OFWs in the time of Duterte

Published December 1, 2018, 12:05 AM

by Charissa Luci-Atienza & Bernie Cahiles-Magkilat



Tonyo Cruz
Tonyo Cruz

If we are to believe both the administration and the opposition, the OFWs remain largely loyal to President Duterte. This is one claim they both agree on. One says it is a mandate to do anything, while the other says it means OFWs are partly to blame for everything.

There’s no dispute that Duterte won the majority of the OFW vote. He won fair and square in most countries, and trounced other candidates, especially the administration candidate, in 2016. But we must not forget that only a small minority of the estimated number of  OFWs cast their votes.

Fact is, there has been no fundamental change beneficial to OFWs since Duterte came to power. And we could argue that those who voted for Duterte had been victimized and betrayed by his regime from Day 1. The promised peace and order had not come. Meanwhile, scores of OFWs or their dependents have been extrajudicially killed in Duterte’s war on drugs. Kian delos Santos put a human face to the killings, and it was not lost on the nation that he was a son of an OFW, with his mother rushing back home to bury a son whose safety she had entrusted to Duterte.

Fundamental change for OFWs could mean many things. At the most, they should be coming back by now if there are already many well-paying, regular jobs here at home. But OFWs continue to leave the country. Duterte refuses to challenge the pro-oligarchy “endo” contractualization policy, because he has obviously chosen Big Business over OFWs.

At the minimum, OFWs should be more protected and better served now by the Duterte government. And yet as testimony after testimony of OFWs would tell us, none of that has happened. Employers and brokers worldwide look up to Duterte’s tyranny, and use similar abusive practices against OFWs.

Some in the foreign service have in fact been more tyrannical against OFWs. For example, certain officers of MECO, the country’s proto-embassy in Taipei, use a combination of gossip, leaked details of sworn complaints, and sheer bias against OFWs in Taiwan.  These officers go to Facebook and pit caretakers, fishermen, construction and factory workers against each other.

Duterte has not brought change to MECO. The office refuses to open its doors on Sundays, the day when most OFWs are off from work and thus available to transact business at our proto-embassy. By refusing to have full operations on Sundays — unlike our consulates in Hong Kong and Macau — the MECO not only fails to serve the best interests of OFWs in Taiwan. Worse, it betrays the loyalty of certain MECO officials and staff to the brokers and agents. Because MECO refuses to open on Sundays, they arguably give plenty of business to brokers and agents to whom OFWs pay service fees and charges for transactions they cannot attend to during OFW workdays.

There are many OFWs in Taiwan whose contracts are violated by employers and brokers. They were made to sign contracts for work at certain hours and days, and for certain wages and benefits. In many instances, the contracts are violated. Caretakers in the provinces are enslaved to tend farms or stores, or to clean houses of several families. Fishermen do not receive the agreed-upon benefits like board-and-lodging. The Taiwanese labor ministry receives lots of complaints about these and more — like sexual harassment and other abuses. But when we hear from MECO, everything’s okay because as OFWs would tell us, MECO officers who have links to employers and brokers always try to “bargain” deals with OFWs, telling them to “settle” cases at terms so onerous and unfair. There are reports of OFW rape victims who MECO would rather force to settle for 50,000 Taiwan dollars instead of filing cases in court.

These MECO officers are so sensitive and protective of the good business they share with erring employers and brokers. Lately, they launched a hate campaign against groups such as MIGRANTE-Taiwan which expose abuses and demand government action. Using anti-communist lingo and empty threats of deportation, MECO officials slander OFW leaders who apparently have lots of information about graft and corruption committed by MECO officials, ranging from bribery, extortion and plain treachery to the interests of Filipino citizens working in Taiwan.

And then there’s the situation here in the Philippines where OFWs send their hard-earned wages to. It is not exactly a new paradise, as any garden-variety DDS would tell us. Fares are up, consumption taxes are up, prices of basic goods are up. The fundamentals of the economy have remained the same under Duterte. Others would argue the fundamentals have gone from bad to worse, considering Duterte’s dual allegiance to American and Chinese interests. OFWs and their families will have to pay for the onerous loans given by the Chinese government for years to come.

Many OFWs come from landless peasant families. They are shocked to see news of Duterte giving away to China our islands and seas. They are furious over the massacres and killings of farmers who are deprived of land they could till.

The political opposition should take on the fight of OFWs, and offer them leadership at this time. They should not punish OFWs over the results of the 2016 elections and instead work to earn their trust and confidence. Because like all of us, OFWs are Filipinos too, and they are victims of a president who betrays them and their families’ interests. Otherwise, they needlessly perpetuate the untrue DDS-Dilawan divide, and miss the opportunity to shine light on the national fight against tyranny, disservice, treason, corruption, and abuse.

Lest we forget, OFWs are part of that fight. They dream and work hard so that they can help build a country that’s prosperous and fair — not tyrannical and unfair.