Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Arroyo anew for neglect of OFWs

Press Release
29 October 2008

Reference: A. M. Ociones
Chairperson, Migrante KSA
Mobile: +966-56-679-3202

Migrant group in Saudi Arabia score Arroyo anew for neglect of OFWs
Cites lack of medical benefits

“Arroyo should call for better migrant protection in front of a mirror,” thus declared Migrante Saudi Arabia Chairperson A. M. Ociones in response to President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo's keynote speech Wednesday to the 2nd Global Forum on Migration and Development (GFMD) in Manila.

Ociones notes that while Arroyo called “to gather (the) collective will, joint resources, and common efforts” of “international organizations and global civil societies for the protection of migrant workers rights,” a Filipina confined at a hospital in Jeddah cannot be discharged due to ballooning hospitalization costs and the government's failure to provide assistance.

Aida Gutierrez, 41, a dressmaker from San Isidro, Nueva Ecija was hospitalized on October 2 due to diabetes mellitus and chronic renal failure.

As of October 25, Gutierrez bill at the Saudi German Hospital already costs SAR 118,838.70 (roughly PHP 1,564,383 at conversion rate of SAR 1 = PHP13.164).

Twice abandoned

Gutierrez' employer did not provide for any medical insurance coverage as mandated by local Saudi laws and has refused to shoulder her hospitalization from the very start.

“Her employer has already abandoned her fearing the high medical cost and now the government has abandoned Gutierrez by totally ignoring her needs," Ociones laments.

Quoting relatives in their documentation, Migrante KSA notes that the government representatives response to Gutierrez' case ranges from a 'non-committal' promise of “assistance… sa abot ng aming makakaya” from Consul General Ezzedin Tago to an outright “wala kaming pondo” by the local Welfare Officer.

In the Case Profile prepared by Migrante KSA, Jeddah Labor Attache Buliok Nilong apparently admitted to the victim's sister that they cannot do anything by saying “wala tayong magagawa dyan... Walang batas na pwedeng magpwersa sa employer na sagutin ang pagpapagamot.”

“These responses is totally reflective the government's de facto policy of reneging on their mandate to serve migrant Filipinos, ” Ociones adds.


On the other hand, OFW groups in Saudi Arabia, including Migrante, are now all busy raising funds for the hospitalization cost of Aida, but Migrante KSA feels it would not be enough.

“OWWA has billions in its coffers but nothing for situations like these! Where does all our money go?” Ociones asks citing the admission of Welfare Officer Romeo Pablo that OWWA has no funds and that he will ask other community organizations to start raising money.

“Surely, OWWA do have the funds, but no, they expect that the cost be shouldered again by the virtuous charity of OFWs,” Ociones adds blasting Arroyo at the same time for her policy to pull out the medical coverage from the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) and transferring it to the Philippine Health Insurance Corp. (PhilHealth) in 2004.

Migrante asserts that the transfer of OWWA Medicare coupled with the implementation of the OWWA Omnibus Policy in September 2004 effectively denied OFWs with proper medical coverage.

PhilHealth, according to Migrante and by own admission of OWWA staff here in Jeddah, can only own up to 20% of total hospitalization cost which can only be reimbursed in the Philippines.

“In a way, Arroyo is right,” Ociones concludes. “Arroyo's government is noteworthy for passing the burden of protecting and ensuring the rights and welfare of migrant workers on people other than themselves who was mandated by the Constitution.”

Arroyo made the call to the GFMD in the context of current global financial crisis which, Migrante asserts affects Filipino migrant workers in more ways than one.

“That employers are abandoning their workers like Aida Gutierrez is a direct result of the global economic crunch,” Ociones concludes. “And we expect more of these happening with the intensification of labor-export under the GFMD.”

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