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CHR echoes UN expert’s call to stop red-tagging

The Commission on Human Rights (CHR) again called on the Philippine government to stop red-tagging after another United Nations (UN) expert noted its practice by Philippine security forces.

Reacting to UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression Irene Khan’s recommendations at the end of her 10-day official visit earlier this month, the country’s national human rights institution said it reaffirms its call to the government to put an end to the practice.

“We must remain mindful that red-tagging is a human rights violation on its own and may lead to a multiplicity of other acts of violence which put the welfare of the general public at risk,” the CHR said in a statement today.

The CHR added it supports Khan’s recommendation for at least a review of National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC)’s mandate, reminding the government’s counter-insurgency mechanism the people’s right to public governance must be protected as part of democracy.

In her actual statement however, Khan categorically said she recommends “that the Task Force be abolished.”

Khan also said, “…there is clear evidence that ‘red tagging’ and ‘terror tagging’ as some persons have called them, are being practised by security forces as part of their counter-terrorism strategy.”

Media security office also needs review

The CHR added it echoes Khan’s call for the Presidential Task Force on Media Security (PTFoMS) to also review its approach in viewing and investigating violence committed against journalists.

The Commission said it hopes investigations concerning media-related violence are attended to with a keen eye, considering that journalists face heavier safety risk.

The PTFoMS however earlier rejected Khan’s recommendations, alleging the UN expert had prejudged the government before conducting her official investigations.

In his program on a government radio station last February 3, PTFoMS executive director Paulino Gutierrez said the Ferdinand Marcos Jr. government welcomed Khan despite fears she would still criticize the government on its human rights record.

“Despite the preparations made by our group for her arrival, we accepted the fact that she would severely criticize the Philippines. In other words, we welcomed her with eyes wide open,” Gutierrez said in a mix of Filipino and English.

“If Ms. Khan thought she could fool and make our government turn and jump hoops, despite us exchanging sweet words, she is mistaken,” Gutierrez also said. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

Khan: NTF-ELCAC harmful to peace talks efforts

United Nations (UN) special rapporteur on freedom of expression and opinion Irene Khan said the Ferdinand Marcos Jr. administration’s decision to open peace talks with the revolutionary Left is a positive signal but urged however for the abolition of the government’s anti-insurgency task force.

Among her recommendations in her exit press briefing last Thursday, February 2, Khan said the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) should be abolished “to allow for more inclusive peace-building platforms.”

“The tone of the new Administration, coupled with its decision to open peace talks with insurgents and a renewed engagement with the international community, are positive signals,” Khan said.

“But addressing the serious and deep-seated human rights issues will require more fundamental and sustained reforms,” she added.

Khan said the NTF-ELCAC is “outdated” and stressed that “does not take into account the ongoing prospects for peace negotiations.”

The government, the National Democratic Front of the Philippines and the Royal Norwegian Government simultaneously announced ongoing discussions for the possible resumption of formal peace negotiations.

Immediate rejection

Khan’s recommendation was however immediately rejected by Marcos administration officials, even accusing the UN expert of blindsiding the government with her preformed opinions before arriving in the Philippines.

National security adviser Eduardo Año, Peace adviser Carlito Galvez Jr., interior Secretary Benjamin Abalos Jr., National Security Council assistant director Jonathan Malaya and media security task force head Paulino Gutierrez in unison rejected Khan’s recommendation of Khan to abolish the NTF-ELCAC.

“Please take note that this is a 55-year old running insurgency. Now that we have reached this stage in the campaign, we feel it is improper to call for its abolition,” Malaya said, again claiming the government is about to defeat the New People’s Army (NPA).

Año for his part said the NTF-ELCAC “does not encourage red-tagging.”

Sen. Imee Marcos also mocked Khan’s call to abolish the task force as “supremely presumptuous,” belittling the length of time the UN expert spent in her in-country investigations.

“After a mere 10 days in the Philippines, during which she never visited the NTF barangays but only met a chosen few witnesses, she has the knowledge and the right to tell the Philippine government what to do?” Marcos said in a statement.

Ignorant response

Rights group Karapatan however labeled the Senator as ignorant, saying she should be schooled on international human rights mechanisms like the UN and the International Criminal Court.

“They cannot just sign human rights treaties, conventions and go to town saying that we have a ‘vibrant’ democracy, without being held accountable for the Philippine government’s obligations and commitments in this global rights system,” Karapatan secretary general Cristina Palabay said.

