KASAMA Vol. 12 No. 3 / JulyAugustSeptember 1998 / Solidarity Philippines Australia Network
Filipinos in Europe Hold Dialogue with Erap and Congress
KAKAMMPI Report: SOME 25 Filipino migrants representing more than 75 national organizations and international networks in 14 countries in Europe came home in August for a series of dialogues with the new Philippine government.
The delegation, along with representatives of Philippines-based NGOs, met with President Joseph Estrada in Malacanañg last August 13 and presented him with a migrants platform that articulates the issues and concerns of Filipino in Europe. Speaking on behalf of the group, Mr. Nonoi Hacbang who chairs the Amsterdam-based Commission on Filipino Migrant Workers (CFMW) urged the President to reorient Philippine embassies abroad to serve "as centers of assistance for overseas Filipinos". The President assured the delegation that his government is committed to protect Filipinos wherever they may be. He cautioned embassy personnel who neglect their duties to watch out and enjoined the delegates to personally convey to him any complaint against government officials.
Earlier, the delegation held a dialogue with Congress leaders at the House of Representatives to present their legislative agenda. Among the urgent legislative concerns presented to the House was the issue of absentee voting that will extend voting rights to Filipinos abroad. They also asked Congress to create a regular committee that will focus on Filipino migrant workers. Mr Hacbang stressed that these measures are only fitting considering the huge number of Filipinos abroad now estimated at around seven million and their significant contribution to the local economy. He also called for a reorientation of the governments labor export program and cited the need to amend Republic Act 8042 to make it more responsive to the problems of migrant workers and overseas Filipinos.
Hosted by Representatives Etta Rosales and Dante Liban, the dialogue was attended by Majority Floor Leader Mar Roxas, Foreign Affairs Committee Chairperson Lou Antonino, Local Government Committee Chairman Ome Candazo and party-list representatives from Abanse Pinay and ABA.
Congressman Mar Roxas assured the group that the House will consider the formation of a regular committee that will focus on the issues of migrant workers. He, likewise, expressed support for the immediate enactment of a law on absentee voting, noting that the main issue here is the mechanics that will ensure the integrity of the voting process.
For her part, Representative Antonino welcomed complaints concerning the dismal performance of Philippine embassies, particularly the slow pace and costly renewal of passports, the demeaning treatment of Filipinos by Embassy personnel and the lack of programs to improve the situation of Filipinos abroad. She invited the members of the delegation to submit specific legislative proposals and expressed support to institute a legislative mechanism that will look into the performance of Philippine embassies and other foreign missions.
Congressman Candazo who used to chair the Special Committee on OCWs (overseas contract workers), suggested the formation of a liaison group that will follow up legislative measures related to overseas migration. He mentioned that the house can consider the designation of a room to house such a lobby group.
Nena Fernandez of Kanlungan Foundation presented the economic agenda of migrant workers, stressing the need to provide avenues by which they can meaningfully participate in business and economic development. Fe Nicodemus of Kakammpi, on the other hand, asked Congress for a comprehensive reintegration program based on a package of incentives to encourage the repatriation of Filipinos particularly those in areas or occupations categorized as high risk or hazardous. She also asked Congress to set aside a Migrant Development Fund that will be administered by migrant organizations and their families.
Mary Lou Alcid from the Network Opposed to Violence Against Migrant Women (NOVA) asked for the re-filing of the bill concerning trafficking in women and children which the previous Congress failed to pass. Representatives of seafarers groups expressed their concern about the lack of a comprehensive law that can adequately address the concerns of Filipino seamen.
Expressing full support for the issues raised during the dialogue, Rep. Etta Rosales concluded the forum with assurances that she will pursue the agenda presented by the delegation.
The following day, the same delegation held another dialogue, this time with representatives of government agencies including OWWA (Overseas Workers Welfare Authority), CFO (Commission on Filipinos Overseas), and POEA (Philippine Overseas Employment Agency). The Department of Foreign Affairs failed to attend.
The delegates raised three major issues: transparency and political will of government agencies; availability and appropriateness of services and benefits for overseas Filipino workers; and relations between government agencies and NGOs.
OWWA Administrator Eleuterio Gardiner intimated to the group that the President has given clear instructions to review government programs to make them responsive to the needs of the overseas Filipino workers. He welcomed the initiative to dialogue and assured the delegation that government agencies will be transparent and accessible.
Fe Nicodemus, Chairperson of Kakammpi which helped organize the week-long activity, noted that this was the first time Filipino migrants in Europe coalesced to bring home a common agenda to the government.
In Europe today, Filipinos number 500,000, 80% of whom are women. They are engaged in the professional and service sectors, domestic workers and au pairs, oil-rig workers, nurses and health workers, religious and church workers, entertainers and students. In addition, an estimated 300,000 Filipino seafarers, representing 20% of the total world seafarers, are mainly employed in European-owned international ships.
The impact of the integration of the European Union has resulted in severely restrictive immigration policies. Migrant rights which had been gained in previous decades and integrated into the legislation of many states in Europe, are being eroded e.g. family reunion, independent residence status based on marriage, and freedom of movement.
One of the direct effects of these restrictive immigration policies upon migrant communities, including the Filipino community, has been the significant increase in "undocumented" migrants. They also experience institutionalized racial prejudice in the non-recognition of their academic and professional qualifications, structural exclusion in employment and education, and limited access to official funding sources. Migrant women experience various forms of violence and gender oppression.
Filipino migrants in Europe find themselves excluded in the political process; disenfranchised and unable to vote; even the option for dual citizenship has remained closed. Philippine embassies in Europe fail to defend and protect their rights and subject them to demeaning and unprofessional treatment.
As the delegates prepared to journey back to their respective posts, they felt satisfied that at least they were given the opportunity to convey their message to the new government. But they remain guarded in their optimism given the complex problems they confront abroad after years of neglect and insensitivity of the Philippine government and its missions overseas.
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Contact SPAN if you would like a copy of CFMWs notes of the meetings or write to: Commission on Filipino Migrant Workers, Haarlemmerdijk 173, 1013 KH Amsterdam, The Netherlands.
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Graphic: TNT Jan 95 Kanlungan Centre