OFWs, groups all set for March 17 protest
Global alliance of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) Migrante International today held a press conference with returned OFWs from Libya, families of OFWs in Saudi and other OFWs in distress to announce their grievances and demands to the Philippine government in light of the series of crisis and calamities that have wrought havoc to the lives of Filipino migrant workers and their families in recent months.
Migrante International announced that OFWs, their families and other progressive sectors of society are all set for national and international protests on March 17, death anniversary of Flor Contemplacion, against government neglect and attacks on the rights of welfares of OFWs around the world.
OFWs from Libya air complaints
Around 30 returned OFWs from Libya expressed their grievances over the absence of assistance from Philippine authorities in evacuation and repatriation activities, and what they called "government misinformation" on the present situation of their co-workers who are still left in Libya. The returned OFWs expressed concern for the safety of at least 15,000 Filipinos who are still in Libya.
They are also gravely worried that they would not be able to get their unreleased salaries and other benefits and demanded government assistance for their claims.
Some OFWs who have only been in Libya for three months have also complained that they were made to pay the costs and premium of the mandatory insurance coverage by their recruitment agencies. Republic Act 10022 or the amended Migrants' Act imposed a mandatory insurance coverage effective late last year for all agency-hired OFWs. It is stated in the Act that costs of the mandatory insurance should be paid by employers and in no way shall be charged to OFWs.
Transparency in gov't plans for Saudi crisis
Meanwhile, Migrante International chairperson Garry Martinez called for transparency from the Philippine government in light of escalating protests in Saudi Arabia and other areas in Middle East and North Africa (MENA).
Since end of January, sporadic protests have erupted around the Saudi region and are expected to intensify. March 11 marked Saudi protesters' 'Day of Rage' calling for government reforms from the ruling monarch. Thousands of protesters were violently dispersed by the Saudi National Force upon orders from the King.
"Kung sa Libya na 30,000 ang Pilipino ay nagkumahog ng gobyerno, ngayon pa lang ay dapat handa na sila sa anumang scenario dahil 1.8 milyon ang Pilipino sa Saudi. Hindi na uubra ang tsamba lang dito, nasaan na ang konkretong plano?" said Martinez.
Martinez said that until now there is still no appointed Philippine Ambassador in Saudi. He also urged the government to immediately announce and inform OFWs of viable evacuation plans and details. "We are not alarmists. It is always better to safe than sorry, and judging from the way the government handled the crisis in Libya, the government should be transparent in their plans. Hindi dapat para bang secret ito na hindi pwedeng malaman ng publiko. Our chapters and members in Saudi can even help in the information-dissemination and the families of OFWs here have the right to know."
Martinez said that the Philippine government should start off by facilitating the immediate repatriation of stranded OFWs who have been awaiting government assistance even before the protests erupted, among them, 1,000++ OFWs in the deportation center in Al-Mina terminal in Jeddah; 3,500++ stranded over-staying and runaway OFWs, mostly women and children, with expired or cancelled work visas Kingdom-wide; 600++ OFWs in deportation center cell numbers 14 and 16 in Jeddah; 1,000++ in Dammam, Eastern region of KSA; 1,200++ OFWs who have already finished their sentences but are still in jail.
Martinez also called on the Philippine government to act in haste to inform the public and families on the state of OFWS after the recent earthquake and tsunami in Japan. There are 305,00 Filipinos in Japan and 250,000, including undocumented OFWs, in Tokyo alone, according to Migrante-Japan.
Migrante and its chapters worldwide are coordinating via "Sagip-Migrante" with the aim to coordinate efforts from Filipino communities and families here and abroad for disaster-preparedness and information dissemination in light of war, calamities and other emergencies. "Sagip-Migrante" is the same network that launched coordinative efforts from migrants and families after typhoon Ondoy.