Thursday, July 31, 2008

Domestic Work is Work… Not Slavery!

by Carmelita C. Ballesteros
The lights were turned off in a tiny auditorium at the Substation, a small art gallery for emerging artists on Armenian Street in Singapore. About a hundred men and women in the audience hushed. Soft, background music which sounded like a muted lamentation slowly filled the silence.

Six women in batik pants literally crawled in from the backstage. Then they struggled to stand up. They pantomimed a ritualized beating-up of a poor, hapless slave. As the victim pleaded for mercy, an angel came and snatched her from her tormentors.

The lights were turned on and the six women performers took a bow. It was then that I noticed what their t-shirts proclaimed, “Domestic work is work…not slavery!”

I tried not to cry, but I felt hot salty tears streaming down my face.

H.O.M.E., a registered charity organization which looks into the welfare and rights of migrant workers in Singapore, had sponsored the free screening of the film “ina… anak, pamilya.”

Starring Joel Torre, Eula Valdez, and Angel Aquino, it is a mixed documentary and fiction. Surprisingly, its director, J.P. Bautista, is an amateur film director who resigned from her comfortable Makati job in order to go into advocacy work through the film medium.

The ladies’ pantomime was just a front act. After the introduction of the director and her producer-husband, the lights were turned off again.

It was a simple film about a mother and wife who decided to work as a domestic helper in order to provide more food on the table for her family. Her husband had a lowly clerical job and his salary was hardly enough for food, house rental, school uniforms and shoes for their three children.

On the day that the mother left for the first time, her bunso was probably five years old. It was early dawn and she didn’t wish to wake up the children. As her husband (Joel Torre) stood waiting, holding her suitcase in the doorway, the mother (Eula Valdez) looked longingly at her children. She couldn’t resist caressing ever so gently her bunso’s hair as he slept peacefully.

I tried not to cry, but I felt hot salty tears streaming down my face.
Eula Valdez wasn’t crying; neither was Joel Torre. The children were asleep. There were no words spoken. There wasn’t any music. Then I heard my seatmates to the left and to the right sobbing. My face was getting soaked, so I took out a hanky. I heard a collective sniff. Everyone was crying!
How could a simple, underacted scene make everyone cry? It was because of the depth of our collective anguish, unspoken pain, and silent yearning for our families to hold and to love.
Interwoven with the mother’s story were statistics, survey results, and interview excerpts. It said there were 10 million domestic workers around the world in chains. In addition to Filipinos, these workers included Indonesians, Thais, Sri Lankans, Burmese, Cambodians, Vietnamese, Lao, etc.
Toward the end of the mother’s story, hope through OFW reintegration programs was shown. The husband attended an NGO-sponsored seminar and the docu-part of the film talked about the government’s initiatives towards providing loans for small entrepreneurs.
When the lights were turned on, the director of the film spoke again saying that her hope was that OFWs would be able to go home for good, succeed in their small businesses, and never ever have to leave their families behind again.
Copyright © 2008 to Barangay OFW. All rights reserved.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

First Pit Stop

by Nardito Sapon

I have been taking taxis for some years now in my daily morning ride to the office and I have often thought how some cab drivers resembled our barbers back home in certain ways.

It seems as if it is not only their duty to drive us down those well-paved Jurong roads and do what they are being paid for, but also to regale us with some stories, mostly on their work before becoming a cab driver, some familiar, some unheard of and some on how it was in Singapore ages back.

Many of those short glimpses into their lives, including the storytellers themselves, I could no longer remember, but there is one I shall never forget.

This particular cab driver seemed to be a breed apart from the rest. He sounded well-educated and even talked about some cosmic forces regulating the planets’ movements and was a confessed avid watcher of Discovery and Animal Planet cable TV channels.

But it was his chance remark that made me retrace my overseas work-life roadmap. In particular, it made me check where I am right now, not so unlike the x-marked “You Are Here” kiosks found in big shopping malls. Am I truly headed where I want to be? Am I on that strategic path that will lead me back to home?

It was totally unexpected. Upon learning I was a Filipino, he candidly remarked, “What are you doing here? You have a country far richer than Singapore. Here you can find trees, but most do not bear fruit. You can see tall buildings, but there is not enough land.”

