Fans and missing heroes I– OFWs (SONA 2015)


President Benigno Aquino III’s use of real people in his last State of the Nation Address (SONA) was a good thing.

President Beningo Aquino III delivers his last State of the Nation Address (SONA). Photo by gov.ph
President Beningo Aquino III delivers his last State of the Nation Address (SONA). Photo by gov.ph

The President’s strength has always been his folksy speech. His skilled use of colloquial Filipino allows him to break through media filters to address the majority classes D and E. They would relate to the videos of ordinary citizens.

Reports have greater punching power when you weave in case studies of people speaking in their own voices. It’s hard to demolish a young student’s words or a former rebel combatant’s views. They may not show the whole picture – vignettes seldom do – but their perspectives are as real as yours or mine.

WATCH SONA 2015

It’s natural for a President to show his winning side. The dissection of the President’s claims can wait for another day or two. I’d like to focus on just a small part of the President’s litany of thanks and self-praise to highlight some important things missing in his SONA.

‘Modern Heroes’

Let’s start with this.

Tackling rising employment in the country, Mr. Aquino mentioned overseas Filipinos (OFs).

Idagdag na rin po natin diyan ang naiulat na pagkaunti ng Overseas Filipinos. Noong 2011, nasa 9.51 million ang naitalang Overseas Filipinos ng Department of Foreign Affairs. Sa huling datos naman ng Disyembre ng 2014, nasa 9.07 million na lang ito. Hindi kalabisang isiping marami sa tinatayang 440,000 nabawas sa kanila ay bumalik sa Pilipinas, at nakahanap ng trabaho

(The number of Overseas Filipinos is decreasing. In 2011, the Department of Foreign Affairs reported there were 9.51 million OFs. It’s not a far stretch to think that the 440,000 that disappeared from their ranks returned to the Philippines and were able to find jobs. )

Most OFs, especially contract workers, will take comfort knowing they may be able to come home and earn well without having to brave the hardships they now undergo.

Various OF groups and pages on social media, however, bewail that Mr. Aquino’s SONAs always fail to discuss issues faced by “modern heroes.”

dollarsIt’s a legitimate plaint. After all, the sector contributes one-tenth of the country’s gross domestic product. The Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas reported at the end of 2014 that OFs had sent home $26.9 billion, an all-time high. (This is way higher than just above $20 billion recorded in 2010)

Modern heroes beleaguered

If the number of OFs has dropped, their monetary value has grown. The World Bank says the country accounts for the third-largest global remittance by nationals working abroad; in 2007, the Philippines ranked fourth.

READ Migration and Remittances: Recent Developments and Outlook* Special Topic: Financing for Development
http://siteresources.worldbank.org/INTPROSPECTS/Resources/334934-1288990760745/MigrationandDevelopmentBrief24.pdf

Distressed OF families from Saudi Arabi   Photo by Raoul Esperas for abs-cbnnews.com
Distressed OF families from Saudi Arabi Photo by Raoul Esperas for abs-cbnnews.com

For all the good news OFs are vulnerable to a lot of factors, some of which have hogged the headlines lately.

Human trafficking and possible official collusion in the crime continues to place the Philippines on Tier 2 of the US Human Trafficking Index. http://www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/countries/2015/243514.htm

The report notes the conviction of 54 traffickers and cites other efforts – mostly domestic – to crack down on syndicates.

But it is blunt:

“Public officials, including those in diplomatic missions abroad, law enforcement agencies, and other government entities, are reported to be complicit in trafficking or allow traffickers to operate with impunity.”

It also cites problems faced by distressed OFs in the country’s embassies and consulates and reports that officials have curried sexual favour from syndicates in exchange for protection or from the those seeking an end to their plight.

Saving Mary Jane

maryjane-finalThe President could have acknowledged this very serious problem hounding modern heroes. He could have laid out what steps his administration has done for them. The SONA is a platform for doing just that.

The silence is glaring. The nation was recently galvanized by the travails of Mary Jane Veloso, the Filipino facing possible execution in Indonesia for drug-smuggling.

The silence is startling. Malacanang originally claimed it was Mr. Aquino’s last-ditch efforts that saved Mary Jane. (He did talk with Indonesian President Joko Widodo.) It was that claim that actually caused grief for Mary Jane’s feisty mother, Nanay Celia, who was mobbed by netizens for not being grateful enough towards her daughter’s saviour. READ: A Mother’s Righteous Rage

You’d think the Palace would want to wave that flag. It didn’t because that claim comes with heavy baggage – the fact that practically all agencies that could have helped, ignored or dismissed Mary Jane’s cries for help.

Mary Jane claimed to be a victim of human trafficking. She had sworn testimony. Her family was willing to file charges. They had witnesses eager to help the government go after her recruiter, Christina Sergio.

They went to the DFA, the Philippine Drugs Enforcement Agency (PDEA) and the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI). They were told there was no case – even with witnesses. They were told making noise would endanger Mary Jane, ordered to trust their betters.

Mary Jane’s Indonesian lawyers also urged our government that getting Sergio was crucial to save Mary Jane. They were frustrated.

Mr. Aquino did his part. But he could not cite saving Mary Jane (although the case remains open-ended even with Sergio’s indictment) as an achievement. There is no denying that the system and his government failed Mary Jane, and that ordinary Filipinos and Indonesians and various peoples and, yes, pesky activists did the bulk of saving, including finding independent channels to the Indonesian leader.

READ Questions amid Save-Mary-Jane good news https://indayvarona.com/2015/07/09/questions-amid-savemaryjane-good-news/

Mary Jane is not alone. Migrante is presently handling the cases of eight (8) OFWs in death row and 121 in jail . Not all are victims of human trafficking. But like Mary Jane’s family, their anguish is compounded by being left out of the dark as the government follows up (or fails to) their cases.

Remittance woes

OFs are also burdened by some countries decisions to shut down some non-banking remittance conduits because of alleged flow of fund to terror groups.

While terrorism is a legitimate concern, there are suspicions that the crackdown may be on the behest of large banking conglomerates. In 2012, the Asian Bankers Association (ABA) estimated that as much as 40% of all OF remittance passed through informal channels or the beleaguered non-bank firms.

For many OFs, who come from poor families that need to conserve resources, the big banks are associated with prohibitive service fees.

Mr. Aquino could have reported on ways his government is trying ease OFs’ situation under these circumstances. His failure is a disservice to OF heroes.

(Next: Those who gave up their lives)

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