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OFWs demand increased budget for protection and welfare amid Covid-19

An organization of migrants called on the Philippine government to ensure social protection and welfare services for overseas Filipino workers (OFW), Filipino migrants and their families by increasing funding for these programs in the proposed 2021 National Budget. 

In an online petition on change.org, Migrante International pointed out that in the proposal, only Php 8.6 Billion from the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) and Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) is allotted to fund programs that seek to assist and support OFWs and migrants in distress. 

The group said that despite the negative effects of the coronavirus pandemic on Filipinos abroad, the proposed 2021 budget of Php1.2B for the DFA’s Assistance to Nationals Program (ATN) and Legal Assistance Fund (LAF) is only the same as in the 2020 budget.

It also said that while the proposed budget for OWWA has significantly increased to Php7.4B, the amount will still be inadequate to serve the thousands of OFWs who remain stranded overseas and awaiting repatriation due to the pandemic.

Migrante International said there are thousands of OFWs who lost their jobs who have yet to receive any financial assistance from the government.

Under the AKAP program, the financial assistance for displaced land-based and sea-based Filipino workers program of the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE), only 280,000 OFWs were granted financial assistance out of the estimated 1 million OFWs who were displaced in the past seven months. 

“The proposed budget does not take into account the increased support needed for the millions of Filipino migrants who have been displaced and severely affected by the COVID19 pandemic and who are in need of financial and livelihood assistance, welfare support, repatriation assistance and comprehensive health services,” Migrante International said.

“[T]he proposed budget will potentially leave hundreds of Filipino migrants every year who are victims of labor exploitation, human trafficking, illegal recruitment, gender-based violence, and discrimination neglected for lack of adequate funds to support their cases,” the group added.

The group also asked the government to provide immediate financial assistance in the amount of Php10,000 to all Filipino migrants, OFWs and their families affected by the pandemic by allotting an additional Php 7.2B to the DOLE AKAP Program. 

Migrante International said additional funds are also needed for hiring more personnel, legal advocates, interpreters, and other critical resources to effectively improve services and social welfare and protection for vulnerable migrants. 

The group also demanded that the government fully subsidize OWWA services and programs and stop the collection of OWWA membership dues from OFWs.

“To recover from the pandemic, the people, especially overseas and local workers, farmers and the poor need an expenditure program that heals and unites,” Migrante International said. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

Duterte’s SONA is a pack of boasts and lies – Filipinos in Asia Pacific

26 July 2020

Reference: Dolores Balladares-Pelaez
Spokesperson, MIGRANTE Asia-Pacific
Tel. (852) 9747-2986

Filipino migrants in Asia-Pacific will not be silenced as Pres. Rodrigo Duterte’s trumpets boasts and lies in his fourth State of the Nation Address (SoNA).

Four years into the Duterte presidency, Filipinos are now fighting a regime that multiplies the difficulties the people face with the pandemic. We have had enough.

For the Duterte regime, overseas Filipinos are but cash cows as shown by its drive to make PhilHealth mandatory to Filipinos abroad, at the same time as it increases the premium to be paid. The mandatory initial payment is Php2,400, after which the amount will depend on the monthly salary, with some annual payments amounting to Php 21,600 in 2020 and will increase dramatically in the coming years.

Scores of migrant Filipino workers have complained about this, stating that this is a requirement before they could leave. OFWs are resisting to pay this as PhilHealth is useless in our places of employment, with work contracts having insurance provisions. With serious allegations of almost Php1 billion questionable transactions in PhilHealth, there is a growing fear that the hard-earned money of OFWs will go to fatten the pockets of corrupt officials.

Aside from the mandatory PhilHealth contribution, there are other government exactions, including the Social Security System (SSS) contribution, which is another requirement for the superfluous Overseas Employment Certificate (OEC). The fees charged by the SSS, PAG-IBIG, the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA), and other fees migrant Filipinos oppose to, are mere money-making schemes, as these fees do not translate into better services for migrant Filipinos, our families, or the Filipino people in general and milking the OFWs dry.

Speak Out protest in Hongkong (Video from MIGRANTE Asia Pacific)

The problems continue to pile up. The response of the Duterte government to the COVID-19 crisis has made life for both OFWs and their families even more miserable. From the start, it did not refuse people from coming into the country. When it finally did, it also prevented OFWs, residents, and students from returning to the places of their employment. This resulted in OFWs being terminated by their employers for failure to report back to work.

