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Gabriela Women’s Party on Monday urged the House of Representatives to investigate where the P250 million OWWA fund set aside last year for OFWs affected by the global financial crisis went.

“The Arroyo government’s so-called ‘assistance program’ for Filipino workers displaced by the global financial meltdown could be a ruse to divert millions of OFW money to the pockets of corrupt government officials,” Rep. Luz Ilagan said.

Ilagan’s call for investigation was brought about by the “duping” incident in Malacanang last December, wherein around 100 retrenched workers from Taiwan were escorted to the presidential palace supposedly to accept checks amounting to around P50,000.

But after they were used for a photo gimmick by President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, the OFWs were asked to return the checks.

Ilagan demands that DOLE Secretary Marianito Roque and OWWA Administrator Carmelita Dimson be included in the investigation as they were the ones who escorted the OFWs.

“The incident was a grand show of this government’s insensitivity and further exploitation of migrant workers. The OFWs have already lost their jobs and still they were cruelly used and tricked by the institutions and people they are relying on for help,” said Ilagan.

The P250 million crisis fund came from the P11.2 billion OWWA has accumulated using the $25 OFW mandatory membership fee.

Thus, Ilagan said, “Filipino overseas workers should have immediate access to this fund as it came from their own sweat and blood.”

Gabriela Women’s Party also demands that the Philippine government, through its departments and agencies, particularly DFA, DOLE and OWWA, establish a more responsive program for Filipinos displaced by the global financial crisis, other than the current questionable program which requires a tedious and lengthy application process.


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“There is no one else to blame for the beheading of Jenifer Bidoya but GMA. In favor of preparing an ostentatious welcome for current and future business partners in the Global Forum on Migration and Development (GFMD), President Arroyo has further pushed aside the welfare of Filipinos abroad,” said Gabriela Women’s Party Rep. Luz Ilagan.

Bidoya was an overseas Filipino worker beheaded in Saudi Arabia last October 14 after two years of serving detention for allegedly murdering a Saudi national.

“The support this government provided Bidoya was just a “drop in the bucket” of what a government should have done for its citizen facing a legal battle outside its borders,” Ilagan said. “They may have asked the Saudi government for pardon, but that was it; plain lip-service for the sake of saying that they tried to help him.”

Recently, another OFW was sentenced to death by firing squad for allegedly robbing and murdering a Taiwanese national. The Philippine government remains silent on the issue and has not offered any form of support to Cecilia Alcaraz, a former Gabriela women’s alliance leader in Laguna, or her family.

“The fact that Arroyo can sleep at night or proudly call the Philippines a model country for Labor Export while OFW blood is in her hands is a proof that she does not have even an inch of concern for them,” Ilagan said demanding that the government seriously and immediately take heed of Alcaraz’s and her family’s calls for help in negotiating for the commutation of the former’s death sentence.

There are currently 29 overseas Filipino workers still languishing in jails and awaiting execution abroad. According to Ilagan, the actual number would have been twice as many, if not for the relentless lobbying of local and international human rights organizations for them to be pardoned.

While dozens of Filipinos are literally shedding sweat and blood in other countries for their poverty-stricken families in the Philippines, the Arroyo government is busy spending time and millions of pesos on the Global Forum on Migration and Development (GFMD), a multi-stakeholder process tagged by Gabriela Women’s Party Rep. Luz Ilagan as “a closed-door meeting between business tycoons exchanging deals and strategies on how to maximize profits from Labor Export of Third World countries”.

“Arroyo is far too excited about the GFMD to care about the OFWs. And why shouldn’t she be: this is a big opportunity for her to show off the country’s wide variety of “cheap labor for export” to potential buyers. For a businesswoman like her who thinks about nothing but amassing wealth from the sweat of other people, labor export is lucrative.”

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“This is not just a show of the famed Filipino hospitality; This is a proof that migrant workers around the world are one in opposing the plan of business-minded governments to turn them into milking cows and modern-day slaves through the Global Forum on Migration and Development (GFMD).”

GFMD is an informal multi-stakeholder process to be held in Manila on October 28-30.

Gabriela Party-list Rep. Luz Ilagan said today as she joins overseas Filipino workers and their families in welcoming International Migrants’ Alliance (IMA) Chairperson Eni Lestari at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport.

The Indonesian national will be one of the speakers in the International Assembly of Migrants and Refugees (IAMR), a parallel conference aiming to expose the anti-migrants agenda of the 2nd GFMD. IAMR is an international conference to be attended by grassroots migrant workers from all parts of the world holds the theme “No to forced migration.  No to labor export.  Create jobs at home.  End poverty.  Defend and advance the rights of migrants and refugees!”

United Nations Special Rapporteur on Migrants, Dr Jorge Bustamante is one of the invited observers in the IAMR.

Among the planned activities are panel discussions, workshops, and other activities that shall center on themes highly-relevant to migrants, immigrants, refugees and other displaced peoples.  There shall be presentations on various themes by reputable leaders from different grassroots migrants’ groups and advocates for the rights of migrants from different countries.

A public speak-out will also be conducted to give an opportunity for grassroots migrants to express their concerns.

“Beware,” warns Ilagan “GFMD is a sham:  while it pretends to be a gathering to ensure the protection of the rights and welfare of migrant workers around the world as it promotes regular labor migration, it is actually hatching anti-migrant plans behind their backs.  How can it be the genuine voice of migrants when its attendees are all businesspeople negotiating how much they will get from OFWs’ money?

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“She has robbed them off their money, rights and even votes before; now she is depriving OFWs and their families a joyous Christmas,” says Rep. Luz Ilagan of Gabriela Women’s Party. “GMA is worse than the Grinch.”

