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Pauwiin ang mga stranded OFWs sa Saudi Arabia!

By Rep. Teddy Casiño


Bayan Muna
Privilege Speech delivered before the House of Representatives
February 7, 2011

Mr. Speaker, I rise to avail of the privilege hour to speak on the problems
confronting our distressed overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) particularly
the stranded workers in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

Earlier, the House gave recognition to a model OFW family. It is indeed


ironic that even as we speak, 314 of our countrymen, including 79 children,
are stranded in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, camped out in makeshift tents under
a bridge near the Philippine Consulate, wanting to go home, pleading for
help from our government. These are OFWs most of whom have
abandoned their jobs due to maltreatment, violence and other abuses from
their foreign employers.

<refer to pictures>

In the last two weeks, concerned Filipinos from have abroad have sent me
frantic emails detailing the inhuman conditioons of our countrymen who are
now totally dependent on the goodwill and charity of fellow Filipinos and
some kind hearted Arabs. In all their messages, there is one common
observation - that our consulate is not doing enough to help and worse, that
our officials abroad are partly responsible for making the situation of our
OFW's worse than they already are.

Our 1.5 million compatriots who work as OFWs in Saudi Arabia remit
US$1.3 billion annually to the country. This is a big chunk of the average
annual total of US$15 billion remittances that our Filipino compatriots
working and residing abroad remit to the Philippine homeland.
But what does government do to the downtrodden, abused, maltreated and
mistreated OFW who runs away from his or her evil employers? These
OFWs who have lost their jobs have been reduced to begging under a
bridge or beside the wall of our consular office in Jeddah.

Mr. Speaker, ano ba ang ginagawa ng ating mga consular officials sa


Jeddah at Saudi Arabia? We have heard enough horror stories not only
about the abuses and inhuman working conditions of our workers there but
the arrogance and incompetence of our embassy officials. To them we say
bring home our distressed kababayans now.

But this is not only a problem of uncaring and incompetent consular


officials. This is a problem of a wrong policy made worse. And in this crime
against our OFW's we find the Aquino government just as negligent as the
previous administrations.

The national budget for the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) – the
country’s lead agency for foreign policy – is quite small. Let me correct
myself, it is not small but infinitesimal – lubhang napakaliit kumpara sa mga
kontribusyon at sakripisyo ng ating mga kababayang napilitang lumabas ng
bansa para maghanapbuhay.

The DFA originally requested a budget of P19 billion for its 2011 operations,
but I understand the DBM only approved P10.9 billion.

This means our kababayans in Saudi Arabia and thousands of distressed


overseas Filipinos elsewhere are facing a tough 2011 in terms of getting
government assistance after the Department of Budget and Management
(DBM) slashed by 42.6 percent the budget sought by the DFA.

Section 18 of R.A. 10022 or the Amended Migrant Workers' Act provides for
an allotment of P100 million for the legal assistance fund (LAF), of which
P50 million shall be taken from the President’s contingency fund, P30
million from the President’s social fund, and P20 million from the Overseas
Workers Welfare Fund.
Pres. Aquino reduced the LAF for OFWs from P50 million ($1.14 million) to
only P27 million ($616 thousand) from his contingency fund. This is a gross
violation of the Migrant Workers Act, which mandates that the DFA must
allot at least P100 million ($2.28 million) for the repatriation, medical
assistance and other welfare services for OFWs in distress. The Assistance
to Nationals (ATN) fund of DFA, on the other hand, has been reduced to
P87 million ($1.986 million) from P100 million ($2.28 million).

It is important to note that apart from daily consular and diplomatic


services, the DFA is helping some 7,000 Filipinos jailed around the world
including 230 involving the death sentence.

Kayat sa tingin ng representasyong ito, hindi lang sa di-sapat ang badyet,


ngunit ang mas malaking usapin ay kung tama ba ang oryentasyon at
institutional na aksyon na ginagawa ng estado para matulungan,
maproteksyunan at mapauwi ang ating mga kababayang nasadlak sa mas
malubhang kahirapan sa Saudi Arabia.