Palabay pointed out that it was the government that invited Khan into the Philippines and her recommendations must be respected as part of the government’s obligations to the international community.

“What they fail to see is that it is simply game over for the NTF-ELCAC, despite all the lights and sounds show, parties and meetings they put up during SR Khan’s official visit,” Palabay said. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

NUJP to PTFOMS: Where did your 50% media killing resolution rate come from?

The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) blasted government claims that more than half of all media killings in the Philippines have been resolved.

Reacting to government claims to visiting United Nations Special Rapporteur on freedom of expression and opinion Irene Khan, the NUJP said it is flabbergasted that the Presidential Task Force on Media Security (PTFOMS) reported 102 out of 203 media-related killings have been successfully prosecuted.

The NUJP said that, based on its own monitoring, there have been 199 journalists were gunned down since 1986 and the number of cases successfully resolved does not come close to 50 percent.

The group cited a Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism report in December 2022 that revealed only 11 percent of the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility’s count of 176 media killing resulted in convictions.

The same article showed that only 53 percent of the cases reached the courts, the group added.

“How the PTFOMS classified the case as ‘resolved’ is a mystery. Do they mean establishment of possible motives, identification of the suspects, or shrugging off the incidents as not work-related?” NUJP asked.

In a press release Friday, PTFOMS said it discussed with Khan its database on media killings, revealing that “half of the media-related killings (102 out of 203 cases) have been resolved, whether through legal prosecution or other means.”

“This contrasts starkly with the United Nations’ record of only about 10% resolution in journalist killings around the world, a point highlighted by Ms. Khan,” the task force boasted.

PTFOMS added that its discussion with Khan last Wednesday also highlighted the collaborative efforts of the Department of Justice and law enforcement agencies in addressing media killings.

Families of media killing victims however testified to Khan that successful prosecutions mostly mean the conviction of triggermen and accomplices but not of the masterminds.

Last Tuesday, family members of Dr. Gerry Ortega and Percival “Percy Lapid” Mabasa joined media organizations in their meeting with Khan and complained of the government’s failure to convict alleged masterminds of their murders.

Former Palawan governor Joel Reyes is being charged of masterminding Ortega’s assassination in 2011 while former Bureau of Corrections director general is accused of masterminding Mabasa’s murder.

“The brazenness of the killings, such as in the cases Percy Mabasa and Juan Jumalon, indicates that impunity is alive in this country. Emblematic of this problem is the case of Gerry Ortega who was gunned down in 2011. After 13 years, the alleged mastermind remains scot-free,” the NUJP said.

“Whether work-related or not, killings of journalists are not acceptable, and should not happen in a democratic society. The killings underscore the failure of the government to protect the right to life of its citizens,” the group added.

Khan is in the Philippines for a 10-day official visit to look into the state of press freedom and freedom of expression and opinion in the country.

She met with journalists and activists in Baguio City last Friday and had just concluded her meetings with counterparts in Tacloban City.

Khan also visited journalist Frenchie Mae Cumpio, church worker Marielle Domequil and human rights defender Alexander Abinguna at the Tacloban District Jail earlier today. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

Valbuena: NPA wholeheartedly accepts CPP’s rectification call

The New People’s Army (NPA) wholeheartedly accepts the Communist Party of the Philippines’ (CPP) call to carry out a rectification movement among all revolutionary forces in the country, CPP chief information officer Marco Valbuena announced.

Valbuena said NPA fighters and commanders had been enlightened by the CPP’s 55th founding anniversary statement that analyzed past internal weaknesses and errors that affected their advance in 2019 to 2022.

Last December 26, the CPP criticized “widespread complacency” in its forces’ study and application of revolutionary theory along with “timidity in drawing theory from practice.”

The underground party said such errors resulted in battlefield losses by the NPA as well as a slowdown in the recruitment of new members and retardation of the revolutionary mass movement nationwide.

Valbuena however added the NPA are starting to once again grow strong as their morale had been heightened by the launch of the CPP’s rectification movement.

“Majority of the units of the NPA have adjusted to the AFP’s (Armed Forces of the Philippines) tactics of large-scale military mobilization and are expanding their areas of operation and strengthening their mass base,” he said.

Valbuena added that the NPA have adapted guerrilla tactics of concentration, shifting and dispersal in its military and mass work.

