It has been two years since the COVID-19 pandemic started and overseas Filipino workers and their families continue to call for ayuda (immediate aid), free repatriation and assistance for them and their families.
As of September 2021, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana reported that a total of 1,456,364 Filipinos have been repatriated with 1,169,447 overseas Filipino workers while the rest were returning residents. However, many remain stranded and jobless until today.
Meanwhile, the DOLE-AKAP , a one-time financial assistance of Php 10,000 ($246.89 Canadian Dollars) for those who lost their jobs due to COVID-19 was limiting, not offered to all OFWs, not received by all those who were eligible and the process itself was challenging. Many were promised to receive DOLE-AKAP and are still waiting.
The distribution of ayuda to OFWs and their families must also not be discriminatory.
For those who have been stranded, in distress, and have died abroad, it is the Philippine government's responsibility through the consulates and embassies to provide free and immediate repatriation.
In Canada, we have had instances of community members being told to fundraise to repatriate the remains of our kababayan. Funds for repatriation has been coming from our own pockets when this is in the budget for Assistance to Nationals (ATN) for Filipino nationals abroad.
Lastly, we urge that the government provide continuous welfare and medical assistance including vaccination, food, drinking water, temporary shelters and free RT-PCR testing including to those who are undocumented.
With the slow response and the neglect of the Duterte administration of Filipinos back home and abroad, we challenge our endorsed candidates to have a concrete and comprehensive analysis of the needs and situation of our overseas Filipino workers and their families.
The pandemic has placed many Filipino overseas workers under difficult and desperate conditions making them more vulnerable to becoming victims of illegal recruitment and human trafficking.
Cases of illegal recruitment are present in Canada. In Toronto, four Filipino mushroom workers came out to the public as undocumented workers who were trafficked by a recruitment agency Link4Staff Inc. for violating the Employment Protection for Foreign Nationals Act in 2019. They also filed a civil lawsuit against the Ravine Mushroom Farm. To demand for better protection for migrants workers in Ontario, they started the Justice 4 Mushroom 4 Campaign and the case is still going.
Those who are found guilty of illegal recruitment and human trafficking must be put to justice.
Attention and action have to be given especially to migrant women victimized by these exploitative acts.
We further demand that the government must be proactive in dealing with these cases and other offices of the government must not just wait in their offices for complaints but rather coordinate and monitor at the barangay level where most cases of illegal recruitment are happening. In addition, the ban on direct hiring must be scrapped.
"Walang budget" (There is no budget) is often the response to overseas Filipinos when seeking support and assistance from Philippine consulates and embassies.
The National Budget 2022 for overseas Filipinos is estimated to be around 8.52 billion pesos. This is budget for consular services (issuing passports and visas) and for the protection of the rights and welfare of overseas Filipinos (assistance to nationals, legal assistance, overseas voting).
With the growing number of Filipinos overseas, the budget allocation is not keeping up with this growth. We demand that the budget for welfare and legal services for Overseas Filipinos including Assistance to Nationals (ATN), legal assistance including hiring lawyers must be increased and ensured.
Our demand includes both the cost of operations and program implementation. They must also address the disenfranchisement experienced by overseas Filipinos in exercising their democratic right to vote by increasing the budget for postal and field voting.
OFWs who are stranded in host countries due to contract termination, unresolved or pending cases and flight cancellations must be provided with free shelter, food, medicine and other urgent needs including cash assistance during their extended stay.
Save Mary Jane Veloso! Save other Filipinos on death row!
We demand that the case of Mary Jane Veloso and other Filipinos on death row and those languishing in jail especially our women migrants and victims of human trafficking and crimes must be given priority in order to save their lives.
They should be provided assistance regardless of their status in the host country. Legal, psychosocial and other welfare assistance must be provided to them, including their families in the Philippines.
The Philippine government must assert and ensure the protection of rights of our women migrants!
In Canada, there are almost a million Filipinos across the country and there are only THREE consulates in Toronto, Vancouver and Calgary and the embassy in Ottawa.
Filipinos in the prairies (Saskatchewan and Manitoba), the maritimes (Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, Newfoundland and Labrador and New Brunswick) and the northern territories (Yukon, Nunavut and Northwest Territories) have to travel to these consulates or the embassy or wait for consular service visits which does not happen often enough. These visits may not provide all of the services needed as well.
