Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Selling People Overseas To Save the Economy At Home

Father and son pass in front of effigies at an anti-labor migration rally in Manila at the opening of the Global Forum on Migration and Development. Critics says the government depends so much on its overseas workers to survive the economic crunch but does little to protect and save them from abuses and even death abroad. (Philippine Human Rights Reporting Project / Jes Asnar)

MANILA, Philippines (Philippine Human Rights Reporting Project / Nov. 26, 2008) - “We will step up pressure and campaigns so the 40 or so overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) on death row around the world have their sentences commuted,” said Connie Bragas-Regalado, chairwoman of Migrante International and Secretary-General of the Hong Kong-based International Migrants Alliance.

She was speaking as thousands of Migrante supporters and those from similar groups joined the International Assembly of Migrants and Refugees (IAMR) and marched in protest in Manila while the government chaired the Second Global Forum on Migration and Development (GFMD) in late October.

Protesters carried balloons with the messages "No to GFMD," "End labor export," "End poverty," and "Create jobs at home," written many of the languages represented by protestors who had gathered here from some 35 countries.

The litany of their complaints was many and they called for an end to racism and xenophobia; sex trafficking; violence against women; unpaid or low wages; domestic work; lack of proper documentation; labor contract violations; and political persecution –just some of the many abuses faced by the international migrant community.

Barely two weeks before the GFMD opened, 20-year old Filipino migrant worker Jenifer (sic) Beduya, a.k.a Venancio Ladion, was beheaded in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia for stabbing to death a member of the National Guard who allegedly tried to rape him.

Deathly silence

Forty-six year old Jeremias Beduya, Jenifer’s father, said they learned of his son’s death sentence as early as April. They petitioned MalacaƱang Palace in Manila for help but were reportedly advised to keep quiet.

“The government of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo will do everything to keep Jenifer alive,” he said he was told.

The Beduya family agreed but “Jenifer” was beheaded, just the same.

“We regret that we agreed to their demand. Our silence only resulted in the death of my son,” Jeremias tearfully recounted in a gathering of migrant workers held at the Migrante office.
To be fair, MalacaƱang Palace and the President have repeatedly –and sometimes successfully – saved overseas workers on death row from execution after lobbying Gulf leaders on their behalf.
The Beduya kin joined the family of Cecilia Alcaraz, a.k.a Nemencia Panaglima Armia, a midwife who was working as an English teacher in Taiwan when she was sentenced to death by firing squad in 2007 for reportedly allegedly killing and robbing her employer, a real estate broker.
Alcaraz's family maintains she was framed, and that the real killers were two business rivals of the murdered Taiwanese.

Migrante spokesman Gary Martin claims Alcaraz was not given proper legal support at her trial and that they only heard of her fate from a Taiwanese non-government organization which opposes the death penalty.

"The government has to do everything it can to prevent Cecilia from the suffering the same fate as ‘Jenifer’,” said Martin, citing the fact that international public outrage has prevent executions in the past.

OFWs lobby groups act for those in death row

“In our recent talks with the Department of Foreign Affairs, we found out that as many as 40 are on death row,” claimed Bragas-Regalado as she reiterated her organization’s calls for the Department of Foreign Affairs to conduct a thorough probe of the situation of Filipino migrant workers in more than 180 countries, especially those which keep capital crimes on the law books.
“Many of them are not given appropriate legal assistance,” she said, citing the cases of Beduya and Alcaraz.

The case of Alcaraz and Beduya were among the priority cases that Migrante and the IAMR submitted for action and review to United Nations Special Rapporteur for the Human Rights of Migrants Jorge Bustamante who flew in for the GFMD.

In a parallel NGO conference organized by the two groups, Bustamante, a Mexican education specialist gave what many saw as an “inspirational speech” reiterating calls for better migrant protection.

Appointed Rapporteur in August 2005, his mandate is to "examine ways and means to overcome the obstacles existing to the full and effective protection of the human rights of migrants, including obstacles and difficulties for the return of migrants who are undocumented."

While in Manila, Bustamante also met with other migrant and support organizations like the International Migrant Alliance (IMA), Asia Pacific Mission for Migrants, Asia Pacific Forum on Women, Law and Development, Global Alliance Against Traffic in Women (GAATW), and Caram Asia.

IMA is believed to be the largest alliance of international migrants boasting of more than 100 groups working with it in 35 countries.

Slowing down remittances as protest

As the GFMD unfolded, Dolores Balladares, spokesperson of the Asian Migrants Coordinating Body (AMCB) said the estimated USD 337 billion remittance of overseas workers from around the world was being used as a development tool by first world countries to save it from properly supporting those in need.

"Remittance of migrants is not a development tool because it will only be used to cover the failure of neoliberal globalization policies that have created the problems the world is having right now,” she said. “The forced migration of people is not a sign of development but actually a symbol of governments who cannot provide proper jobs and decent living for their people."

IMA chairperson Eni Lestari was more forthright: "We are collectively exercising our power to show governments and big businesses that we are finally standing up against modern-day slavery that is forced migration. The GFMD has no right to speak about protecting our rights now when we have been treated for decades as nothing more than sources of profits.”

The Philippine government admitted the current global financial crunch will likely affect the remittances of OFWs as economies in host countries slow down and migrants' incomes and social benefits fall.

Migrants demand that instead of promoting migrant labor their governments should create jobs by developing sustainable economic strategies at home.

“What the Philippines needs as an example is a sound domestic economic base that will provide genuine development for the country and jobs for its people,” Bragas-Regalado said.

Better deal for Sabah deportees

Women activists led by the activist women’s alliance Gabriela and the Gabriela Women’s Party are working to ensure more humane deportation proceedings of undocumented Filipino migrants in Sabah.

Some 200,000 undocumented workers are being targeted to be deported this year.

