NO, make that International Migrants Day on December 18, tomorrow. But with the large number of Filipinos working abroad, it can readily be called the International Filipinos Day.
On December 18, 1990, the United Nations General Assembly had adopted the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families.
Contained in the Convention is the protection of migrant workers and members of their families, granting them rights just like residents of the country they are in. Most striking are the articles assuring freedom from slavery. To wit:
Article 10. No migrant worker or member of his or her family shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment of punishment.
1. No migrant worker or member of his or her family shall be held in slavery of servitude.
2. No migrant worker or member of his or her family shall be required to perform force or compulsory labour.
We have heard and seen how some hapless OFWs are being treated out there and how slow government is in responding to their cases. The lucky ones are those whose issues are exposed by the media before they are beheaded or hanged or kill themselves, that is.
At the High-level Dialogue on International Migration and Development in October 2013, Member States, including the Philippines, unanimously adopted a Declaration recognizing the important contribution of migration to development and called for greater cooperation to address the challenges of irregular migration and to facilitate safe, orderly and regular migration.
In the declaration, the need to respect human rights of migrants and promotion of international labor standards were also stressed, while strongly condemning manifestations of racism and intolerance.
Still fresh in our memories is the case of Mary Jane Veloso, whose mother was even called an ingrate by government when she railed against the lack of attention her daughter had to suffer while being accused of trying to ship in drugs in Indonesia, which brought her to death row in a heart-stopping march to her death that was called off at the last minute; and how the administration clambered to grab credits for having stopped the execution.
Fresher than Veloso’s case is that of Gloria Ortinez, the 56-year-old OFW arrested at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) on Oct. 25 after two policemen claimed to have found a live bullet in her handbag.
We were given an almost blow by blow account of how her issue was brushed aside by authorities, blaming her for what has befallen her. That was until public outrage made the administration realize they have a big problem on their hands.
But there are lessons we can learn from these recent events. The biggest one is that this government will be pushed to do its job when public outcry grow loud and long. Now this is something we should seriously think about as w approach election season: Is this the kind of government we have, considering the millions of OFWs the Philippines has and how the OFW issue becomes every one’s personal issue because of this?
We close this with the text of Article 23 of the Convention, which states:
Migrant workers and members of their families shall have the right to have recourse to the protection and assistance of the consular or diplomatic authorities of their State of origin or of a State representing the interests of that State whenever the rights recognized in the present Convention are impaired.
Why is it that we have been hearing over and over again the wails of OFWs seeking help after being ignored by Philippine consular officials when they most need help?