Saturday, April 22, 2006

The Malaysian Dream: Filipinos Hope To Good Life

A Filipino aid worker briefs deportees in Zamboanga City. (Photo by Therence Koh)

ZAMBOANGA CITY (Darwin Wee / 22 Apr) Unable to find neither regular nor permanent work in his town, 38-year old Alex Galedo, a resident of Palawan province, decided to try his luck in Malaysia. Paying P1,500 for a backdoor pump boat passage via Cagayan de Tawi-Tawi in the southern tip of the Philippines, Galedo was able to make it to Kota Kinabalu.
This is where the bulk of illegal workers and migrants find safe haven. Little did he know that Malaysian authorities were already tracking him down and ready to arrest him together with some other illegal Filipino workers.
Galedo's dream of having a job in Malaysia were dashed. Worse, Galedo has been repatriated twice already. He was one ofthe more than 64,000 Filipino deportees who deported at the height of Malaysia's campaign to rid the country of hundreds of thousands of illegal foreign workers and migrants since 2002.
However, Galedo's humiliating caning and lengthy prison experiences in Malaysia the first time he was caught did not stop him from going back to the place where he thought he could escape poverty. But luck has not been with him since he had no travel documents and passport; he was again imprisoned for more than two months and was caned.

Galedo now stays at the temporary shelter in Zamboanga City, which is operated by the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD). Together with him were at least 329 other undocumented Filipino workers also deported by the Malaysia April 14.
According to Agapita Bendoy, head of the DSWD's Center for Displaced Persons, some 300 to 500 illegal Filipinos are regularly deported, at least twice a week.

She said the center, which was built in 2005, has the capacity to house only 500 people. "The center serves as a temporary shelter of the deportees. It is here where different agencies of the government course their assistance for the deportees."
"Initially, we provide them temporary shelter, as well as food provision, clothing, and medicines and vitamins for the kids," she said.As a rule, Bendoy explained, deportees are only allowed to stay at the center a maximum of two weeks.
However, for instance, some minors and old deportees who could not locate their families or relatives are given the chance to stay longer. More pathetic is the plight of minor and homeless deportees, many of them now in the processing center.
"Currently there are at least 13 minors who are staying in the center for over two years now. For the aging individuals, they are transferred to the homes for the elderly," she said.
Aside from counseling and trauma healing, the center also provides basic education and values formation for the children. For adults like Galedo, they get the chance to undergo skills capability training such as basic carpentry and hollow-blocks making, which is being facilitated by the volunteers from the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority.

Bendoy said different government agencies such as the Departmentof Labor and Employment and the Department of Foreign Affairs also conduct briefing on how to secure a passport. This, she said is part of the objective of the Task Force Deportees that was created sometime in 2002.
"They were taught on the proper procedures to get passports and what possible jobs are available or being offered in Malaysia," she said.
Based on the reports of the DSWD regional office here, the government has already spent some P24-million for basic assistance for the deportees from 1995 to 2006.
Transportation cost eats 81% of the total budget, which is being given to the deportees to enable them to travel back to their hometowns, and food expenses accounts to 17% and only one percent goes for medicine.
There is an estimated of 300,000 Filipinos staying or working in Malaysia, of which 80,000 have been repatriated or deported. From 1995 to 2006, the DSWD were able to serve at least 53,870 deportees.The report noted that the bulk of the deportees, or 96% of them, came from Mindanao, specifically from the Autonomous Region in MuslimMindanao.
Luzon expatriates made up for three percent and one percent was from the central Philippines. It is also presumed that there are more deportees who came back but were not registered or processed by the government.
Fe de la Cruz, DSWD's information officer, said Malaysia has always been a favorite destination for traders and job seekers because of its geographical proximity as well as the opportunities it offers.
"Many Filipinos sailed to this island to search for job opportunities simply by slipping through the southern backdoor", she said.
She said majority of the Filipinos in Malaysia work as oil palm farmers and industrial and manufacturing workers, and construction laborers. "This also means that majority or roughly 60 to 70 percent of the deportees are males," she said.

