“We join the nation in mourning the tragic death of an OFW in Homs, Syria. Another hero has fallen, in a war that I’m sure she barely understood and was hardly prepared for,” Susan Ople, head of the Ople Policy Center, said.
Ople explained that the tragic death of a Filipino domestic worker while fleeing Homs, Syria with her employer’s family underscores the need for the Aquino administration to give full priority and attention to the fast-developing humanitarian crisis in Syria. This would be the second case of an OFW dying in Syria. The first case involved a worker who was about to be repatriated from Damascus to Manila. She died due to renal failure while in a wheelchair waiting for immigration clearance.
“We respect and believe in the sincerity of our embassy and DFA personnel who are in the frontlines in Syria. It is also for their benefit that the Ople Center now seeks an impartial and independent assessment of the government’s ongoing rescue and repatriation efforts through a congressional inquiry,” Ople said.
A legislative inquiry will help ascertain whether all actions are fully coordinated, and that the best teams and all necessary resources are in place in Syria.
The OFW advocate recommended that a team composed of the most battle-tested labor and welfare attaches, social welfare attaches as well as consular officers be dispatched to Syria. The Ople Center also recommended that the Commission on Appointments take up the nomination of Ambassador-designate Nestor Padalhin so that he could immediately head the Philippine Embassy in Damascus.
She also recommended that the DFA and OWWA make full use of social media sites and broadcast stations to relay information to OFWs in Syria through their families here at home.
“Unlike Libya, our workers scattered across Syria do not know where the rescue teams are, and who are the community leaders or teams that they could reach out to. In quiet desperation, some of our workers have started planning their own escape routes which sadly puts them in extreme danger,” she added.
The policy center cited the case of OFWs Maricel Monteclaro and Sherly Antig who recently jumped from their building in order to escape from their employers in Lattakia. Both OFWs have been calling up the Philippine Embassy and asking for repatriation assistance because of oppressive work conditions and fear arising from sporadic sounds of gunfire near their building.
According to the Department of Foreign Affairs, the employer of Maricel and Sherly is one of the wealthiest businessmen in Lattakia. Another OFW, Ruth Martinez, a co-worker of Maricel and Sherly, affirmed this information. Ruth Martinez came home on 29 September 2011 after an altercation with the said employer led to her repatriation.
“Our Syrian employer is very strict and also very powerful. He would promise the embassy and his domestic helpers that he would allow us to come home, but he doesn’t fulfill his promises,” Ruth said, adding that this may be the reason the two OFWs decided to escape.
Ople said she received an urgent text message from Maricel Monteclaro the other day saying that they jumped off the building and one of them was hurt. She requested the Ople Center to notify the Philippine Embassy about their situation. The former labor undersecretary was able to convey the information to OUMWA executive director Eric Endaya who is based in Damascus, Syria who in turn promised to send two embassy personnel to assist the two OFWs.
The Ople Center also called on the Philippine Embassy in Syria and the Department of Foreign Affairs to help Jacqueline Salas who has been seeking repatriation assistance since January. Jacqueline works as a domestic worker in Lattakia, Syria. She recently called her husband to reiterate her request for repatriation because of rising tensions and sporadic gunfire near her employer’s residence. Another OFW based in Damascus, Ivy Samson Escorpiso, has been seeking repatriation since 15 December 2011. According to the DFA, her case is still under negotiation.
The NGO noted that six other OFW cases seeking repatriation from Syria which was reported by the NGO during its first dialogue with the DFA on 25 August 2011 remains pending. “Once the employer confiscates the cellphone of the domestic worker, we lose track of where she is and how she is faring. Their mobile phones are lifelines that could be cut anytime by Syrian employers.”
The Ople Center said that the families of these OFWs are extremely worried and would often call up the NGO for updates. “All we could tell them is that the cases of their loved ones are still under negotiation based on information coming.
A tearful, joyful homecoming, a steaming bowl of “sinigang na hipon”, and assured jobs in a well-known hotel in Cebu await Diana Jill Rivera and Mary Anne Ducos, two domestic workers recently rescued from the residence of Col. Moammar Qaddafy’s niece in Tripoli, Libya when they arrive in Manila within the week.
This was the announcement of the Blas F. Ople Policy Center, a non-government organization that has been closely monitoring the case since February 2011. Former labor undersecretary Susan Ople, head of the BFO Center, said that several non-government organizations are also planning to host a thanksgiving dinner in honor of Labor Attache Nasser Mustafa who spearheaded the rescue of the two “kasambahays.”
Ople said she is in touch with Jane Ampeloquio of the Hotel Academy in Cebu which is also in charge of training programs for employees of Days Hotel. James Concepcion, president of Days Hotel, is willing to employ the two women in one of his hotels in Cebu City after they complete the required on-the-job training provided by the Hotel Academy.
When asked whether the two women were open to working locally at Days Hotel in Cebu City, Jenny Rivera, sister of Diana Jill, replied that both OFWs are excited about the job offer.
Diana’s father, Jaime Rivera, said he would no longer allow his daughter to leave the country to work abroad. He said that he almost fell off his seat while watching the evening news when he heard that her daughter was finally rescued. According to Jenny Rivera, the family is eager to treat Diana to her favorite dish of “sinigang na hipon.”
The Ople Center has made arrangements for the family of Mary Anne Ducos to travel from Isabela to Manila as the labor department continues to work on travel arrangement for the returning OFWs and Labor Attache Nasser Mustafa.
Meanwhile, the Ople Center and several other civil society groups like Kakkampi International, Filipino Migrant Workers Group, PSLink and the Trade Union Congress of the Philippines have agreed to extend a hero’s welcome to Labor Attache Mustafa.
“He is a hero not only in the eyes of Diana Jill and Mary Anne but also to us in civil society because he practically risked his life just to get these two OFWs out of harm’s way,” Susan Ople explained.
Accompanied by an embassy driver and a Libyan friend, Labor Attache Mustafa was able to identify the residence where the two women were being held against their will by their employer after going back and forth to the area for ten days.
“Just to be sure that they had the right residence, he had to request Mary Jane to climb up the roof of the house and wave. The rescue was done while the rest of the household were still asleep and as soon as Diana and Mary Anne were in his car, labor attache Mustafa instructed the driver to proceed to the border of Tunisia,” Ople said, adding that she hopes that proper recognition can be given by the Office of the President to the courage and heroism demonstrated by the said labor official and his companions.