Taking Flight: The Plight of the OFWs in Their Own Home (Part 1) by Michelle Lado

Statements 27 Jul 2017
Taking Flight: The Plight of the OFWs in Their Own Home (Part 1) by Michelle Lado

June 30—It was a day of a gathering-celebration for Jennifer Dalquez at the Lord of the Risen Church in UP Diliman. It was organized by Migrante, a militant OFW organization which marched earlier that day in a protest rally for the first year in governance of Philippine president Rodrigo Duterte. I went to the gathering-celebration to document, and because I got invited—despite having little knowledge on the case of Jennifer. I only heard from the news that she is an Overseas Filipino Worker (OFW) whose death sentence just got recently commuted.

After a number of speakers in the event, it was the turn of the parents of Jennifer to deliver their message. Their words were overflowing with gratitude; afterall, the life of their daughter has just been spared from the death row.

The tragic story of Jennifer Dalquez is not new to us—a young mother of two from a poor background in General Santos City dreamed of a better future for her family, so she left everything behind against her will and applied as a domestic helper abroad. In United Arab Emirates, her employer attempted to rape her at knifepoint; she fought back and grappled with the rapist, and the knife ended up with her and she accidentally stabbed her rapist to death. It was an act of self-defense, she said. Indeed, it was proven that the stabbing incident was not premeditated and that she merely acted on her instinct to save her life.

It is heartbreaking to see that the highlight of the happiness of Jennifer’s parents at that moment has just been relegated on the fact that Jennifer is now only going to spend 5 years in jail. At least she is going to live. It is not to water down the legitimate joy of the Dalquez family over the acquittal of Jennifer on murder charges. It’s just that at least a sense of redemption would have been registered to them had they were celebrating over the fact that Jennifer is now going home, because staying in jail for 5 years for only wanting to give a good life to her family in the Philippines is nothing short of a criminal neglect on the part of the Philippine government.

The root cause of her being in another country is not being given limelight. Why was she made to suffer outside of her country, to begin with?

There is a mainstream impression that if you work abroad, you’re already bound for a good life. Hence, being able to work overseas was the ultimate dream of majority of the Filipinos. The case of *Flor Contemplacion, however, unmasked the literal life and death situation of work aborad; it unmasked the balls and chains weighing down their aspirations, particularly the Filipina domestic helpers. Although the case of Contemplacion sparked widespread support both from the Filipinos and the international community, the noise never put an end on the labor-related migration and abuses on OFWs.

It was after the case of Contemplacion that the role of Migrante was concretized: be an active defender of the rights and welfare of the migrants sectors because the government falls short on its job on protecting the Filipino workers abroad.

Away from the standpoint of misfortunes of the OFWs, the Philippines is being hailed in the international community as the model for its labor migration in terms of “sophistication” and rights-based migration. In the Global Forum on Migration and Development (GFMD), for instance, the Philippines is esteemed as a leading prototype. The Philippine government insists that it has in its mind only the welfare of migrant workers.

After the case of Contemplacion, the PH government was put on the defensive. As a way to perfume their image, after a long time of hailing the OFWs as the “bagong bayani” or the new heroes yet allowing Contemplacion to be hanged, they a railroaded a law, which is the Migrants Act of 1995, RA4082. Through this law, the government vowed that Contemplacion would be the last to suffer the death penalty.

Jennifer might have been saved from suffering the same of Contemplacion, but what was and is she and other hundreds of thousands of Filipino workers abroad go through due to lack of decent livelihood in their motherland is no different from putting them to death.

In the major provisions of the Migrants Act of 1995, within the Declaration of Policy, it states the following:

– The State does not promote overseas employment as a means to sustain economic growth and achieve national development;
– Its Overseas Employment Program rests solely on the assurance that the dignity and fundamental human rights and freedoms of the Filipino citizens shall be in any time not compromised or violated; and
– The policy will continuously create local employment, opportunities, and promote equitable distribution of wealth.

These things are articulated in the provisions merely to dodge the Constitution. In reality, these provisions are not being implemented. According to Laorence Castillio of Migrante, “If ever we allow migration labor, the PH government has the excuse that it is only administering and facilitating its job to allow mobility of Filipinos for overseas work. This is absurd because the Philippine government is even denying that they are responsible for the mass migration of Filipinos due to lack of opportunities in the country. So the provision ‘government fees and other administrative costs, recruitment, introduction, placement, and assistance to migrant workers shall be rendered fee’ is a complete lie.”

If ever the Philippines will deploy workers abroad, it must only allow deployment in countries where the rights of the Filipino workers are protected. There must be an existing social and labor law in these countries, or that they are a signatory in multilateral conventions such as in United Nations or International Labor Organization. The host country is taking concrete measures to protect the rights of migrant workers.

These provisions do not hold water. To wit, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia does not follow any of these provisions and yet the PH government continues to deploy Filipino workers there. Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) is not a UN signatory nor does the Philippines have a bilateral law with KSA concerning labor rights. The Philippine government continues to deploy despite KSA having a high incidence of abuse and rape. What the Philippine government goes back to when questioned is “it is taking concrete measures”, meaning there is a proposal being discussed to address the issue.

The government deploys even in countries that do not even have governments. In Sudan, for example. It also deploys in countries that are in a state of war. This is due to the fact that multinational companies in these countries, like oil companies and construction companies, generate big profit. The PH government is not dealing with other governments for the job security and safety of the Filipino workers: it is dealing with these countries because of their market forces.

*Flor Contemplacion was a Filipina domestic worker in Singapore. In 1995, she was sentenced to death by hanging by the Singaporean government for murder. Despite confirmation by a witness that Contemplacion was tortured into admitting that she murdered Maga, a fellow OFW, plea for clemency by then president Filed V. Ramos was rejected by the Singaporean government. Her execution was the first for Filipina migrant workers. Her case became an international news at that time and caused a strain between the Philippine government and the Singaporean government.

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Michelle Lado

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