“The peasant masses, even those who were subjected to military suppression and forced to ‘surrender,’ are elated by the return and presence of NPA units in their areas,” he announced.

“All in all, we anticipate steady growth during the rest of the year and succeeding period,” he added.

AFP demoralization and infighting

It is the turn of the AFP soldiers to suffer creeping demoralization as they realize the government’s failure to defeat the NPA, Valbuena said.

The CPP officer said AFP’s rank-and-file is well too aware of the deep and wide support the NPA receives from the peasant masses and people.

“They are further dispirited by the corruption of their higher officers who mulct and pocket millions of pesos of public funds, and by the infighting among the generals who are deeply loyal to rival politicians and bureaucrat capitalists,” he added.

Earlier this week, 22 retired generals and flag officers met with House of Representatives Speaker Ferdinand Martin Romualdez to vow support for the Marcos administration.

The military officers belonged to the Philippine Military Academy Alumni Association; Association of Generals and Flag Officers; Philippine Military Academy Retirees Association; and National ROTC Alumni Association, Inc. (NARAAI) who also denied the existence of a plot against the president.

A week previous, Senator Imee Marcos reported hearing about destabilization plots against her brother’s government

“I think these destab plans are all coming from the inside,” she said, referring to parties allied to the Marcos camp of the government.

The senator is perceived to be allied with Vice President Sara Duterte and former president Rodrigo Duterte in their reported rift with her brother and cousin Romualdez.

Earlier, in November, former president Duterte denied he rallied retired generals to topple Marcos in a coup d’etat.

Duterte says he had met some retired generals but plotting a coup was not discussed.

Valbuena said the infighting and corruption in the military has brought demoralization among the AFP’s foot soldiers.

“They are utterly dejected by the fact that they are used as cannon fodder to defend a rotten system while their commander-in-chief enjoy a high-style living using public money to have helicopters ferry him from concerts and late-night parties,” he said.

Masbate NPA accepts rectification challenge

The Jose Rapsing Command of the NPA in Masbate Province meanwhile said it vows to implement the CPP’s rectification movement to further advance their armed struggle for justice.

“As part of the rectification movement, NPA Masbate humbly vows to do all it can to defend the people of Masbate and claim justice for all victims of oppression and exploitation by the rotten government,” its spokesperson Luz del Mar said.

Del Mar said that martial law is practically in effect in the province that extends to the provincial prosecutor recently filing frustrated murder charges against five innocent farmers.

Instead of charging the military for indiscriminately firing at the victims that led to the death of their companion Rey Belan last June 16, the government accuses farmers Jamara Tumangan, Rowel Hagnaya, Alden Tumangan, Rico Cuyos at Senen Dollete of being NPA fighters, the spokesperson said.

“For every farmer killed, deprived of land, deprived of rights and a bright future, the NPA in Masbate is determined to aid them in their fight for justice,” del Mar said. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

DOJ lied to UN expert on red-tagging—Karapatan, NUJP

A human rights organization and a media group called claims by the Department of Justice (DOJ)  that red-tagging is not official government policy is, simply, lying.

“Simply doublespeak,” Karapatan secretary general Cristina Palabay said in reaction to DOJ’s reply to United Nations (UN) Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression and Opinion Irene Khan’s question if red-tagging is a policy of the Philippine government.

“We are aghast when the DOJ said that it has sufficient mechanisms to address red-tagging. What are they talking about? Either these are nowhere to be found, or if these mechanisms indeed exist, are rendered useless for victims of rights violations,” Palabay said.

Palabay pointed out that the Office of the Ombudsman found former National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTFELCAC) spokespersons retired Lt. Gen. Antonio Parlade Jr. and former undersecretary Lorraine Badoy guilty of red-tagging activists and organizations.

In a decision signed by Ombudsman Samuel Martires last August 9, Parlade and Badoy were reprimanded after finding merit in the complaint filed by the National Union of People’s Lawyers.

Other complaints filed as early as 2020 by Karapatan, alternative media organizations, youth leaders, health workers, community pantry organizers, journalists, and civil libertarians remain pending at the Ombudsman, proof that red-tagging is practiced widely by government agencies, Palabay said.

Palabay also recalled that Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin Remulla told the UN Human Rights Committee in November 2022 that “red-tagging is a part of democracy.”

“The DOJ secretary himself attempted to justify red-tagging before the UN HR Committee. Using his warped logic, Remulla also said in interviews that red-tagging is truth-telling, and that it is their right to ‘criticize’ those who criticize them,” Palabay added.

