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Remembering Flor and Continuing the Fight for Justice

flor1

On March 17, 1995, Filipina domestic worker Flor Contemplacion was hanged in Singapore. Her death uncovered the real tragedy of forced migration. Contemplacion’s case aroused wide indignation over the Philippine government’s inaction and failure to save her life and brought to national and international awareness the life and death situation of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs).

Eighteen years after her death, we continue to bear witness to the lives and struggles of thousands of Flor Contemplacions. To this day, despite being championed as “modern-day heroes” by the Philippine government for sending home $20 billion in remittances annually, OFWs still face maltreatment, wage theft, anti-migrant policies and laws, human trafficking, government neglect, and slavery.

The ongoing case of the oil rig workers in New Orleans, Louisiana, who experienced discrimination, labor rights violations, trafficking, and slavery under their employer Grand Isle Shipyard (GIS) shows that OFWs worldwide, including those in the United States, remain victims of a government that fails to provide decent livelihood and to protect their human rights. The struggle of these workers demonstrates the collective unity and power of Filipino migrant workers and their families who continue to stand up for their basic rights and uphold their dignity and humanity.

In remembrance of Flor Contemplacion, Migrante Partylist remains committed to struggling for a Philippines with sufficient and decent jobs and a government that truly serves the people.

Justice for Flor Contemplacion!
Justice for GIS Filipino workers!
Justice for Filipino migrant workers!

Labor export policy is state-sponsored human trafficking

“Human chain vs. human trafficking” campaign launched

On the 18th anniversary of the death of Flor Contemplacion, migrant organizations, advocates and other sectoral groups today gathered at the Welcome Rotonda to call on the Philippine government to end human trafficking.

According to Connie Bragas-Regalado, Migrante Partylist chairperson and first nominee, 18 years after Contemplacion’s death and the subsequent passing of the Migrant Workers’ Act of 1995 (Republic Act 8042, amended by RA 10022), the Philippine government has become the top trafficker of its workers.

“Human trafficking is still rampant and operating in record-high levels in the Philippines yet the accountability of perpetrators and their coddlers in government remains low. Worse, the labor export policy, the government program that systematically and aggressively peddles the cheap labor of our Filipino workers abroad, has become more entrenched and institutionalized, especially under the Aquino administration,” she said.

“The government’s labor export policy is the worst form of state-sponsored human trafficking of our Filipino workers,” Bragas-Regalado said.

Stop trafficking of Filipinos to Sabah

Migrante also called on the Philippine government to stop the trafficking of Filipinos to Sabah.

“Sabah has become one of the worst places for any Filipino worker and national. Now with the ongoing conflict and the Philippine government’s complicity, we fear that it will become a more dangerous place for Filipinos and their children,” she said.

Bragas-Regalado condemned the intensification of crackdowns and raids overseas Filipino workers (OFWs), especially on undocumented or “stateless Filipinos” in Sabah, and even elsewhere in Malaysia.

“After the first attack on Sabah, we have already received reports of indiscriminate crackdowns and raids on households whose residents have Filipino-sounding names. This is on the top the long-neglected miserable situation of our OFWs in Sabah,” Bragas-Regalado said.

She added that they have already also received reports of discrimination and racist attacks on overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) based in Malaysia.

Sabah is one of the most common destinations of trafficked Filipinos, mostly women. It is also one of the most common “transit points” of trafficked Filipinos on their way to Malaysia or other nearby parts of Asia. Citing reports from a fact-finding mission conducted by Migrante International and other migrant groups in 2009, Bragas-Regalado said that around 80-90% of OFWs in Sabah were trafficked.

“Now, with recent developments, Filipinos in Sabah have become more vulnerable to crackdowns and abuses. This, without doubt, is the direct result of Aquino government’s defeatist and passive stance on the Sabah issue. Filipinos in Sabah are now being ‘criminalized’ or deemed ‘illegal’ or ‘undocumented’ because our own government does not support the legitimacy of their stay in Sabah.”

“While the diplomatic ties between two governments are strained by the Sabah issue, it should not inhibit the Philippine government, and henceforth the Philippine Embassy in Malaysia, to provide assistance to Filipino nationals, whether documented or not,” Bragas-Regalado said.

Bragas-Regalado said that Migrante will join the People’s Protest on March 20 to protest the Aquino government’s mishandling and inaction on the Sabah dispute.

Human chain vs. human trafficking

Also joining today’s rally was the newly-launched Stop the Traffic! alliance, a global network against human trafficking and modern-day slavery.