According to Ilagan, “while Christmas has ceased to be a happy occasion for Filipino overseas workers because of the loneliness they have to endure during this special time when families are supposed to be together, this Christmas is showing signs of becoming the most depressing for them as they face the possibility of layoffs as a result of the global financial crisis which has forced a number of big companies abroad to close down.”

“More than having no money to buy gifts for Christmas day, migrant workers fear that their families might not even have food on their table in the coming days.”

Ilagan blames the government for implementing copycat strategies such as the Labor Export Policy of the Marcos administration and perpetuating unemployment, hunger and poverty in the Philippines.

“Common sense tells us that 34 years of experience and painful evidence are more than enough to know that the government’s Labor Export Policy is anti-development. The Philippines has sent millions of Filipinos to work outside the country and has received billions in remittances, but until now the Philippines is far from the economic take-off stage that its supposed to have been assuming that the government is correct in its assumption that migration and development are related concepts,” Ilagan said.

She added, “All we got from exporting labor are daily news of Filipinas raped in the Middle East, OFWs languishing in jails and in the deathrow in Kuwait, domestic workers maltreated, starved and not given their salaries in Singapore, or migrant workers tastelessly and racially discriminated in television shows in Europe or North America.”

Last Tuesday, migrant worker Jenifer Bidoya was beheaded one-and-a-half years after he was convicted of murdering a Saudi national and sentenced to death by the Jeddah Sharia’h Grand Court.

According to the lawmaker, “Migration can never be a tool for development, despite what GMA and the Global Forum on Migration and Development are trying to brainwash us with,” the Gabriela Party-list solon said. “To achieve development, people must have secure jobs to counter poverty and hunger with and receive appropriate social services for holistic human development.”

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Gabriela Women’s Party Rep. Luz Ilagan witnessed firsthand how a weak inter-agency committee formed by the Philippine government as a result of the RP-Malaysia Working Group in  2005 to ensure the humane detention and deportation of undocumented Filipino migrants in Sabah has neglected the deportees, during a Fact-Finding Mission in Zamboanga last October 2-6.

“The inter-agency committee does not follow a standard procedures in dealing with the deportees, like properly getting their profile. This resulted to the lack of complete and detailed record of the victims, which could either be plain irresponsibility or a tactic of the government departments and agencies to cover their lack of interest in helping the deportees. The inadequate data do not show the true picture of a humanitarian crisis affecting Filipino refugees,” Ilagan stated.

IAC is composed of the Department of Labor and Employment, Department of Foreign Affairs, Department of Social Welfare and Development, Overseas Workers Welfare Administration, Department of National Defense, Technical Education and Skills Development Authority, National Statistics Office, National Bureau of Investigation, Board of Investments and the Office of the Muslim Affairs.

Ilagan, together with Migrante International, visited the Silungan center, one of the only two one-stop processing centers for deportees aside from the one Bongao, Tawi-Tawi, and documented the cases  of human rights violations committed against the deportees while they were languishing in Sabah jails. The IAC has failed to probe deeper into their experiences, much more act on the said inhumane treatment of Malaysian authorities.

Moreover, Ilagan discovered that “there is not a single doctor or a medical expert from the Department of Health to check on the medical condition of the deportees. The Silungan center has only one nurse for every 300 people, therefore, it is impossible to conduct the required medical check-up on each of them. A deportee will only be given attention when he or she obviously extremely ill.”

The Departments of Labor and Employment and of Foreign Affairs, on the other hand, are concerned mainly with how to bring the deportees back to Sabah.

“This obvious lack of concern for the undocumented migrants in Sabah and in other parts of the world is an indicator of the overall apathy of the Philippine government on their situation. It is hypocritical of the Arroyo administration to host the 2nd Global Forum on Migration and Development, and to boast that the Philippines is a model of labor export when it is at the bottom of the list when it comes to the protection of migrants’ rights and promotion of their welfare,” said Ilagan.

She added, “DFA Undersecretary Esteban Conejos Jr. is right: the GFMD is not just a simple job fair; it is a bargain sell-out of our people to foreigners. The Arroyo government sees this as an opportunity to display our “wide variety of flexible workers who come at very cheap prices.”

The Gabriela Party-list solon invites her fellow representatives in Lower House to instead join the International Assembly of Migrants and Refugees (IAMR), a parallel forum to the GFMD which will table all the issues concerning the migrants and refugees in the Philippines, including the newly implemented immigration rules and massive crackdown in other countries.

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Gabriela Women’s Party Online

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Gabriela Women’s Party Representative Liza Maza today called on Congress to stop yielding to Malacanang’s call for Charter Change. “Let us not allow Congress to become the wielder of the wedge that will divide our people further. This is the last thing our country needs.”

Following the turmoil in Mindanao that came in the heels of the lack of consultation in the GRP-MILF MOA-AD, Maza reminded colleagues of the dangers of deciding on whether or not to embark on moves to amend the Constitution despite an utter lack of consultation. “This government is developing an addiction to arbitrariness and autocracy.”

The Committee on Constitutional Amendments is set to vote today on whether there is a need to amend the Constitution.

According to Maza, “Several attempts at Charter Change have been repeatedly rejected by the people. This has been reflected not just in surveys but in massive protest actions. Deciding on whether or not dance the ChaCha should be done after nationwide consultations. Let us all be reminded that we are supposed to be a democracy.”

The Gabriela solon also warned that there will be no stopping moves to amend provisions on term extensions, the presence of foreign military bases and nuclear weapons should Congress allow Charter Change. Maza noted that Article XVII Section 1 of the Constitution states that both the Constituent Assembly and the Constitutional Convention may amend and/or revise the Constitution. Revisions as defined could entail the rewriting of the entire Charter.

“There is no such thing as a surgical amendment. Putting the Constitution under the surgical knife is no different from putting it in a blender.” #

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