"In societies where Robbing Hoods are treated like a celebrity it is but natural to expect political parties to act like a Mafia syndicate" Political Jaywalker "In a nation where corruption is endemic people tend to confuse due process with aiding and abetting criminals" Political Jaywalker "War doesn't determine who is right, war determines who is left" Bertrand Russell "You have just one flash flood of money, you keep your people poor. It's like a time bomb and it's scary" Philippine Lawmaker

Government neglect, disservice to OFWs

The ongoing hullabaloo about the 11 Filipino victims of illegal recruitment/human smuggling who sought refuge in Los Angeles after fleeing from their recruiters in Mississippi focuses once again on this nefarious malady in our society. It brings to mind past headlines about the more than 300 Filipino teachers recruited in Louisiana; of others enticed with fake jobs and scholarships to the United Kingdom using student visas; still others recruited with promises of job placements only to be left abandoned in Bangkok; the 67 female caregivers who had no days off and were made to work for 12 hours or more daily in Saudi Arabia; of workers made to work in Singapore for long hours, not enough food, and not paid their salaries for six months; the case of 137 sent to non-existing driver positions in Dubai, and so on and so forth. All of them were treated badly by illegal recruiters and made to pay exorbitant placement and other fees

My encounter with the group of alleged victims now in LA that has been a hot issue in online discussion boards was instructive of the human capacity to endure and adopting to adverse circumstances. Understandably sulking and sad, they nevertheless exuded the appearance of a people betrayed but have decided to make the most of the situation. Needless to state, we should be concerned with the plight of our kababayans in distress because without friends, kin and financial support they are more vulnerable and easily intimidated here. Being scammed by illegal recruiters is one of the worst scenario imaginable considering that not only the job seekers are victimized; their families left behind have no more breadwinners to depend on and then there are the usurers demanding payment for money lent so the workers can leave for their foreign destinations.

For decades now the Philippine government has depended on the export of labor as an important part of its development strategy and a way of reducing unemployment as well as boosting foreign currency reserves. The fact that OFW remittances have helped much in propping up the homeland economy battered incessantly by government corruption and inefficiency earn for the former the tag "Modern Heroes." But not all things are rosy and the adverse effects include family ties and lives destroyed.

The Labor Code of the Philippines provides penalties for offenses committed in connection with the foreign labor market and there are agencies like the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE), the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA), the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA), and a medical care program to safeguard and protect the best interests of OFWs. But OFWs continue to suffer, illegal recruiters proliferate and rules and prohibitions circumvented with schemes of ghost loans, cash advances, double contracts, and who knows what else. Why?

The case of a single OWWA officer, Alberto Adonis Duero, posted in Los Angeles could provide a glimpse of what ills Philippine bureacracy. With no resources and no fund at hand, Duero supposedly has jurisdiction in more than 20 countries including the entire United States. Among the problems that currently occupy him are the case of distressed OFWs in Haiti and Cuba, and the 300 teachers and victims from Mississippi mentioned above.

His request for funding to cover the food and accommodation requirements of the latter while their case and immigration status are being threshed out by US authorities has been denied. In addition he is now in hot water reportedly because higher-ups didn't want the story of the victims to be known to the community. He also had the gumption to write to his superior, Secretary Rosalinda Baldoz of DOLE, reiterating his "request for an immediate investigation of the illegal recruitment activities by several agencies and individuals in the Philippines and to revisit the direct hire policy of POEA."

The scrapping of direct hiring is one of the demands that HongKong OFWs and the Migrante advocacy group are urging President Noynoy to do. Duero said that the direct hire policy is the root cause of all these problems pertaining to illegal recruitment and alleged human trafficking of Filipino workers. Suddenly Duero's LA posting is cut short and he may be sent back to the Philippines before the year ends. This turn of events, as well as the arrogant and rude manner Pinas News columnist Pex Aves was treated in the consulate while following up the victims' story, gave rise to the intriguing questions: What is it that some in the Philippine officialdom is trying to hide? Are some of them involved in the multi-million illegal recruitment syndicates? -- Dionesio C. Grava

Dionesio C. Grava - Part-time community journalist based in Los Angeles and editorial writer at Forum Asia.

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