DOJ’s barefaced denial

In a press release following its meeting with Khan last Wednesday, the DOJ said it told the UN expert red-tagging is not an official policy of the government.

“We were also explaining the many cases that show that we have sufficient mechanisms to address this matter of red-tagging. There is an ongoing effort, proactive effort on the part of the DOJ where we have been engaging civil society organizations,” Justice Undersecretary Jessie Andres also told Khan.

Already criticized in 2007 by UN Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial Killings Phillip Alston, red-tagging is described as the malicious act of branding individuals or organizations as supporters or members of terrorist or communist groups simply for being critical of government policies.

Rights groups said victims of red-tagging are being set up for arrests, trumped-up charges or assassination.

While the UN is here

In a separate statement, the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) said government’s denial of a red-tagging policy is meaningless as it is being done even while a UN expert is in the country conducting her investigations on the allegations.

“We condemn the red-tagging on Facebook of NUJP director Reynard Magtoto and Gabriela local leader Jen Nagrampa, who have been accused by anonymously-run page Green Spark of being “kampon” or underlings of the CPP-NPA-NDF,” NUJP said.

Green Spark alleged on Thursday that along with Magtoto and Nagrampa, alternative news outfits Bulatlat and Baretang Bikolnon as well as women’s group Gabriela are front organizations of underground Communist organizations.

“We believe this latest post is an attempt at retaliation for Magtoto’s December 2023 report on fake New People’s Army surrenderees and on how some — activists and citizens — were made to sign declarations of surrender under false pretenses of government aid distribution or under duress,” NUJP said.

Magtoto was subjected to surveillance while working on a report on fake surrenderees in Bicol and was also called to a meeting with the military on his activities with NUJP, which they called a “sectoral front organization, the group reported.

Under the Marcos Jr. administration, NUJP said it recorded 20 incidents of red-tagging against journalists and media outlets and organizations.

“Like Magtoto, the majority of those red-tagged published stories critical of the government, or that veered away from the official narratives,” NUJP said.

Karapatan and the NUJP were among dozens of civil society organizations that met with Khan on her first day of investigations last Tuesday.

“Malicious labeling by government agencies, officials and their affiliates intrudes on our constitutionally guaranteed freedoms of association, of the press, and of expression. The continuous red-tagging puts the security of journalists at risk, and should not be taken lightly, the NUJP said.

“We challenge the Marcos Jr. administration to disband the NTFELCAC to prove that red-tagging is not a policy, the group added. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

New AFP spox contradicts Marcos, amuses CPP

The Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) is only amused at inconsistencies in pronouncements made by government officials about the strength of the New People’s Army (NPA), its chief information officer said.

In a statement Wednesday, CPP officer Marco Valbuena said it was quite amusing to observe how new Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) spokesperson Col. Francel Margareth Padilla contradicted her commander in chief President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. a few days into her new job.

In repeating the annual AFP announcement it will eliminate the NPA by the end of the year, the new spokesperson “already sounded like a broken record,” Valbuena said.

In a press briefing last Monday, Padilla said the AFP vows to defeat the NPA by the end of 2024, a promise made anew in the military’s first command conference of the New Year.

“We were given specific deadlines to do such.  So within a span of a year, we are looking at eliminating the threat of the internal insurgency situation,” Padilla said.

Valbuena however pointed out that Marcos himself declared only last January 13 that there are no more NPA fronts, which Brawner in turn rebuffed

“What was interesting, however, is the fact that she issued her statement just days after Marcos, their commander-in-chief, declared that ‘there are no more NPA fronts,’” Valbuena said.

AFP chief of staff Lt. Gen. Romeo Brawner himself rebuffed Marcos two days later by saying the NPA has “eleven weakened fronts,” instead of zero.

“To say the least, these disconnected statements reveal inconsistencies in the Marcos government’s public assessment of the state of the revolutionary armed movement, arising from contradictions in its self-serving objectives,” Valbuena said.

Neither declaration of having strategically defeated the NPA after 55 years or eliminating it can cover up the AFP’s ongoing military offensives and large-scale military operations across the country, Valbuena said.

The CPP officer added that the AFP continues to squander hundreds of billions of public funds in a strategy bound to fail in ending the civil war, he added.

