Fil-Am leader hits Duterte for not helping undocumented OFWs

Paterno Esmaquel II
Fil-Am leader hits Duterte for not helping undocumented OFWs
'President Duterte, marami sa mga undocumented dito sa Amerika, sumuporta sa 'yo,' says Filipino-American leader Lolita Lledo

LOS ANGELES, USA – A Filipino-American leader criticized Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte for saying he will “not lift a finger” for undocumented overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) deported from the US. 

Lolita Lledo, associate director of the Pilipino Workers Center in Los Angeles, pointed out that many undocumented OFWs even campaigned and sent money for Duterte in the last elections.

“Siyempre hindi kami natuwa (Of course we weren’t happy),” Lledo said on Friday, February 3, when asked to comment on Duterte’s statement.

Referring to undocumented OFWs, she said in a mix of English and Filipino: “We just wanted to remind President Duterte that they are still Filipino citizens. The passports they hold are Filipino passports.”

Lledo made these remarks before Filipino journalists visiting the US for a reporting tour organized by the Foreign Press Centers of the US State Department. She was reacting to Duterte’s statement on January 29 that he will not help undocumented Filipinos affected by the immigration policies of US President Donald Trump. 

Duterte said he will avoid meddling in the same way that Trump promised not to interfere in his war on drugs, which former US president Barack Obama criticized for alleged human rights abuses.

Duterte, who is known for his iron-fisted stance toward law enforcement, told Filipinos in the US: “You better be on the right track. If you are not allowed to stay there where you are staying, get out. Because if you are caught and deported, I will not lift a finger. You know that it is a violation of the law.” 

‘Bagong bayani’

Lledo, however, made an appeal for undocumented OFWs in the US, who remain one of the Philippines’ largest sources of overseas remittances.

Lledo said: “Sabi nga, kami ang mga bagong bayani. Ganito ba ang trato sa mga bayani? Kapag ikaw ay nagkaroon ka ng problema, sa halip na tulungan ka, hindi ka tutulungan?”

(They say we’re the modern-day heroes. Is this the way you treat heroes? If you encounter problems, instead of helping you, they will not help?)

She added that many Filipinos who have overstayed in the US, at least in southern California, “are mothers who left the Philippines.” 

“Kaya kami nag-overstay, kaya kami naglabag ng batas, kasi mahal namin ang pamilya namin,” she said. (The reason why we overstayed, why we broke the law, is because we love our families.)

Lledo said: “‘Yan ba ang mga kriminal? Sige, sabihin ‘nyo, kung ang pagmamahal sa pamilya at pagmamahal sa aming trabaho ay pagiging kriminal, eh ‘di kriminal na nga ang tingin ng lipunan. Pero sinasabi namin, we need to look beyond. Tingnan natin, bakit kami napupuwersa sa ganitong sitwasyon.”

(Is that what you call a criminal? Okay, if you would say love for our family and love for our job is about being criminals, then let society view us as criminals. But we’re saying we need to look beyond. Let’s try to see why we’re forced into these situations.) 

At the same time, Lledo reminded the Philippine leader: “President Duterte, marami sa mga undocumented dito sa Amerika, sumuporta sa ‘yo, mga avid fans mo, mga nagkampanya sa Facebook at lahat lahat…’Yung iba nga, nagpadala pa ng mga pera du’n e. Ngayon in trouble kami. Hindi naman namin akalain na mananalo ‘yang si Trump.”

(President Duterte, many of the undocumented here in America have supported you, are your avid fans, are among those who campaigned on Facebook and everywhere else…Others even sent money back home. Now we’re in trouble. We never imagined Trump would win.)

Aquilina Soriano Versoza, executive director of the Pilipino Workers Center, added that the immigration system in the US is “too broken” in the first place. “Maraming kailangang ayusin (We have a lot to fix),” she said.

She also said that people need to recognize that immigrants “have the same dreams and hopes” as Americans.

“Dapat may respect din sa mga immigrant (There needs to be respect for immigrants),” Versoza said. –

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Paterno Esmaquel II

Paterno R. Esmaquel II, news editor of Rappler, specializes in covering religion and foreign affairs. He obtained his MA Journalism degree from Ateneo and later finished MSc Asian Studies (Religions in Plural Societies) at RSIS, Singapore. For story ideas or feedback, email him at