Mr. Speaker, as of February 4, 2011, the DFA claims to have repatriated


102 stranded Filipinos, including 29 children from Jeddah. But a large
number of Filipino stranded workers are now in a new makeshift camp with
their families they set up outside the Philippine Consulate in Jeddah.

Our stranded compatriots demand repatriation after losing work, running


away from abusive employers who substituted their contracts or refused to
pay salaries, and finding help from kind hearted individuals – least from the
consulate. They lived and slept under the King Fahd Bridge and the
Khandara overpass but got tired and worried after the rains came.

A majority of the stranded Filipinos have no legal or valid documents for


various reasons. But this can be remedied if our diplomatic post provides all
relevant legal documents to Saudi authorities for them to easily give them
exit visas.
It is a wonder why the Consulate in Jeddah takes so long to do so. It is no
wonder that the migrant’s group Migrante International and its chapters in
Saudi Arabia tirelessly hound and call the attention of the Philippine posts
in the kingdom to attend to the plight of our stranded OFWs.

Government says it has the best work migration model envied by other
labor-exporting countries like Indonesia, Bangladesh and Thailand. Kung ito
na ang best model, talagang kawawa naman ang ating mga kababayan.

Mr. Speaker. There are hundreds, even thousands of sad stories of OFWs
from Saudi Arabia. Mayroong nga tayong Amended Migrant Workers Act,
ngunit binabali nga mismo ng Presidente ang mga probisyon ng batas
hinggil sa badyet para sa serbisyo sa mga OFWs.

We indeed have that law and other related issuances by concerned


government agencies like the DOLE, OWWA and POEA. But still the horror
stories of despair, abuse and hopelessness of distressed OFWs in Saudi
Arabia continue. Ibig sabihin po nito, government is simply not doing
enough on the executive front to remedy and resolve the situation.

Kung patuloy po ang gubyerno sa kanyang patakarang labor export, hindi


ito dapat mangiming maglatag ng pinakamahusay na programang
pamproteksyon at maglaan ng pinakamainam na badyet para ipatupad ito
bilang minimal na programa sa ilalim ng foreign policy ng Pilipinas na dapat
protektahan, ipaglaban at bigyang prayoridad ang lahat ng Pilipino sa lahat
ng sitwasyon sa labas ng bansa.

Para sa mga stranded na kababayan natin sa Saudi Arabia, ang


pinakamahusay na dapat gawin ng gubyerno ng Pilipinas ay bilisan ang
pag-asikaso sa mga gustong makauwi na sa Pilipinas – bigyan ng travel
document nang makapagharap agad ang Konsulado sa Saudi authorities
nang makakuha na ng exit visa ang lahat ng gustong umuwi.
At hanggang hindi nagagawa ng gubyerno na lumikha ng marangal na
trabaho, magtaas ng suweldo, magpatupad ng seguridad sa trabaho sa
mga empleyado at manggagawa at bigyang diin ang pag-aruga sa kanila,
asahan na natin na magiging araw-araw na trabaho ng mga konsulado at
embahada sa Saudi Arabia ang pagharap sa mga stranded OFWs at
kanilang mga pangangailangan at hiling na makauwi.

Ginoong Speaker, no ifs, no buts ang esensya ng government service.


Dapat harapin at tulungan ng todo-todo ng mga konsulado at embahada
ang mga kababayan natin na napilitang iwan ang kanilang mga pamilya
para magtrabaho sa ibayong dagat.

Ginoong Speaker, mga kagalang-galang na kasama, dapat pauwiin na ang


ating mga stranded na kababayan mula sa Saudi Arabia. Hindi po sila
pumunta doon para lamang maging iskwater sa ilalim ng tulay o sa tabi ng
pader.

Umaapila ko sa kapulungang ito na agad na umaksyon dito. Huwag lang


sana imbestigasyon kundi kagyat na aksyon ang ating gawin para agad na
mapauwi ang ating mga kababayan sa Jeddah. For once, lets go beyond
nice sounding resolutions and platitudes and actually do something to bring
home our distressed and stranded Filipinos in Jeddah.

Maraming salamat po.#