Valbuena explained that the AFP’s annual declaration of crushing the NPA always fails because its strategy results in worsening forms of human rights and international humanitarian law violations.

He added that civilians remain the main targets of AFP’s operation through brutal suppression extrajudicial killings, rounding up people and parading them as “surrenderees,” looting, encampment amid civilian communities, curfews and other arbitrary restrictions on people’s movements and economic activity, food blockades, checkpoints, aerial bombing, artillery shelling and other bloody and dirty tactics.

“The vain objective is to break the people’s spirit and make them cower to submission. The result is the opposite,” he said.

Valbuena cited the recent killings of peasant activists Boy Baloy and Ernesto Torres in Negros Occidental by the 62nd Infantry Battalion of the Philippine Army who claimed the victims were NPA fighters killed in an armed encounter.

Such crimes help make the NPA numbers grow amid the CPP’s new rectification campaign launched last December, Valbuena said.

“All in all, we anticipate steady growth during the rest of the year and succeeding period…the Filipino people have no other recourse but to intensify their revolutionary mass movement and armed resistance,” the CPP said. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

Gerry Ortega’s family, supporters question trial transfer to QC

13-year case vs accused ex-governor Joel Reyes ‘taking too long’

The 13-year struggle for justice for slain broadcaster and environmental champion Dr. Gerry Ortega faces more delay as the trial against accused mastermind and former Palawan governor Joel Reyes has been transferred from Puerto Princesa to Quezon City (QC).

In a statement Wednesday, January 24, Ortega’s family said they find themselves on the brink of renewed grief as further delay confronts their quest for justice.

“Haven’t we already waited too long? Isn’t 13 years enough?” the family asked.

The Supreme Court (SC) granted the petition by Reyes in a decision penned last December 4 but was only recently made known to the complainants.

Reyes, patriarch of a political dynasty in Palawan, is accused as mastermind of the first media killing under the Benigno Aquino government in January 24, 2011.

Condemnations

The Justice for Doctor Gerry Ortega campaign and environmental group Kalikasan People’s Network for the Environment led a protest rally at the SC Wednesday, saying the High Court’s decision is “questionable.”

“It just goes to show how the camp of Joel Reyes is able to stall the case, and why we must continue to demand swift justice for our slain environmental defenders,” Kalikasan national coordinator Jon Bonifacio said.

“We urge UN (United Nations) Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Opinion and Expression Irene Khan to pay close attention surrounding the Doc Gerry Ortega’s case, so she can see the reality of persistent threats to freedom of expression in the country,” Bonifacio continued.

Khan is in the Philippines for an official investigation of cases of press freedom violations, including Ortega’s murder.

The UN expert met with a representative of the Ortega family last Tuesday.

In a statement, human rights group Karapatan blamed government’s lack of political will to deliver justice for Ortega.

“The lack of political will and the extreme delay in bringing to justice the killers of slain broadcaster Gerry Ortega, and in other victims of extrajudicial killings, are now on the (Ferdinand) Marcos Jr. administration,” the group said.

The National Union of Journalists of Philippines (NUJP) joined the protest, saying it is surprised by the transfer when the accused remains in hiding, refusing to submit to the jurisdiction of the court where he was being tried.

“We strongly believe that there is no justifiable reason to transfer the case, and doing so will only prolong the trial that is already proceeding in earnest at the Palawan Regional Trial Court,” the media group said.

Enduring hope

The Ortega family said they remain hopeful that they will ultimate find justice.

“The past 13 years have been difficult, marked by challenges. Yet, the outpouring of support from the media, environmental defenders, human rights advocates, friends, and our community sustains our determination to see this through. Today, we express immense gratitude for your unwavering solidarity and support,” it said.

“Our family remains resolute, and we continue to hope for a fair, timely, and just resolution to the case. Thank you for standing with us on this challenging journey,” it added. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

Ka Daning Ramos hounded by surveillance, harassment—KMP

Veteran peasant leader Danilo Ramos and the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) that he leads is worried.

In a statement, the KMP revealed Ramos had been the subject of surveillance and harassment by men suspected to be government intelligence agents in at least two occasions this month.

Motorcyle-riding men had been asking for the whereabouts of Ramos and his residence in Malolos City, Bulacan on January 3 and 15, KMP reported.

“In one incident, one of the men reportedly asked bystanders: ‘Taga-saan ba si Danilo Ramos? Matagal na namin siyang hinahanap kasi terorista siya.’”  (Where does Danilo Ramos reside? We have long been looking for him because he is a terrorist.)

