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Ofelia Castro Hudson a Human Trafficker or victim of Frame-Up?

One of the social cancers affecting our labor force and people are the activities of ILLEGAL RECRUITERS AND ILLICIT HUMAN TRAFFICKERS in our midst. They are not only physically violent to their victims at times, they are always spiritually destructive of their human prey. These MODERN SLAVE TRADERS must be purged with finality wherever they may be found. And it is this light that we ought to support our government on all its initiatives to control if not put an end to this socio-economic evil.

But there is something equally abhorrent and repulsive as these modern slave traders and it arises when those who are lawfully tasked to eradicate illegal recruitment and illicit human trafficking become OPPRESSIVE and ARROGANT THEMSELVES, ignoring the fundamental rights of people to due process and fair play, in carrying out their statutory mandate to purge these evils.

When this happens, the ennobling purpose of a laudable governmental agency is obscured and what comes out is another OGRE in our midst, equally vicious than the criminal enterprise it seeks to eliminate though more odious than the first because it is now coated with the veneer of a law. To my mind, how the recently revived PRESIDENTIAL TASK FORCE ON ANTI-ILLEGAL RECRUITMENT, through its co-chair and current Secretary of Labor, Rosalinda Baldoz, handled the unverified complaints of some unknown OFWS against Acting Phil. Labor Attaché to Kuwait , MS. OFELIA CASTRO HUDSON, best illustrates this situation.

One need not be a lawyer or even a college graduate to see how UNJUSTLY Ms. Hudson’s affair was handled by PTFAIR.

Consider the following uncontroverted facts:

  1. Sometime on May 5, 2011, the Philippine media came out with sensational reports that UNKNOWN COMPLAINANTS had seen Ms. Hudson accepting money and gifts from employment agencies;
  2. That as a consequence thereof, some OFWs who were seeking refuge at the OWWA halfway house in Kuwait were allegedly forced to work for employers they have not consented to.;
  3. That this act of Ms. Hudson constitute Illicit Human Trafficking,
  4. In reaction to these news items, the PTFAIR , through Secretary of Labor, Rosalinda Baldoz, issued an order recalling Ms. Hudson to the Philippines to ANSWER AND FACE THE CHARGES AGAINST HER AT THE PROPER FORUM at the home office;
  5. This recall order was issued with neither a copy of any of the complaints ever been given to Ms. Hudson nor the identity of any of the alleged complainants revealed to her;
  6. this recall order was arrived at and issued without providing Ms. Hudson any chance to refute any of these allegations;
  7. this recall order, immediately coming out on the heels of the highly sensationalized news item on the alleged involvement of Ms. Hudson on human trafficking, created a pervasive public perception of guilt over the person of Ms. Hudson;
  8. this recall order was issued in total disregard of the 22 years of sterling and faithful record of service to the public rendered by Ms. Hudson;
  9. This recall order clearly ignored Ms. Hudson’s untarnished record for the last 9 years, rendered in the service of our OFWS not only in Jordan but in Kuwait, as well, in view of the fact that except for these unverified and unsubstantiated alleged complaints from some unknown persons, she is yet to face a similar or related complaint then or now,
  10. No less than the current Philippine Ambassador to Kuwait, the Honorable Shulan O. Primavera attests to her high moral standard, as an effective and competent public servant, in the service of our distressed OFW, in his letter of support to Ms. Hudson dated May 14, 2011 to Secretary of labor, Rosalinda Baldoz, requesting for the cancellation of that Recall Order for being unjust and counter-productive of the best interest of our people in Kuwait.
The OFW and other members of the Filipinos in Diaspora or the Overseas Filipino Nation have proven themselves to be one of the great foundations of our national survival amidst decades of corruption in our government and mismanagement of its economic policies. It is for this reason that I fully support the unrelenting fight of our grateful nation to protect and defend the interest and persons of our Overseas Filipino Workers. For that matter alone, I fully agree with our national policy to purge all evils, wherever they are found and whenever legally practicable, that victimize our hapless OFWS. For the same reason, we laud the government of Pres. Aquino for reviving the PTFAIR.

