February 29, 2008
On Helping Runaway OFWs in Saudi Arabia
Phil. Amba. Advisory necessary but failed to present concrete Actions how to curb increasing numbers of runaways – Migrante Middle East
An alliance of overseas Filipino workers organizations in the Middle East commended Philippine Ambassador Antonio Villamor when he issued an advisory to all OFWs in the Middle East not to extend help for runaway OFWs as this act is against Saudi law, but pointed out that he failed to present concrete actions how to curb increasing numbers of runaways in the Kingdom especially in Jeddah.
“We would like commend Ambassador Antonio Villamor for his advisory issued on February 23 that helping runaways, not only OFWs but also other nationalities, is considered a crime in Saudi Arabia . His advisory serves a good reminder to us, all OFWs working in the Kingdom,” said John Leonard Monterona, Migrante Middle East regional coordinator.
“However, as much as Ambassador Villamor’s concern to OFWs not to be in trouble by helping runaways, we are much concerned as well that our Embassy officials, as representatives of our very government in the Kingdom, could come up concrete actions and solutions on how to curb increasing numbers of runaways and distressed OFWs in the entire country. In this, our Embassy officials failed to do so up to now,” Monterona added.
“Our Embassies should have to execute pro-active solutions to the real problems ‘normally’ encountered by OFWs in the Kingdom and entire Middle East . Instead our Embassy, POLO/OWWA, just came up short for having palliative solutions to OFW problems with their employers such as the rampant contract substitution and violations, labor-related malpractices such as non-payment for overtime worked, transportation allowances, deductions of salaries for payment of medical cards and residence permit and sexual abuses,” Monterona added.
Migrante said that they have been long requesting and campaigning from previous Ambassadors assigned in Saudi to have a separate shelter for male OFWs runaways but this request just fall over to their thin ears.
At present, there are 3 shelters run by OWWA in the entire Kingdom: in Riyadh , Jeddah, and Al Khobar, but none of the three shelters accommodate male runaways.
“Migrante’s Rights and Welfare Assistance Committee have observed several times that our POLO/OWWA staffs are not dealing with much concern and seriousness to OFWs problems and being dissatisfied and demoralized how POLO/OWWA responded to their cases, runaways would better seek help from others or OFWs organizations like us,” said Nhel Morona, Migrante-UAE Secretary General.
Morona said that though there are hotline telephone numbers which OFWs could immediate call for emergency situations, these phones are often busy or nobody’s picking it for immediate assistance.
“Besides, if a runway OFW had been out from his employer, for let us say two or three weeks, POLO/OWWA does not accept anymore the runaway OFW to be placed at its shelter. POLO/OWWA would simply says “if you can stay longer outside as an absconder, you can stay ever more days”, Morona added.
Adding to the Increasing Numbers of runaways
Three weeks ago, William Lorenzo, 38 of Ilocos Norte; Joey Mapagdalita, 26 of Ilocos Norte; Francisco Rivera Jr., 38 of Cadiz, Negros Occidental, Christopher Madanca, 40; Benjamin Estacio, 26, mechanic, of Quezon; and Epanio Barba, 33 year old heavy equipment operator from Paranaque , ran away from their employer from Riyadh.
The six Filipinos arrived in the Saudi capital in March last year and worked with Al-Masad Company that does road pavements in Riyadh .
According to Lorenzo, they were not paid their meager salary of SR750 a month until they had labored kilometers and kilometers of Riyadh roads for three months.
The delayed low salaries kept until November last year that after January this year they decided not to work anymore, the run away workers told KGS.
On February 6, the six approached the Philippine embassy’s labor office to ask for help in collecting their four months unpaid salaries and to seek immediate repatriation but the case officer sitting told them to “go back to your employer.”
They can only remember the name Salah written on the case officer’s desk and went out after realizing that the Philippine embassy’s solution is to prolong their agony by going back to their employer.
The six sought refuge from a fellow Filipino driver that drove them some 300 kilometers away from Riyadh where they are working part time as construction workers.
The six drivers are just one picture of hundreds if not thousands of Filipino male workers that are left to scamper for their food and shelter after running away from problems with their abusive employers.
While in Manila , departing OFWs pay to attend a pre-departure seminar where would be OFWs are advised to seek assistance at the Philippine embassies, the promised assistance could not just be felt by problematic workers.
Faced with the reality that they have nowhere to live since the Philippine embassy does not offer shelter for male distressed workers, the problem on the need for male shelter resurfaced after Ambassador Antonio Villamor issued an advisory warning all Filipino not to harbor runaway compatriot in order to avoid being arrested by the local authorities.
“While we admire the Ambassador of pointing what is not allowed, his being legalistic does not ease the real situation on hand,” said Mario Ben, Secretary-General for Kapatiran sa Gitnang Silaagan-Migrante Riyadh Chapter.
Ben added that shelter, food, legal assistances, transportation are basic needs of distressed workers. If the Filipino community is told not to harbor distressed workers, why can’t the Philippine government provide these basic needs of their valued export commodities? As we all knew that there is an amount allocated as welfare fund for distressed OFWs.
“We are urging our Ambassador to make representation to the Saudi government to come up with a mechanism protecting the rights and welfare of our runaways and to secure their shelters who have absconded from their errant employers,” Monterona said.
“This is an opportune time for Embassy Officials, POLO and OWWA at posts to prove that they are working for our overseas Filipino worker’s rights and welfare so that they will not be identified anymore as inept officials at posts,” Monterona ended. # # #
John Leonard Monterona - Regional Coordinator
Migrante Middle East Mobile No.: 00966 564 97 8012
Mario Ben, Secretary-General
Kapatiran sa Gitnang Silangang-Migrante Riyadh Chapter
Mobile No: 0966 565 745 214