I was astounded as he continued, “Go back and find your gold mine in your own country.” He sounded serious. I could only smile and utter a meaningless yeah in return.

I didn’t have a chance to tell him the real score, the true plight of my beloved Philippines, as the cab negotiated the bend to Gul Avenue and abruptly stopped at No. 39. However, I made an unspoken promise to make an effort to heed his call, “gold or no gold.”

There’s more or less 1 in a 15,000 chance, but if ever I get to ride his cab again, I would proudly inform him that a group of compatriots working in various parts of the globe recently launched an internet blog site.

He will not be interested in it, that’s for sure, much less would I be able to convince him that in being part of this group, I have embarked on my journey back home to become an ex-foreign talent. And most importantly, I have found the first pit stop in Barangay OFW.

Copyright © 2008 to Barangay OFW. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

How Do You Solve A Problem Like Maria?

This article, "How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria?" by Teresita Cruz-del Rosario was originally published in the Philippine Daily Inquirer on July 17, 2008 (Manila time). Dr. del Rosario has given Barangay OFW her kind permission to re-publish this article. She is a Senior Research Fellow at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy in Singapore. You may reach her at
From nanny-cum-cook-cum-laundry-woman in an Asian city, Maria promptly plunged into work in an export garments factory eight years after her return home. Wages were better, work conditions allowed her one-day-a-week off, and there was handsome overtime pay. Her life as migrant worker was irretrievably over.

Then one day she fell mysteriously ill. What started as a suspicion that she inhaled too much cotton dust from cutting fabric ended with a much deeper malaise, diagnosed six months after a cough that wouldn’t go away. She had contracted the HIV/AIDs virus.

She was promptly thrown out of her home that she helped build and sustain through eight years of monthly remittances. Her husband remarried and her children put her in a government hospital that has since become her home. Along with other patients, like her usually migrant returnees, she is hidden from view, a secret scourge that society has wished away into non-existence.

Maria’s mini-narrative mirrors the vulnerabilities that somehow disappear in the reckoning of advantages to both labor-sending and labor-receiving countries. Remittances and strong labor demand remain at the top of a list of economic justifications for why governments would adopt, however unofficially, the export of labor as government policy.

Yet it is also a central feature of the global labor market that the majority of foreign workers are young able-bodied women, hardly equipped with the socio-cultural-psychological resources to navigate the complexities of the global marketplace. Like Maria, many of them fall through the global cracks. Those who suffer from extreme misfortune plunge into a deep dark hole, unable to redeem themselves.

Some countries have stepped up to the plate, however. Sri Lanka, for one, has negotiated bilateral agreements with a Jordanian insurance company to provide cover for all Sri Lankan domestic workers. The costs borne by Jordanian employers are reflected in model contracts that embody all contractual obligations between employer and employee. Similar arrangements are currently being worked out with the Kuwaiti government.

Recently Thailand entered into bilateral agreements with Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar to manage the logistical arrangements involving 50,000 to 100,000 guest workers. This move aims to curb illegal migration through registration, and provide better monitoring and surveillance of cross-border migration. Such agreements are however silent on migrant labor’s rights or social protection measures available to them.

Singapore’s open admission that its continuing viability as a city-state hinges on constant labor importation translates into a series of policy and programmatic interventions to entice foreign workers to join the Singaporean workforce at all levels. Training for skills upgrading is an option to domestic helpers who can acquire a diploma as a nursing aide.

At the high-end of the labor market, Singapore allows professionals to apply for permanent resident status within three months, a recognition of their worth to the Singaporean economy, and a policy move to retain professional labor.

Most labor-sending countries like Pakistan, Sri Lanka and the Philippines require pre-departure training for migrants, provide protection shelters for migrant workers in designated countries, and have institutionalized an overseas welfare fund to provide insurance benefits to workers and their families in case of death, repatriation, partial and total disablement. Membership in these funds is mandatory; hence migrant workers are automatically covered even before they have left for their work destinations.

Maria’s predicament, however, remains unresolved. Current social insurance schemes miss out on various other contingencies that afflict migrant workers the world over. The majority of complaints center on issues of non-payment of salaries, breach of contract, onerous conditions of work and cultural adjustment problems.
Workers arrive in these countries stranded, left to their devices when agencies in the receiving countries fail to show up at the designated pick-up points. Others are officially employed to work in single homes yet are asked to double-up at a family-owned restaurant or clean up a mother-in-law’s house. The worst cases forcibly end up in their master’s bed for sexual favors and much like Maria, their brutal predicaments are known only much later.