Other migrant Filipinos who were able to stay in their places of employment in the region faced other problems. Some were overworked, abused, or incapable of getting their own supplies for prevention of COVID 19. However, the embassies or consulates began lessening their working days, such as in Japan and Thailand. We were left to fend for ourselves, even with the Philippine government blaming migrant Filipinos for resorting to eating trash to survive, or selling their blood to survive. Now, we are facing the repatriation of 167,000 OFWs, the funds for which may dry up by August. As of last month, only 33% have been repatriated. By 2021, an estimated 10 million OFWs might be displaced.

To top it all, majority of OFWs did not receive the AKAP DOLE was supposedly distributing. Our families back home are also exempted from receiving financial aid from the government as they have OFWs for relatives. This is aside from the problem of how our families can maintain their daily sustenance, with the lockdown the Philippine government imposed on ordinary citizens (but not on government officials), and the government unable to consistently deliver meaningful assistance. As of this month, the Philippine government has secured US$5 billion for COVID-19 response, with Php374.9 billion has already been released, yet it has reached a dismally small number of Filipinos. Certainly, it has reached a minority of Filipinos in Asia-Pacific, as OFWs continue to complain of the inaccessibility of the assistance. The same can be said of Filipinos still in the Philippines.

The situation of migrants has always been miserable, but it is worse now due to COVID-19 and the Philippine government’s ineptitude. And now that more and more people are clamoring for better social services, wiser spending of government funds, punishment of government officials violating the lockdown, the anti-terror act (ATA) was enacted. With the anti-terror act in place, it will embolden government officials in attacking just about anyone who even merely complains about government services. We remember the case of Taiwan OFW Elanel Egot Ordidor, expressing her frustration with the government’s services, faced a cyber-libel case. The government eventually backed down due to public outcry.

Attacks on press freedom have intensified, as even mainstream media is being targeted. Independent and critical press, who reports on corruption and bad practices of governance, is seen as thorn on the side, and Duterte wants it to be muzzled and dealt with. If the Duterte government is going after the big, established institution, what is in store for us ordinary citizens?

Speak Out protest in Aotearoa (Video from MIGRANTE Asia Pacific)

The National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict will be even more aggressive in terrorist-tagging the progressive movement overseas, which it has been doing even before the ATA. Cases of this has been seen in the region, specifically Australia, Hong Kong, and New Zealand, wherein those who are expressing their dissent to government policies are vilified and tagged as terrorists.

With the ATA in force, it will also be used against critics of the intrusion of the imperialists US and China into Philippine territory. Duterte allowed the full foreign ownership of national resources and operation of utilities. He made a 180 degree turn on his pronouncement to terminate the US Visiting Forces Agreement, after much ado due to the cancellation of his lackey’s visa. He clings to the US, and uses the increased aggressiveness of China’s occupation of the Scarborough Shoal as the reason to maintain the unjust treaty. But it is mere posturing, as he still allows Philippine Offshore Gaming Operators (POGO) to operate without paying taxes. If anything, he is afraid of the people’s ire, and is therefore willing to continue to be both US and China’s lapdog, in an attempt to some semblance of protection. As Duterte clings to both due to his waning power, so will protests rain.

Hence, the Asia-Pacific Filipino migrants refuse to be silenced. We, along with the rest of the Filipino people, live the reality of having a Duterte regime: Hungry, miserable, but angry! Enough with the sweet lies. Migrant Filipinos, let us Speak Out Na! Let us oust Duterte now!

Migrants in Europe push for full citizenship rights for workers, refugees

By Ian Dexter R. Marquez

ROME, Italy – An international alliance of migrant organisations is pressing European policymakers to grant full citizenship rights and regularization to all migrants, immigrants, refugees and displaced people.

In a petition, the International Migrants Alliance (IMA) – Europe said that allowing undocumented migrants to remain illegal are making them more vulnerable during the coronavirus pandemic.

“Aside from their fear of losing their jobs due to the inevitable financial crisis brought about by the pandemic, they also fear of being accosted or arrested on the streets for not having the proper identification, stay and work permits if they need to go to work or buy their provisions,” IMA-Europe chairperson Zaria Galliano said.

Galliano said that undocumented migrants are overlooked when it comes to access to social and health services and protection because of their status, a situation remedied by regularization programs that provide them legal status in their destination countries.