With the pandemic, these services and consular visits were lessened which is a huge factor in voters disenfranchisement since many were not able to register. Many of our kababayans who are overseas Filipino workers work during the office hours and some have to travel far which can be costly considering their low wages and that they are sending money to their families.
This is why we demand that all consular and welfare services must be opened for services to Filipino migrants even during the stated weekends in the host country. Some posts have already adjusted their day-off so others can follow suit.
The sea-based sector’s remittances comprise at least 22% of the total dollar remittances of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs).
These remittances help spur domestic consumption in the Philippines and a key ingredient in the country’s drive to achieve higher but sustainable growth.
Seafarers have been at the frontline in the time of the COVID-19 pandemic, performing a vital function in sustaining the stream of important items, akin to food, household and medical provisions.
However, the pandemic has placed extraordinary demands on seafarers, with hundreds of thousands of them stranded on ships for months beyond their original contracts, unable to be repatriated due to national travel restrictions. A similar number of seafarers are unable to join ships and earn a living.
The current pandemic exposed how health services are for profit and not to serve the actual needs of the people.
Militarized lockdowns and curfews are not effective and scientific ways to lower the COVID-19 cases and to respond to the pandemic. Our own health workers are overworked, neglected, underpaid or not even paid at all. Meanwhile, Canadian provinces such as Ontario are planning to source internationally-educated nurses from countries such as the Philippines.
The current healthcare system and social services in the Philippines do not address the need for a comprehensive and free public health care system for Filipinos. We also need evidence-based approaches from actual experts and listen to our own healthcare workers.
The public health system must change that will put the interest of the people especially the underprivileged at the forefront.
We continue to call for FREE MASS TESTING and VACCINATION FOR ALL!
Do you know how much an Overseas Filipino Worker must spend before leaving the country?
POEA Processing Fee: P200.00
Passport Fee: P1,200.00
OWWA Membership Fee: P1,250.00
PAG-IBIG Membership Fee: P2,400.00
PhilHealth membership Fee: P2,400.00
Fee for signatures: P8,600
IN TOTAL: P16,050.00 ($398.14 Canadian Dollars)
OFWs continue to be treated as "milking cows" by the Philippine government with all of these fees when they are leaving the Philippines to work abroad due to the lack of opportunities and extreme poverty in the first place. These mandatory fees are heavy burdens for our OFWs and cause them distress.
Mandatory collections of fees and other revenue-making schemes targeting OFWs and Overseas Filipinos must be stopped. These include, but not limited to OWWA membership, Overseas Employment Certificate, PhilHealth premium membership scheme and mandatory membership, SSS premium and other fees required by the Commission on Filipinos Overseas, among others.
Fascism and militarization has been the response of the Philippine government to the legitimate grievances of the marginalized people. This must stop.
The democratic and human rights of the Filipino people must be upheld. Likewise, red-tagging, threats and harassment of Filipino migrant organizations in the Philippines and overseas including their leaders and individual members must be stopped.
The Anti-Terror Law must be discontinued and junked, and the NTF-ELCAC must be abolished. Officials of the Philippine Foreign Missions including those of the Philippine Embassies and Consulates must desist from sponsoring and organizing NTF-ELCAC, military and police activities involved with red tagging and attacks to leaders and members of the Filipino community. Overseas Filipinos demand the return to the negotiating table of the GRP – NDFP peace panels in order to ensure a just and lasting peace in the Philippines.
We want a Philippines that no longer separates families, parents and their children because they need to look for better jobs abroad. We want a Philippines, with all of its rich resources, benefit and provide for all Filipinos, not just a few.
We call to abolish the labor export program of the government and we say no to the Department of Overseas Filipinos and Department of Migrant Workers.
The Philippine government must stop using labor export as an economic program and strategy as a response to growing unemployment in the country.
Local jobs must be created by implementing genuine agrarian reform, promote agricultural cooperation, raise rural production and employment through modernization of agriculture and rural industrialization and ensure agricultural sustainability, carry out national industrialization and build an independent and self-reliant economy.
Likewise, provide more financial and legislative support to SMEs, ensuring security of tenure for the workers, respecting the rights to form unions and encouraging Collective Bargaining Agreements. Budget for social services especially for public education, housing and health should be increased.
This ends the 10-point electoral agenda series. We hope that we were able to show our kababayan in Canada that the elections also matter to us here. We continue to demand and challenge the presidential and senatorial candidates to show their genuine commitment to address the conditions of Filipino migrants and OFWs.