Calling President Benigno Aquino III as “anti- migrant” for slashing the legal assistance fund for OFWs and failing to work for the protection of OFWs, migrant workers’ groups identified with Migrante vowed to conduct more protests if he would not change track from pursuing an anti-migrant labor export policy.
By JANESS ANN J. ELLAO
MANILA — Overseas Filipino workers are dismayed over the “poor performance” of President Benigno S. Aquino III as he marked his 100th day in office on October 8.
“OFWs’ hopes were high at the beginning of his term,” Migrante International secretary general Gina Esguerra told Bulatlat. In his inaugural address, Aquino ordered the Department of Foreign Affairs, Philippine Overseas Employment Administration, Overseas Workers Welfare Administration and other pertinent agencies to intensify its response to the needs of overseas Filipino workers.
However, said Migrante, Aquino’s real attitude toward labor migration started to surface early on. His “anti-migrants tendencies” were all the more proven when he slashed by more than a half the legal assistance budget for OFWs in distress. Migrante International, the largest OFW group, has earlier denounced the said move of the Aquino administration, saying it would be detrimental to the welfare of some 7,000 Filipinos in jail, 10,000 OFWs stranded in the Middle East alone, and 108 in death row.
The Magna Carta for OFWs provides for a P100 million ($2.3 million) budget for legal assistance of Filipino migrant workers. Another P100 million ($2.3 million) budget, dubbed as Assistance to Nationals, would be appropriated for repatriation of stranded OFWs and / or their remains. Under the Aquino administration, however, the budget would be cut to P27 million ($622 thousand) for legal assistance and P87 million ($2 million) for Assistance to Nationals.
“Government offices were of no help to OFWs in distress when they still had sufficient budget. How much more now?” Esguerra said.
The Department of Budget and Management earlier tried to cover up for the big budget cuts on funds dedicated for OFWs by citing the so-called cash balances in 2008 and 2009. However, the president himself admitted the budget cuts on his first 100 days report on October 7.
“For OFWs worldwide, Aquino’s first 100 days in office was more of a nightmare than a honeymoon period,” Migrante chairperson Garry Martinez said in a statement.
Members of the Kapatiran sa Gitnang Silangan and the local chapter of Migrante – Middle East shaved their heads to dramatize their “strong opposition and condemnation” of the budget cuts. “Shaving our head is one way of showing how frustrated OFWs and their families on P-Noy’s ‘unsatisfactory’ performance during his 100 days in office,” said John Leonard Monterona, Migrante-Middle East regional coordinator. Members of Migrante based in Riyadh and Al-Khobar also shaved their heads in protest.
Dolores Balladores, chairperson of the United Filipinos in Hong Kong, said they waited in vain for Aquino to do something significant for the welfare of OFWs. “We expressed our demand and tried to get even a little bit of attention from this government but we were just given the cold shoulder,” she said.
Balladores said OFWs need Aquino’s urgent action, especially with regards their demand for the lowering of the e-passport fee and the scrapping of mandatory fees imposed to OFWs. Yet, Balladores said the president turned his attention to further reducing the much needed services that many OFWs could not even avail of.
In a statement, Migrante’s local chapter in Australia said so much rhetoric was made by Aquino during his inaugural address. “Would you now believe a president that declared himself a servant of the people – “you are my boss” – but has delivered nothing but pain and more sufferings in total contempt of the people he has to serve?” their statement read.
Labor Export Policy
Filipino migrant workers, according to Balladores, has long been treated as mere “sources of dollars and income by the government.” Similar to former President Gloria Arroyo, a huge chunk of the 2011 budget would be given to the military and debt servicing.
“We do not need a president who puts more importance to foreign interests,” Balladores said, adding that the first “good news” that Aquino brought home during his first foreign trip as president is a financial aid from the United States government that would only “reinforce maldevelopment in the country.
While Esguerra of Migrante sees Aquino’s recent US trip as a missed opportunity to work for the protection of OFWs, she said “What is there to expect? Calling for the protection of OFWs would only send possible worksites away,” she said, “Besides, looking for foreign jobs abroad, was one of Aquino’s priorities when he left for US in the first place.”
Esguerra said if Aquino will not change his ways, Migrante would be calling for a zero-remittance day to cripple the economy even for a day. (Bulatlat.com)