Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Demand for Government Help to Deported Filipinos

by Ediza A. Pumarada, SLA

On August 27, 2013, a dialogue with government agencies was organized to probe on the case of the 75 Filipino deported from Japan last July 6, 2013. The dialogue was facilitated by the Episcopal Commission for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (ECMI-CBCP) in partnership with the Catholic Commission of Japan Migrants, Refugees and People on the Move (JCARM) of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Japan (CBCJ).  

The JCARM organized a fact finding mission headed by Rev. Fr. Resty  Ogsimer, Cs, with  some lay missionaries, and  leaders of migrant NGOs in Japan due to the alarming reports they received  of the  inhumane treatment during the deportation.  Particularly, they wanted to understand the protocols in the deportation processes from-and-to the country; especially because this is the first ever mass deportation from Japan unannounced to the deportees so they were caught unprepared. The 9-man team or fact-finding mission would also want to ensure that welfare services are available and provided to the deportees.

Under the new regulation of Japan, migrants who stayed for more than three years without valid and acceptable documents cannot circumvent the required fine, imprisonment, or worst, deportation.   Once deported, one has to wait after five years for the possibility of going back, and be accepted once more in Japan. 
The 75 Filipino deportees from Japan were held as undocumented migrants. These Filipinos were tormented by fears when Japanese government started to implement the new immigration law. Most of them were incarcerated for months others for years before their mass deportation. 

Allegedly, male deportees have experienced being dragged, and handcuffed like case-hardened criminals when dispatched to the chartered plane.  Most of the 75 deportees have lived, and established their lives in Japan for more than two decades, and some do not have immediate family in the Philippines.  Others have children left behind in Japan, and worst, without preparation, they have nothing to start with in the Philippines in terms of their economic needs.   

The Department of Foreign Affairs’ office of the Undersecretary for Migrant Workers Affairs (DFA-OUMWA), Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA), Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA), Commission on Filipinos Overseas (CFO) were the government agencies represented in the dialogue. Also present were representatives from local migrant NGOs like Development Action for Women Network (DAWN), Philippine Migrants Rights Watch (PMRW), BATIS, Balik Buhay Service Cooperative, and some representatives of the 75 deportees.   
The DFA-OUMWA said that the deportation was confirmed to them two days prior to the scheduled date.   Allegedly, within that short period, the agency has managed to negotiate with the Japan authorities to exclude in the deportation those Filipinos with established family ties in Japan, resulting to the reduced number of deportees.  From the initial listings of 100 individual deportees, it was reduced to 75 individuals accounting to 54 males, 13 females, and 8 children.   

On the issue of rights violation and inhumane treatment of deportees, DFA-OUMWA explained that handcuffing is part of the Japan process of deporting foreign nationals. Moreover, it assured the Church and the NGOs that the agency has haggled with the Japan authorities to observe humane and dignified protocols on deportation, and have asked to exempt from handcuffs the women and children; and that handcuffs of the males be removed when the plane entered the Philippine air space, which was contrary to the claims of other deportees that cuffs were only removed 30 minutes before their landing.

The DSWD was in-charge to receive and assist, de-brief, counsel, and provide medical assistance to the deportees, and to facilitate their safe travel back to their respective homes.  Although the initial assistance were delivered, the fact-finding team demanded for a more pro-active and relevant response. The team found out that after more than a month, deportees have not yet receive any form of economic assistance.   Other government agencies present have also committed to look into the possibilities that their agency could assist the deportees in terms of employment, and economic reintegration.

With the utmost desire not to repeat the same ordeals narrated by many of the Filipino deportees, since there are still more than a hundred undocumented Filipinos inside the Japan immigration detention centers,  the JCARM of the CBCJ thru its 9-man team, together with the ECMI-CBCP has issued a joint statement underscoring the following: 

WE DEMAND that the Japanese government 
1) Respect the deportees’ rights to access family and legal assistance before deportation; 2) Prohibit excessive use of handcuffs to manage the deportees because it is an act of torture and humiliation; 3) provide proper medical attention with a reference to the hospitals in the Philippines.

WE also DEMAND that the Filipino government     
1) extends its support to fulfil urgent needs of the 75 undocumented migrants; 2) help those undocumented who wish to remain in Japan  acquire legal status; 3) provide an accessible and tangible reintegration program designed for undocumented workers. 



Monday, September 2, 2013

Initial Recommendations of Civil Society and OFW Advocates to the Senate Blue Ribbon and Labor committees

Initial Recommendations of Civil Society and OFW Advocates to the Senate Blue Ribbon and Labor committees, the Department of Foreign Affairs and the Department of Labor and Employment, from civil society groups and individual OFW advocates regarding complaints versus overseas personnel:


Prior to the convening of a series of hearings in the Senate on the alleged sex-for-flight complaints against certain labor officials, a group of OFW advocates belonging to various organizations sought civil society’s involvement in the investigative panel. This suggestion was politely declined by the DFA, while the DoLE through the Office of the Secretary failed to even acknowledge our letter.

