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Posts Tagged ‘OFW plight’

As of this posting, there have been some news that PNoy stopped the planned random checks of Balikbayan boxes sent by OFW’s to the Philippines, and the imposition of applicable taxes on the items in those boxes. Even so, I still believe I need to re-post this article I wrote (er, vented) in my FB page, because it was the collective cry of indignation made up of individual voices like this piece that provided the pressure needed by the President to rouse from his apathy and rectify an unforgivable transgression about to be committed by his government. Here it goes:

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Opening a Balikbayan Box from a loved one abroad is a sacred and highly-charged occasion. Imagine the scene: The whole family gathered around the box, some kneeling closer to it while others squatting further behind, forming an outer ring, seemingly providing a reinforcing perimeter wall around the sacred box.
The patriarch holds a pair of scissors, starting to snip at the layers upon layers of packaging tape in one corner of the revered box and everybody grows quiet. The air is tense with anticipation. What could be inside? For sure, there will be chocolates and biscuits, coffee and soap or even perfume! There definitely will be Spam, corned beef and canned salmon, and some other unknown (well, at least to the barrio folks) canned goods. The shoes requested by the teen-aged brother, or the 1 Direction shirt that the youngest sister begged to be included…
In those moments, there is a suspension of reality as the whole family forgets the separation and the longing, the poverty and lack. At that very moment, they are rich! All they could think about are the goodies inside the box, small tokens of love from their kin working abroad. An inconsequential albeit cherished gift, in comparison to the years of absence of a loved one.
Soon, each of them will have their gifts. Lovingly wrapped and labelled by their benefactor who packed the box full almost to bursting point. Usually these boxes are packed by our OFW’s after their working hours – the only time they have, to do something as tedious and labour-intensive as packing a truckload of items into a single box of love.
These boxes have been a symbol of love and devotion, a fulfilment of promises made to kids who were crying when their parent left them to work abroad. “Magpapadala ako ng mga laruan mo. Ibibili kita ng magandang sapatos mo,” all said by the parent while trying to extricate themselves from the tiny arms clinging around their neck at the airport.
These boxes show our solidarity as families, our generosity as a people as even neighbours are included in the bounty at times, our resourcefulness as providers and our drive to get what the world has to offer and give our families a chance to have them, too.

And then the BOC decides to tax these items, taking away the magic and violating the sacredness of this enduring expression of love and family ties. The OFW’s are hurt. They are the ones who brave the loneliness to provide for their families, helping shore up the economy and giving pride to every sitting President, Senator and Congressman, who, in their own conceited ways, try to claim the credit for a growing economy. The OFW’s are a big part of why the Philippines is growing economically. This very same government that claims the credit for the hardwork of remitting OFW’s, want to tax these boxes that they send to their families! They are being betrayed by the same government that should have given them jobs at home so that they did not have to leave in the first place. How can they be so foolish? Nincompoops!

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My sister-in-law is working as a domestic helper in Singapore. I am hesitant to share her story here because I feel ashamed, not because she is “just a DH”. On the contrary, I am proud of her because she is willing to earn a decent living even if it means going way below her educational status. I am ashamed because I find it hard to accept that one of my own is being treated without dignity and respect. I was against her going to Singapore from the very start. She is a Mass Communication graduate, very smart, personable and she could have easily landed a call center job or something like that. However, she was adamant, as (I sensed) she was desperate to have a better life or maybe, she thought going abroad is always the better option. So, she left her husband and one-year old daughter in 2006 for greener pastures.

Her Singaporean employer thinks it is alright to treat Filipinos in a lowly manner. You see, he never allowed my sister-in-law to hold her own salary. The employer himself sends all the money to my SIL’s husband back in the Philippines. Worse, my dear SIL never ever had a day-off since she arrived in that country. We were shocked to hear that she signed a contract not allowing her to have a day-off (I told you, she was a bit desperate) at all.

I have a lot of issues regarding this matter. First, the employer is way too cruel for me because he thinks it is humanly possible to work straight for two years (the duration of the contract) without ever having to rest a single day! Don’t you think it is quite stupid to think that? Moreover, that is downright illegal because Singaporean laws require that foreign domestic workers should have at least a day off every week. Then, he does not have the right faculties to trust “lowly” Filipinos with their own salaries! How is that? Maybe, there is something wrong about how this Singaporean was brought up.

He is also paranoid beyond my imagination because I think, he fears that my SIL will talk to authorities about his “illegal” ways of not giving the rightful benefits to his helper, in the event that he allows her a day off. Whatever, he really has a serious problem.

Last but not least, the Filipino agency that drafted my SIL for this job must also be very desperate for money or simply greedy beyond words, for allowing their own countrymen to get into such contracts (no day-off) and on a no-salary-for-six-months repayment scheme. Yes, for the first six months, my SIL did not receive anything because her salary for that period wass supposed to be for paying the placement fee and everything. So, for six months, the families of their draftee-OWFs should starve meantime, or employ survival tactics Filipinos are so known for in order to come out of the 6-month period alive.

This particular arrangement (which I heard is standard for Pinays being deployed to Singapore) is just too inhuman because wages are supposed to be the lifeline of families. They should be given at least 50% of their wages for each month. The repayment period may be longer but at least, the workers’ welfare would have been better protected. But, who is thinking about desperate OFWs’ welfare, anyway?

At the moment, my SIL is dying to go back to the Philippines. I should be happy to be vindicated for my initial disagreement with her plans to go abroad, but I am not. I get depressed everytime I think about how life is with her – not being able to go out for almost two years now, not having a single penny in her wallet, not being trusted.

Of course, I think to some degree, she brought this to herself. She had choices and other opportunities but she chose to go to Singapore instead. But I think that she does not deserve this kind of treatment, nor does anyone else.

In August, she will be completing her contract. Until then, she will have to wait and suffer and endure, like all the other Filipinas who had the misfortune of working for some cruel Singaporean employers.

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