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Year after 9/11: What of the OFWs?
One thing that keeps us migrant Filipinos on our toes is the news.
Aside from green mangoes, bagoong and tuyô, we crave endlessly for news from our families, updates about the country, developments in the government, or the lack of it, life back home. That is why family videos, voice tapes, letters and even old newspapers never get dust. The advance in information technology and the growing use of the internet have provided overseas Filipinos breaking news every minute. Reading and hearing the news is like being in it. It’s like you are there. Being a former migrant worker myself, I know how it is, mga kababayan.
However, it is different when you are the one in it.

“...One million five hundred thousand overseas Filipino workers in the Middle East are likely to be affected once the United States fires its guns on Iraq...”

The United States government, under President George W. Bush, is hell-bent in attacking Iraq. Under the tutelage of its global war against terrorism, it shall inflict the gravest of harm on Saddam Hussein and all those who support him. Tagged as a rogue state by the U.S., Iraq recently experienced a spray of bombs and bullets from swift military planes of the U.S. and Great Britain.
Although only 144 Filipinos live in Iraq, most of whom are in Northern Baghdad, I cannot for one discount the possibility of more than 1.5 million overseas Filipino workers to be affected by the war. Saudi Arabia, just south of Iraq, is home not only to more than 800,000 OFWs but the largest U.S.-operated military bases in the Middle East. Among other countries, Israel has more than 200,000 Filipinos working there. Likely that it, too, being a staunch ally of the U.S., will launch its own independent attacks.

“...Belgian police raided 19 houses the next dawn, arresting Honorato Calacapa and 29 other Filipino migrants...”
“...Among those unfairly targeted and inhumanely treated were William Manalastas and his family, an initial batch of 63 deported Filipinos...”

What do Honorato Calacapa and William Manalastas have in common?
Honorato Calacapa and 29 other Filipinos in Brussels were rounded up one early morning in September 20, 2001, a few days after the World Trade Center (WTC) incident, detained for more than eight hours, denied their right to a lawyer, had their documents confiscated, interrogated and harassed.
William Manalastas, on the other hand, was one of the 63 undocumented Filipinos termed as Absconders, who were detained for violations of their immigration status and deported back to the Philippines. For thirteen hours on the plane, their hands, waists and feet were cuffed limiting their moves, to the point of eating their meals with their faces.
Honorato and William are just two of the many overseas Filipinos who have experienced suppression and crackdown from their host countries. Their nationality, no less than their skin color, has given them away to the state-sponsored crackdown on immigrants. All these after the World Trade Center bombings.
The U.S. government led the way with its own Absconder Apprehension Program that essentially tags immigration status violators as possible terrorists. Under their list of roughly 316,000 names are 100,000 Filipinos bound to be arrested, detained for an indefinite period of time and experience the same fate as the last 63. The U.S. Embassy in the Philippines has divulged that more than 4,000 Filipinos have already been deported back here.
Several other countries followed suit with the implementation of their own anti-terrorism bills. Malaysia for one has cramped, harassed and deported more than 3,000 Filipinos from Sabah to Mindanao since December, 2001. Documented are cases of women raped and sexually assaulted by Malaysian police. Seventeen children, some barely a year old, have died of starvation or dehydration.
In Korea, 14,000 undocumented Filipinos who registered in the new amnesty program of the Korean government are forced to leave the country until March, 2003. Italy, Hong Kong and Israel have threatened to send back more than 200,000 undocumented Filipinos.
Stereotypes, racism, xenophobia, name-calling and unjust targeting of immigrant groups are the reality of the US anti-terrorist campaign. All these episodes have put the lives of our kababayan under constant fear of being branded as terrorists or enemies of the U.S. government.
The Philippines, for one, is one of the terrorist-infested countries in Asia, as specified by the U.S. government. It is imminent that after its war on Iraq, the warmongering snakehead of the U.S. will escalate further its presence and military intervention on the Philippines.
The Philippine government, meanwhile, approves of all these as it throws back its 100% support to the Bush administration. That is why it pushed for Balikatan 02-1 and then later, the signing of the MLSA (Military and Logistical Support Agreement). What miniscule contingency programs it has for the Filipino migrants being deported, it compensates with permitting the U.S. government to use our airbase for their war against Iraq.

