KASAMA Vol. 14 No. 3 /July-August-September 2000 / Solidarity Philippines Australia Network

From August 14, 2000 a delegation of Filipino migrants from Europe started a five-day Philippines visit to push for key legislative measures, one of which is the Absentee Voting Bill now pending in Congress.

The 40-member delegation belonging to the Platform for Filipino Migrant Organizations in Europe went the rounds of government offices to ask for the passage of the said bill in time for the 2001 national elections in the Philippines. Local migrant advocates, some of whom are members of the Platform, and two migrant representatives from the U.S. also joined the scheduled activities.

Delegation head Nonoi Hacbang said the bill will bring back to the migrants their inherent right to choose who will lead and promote their well-being, despite their absence from the country. "The passage of this bill will put the migrants back as a main concern of lawmakers in formulating our laws," said Hacbang who has worked in Holland for 20 years. "In Europe alone, about half of the 600,000 Filipinos will become eligible to vote once this bill is passed." This, he said, will be enough incentive for lawmakers to give priority to Filipino migrants.

On August 15 a forum Filipinos In Europe: Kumusta Sila Ngayon? Paano Sila Bukas? was held in Quezon City. Speakers included: Nonoi Hacbang from the Commission For Filipino Migrant Workers (CFMW), The Netherlands; Ding F. Bagasao from Geneva Forum for Philippine Concerns, Switzerland; Aurora Mallo of Kasapi-Hellas, Greece; Aida Dulean of Kalayaan, UK; Fe Jusay, CFMW-The Netherlands; Percy Cantoria-Grommelt of Philippine Women's Forum, Germany.

The following Press Statement from the Platform and the speech given by Ma. Fe Nicodemus during a meeting with members of the Philippine Congress on 16 August 2000, were kindly sent to us by Kakammpi. Filipinos in Australia who wish to express their views on these matters should contact Kakammpi at the address given at the end of this article.

Press Statement
Platform of Filipino Migrant Organizations in Europe
Second Delegation to the Philippines
14-18 August 2000

We represent the Platform of Filipino Migrant Organizations in Europe, a network of 75 organizations in 14 European countries. Platform was established during the Europe-wide Conference of Filipino migrants in Athens, Greece in 1997. It stands for the 500,000 Filipinos living and working in Europe. In their name, Platform carries a Filipino Migrant Agenda which was framed during the same Conference.

We have come to the Philippines for the second time with two urgent and priority objectives:

(1) To ask Congress to enact the bill granting overseas Filipinos the right of suffrage; and

(2) To strongly urge the Philippine government to uphold and protect the rights and welfare of overseas Filipino workers. Specifically, we would like to see our embassies and consulates transform themselves into-pro-active and effective centres of service and assistance to Filipino migrants.

In the last five days, together with our Philippine-based partner NGOs, we met with members of Congress, government agencies concerned with international labour migration, church organizations, and selected embassies.

Our meeting with members of the Committees on Labour, Foreign Affairs and the Sub-Committee on Overseas Workers of the House of Representatives yielded commitments by the honourable Congresswomen and men to work for the enactment of the bills on a) the right to vote by overseas Filipinos; b) anti-trafficking in women and children; and c) the amendments of R.A. 8042 (The Migrant Workers and Overseas Filipinos Act of 1995).

At the Senate, we encountered skepticism. The distinguished senators doubted if clean and honest elections were at all possible overseas, if Filipinos organizations in Europe were qualified, ready and able to ensure clean and honest elections.

We understand the concern for clean and honest elections. Like our compatriots here, we aspire for the institutionalisation of electoral reforms towards this end. We are ready to do our share to ensure clean and honest elections abroad. But clean and honest elections cannot be achieved overnight. Guns, goons and gold have yet to be fully eliminated from Philippine electoral politics. Yet, Filipinos in the homeland have not been deprived of their right to vote.

Thus, we wish to remind our Senators that the 1987 Constitution assures us of our right to vote. The continuing denial of this constitutional right underscores the absence of political will on the part of government.

As to our second objective, the outcome was disappointing. We thank the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) for hosting the meeting with all line agencies concerned, and serving us brunch. But the DFA, together with POEA (Philippine Overseas Employment Administration) and OWWA (Overseas Workers' Welfare Administration), failed to substantially address our concerns at the policy, structural and service-delivery levels.

Further, we were disturbed by the tendency of some officials to minoritize the human rights violations, abuse and violence experienced by our overseas workers. And by the oft-repeated "Report to us any incident of abuse of Filipino migrants." We have done so in the past and received no action.

Hence, our demand that our embassies and consulates operationalise the policy contained in R.A. 8042 that the State shall give primordial importance to the promotion of the rights and welfare of overseas Filipinos. For them to become centres of service instead of indifference and inaction. And abuse in some cases.

We realize the government has no comprehensive and coherent program to address the structural causes, mechanisms and consequences of Filipino out-migration.

In this context, the challenge to promote the rights and welfare of overseas Filipinos in Europe and elsewhere becomes even more urgent.

We know we are not alone. Our week-long visit enabled us to renew and strengthen our ties with partner-organisations that share our aspirations and struggle. Together, we shall intensify efforts until we gain our constitutional right to vote. Together, we shall continue to engage the Philippine government for pro-active, relevant and gender-sensitive policies, programs and services that will protect the rights and welfare of overseas Filipinos, and provide economic options other than overseas work.

Sgd: Nonoi Hacbang
Head of Delegation
August 18, 2000

Contact Address - In Europe:
Platform of Filipino Migrant Organizations in Europe,
c/o CFMW, Paulus Potterstraat 20,
1071 DA Amsterdam,
The Netherlands.
Tel: +31-20-6646927
Fax: +31-20-6647093
In the Philippines: c/o Kakammpi (address at end of article)

English Translation of the Speech by Ma. Fe Nicodemus, Kakammpi Chairperson, delivered to the Philippine Congress, 16 August 2000

It has been two years since we came here on your first day as lawmakers. Since then, we have patiently waited on your commitment to address our concerns and those of our relatives working abroad.

This 11th congress is about to close, and yet not one law for overseas Filipino migrants has been passed. We presume that those pending bills for us have likewise not been noted down in your calendars.

I just want to remind you that about seven million of our countrymen and women now work and live abroad. This represents about ten percent of our total population.

Filipino migrants contribute about 20% to our economy. They remit more than seven billion dollars a year. These are not ordinary figures, considering that one out of every five Filipinos either rely or share with what our relatives earn abroad.

Filipino migrants, likewise, contribute heavily to the private sector - banking, insurance, real estate, housing and construction, manufacturing, aviation and transportation. Not a few businesses grew rich and amassed billions after investing in migrant-related business ventures and projects.

But it seems that all we get are recognition and medals. Sometimes we feel these medals add more weight to the already heavy problems we carry.

Please do not forget that the costs of the migrant's contribution are tons of sweat and blood, unending loneliness and heart-rending family break-ups.

There is no reason why we cannot ask for what is due us - enough protection, continued services, necessary benefits, recognition of our rights and appropriate projects for our sector.

The necessary bills that can tremendously help our relatives are just waiting for you to pass and enact: the overseas voting bill that will give them back their right to choose our leaders; amendments to the Organic Carta for Migrants that will further strengthen government services and support for them. You can still promulgate and enact many more laws that can help us.

We know how to acknowledge favors. But we also know how to feel hurt. And we know how to cast our ballots. The decision rests now upon you to fulfill your promise to champion our concerns.

Thank you very much and good afternoon to all.

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Quezon City 1101, Philippines
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