Last March, Portugal granted temporary full citizenship rights to all migrants and asylum seekers to provide them full access to healthcare and financial aid during the pandemic.

Parliamentarians in France proposed a similar move for temporary regularization.

The programs have been pushed for humanitarian reasons, primarily to grant undocumented migrants full access to health care and other benefits.

According to a European Commission study, programs that have been carried out from 1996 to 2008 have resulted in over five million undocumented immigrants regularized.

Italy, for example, has regularized more than 1.2 million people since 1996.

Crisis, shortage

Galliano said that pandemic exposed the “flawed global health care systems of even the highly industrialized countries and their satellite states.”

“The inevitable collapse of financial markets and loss of jobs, personal incomes and life savings are causing untold anguish and panic around the world,” Galliano said.

There is an ongoing shortage of health workers in countries like Italy, Spain, and the United Kingdom as more are falling victims to the virus.

In Spain, nearly 14 percent of confirmed cases are health workers.

At the epicenter of Italy’s outbreak, about 15 % of doctors and nurses have been infected.

These countries are brokering deals among themselves to bring in nurses and health workers, farm and other frontline workers.

“Although these workers are recruited to do the same type of work as local workers, they are paid less,” Galliano said.

She added that these migrant workers are also required to go through stringent requirements before they are given resident and citizenship rights.

IMA-Europe reported that in the UK, Ireland and Spain, undocumented migrant workers and asylum-seekers, including those with professional medical training, are already being recruited to work in care homes and hospitals in response to the outbreak.

Online petition

In a online petition, IMA-Europe called on people to “fight not only against the [corona]virus, but also against forced migration, capitalist exploitation, and imperialist plunder and aggression.”

“We call on policymakers to ensure that during this pandemic, vulnerable communities of migrants, refugees and displaced people are protected and afforded social and welfare assistance in recognition of their sacrifices and contribution towards alleviating the current global health crisis,” the petition stated.

Apart from pushing for the regularization and full citizenship rights for all migrants in the frontlines, IMA-Europe called for equal access to health care, social and welfare aid.

The group also clamored for the right to family reunification; universal right to public health for all, not for private profit; the bailout of workers, not multinational corporations; and the ratification of the International Labor Organization Domestic Workers Convention 189, an international agreement for the protection of domestic workers. #

Pinoy undocumented workers bear brunt of France’s lockdown

By Macel Ingles

OSLO, Norway– Filipino undocumented workers are hardest hit by the French lockdown brought by the coronavirus pandemic. This, according to the Nagkakaisang Pillipino sa Pransya (NPSP), a Filipino migrant organisation based in Paris.

“Since the start of the lockdown last March 17, the Filipino undocumented workers found themselves in a no work, no pay situation,” NPSP wrote in an online interview on the situation of Filipinos in France.

“The struggle of being undocumented and not declared at work doubles the vulnerability and burden of our compatriots gaining no benefits and aid both from France and especially the Philippine government,” the organization added.

Undocumented workers are considered as “invisible workers” in France because they are not covered by existing labor laws. The state tends to neglect this sector of workers making them extremely vulnerable to exploitation and abuse from their employers and to inhuman working conditions.

The NPSP had been monitoring the situation of Filipinos in France since the French lockdown and has started a fundraiser to help the undocumented kababayans, who because of their status, cannot access social services from the government of France. The fundraiser hopes to collect enough money to buy 20€ relief packages for those who may need assistance.

“Napakahirap po ng kalagayan sa Paris. Isa, dahil sa Covid bawal lumabas. Sa usaping sahod, ay nasa amo ho sa katulad kong illegal worker. May among magbabayad at may among namang hindi,” part-time nanny told Acee Catahan Pinoy Portal Europe on an online interview.

She also worries about her financial situation and has asked her family in the Philippines for understanding if she won’t be able to send them money in the meantime. “Kako sa pamilya ko ay mas kailangan namin dine ang financial. Sila naman ay may halaman at kahit papaano’y may pantawid gutom doon sa Laguna,” she added.

Undocumented workers like Catahan fear police controls that ask for their identification cards and work permits when they venture outside their homes during the lockdown. Fear of being caught stops them from going out to work.

Some of the concerns of Pinoy during the lockdown in Paris include worries about employment for those who still work, and issues on payment of salaries despite the lockdown.