“This dangerous and brazen case of terror tagging poses a direct threat to the life of Ka Daning, his family, and other peasant leaders and members of the KMP and the progressive peasant movement,” the group said.

KMP and Tanggol Magsasaka (Defend Farmers) noted that the surveillance and harassment against Ramos have escalated since last year.

The last case of documented surveillance against the KMP chairperson happened in August 2023, the group added.

The victim and Tanggol Magsasaka immediately submitted reports to and held dialogues with the Commission on Human Rights on last year’s incident, KMP said.

Ramos was a survivor of the Mendiola Massacre of January 22, 1987 and went on to become a long-time KMP secretary general.

He succeeded Rafael Mariano as KMP chairperson when the latter briefly served as Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) secretary in 2016 to 2017.

KMP said despite non-stop harassment against Ramos, the farmer leader remains critical and outspoken on the policies and programs of the Department of Agriculture, DAR and Malacanang that affect farmers and fisherfolk.

The government meanwhile has weaponized laws against the agriculture sector , instead of heeding the plight of farmers and strengthening domestic agriculture, it added.

“We demand a stop to the harassment against Ka Daning (Ramos). We demand a stop to the attacks against farmers and the peasant masses who feed the nation,” KMP in its statement said.

“We call on all democracy-loving individuals and institutions, especially workers, human rights defenders, indigenous peoples’ rights advocates, Church people, environment defenders, and all sectors here and abroad to support Danilo “Ka Daning” Ramos and all farmers fighting against landlessness, injustice, and impunity in the Philippines,” the group concluded. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

Retrenched OFWs in New Zealand sleep in cars, resort to fishing to survive

It’s been nearly a month since hundreds of Filipino construction workers lost their jobs throughout New Zealand and some are forced into desperate measures to survive.

Migrante Aotearoa said many laid off workers have resorted to fly fishing for something to eat after about 720 fellow Filipinos suddenly lost their jobs when their recruitment company ELE Group collapsed last December 20.

“Yes, many are already doing that,” Migrante Aotearoa confirmed to Kodao.

First Union Network of Migrants general secretary Dennis Maga said that one month after ELE entered receivership, the distressed Filipino workers are already in dire financial hardship.

“[M]any are relying on community food support and waiting for financial assistance from the Philippine Embassy. Two weeks ago, the union reported that some workers were sleeping in their cars due to financial difficulties,” Maga said.

Bills and debts both in NZ and Philippines, mental and emotional stresses are mounting for the ELE workers, Maga added.

READ: 720 New Zealand OFWs lose jobs over Christmas

Distressed OFWs picketing Deloitte headquarters in Auckland, New Zealand (Migrante photo)

Distress call to NZ and PH governments

Along with Migrante Aotearoa and First Union, several of the workers held a picket at the Philippine Embassy as well as outside ELE Group caretaker Deloitte Corporation in Wellington today.

The groups also held meet ups with other laid off workers in Auckland and Christchurch on Friday.

In a statement, the groups said they are asking Deloitte to give the laid-off workers’ final pay and benefits before month’s end.

They demanded as well that the workers are given work immediately and given new work visas by the New Zealand government.

They also asked the Philippine government to expedite its promised financial aid to the workers while they remain jobless.  

“For the NZ government, we reiterate that it’s high time to investigate the practices of labor hire operators that disadvantage and exploit migrant workers,” Migrante Aotearoa said.

The group added that even before ELE’s collapse, they have been receiving reports of employment redundancy, exploitation of migrant workers, visa scams and fake job offers.

“We reiterate calls for the Philippine government through the Philippine Embassy in Wellington and the Department of Migrant Workers in Manila to fast-track the release of financial aid for all ELE workers and give high priority for ELE workers currently in the Philippines to avail OWWA assistance and waive the required application for new Overseas Employment Certificateto be able to return to NZ without further costs and delay,” they said.

In a separate statement, Migrante-International called on the Ferdinand Marcos Jr. government to speed up and increase support for the laid-off workers.

The group is set to hold a dialogue with the Department of Migrant Workers on Monday, January 22 about the plight of the Filipino workers in New Zealand.

