Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Sex video and abused OFWs

Below is a posting from one of my discussion list, pilipinasforum@yahoogroups.com. The author is a friend working in the Middle East, Cynthia Diaz. Cynthia gave me permission to post this in my blog.

May 21, 2009

Video of an actress involved in consensual sex with her boyfriend show up on the internet and everyone from our president to our senators jump up to be seen expressing their outrage about it. On the other hand, Filipinas are being held as virtual sex slaves by the hundreds in countries in the Middle East and elsewhere and our President shows up in these countries asking for investment, improved trade ties and permission to send more OFWs. I think our sense of proportion here is seriously warped.

I do not want to see more restrictions slapped on our kababayans who seek jobs outside of our country, but I believe our government needs to get serious about immediately stepping in to demand action when there is abuse against them. Unfortunately that only seems to happen when some sordid story happens to inconveniently show up on TV Patrol or in the Inquirer. Then you see ambassadors begin to take action and Loren Legarda personally fly in to jump before the cameras and talk about how dedicated she is to the protection of our OFWs. Afterward they all fly out and the matter is dropped.

Do you guys know that every Philippines embassy in the Middle East has a basement or a few rooms set aside which houses hundreds of “runaway” housemaids and other workers? I remember for a while in Kuwait alone there were over 400 ‘runaways’. While the reasons they run away are diverse, many of the girls end up there after escaping from severe beatings, rapes by their employers or the sons of their employers and even torture. At least those are the lucky ones who have managed to ‘escape’ or who have not ended up as ‘unknown Asian female’ in the cold tray of a morgue.

Even managing to escape to our embassy is not the end of the story for most of these workers since they generally can’t leave the country without passports and in some countries without ‘exit visas’. You see, when a worker comes to many of the countries in the Middle East the first thing their employers do is to confiscate their passports. The passports are not returned until the employer is willing to let the employee go home. A worker’s passport is stamped with a residence permit which designates who the employer is and also has the country entry stamp in it. Even if the Philippines embassy issues a new passport or travel documents to a 'runaway', they will still not be allowed to exit at the airport without the residency stamp and being able to show the original entry stamp. The OFWs are generally advised at the embassy to go back to the house that they managed to escape from and beg for their passport back. If the employer decides to refuse, claims they don’t have the passport, demands a steep ‘fee’ to release the worker, or decides to send the OFW to jail on a trumped up charge, there is nothing they can do.

The matter is further compounded when the employer seeks to protect himself and files some made up charge with the police against the OFW such as having stolen money or abused the children. The word of the local employer is always taken far more seriously than a foreigner from a third world country. Unfortunately this is also codified within Islamic Sharia law in which the testimony by one Muslim man can only be refuted by that of at least two women witnesses. It then becomes even more difficult when the worker’s residence permit expires and then the OFW bis also liable for ‘overstaying’ charges of $10 per day or more depending upon the country. In the end, the OFW is caught in a catch 22 and can only leave if they beg the forgiveness of their employer, pay some exorbitant ‘release fee’ and then pay whatever fines that may have accrued against them. It is either that, or take their changes by appearing in court and possibly being sent to jail, or simply staying in hiding in the basement of the embassy.

Hey, I feel sorry for Katrina Halili, but if our President and Bong Revilla want to be outraged they should come to the Middle East and spend 5 minutes talking to one or two of the hundreds of Filipina “runaways” hiding in the basements of our embassies.

Although this story of "basements for problematic OFWs in every middle east embassy" may be a known thing for many, it was the first time that I heard of such story, that is why I asked Cynthia's permission to post her story.

Top government leaders are among the big-gun parasites who benefit from every single Filipino who work abroad and send back $, Euro, rial, yen, etc. into the country. Even if foreign investments and tourism revenue will decline, there will always be lots of foreign exchange reserves in the central bank and local banks because of OFW remittances.

The remittances come into the economy mainly in the form of private household consumption (C) in the equation, GDP = C + I + G + [X-M].

C comprises about 70% of GDP. So even if investments (I), govt consumption (G) and net exports (X-M) are down but if C is big, GDP will still grow. And malacanang and top govt leaders proclaim that as "economic growth under their administration" .

I think that many Filipinos have high entrepreneurial spirit, thanks to the lesson from Chinese entrepreneurs in the country and in our neighbors in the region (HK, Taiwan, China, Singapore, etc.). But no thanks to various government bureaucraces, taxes and fees that treat start up entrepreneurs as potential criminals with multiple inspections, paper submissions and payment even before they can start a business. So many Filipinos with entrepreneurial potential end up working abroad.


Cynthia Diaz said...

Hi Noy, I came across these comments which I had written some time ago. The problem has not changed and today there are over 125 filipinos residing in the basement of our embassy here in Kuwait. Many local OFWs hold donation drives in support of our forgotten kababayans to provide blankets, clothes and small gifts.

Anonymous said...

This is what happens when a government that has deep rooted corruption has little or no power to create jobs, and foster research and business in its own country; instead takes the easy way of pimping its own people to work in other countries for little or no pay, and to give the false impression the economy is growing. We should all wake up, clean out the corruption, and established a real government.