Solon takes cudgels for distressed OFWs stranded in Middle East

A MILITANT lawmaker on Thursday said that Philippine officials in the diplomatic posts in Saudi Arabia must work double time and pull all stops to immediately repatriate hundreds, if not thousands more of distressed OFWs stranded in Jeddah and other parts of the Middle East.

Bayan Muna Rep. Teddy Casiño said while the DFA reports that close to 160 OFWs, including children, were repatriated as of February 10, this was a far cry from at least 6,500 stranded OFWs from in and around Jeddah who signed a logbook at the Consulate expressing their intent to be repatriated. The sign up was started soon after the Saudi government announced a “royal  pardon” for over-stayers of various nationalities on 25 September 2010. The amnesty ends on 23 March 2011.

“Given this pardon and next month’s deadline, DFA officials in Jeddah should work double time to get all our distressed and stranded compatriots repatriated. I also call on them to change their atrocious attitude towards the plight of our distressed compatriots, particularly in Jeddah,” Casiño said.

He said a majority of the stranded Filipinos in Jeddah have no legal or valid documents for various reasons. “But this can be remedied if our diplomatic post provides all relevant legal documents to Saudi authorities for them to easily give them exit visas.”

In a privilege speech at the House of Representatives last Monday (Feb. 7), Casiño said: “In the last two weeks, concerned Filipinos from abroad have sent me frantic emails detailing the inhuman conditions of our countrymen who are now totally dependent on the goodwill and charity of fellow Filipinos and some kind hearted Arabs. In all their messages, there is one common observation – that our consulate in Jeddah is not doing enough to help and worse, that our officials abroad are partly responsible for making the situation of our OFW’s worse than they already are.”

He criticized the Philippine Consulate in Jeddah for doing so little, even to the point of not allowing stranded OFWs camped outside of the consulate building to use its bathroom facilities.

“What does government do to the downtrodden, abused, maltreated and mistreated OFW who runs away from his or her evil employer? These OFWs who have lost their jobs have been reduced to begging under a bridge or beside the wall of our consular office in Jeddah,” Casiño said in his speech.

While criticizing the DFA for not doing enough, he commended groups such as Migrante International, Guardians, Samahang Ilokano, Create Business Group, Overseas Filipino Workers Cooperative Council, Transport Cooperative, Sarawat Boys, World Filipino Alliance, Filipino medical workers ng King Abdul Aziz University Hospital, Bawadi, and Filipino and Saudi individuals for helping out the stranded OFWs.

“Mabuti pa itong mga kababayan at ibang nationalities na tumutulong kahit hindi sinuswelduhan. Ang nakakahiya ay ang mga consular officials natin na sinusuwelduhan para tumulong pero hindi naman nakakatulong at minsan pa nga ay nagiging dahilan pa ng sama ng loob ng ating mga kababayan,” he said.

Saying that the problem goes beyond “uncaring and incompetent consular officials,” Casiño said the Aquino administration made matters worse by cutting the DFA 2011 budget proposal by 42.6 percent.

“Pres. Aquino reduced the Legal Assistance Fund for OFWs from P50 million to only P30 million from his contingency fund. This is a gross violation of the Migrant Workers Act, which mandates that the DFA must allot at least P100 million for the repatriation, medical assistance and other welfare services for OFWs in distress. The Assistance to Nationals (ATN) fund of DFA, on the other hand, has been reduced to P87 million from P100 million,” he said.

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