Stop the Traffic! is composed of Filipino im/migrants and organizations based here and abroad, human rights activists, among them Liza Maza, Sr. Mary John Mananzan OSB, Makabayan senatorial bet Teddy Casino and Bishop Solito Toquero of the United Methodist Church. It also has victims and the families of victims of human trafficking as convenors.

Stop the Traffic! said that it will launch a year-long campaign against human trafficking and illegal recruitment by “encouraging supporters, advocates and members of the network to forge human chains against human trafficking here and abroad as a symbol of unity and with the aim to raise awareness and broaden support for OFWs and their families who are victims of trafficking”.

The network also said that it would call on the government and host countries of migrant workers to “address this urgent problem that has curtailed labor and human rights of our overseas Filipino workers and in some cases caused their untimely and unjust deaths.”

“We all unite under the creed that it is the main responsibility of the Philippine government and governments of receiving countries to protect and ensure the welfare and rights of our OFWs,” the network said. ###

You can find the original post here: http://migranteinternational.org/?p=2815

Community Organizations Nationwide Converge in New Orleans for Fact-Finding Mission in Support of Exploited Grand Isle Shipyard Filipino Guestworkers

Media Advisory for February 20 – February 25
Contact: Katrina Abarcar (202) 656-0739

Community Organizations Nationwide Converge in New Orleans for Fact-Finding Mission in Support of Exploited Grand Isle Shipyard Filipino Guestworkers

More than 50 supporters and migrant rights advocates will participate in
activities throughout the weekend to back Filipino migrant workers standing up against
discrimination, trafficking, wage theft and other abuses

On Friday, February 22, more than 50 supporters and  advocates from across the country will join together in New Orleans for a Solidarity and Fact-Finding Mission to support Filipino migrant workers who have died or were injured or exploited while working for Grand Isle Shipyard (GIS). The attention to the November 16, 2012 Black Elk Energy Co. oil rig explosion, which killed three Filipino migrant workers and wounded several others, brought to light a lawsuit filed by former Filipino guestworkers charging GIS of abusive and exploitative working conditions akin to slavery.

In addition to being made to work under unsafe conditions, the migrant workers alleged that they were paid approximately $5/ hour for 10-14 hour days with no overtime. They were also deducted $1000- $3000/ month for employer housing that consisted of 4-6 workers sharing a single 10 feet by 10 feet room. Bunkhouse lockdowns, a 10:00 PM curfew, constant surveillance from security cameras, and limited communication with the outside world were also enforced. Workers also endured discriminatory practices from their employer such as restrictions on religious practices and threats of termination and deportation if workers failed to comply with their employer’s strict rules.

In light of the tragic Black Elk explosion, GIS Filipino migrant workers and their families have spoken out against the flagrant abuses and injustices they have suffered. Their campaign has garnered national and even international attention in the Philippines and is continuing to gain momentum.

Several national organizations, including the National Alliance for Filipino Concerns (NAFCON) , International Migrants Alliance-USA, and the National Guestworker Alliance, answered the workers request to help make public their struggle by planning a “Solidarity and Fact Finding Mission” in Louisiana that starts on Friday, February 22.

“This is one of the most significant campaigns of my lifetime,” states NAFCON president, Terry Valen.  “These brave oil rig workers, trafficked from the Philippines, are standing up for their rights as workers, as migrants, and as human beings against slavery, trafficking, wage theft, fraud, and other forms of abuse, and exploitation – right here in our backyard in the year 2013!”

A delegation driving down to New Orleans from the northeast will also host a forum and press conference during a stop in North Carolina on Wednesday, February 20.

The agenda for the delegation includes the following events:

WEDNESDAY, FEBRUARY 20

5:00-5:30pm Press Conference with Southern Workers Assembly
Location – Exxon Mobil Gas Station, 1010 Raleigh Rd, Chapel Hill, NC 27514
6:00-8:00pm Community Forum with Kasama: Filipino American Organization of University of North   Carolina-Chapel Hill
Location – Murphy Hall 314, Univeristy of North Carolina,  209 South Rd Chapel Hill, NC 27599

SATURDAY, FEBRUARY 23

4:00-6:00 PM Public Forum and Sharing with GIS Workers & Mission Delegates
Location – Danna Center, Loyola University, New Orleans
7:00-9:00 PM Freedom Concert and Cultural Program
Location – Danna Center, Loyola University, New Orleans

