My four days in Singapore
From the quick processing time at its clean and modern airport to impromptu meetings and shelter visits, my four days visit in Singapore flew by faster than a cold virus. It was supposed to be a belated birthday trip, more for fun than work, but the reverse was true. Not to complain, of course, because the whole trip was just amazing.
Philippine Ambassador to Singapore Minda Cruz invited me to the embassy’s regular dialogue with Filipino community leaders at the Bayanihan Center. There, I met Ramer Ortega, who heads the fast-growing group of IT professionals working there. I also met representatives of private sector companies from real estate firms to insurance companies that have set up offices in the island state in a bid to capture a share of the OFW market. Vista Land Managing Director Patricia Clemente, Maria Cielo Tradio of Prudential Assurance Company Singapore and Irene Curtis, Associate Editor, of OFW Pinoy Star participated during that meeting.
The agenda was extensive. The good ambassador gave updates about the “Sendong” relief operations, more hands are needed to pack items in “balikbayan” boxes she said. Vice-Consul Jed Llona advised the leaders about the Office of the President’s stern warning against drug mules. An advisory was read and Ambassador Cruz reiterated the harsh penalties that await those bringing in drugs to Singapore.
It was an occasion for me to introduce the work of the Blas F. Ople Center, a non-profit organization that I head, to the Filipino community. After the presentation, I was pleased to receive calling cards from new friends who wished to volunteer for the Center. One of those who approached me was a former staff of Senator Loren Legarda who now publishes the Bagong Bayani Magazine in Singapore. MJ Salomon moved to Singapore several years ago and is now one of its permanent residents.
There are nearly 200,000 Filipinos in Singapore, mostly professionals. The number of Filipino women going to Singapore illegally has dropped tremendously, and Consul Neal Imperial attributed this positive development to the work of the Bureau of Immigration. After the dialogue, Ambassador Cruz invited our small party that included Fort Jose, my friend Donna, and my former DoLE staff Millet Jose who also now works for the Philippine Overseas Labor Office in Singapore, for a quick lunch at Wee Nam Kee. I loved the cereal prawns and the chicken rice was absolutely delicious.
On Saturday, we attended a workshop organized and sponsored by the Singaporean Police Force for our domestic workers in partnership with the Philippine Embassy.
Indeed, as Ambassador Cruz pointed out in her remarks, the Filipina domestic worker is the last to turn off the lights; to check on the children; and to make sure that the dwelling is secure. The workshop featured talks on fire safety, anti-dengue prevention, road safety, phone and Internet scams, and crimes usually committed by foreign workers. The Ministry of Manpower (MoM) sent it own representative who made it clear that Filipinos working in Singapore are not allowed under their laws to moonlight or take in second or third jobs. By doing so, these foreign workers face the prospect of deportation and a huge fine.
I visited the shelter of the Humanitarian Organization for Migration Economics (HOME) founded by the acclaimed 2011 Anti-Trafficking Hero Bridget Tan. Together with Vice-Consul Jed and Millet Jose, we were able to talk to a Filipina trafficked victim whose hair was chopped off by her female employer. She was very sad and still in a fragile state. Her employer used a cane to beat her up and even taught her kids to kick their maid. Thankfully, she has been encouraged to pursue a case, which is now under police and MoM jurisdiction. HOME and the Ople Center have forged a partnership to work on trafficking cases including that of this trafficked survivor.
Filipinos new to Singapore must understand the laws in this island state and realize that these laws actually enforced. Eric Canlas, one of the avid listeners of DZXL’s Bantay-OFW, are among Filipino professionals who have made Singapore their second home. Eric’s company designs and builds several of Singapore’s landmark edifices. He said that rules in Singapore are tough but transparent.
I asked my friend, Donna, what it feels like to be an OFW in Singapore. She said that the cost of living is high. Still, her pay is much higher and her job does keep her busy. She longs to be home, yet when she’s home, the frustration is there over traffic standstills, inept services, and a quality of life that one simply settles for.
My partnership with HOME and the information and anecdotes shared with Assistant Labor Attache Liza Mendizabal, Welfare Officer Eleanor Alimanza and Marissa de Guzman, Nanay Encar, Leo and Louie, among so many others, made this trip worthwhile. I only wish for more funds and a bigger space for the Philippine Embassy. They are doing such a good job for our OFWs. (Send your comments to email@example.com)