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.
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?
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!