For those fortunate ones whose migration experience was all-around trouble-free, their return home is a tale of sudden insecurity. They have provided for everyone but themselves, accumulated no savings, despite long careers overseas. A long line of children, nephews and nieces would have grown up and been educated on remittance money, the family home refurbished, the land title fully secured and paid for, the sari-sari (convenience) store abundantly stocked with monthly shipments of goodies.

But the migrant worker returns home with only a suitcase of clothes and perhaps a television set purchased at the duty free shop in Dubai. Relatives teeming at the airport await a final dole-out of leftover cash. The migrant worker’s first day at home is a wash-out.

To date, there is no pension or forced savings scheme for migrants. For while countries with aging populations worry about the availability and longevity of social security funds and depend on migrant caregivers, there is little thought given to migrant workers’ desires to retire from overseas work someday. Yes, Virginia, migrants become old too.

Perhaps these additional social costs should be factored in when charting supply and demand curves in the global labor market equation. More pointedly, time has come to put more balls in migration governance.

Monday, July 21, 2008

An OFW Daughter’s Perspective

by Rizza Lee

She is in her mid 20's, a fashion-plate with designer clothes bought from different corners of the globe. Sweet, witty, and pretty, she is my friend who confides to me not for advice, but to have somebody who can see her in a different perspective.

When she was eight, her parents worked separately in two different European countries. When she was ten, her parents separated and she grew up under the tutelage of her grandmother.

“Who cares? As long as he gives me a good amount of sustento,” was her remark about her father who had re-married and already had his second family abroad.

My friend’s mother came home for a few days once in a couple of years. At age 52, she was still working quite hard out there to spoil my friend with worldly materials.

Spoiled enough, she was! She had four different active cell phones. She used each phone with a different boy friend. This arrangement, according to her, helped avoid confusion of sweet talks and text messages. She also dated several married guys and a few managers in our company.

People either loved her or hated her. She had a ‘bad girl’ reputation which she created herself and heedlessly flaunted. Although most of my female colleagues hated her, I thought of her as a little girl who managed to hide her pains through the attention of an entourage of boy friends who adored her.

One day in the office, she seemed annoyed while talking to her mom on the phone. When she put down the phone, she looked at me and sighed deeply.

“Nakakainis! My mom wants to come home next month--- for good.”

I said, “That would be great!”

But I stopped talking when she continued to say jokingly, “Ayoko nga, noh! I’m not used to having her around. Hay naku, di bale, I will try my best para makisama. She might not give me pasalubong at pera pag inaway ko.”

More than a month had passed and I noticed her coming to work early and working late at night. I was curious how she and her mom were getting along. I asked her about her mom while we were having lunch.

Naku, gusto ba naman tumabi sa akin sa pagtulog! Tapos sa umaga, she makes me a tuna sandwich kasi healthy daw. Di ba n’ya alam na I don’t eat tuna? Eto pa ha, she prepares my clothes for me kahit di nya rin alam kung ano gusto kong isuot. Hay naku! I hope she stops doing those things, kasi she’s treating me like the kid I was when she left me. That’s why I go home late and come to work early para maiwasan ang encounter.”

I responded to her, “But I don’t think you should be giving her that ill-deserved punishment. Sabi nga nila, the more you hate your parents, the more you become like them, or even worse!”

My laconic comment stunned her to silence. Then she asked, “Uy mare, totoo ba ‘yan?”

“Ewan, pero marami na akong kakilala na ganun ang nangyayari. Alam mo mare, when we were kids, LOVE was spelled TIME in our eyes. Now that we’ve grown-up, and our parents have aged, they realize that at this point in our lives, we were right all along. Love is time spent together.”

During that time, I was planning to work abroad myself so I could afford to provide for more than just my children’s basic needs. My own advice was reflected back to me. As her mother had done, I was also about to brave separation from my own children and work abroad in the hope of giving them a good life.

Was it really all worth it? Would they ever understand? Would they ever see beyond the desertion that I had only the best intentions for them?