Some Filipino workers were also elated by news that the French government has assured workers that they will be paid but this policy only applies to “declared” workers. A worker is considered “declared” if the employer registers their employment to the government. Some declared workers do not have work permits.

“Sa aming mga nanny na declared ang work, 80% ang sahod ang ibibigay ng amo. Sa ibang part- timer wala siguro silang sahod/pero yung iba pasasahurin sila,” Irene Carlos revealed. She is lucky to have an employer who is complying with the government policy despite the fact that she has no work permit.

Some of the workers have no choice but to work despite fears for their safety.

“Ako naman live-in sa amo, tuloy ang trabaho mahirap din pagod sa pag-asikaso sa kanila araw araw, nalabas ako na bumili ng food. Ingat na lang wala akong magagawa kahit bawal lumabas,” live-in domestic worker Marsha Bascar said.

She also said that she is unable to send money at this time as most of the establishments are closed.

Senior Chef Fourmi Fumante shared the uncertainties and difficulties of some Pinoys in being able to send some money to their families in the Philippines due to the restrictions.

“Dahil sa lockdown medyo pahirapan lumabas kasi pahigpit ng pahigpit ang rules, hindi natin alam kung madelay ang sahod or ano,” Fumante noted. He also said that , “ang mga undeclared dito natatakot din lumabas di lang sa virus kundi pag nasita need nila pakita ng ID.”

“Bukas naman ang mga Pinoy at Arab stores kung saan ka puwedeng magpadala ng pero ang tanong ay kung may ipapadala pa,” he added.

Au pair Mau de Guzman was lucky enough to have been able to send money to her family in the Philippines before the lockdown and she said that her employer has assured her that she will continue to receive her allowance.

Aside from the fundraiser, the NPSP has also urged the Philippine embassy in France to help Filipinos who have lost jobs but are not qualified to claim unemployment benefits. It also appealed to the embassy to include France in the priority countries in the Department of Labor and Employment’s USD200 AKAP Financial Assistance Program for OFWs who lost their jobs due to Covid-19 crisis.

The group estimates that there are now around 65,000 Filipinos in Frances and are mostly living in the cities of Paris, Lyon and Marseille.

It also said that most Filipinos in France work as domestic workers, childcare workers, maintenance workers, hotel and restaurant employees and embassy staff. Majority of these workers are undocumented and female.

Since the lockdown, the labor department had confirmed that a total of 400,000 businesses had been affected by the coronavirus crisis and that 1 out of 4 workers in France has lost their jobs. #

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If you want to help kababayans in France, this is the link to the fundraiser.

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This article originally appeared on Pinoy Portal Europe.

Stranded OFWs urge lifting of HK travel ban; quarantined Pinoy seafarer’s daughter seeks medical repatriation for dad

Hong Kong domestic worker Eleveneth Baldero said she fears losing her job due to the travel ban imposed by the Manila government to the Chinese territory. Contractual workers like her may be fired if unable to return back to their employers on time as Philippine authorities have prevented Filipino citizens from travelling to Hong Kong and the rest of China.

“My contract is set to expire on 6 March that is why I’m really worried. Financially, I am running out of money to sustain my stay here in the Philippines. This is why I really need to return back to Hong Kong,” Eleveneth said in a press conference held at the Migrante International office in Quezon City last Monday, 17 February.

Eleveneth and other migrant workers demanded that the Rodrigo Duterte government lift the corona virus disease-19 (COVID-19) travel ban it imposed last February 2 and grant exemption to returning migrant workers, students and residents. 

Rowena Lee was unable to hold back her tears thinking about her recuperating mother in Hong Kong recently discharged from a hospital from another ailment. “This is a very big problem for us since my 75-year old mother in Hong Kong still needs medical attention and I really want to return so I can be with her. She is all by herself,” Rowena said.

Rowena took a short leave from work 28 February and is being prevented to return to Hong Kong by the travel ban. Aside from worrying for her mother and her job, she is also anxious about bills and house rents that she needs to pay. “Our family needs us. It will be very hard for us if we get forced by the situation to borrow money just to extend our stay here. I am pleading to the government to lift the travel ban so we can return to our normal lives. We are struggling because we are not earning anything here,” she said.

