NEW YORK — The Filipino health workers campaigning for justice known as the Sentosa 27++ marched down the Philippine Independence Day Parade along Madison Avenue last Sunday in a colorful hundreds-strong contingent of Filipino families well-received by loud applause by parade watchers from the sidewalks.
The Sentosa 27++ Nurses are campaigning for justice against their illegal recruitment by Sentosa Care LLC, a major healthcare management company in New York that recruits health workers from the Philippines. The health workers, along with the National Alliance for Filipino Concerns (NAFCON) launched a national week of action in pursuit of their demands last Sunday in New York City during the Philippine Independence Day Celebration (PIDC). Solidarity events for the Sentosa nurses are also set to take place this same week in San Francisco, Chicago, and elsewhere.
Under the banner of NAFCON, a nationwide coalition of Filipino-American organizations spanning 23 US cities, the campaign calling attention to the reality of fraudulent contractualization of Filipino labor and the plight of Filipino healthcare professionals abused and maltreated took center stage with a Justice for Sentosa 27++ parade contingent that marched down during the largest annual gathering of Filipinos in the entire East Coast.
“We are here to support our nurses, to call attention to their reality of their abuse and victimization, and to demand justice and protection from companies such as the Sentosa Recruitment Agency,” stated Rico Foz, Executive Vice President of NAFCON.
Supporting organizations that marched with the nurses include the Philippine Forum, Anakbayan Filipino Youth Collective, Filipinas for Rights and Empowerment (FIRE), Lakas Diwa Filipino Community Alliance of New Jersey, Movement for a Free Philippines, NY Committee for Human Rights in the Philippines, Migrante International, New York State Nurses Association (NYSNA) and the American Nurses Association (ANA) . The contingent was also marked by the presence of two giant puppets– one a Filipina nurse, and the other a personification of Inang Bayan (the Motherland).
Other calls and chants of various social concerns projected by the NAFCON contingent included a call for legalization of all undocumented Filipino immigrants, a call to continue with a second investigation for Filipino domestic worker Felisa “Fely” Garcia, and even Philippine-based social concerns, such as “No to Election Fraud and Violence” and “Stop the Political Killings”.
Culminating in a halt in front of the main grandstand, the contingent was met with a standing ovation and applause by community members and even by members of the Philippine Independence Day Committee and representatives from the Philippine Consulate.
The Philippine Forum-NAFCON contingent, which was the biggest group that marched was judged as the most spirited parade participant by parade organizers.
Upon the conclusion of the parade, participants flocked to the endpoint – a Filipino community festival along Madison Square Park in lower Manhattan. The Justice for Sentosa 27++ contingent set up a table where they gathered hundreds more signatures in support of their campaign. An online petition available at www.petitiononline.com/j4s27 has already garnered over 1100 signatures worldwide. Among the community supporters that stopped by the table to signify their support were leaders of the Philippine Nurses Association (PNA), who also came to signify their support of the nurses’ cause.
“The outpour of support for our campaign has been overwhelming and keeps growing nationwide and worldwide. It is clearly a deep issue not only the Filipino community can keep silent about,” stated Alipio Esguerra, a former Sentosa nurse from the Philippines who marched with his young children during the PIDC.
The Sentosa 27++ gained recognition for speaking out against their plight of illegal recruitment by the Sentosa Recruitment Agency in Manila last year. After suffering from false contracts, abuse, and withholding of wages, the 27 individually resigned from their posts. Sentosa, and its owner Bent Philipson, retaliated by filing civil and criminal charges for patient abandonment and endangerment, despite claims by the 27 that they did not walk-out on their patients or threaten their security.
After hiring a lawyer, the original Sentosa 27 came forward with their stories after initial legal paths to justice were obstructed by political interference by elected officials in New York and the Philippines. Among the demands of the campaign are immediate dropping of all criminal and civil charges against the nurses, immediate compensation of all backwages, and an investigation of Sentosa against laws outlawing human trafficking and involuntary servitude.
“It is with mixed emotions that I join the Filipino-American community in commemorating Philippine Independence Day today,” stated Sentosa 27++ lawyer Felix Vinluan, also faced with charges by Philipson after assisting the nurses in their class suit for on the basis of anti-immigrant workplace discrimination. “Look at our children, waving our Philippine flag. At the same time, look at their t-shirts emblazoned with the words: Justice for Sentosa 27+”, and listen to their shouts of “Shut down Sentosa!”. Our own children demand that our Philippine government be independent and not kowtow to the foreign masters of Sentosa Recruitment Agency. In this light, I join the call for the POEA to reinstate Sentosa’s suspension order. In the same vein, I call on our fellow Filipinos to come out into the open, and emulate the nurses from the NY State Nurses Association and the American Nurses Association who have joined us in this march and have come out openly with their statement of support for the victims of Sentosa’s fraudulent and discriminatory employment practices.”
The original Sentosa 27 quickly expanded in number as more former Sentosa contract workers are coming forward with their stories of abuse and maltreatment at the hands of the large healthcare company.
A public information campaign with basic facts is accessible at www.justiceforsentosa27.blogspot.com
A march for justice for the Sentosa 27++ in New York City is also scheduled for Tuesday, July 3rd, 5pm. It is being organized by the National Alliance for Filipino Concerns.
For more information, contact the Philippine Forum at 718-565-8862 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. ###