Aware of my friend’s perspective as a daughter, I made a promise to myself that wherever I go, my family would come with me and we would always be together. It would be a lot riskier but it was a risk I was most prepared to take.

Two months ago, my friend sent me an email. An excerpt of it says: “I have learned to accept and not to fight back what is happening. And I felt better. I’m just starting to do it, mare. And we are both struggling to be comfortable with each other. All these years, my mom was a stranger to me.”

I felt both happy and sad for her. Happy – because she seemed to have become a new person who had finally figured out her life. Sad – because she felt that her mother was a stranger to her.
The words might not have been spoken, but her mother must have surely felt it. What else could be more painful to a mother who had sacrificed the best years of her life working as an OFW in a foreign land?
Copyright © 2008 to Barangay OFW. All rights reserved.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Key OFW Issues and Proposed Reforms

by Mark Serrano


As if living in strange lands -- far away from home and their loved ones -- is not hard enough, OFWs have to deal with the challenges imposed upon them by their own government and people.

OFW horror stories emanate from POEA, OWWA, Immigration and Customs at the airport, and the recruitment agencies back home. The supposed "heroes" are actually "martyrs" in their homeland, subject to the opportunism and ill treatment from their fellow Filipinos.

Barangay OFW has come together to bring to the forefront these key issues. It has also taken the pro-active stance to propose reforms in a holistic manner.

In one document, Barangay OFW would like to share the collective experiences, thoughts, desires and bright ideas of OFWs from all corners of the globe with the Philippine government, the Filipino nation and the rest of the world.

This is a tiny step toward, “Reforming the Present, Creating the Future.”

Indifference has been the ally of oppression; conviction its antidote. Fellow OFWs past, present, and future, if we all make a stand and take a tiny step forward today, we shall soon claim the magnificent destiny we all deserve. Mabuhay!

Read this document on Scribd: Consolidated OFW feedback & proposed reforms

One Barangay at a Time

by Carmelita C. Ballesteros
Barangay Wawa is a rich fishing village in the town of Nasugbu, Batangas. Nuestra SeƱora de la Paz y Buenviaje, its patron saint, is famous for protecting fisherfolk and blessing them with plentiful catch.
My son and I left our village in the 1980s. My son went to school at the St. Francis de Sales Minor Seminary (high school equivalent) in Lipa City while I taught at De La Salle University in Manila. We always went back to visit, but we never really belonged any more.
After high school, my son went to San Beda College in Mendiola, Manila for his bachelor’s degree in Philosophy.
While completing my doctoral degree at the University of Santo Tomas, I applied for a housing loan and built a two-bedroom bungalow at Camella Fairfields in Bacoor, Cavite.
My son and I commuted from our new home to Manila every day. Every so often, we’d visit Barangay Wawa, but we never really belonged any more.
Time flew. Soon, the 21st century had begun and my son was already a family man. We renovated our modest bungalow to build additional rooms for his growing family. We asked carpenters and masons from our village to come and help us. Afterwards, we’d go and visit Barangay Wawa every so often, but we never really belonged any more.
Two weeks ago, my son and his family went to our village to help lay to rest a childhood friend of his. While walking with the funeral cortege from the village to the cemetery to help bury his friend, he realized that he’d left a piece of himself in Barangay Wawa. It is the home of his childhood and he has never stopped belonging.

He cried silently, grieved by the untimely death of his childhood friend. But he wept in his heart, grieved by the decay of the home of his innocence.
Whenever we’d visit in the past, we’d stay in my mother’s or brother’s place, have a picnic, then leave. We’d say hello to neighbors in the morning, then we’d say goodbye in the afternoon. Spending time at the wake of his friend, my son had a chance to listen to the stories of his other childhood friends. He had time to observe them up close.

Most of them didn’t finish high school. They married in their teens so they already have teenage children. Their daily life is a struggle for economic survival. They don’t have steady jobs. They work as seasonal fishermen, carpenters, masons, plumbers, drivers, etc. Some of their wives work as fish vendors, laundrywomen, or room attendants in the exclusive beach resorts nearby.
The village has become too crowded, overrun by local migrants from other islands. Village wells have either dried up or have become too polluted. During my son’s childhood, we drew drinking water from the well in our backyard. In fact, everybody drew water from that well.
In fact, every household had a well somewhere near. My mother used to wonder in amazement how in heaven could the numerous wells give fresh potable water while the village sat beside the sea? God must be a real genius!

