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 INQUIRER.net, 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 INQUIRER.net, 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.
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.
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.
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.
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