2000 is ‘Year of OFWs’

IT is now official – 2000 is “Year of OFWs”! At long last, the relentless efforts of those concerned have finally borne fruit with the penning of his signature by President Joseph “Erap” Ejercito Estrada of Proclamation No. 243, “Declaring Year 2000 as the Year of Overseas Filipino Workers in Recognition of Determination and Self-Sacrifice of Overseas Filipino Workers.” Although signed February 8, the declaration was officially announced by the Presidential Palace only on February 29, 2000.

Credit goes to Philippines to the World Entertainment Foundation, Inc. (PWEFI), which, as mentioned in a previously published article here on OFW-Suite101 site (On Project OFW 2000), initiated last January 1999 a signature campaign among OFWs, urging the Philippine government to declare year 2000 as “Year of OFWs.”

Just a few weeks prior to the signing of Proclamation No. 243, PWEFI founding leader Rhoel R. Mendoza issued an update addressed to all signatories and known supporters of the signature campaign. In an introductory message, Mendoza wrote the following: ”Perhaps I need not tell you that our campaign has not produced positive results, not yet; otherwise, you would have heard by now that 2000 has indeed been declared as OFW Year. However, we at the PWEFI are not giving up and we hope neither are you. It is, after all, just the beginning of the year. Besides, if the declaration is not made soon, we can always bat for year 2001. This report is meant to inform the signatories on what had transpired during the past months in connection with our signature campaign and to assure those who supported the project that the Foundation never faltered in its efforts and that it hasn’t given up to make OFW Year a reality

It is indeed commendable the work that has been done by PWEFI officials and members. Aware of the system in the government, they deemed it necessary to get the support of popular figures in the Philippine Senate and prominent officials of some major government agencies. When the signatures were finally collected at the end of the campaign in August 1999, PWEFI chose to submit and entrust those to Senator Loren Legarda, who subsequently penned Senate Resolution No. 508 urging President Estrada to declare year 2000 as OFW Year. Said resolution was co-authored by Senator Juan Ponce Enrile. A similar resolution, it may be recalled, was also filed by Senator Rodolfo Biazon.

Mendoza likewise mentioned in the update that the Foundation received letters from Senators Juan Flavier, Miriam Defensor-Santiago, Sergio Osmena and Renato Cayetano expressing their support to the resolutions and the campaign. Sometime in October, PWEFI received an e-mail from Mr. Emmanuel Tatad, Secretary of the Senate Committee on Labor, Employment & Human Resources Development which is chaired by Sen. Francisco Tatad, informing that “they were studying the possibility of these being taken up by the Senate without the benefit of public hearings in order to expedite the adoption of the resolutions.” Mendoza also noted the following:

The last communication we received (in December) were from Sen. Legarda giving us the assurance that they do not cease in the campaign for the Year 2000 to be declared as OFW Year. The other was from Presidential Spokesperson, Jerry Barican, endorsing the campaign to Sec. Jose Jaime C. Policarpio, Presidential Adviser for Legislative Affairs and Head of the Presidential Legislative Liaison Office, for his consideration and appropriate action. (It must be noted that despite several letters posted, faxed and e-mailed-to President Estrada himself, we never received a single reply from him. We would like to think that the office of Executive Secretary Ronnie Zamora which, we understand, screens everything for the President is the one to blame, not Erap himself. Otherwise, it will send a very ugly message to OFWs as to how the President really regards OFWs.)

True to his pronouncement that PWEFI will pursue the campaign relentlessly, Mendoza declared that his group initiated the project “not only because we believe OFWs deserve the honor of having an entire year dedicated to them but more so because the token declaration could be the start of much better things for OFWs.”

I would like to share the full text of what PWEFI has aimed for the Year 2000 (and beyond) so OFWs would be aware of what to expect and for them to be able to do their share in support and observance of the Year of OFWs.

Among the things that PWEFI intends to pursue this year are:

1. Push for the passing of the absentee voting bill so that we can start exercising our right of suffrage, hopefully, in the 2001 elections.

2. Urge the government to establish a one-stop office or agency (under the appropriate department) for OFWs wishing to go into business – an agency that would assist them from preparing feasibility studies to securing loans to actual start-up.

3. Urge OWWA to launch an extensive information campaign so that OFWs are really aware of their benefits.

4. Suggest to the Department of Education a nationwide information campaign that would educate the youth about the pros and cons of labor migration, the contributions of OFWs to the Philippine economy, the effects of labor migration on the Filipino family, etc. (or better still, suggest the incorporation of such within the appropriate school subject.)

Moreover, the Foundation submitted to the office of Sen. Legarda in July last year several other suggestions. During a meeting between Sen. Legarda’s legislative staff and DFA Undersecretary Benjamin Domingo (who is in charge of OFW Affairs), this list was, in turn, given to the latter who was reportedly excited over the declaration of OFW Year and was very receptive to the groups’ suggestions which included the following:

* Philippine embassies and consulates must be required to have 24-hour hotlines which OFWs could call when they get into trouble. This way, even those who are jailed for very minor offenses are immediately attended to.

