[ Note : Title attributed to University of the Philippines Philippine Collegian editor, activist and political detainee Abraham “Ditto” Sarmiento, who died before his time. It means “if not us, who? If not now, when?” I may have used this title before, sorry ]
I MAY HAVE said this before (I won’t swear on it though) but when I was between work visas waiting for paperwork a few years ago, I answered an Auckland ad working in a “dairy” (small grocery store or supermarket). The pay was half minimum wage (don’t even ask how much), show up only when you get the call, no job description, just do whatever the eff boss asks you to do. I did it, and was none the worse for wear.
I didn’t know it then, but I put myself in a vulnerable position; it seemed harmless and just a temporary gig at the time, but I had put myself in a dodgy position of being at the wrong place at the wrong time. I was just lucky to have survived relatively unscathed.
Not so lucky were kabayan in recent weeks, five tragically involved in a train accident, Pinoy workers living in deplorable conditions, and in an unpublished incident, 2 Filipinos involved in a car accident.
What I shared in common with these unfortunate kabayan? It’s the conclusion that if someone had taken the time to tell us what we were doing was (1) not right, (2) risky, (3) not asserting our rights or (4) outright dangerous, then we would be still alive or at the very least, better off now.
Luckily, we have compassionate, tireless and visionary kabayan in Wellington led by Filipino Migrants and Workers’ Trust (Wellington) director Alicat Lozano and Chona Smart, one-man post-arrival orientation team Gregguil Besa, KABAYANews Wellington publisher Matilde Tayawa-Figuracion, KASAGIP Chairman Marcelo Esparas, Filifest chairman Anita Mansell and Wairarapa community leader Ryan Erwin Soriano who as a bayanihan group met officials from the Philippine National Government, represented by Labor Attache’ Cynthia Lamban, seeking to set up a Philippine Overseas Labor Office in Wellington (POLO) to fully promote and defend the labor rights of OFWs not just in Wellington but elsewhere in New Zealand.
Discussed were horror stories of Filipinos being forcibly repatriated without any form of insurance coverage, the unscrupulous side of “pastoral care” (post-arrival care for newly arrived OFWs), and urgent and palliative are withheld from critically injured kabayan as no one was around to decide for them.
A fine line and distinction was made between responsibilities of the Philippine government and the duty of the employer in protecting OFWs from sudden repatriation from redundancy, unexpected events like sickness and accidents, and protection from fraud and criminal activity, sadly sometimes committed by fellow kabayan.
While it’s a bit ironic that it took an orientation meeting between government reps and volunteers to find out that what’s sustained Filipino labor during the dark times has been the helping hands of kapwa Pinoys (fellow Pinoys), it’s no longer time to assign blame from the past, but to rather look forward to unified efforts in the future.
After all, no one will help us except ourselves, and there’s nothing like the present. 🙂
Thanks and acknowledgment all around for the passion and volunteerism of our community leaders mentioned above and many many others, the Philippine Embassy in Wellington led by His Excellency Ambassador Jesus Gary Domingo, First Secretary and Consul Querobine Laccay, Third Secretary and Vice Consul Feamor Tiosen, Marivic Reyes, Marc Asilom, Katrina Ciara Garcia, and embassy staff and officials, all our tireless volunteers, and of course the eternal hero of our Inang Bayan, the Overseas Filipino Worker, who makes all our dreams possible!
Mabuhay po tayong lahat!