Chapter 1 |
Chapter 2 | Chapter
3 | Chapter 4
President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo is the first Philippine head of
state to admit that the Philippine economy is not yet ready to absorb
the millions of Filipinos working overseas and that they should
continue to work abroad. Previous administrations starting from
the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos who institutionalised the Labour
Export Program (LEP) of the Philippines have time and again stated
that working abroad is only a stopgap measure until the Philippine
economy improves. That was more than twenty six years ago.
Indeed the number of Filipinos working abroad as contract workers
and as immigrants has now reached 10 percent of the entire Philippine
population. The Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) through
its labor representatives abroad has proudly announced that they
are aiming for one million jobs for Filipinos outside of the country
this year. A crux to the LEP is the plan of the government to deregulate
the export of labor. This will only add to the numerous problems
faced by Filipino migrant workers all over the world and in the
Asia Pacific region and will pose greater challenges to the Filipino
Migrants Movement that is strengthening itself these past few years.
The government, through the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration
(OWWA), continues to collect US$25 from each would-be migrant worker
leaving for abroad and renewable for every contract period ostensibly
to assist contract workers who are in distress. Ironically, during
the administration of then President Fidel Ramos, the government
has issued Memorandum Circular No. 41 (MC 41) requiring all contract
workers to pass through private recruitment agencies. Not only were
the migrants charged with excessive placement fees but recruitment
agencies were required to set up their own welfare centres for the
same migrants that they have already earlier exploited.
In effect, the Philippine government has surrendered its responsibility
to provide services to the migrants through OWWA and at the same
time becomes the de-facto protector of crooked recruitment agencies.
This can be seen, for example, in the implementation of the "hands-on
conciliation" that virtually makes recruitment agencies immune from
any prosecution. Instead of prosecuting the placement agencies for
overcharging or as is stipulated in the government's own Migrants
Act as illegal recruitment, Philippine labor representatives abroad
act as mediators between recruitment agencies and complaining migrants.
The poor migrants only get 20-50% of what they paid and are made
to sign waivers by the labor representatives that prohobit them
from filing any other charges against the recruitment agencies.
To add insult to injury, the Philippine labor attach? to Hong Kong
has admitted that the main job of his office is to find markets
for Filipino migrants. That is why it is not surprising to see that
if migrants face problems with their employers or with anti-migrant
policies of host countries, they are met with indifference by their
own government officials. The latest example of this, is that when
30 Filipinos were illegally arrested in Brussels, Belgium, the Department
of Foreign Affairs (DFA) brushed aside the incident and defended
the actions of the Belgian police instead of taking up the cudgels
of its citizens.
There are also the preposterous statements made by Philippine government
officials to the plight of undocumented workers and those of migrants
who did not process their working papers through the Philippine
Overseas Employment Agency (POEA) or through its labor representatives
abroad. The DFA has recently made a statement that if migrants need
to be evacuated in the Middle East in case conflict engulfs other
countries in the area because of US attacks in Afghanistan, there
will be no repatriation funds for undocumented workers. In Macau,
the Philippine Consulate General has said that it can not involve
itself with labor problems involving Filipinos in the enclave because
the workers' contracts did not pass through them.
President Arroyo best exemplifies the Philippine government's attitude
towards what it calls its "New Economic Heroes". She stated that
the Philippine economy will be, for the foreseeable future, heavily
dependent still on oversees workers' remittances. Besides the remittances
that prop-up the bankrupt Philippine economy, the government makes
milking cows of the the migrants by extracting from them various
fees before and even when they are already working abroad.
It is not surprising then that a Filipino migrants movement has
evolved worldwide and in Asia Pacific in particular. This has a
rich and inspiring history and as earlier stated is strengthening
itself. This paper will tell of that history from scattered initiatives
and protests until it became a coordinated movement spawned by years
of patient grassroots organizing. It also tells of the lessons of
that movement both negative and positive that can be used as a guide
in organizing migrants of other nationalities and in many more countries.
Particularly we will show the historical development of organizing
work among Filipino migrants in Hong Kong, Saudi Arabia and South
Korea. The three mentioned countries have a relatively rich experiences
and lessons after years of organizing work of APMMF in these areas.