Today’s column: Starting the year right

My New Year’s resolution is not to have one. I believe this is the best way to start the year right – to be absolutely candid about my capability to stick to the rigid demands of purposeful, forward planning and just yield to the biorhythms of life. I resolved to do away with the usual resolutions right smack in the middle of Ayala Avenue while awaiting Makati City Mayor Jejomar Binay’s digital clock to strike 12 midnight on New Year’s Eve. In a sea-crowd with all eyes heavenward in anticipation of a pyrotechnic sky, I felt secure enough, alive enough, old enough to welcome 2007 without a fig leaf of a plan, except to simply do things better.

Fortunately, there are institutions and individuals who prefer to be more responsible and goal-oriented. The labor department helmed by Secretary Arturo Brion began the year right with bold initiatives resulting from a planning and learning session, which he convened last week with senior officials and labor attaches. I particularly appreciate the announcement that the Department of Labor and Employment shall soon implement a global mapping and profiling system for Filipino migrant workers.

I fully support the DOLE’s policy shift of leaving the low-end market for overseas domestic helpers behind in favor of a no placement-fee, US$400 minimum salary grade for Filipino domestic helpers. Indeed, this will reduce the number of welfare cases involving abused household workers. We must be alert, however, to the reality that this new policy will also be exploited by underground syndicates to lure prospective job applicants away from responsible, legitimate recruiters into the unscrupulous, insensitive, uncaring arms of human traffickers. Political will is needed to stop the nefarious practice of passport tampering and fraud and an airport “escort” system, two factors that have made illegal recruitment as well-entrenched as jueteng. I also hope that legitimate recruitment firms that would be hit by this new policy can be given opportunities to make up for the loss through more viable, humane and stable markets.

At the Department of Foreign Affairs, I am happy to report that progress is being made on the establishment of a machine-readable passport system that is up to par with internationally accepted standards. This undoubtedly shall be an enduring legacy of the current administration and its well-respected Secretary of Foreign Affairs Alberto Romulo. The DFA’s Office of Consular Affairs led by Acting Assistant Secretary Domingo Lucenario is in charge of this long overdue project, which was delayed because of some disadvantageous provisions in the previous contract that has thankfully been rescinded.

Over the holidays and shortly before the New Year, I have been in touch with Foreign Affairs Undersecretary Rafael Seguis and Ambassador Mar Dumia of the Office of the Undersecretary for Migrant Workers’ Affairs on the release and safe passage home of three Filipino women trapped in Syria. Marife, Anamarie, and Alicia were victims of the barter trade among foreign agents in the Middle East. Alicia, for example, was supposed to work in Jordan but ended up in Damascus at the mercy of her broker. Dindo Amparo, notable bureau chief for the Middle East of The Filipino Channel, referred the three women to the Blas F. Ople Policy Center. Congratulations to Undersecretary Seguis, Ambassador Dumia, and our honorary consul in Syria for a job well done!

In Kuwait, the rapes committed against women including our own compatriots are a serious concern. The Blas F. Ople Policy Center was able to help two victims of multiple rapes in Kuwait when they arrived in Manila. To them, just bringing them to a gynecologist for a medical check-up was already a huge thing. The Ople Center is in close touch with Labor Attache Pol de Jesus, an old friend and a staunch crusader for migrant workers’ rights.

I salute the courage of an 18-year old Filipina from Mindanao who is seeking justice against 15 Kuwaiti men who allegedly abducted and raped her on December 14, 2006 after she ran away from her employer. Secretary Romulo has instructed Philippine Ambassador to Kuwait Ricardo Endaya to engage the services of competent lawyers to represent the Filipino victim in court proceedings. She came face to face with all 15 suspects at the Kuwaiti Prosecution Department in the presence of embassy officials and her designated lawyer. She identified each of the suspects and vowed to pursue the case against them.

It is for her sake and for so many others caught in a human barter trade overseas that we rely on government and civil society to embark on bold initiatives to make things work. On a more personal note, I wish to thank the Makati city government for enabling so many of its residents and guests to start the year right with a magnificent New Year’s Eve party which also doubled as a fundraising event for the victims of Typhoon “Reming” and “Seniang”. I am proud that Manila Bulletin was among the major sponsors of this memorable event. Kudos to Mayor Binay and his wonderful staff (thank you, Joey S.!) for a meaningful and joyful kick-off for 2007.

Author: Susan Ople

Susan "Toots" Ople is the President of the Blas F. Ople Policy and Training Institute. She's an OFW and labor advocate based in the Philippines.

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  • Happy New Year Toots. Just like you, I started my year with the pight of our OFWs. It saddens me though as one of our kababayan is facing death in Kuwait. This is also the time of the year when OFWs bid farewell to their loved ones as the yuletide season ends.