Tess Aquino is a permanent Hong Kong resident and had been for 23 years. Aquino went home to the Philippines last 15 January for her annual leave and was set to fly back on 9 February. She heard about the travel ban on last 2 February and received an email notice from Philippine Airlines informing her about her flight’s cancellation. “I have attempted all possible ways to return back to Hong Kong. I was told by my company to try travelling to Hong Kong via Vietnam. Travel agencies refused to book my flight because of the travel ban and I was told that I will only be wasting my money because even if I make it to Vietnam, they would still not allow us to get to our final destination which is Hong Kong. For now, my company allowed me to temporarily work as home-based but for how long? I don’t think our employers will wait for us forever if this continues,” she narrated

Former Filipino Migrant Workers’ Union (FMWU-Hong Kong) chairperson Feliza Guy Benitez explained that overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) in Hong Kong are usually given two-week annual leaves, an opportunity they take to visit the Philippines. The leaves are often non-extendible.  “If OFWs get terminated because they exceeded the 14-day leave, it will be hard for us to get back again to zero just to process all the application papers and the government won’t even pay for it,” Benitez said.

(Migrante Hong Kong photo)

Urgent appeal

Benitez said 131 Hong Kong-based Filipino organizations already issued their Urgent Appeal Joint Statement calling on the Duterte government to lift the ban.  The statement estimated that there are around 25,000 overseas Filipino workers who have been unable to leave the country because of the ban. “We all feel that the travel ban which was imposed without a warning or consultation is unjustified and oppressive. It was decided upon without a comprehensive understanding of how it would affect us, and was not even in line with health protocols set by the World Health Organization. The abruptness by which it was carried out also belied the concern for Filipinos abroad that President Rodrigo Duterte has expressed in numerous speeches and interviews,” the statement reads.

The statement added that an additional 1,000 OFWs are affected by the travel ban consisting of Filipino residents, students and small business proprietors in Hong Kong. “Health-wise, we also feel safer in Hong Kong where we are assured of excellent public health care at little or no cost to us. Some of us who have private medical insurance get the added bonus of being treated at private hospitals, also for free,” the statement said.

Feliza Guy Benitez, another Hong Kong OFW, decried the state of public health services in the Philippines. “People who need medical attention are safer in Hong Kong because of their advanced healthcare system. It will be harder for OFWs to settle back here in the Philippines because of high unemployment, low wages and contractualization,” Feliza Guy said.

The group also complained about the “miniscule amount of compensation offered by the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) to qualified OFWs. “Each stranded OFW was offered Php10,000 compensation from the OWWA Fund, an amount that would not even pay for the expenses they had to bear after being stranded at the airport. Moreover, non-OFWs were given no help at all, when many of them don’t even have houses in the Philippines, and have to pay for food and lodging while waiting for the ban to be lifted. They are also in danger of suffering even more if they lose their jobs, as they pay high rents and other expenses such as school fees for their children in Hong Kong,” the appeal said.

“When I went to OWWA, I was told that I am not covered because they are only processing compensation up to 16 February. I really do not know whether I will still receive any compensation from the government,” Eleveneth said.

Surrendering right to government assistance

The OFWs also object to proposals that they sign a waiver freeing the government from any responsibility should they decide to proceed with their travel to Hong Kong. Tess said the waiver is “problematic because it is going to free the government from its responsibility towards us OFWs.”

Migrante Philippines rights and welfare coordinator Lao Castillo added, “The waiver requirement is tantamount to obliging OFWs to surrender their right to receive government assistance. It is a dangerous precedent especially in times of conflict or crisis situations.”

Pinoy seafarer in trouble

Meanwhile, Victoria Lavado, daughter of the Filipino seafarer on the cruise ship Diamond fears her father and around 500 other Filipino seafarers who were placed under quarantine in Japan after 10 foreign ship crews which include 1 Filipino contracted COVID-19. “It took a long time before they received safety masks and they are still forced to work as if it is business as usual. There is no separate quarantine area for those who are already infected and they can still mix with other crews despite the risks. This is why I was really worried when I found out from reports that there are already 30 to 60 crews who are getting infected with COVID-19 daily,” Victoria said.

“We really want the Duterte government to work on medical repatriation for my father and for the other Filipino seafarers. The government must find a way to provide quality medical services for them here in the Philippines which is unfortunately notorious for its poor public healthcare and medical facilities,” Victoria added.

