Disrespecting our living heroes

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MONDAY December 9, 2013 was a joyous day for the Department of Labor and Employment. It was the department’s 80th anniversary. Sec. Rosalinda Baldoz as well as the lowliest janitor of the department shared a day of happiness with President Benigno Cojuangco-Aquino who gave a happy speech in Tagalog. He lauded the department, Sec. Baldoz, the executives and former DOLE leaders present, for their good work. He praised DOLE for what to him, were many and great achievements. He was obviously at home with the Labor bureaucrats, spicing up his speech with jokes.

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But nowhere in the 1,880-word speech was there the slightest mention of the Overseas Filipinos Workers. Our beloved OFWs. At least 10 million Filipino men and women work abroad. They are away from home against their will. Many of them suffe in loneliness, weeping silently at night because they miss their spouses and their children. They are abroad because there is no job for them here at home but they must earn the income to make sure their families have the money for three meals a day, for the children’s education, health and development, for their aged parents’ food and medicine and, God willing, for their modest savings bank accounts.

There was a time when Filipino government officials hailed them as heroes. Ang mga bagong bayani. They were the new heroes of the Filipino people because they were waging a battle against poverty for their families—and for the Philippines. Thanks to our dear OFWs’ remittances ours has become a phenomenal economy. Thanks to them–despite our government’s and the business leaders’ failure to make our country as productive and prosperous as our neighbors Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam—we are proving to have the qualities of a “Tiger economy.”

The central bank has no problem of boosting our global image as a “rich” country—and our government can continue borrowing abroad because we have one of the world’s largest foreign currency reserves.

They are our economic heroes because they are the saviors of our national economy.

Heroes too for helping the children
But they are also heroes in the deeper sense that Fred Rogers (he who was the beloved teacher and friend to children in “Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood,” the family TV show that was the rage in America and the upper-class Westernized Asian communities.) He said

“Anyone who does anything to help a child in his life is a hero to me.” We agree. The OFWs are directly helping their own children and those of their families’ neighborhoods.

Previous central government administrations tried to honor our OFW heroes properly. The presidents gave memorable speeches and ordered the Labor department and its POEA and OWWA agencies’ to increase and improve services to the OFWs.

But the PNoy administration is neglecting our OFWs. President Aquino seems to be allergic to them. The list of services and benefits our OFWs enjoy from DOLE now are just the same as those the Arroyo administration offered. There may now be a more shiny office to help OFWs get re-integrated into the domestic economy and, maybe, a larger schedule of loans available for returned workers planning to go into business.

Yet this administration’s record in aiding OFWs who get into trouble abroad is dismal. Foreign Affairs people seem to be more actively involved in solving the problems of OFWs needing government assistance abroad.

There have been a number of “sex-for-flight” cases under President Aquino. In February, the Blas F. Ople Policy Center, which has indefatigably worked to protect OFWs and advance their rights, complained to Sec. Baldoz about the light punishment imposed on a labor attaché in Saudi Arabia accused of covering up the attempted rape of a Filipina OFW by the attaché’s driver. Filipina OFWs suffer rape or sexual harassment and attempted rape when they go to the Labor attaché seeking help to fly home because they are fleeing a cruel or rapist employer.

Director Susan Ople of the BFO Policy Center wrote to Sec. Baldoz that the one-month suspension meted out to the labor attache was an “insult to all OFWs.” She said in her letter to Sec. Baldoz that “The position of labor attache was created precisely to protect and safeguard the rights and welfare of our OFWs. If a labor attache plainly and utterly fails to do so, then he or she has no right to said position.”

Another case of the Aquino administration’s disrespect for our economic heroes is the Maritime Industry Authority’s (MARINA) lack of respect and concern for our seamen. To obtain their Seaman’s Book (which is as valuable to a seaman as a passport) and their Certificate of Competence they have to be at the MARINA office at dawn so they can queue up by 8 a.m. under the hot sun.

MARINA ran out of the proper Seaman’s Book. So MARINA began issuing sheets of paper to the seamen. Some Filipino seamen were not allowed to board their vessels when they showed up with the unfamiliar piece of paper to the ship captains.

A government that shares the Filipino citizenry’s love for our OFW heroes would not disrespect them the way the Aquino administration has. Food for thought on this Bataan Day of Heroism.

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