OFW behind petition to probe ‘Laglag Bala’ says scam reaps collective shame for PH


Like many overseas Filipino workers, Ednalyn Purugganan uses social media to keep in touch with her family and follow events back home.

Ednalyn with her children (in stripes and blue shirt) and their cousins). Photo courtesy of Ednalyn
Ednalyn with her children (in stripes and blue shirt) and their cousins). Photo courtesy of Ednalyn

Ednalyn’s Facebook page, one of the many millions from the world’s social media capital, is sprinkled with inspirational quotes (today, from the Dalai Lama), photos of her children, aspirational shots of the latest models of bags and shoes and, of course, selfies: Doing yoga in the mountains, playing with her employer’s huge dogs and relaxing with kin and friends.

Signing animal petitions on Change.org, the world’s largest petition platform, was the extent of her social, political advocacies. Then came Mary Jane Veloso, the hapless Filipino OFW sentenced to death by Indonesia after airport authorities there found heroin in her luggage.

Mary Jane Veloso: The power of social media partly helped her win a stay of execution.
Mary Jane Veloso: The power of social media partly helped her win a stay of execution.

Ednalyn identified with Veloso, also a mother of two. She could relate with the feelings of fear and helplessness, and having to deal with authorities of a country with a strange language and culture.

Most of all, Ednalyn says in a Facebook Messenger interview, she, too, knew the slow burn of anger when government officials treat you like a burden or a cross to bear.

All those permits, those quizzing at airports, the frustration of having to prove you are innocent and not out to break the law, of learning to swallow the slights and just focus on the tasks needed to get out to greener pastures.

The domestic worker from Lantau Island joined the 447,747 other signers — many of them Indonesians who also identified with the risks faced by migrant workers — to #SaveMaryJane. 

Indonesian President Joko Widodo granted Veloso a stay of execution following dialogues with his country’s migrant rights activists.

“Ang sarap. May nagagawa din pala pag nagkakaisa.” (It’s a good feeling, knowing we can change something if we act together.)

OFWs in Hongkong active in churches. This is Ednalyn's Catholic church choir.
OFWs in Hongkong active in churches. This is Ednalyn’s Catholic church choir.

She soon settled back into her weekly routine, including singing in a Catholic Church choir and bonding with mother and sister and brother and assorted relatives, all also working in Hongkong.

“Angkan kami ng OFWs,” says Ednalyn. An uncle is in the US, an aunt in Finland; other cousins are in Canada. Many of her Facebook photos are of the clan’s children, vacationing in Hongkong during class breaks to catch up with parents who can go home only once every two years.

Ednalyn recalls seeing the first stories of “tanim bala” or “laglag bala” two months ago. The terms refer to what victims and critics say are schemes to plant a bullet or two in the bags of tourists of OFWs at the country’s premier airports. The goal: forcing them to cough up bribes or lose their places on flights bound for precious jobs.

“Mga foreigner yun.” (Those were foreigners they nabbed.)

“Naisip ko tuloy, parang nakakatakot nang umuwi ng Manila. Baka ikaw ang sunod na mabiktima. Laglag bala tapos hihingan ka.” (I got scared. Going home to Manila suddenly became a scary prospect. You might be the next victim. They’ll plant a bullet and then fleece you.)

After some victims claimed they were forced to shell out bribes, and heat was trained on the X-ray machine handlers and aviation cops, law enforcers turned to harsher tactics.

 Ednalyn felt her world fall apart with the arrest of 56-year old Gloria Ortinez, also a Hongkong-based OFW, who has served the same employer for decades.

“Kami na yan,” she points out. (She is one of us.)

Ednalyn fell back on a familiar weapon – a petition asking Senators Miriam Santiago and Grace Poe to investigate the “Laglag Bala” incidents and surface the truth.

Read: Online petition seeks probe of ‘tanim bala’ at NAIA

TOGETHER AGAIN. Children of Ednalyn's largely OFW clan visit Hongkong during holidays to catch up with parents who can only come home once every two years.
TOGETHER AGAIN. Children of Ednalyn’s largely OFW clan visit Hongkong during holidays to catch up with parents who can only come home once every two years.

