"If she truly is sincere in protecting the welfare of our kababayans, she must settle all the cases against Filipinos such as contract violations, death sentences, employer abuse … during her 3-day visit. She must also be successful in bringing home all the OFWs in distress," said Virginita Apuya, a Filipina worker who protested against contract substitution.
Gary Martinez, chairperson of Migrante International which spearheaded the event, said that "we are doubtful in Arroyo's intentions. We believe that her primary agenda is to clinch more job contracts with Saudi companies that would result to more sufferings of OFWs. The welfare concern is mere lip service to cover-up the governments' negligence in assisting Filipinos in distress."
"She must quickly find a way on how to replace the workers who have already left their jobs. Otherwise the remittances, the economy's saving grace, will surely fall. She is not bothered with the condition that forces OFWs to go back. She is more concerned with the massive repatriations impact on dollar inflows," explained Martinez.
OFW victims and families shared their own stories of ordeal – the Filipinas who staged a work stoppage against contract violations, Norie Gonzales whose two brothers are in deathrow, Fermie Enera who is worried with the shipment of her husband's remains and Maria Salvacion Cruz who is asking for assistance for his husband struggling with cancer in Dubai.
Filipinas triumphant in work stoppage
"If not for our collective determination to fight for what is right, we might still be languishing in cramped quarters, struggling with sickness, hunger and near paranoia," said Charina Sagum, a Filipina caregiver in Jeddah.
Today is the one month anniversary of the work stoppage of 23 Filipina healthworkers who protested against unpaid and reduced salaries. Four of their colleagues are already on flight back to Manila. The others are also believed to follow.
"Once we have regrouped, we will pursue our case against Annasban. And we expect the government's support on this battle. This is not just for our monetary claims, this is to save other Filipinos who are being victimized and will be victimized by powerful exploiting companies such as Annasban," stated Sagum.
According to Martinez, Annasban is notorious in contract violations. Migrante has already asked the Philippine Overseas Labor Office (POLO) to blacklist the company. But as to their last knowledge, it has just employed 56 more Filipino workers.
Brothers still in death row
Norie Gonzales appealed to Arroyo to free her two brothers from death row.
"It was the Philippine governments' fault why my brothers were sentenced to death. Ms. President, this is your chance to redeem yourself. Save their lives now", exclaimed Gonzales.
According to Migrante, the Philippine Embassy failed to provide Rolando and Edison Gonzales lawyers in their first two court hearings. The death sentence was read in the second hearing.
The Gonzales brothers and Eduardo Arcilla were accused of killing 3 Filipinos in April 2006.
"These stories are testament to the sorry state of Filipinos abroad. Welfare protection is all illusion unless the Labor Export Program (LEP) is scrapped. This program is oriented to sell cheap and docile Filipino workforce abroad. A step to eradicating this problem, is by scrapping the OWWA Omnibus Policies who has been in effect for exactly 3 years tomorrow", ended Martinez.