Aside from looking at Malaysia as a Mecca for jobs, another reason for migration is the constant conflict that proliferates in Mindanao, particularly in the provinces of Sulu and Basilan from as early as the1950's.
According to the DSWD's situation report on deportees, Malaysia started its series of deportation activities for those illegally staying within their political boundary way back 1986.
The policy waseventually legislated when the Malaysian government implemented the Naturalization Law in 1996, which triggered the massive and regular deportation activities of illegal aliens. With the passage of the Malaysian Immigration Act in 1997, Malaysia began to implement a "regularization program" by undertaking theregistration of all illegal aliens in Sabah.
All illegal aliens weregiven six months to work out their documents while employers were given three months to fix the job registration of their foreign workers.But the terrorist acts of the Abu Sayyaf aggravated the situation of illegal workers.
In 2000, the notorious groupgroup kidnapped 21 mostly Asian and Western tourists from the Sipadan resort off Sabah, Malaysia andbrought them by boat to Jolo island in the southern Philippines. This hostile act again compelled more massive deportations. It was heightened again by the escape of former Moro National Liberation Front rebel leader Nur Misuari to Malaysia in November 2001, after a failed rebellion in Jolo.
It was in 2002 that the Malaysian government imposed a tough campaign to eject all illegal aliens in their land. General Operations Force (GOF) personnel of the Malaysian government undertook the "Ops Nyah II" by demolishing houses of suspected illegal workers at Kampung Panhkalan colony in Kunak, Kampung Bagiang and Kampung Jaya Baru.
All arrested illegal aliens were brought to several detention centers in Sampurna, Kota Kinabalu,Sandakan and Kudat. Malaysian authorities particularly beefed up the deportation campaign of Filipinos residing Sabah, especially in those areas that are Filipino-dominated because they also posed security problems.
Guns and bladed weapons were allegedly found in these raids. Thieves and hold uppers were also found among them, the report said. The Malaysian government's crackdown and deportation of Filipinos in 2002 resulted in the death of 18 infants, five adults and hundreds more were dehydrated and malnourished in different jails in Sabah.
Alarmed by the situation, President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo asked former Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad for help in regulating the massive repatriation of illegal Filipino workers in Malaysia at the height of the mass deportation in 2002.
The President asked Malaysia for humane treatment of Filipinos being deported from Sabah and other provinces. However, the Malaysian government has denied allegations that Filipinos were abused.

The intervention by the government has been attested by Galedo himself. He said that compared to the 2002 crackdown, Malaysian police were subtle on how they handle the illegal Filipino workers in Sabah.

DSWD have not received any major complaints from the deportees inrecent months, according to Bendoy.In an effort to further answer the plight of Filipinos deported from Malaysia, the Philippine government formed one-stop-processing centers in Zamboanga City and Tawi-Tawi to systematize the facilitation of Filipinos wanting to work legally in Malaysia.
Since its establishment in February 2005, the one-stop-processing centers have already assisted at least 2,348 migrant workers out ofthe 10,704 Filipinos deported last year.
Romanito H. Ynawat, a processor of the Department of Labor and Employment, said deported workers from Malaysia can avail a free passport or for "gratis" as long the workers has an endorsement letter from his or her employer.
"As long they have an authenticated birth certificate and an endorsing letter from their employers, deportees are granted free passport," he said.
He said that normally those who wish to apply for passport are expected to spend between P1,500 to P2000.
But for Eddie Talon, 60, from Zamboanga del Sur province, who was deported forthe very first time since his 20 years stay in Sabah, said the government should address the problem of poverty and unemployment and the peace and order situation in Mindanao.
He said many Filipinos work illegally in Malaysia because of lack of jobs and war in Mindanao.

He said the government should come up with long term solutions to stop Filipinos from migrating to other country.
"I am already 60-years old. I don't have a family, and I devoted mylife to working as a driver for a construction firm there. And I don't think the authorities will give me a working permit to work again in Malaysia because of my age," he said.

Staying for almost three months in the center now, Talon is afraid he might be sent to the home for the elderly in Zamboanga City and lose any opportunity to return and work again in Sabah.

"The government should introduce reforms to the economic system in the region and create jobs for the people. I think that's what they should address for a long term solution to the deportation of poor Filipinos like me," he said.

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