mechanisms and urgently facilitate the OFWs’ demands for repatriation. They should still act as if the deadline was yesterday with no moment to lose,” Migrante International chairman Garry Martinez said.
Migrante International said latest reports show that only about 600 out of the 5,000 Filipinos who registered for repatriation were “fingerprinted” – a process facilitated by Philippine embassy officials to secure their exit visas.
With this, occupy protests are still going on in the tent cities of Jeddah and Riyadh. Martinez said there is no truth that the number of Filipinos in the tent cities has decreased because of the declaration of the extension.
“If anything, more stranded OFWs are trooping to PH posts to fast track their repatriation,” Martinez said, adding that the government should do their work well and make it more systematic.
Lito Ustarez, Kilusang Mayo Uno vice chairman, said that, “judging from its actions and statements, the Aquino government on its own will still fail to bring home stranded Filipinos by Nov. 3. We have no reason to believe that it will step up efforts to bring home our kababayans before that date.”
“Philippine authorities should maximize this extension to immediately implement a free, quick mass repatriation program to assist thousands of our kababayans now fearing for their lives and safety,” Kabataan Rep. Terry Ridon said.
He also decried the “glacial pace” of the Philippine government’s repatriation program.
“The Philippine consulate’s glacial pace has left thousands of undocumented OFWs deprived of protection, shelter and support. We condemn the nonchalant attitude of Aquino and his minions in the Department of Foreign Affairs amidst the suffering of thousands of stranded OFWs,” Ridon said.
Martinez said this is the reason why protests would continue here and in Saudi despite the extension.
Embassy not OFWs’ ‘sanctuary’
Monterona said the Aquino government should investigate embassy and labor officials for having our own people arrested in Saudi Arabia.
The Philippine embassy, he added, should be the sanctuary for Filipino workers. But in this case, he said, it has brought danger to people who are in dire need.