Unlike the wells, the sea has not dried up. But it has been abused by dynamite fishing and has become depleted of its once abundant supply of fishes of all species. Owners of fishing boats groan that they have to fish farther and farther into the open ocean.
Sometimes, they come back to the shore empty-handed. Sometimes, they come back to the shore with a comrade injured by a dynamite blast. Sometimes, they don’t come back at all, perishing in a typhoon or a dynamite accident.
Worst of all, the village has become a haven of drug runners and addicts!
It is a screaming irony that the original inhabitants of the village have become destitute and despondent while local migrants from other places now own exclusive beach resorts.
Being involved in CFC and Gawad Kalinga, my son and his wife have promised themselves that they will to go back to Barangay Wawa and focus on education for all – the children, the teen-agers, and the adults.
There is an elementary school in the village and there are several secondary schools in the town proper. But only a few students from our village finish high school, and hardly anyone seems able to go to college.
So the village is hostage to poverty and misery. Perhaps, some boys and girls do dream of a better life. But they don’t know how to make their dreams come true. Perhaps, their dreams die in their childhood.
This scenario is multiplied a thousand times all over the Philippines. As a third-world country, we used to compete with Malaysia and Thailand. But Malaysia and Thailand have overtaken us.
Lately, we have stopped competing with Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos. They have also overtaken us. Now, we are competing with Myanmar for notoriety and corruption.
Many of us despair and give up. Many of us are ashamed to own a Philippine passport. Many of us hate having been born a Filipino.
The good news is that there are many more of us who refuse to give up. There are many more of us who carry themselves with dignity and show their Philippine passports with pride. There are many more of us whose childhood home is a village somewhere in the Philippines. And we never stop belonging to the home of our childhood.

Soon, I hope to join my son and his wife as they go back to our village, our town. We hope to show the children, the teenagers, and the adults that abundance is everywhere, that there is hope.
Perhaps, they can learn to dream again. Perhaps, this is the way to bring about social transformation in the Philippines. One barangay at a time…

(Originally published in FilamMegaScene, Chicago, Illinois, USA, June 20, 2008)

Copyright © 2008 to Barangay OFW. All rights reserved.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Travel and Work Ban to Nigeria

by Maynard L. Flores

Late in 2006, the government still allowed deployment of workers to Nigeria despite reported kidnappings. Early in 2007, President Arroyo declared a “halt” to the deployment of workers to Nigeria after successive kidnapping incidents which involved OFWs in Nigeria's oil areas. The travel and work ban may have been justifiable at that point. "The president has ordered a temporary halt to deployments to Nigeria until the security of our nationals is guaranteed," Press Secretary Ignacio Bunye said in a statement.

It is to be noted that at the height of Nigerian militants attack on foreign workers in oil areas, it was not only Filipinos who were kidnapped, but other nationals as well. But none of their countries ever declared a ban or even made a travel advisory.However, long after the kidnapping has been resolved and kidnapped OFWs were released, the government still maintained the travel ban to Nigeria.

The travel ban affected not only New Hires but vacationing OFWs as well, ---- even those OFWs who had been working in Lagos and non-oil areas for a long time already.Even the last OFW kidnap victim, Albert Bacani Sr., after his return to the country, asked the the government to lift the travel ban to Nigeria. Adding that he will still go back to Nigeria after his two months ‘vacation’.By February 2007, the DFA and POEA still maintained Total Ban to Nigeria, despite the release of all 24 Filipino sailors seized by rebels in January.

By March 2007, upon the strength of the petition of some expatriate companies in Nigeria, the OFW association in Nigeria, and the endorsement of the Philippine Embassy, the Total Ban was scaled-down to Partial Ban, allowing the vacationing OFWs with valid work visa to return to Nigeria.

The partial lifting of ban of deployment to Nigeria will only allow the processing and deployment of returning Filipino workers who are on vacation and are going to work with the same employer and work site in Nigeria. OFWs with new contract are not allowed to leave.

