THE skeptical reaction of the Palace over the weekend to a report that several thousand overseas Filipino workers are in grave danger in Saudi Arabia was infuriating, but sadly not at all surprising.
In a statement by Presidential Communications Undersecretary Manuel Quezon 3rd, the Administration cast doubt on a report by Senate candidate Susan Ople, who heads the Blas Ople Policy Center, that at least four OFWs working in the southern Saudi city of Najran had sought assistance from the Philippine embassy in Riyadh to be evacuated, due to frequent shelling and rocket attacks on the city by rebel forces just across the border in Yemen. According to Ople, as many as 5,000 OFWs are in danger from the violence, which is increasing in intensity.
Najran has come under attack because Saudi Arabia leads a coalition of Arab forces supporting the government of Yemen fighting Iranian-backed Houthi rebels, who have captured large parts of the troubled country. As has been widely and routinely reported in the global media, since April the city has been targeted by artillery fire and rocket attacks countless times, and these strikes seem to have increased in frequency in recent days due to rising tensions between the governments of Saudi Arabia and Iran.
Nevertheless, according to Quezon, Ople’s information is subject to doubt because “we would need more than one source” to verify it before the government could consider taking action.
We know Secretary Quezon to be an intelligent man, so we do not direct this criticism at him personally, but rather the callous President who dispatched him to make that rather ignorant statement. If the matter were our responsibility, the notification from the chief of the organization that dedicates its efforts to looking out for the legal and social welfare of OFWs would certainly be more than enough to act on the problem. If President BS Aquino 3rd feels he has to be skeptical about anything connected to this issue, it should be why news of OFWs seeking emergency assistance from the embassy in Saudi Arabia is being delivered first by the Ople Center, and not his own Department of Foreign Affairs.
Time and again, Aquino has demonstrated that his interest in OFWs only extends as far as ensuring that agencies such as the Bureau of Customs and the gang that manages the airport maximize the amount of taxes and fees that can be extracted from overseas workers, and that enough of them can be assembled to listen to his obnoxious, self-aggrandizing speeches in meetings with local OFW communities during his frequent overseas trips. If he or the vast government machinery that does his bidding would actually listen to OFWs for a change instead of lecturing them, he would probably learn that it has only been through the efforts of the Ople Center, the Red Cross, the Catholic Church, and other concerned organizations that a large-scale tragedy has been averted – in places like Libya, Egypt and Japan back in 2011, for instance – during his nearly six years of inattention.
Although we are almost certain the appeal will fall on deaf ears, we feel obliged to make it anyway: The government must move quickly to secure the safety of our OFWs in Saudi Arabia, and other places where they are under threat, and to stop viewing the investment in proper care of OFW affairs, which is miniscule compared to the enormous benefits they bring the country, as an annoying imposition.