“...Adelina Cunanan and Rebecca Ruga, the two Filipina caregivers who were killed in the recent suicide bombing in Israel...”

The U.S. war is imminent and is taking its toll not only on the people of the countries they wish to target but of all other overseas Filipinos working in those regions.
It is not a simple issue of proximity as opposed to the statements of the Philippine government. The distance between countries will not deduce the chances or effects of the war on innocuous areas.
As days pass after the World Trade Center, the statistics of Filipinos being deported, harassed, assaulted and dehumanized increase at an alarming rate. Filipinos are not simply tagged as terrorists. They are treated like one and made to suffer like one.
The U.S. war spells displacement for many Filipinos. Displacement from their country. Displacement from their jobs. Displacement from their sources of livelihood.
Taking the cue from the Gulf War of the 90s, Filipinos overseas have time and again stood up against the atrocious and equally terroristic war of the United States. While others have not been remunerated or compensated, while others have been deprived of jobs and livelihood, while others have been forced back to the country, many of us remained standing.
News such as this one did not push us down to our knees. Rather, it kept us standing on our toes. #

(Comments are most welcome! Please send it to rdpmig@nsclub.net)

Mr Gratela has been the Secretary General of the Migrante International, an organization deeply involved in the struggle of OFWs, since 1996.

Back home, you can still claim unpaid salary and benefits from your foreign employer
Here is a GUIDE which is simply designed to readily remove OFW worries over the how, where, what, when and why on money claims.
Wrongly or mistakenly accused agencies can find this useful, too. This guide is bound by the due process requirement of the law. Legalism is minimized but cannot altogether be eliminated. It does not detail the entire National Labor Relations Commission (NLRC) Rules of Procedure.

WHO, WHAT & WHEN OF MONEY CLAIMS. You are an OFW or a migrant worker if you are (1) yet an applicant worker but was promised or assured of employment overseas, and acting on such promise or assurance, you sustained damage and/or injury; (2) is engaged, or employed, or (3) has been engaged or employed abroad.
Your money claim can cover unpaid salary and benefits, RA #8042 mandated payments for illegally terminated contracts, and damages. It has to be filed within three years from their accrual. It may be filed against the deploying recruiting/manning agencies, and/or their officers with the foreign employer and principal because of their joint and solidary liability.

WHERE DO YOU FILE YOUR MONEY CLAIMS? The NLRC Rules give the OFW two choices: with the NLRC RAB or Regional Arbitration Branch (1) where the OFW resides, or (2) where the principal office of the recruiting/manning agency is situated.
If you need advice, you may visit first the NLRC-MWD or Migrant Workers Desk at Room 403 of the NLRC Office at PPSTA Bldg., #4, Banawe comer Florentino Streets (near Quezon Avenue), Quezon City, or any NLRC-RAB-MWD.

TIP. To make accurate the date on your complaint, secure the official details of your overseas contract and your agency from the POEA Records (5th Floor) and Licensing Branch (4th Floor), respectively.

HOW TO FILE CLAIM? (sample area: NCR) OFWs can file their claim with the Complaints Section of NLRC NCR at the Ground Floor of PPSTA Building.
Get a complaint form from the Complaint Section and fill it up. There are officers to assist the OFW. Have the completed Complaint notarized by the Administrative Officer in or near the same Complaint Section, free of charge.
The Complaint is docketed or listed and numbered as a CASE. (The OFW henceforth is the COMPLAINANT) The case is now raffled openly to a Labor Arbiter who shall hear and decide the case. (There are about 50 Labor Arbiters in NCR.)
The OFW proceeds to the sala/office of the Labor Arbiter and ask from the staff the date of the initial mandatory conciliation conference(s). Thereafter, the complainant can leave (go home) to return on the scheduled meeting.
This process may take less than an hour, depending on the number of other litigants or complainants, or what is called volume of work considering that NLRC-NCR receives on the averages 10 to 11 OFW cases daily, aside from the numerous local cases totaling to about 30 cases per Labor Arbiter per month.
The staff of the Labor Arbiters sends summons, which is the order/notice of the complaint with the dates of the conferences or hearings, to the respondent or the one being complained of.