Brion explained the decision to partially lift the ban was in light of the improved security conditions in both countries. However in May 2007, the government agencies concerned made a turn-around in the Nigeria deployment issues.“Despite the release [of the hostages], we will not lift the ban on the deployment of Filipino workers [to] Nigeria yet, pending our thorough assessment on the general situation in that African country by the Department of Foreign Affairs,” Labor Secretary Arturo Brion said in a statement.

Returning OFWs to Nigeria found themselves barred again by Immigration and POEA officials at the NAIA because they were told that a Total Ban was in effect. Brion’s statements were in complete contradiction the DFA’s recommendation to lift the travel ban to Nigeria. Thus:The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) has recommended the “immediate total” lifting of the deployment ban on overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) to Nigeria.In a letter to Labor Secretary Arturo Brion dated April 30, 2006, a copy of which was obtained by, DFA Undersecretary for Migrant Workers’ Affairs Esteban Conejos Jr. cited the report of the Philippine embassy in Abuja on the “stable” security situation in Nigeria.

This is just the beginning of the flip-flopping decisions made by the DOLE. It also showed a lack of coordination with DFA and POEA.By early November 2007, it looked like the three agencies -- DFA, DOLE and POEA – were really hell-bent in imposing the total travel ban to Nigeria.

The Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) has no plans of lifting the deployment ban on Filipino workers for Nigeria, dzMM reported Wednesday morning. Rosalinda Baldoz of the DOLE's Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) said that security risks to Filipino workers are still present in the African country. She said there are no plans to lift the total ban.She added that the POEA is asking returning workers affected by the total ban to be considerate of the government’s moves to protect Filipino workers from the rebels in NigeriaBut on Nov. 17, 2007, then-DOLE Sec. Brion issued a memorandum that DOLE has partially lifted the ban in the deployment of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) to the conflict-ridden countries of Nigeria, Lebanon, and Afghanistan, but not that to Iraq.

In Department Order 86-07, dated November 16, a copy of which was obtained by, Labor Secretary Arturo Brion qualified the lifting to the ban to the three countries. It was supposedly a cause for celebration among Nigeria OFWs as they heaved a sigh of relief, thinking of finally getting a hassle-free vacation. Well, not exactly. In a case of Wow Mali!, Sec. Brion on Nov. 19, 2007 made a 360-degrees turnaround on his own memorandum. Recalling his own order, Brion said:The labor department recalled on Monday the order partially lifting the ban in the deployment of Filipino workers to Nigeria, Lebanon, and Afghanistan “in light of expressed concerns on the security/ peace and order situation" in those countries as well as in Iraq.“….While we previously allowed the deployment of new hires and returning workers to international organizations in Afghanistan, the Department of Foreign Affairs will not issue any 'no objection' certificate for Afghanistan; hence there is also an effective complete ban," the advisory said. [ibid]This latest travel ban announcement ignited a fierce reaction among Nigeria OFWs.

Petitions and angry e-mails circulated though the internet, addressed to government agencies, congressmen, senators, the office of the President and the Vice-President. The Nigeria OFWs were anxious that their Christmas vacation might be in peril if the total ban is not lifted by December 2007. The Nigeria OFWs sent at least three petitions to all government official and agencise concerned.

Despite the massive online and offline effort, no governent agencies and officials intervened. And the Nigeria OFWs had to make a difficult decision last December 2007 whether to go home or not.To this day, there seems to be no plans to lift the ban to Nigeria. And so Nigerian OFWs continue their petition.

From the OFWs

The OFWs in Nigeria, believe that the imposition of the Total Ban is not the solution to this issue of kidnapping in Southeast Nigeria, which for the record, also involved other nationalities. The continued ban is hurting every Filipinos' chance of getting a decent work and a chance to contribute to the Philippine economy.By declaring a Total Ban on Nigeria on account of security issues in the country, the Philippine government is insulting the capabilities of the host country to maintain its internal peace and order. The present administration of His Excellency President Yaradua is exerting a huge effort to secure the oil areas and guaranty the safety of all expatriate workers.One thing is certain in the OFWs minds, the kidnapping incidents in specific areas of Nigeria is not a mirror of the entire country's state of security.