The group United Filipinos (UNIFIL)-Migrante Hong Kong’s said that the OFWs predicament may only be blamed on the government’s labor export policy that has been in place for so long. “If there are only adequate employment opportunities here in the Philippines, there could have been no need for us to leave the country. The government is now telling us that we cannot return back to our work. This is almost akin to taking away our lives.,” UNIFIL said. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

Pagsasalaysay ni Mary Jane, nalalapit na

Muling dininig sa Regional Trial Court sa Baloc, Sto Domingo, Nueva Ecija ang dalawang kasong nakasampa sa dalawang illegal recruiter na sina Cristina Sergio at Julius Lacanilao para sa kasong Large Scale Illegal Recruitment na isinampa ng tatlong biktima na kapitbahay ng mga suspect, gayundin ang kasong isinampa naman ni Mary Jane Veloso na Illegal Recruitment, Human Trafficking at Estafa sa mga ito.

Sa darating na Enero 30, 2020 ay ang itinakdang promulgation o pagbaba ng hatol para sa kasong Large Scale Illegal Recruitment. Sa darating na Disyembre naman ang posibleng pagsasaayos ng pagtestigo ni Mary Jane para sa kaso na kanyang isinampa.

Hiling ng pamilya na huwag na sanang umapela pa ang mga defendant sa pagtestigo ni Mary Jane upang mapabilis na ang kaso. Panawagan na rin ng abogado sa gubyerno ng Indenesia na bigyan na ng amnestiya o pardon si Mary Jane upang makauwi na sa Pilipinas. (Bidyo ni Jek Alcaraz/Kodao)

Kaanak at tagasuporta, nanawagang payagang mag-testimonya si Mary Jane Veloso

Nagsagawa ng press conference ang mga kaanak, abugado at taga-suporta ni Mary Jane Veloso para magbigay ng update kaugnay sa deposition testimony niya sa Indonesia.

Kamakailan ay pinayagan ng Korte Suprema na magbigay ng deposition si Veloso mula sa kanyang piitan sa Indonesia. Ayon sa kanyang abugado, malaking bagay ang desisyon ng Korte Suprema para mapatunayang biktima ng human trafficiking si Veloso.

Nagpasalamat ang ama ni Mary Jane na si Cesar sa mga abugado at grupong patuloy na tumutulong sa kanyang anak. Hangad niya na makalaya na si Mary Jane at makapiling ang kanyang mga anak.

Nakatakda sa Oktubre 28 sa Cabanatuan RTC ang huling pagdinig ng prosekusyon laban sa mga illegal recruiter ni Veloso na sina Maria Kristina Sergio at Julius Lacanilao.

Si Veloso ay nakakulong sa Indonesia nang mahigit siyam na taon sa kasong pagpuslit ng ilegal na droga at nahatulan ng death penalty. Subalit noong 2015 ay ipinatigil ng gobyerno ng Indonesia ang pagbitay sa kanya matapos mahuli sa Pilipinas ang mga recruiter ni Veloso. (Music: News Background Bidyo ni: Joseph Cuevas/ Kodao)

Hong Kong protests through the eyes of a Filipino migrant worker

By Mong Palatino

There are more than 130,000 Filipinos in Hong Kong, a majority of whom are domestic workers. Every Sunday, many congregate in Central, the business and retail heart of Hong Kong, to spend their day off. This is also where the massive protests in the city have been taking place since June 2019. How have the rallies affected the lives of migrant workers? What are their thoughts about the protests?

Since June 2019, weekly protests in Hong Kong have brought together at least two million people demanding the scrapping of a bill that would allow the extradition of fugitives and other accused individuals to mainland China. Protesters say the bill could undermine democracy by allowing Beijing authorities to order the arrest of Hong Kong-based activists, dissenters, and even critical journalists. The bill has been withdrawn by the government but protests have continued to escalate as more people demand a probe into police violence, the release of arrested activists, and the granting of universal suffrage.

Through email, Global Voices interviewed Elena (not her real name), a migrant worker who has been living in Hong Kong for more than a decade. She is also a volunteer in several networks advocating for the rights of migrant workers.

Elena explains why most Filipino migrant workers are sympathetic to the protesters:

As most of the protesters are young people, many of them grew up in households where Filipino domestic workers took care of them when they were still very young.

The Filipino community also disagrees with the proposed bill. We have not seen anyone or any group publicly expressing support for it. Some Filipinos also joined peaceful marches from Victoria Park to Central.