Mostly war refugees of troubled Mindanao who have been living in Sabah for decades, the Filipino migrants have taken jobs that even poor Malaysians shun because of low pay. They have been employed in construction and factories, hotels and restaurants, public transportation, and as domestic help.

Said Gabriela representative Luzviminda Ilagan, “The Relas (armed civilians given police power by the Malaysian government to arrest suspected “illegal” migrants) forcibly enter houses in the middle of the night, when occupants are asleep. If unable to show proper documents, a person will be arrested and cramped in deplorable detention cells.”

Ilagan said the Philippine government has not reacted properly to the unfolding deportation crisis in Sabah and has called for the implementation of measures recommended by the Joint RP-Malaysia Working Group on Migrant Workers that met in Manila in July.

Among others, both the Philippine and Malaysian governments agreed to minimize health hazards in deportation, ensuring that conditions in detention centers remain safe and sensitive to the special needs of women and children. Children unaccompanied by parents will be turned over to the care of appropriate authorities, and only those medically fit will be deported.

Both governments also agreed to step up efforts to regularize eligible migrants, and to facilitate the processing of travel documents of the deportees.

PhP 250 million fund for displaced OFWs

As many Filipino workers continue to seek jobs abroad, activists in the migrant community argue the government needs to be working better to ensure they are kept at home for the betterment of society.

“Our people need the services of nurses for our clinics, hospitals and schools. We will not leave if only decent jobs are available here,” said Dr. Leah Samaco-Paquiz, president of the Philippine Nurses Association, the single biggest group of nurses in the country.

About 600,000 licensed Filipino nurses are unemployed. Many more would be unemployed were it not for other jobs in the health and care sector the world over which offer employment for Filipino nurses.

Paquiz is aware of government attempts to create new jobs and meet development targets but sees corruption as a major problem.

Late last month, President Arroyo said her government would set up a PhP 250-million (USD 5.1 million) livelihood fund if the global slowdown worsens.

"For returning expatriates we will have and expanded livelihood and business formation program," she said in a speech before businessmen at the 34th Philippine Business Conference in Manila.

“The government's contingency plan for OFWs include ‘a 24/7 heightened’ monitoring of displacements, monitoring job orders and redeploying of displaced OFWs to emerging labor markets as well as assistance in repatriation,” she said.

Pushing for recognition of OFW skills

Labor and Employment Secretary Marianito D. Roque is also pushing for the mutual recognition of professional skills and qualifications of OFWs to ensure equality of treatment and compensation for migrants.

At the GFMD, Roque called on the international community, particularly destination countries of OFWs and other migrant workers to provide for mutual recognition arrangements and other means of determining skills equivalences of migrants at bilateral and regional levels.

“To maximize opportunities (and) capacity of migrant workers to contribute to development, we need to agree at bilateral and international levels on better systems of recognizing their professional, education, and technical achievements,” Roque said.

He stressed that “fair equivalency methods can expand opportunities for migrants in sending countries while meeting the needs of receiving nations for needed skills.”

Mutual cooperation of sending and receiving nations may zero in on providing migrants opportunities for additional skills upgrading, either through on-the-job training or before they leave their home countries for their employment abroad.

Partnerships with host countries, like the Philippines’ partnership with Norway and Japan in the establishment and operation of training centers for the maritime sector, can facilitate these objectives, as he urged countries to ratify the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Migrant Workers.

Stepping up bid to attract more employers

President Arroyo meantime claims there are more jobs waiting for Filipino migrant workers, who should seize all opportunities. In her speech last month before a business group, she maintains that there will be a demand for 500,000 OFWs in Europe; 30,000 in Canada’ 30,000 in Australia; 10,000 in New Zealand; and 20,000 in Guam.

Many migrant groups however remain unimpressed, both with the figures and too the premise behind the belief that overseas jobs are the answer to the Philippine economy.

Ellene Sana, coordinator of the Center for Migrant Advocacy (CMA) explained: “We are not against migration per se. But it should not be a forced migration. The (problem is) the government is the one selling our workers by targeting to send a million OFWs every year.”

Instead of scavenging job opportunities abroad, government should assure full employment through industrialization that in turn would build up a whole new set of fiscal, monetary, trade, industrial and other policies, argued Sana.

“By showcasing to the international community its labor-export program and the country's dependence on remittances, President Arroyo is exposing the government's inability to create jobs at home and keep the economy from sinking like a dead weight,” said Bragas-Regalado.

The global financial crisis will likely make situation worse for OFWs, she added. “As in the past, employers (will) use the crisis to cut salaries and benefits further, exploit migrants' desperation for work by offering lower pay as it is, and generally pass on the crisis on migrant workers through more abuses.”

OFWs also stand to face worse discrimination and xenophobia as they are made scapegoats for job losses in the host countries and accused of "stealing" jobs from nationals.

“Migrant labor will be further cheapened and workers will be made to bear the brunt of businesses adjusting to more difficult times,” warned Bragas-Regalado. (Philippine Human Rights Reporting Project / Nora Gamolo, the author is a columnist and former senior desk editor of The Manila Times.)


AdB said...

When Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo started her term travelling to far flung places in order to ask foreign govts to accept lowly paid Filipino labour, I thought was the height of absurdity.

When she encouraged Filipinos to go abroad as cheap labour to anyone and everyone foreign, I thought she'd gone bonkers mad.

Nowhere else in the world would such policy of human labour export be acceptable. Any natl leader who ran on a platform virtually declaring that she/he could not provide jobs at home would be committing political suicide but not in the Philippines.

I'm glad people are now tackling this issue and taking govt to task.

Exporting cheap Filipino labour to unknown territories and unchartered waters is dangerous both for the individual human export and for the social backlash such unreasonable policy entails.

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