But on the same breath, we CONDEMN THE SUMMARY STYLE conviction of Ms. Ofelia Castro Hudson by way of that Recall Order. She was never given a chance to explain her side on the issue before that recall came out. How could she do so, in the first place? She was neither given nor informed of any of the complaints against her nor was any of the complainants ever presented or revealed to her before her Recall Order was issued. ITO BA ANG “DAANG MATUWID “?

I am fully aware that this iconic battle cry of Pnoy’s administration stands on the primacy in our society of the Rule of Law. But what rule of law are we talking about here when Ms. Hudson was convicted first by the media and in its wake, sustained by no less than the Secretary of Labor and Co –Chair of PTFAIR, Rosalinda Baldoz, when she came out with that recall order? What was the basis of the Recall Order? Was the Recall Order issued after an investigation was conducted on the matter? Who conducted the investigation and how was it conducted? If these questions remain unanswered, it would not be surprising to see the iconic DAANG MATUWID of Pnoy be littered with innocent victims of “summary executions” starting with the carcass of Ms. Ofelia Castro Hudson's honor and unblemished public service record! Are we witnessing the revival of the much hated Rule by Law of the previous administration, where the letter of legal edicts reigned supreme over the spirit and benign intent of the law?

I will not pass judgment on the intention of the complainants whoever they are. I am sure these complainants are ordinary people and good spirited workers from the Philippines but still, our heroes no less. Yet, heroes or not, the minimum requirements of due process and fair play should have been observed, notwithstanding that this is a Presidential Task Force! The veracity of their complaints should have been verified first to determine whether they are frivolous or not. If the preliminary inquiry finds the complaint or complaints to be meritorious, then a copy of which should have been given to Ms. Hudson for her comment and rebuttal. And after which, Ms. Hudson’s should have been ordered to file her comment/answer to the complaint/s she received. With the complaint/s and answer having been filed, we could say at this point that the issues are joined. Then and only then could Secretary Rosalinda Baldoz decide on the issue and come out. if need be, with the Recall Order to Ms. Hudson, directing her to return to Manila to answer before the proper forum a complaint for illegal trafficking or illicit recruitment. Without this preliminary inquiry, how do we know that these complaining OFWS were not mistaken in their perception of the alleged wrong done by Ms. Hudson? Arguably, it is highly possible that these unverified complaints of unknown complainants were irresponsibly reported by our media or even distorted, if only to gain more media mileage for those concerned in view of the fact that the news item is one emotionally laden topic, near and dear to the hearts of OFW all over the world, their families, relatives and friends in the Philippines.

How do we know that these complaints have not been hijacked by unscrupulous and criminal individuals who, because of the lure of easy money, would grab any opportunity to destroy a sincere initiative of the government to protect and defend the interest of our OFW? How do we know that the media were not manipulated regarding these complaints so as to tar or worst, demolish the integrity of dedicated public servants, faithful to the interest and well-being of the OFW and country?

By issuing that Recall Order to Ms. Hudson, without giving her any opportunity to defend herself from the accusations raised against her by some unknown persons, ARE WE NOT TELLING EVERYONE , including those criminal elements, that all they have to do TO NEUTRALIZE, if not eliminate at all, a dedicated public officer, who stands steadfast on the side of the law and the interest of our OFW and who blocks their criminal intentions on our unwary OFWS , is simply to raise a complaint against this public officer and leak the same to the media?

Finally, it appears that this Recall Order would leave the Philippine Consulate WITHOUT three KEY frontline personnel’s who service the needs of our OFW and people at the Philippine Embassy in Kuwait because the recall order of Ms. Hudson coincides with the scheduled departure of the current Labor Attaché and the Welfare officer of the embassy. And as I understand it, these vacancies will occur in the midst of the planned expatriation by the Philippine Embassy in Kuwait of some 200 OFW currently sheltered at FWRC and the processing of more than 6, 000 OFW who wish to avail of the Amnesty Program of the Kuwaiti govt. In the light of the possible exigencies created by these vacancies and the multifaceted tasks expected from the repatriation of several thousands OFW, I could only surmise that the Recall Order could have been prompted only by more compelling evidence and reasons on the guilt of Ms. Hudson. What then could this compelling evidence and reason found by PTFAIR that necessitated the issuance of the subject Recall Order and consequential reduction of key personnels of the Philippine Embassy in KUWAIT EVEN AT A TIME OF A FORSEEN GREAT NEED OF KEY PERSONNEL by the embassy, arising from the forthcoming expatriation of thousands of OFW to the Phillipines? NONE ! WHY ? It is precisely because the Recall Order was issued summarily, without any reasonable prior investigation , and evidently, as a knee jerk reaction to an otherwise popular issue to OFW all over the world and their families, relatives and friends in the Philippines!