“Ang batas dito sa Hong Kong napakahigpit. Walang sira ulong mag dadala ng alam nilang bawal na ikakapahamak nila. Si Nanay Gloria, 30 years nang nagtratrabaho dito sa Hong Kong at nagawa nyo paring biktimahin. Paano naman po kaming, sa mga dekada na ang inabot dito, tawag sa amin baguhan parin. “

(Hongkong has strict enforcement of laws. No one would be mad enough to even try to bring in or out something against the law. Nanay Gloria worked for 30 years here and you still managed to victimize her in the scam. What about us, who are still treated as newcomers?)

Ednalyn speaks to truth with power. Hers is an authentic voice that manages to condense in four paragraphs the angst of OFWs, called “new heroes” in the Philippines because they prop up the national economy, allowing some pressures of a social volcano to escape.

“Nagpapakahirap po kaming mag trabaho dito at pangalagaan ang pangalan namin at ang pagiging Filipino namin, para lang sirain ng mga taong walang magawa sa buhay.” (We toil here and keep our name and the reputation of the Filipino clean, just to have these torn down by people who have nothing better to do in life.)

“Dito sa Hong Kong ang liit na ng tingin ng mga tao sa Filipino, paano pa pag nalaman na ganyan ang ginagawa nila na mismong kapwa namin Filipino ang nanamantala sa amin?” (Here in Hongkong they already look down on Filipinos, how much more if they find out our compatriots are the ones exploiting us?)

Zeny, another Hongkong-based OFW, can recite almost verbatim the lines that brought her to tears.

“Lahat po kami sabik na sabik makauwi sa Pilipinas, mayakap at mahagkan man lang ang mga mahal namin sa buhay kahit sandali lang, Pero sa nangyayari, mas mabuti na daw magpakatulong, kumayod nang kumayod at magpakakuba dito makuntento nalang daw sa skype at tawag sa telepono kaysa sa kulungan ang bagsak pag uwi sa Mahal naming Bayan.”

(All of us yearn to go back home, to embrace and kiss our loved ones even just for a short time. But with these happenings, we might as well just slog it out as servants, labor until we are hunched over, falling back on Skype and phone calls because what we might end up in jail in the country we love.)

Ednalyn launched the petition on Oct. 27.  In a few days, more than 21,000 – many of them OFWs — signed the petition. The top countries according to Change.org Philippines senior campaigner Christine Roque: United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Taiwan, US, Singpore, Qatar, Hongkong, Canada, Australia and Kuwait.

“Tulungan nyo naman po kaming ipa-hinto ang nangyayaring modus operandi ng lag laglag bala sa NAIA. Maawa naman po sana kayo sa aming mga OFW. Di po namin pinaghihirapang alagaan ang pangalan namin para lang sirain ng mga gahaman sa isang iglap lang.”

(Please help us to stop the laglag bala scam at the NAIA. Give some mercy to OFWs. Our hard work, our clean names can vanish in an instant because of these greedy people.)

Senator Santiago has written directly to Ednalyn, saying her petition prompted her to file a resolution seeking a probe into the ‘laglag bala incidents.’ Santiago responded via a platform tool for decision makers. Ednalyn is waiting for Poe’s response.

Some fellow OFWs worry for Ednalyn, fearing she might incur the wrath of the mighty.

“Hindi ko naman iniisip na may mangyayari sa akin. Ang isip ko lang makauwi kami ng tahimik.” (I don’t think about bad things happening to me. All I think of is how we can go back home in peace.)

Ednalyn is happy with Santiago’s response and amused by complaints that her petition sounds like a campaign aid for the two women presidential contenders.

She ticks off some of the comments thrown her way: Why Grace and Miriam? Why not Bongbong Marcos as he beat them to the draw? Why didn’t you just address it to Pnoy?

Ednalyn says the elections never entered her mind. Then she points out the two women are rivals in the presidential race.

Majority of Hongkong OFWs are women and they are capable organisers and movers for advcoacies
Babae ako. Naisip ko sila because most of us OFWs here are women. I chose Miriam because of old articles that depict how she tried to help OFWs.

She is gracious with her critics. “There are many Ilocanos here, like me.” Besides, she adds, many of them eventually got around to signing the petition.

Overcoming differences for an important cause is victory, says Ednalyn.

A safe homecoming, without having to dodge vultures, is the least the government owes these modern day heroes.

**Full disclosure: The author used to be campaigns director of Change.org in the Philippines.

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