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Repatriation PDF Print E-mail
Apr 27, 2010 at 04:18 AM
ABU DHABI: We are here on the ground in the emirates to help coordinate the mass repatriation of over 600 distressed Filipino workers.

Repatriating our distressed workers is not as simple as it might seem. Each worker to be repatriated has a lot of paper work to be done. They must be cleared of their contractual obligations with their employers. Whatever fines and penalties there are due them need to be negotiated with the authorities. A number of workers will come straight from prison or from hospitals and brought to the airport.

When our workers finally board the planes, the problem is not ended. When they get to Manila, our workers will need support to get to their respective provinces. They will need support to retrain and be fit for employment at home.

This operation is a large one. Workers will be flown home from several points in the Middle East. Five planeloads will be brought in from Jeddah, Riyadh, Qatar, Abu Dhabi and Dubai. Some of the workers will be transferred from Amman in Jordan.

Several government agencies and a host of private companies collaborated closely to make this operation possible. On the part of government, OWWA plays the lead role, in coordination with the DFA, the DOLE, TESDA and others. Although the Development Bank of the Philippines (which I represent) is a government bank, we play the lead role in coordinating private sector support to help underwrite the cost of repatriating our distressed workers.

This is the second time in less than a year that the DBP is involved in mass repatriation of our distressed overseas workers. This is the second time I find myself going around the various Philippine Overseas Labor Office (POLO) sanctuaries in the Middle East, sharing in the jubilation of our workers as they prepare to head home and consoling those in grief.

DBP’s involvement in mass repatriation is almost happenchance. Last year, DBP president Reynaldo David traveled to Oman to receive one of several awards the bank has collected for its environmental and corporate social responsibility programs. On the way back, he was invited to visit the POLO in Dubai. What he saw there staggered him: over a hundred runaway workers crammed in the sanctuary, sleeping in the corridors, with no means to clear their fines and buy tickets to get home. Some of them have been trapped there for over a year.

David brought the matter up with the DBP Board. We decided to return to the community whatever we make from our newly launched remittance business. We cajoled other banks and a few other companies — most generously, San Miguel Corporation — to participate in underwriting the cost of repatriating our workers. The Labor Secretary himself traveled to the Middle East to plead with the authorities and win the cancellation of fines imposed on our runaway workers.

Of all the various nationalities employed in the Middle East, only Filipinos benefit from the full and intensive support of their government and their private sector. No other country has a mass repatriation program like this one. None of the others have overseas labor offices that function as sanctuaries for their distressed workers.

Filipinos overseas appreciate the care extended by their government despite limitation on public resources. They are grateful for the support extended by financial institutions and private corporations. All the work we do to get this massive operation done is more than compensated by the teary, warm reception we get from our workers here.

The one who is really welcomed like a rock star hereabouts is Grace Princesa, our ambassador to the UAE. Grace is a college classmate at the UP. She is tireless, genuinely concerned and profoundly charismatic. She embraces our workers like they were family and gets all of them to sing out their patriotism with so much sentiment. Grace, we will recall, was our diplomat who rescued Sarah Balabagan. She was the last Filipino official out of Baghdad when the invasion happened, caring for the overseas workers until she had to be physically dragged out of hell.

All our workers in the UAE know Grace’s mobile number. They text her for support, advice and consolation. She gives them time and sympathy. The only thing she cannot afford to give is cash. It is a wonder how she can do so much with her meager public sector pay.

I watched Grace with great admiration as she spoke to the batch of workers to be repatriated out of Abu Dhabi. She is at once motherly and stern. She told the workers never to come back as domestics, never again to accept dubious contracts and, when they get home, to find work
close to where their families are. Then she led them all in a chorus, singing her song about how great it is to be Filipino.

Grief, although that plays extensively in the Manila media, is not the mainstream story here at the emirates.

All of the workers we are repatriating are women. Nearly all of them, save for three rescued from prostitution and lured by human traffickers, worked as domestics. Some were indeed abused. The greater number, after they arrived here, agreed to sign new contracts that cut their pay in half and then ran away when they realized that amounted to virtual slave labor.

Domestics constitute only 4% of our entire labor force in the Middle East. But they are the most vulnerable. The 96% work in highly skilled jobs, receive good pay and are generally happy where they are.

We have to discourage employment of domestics if we are to reduce the need for mass repatriation of distressed workers. If fact, I would argue, we ban this form of employment outright. The other countries have one that.

The syndicates engaged in human trafficking we have to track down and neutralize. I gather from our officials here that they have enough information about these syndicates. It is all a matter of law enforcement at home. --Alex Magno (The Philippine Star)


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