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Answering the Filipino Migrant’s Call for Help

Justice and Peace Story

Answering the Filipino Migrant’s Call for Help

The Philippines is one of the topmost exporters of human labor, treated as prime commodities. The Filipino Diaspora is a diverse group of OFWs composed of thousands. Of this make-up, 3.73 million or 42% are permanent residents, 4.27 million or 48% have temporary work contracts while an alarming 10% or almost 850,000 are undocumented migrants, according to POEA data of 2009. At present, there is an estimated 8.9 million or roughly 10% of the population, who are OFWs in 197 countries around the globe and work as laborers, factory workers, service workers, healthcare workers, professional and clerical employees, entertainers, seafarers or domestics. Majority of these are women, hence the so-called “feminization of migration” which creates an atypical family set-up and problems within the family as a social unit. The government encourages OFWs, calls them the “Bagong Bayani” (New Heroes) of our times and rejoices on their remittances in dollars and euros that the constantly ailing economy needs. Based on the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas 2009 statistics, these remittances amount to $ 17.3 billion, which is indeed a welcome boost to the Philippine economy. But there is a downside to all this glory, the social costs of migration and the traumatic and horrid experiences of human rights violations that some fall prey to.

Human trafficking, white slavery, maltreatment of workers, verbal and sexual abuse, moral degradation, injustice…these are conditions experienced by people, especially by OFWs. In 2008, Migrante, an NGO has reported handling over 1,000 cases of abuses, and confirms that there are a number of workers in prison, with some on death row.  In search of better work opportunities and greener pastures, so to speak, they venture into unfamiliar places, unfamiliar cultures, customs and traditions and unfavorable working conditions, all for the benefit of their loved ones.

Many Filipino OFWs suffer from these conditions although no reliable data has been recorded as of yet. Media often exposes news of these victims, people being promised certain jobs and benefits abroad only to be brought to prostitution houses, some do not get the pay stipulated in their contracts and some do not get paid at all. Some who work as domestics close their ears and eyes to the unfair treatment of their employers, who look down on them as if they were beasts of burden who do not tire and are made to work for excessively long hours. Some are regarded as sexual objects, and, when they muster the courage to defend themselves and their virtue, are labeled as heartless murderers.

Alex Cortez describes the harrowing experience he went through to make it to Italy. “I was told that the plane flight would not drop me off on Italian land, but I was still unprepared for the actual experience of having to cross borders. They housed us somewhere and were given instructions. In the middle of the night, they would rouse us   and we’d run half -clothed to strange locations, in the cold and with fear in our hearts. I pitied the women who were with us, but there was no other choice, it’s either we make it or not.” Magine Alcantara left her husband and 4 kids for Japan to work in a factory, but found herself in the position of a GRO, eventually, she was taken in forcibly by a member of the feared Yakuza who controlled her movements. For the next two years, she was unable to send her family either any communication or any money. It was only when her live- in mate tired of her that she was allowed to go back to the Philippines.” I will never return there, “ says Magine. “ I may not make it out alive anymore.” Eva from the Southern Tagalog Region, is a victim in her own country, having trusted an illegal recruiter with the money they got after mortgaging their residential lot. “I was promised a job as seamstress in Dubai, but after we paid the initial Php 30, 000, we couldn’t find the agency office or any of its employees anymore. “ Apparently, it was a fly- by night operator and nobody could help her track down the criminal.

But there are more undocumented cases, those that we do not read about or see on television, but exists, as the Filipino worker is a martyr, “matiisin”, when it comes to work conditions and is naturally hard working. All these sacrifices, OFWs vow are for a better life, for their families, especially for their children. Unfortunately, there are those who can not avail of government assistance to relieve themselves of their dire situation.

Herewith lies one of the tasks some members of the Lay Salvatorians, Philippines have involved themselves with.  As social workers working in a non- government organization for migrant workers and families left behind they consider this endeavor as their own field of ministry as well. They work to provide means of providing assistance, counseling, homevisit and mediation for such victims of inhuman practices. And because they believe that it is one’s Christian responsibility to give service to our fellowmen and assist the poor, the oppressed, and the disadvantage sector of our society as Christ our Lord himself has done, some of the Lay Salvatorians give freely of themselves, of their time and skills, to look into the needs and conditions of these migrant workers and their families and to give them assistance through referrals to other agencies who can address such problems. The Lay Salvatorians do their share in alleviating problems, guiding the victims and helping them recover from the difficult situations that they have or are still experiencing.

Their social work and intervention extends to providing livelihood skills training, seminar on financial literacy and starting one’s own business, information education campaign on the realities of overseas Filipino migration, organizing the families particularly the children left behind through its’ school based program on the Children’s Response to the challenge of migration, capacity building and value formation.

This is the Lay Salvatorians answer to the Filipino migrant workers cry for help.

Note: Names of the case study were changed to ensure confidentiality.