While we are not prohibited to join the rallies, many are reluctant because of its possible implication to their work and visa status in Hong Kong.

The rallies have affected how Filipino migrant workers gather and interact every Sunday in several public areas. Elene shares how migrant workers have adjusted to the situation:

Some community groups have cancelled their scheduled events in Chater Road because of the protests.

Some workers reported that their rest days are no longer fixed on a Sunday and have become dependent on the schedule of protest actions. This also affects their ability to be with their friends and relatives during rest days. Other migrants just congregate from morning until 2:00 p.m. and will leave Central before 3:00 p.m. to avoid the protests and possible disruptions in the public transportation as well as potential police confrontations.

Some expressed concern about losing their jobs:

While the migrant workers are trying to understand the Hong Kong people’s protest, there are of course fears among the Filipino community about their safety and job security as well.

There are also reports that some employers are taking advantage of the situation to deny their domestic workers their rest days.

Elena notes that migrant groups have rejected the proposal of the Philippine government to impose a temporary ban on the sending of workers to Hong Kong:

Filipino migrants are angered by the exaggeration of the Philippine government through the Department of Labor and Employment with their proposed “ban on deployment” of Filipinos to Hong Kong. We view this as overreacting and simply a PR stunt since the current situation does not merit such a drastic policy. This proposal, if implemented, does not make us safe and will only result in financial loss and deprive many of their livelihood and employment opportunity. In fact, many feel that the situation in the Philippines is more dangerous with the Martial Law in place in some regions and with ‘death squads’ roaming the country and targeting mainly poor communities and people’s rights defenders.

Elena observes that the protest movement this year got favorable media coverage compared to the ‘Umbrella Revolution’ in 2014. But she also notes some inconsistencies in reporting:

The coverage is highly focused on the confrontations between the protesters and the police. There is also too much projection given to the US and UK flag bearers in the protest making it appear that the people in general are supportive of the US and UK intervention when it is not really the case. The people are more angered by the HKSAR [Hong Kong Special Administrative Region] government’s handling of the situation especially the police’s brutality and excessive use of force in dealing with the protesters.

Finally, Elena has advice for the protesters:

Take the initiative to mobilize ordinary workers by linking the struggle to address other pressing basic issues affecting the working peoples of Hong Kong such as low wages, extremely high housing rents, deteriorating social services especially in the health, education and elderly care sector. #

(This article was first published by Global Voices, an international and multilingual community of bloggers, journalists, translators, academics, and human rights activists. It is republished by Kodao as part of a content sharing agreement.)

Migrante asks UN to conduct investigations on killings in PH

Filipino migrants asked the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHCRC) to look into extrajudicial killings in the country, accusing the Rodrigo Duterte government of committing “gross human rights violations committed against Filipino migrants.”

Migrante International submitted its Global Petition of Filipino Migrants UNHCRC Tuesday in support to the call of 11 UN Special Rapporteurs for an independent investigation into the increasing rights violations in the Philippines.

Migrante cited government neglect of Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) and the rampant extrajudicial killings in the country in its petition, also posted on the online petition platform change.org since last week.

Filipino migrants and families are not spared from extrajudicial killings and other human rights violations perpetrated by government forces, the group said.

Migrante recalled the killing of 17-year old Kian delos Santos in August 2017 by police operatives who collared the youngster, dragged him across a dark alley and summarily killed. The victim was the son of a Saudi-based domestic worker.

In August 2018, Manila police officers mugged OFW Allan Rafael and detained him until he died under police custody.

Rafael, a cancer patient, was arrested by the police on suspicion of being a drug addict based on his pale appearance, his family alleges. He was undergoing chemotherapy when accosted by the police.

Migrante’s petition likewise accused the government of sending cheap Filipino labor abroad instead of creating enough domestic jobs to end forced migration.

“Through the Duterte regime’s labor export program, the government has been imposing unjust state exactions as its way of subjecting OFWs to legalized robbery. A Filipino migrant worker already wallows in debt even before she is deployed overseas and whenever they get mistreated abroad, they are often left neglected or coerced by government agencies to keep silent and relinquish their demands for justice,” Migrante International chairperson Joanna Concepcion said.

In its petition, Migrante also cited the case of 81 Filipino migrants currently on death rows as well as the numerous cases of unsolved deaths and detention of migrant Filipinos abroad.