I do not know Ms. Ofelia Castro Hudson personally. I only had 3 occasions to interact with her. The first was when I met her for the first time sometime in October 2010, during the introduction of the volunteer lawyers of the Filipino American Legal Defense and Education Fund (FALDEF) to the FILAM community leaders and organizations of the American Eastern Seaboard at the official residence of then Con. Gen. Cecile Rebong in New York City. The second time was when the plight of a certain distressed Filipina OFW, who was working in Kuwait, sought my help last April 26, 2011 upon the advice of a common friend in FB, Susan Rubicon Caro, from Saudi Arabia. This distressed Filipina OFW was complaining about her working conditions and intimated to me that she would like leave her place of work. As this type of problem was alien to the nature of our work at FALDEF, I sought advice from Consul Zaldy Patron of the Philippine Consulate General in New York It was from that meeting with Consul Patron that I remembered Ms. Ofelia Castro Hudson of the Philippine Embassy in Kuwait. I contacted Ms. Hudson on April 29, 2011 and on May 4, 2011 and brought fully to her attention the problem of this Filipina in distress from Kuwait. By May 10, 2011, the Filipina in distress was obviously safe and over her nightmares from her problems in Kuwait when she sent a message in FB thanking me for my help. I understand she was repatriated and is now in the Philippines as of this writing. I have records of this event on file.

I have nothing personal against Secretary of Labor and PTFAIR Co-Chair, Rosalinda Baldoz. I do not know her from Adam. What I truly condemn and vehemently detest is the manner the complaint/s against Ms. Ofelia Castro Hudson was handled and treated. It was oppressive, unjust, and unfair and smacks of arrogance. While I am aware that our OFW have been victimized in so many instances by those who ought to be responsible for their well-being and safety as well as by those whom we expect to protect them because of shared aspirations and being in solidarity with their plight, we must equally recognize and should not forget that it was also the untold, selfless dedication and devotion to their duties by the men and women of our consular offices in foreign lands, in the service of our OFW and other members of Oversea Filipino Nation, THAT SOMEHOW ENABLED our OFW to withstand the hardship and endure the sacrifice of working, away from their loved ones, in an alien, distant land with its different clime and culture, including decades of neglect and mistreatment by foreign employers and by their own national government. Needless to say, it is not only fair and just but also RIGHT and PROPER that both, the members of our OFW sector and our consular officers and employees in foreign lands, OUGHT TO BE TREATED with parity or equality under the laws of our grateful nation and people.

And after almost a decade of living under a regime of Rule by Law, we all shouldl know by now that equality or parity of treatment under the laws of the land could only be secured by strict observance, among others, of the right of every person to due process and equal protection of law, whether he/she be a lowly OFW or an Acting Labor Attaché or a mighty Department Secretary and Co-Chair of the Presidential Task Force Against Illegal Recruitment.

In the interest of justice, a level playing field and that moral defining spirit behind our government’s policy of maintaining a “MATUWID NA DAAN”, PTFAIR should cancel its Recall Order issued through its Co-Chair, Secretary Rosalinda Baldoz of DOLE,for being unfair, unjust and oppressive, and give Ms. Ofelia Castro Hudson, of the Philippine Embassy in Kuwait a level playing field. It is simply the right thing to do and the only way for PTFAIR to reclaim its mandate and right to seek and establish the " MATUWID NA DAAN ".

Emerito F. Salud - A lawyer from the Ateneo law School ' 73, a member of the NY Bar since 1994, a FILAM community activist, a radio-commentator of RadioPinoy USA, he is currently the VP for External Affairs, FALDEF and Director for Advocacy of NaFFAA REgion 1. He is also a member of the NJ Chapter-Movement for Free Philippines, founded by the late Senator Raul Manglapus, and a founding member of Kaibigan Inc., based at the Port of Newark, NJ, a support group for Filipino merchant mariners (seamen).

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