Despite this initial setback, our collective call for reforms in the delivery of onsite protective and welfare services to our OFWs continues. Our group is composed of the following:

Philippine Migrant Rights Watch (PMRW) led by Ms. Carmelita Nuqui
Blas F. Ople Policy Center led by Ms. Susan V. Ople
Filipino Migrant Workers’ Group (FMWG) led by Mr. Jun Aguilar
Pinoy Expats/OFW Blog Awards (PEBA) led by Mr. Kenji Solis
LBS Recruitment Solutions (LBS) led by Mr. Lito Soriano
KAMPI and Kabalikat ng OFWs led by Mr. Luther Calderon

Our recommendations are the following:

1.     To Prevent Ticket Anomalies:
o   Proper orientation of OFWs particularly to those in Bahay Kalinga shelters re government procedures in the availment of air tickets for distressed OFWs;
o   All departing OFWs must have a full briefing on the coverage of their mandatory insurance policies as paid for by the recruitment agencies;
o   The POEA and Insurance Commission must ensure that all departing OFWs have a copy of their insurance policy as paid for by their recruitment agency and that such policy should be in the OFW’s name; there should be a dedicated hotline that these workers can call in case such information/copy of policy was not given;
2.     For the Empowerment of OFWs especially Household Workers:
o   Stiffer penalties for PDOS providers and recruitment agencies that encourage and even facilitate non-appearance of departing OFWs, by issuing bogus certificates of attendance.
o   All personnel to be assigned overseas particularly in countries with a high concentration of Filipino domestic workers must undergo gender sensitivity classes, learn basic counseling skills, and victims’ assistance training geared specifically towards promoting the rights and welfare of abused women particularly those engaged in domestic work and/or victims of human trafficking;
o   All rape and sexual harassment cases involving domestic workers must be immediately reported by the POLO to the Head of Post and Assistance-to-Nationals Unit and vice-versa, with regular case conferences to be convened until such cases are deemed resolved; moreso if such cases involve an embassy staff regardless of which agency/department he or she came from.
o   That the entire Section 40 covering Repatriation Procedures as contained in Administrative Order No. 168 Series of 2013 on the Manual of Operations, Polices and Guidelines for the POLO be included in the PDOS and all other related seminars for OFWs conducted by DOLE and its attached agencies.
o   That a special PDOS for overseas personnel including ambassadors due for posting in the Middle East and other countries with a high number of welfare cases be developed and conducted to include topics about sexual harassment, gender sensitivity, and other women’s concerns.
3.     To Promote Accountability and Transparency at Posts:
o   Amend Administrative Order No. 168 Series of 2013 on the Manual of Operations, Policies and Guidelines for the Philippine Overseas Labor Office (POLO) to reflect the following:
a.       Under Section 5 entitled “One Country Team Approach”, we recommend that the last paragraph be amended to read: “In cases involving criminal and/or police matters and procedures, the POLO shall render assistance at the initial contact with the concerned worker but it shall immediately endorse such cases to the Assistance to Nationals (ATN) section of the Philippine Embassy/Consulate.
b.      That POLOs must include in their monthly report on MWOFRC any complaints emanating from its wards against any embassy personnel and actions taken by the POLOs to report such complaints to the head of post;
o   That the DFA, DoLE and DSWD come up with a joint mechanism onsite and here at home to promote better coordination in handling sensitive cases involving trafficked women, abused domestic workers, and sexual harassment complaints involving embassy personnel; such mechanisms could include regular case conferences, information sharing, and well-coordinated reintegration services for said victims.
o   That all local hires be carefully screened and evaluated on the basis of performance at work and behavior towards overseas Filipino workers; that a common criteria for hiring be adopted by all agencies concerned, alongside a unified compensation package as set by the Department of Foreign Affairs.
o   Inter-agency accounting and reporting of tickets bought, sent, and used as part of repatriation efforts with a unified report to be submitted as part of the requirements of the oversight congressional committees;
o    The DFA and DOLE to jointly come up with Performance Standards, which may include benchmarks on time periods required to resolve cases or complaints or come up with appropriate actions.

o    Institute a feedback and exit evaluation mechanism in government shelters in order to solicit and document OFWs' experience in the shelters and their recommendations for improvements

4.     Reforms Through Legislative-Executive Actions:
o   Increase the number of personnel in so-called “hardship posts” to narrow the gap between embassy staff and clientele particularly in the Middle East; also, review where the funds saved due to the closure of 10 foreign posts went considering the lack of dramatic increase in the number of personnel serving our OFWs in the Middle East.
o   Ensure availability of funds in the 2014 GAA to operationalize the provisions of the law on the assignment of pyshcologists, social workers, and a Shari’a or human rights lawyer in highly problematic countries as categorized by the DFA and DOLE and where there is a high concentration of Filipino migrant workers;
o   Ensure that all ambassadors and other diplomatic personnel to be nominated for confirmation by the Commission on Appointments have undergone a prescribed gender sensitivity course and is duly informed about the anti-sexual harassment act, expanded trafficking in persons law as well as other pertinent laws involving women’s rights;
o   For the executive to have a clearer definition of the One Country Team Approach in operational terms particularly in relation to the handling of cases involving rape and human trafficking victims as well as those abused/maltreated/exploited/harassed by embassy personnel.
o   For the passage of a law or amendment of existing ones specifically on victims’ assistance delineating the roles of every agency/department from deployment to onsite services and finally on reintegration with corresponding budget allocations and staff training components;
o   For amendments to the Anti-Sexual Harassment Act to include acts committed by foreign service personnel including local hires against Filipino overseas workers; and,
o   For all agencies with staff overseas to agree on a Code of Ethics in relation to the delivery of services to overseas Filipino workers particularly those who have sought refuge in Philippine embassies and consulates around the world.
o   For the oversight legislative labor committee to review the operations of the POLO especially in light with the additional powers to be given to it under the revised rules of the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration.

We also call on the Secretaries of the DFA and DOLE to harness the experience and desire of civil society groups and OFW advocates to contribute and encourage reforms in onsite delivery of services through dialogue and the crafting of a sweeping reform agenda for the benefit of our modern-day heroes.

Carmelita Nuqui, PMRW                   Susan Ople, Blas F. Ople Center

Luther Calderon, KAMPI                  Jun Aguilar, FMWG

Kenji Solis, PEBA                               Lito Soriano, LBS Recruitment Solutions