A global alliance of Filipino migrant organizations staged a picket in front of the Department of Foreign Affairs building in Pasay City to criticize the agency in ignoring the practice of bonded labor against Filipino nationals in Sabah, Malaysia.
According to Garry Martinez, chairperson of Migrante International, the Philippine embassy in Malaysia is planning to whisk the 15 Filipinos back to the Philippines through the 'backdoor' to avoid the filing of criminal and labor cases against the See Hoy Chan Plantation. The company is allegedly practicing bonded labor in its farm estate in Sabah.
"The staff from the Philippine embassy is due to arrive today at the plantation allegedly to help them, but instead of defending the aggrieved Filipinos and assisting them to get compensated by filing charges against labor violations, we expect that the15 OFWs will instead assisted to exit through the Sandakan – Zamboanga route like fugitives," Martinez revealed.
The OFWs in distress are Joenel Caro, Roland Casis, Nelio Casquejo, Ruben Cortel, Moisis Cortel, Michael Duran, John Mark Libuna, Vicente Libuna, Rene Lim, Ariel Lorena, Ian Rey Lorena, Butch Pastolero, Quizy Pastolero, Romeo Pedregosa and Zandro Camda. They are all working in a company called See Hoy Chan Plantations in Jalan Jeroco, Sabah.
"Ambassador Victoriano Lecaros continuous to ignore the fact that modern day slavery exists in Sabah where thousands of Filipino nationals are working in palm plantations, poultry farms and construction sites. Failing to file charges against the Plantation company is tantamount to covering up the crimes they have committed. It is incumbent upon Ambassador Lecaros to expose the predicament of Filipinos suffering in Sabah," Martinez lamented.
Migrante likewise rebuked Ambassador Lecaros for claiming that diplomatic teams were deployed to Kota Kinabalu and Sandakan to provide assistance to Filipino nationals in Sabah. A fact-finding mission, in which Migrante was a part of, to investigate the conditions of OFWs in Sabah, revealed contrary facts.
"We would like to inform Ambassador Lecaros that we were able to talk to some members of the diplomatic team. An Embassy official in the diplomatic team, who requested anonymity, informed us that they were sent to Sabah only to issue passports. If they are really there to help distressed Filipinos, they could have easily gone to the plantation. Our Post in Malaysia is an Embassy of pathological liars," exposed Martinez.
Martinez added that the said Embassy official has not been authorized to handle any legal or labor issue concerning Filipino nationals since this may cause political complications to the Philippine claim to Sabah.
"Based on the statements of the Filipinos we interviewed, the embassy's diplomatic teams allowed the overcharging of passport fees. Issuance of passports in the Embassy at Kuala Lumpur only cost RM196 (Php2,548) while Filipinos in Sabah pay as much as RM250 (Php3,250). Embassy officials should be thoroughly investigated and, if found guilty, must be immediately prosecuted for their crimes before they victimize more Filipinos who are already suffering in Sabah," Martinez demanded.
Migrante emphasized that overcharging OFWs who are allegedly receiving slave-level wages is inhuman and unforgiveable. The group revealed that poultry farm workers in Kota Kinabalu receives as low as Php3,900 a month without any day-off. The amount would be further cut into half due to deductions for working permit and travel expenses incurred upon their recruitment.
"Not only are Embassy officials liars, they are also callous and heartless. We can not imagine how these people can stomach to exact more money from our poor kababayans in Saba. They are thriving on the anguish of other people. We demand that Ambassador Lecaros be recalled immediately and that a thorough investigation on the Philippine embassy in Malaysia be conducted," Martinez concluded.