“When I learned about the pork barrel scam, I was very angry. That money should have been spent for the welfare of Filipinos. My father was forced to leave us so he could provide for our needs. But our family ended up torn apart.” – Rolando Ypil Jr., son of an OFW
By JANESS ANN J. ELLAO
MANILA – His young age of 17 did not deter Rolando Ypil Jr. from actively campaigning among overseas Filipino workers to participate in the Zero Remittance Day, September 19. The Zero Remittance Day is a symbolic action of OFWs of withholding the sending of their remittances for a day to call for the abolition of the pork barrel system and for an end to corruption.
Ypil knows what children of OFWs go through, and it pains him to see that while families of OFWs suffer to eke out a living, government officials brazenly steal the people’s money. Though the young Ypil no longer has contact with his father Rolando Sr., an overseas Filipino worker deployed at the United Arab Emirates, he said he posted the call for the Zero Remittance Day on Facebook, among other social networking sites, in the hope of reaching out to other OFWs to encourage them to participate in the symbolic protest against the pork barrel system.
“I know how it feels like, the hardships faced by children left behind by parents leaving to work abroad. I do not want others to go through what I did,” Ypil told Bulatlat.com during a protest action in Mendiola on Sept. 19, 2013.
Ypil believes that if funds allocated to pork barrel are put to better use, no parent would ever have to leave their family behind to work abroad. On Sept. 19, he joined the protest action in Mendiola, led by Migrante International, to call for the abolition of the pork barrel.
Last week, Migrante International called on fellow Filipino migrant workers to participate in a Zero Remittance Day, a symbolic protest by OFWs to call for the abolition of the pork barrel of government officials, including the president’s. Among the biggest protest actions include the Million People March and Forward March, which both took place at Rizal Park.
Sept. 19, the date set for the Zero Remittance Day, is also the anniversary of the implementation of the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration Omnibus Policy, which mandates each Filipino leaving to work abroad to pay the government the amount of $25 per contract. The said mandatory contribution has long been deemed by migrants group as anti-migrant because it is a form of taxation imposed on OFWs. Yet, despite the fact that OWWA has managed to gather an estimated $ 325.35 million from the contributions and about $21 billion from OFW remittances, Filipino migrant workers in distress are hardly given assistance by the government.
“Today, we raise our call to the government that its earnings from our taxes and remittances should be allocated to social services and greater state subsidy for OFWs in distress,” Connie Bragas-Regalado, convenor of DEPORK, a broad alliance of OFW groups and migrant rights advocates against the pork barrel system.
Migrante International said at least 300 Filipino migrants organizations from 23 countries, including Hongkong, Japan, Taiwan, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom, Netherlands, Italy, Canada, United States, among others, participated in the Zero Remittance Day against the pork barrel system and the widespread corruption in the country.
During the protest action, Ypil was teary-eyed during his speech, as he gave others a run-down of what forced labor migration has brought to his family.
Ypil gave up school to give way to his older sister who is also studying in college due to financial constraints. His parents eventually separated. He told Bulatlat.com that he and his two siblings are now left to fend on their own.
“When I learned about the pork barrel scam, I was very angry. That money should have been spent for the welfare of Filipinos. My father was forced to leave us so he could provide for our needs. But our family ended up torn apart,” Ypil said.
Build a gov’t for the poor
Flor Go, 66, said she attended the protest action in Mendiola because she was appalled upon learning that billions of pesos in pork barrel funds pocketed by government officials while her daughter, Lailani, a single parent to five children, is working hard abroad as a domestic helper.
Lailani left in 2006 to work as a domestic helper to a Portuguese family based in Macau. She used to earn $325 a month, which was later on increased to $395. Go said they have to make do with the remittance they are receiving.
“We work on a very tight budget,” Go said, “In the morning, I would prepare chicken soup for them. It is not important if I cooked it with all the ingredients needed. I just want them to go to school with food on their stomach. Sometimes, we eat instant noodles.”
Contrary to government claims, Go said that family of OFWs are so used to facing hardships that they do not mind if their loved ones abroad would withhold sending their remittance for a day in exchange for a better future ahead.
Go, during the protest action, said it is high time for the people to install a government that would serve the interests of the poor.
“I said that because we are the ones who are suffering. We need a government that would serve our interests. They do not. We deserve it because workers who construct high-rise buildings come from our ranks. The produce of our farmers are bought by the government at a very low price and then sell it to the people at a very high price,” she said.
Go said her daughter does not approve of her participation in protest actions. “I told her that I am fighting for their future. My sun will set soon. But my grandchildren’s are just about to rise.”
“But she is okay with the Zero Remittance Day. She even campaigned it to her fellow Filipino workers there,” Go added.
Sleeping no more
Migrante International said Filipino migrant workers who practiced their economic power to make a stand against corruption prove that they are no longer “the sleeping elephant in the room.”
“Some have tried but failed to belittle overseas Filipinos’ participation in the Zero Remittance Day by saying that it will not have an effect on the economy, or that families are not supportive of today’s global protest. The mere fact that they have taken so much trouble to undermine the outrage and unity of overseas Filipinos around the world is a clear testament that our message has been sent across,” Edwin dela Cruz, one of the convenors of Depork, said.
Martinez said, “This is just the beginning, and families of overseas Filipinos are with us until the pork barrel system is abolished, those involved in the pork barrel scam are prosecuted, and systemic changes in government are implemented to eradicate the rotten culture of patronage politics and corruption. More global protests are coming and OFWs are geared for more Zero Remittance Days in the next weeks.”
Ypil, for his part, said he is happy that he has found colleagues in Migrante International who are guiding him to make his time worthwhile. He heard of accounts of children of migrant workers who are into drugs, among other vices. Activism, he said, virtually saved his life.