The OFWs themselves in the oil-areas have sent numerous letters to the Philippine embassy assuring the embassy that they feel safe with the present security efforts implemented in their workplace. Filipino workers in Nigeria are found in oil industry, civil and military aviation (pilots and avionics), construction, manufacturing, telecoms and service industries. Others are married to Nigerians, and the rest are relatives of Filipinos with residency.

Nigeria OFWs assure the Philippine government and their loved ones that Nigeria is a decent and relatively safe country to work and stay.


Instead of declaring a Total Ban on Nigeria, OFW associations recommend that the Philippine government do what other governments are doing – give out an advisory to Filipino workers in Nigeria to take precaution and observe company security policies. Then it should advise the Philippine embassy to coordinate communication with oil companies to ensure that Filipino workers will have a direct line to embassy if their safety is threatened.

Bilateral Agreement

More significantly, the Nigeria OFW associations strongly recommend that the present administration establish bilateral multi-sectoral agreement with Nigeria and take advantage of the growing Nigerian economy, the increasing demand for foreign workers and technologies, and the export potential of Philippine goods to the Nigerian market.Having bilateral relations with various sectors would be advantageous to the Philippines, especially with regard to business opportunities and oil supplies, and to the OFWs here.The bilateral agreement with Nigeria will also pave the way to a similar agreement with the rest of Western Africa, considering that Nigeria is a leader in the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS).Since there are growing numbers of Filipinos working in various ECOWAS nations, an agreement with Nigeria/ECOWAS would ensure protection and better treatment of OFWs, and possible business opportunities.

State Visit

President Gloria M. Arroyo should consider making a state visit to Lagos/Abuja and go up in history as the only Philippine president to ever visit an African State, and maybe the second head of state from Asia to do so, after China's Hu Jintao.Preceding the state visit, a Philippines-Nigeria Business Cooperation summit could be organized. This is to pave the way for the establishment of an office to handle Philippine investors coming to Nigeria and to act as a liaison office to various Nigerian authorities.

Embassy Support

The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) should open a consular office in Lagos, considering that Lagos is the arrival and departure point for Nigeria OFWs. There is also a need to deploy a Philippine Overseas Labor Office (POLO) in the Abuja Embassy and in the Lagos Consulate to process and document all Filipino workers in West African countries. Undocumented Filipinos (those that came with business or tourist visas or came from another country) here would like to be registered with OWWA and POEA and legitimize their existence. For now, only the Filipino community in Lagos – the Philippine Barangay Society in Nigeria (PBSN) -- is documenting all OFWs who passed by Lagos by way of membership forms. PBSN is also assisting the Philippine Embassy regarding undocumented and distressed OFWs.In April 2008, Energy Secretary Angelo Reyes visited Lagos, Nigeria to attend a world energy summit. He saw for himself the positive status of Filipinos and the community in Lagos. And he can surely vouch for the stable general peace and order of Nigeria.Nigeria OFWs fervently hope and pray that Her Excellency, President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo will reconsider the present policy towards Nigeria, and order for the total lifting of travel and work ban to this country.


P.S. The Philipines should, instead, implement a TOTAL BAN against the deployment of Domestic Helpers (DH) to Middle East countries since there are more abused, jailed or killed DH in ME countries.

Filipinos in Nigeria websites:


Copyright © 2008 to Barangay OFW. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Country Mouse & OFW Mouse

by Carmelita C. Ballesteros
Country Mouse: Hello, cousin! How are you? How’s life in Singapore?
OFW Mouse: Hello, cousin! I’m fine. I’m going home soon.
Country Mouse: Would you lend me the money I need for the placement fee?
OFW Mouse: No, I can’t. I haven’t saved that much.
Country Mouse: Then why are you coming home?
OFW Mouse: Because I don’t want to be killed and raped like Fatima Maulana.
Country Mouse: Who is she?
OFW Mouse: Don’t you listen to the news? She was a domestic helper in Kuwait. She was from Carmen, Cotabato.
Country Mouse: Silence…
OFW Mouse: Hello, cousin. Are you still there?

Country Mouse: Yes… I don’t know what to do.

OFW Mouse: Stay where you are. Stay with your husband and children.

Country Mouse: But my husband is jobless.

OFW Mouse: My husband was jobless, too.

Country Mouse: Does he have a job now?

OFW Mouse: Yes, he’s driving a taxi.

