Filipinos today marked the 15th anniversary of the execution of overseas Filipino worker Flor Contemplacion in Singapore.
/>Hong Kong-based Filipino workers remember Flor Contemplacion. Photo by UNIFIL.
“15 years after the nation was galvanized into protest action by the hanging of a Filipino domestic helper in Singapore, the plight of OFWs (overseas Filipino workers) has turned for the worse. Under the Arroyo government, appalling stories of abuse in foreign lands and the government’s neglectful response have become everyday stories,” said Garry Martinez, chair of Migrante International.
To mark the occasion, Migrante International led a protest march to Mendiola, castigating President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo for neglecting the rights and welfare of Filipino migrant workers even as the administration enjoys the billions in dollar remittances that save the Philippine economy.
Despite strong protests in Manila and elsewhere, Singapore executed Contemplacion on March 17, 1995, purportedly on charges that she murdered a fellow overseas Filipino worker and a Singaporean child.
Contemplacion’s case became emblematic of the plight of overseas Filipino workers who are ironically called heroes and yet suffer from neglect by government officials.
Migrante International, which is composed of organizations of OFWs from across the world and their relatives and former OFWs in the Philippines, however said that lessons from the Contemplacion case have not been learned by government.
Martinez said that in the first half of 2009, the Philippines welcomed back the remains of 21 dead OFWs from Singapore alone, apart from 51 cases of unexplained or mysterious deaths.
“Under Arroyo’s rule, six OFWs have been beheaded because of lack of representation from the government, and 26 more are waiting on death row in the Middle East alone. Hundreds of OFWs continue to languish in jails in different countries abroad for crimes they did not commit, simply because the government refused to provide them a lawyer,” said Martinez.
Martinez also said while OFW’s pay a mandatory contribution of $25 to the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration, the same agency fails to assist in the repatriation of distressed OFWs or provide further assistance when they arrive home.
The situation of OFWs is a scandal for a country that takes prides in its labor export policy: an estimated 4,500 Filipinos leave the country daily. Migrante International says that a record-high two million Filipinos left for overseas work in 2009.
For OFWs, the labor export policy just means they have to fend for themselves starting with applying for overseas work, pay fees to the government each time they leave, pay more fees when remitting money to the Philippines, and wait for government assistance when they are in distressed situations.