SKETCHES - Ana Marie Pamintuan - The Philippine Star

A former labor attaché denied yesterday accusations of sexually exploiting overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) in exchange for repatriation from Jordan.

In the absence of a formal complaint, Mario Antonio should be enjoying the benefit of the doubt. But it’s his word against his accuser, party-list Rep. Walden Bello.

Antonio asked the public not to pre-judge him and to respect his rights. He faces an uphill battle. Although the burden of proof is supposed to be on the accuser, the opposite is more often the case in this country where the justice system is weak, and where jumping to conclusions (as we like to say) is a national pastime.

In this case, jumping to conclusions is made easier by previous reports of OFWs – mostly female and sometimes male – suffering from sexual abuse. Such stories have circulated even before Batangas Gov. Vilma Santos, still an actress at the time, starred in the 1980 movie Miss X, about a Pinay forced into prostitution in the Netherlands.

Some of the reports of sexual abuse were backed by formal complaints, and several of the worst cases were widely reported in the media.

As for cases that are not backed by formal complaints, with nearly 10 million Filipinos working overseas, almost every Pinoy personally knows an OFW, or at least someone with a relative working abroad. Real stories of sexual exploitation of OFWs spread through this network.

Despite tough laws protecting women’s rights in this country, the average Filipina still sees a social stigma attached to sexual abuse and domestic violence and is often reluctant to file a complaint. For the underprivileged, there is also the concern that pursuing a complaint especially against a government official will be futile.

Sexual abuse is just one of the many problems afflicting OFWs. Alone and away from their loved ones, many of our workers, especially women of limited education and humble background, are vulnerable to many other forms of abuse and labor exploitation.

This is the dark side of robust economic growth based in large part on the remittances of OFWs.

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Another downside of the Pinoy diaspora is that it reinforces the dysfunctional status quo in this country. The .005 percent of the population that controls the nation’s wealth and power points to rosy economic figures as the best argument for not fixing what ain’t broke.

If nothing’s broken, you wonder why a tenth of our population sees the need to go overseas to find decent employment – even if it opens them to abuse and, when we’re feuding with other countries, to racial harassment and discrimination.

Even the heads of government agencies are not immune to the call of better pay. The Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration, for example, has lost several of its chiefs since 2010. Science undersecretary Graciano Yumul, who was concurrent PAGASA officer-in-charge, resigned in March last year to work in the private sector.

In July 2010, Nathaniel Cruz quit as PAGASA weather division chief to work in Australia. He is back in Manila as resident weather analyst of GMA-7 News.

The PAGASA brain drain continues, with its chief Nathaniel Servando confirming last Tuesday that he had quit to teach in Qatar. This reportedly meant a jump in pay from P68,428 to P600,000 a month.

P-Noy said yesterday that only three meteorologists had left PAGASA under his watch. I guess he didn’t count the first official to be sacked under his administration: PAGASA chief Prisco Nilo. But the three cited by P-Noy are top talent; it takes years to develop expertise in this field.

We can’t replace that lost expertise quickly enough. Many basic services such as public health care and education have suffered as a result. Various industries need engineers and workers with specialized skills.

Pinoy skills and English proficiency have encouraged the diaspora. When our people are unhappy with their circumstances, they find a new life overseas because they can. In other countries, unhappy citizens, with few options for starting over elsewhere, stay put in their own land and strongly demand reforms from their government.

In the Arab world, public discontent has led to the ouster of several authoritarian rulers. People power fatigue, however, has set in among Pinoys whose lives saw little change after two mass uprisings. This has further fueled the Filipino dream, which is to leave the country for greener pastures abroad.

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In the second half of his term, P-Noy is reportedly giving priority to stopping the brain drain and creating a favorable environment for job-generating investments.

Last month in an interview ran by Bloomberg, he said he believed his late parents Ninoy and Cory would have been happy with what he had achieved so far as President, but would want him to do more.

The Bloomberg report ended with this story narrated by P-Noy about his parents:

“When I was in grade school, I reported I was top three in my class and my dad in particular said: ‘Top three? That’s good. When will you be number one?’ ” he said. “If they were to talk to me face to face, they would say: ‘It’s not enough, you have to go higher than what you have achieved,’ and I agree with them.”

Bringing home many of our OFWs for good will be a good indication of that achievement.













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