NLRC CASE FLOW FROM THE LABOR ARBITERS. In the mandatory conciliation conferences, issues are simplified and parties are encouraged to settle their case amicably. Should the efforts fail, parties are directed/ordered to submit pleadings. Hearings are conducted only if necessary. The Labor Arbiter decides.
The decision of the Labor Arbiter, when not appealed, becomes final and executory. If the claim is dismissed, the case is terminated. If the claim is granted, that is, the OFW wins, the decision shall be executed.
To execute a decision, the winning party must file a motion for a Writ of Execution, for which the Labor Arbiter issues the Writ ordering a Sheriff to carry out the decision. The Sheriff shall then proceed to the losing party who may opt to immediately pay.
Otherwise, the Sheriff shall garnish the agency’s available cash bond with the POEA Cashier, escrow deposit with a bank and the surety bond with a bonding company. If these are not enough, the Sheriff may go after the properties of the agency/respondent officer/s for the entire judgment award plus execution fee, the total value of which shall be deposited with the NLRC Cashier, who releases the award to the OFW, upon motion.
The Sheriff reports the execution result to the Labor Arbiter within 30 days from receipt of the writ. If within that period the full execution is not over, the Labor Arbiter may issue another writ called Alias Writ of Execution upon Motion of the winning party.
The decision of the Labor Arbiter, if appealed cannot as yet be considered final. The appeal is filed with the same NLRC Branch where the case was filed but addressed to the NLRC Commission, with payment of proper appeal fees and/or filing of appeal or supersedeas bond, which shall be in effect until the final disposition of the case, and joint declaration by the
employer and his council that the bond posted is genuine and shall be in effect until the disposition in the case.
The appeal together with the entire records of the case is forwarded to the Division of the Commission having jurisdiction over the RAB. Hence, records of cases with the appealed decisions of the Labor Arbiters in the Luzon RABs are sent for raffle to the First, Second and Third Divisions of the Commission, which are holding offices at the NLRC office in Banawe, Quezon City; in the Visayas, to the Fourth Division in Cebu City; and in Mindanao, to the
5th Division in Cagayan de Oro. Each Division of the NLRC has three Commissioners who review the case on appeal, after it is raffled to them. Their decisions are reached in consultation.
As a rule, the decision/resolution of the Commission on the appealed decision becomes final after 10 calendar days from receipt of the parties.
Any of the parties however, can file a Motion for Reconsideration (MR) on the decision of the Commission but only on palpable or clear errors. The Resolution of the MR becomes final and executory after 10 calendar days from receipt of the parties. Thereafter, the decision is recorded in the Book of Entry of Judgments (this is called Entry of Judgement), and the entire records of the case is sent back to the Labor Arbiter of origin for execution.
A party can ask the Court of Appeals (and after, the Supreme Court) to review the case by way of Certiorari. When the decision of the higher Court becomes final and executory, there shall be an entry of judgment, and the entire records of the case shall be sent back to the Labor Arbiter of origin through the Commission. Thereafter, the Labor Arbiter will proceed with the execution of the final decision and/or the termination of the case by archiving the records, as the case may be.
Under the NLRC New Rules of Procedure parties to a case can at any stage of the proceeding, amicably settle their case. This is notwithstanding the failed efforts in the initial mandatory meetings before the Labor Arbiter.

(Queries can be e-mailed to balikbayan_magazine@hotmail.com)

Atty. Lora is a labor arbiter and head of the Migrant Workers Desk of the NLRC.