International pressure

The Philippine government is facing mounting international pressure on widespread reports of continuing extrajudicial killings related to Duterte’s so-called anti-drug war.

Last Thursday, Iceland issued a draft resolution signed by 28 UN-member states asking the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) to impose concrete actions on the killings.

Members of the Philippines’ official delegation to the 41st UNHRC meeting in Geneva, Switzerland reportedly walked out of the meeting in protest to suggestions that an official and impartial investigation be conducted in the Philippines.

Varied estimates from 6,000 to 30,000 victims killed have been reported by local and international groups.

“My only sin are the extrajudicial killings,” Duterte confessed at a gathering in the Presidential palace in September 2018.

In a speech in Malacañan last Monday, Duterte also said he prefers to be tried on his human rights record than being accused of corruption.  

“Well, extrajudicial killing is ok but not corruption,” Duterte said during the oath-taking of government officials at the Palace.

Human rights groups said that Duterte’s admissions add weight to the preliminary investigations conducted by the International Criminal Court last year. 

“We demand an end to the violation of our collective human rights and hold the Duterte government accountable. We urgently plead with the United Nations Human Rights Council to conduct an independent investigation into the human rights violations committed by the Philippine Duterte government,” Migrante’s petition said. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

OFWs in peril in Saudi-Yemen war, Migrante warns

A Filipino migrant group warned that thousands of Filipinos are facing danger after Yemeni Houthi fighters fired missiles at an airport in Abha, Saudi Arabia earlier this week.

Migrante International said that it may already be unsafe for close to 36,000 overseas Filipino workers to be airlifted to safety after Houthi fighters again targeted Abha’s Najran airport with missiles.

Migrante International photo.

Migrante said the Rodrigo Duterte government in the Philippines failed to put in place contingency measures to assist OFWs working in southwest Saudi Arabia close to the Yemeni border.

“Now that airports and control towers are being targeted, it will no longer be safe for Filipinos to be airlifted to safety from these regions,” Migrante said in a statement Thursday.

Migrante said that the Philippine consulate in Jeddah lists about 15,000 Filipinos work in Jizan and 7,850 are in Najran.

It added that in the Asir region, there are 13,000 OFWs in the city of Khamis Mushayt alone.

The city is close to the King Khalid Air Base which earlier suffered airstrikes from Yemeni fighters.

“We are outraged that the Duterte administration remains stone-deaf in hearing our calls to ensure the safety of Filipinos in Saudi Arabia as the Philippine government displays the same ineptitude it has shown during the previous outbreak of armed conflict in Libya, Iraq and Syria,” Migrante said in its statement.

The group accused the Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs of merely re-echoing “almost the same consulate advisory issued by its office in Jeddah last month.”

“In light of reports from Saudi authorities on the interception of two alleged Houthi ballistic missiles over Taif, one heading toward Makkah and the other toward Jeddah, on Monday morning, 20 May 2019, the Philippine Consulate General in Jeddah Kingdom of Saudi Arabia wishes to advise our kababayans in the city and its neighboring areas to remain calm but vigilant for any eventualities,” the Consulate said in its Public Advisory No. 44.

“Will the government wait once more for thousands of Filipinos to be caught up in the deadliest last minute before it even lifts a finger?” Migrante asked.

The group said signs of escalation in the fighting have been clear but the Duterte government “wasted several weeks” in merely campaigning for its senatorial candidates in the region.

“This vile apathy demonstrates how much weight the Duterte government places on its lust for power than looking after the welfare of imperilled OFWs,” Migrante said.

Migrante again called on the Duterte government to ensure that concrete actions are already in place to readily assist OFWs in need of immediate evacuation in all locations of Saudi Arabia within missile range.

“It should draw lessons from similar periods in the past when it only responded upon the moment when lives have already been lost,” it said.

The fighting in the Arabian Peninsula escalated March 2015 when a Saudi-led coalition of Arab states intervened and backed the Yemeni government against the Shiite Houthis, bitter rivals of the Saudi Sunnis.

The United Nations earlier said that as many as 50,000 may have already been killed in the Saudi-led and US-backed war in Yemen in the past four years.

Recently, however, Houthis had been firing ballistic missiles deep into Saudi territory that signify the escalation of conflict where tens of thousands of OFWs are stationed. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)