Real talk: Protecting OFWs

“REMEMBER the banana. When it left the bunch, it got skinned.” In analogy, this serves as a stern warning to our overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) whose plight is becoming bizarre and gruesome beyond our imagination. Stories told in the media about what happened to a Filipino who decided to leave relatives and friends to work in a foreign land are disturbing and alarming. Fresh graduates this month will add to our unemployment problem should they have a hard time getting a job. Most likely, half of these graduates will pack their bags and work abroad and bring along with them their dreams and aspirations for a brighter future for their families.

Their vulnerability to abuse by their employers is compounded by the fact that their passport and cellphones are demanded and confiscated by their employers thus, they end up deprived of their means of communication to their families here. Alone in a foreign land, their only supposed ally is the Consulate office abroad. Unfortunately, this ally that is supposed to protect their rights has failed them for years.

Modern-day slavery has been going on for years. Reactive instead of proactive positions are considered as the lack of genuine concern for the welfare of our modern-day heroes.

It has always been the case when it comes to security and safety of our citizens. Government’s action is oftentimes reactive to worst-case scenarios and that is when the incident already involves a body count. How many cases of maltreatment or torture before the recent Demafelis case were already reported? Nonchalance and the absence of concrete effort to improve the situation resulted in the repatriation and the demise of some of our OFWs.

Why are Filipinos so badly treated in the Middle East and Chinese speaking nations? The Philippines is known as a hospitable nation. Do we not deserve the same hospitality? Some of the domestic helpers abroad are even overqualified to work as helpers. These are college graduates who cannot find work here.

I am bothered by reports that in our own country, modern-day slavery also exists although not as serious as those abroad. Some household help are treated by their “masters” as if they were their pets, eating their leftovers if not subjected to a dried fish diet. No days off and not even decent sleeping quarters.

The Kasambahay Law is supposed to protect the rights of our domestic helpers but this is not strictly enforced.