SWAPI – Promoting family values through the years
(SWAPI is the Seamen’s Wives Association of the Philippines, Inc. to which Mrs. Gomez is a member and officer. Below, she gives a background of her organization and its role. The topics for her succeeding columns will be about SWAPI’s efforts to help seamen’s wives and other activities of the group. Wives and relatives of land-based workers abroad can also get advices and tips from this column. - Ed)

The Seamen’s Wives Association of the Philippines, Inc. (SWAPI), is a non-stock organization of wives of Filipino seamen. Mother, sister, and other female relatives designated by the seamen as their allottees also compose the group.
SWAPI was organized on December 30, 1978, in Parañaque City, Metro Manila, with the general objective of meeting the social and psychological needs of its members. It aims to unite the wives of seamen throughout the country and foster understanding, cooperation, and camaraderie among them. It promotes friendship and oneness in times of calamities such as fire, typhoon and flood, as well as in sickness and death. It helps solve members’ problems related to their husband's employment on board foreign vessels.
In January 1995, the Board of Directors expanded its vision, which focused on personal adjustment, solo parenting, coping up with temporary separation blues and home management. The new vision, mission and goals reinforce the value and relevance of previous service.
The new vision focuses on responsible parenting and active participation of the seamen's
wives in the development and improvement of family life, specifically in the moral, spiritual, economic, social, health, educational, and psychological aspects.
The mission is to provide opportunities to members in the development of their talents and skills and to assist them achieve a wholesome family life.
The goals are to assist and guide members in meeting the problems that hinder their progress, encourage them to continue their service and promote responsible parenthood.
There are certain requirements for joining SWAPI. First, one must have a good intention in joining the association. Concern and personal commitment is basic to membership.
Second, she must be the legal spouse of an active seaman. The mother, sister or any other female relatives designated by the unmarried seaman as his allottee can join SWAPI as a special member.
To join, apply personally at the SWAPI office or to any authorized member-recruiter, pass a short personal interview by the recruiting officer and fill up the bio-data sheet together with the appli-
cation forms. The SWAPI office at Room 219 Administration Bldg., Pope Pius XII Catholic Center, 1175 UN Avenue, Manila or at 314 Abbey Road, Goodwill 3 Village, Dr. A. Santos Avenue, Sucat, Parañaque City.
Passing applicants have to submit two 2"x2" or passport size photos and one ID size photo.
She must pay the membership fee of P500 that will entitle her to receive a Membership Certificate, ID card and all membership benefits. She must also pay annual dues of P300
to cover up miscellaneous expenses and monthly office rental.
Passing applicants are also required to attend a seminar on credit cooperative and values formation.
SWAPI conducts seminars, conferences, conventions and congresses beneficial to members. For example, health care seminars teach members the right approach on how not to hurt their partners in discussing awareness and prevention of sexually transmitted diseases, especially HIV/AIDS. Other seminars discourage pre-marital sex and advocates natural family planning.
SWAPI conducts livelihood seminars that teach members business skills to help wives earn.
In SWAPI our eyes were really opened to the intricacies of life and we learned to solve it religiously through shared responsibility, which is the key to making a happy family. Shared responsibility begins with the couple - the husband and the wife. Because of the distant and temporary relationship of seafarers’ families, the husband and the wife should have as guiding principles of relationship faith, action, loyalty and love. If these principles are met, it will always result to a happy, healthy and successful marriage.

Mrs. Gomez is the national vice president of the SWAPI and president of the SWAPI NCR chapter. She is a radio and TV talent, a resource person for AOS seminars and customs broker. She is a recipient of the 2002 Outstanding Lady Executive Leader of the Year Award and the 1996 Seaman’s Wife of the Year Award.

SEX BOMB GIRLS. Fourteen boob-tube babes would like to help fight lawlessness and evil in our crime-infested communities. How are they going to do it if they have superpowers?

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