Filipino migrants’ advocacy group Migrante flagged the administration of President Rodrigo Duterte for its “little change” and “red-tagging” of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) throughout its five years in office.
In a media briefer on Wednesday, July 21, Migrante’s regional leaders lamented what they deemed as a lack of improvement in services, insufficient aid for those who lost their jobs amid the COVID-19 pandemic, and the deployment of defense attachés to foreign posts.
“Contrary to Duterte’s promise, there has been no ‘genuine change’ in the situation of OFWs and our families since he became President. We are worse off now than when he assumed office and he did more harm than good to us,” Migrante said in a statement.
“All he gave us were sweet words and promises, and little changes such as the extension of passport effectivity from five to ten years, and nothing more,” Migrante added.
They made the statement ahead of Duterte’s final State of the Nation Address, which will be held on Monday, July 26.
The creation of a new department catering primarily to OFWs is a priority bill of the Duterte administration. It has passed the House of Representatives and is up for plenary debates at the Senate.
While proponents of the department believe a focused department will serve OFWs better, the migrant group does not believe it is the answer to their plight.
According to Dolores Balladares of Migrante Hong Kong, the department could become an avenue for more exactions from OFWs and corruption among officials.
She said there were enough institutions meant to serve the sector, like the Department of Foreign Affairs, the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration, and the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration.
“Ang usapin ay hindi pagtatayo ng another department, [kundi] paano magiging mas mahusay at maayos ang pagpapaabot ng tunay na serbisyo sa iba’t ibang OFWs,” said Balladares.
(This should not be about creating another department, but how the government could give better services to OFWs.)
The progressive group also flagged the deployment of defense attachés to foreign posts, saying this became an extension of Duterte’s crackdown on progressive groups, even abroad. ([PODCAST] Lahat na lang ay sinasabing komunista sa ilalim ni Duterte)
Migrante claimed activist migrants were subjected to "harassment" and "increased surveillance" by “individuals connected with the Philippine government” in Taiwan, New Zealand, and Canada.
Migrante Chairperson Joanna Concepcion said the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) held seminars that "red-tagged Migrante International and other progressive organizations fighting for the rights of migrants, and are critical of the Duterte government."
Concepcion said the NTF-ELCAC's actions "intensified" after the controversial anti-terrorism law was signed in July 2020.
Duterte opened a defense attaché office in Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates in February 2021 – the first in the Gulf Cooperation Council states. The UAE hosts hundreds of thousands of OFWs.
Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said the establishment of the office “provides a greater opportunity for the Philippines and the UAE to accomplish more in the areas of defense and military cooperation.”