Country Mouse: How much does he earn?

OFW Mouse: Five hundred pesos a day, net. That’s three thousand a week, twelve thousand a month.

Country Mouse: But my husband doesn’t know how to drive.

OFW Mouse: Your husband can cook very well. He makes the best kilawing dilis (fresh anchovies marinated in calamansi and other spices) and the best crispy pata (deep-fried pork leg).

Country Mouse: But I’ve signed a promissory note at the recruitment office that I will pay the placement fee next week.

OFW Mouse: It’s just a promissory note. Just tell them that you have changed your mind.

Country Mouse: But I really want to go…

OFW Mouse: Why?

Country Mouse: The recruitment officer said I’ll be able to save enough to build my dream house, to buy a car, and to send my children to college.

OFW Mouse: That’s a lie. How much is your placement fee?

Country Mouse: Eighty thousand pesos.

OFW Mouse: How much monthly salary will you get?

Country Mouse: Three hundred fifty Singapore dollars.

OFW Mouse: When will you start getting it?

Country Mouse: After eight months.

OFW Mouse: So you’ll be able to start paying back the 80K you’re borrowing from me only after eight months!

Country Mouse: So will you lend me 80K for my placement fee?

OFW Mouse: No, I can’t. Don’t you understand?

Country Mouse: Please, cousin…

OFW Mouse: Listen to me, cousin. I spent the first 16 months of my 2-year contract here in Singapore with hardly any money to even buy my own soap. All of my salary went to the recruitment agency, and then to Mrs. Mouse Loanshark in the metro mouse village.

Country Mouse: But my husband’s cousin is doing very well in Saudi. You remember Mr. Architect Mouse, don’t you?
OFW Mouse: Of course, I do. Listen, cousin. An architect is different from a domestic helper. Architects, engineers, doctors, nurses, teachers, accountants, etc. are different from domestic helpers.

Country Mouse: But I didn’t finish college.

OFW Mouse: I did, cousin.

Country Mouse: You did? Why did you become a domestic helper?

OFW Mouse: Because I was stupid. Because I believed the sales talk of the recruitment people. Because I was blinded by my dream. Because my husband was jobless.

Country Mouse: It’s okay for you to come home because your husband has a job now. My husband works as a carpenter only once in a while. It’s not enough.

OFW Mouse: He makes the best kilawing dilis and the best crispy pata (deep-fried pork leg). He can be a cook.

Country Mouse: He applied in a newly-opened fastfood restaurant in the metro mouse village. But he failed the interview. He couldn’t speak English.

OFW Mouse: Open your own eatery. Take orders from other mouse villages. Offer home delivery service.

Country Mouse: But we have no capital.

OFW Mouse: So you’d rather be a domestic helper, an OFW mouse.

Country Mouse: Yes… I’d like to go… I’d like to…

OFW Mouse: How old are your children?

Country Mouse: The girl is four; the boy is two.

OFW Mouse: You know, my baby was only 10 months old when I left. I cried every night for two months. Now, she’s almost three. And I can never bring back the two years we’ve lost.

Country Mouse: But if I stay, my children will never be able to go to college.

OFW Mouse: I don’t know if Fatima Maulana had children. If she had, her children didn’t just lose a chance to go to school. They’ve lost their mother forever.

Country Mouse: But Fatima Maulana’s fate is different. Maybe it’s her destiny.

OFW Mouse: Destiny? We have a choice. You have a choice. Being a domestic helper is not the only choice. If you stay with your husband and children, you’d be there with them to laugh and cry together. If you stay where you are, you will have a life. Being a domestic helper is like being a slave!

Country Mouse: Silence…

OFW Mouse: Cousin… I don’t want to end up like Fatima Maulama. I want to be with my little girl. I want to raise her. I want to listen to her sing. I want to watch her dance. I want to comb her hair. I want her to sit on my lap. I want to hug her tight. I want to kiss her. I want to take care of her when she’s sick.

Country Mouse: But I want to be an OFW mouse for my children’s sake.

OFW Mouse: For your children’s sake, stay with them.
This was originally published in the Filam Weekly MegaScene, Illinois, USA on May 30, 2008. The publishers may be reached at
Copyright © 2008 to Barangay OFW. All rights reserved.