* OFWs must be urged to inform the embassy immediately whenever they hear about kababayans being arrested and jailed so that appropriate action could be taken immediately.

* Our diplomatic missions should seek the assistance of community organizations which would be willing to act as monitoring groups for domestic helpers (DHs). These groups must be given authority by the Embassy to call on a regular basis employers of Filipina housemaids and to speak with the housemaids themselves in order to find out if all is well with them. Contracts of employment should then have a provision stipulating this arrangement. This special focus on domestic helpers stems from the fact that among the different sectors of OFW communities, these women are the most vulnerable to abuse. Aside from that, once they arrive in the Kingdom (or any other country for that matter) and the moment they enter their employers’ home, they are, in a manner of speaking, kept under lock and key and they virtually lose touch with the “outside world.” No one, therefore, knows what happens to them inside. Just imagine if they are your mothers or sisters. Would you be able to sleep knowing that their situation makes them prone to abuse or maltreatment?

* Ambassadors and consuls must hold once-a-week (or even once-a-month) dialogues with their respective OFW communities encouraging the ordinary OFWs (and not only “community leaders” and “prominent members of the community”) to attend. This is the sector of the community that is “heard and seen” less often. The embassy should attend more to, and encourage more participation from, this under-represented sector.

* Recruitment and placement agencies must be mandated to post at least one representative in critical OFW destinations to look after their deployed workers.

On the lighter side and in perfect consonance with the Foundation’s objective of utilizing the power of media and entertainment in promoting the welfare and well-being of OFWs, PWEFI intends to do the following:

* Urge producers of TV drama anthologies (such as “Maalaala Mo Kaya”) to focus more on storylines dealing with OFWs’ lives, and producers of talk shows to tackle more OFW issues during the special year.

* Ask the leading broadsheets (Inquirer, Philippine Star, The Manila Bulletin, etc.) to come up with an OFW page at least once a month.

* Ask the Metro Manila Film Festival Committee to include ‘OFW theme’ in their criteria for the December 2000 festival.

And as a first step in striving to have the modern-day heroes recognized and honored – immortalized, if you will – PWEFI has written Postmaster General, Nicasio Rodriguez, petitioning for the issuance of a special OFW stamp. The Foundation also proposed that, should this request be approved, a stamp design competition be organized by PWEFI.

Finally, PWEFI wrote Jaime Cardinal Sin to explore the possibility of issuing a pastoral letter about the plight of OFWs. The suggestion was for the letter to be read during a Sunday mass (supposedly sometime in December). Likewise, as it is our belief that even deceased OFWs deserve to be part of the celebration of OFW Year, it was suggested further that – with the help (again) of fellow OFWs – we collect as many names of deceased OFWs as we could. The list of names is to be submitted to the appropriate entity which, in turn, will distribute the list to all churches nationwide so that masses and/or prayers could be offered for the deceased OFWs during the entire month of December. His Eminence referred the matter to Bishop Arguelles of the Episcopal Commission for the Pastoral Care of Migrant Workers and Itinerant People under the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP). This will also be pursued with vigor. The Flor Contemplacions of this world must not be buried into oblivion, even they should be a part of the OFW Year celebrations.

We can even request The Filipino Channel to prepare an interstitial for All Saints Day wherein they could flash pictures of the deceased OFWs (and their names) while prayer is being delivered, asking the viewers to light candles and to pray. This is similar in concept to TFC’s “Bandila at Kandila: Lighting of the Centennial Candles Ceremony” in 1998 (which was, likewise, suggested by the Foundation).

NOW that Year 2000 has finally been declared as OFW Year, let us all do our share. Let us keep in mind and try to glean some truth in what the PWEFI members believe, which, lastly, is quoted below:

And what are OFWs asking for in return? Not much. In fact, OFWs do not necessarily want to be treated as heroes. Not VIPs even. They don’t even need the government to be grateful. They merely want to feel cared for and properly attended to. And what is PWEFI asking for? Not much either. Just a token declaration… Just an “OFW YEAR.” A special year that is hoped to improve the lot of OFWs, get more things moving for their welfare and benefit, and make them more “visible and audible.” And all these could become reality without so much effort on the part of the government. Just a simple act of picking up a pen and signing for the declaration. Not much really. After all, it is for the very people who do not only contribute to the economic well-being of our country and to the development of their host countries but who serve as conduits of Philippine culture, customs and traditions. People who serve as showcases of everything good that we have to offer the world. People who, by being such, contribute to the globalization of the Filipino and, in a large sense, to the Filipinization of the globe.

And that is the worth of OFWs.


Author: Freda Editha O. Contreras
Published on: April 4, 2000


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