THIS is a message for the Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) scattered in over 200 countries around the world. I wrote it in response to one Philippine newspaper’s Editorial on how some OFWs are being “slaved” abroad.
Modern Slavery, Philippine Star’s Editorial, dated November 19, 2014
Overseas Filipino workers contribute much to the country’s economic growth, but even policy makers acknowledge that the OFW phenomenon has a dark underbelly. Long separations have led to broken families. Children grow up lacking one or both parents. And the OFWs themselves, particularly women, are vulnerable to abuse.
The OFW phenomenon is a major factor in the Philippines’ ranking of 103rd out of 167 countries in the 2014 Global Slavery Index. Australia-based human rights group Walk Free Foundation, which released the index yesterday, estimated that 261,200 Filipinos are living in conditions that constitute modern slavery.
The report defines slaves as victims of human trafficking, sexual exploitation, forced or servile marriage, forced labor and debt bondage. It noted that OFWs are often denied access to their passports and suffer sexual and physical abuse by their employers. The workers are also vulnerable to “involuntary servitude” in the sex trade in Asia and the Middle East, the report added.
Manila’s response to the problem received a better rating from the foundation, which ranked the Philippines 29th out of 167 countries in terms of protecting workers from abuse. But the report noted other areas where more measures can be undertaken to protect women and children from various forms of abuse, whether overseas or within the Philippines.
On May 30 this year, eight women who were locked in their room on the second floor of a warehouse where they worked in Pasay City died when a fire engulfed the building. Shortly before the fire, the International Trade Union Confederation released the Global Rights Index, which ranked the Philippines alongside Cambodia, India, Saudi Arabia and other countries where workers’ rights are not guaranteed.
In May 2012 in Butuan City, 18 female workers of a department store also died when they were trapped in a burning building. Whether abroad or in their own land, Filipino workers need more protection from modern slave traders.
It is high time to accept the sad reality that Filipinos, whether overseas or at home, remain to be victims of “modern slavery.”
All I can say is for each and every Filipino to thrive and fare better the next time. There is always hope despite the frustrations and dismay. It is only when one stays forever in a deplorable situation that this reality is hopeless because when one allows something bad to continuously happen in his/her world, then there is no chance at all for him/her to see light! Move on, I say, and improve your lot!