One week after ending their camp-out in front of the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA), the repatriated Overseas Filipino Workers from the Annasban Group of Companies today trooped back to picket at the agency's doorsteps, after the OWWA yet again reneged on most of its promises to the migrant workers.
Of the five demands that were granted by OWWA officials led by administrator Carmelita Dimzon in a negotiation with the Annasban workers and Migrante International last March 5, only the P10,000 financial assistance have been given to the OFWs. From Monday to Wednesday this week, the OFWs tried to claim the promised transportation fare back to the provinces, but they were told by Ms. Cynthia Lamban, head of the Repatriation Assistance Department, that they were not to be given cash (which was requested by the OFWs so that they can schedule their own trips) and that a priority list still had to be drawn up. They also tried to claim the promised free medical assistance, espcially for OFW Florabel Blanca, who fell extremely sick that week. However, OWWA Dir. Saul De Vries said that there are still no guidelines on how to implement the rest of the agreement, and merely advised Blanca to pay for the laboratory tests and medicines out of her own pocket.
"We are fuming mad. We are going back to protest the OWWA because it does not have palabra de honor (word of honor). It is not merely inept; it is deliberately making a fool out of us OFWs. They refused to protect us when we were nearly dying abroad. It seems like they want us to die at the doorsteps of this inutile government agency," said Joy Flancia, one of the Annasban workers. The OFWs, victims of contract substitution, staged a series of hunger strikes in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia from August last year until February this year.
Other OFWs neglected by OWWA, some of which have several years worth of pending claims, afterwards joined the Annasban workers in their protest. "In the course of our struggle, we met so many OFWs who are like us, and their stories broke our hearts. It made us ever more convinced that this OWWA is an agency merely for the collection of our money, and not for the protection of our welfare. Give us our money back!!!" said Flancia.
The Annasban workers and Migrante International also submitted a letter of complaint to Labor Secretary and OWWA Board of Trustees chairperson Marianito Roque. "We hope that this letter is sufficient enough to the realization of the agreement. Let us settle this in the most diplomatic way or else the OFWs will be again forced to resort to extra-legal means to claim their rightful demands," said Garry Martinez, Migrante chairperson, in the letter to Roque.
"The case of the Annasban workers has opened a can of worms. More and more victims of OWWA neglect will beseige the agency until the government scraps the OWWA Omnibus Policies. These policies, which since 2003 has severely restricted the assistance the agency gives to OFWs, have been a convenient excuse for OWWA to turn its back on our workers. It is about time to address this problem squarely: scrap the OWWA Omnibus Policies!!!" said Martinez.