Filipino Migrant Workers: Modern Heroes or Modern Slaves?
“We should not allow our people to mourn over and over again for the loss of lives of our fellow Filipinos here and overseas. For the best way to render justice to Ordinario, Credo and Batain is not to allow such injustices anymore.” – Hustisya
Last March 30, the fate of the three Filipino overseas workers in China, Sally Villanueva, Ramon Credo and Elizabeth Batain finally came to an end. Two of whom were women and mothers. The three were convicted separately in 2008 and were the first Filipino nationals to be executed in China for carrying 4,410 grams, 4,113 grams and 6,800 grams of heroine, respectively.
“Sally, Ramon and Elizabeth were victims of large drug syndicates who took advantage of their unawareness, vulnerability and desperation to earn a living for their families”, said a migrant rights organization Migrante-International.
No amount of prayers and appeals from the Filipino people had stopped the execution. I was so sad and angered of how helpless the government in saving the lives of the three victims of drug trafficking. As a mother, my heart bleeds seeing their mothers and their children appealed desperately crying for help.
I joined the country’s mourning up to this very day not only for the lives of Sally Villanueva , Elizabeth Batain and Ramon Credo but for the 15 million lives of Filipino migrants workers who desperately put their lives in danger working overseas because of their dream for their children for better lives. Among them are my sister, my father-in- law and my close friends.
Filipino Migrant Women are Vulnerable Victims of Drug Trafficking
The 2008 survey of the National Statistics Office showed that United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Hongkong were the top three countries of destination of OFW’s. Among Filipino women migrants in 2008, 16.5 percent were in United Arab Emirates, 14.4 percent in Saudi Arabia and 11.4 percent in Hongkong.
Nearly 2,000 or about 67 percent of the 3,000 overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) deployed daily are women who are employed in domestic jobs or work as entertainers, a United Nations study said in 2006. Filipino maid or servant was how its top export commodity used to be known, with millions of women from this impoverished country hired abroad as domestic workers.
But as menial jobs vanish in the global recession and opportunities fail to materialize at home, more and more desperate Philippine women are resorting to something far more dangerous -- smuggling drugs as mules.
Presently, according to Migrante –International more than 7,000 are languishing in jail abroad for several offense and more than 200 Filipinos are in China’s death row for offense of drug trafficking. Citing records from the Philippine embassy in Brazil, Dangerous Drug Board revealed that in 2008 of the 33 detained Overseas Filipino Workers’ in Brazil 22 were female and 11 were male accused for various drug trafficking charges .
Aida Dizon, 51, might face death sentence over a drug case, this time in Malaysia.
Three days after the execution of the three Filipino in China, another Filipinas was arrested in Indonesia for possession of 1.193 kilo of "class I" heroin in exchange of US $8,000.
Flory May Talaban’s Story
Flory May Talaban is one of the two Filipino women facing life sentence in Thailand on drug-related charges. According to her lawyer Bayan Muna Representative Neri Colmenares, there are still 23 Filipino drug mules detained in Thai prisons.
Flory May, 28, quit her law studies at University of St. La Salle in Bacolod City to work as a teacher in China in 2005. But when she arrived in China, there was no work available for her. She opted to stay after her father suffered a stroke and was forced to retire from work at the University of St. La Salle as electronic technician.
When her work visa in China had expired, she went to Thailand to renew it from there. She also went to Thailand where she had been told that many tutoring jobs are available.
She told her parents that she had been hired as a tutor
Thai police arrested Flory May at a Thai mall on May 4, 2009. She was supposedly carrying a book said to have 2.6 kilograms of heroin concealed inside. Police also raided her Bangkok apartment and found 2.8 kg of heroin there.
Flory May told her mother that in the Thai village where she was living, she had a Nigerian acquaintance who had asked her to deliver a book to a friend of his when she went to the mall. The man also asked if he could leave a bag at her apartment unknowingly it contains drugs inside. She said she was surprised that while she was at the mall, the police arrested her and found the drugs in the book.
Last March 28, Flory May’s parents were able to visit her in prison with the help of Bayan Muna Representative Neri Colmenares.
“Flory May Talaban is not seeking clemency before the Thai king but has instead filed an appeal before Thailand's second court. She believes that she has a very strong case and she’s going to fight her case to prove her innocence”, said Representative Colmenares. Bayan Muna Representative Neri Colmenares is her new defense lawyer after their case got lost with her first court-appointed lawyer.
The Philippine Labor Export Program: Modern Slavery and Slaughter of Filipino Migrants
The present Aquino government continues the Labor Export Program (LEP) which started in 1970’s that slaves and slaughters Filipinos overseas in today's modern times. What was initially meant to curb temporary unemployment and generate revenues for deficit in the balance of payments by the Marcos Administration it became the strategic source of employment and government revenues thereafter. Labor exports became the number one dollar earner off sitting the huge country’s balance payment deficits. Thus, they are called by the government as the Modern Day Heroes
The Philippine government earns billions of dollars from the overseas migrant workers. From $659 million in 1984 these remittances have grown to a staggering $16 billion dollars by the end of 2008. In the first two months of 2010, overseas Filipinos remittances totaled $2.78 billion, up 7.75 percent year-on-year. Fund inflows amounted to $1.4 billion for the single month reported by the Central Bank of the Philippines.
While the government rakes billions of dollars from the hardship of our modern day heroes, it is negligent in performing its responsibilities to protect migrant workers such as the cases of Jennifer Bidoya and Normina Piang.
Jennifer Bidoya was beheaded being accused of killing an Arab employer for attempted rape. She was not provided a lawyer during the trial but only a translator by the Philippine Embassy. Normina Piang in Kuwait who had ran away from her abusive employer and sought refuge at the Philippine Embassy was turned over to the Police for absconding, and was subsequently raped in jail by three Kuwait policemen.
The Continuing Diaspora
“If I just stay here in the Philippines, my family will die of hunger. Its better that I work abroad and earned for my family for if I die, I have some earnings for my family”, said a seafarer waiting for his job placement in Manila.
Nothing can stop the Filipino people in going abroad even in the midst of wars, exploitation and calamities. Going out of the country seems to be the last chance for a better life. Seafarers still crowded in shipping agencies hoping for employment despite dangers. Women continue to line up for domestic work abroad. Nurse's schools are increasing in enrollment for overseas work.
The exodus of Filipinos will keep on increasing everyday because the government meant it to be.. Scarcity of jobs opportunities and government’s program on labor export for the country’s economy forced million of Filipinos be out of the country despite global recession. They will continue to beat the bushes for greener-pasture due to lingering intense poverty.
The Diaspora of Filipino migrants will come to an end when poverty will come to an end as well. When the cornerstone of our economy will shift to a sustainable development of improving our agriculture by providing land and agricultural subsidies to the tillers to building and taking control of basic industries like the oil and power industry from multi-national corporations, employment will flourish.
If our government will cease exporting our human resources and never allow multi-national corporations to plunder our resources, we will never shed tears for the loss of loved ones abroad; for living separated lives and broken hearts due to forced migration. Instead, the tears of happiness and laughter will flow like a river that will give life to each family and community in building this country a better place for every Filipino. Then, there will be many modern heroes instead of modern slaves.