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Volume IV, Number 23 July 11 - 17, 2004 Quezon City, Philippines
Filipinos Toil to Support U.S. War in Iraq
Many OFWs work as kitchen hands and cooks in U.S. military camps in Iraq, where they complained of long working hours and no days off. Most of the OFWs killed or wounded in recent months were working in these high-risk areas.
He was forced to renew his contract to raise money for one of his children’s eye surgery. His family is in Mexico, Pampanga, a province about two-hour drive north of Manila.
De la Cruz’s fate goes a long way back to September 2001 when President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo became the first Asian leader to declare support for U.S. President George W. Bush’s “war on terror.” In her second visit to Bush in May 2003, the President asked – and also pledged – that in return for supporting the invasion of Iraq, the United States should help in the recruitment of Filipinos in the post-invasion “reconstruction” plan for that country.
A month prior to her Washington visit, Macapagal-Arroyo sent Roberto Romulo, a former foreign secretary and head of the newly-formed Philippine Public-Private Sector Partnership for the Reconstruction and Development of Iraq, to the United States to ask construction and engineering corporate executives to give the Philippines, as a member of the “Coalition of the Willing,” “preferential treatment” in the hiring of foreign workers for Iraq.
Both the President, Romulo and other Cabinet officials believed that up to 100,000 overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) would find jobs in the war-battered Middle East country. Their employment was expected to generate millions of dollar remittances for the deficit-ridden government, among others. OFWs, now counting almost 10 million in many countries across the globe, contribute half of the country’s GDP.
In the deal cut by Macapagal-Arroyo and Bush, the Philippine government pledged to send a “humanitarian contingent” to Iraq in exchange for its being financed by Washington. But Washington’s inability to foot the bill forced the Philippine government to scale down the contingent from 500 persons to 178 (who were finally sent in August) to today’s 51-person team composed of 45 soldiers and six policemen. The team is headed by former Armed Forces chief and now ambassador, Roy Cimatu.
Before three Filipino workers were killed, the total Filipino labor force as of last May was 3,800. A number of workers have since returned home only to be replaced however by new batches. About 80 percent of OFWs in Iraq today is said to be employed by Prime Projects International (PPI), a Dubai-based subcontractor of Kellogg Brown and Root (known today as KBR Engineering & Construction), a unit of the Halliburton Company.
Halliburton, which claims to be the world’s “largest diversified energy services, engineering and construction company” with operations in more than 100 countries and 2002 sales of $12.4 billion, has U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney as a former CEO. In March last year, KBR, a Halliburton subsidiary, was awarded without bidding a $7-billion project to clean Iraq’s oilfields. KBR also has other projects in Afghanistan, including a $100 million contract to a build a new U.S. embassy in Kabul and another $216 million to build military bases.
The contract that Macapagal-Arroyo envoy Romulo helped forge with KBR subcontractor called for deploying Filipino workers mainly to U.S. base camps and some oilfields located in high-risk areas such as Camp Anaconda in Balad, north of Baghdad; Camp Victory in the capital city itself; and Camp Toji, located between the two cities.
Many OFWs work as kitchen hands and cooks in the camps, where they complained of long working hours and no days off. Most of the OFWs killed or wounded in recent months were working in these battle-scarred areas. It remains unknown whether other Filipinos are also being hired for the building of 11 more U.S. military facilities inside Iraq.
Despite the threats to the Filipino workers’ lives, Macapagal-Arroyo last May approved Cimatu’s recommendation for lifting the temporary ban on OFW deployment in Iraq. He even boasted that labor subcontractors such as PPI are hiring thousands more for reconstruction. Demand for Filipino workers in these bases remains high, Cimatu said.
Isaias Begornia, spokesperson of the Philippines’ inter-agency Iraq Team, said last May PPI needs 25,000 more Filipino workers in the next two to three years.
Meantime, Macapagal-Arroyo is committed to supporting the U.S. efforts in Iraq for which the Philippine contingent, along with the civilian labor force, will have to stay. Last June 12, she affirmed her government’s commitment to the “democratic reconstruction” in that country and to Bush’s war on terrorism. Bulatlat.com