SUNDAY, FEBRUARY 24

10:00 AMCatholic Mass Celebration with GIS Filipino Workers & Mission Delegates
Location – Danna Center, Loyola University, New Orleans
12:00 PM   Caravan from New Orleans to Lafitte (Manila Village)
1:00 PM     Solidarity Mobilization and Program at Manila Village in front of Townhall of Lafitte

** To attend public events or to interview delegation members or workers, please contact Anne Beryl Corotan at (516) 901-1832**

WHO:  Former GIS Workers, the Justice for Grand Isle Shipyard Filipino Workers Campaign, and Filipino and other community and worker organizations from across the country
WHAT:   Solidarity and Fact-Finding Mission to support Filipino GIS workers and their families
WHEN: Friday, February 22 – Monday, February 25
WHERE: Danna Center, Loyola University, New Orleans, LA 70118 and Manila Village in front of Townhall of Lafitte

##

Solidarity & Fact Finding Mission at NOLA

Group slams Aquino gov’t for hailing “OFW remittance bonanza”

Migrante Partylist criticized the Philippine government’s yet again hailing of the “remittance bonanza” after OFW remittances reached an all-time high in 2012 despite the ongoing global economic crisis.

According to the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP), remittances for the whole of 2012 increased by 6.3 percent from USD$20.12 billion last 2011. Last December 2012, remittances reached the highest monthly record, increasing by 9.7 percent from 2011’s USD$1.8 billion to USD$1.98 billion. Remittances came mostly from Filipinos in the United States, Saudi Arabia, Canada, United Kingdom, Japan, United Arab Emirates and Singapore, according to the BSP.

For Connie Bragas-Regalado, Chairperson and 1st Nominee of Migrante Partylist, the recent highest record of OFW remittances cannot be good for the migrant sector and the Filipino labor force as it is tantamount to the government’s implementation of a more aggressive labor export policy.

“By 2010, on the first year of Aquino’s term, remittances had already made up 8.7 percent of the Gross National Product (GNP) despite the global economic crisis, surpassing the share of traditional exports of agricultural products,” she said.

The continuous growth in remittances, Bragas-Regalado said, can be attributed to the following factors: (a) OFWs compensate the dwindling dollar by sending more amounts to their families back home; (b) OFWs get double or triple jobs to offset effects of the crisis in host countries; (c) OFWs resort to more borrowing/loaning to be able to send money home; (d) OFWs are now sending savings they had acquired over the years, if any; and, (e) the number of undocumented OFWs sending remittances back home has increased.

Further, in a study made by the International Labor Organization (ILO), more and more OFWs have been looking for additional sources of income on top of their regular jobs in order to survive the global economic crisis.

“No matter, what is obscured from these figures is the fact that increasing remittances means millions of Filipinos have to slave it out even harder in foreign shores just to up or continue sending money to their families. And the government cannot only but rejoice,” she said.

However, although annual remittances increased amid the global economic crisis, its growth rate has been decreasing in recent years. From a 25 percent record growth in 2005, it dropped to a lowest 5.6 percent in 2009, a year after the global crisis erupted.

In the US where 50 percent of remittances originate, the growth rate had decreased from 7.8 percent in 2008 to 7.3 percent in 2009. It had a slight increase to 7.9 percent in 2010 but has been suffering a steady decline since the country’s debt crisis ensued. “The continuing decrease in growth rate is a constant worry for the Philippine government. If the trend continues, the government will be in big trouble because it relies mainly on remittances for its foreign exchange revenues.”

Bragas-Regalado said, “This explains the Aquino administration’s desperation to further seek job markets abroad and intensify its labor export program. Through remittances, the government earns exponentially without having to shell out much capital investment. Even funds for labor outmigration management through agencies such as the POEA or the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) are directly sourced from OFWs or recruitment agencies and employers through various fees.”

“The Aquino administration, while mouthing local job generation as its core program to eliminate forced migration, continues to hail the ‘remittance bonanza’ to further promote labor export in the attempt to offset the downtrend in growth rate. To do this, it has become more aggressive in implementing labor export, hence, the Aquino administration’s active lobbying for job markets and signing of bilateral agreements with host countries in the past two years.”

Aside from overseas remittances, labor export provides a tempting alternative to the unemployed and underemployed. Because of this, the government is not obligated to create jobs that offer decent wages and instead it becomes convenient to evade responsibility of implementing policy reforms to turn the economy around, she said.

“The Aquino administration’s labor export policy is disproportionately focused on maximizing the overall inflow of remittances as a development goal in itself without weighing this against the welfare of migrant workers and their families,” Bragas-Regalado said. ###

You can find the original post here: http://migranteinternational.org/?p=2753