“The sudden retrenchment of our kababayans in New Zealand again exposes the folly of the Philippine government’s labor export program. The Philippine government has the responsibility to create decent jobs at home, which is possible only through land reform and national industrialization,” Migrante International said. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

Distressed OFWs and supporters picketing the Philippine Embassy in Wellington. (Migrante photo)

Filipina mom, who fled Gaza with 7 children, reunites with Palestinian husband in UAE

She asks help from Good Samaritans who may have extra laptops to spare for her daughters’ school requirements

by Angel Tesorero / Khaleej Times

The Filipina mother and her seven children who escaped war-torn Gaza recently are now back in the UAE.

They took a circuitous route – evacuating first in Manila with help from the Philippine government back in November last year – before arriving in Dubai last week. The family has settled in a temporary one-bedroom apartment in Ajman, the present accommodation of the 44-year-old Palestinian father who works in Dubai.

Three girls – aged 13, 11 and 9 years old – have been enrolled at an Arabic-curriculum school in Ajman. But since the family is practically starting from scratch – after everything they had were turned into rubble in Gaza – the mother, Marlene, 45, has reached out to ask help from Good Samaritans who may have extra laptops to spare for her daughters who are now in Grades 8, 6 and 4.

“Sorry for asking,” the mother apologetically wrote in a WhatsApp message sent on Wednesday. “The kids are doing fine and they are back in school. But they need a laptop for their school requirements. I hope there is someone who has an extra laptop or smart tablet to spare for my daughters,” she added.

Bright kids

Marlene’s children are very studious. In fact, her eldest daughter, who is 15, won full scholarship from Aiglon College, an international boarding school in Switzerland, before the war escalated in Gaza in October last year.

“She is now waiting for her student visa and she will finish senior high school in Switzerland,” Marlene proudly said.

Two of his younger sons – aged 7 and 6, who are supposed to be in Grades 2 and 1 – however, have yet to find a school. “All nearby schools are already full,” Marlene said.

“The kids now have a routine. My daughters are picked up by the school bus at 6am and they are home by 3pm,” Marlene shared, adding: “Even my youngest, who is 3, has started reading alphabets and counting numbers.”

Finding peace

Marlene continued: “Yes, my children are now all safe but the horrors of war still haunt them. They are still struggling to find peace.”

“Because we live near the Sharjah Airport, there were many times my seven-year old would anxiously run to me after hearing the sound of airplanes. ‘Are we being followed by Israeli fighter planes?’ – my son would ask me,” added Marlene, who earlier said: “Even the sound of the metallic electric fan brought my young son to tears as it sounded like attack drones.”

Marlene and her seven children left their home in Deir Al Balah in Gaza that was bombed twice, with nothing but a single emergency bag containing all their passports. Miraculously, no one died in the attacks and no one was seriously injured, except for a shrapnel that hit Marlene near her abdomen.

Marlene’s in-laws, aged 75 and 73, decided to remain in Deir Al Balah because they couldn’t endure the 20-km journey to the Rafah border in Egypt. “They have surrendered their fate to God. When our house was bombed for the third time, my 73-year-old mother-in-law just lay down on the floor and prayed,” she said.

Although a big challenge, Marlene has maintained communication with her in-laws and relatives in Gaza. “But the situation in Deir Al Balah is getting worse by the day. My sisters-in-law are trying to move to Rafah to find a way to cross the border. They heard Deir Al Balah will be next after the intensive military operations in Khan Younis and Nuseirat,” she added.

Still grateful

On the bright side, Marlene is thankful that she has reunited with her husband. She also thanked the individuals and institutions that helped her family, including the Philippine-Palestine Friendship Association (PPFA) which took care of them when they were in Manila.

Marlene is now looking for work – her last job was as a secretary at a printing company in Sharjah before her family moved to Gaza in 2020. She said: “All my kids, except the eldest, were born in the UAE. That’s why they are not strangers here.”

Home is always Gaza

For Marlene’s children, however, home is always Gaza. She had earlier said: “Moving to Gaza turned out really good for my children. It was there that they truly found a home. They always felt they belonged. They were happy living with their cousins, they went to school and made new friends. They were happy… until the war happened.”

“My children maintained contact with their cousins,” Marlene continued, adding: “Just two days ago, they had a video chat and children will always be children. Despite the raging war, you can feel the innocence and simple joy in them.

“I heard their conversation and they were all laughing. My children’s cousins also had a simple request: ‘Please send some chocolates and chips, even small candies or any sweets.” #

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This report is original to The Khaleej Times where the author is a senior deputy editor.