As millions of Filipinos form a sea of humanity today, desperately praying to the miraculous image of Jesus of Nazareth, praying for a better life and for a job, it really calls to mind how the massive crowd reflects the poverty of our country.

Davao Today

As the Catholic community faces full force the weight of Filipino devotees of the Black Nazarene’s Traslación (transfer) Procession today with about ten million bodies forming a gigantic wave drowning the miraculous life-sized, wooden figure of Jesus, it also reflects the difficult times. These are times when prayers of salvation and miracles echo from the lips of the devotees, flooding the gates of heaven.

Prayers of all kinds and phrases are offered.  Prayers for health or safety of family and loved ones.  Prayers for shelter, living wage and employment abroad.  Prayers for a better future, even for life after death.

Common prayers for the common masses.  Nothing trivial, yet nothing new.

As times get worse, so do our prayers for employment get persistent as there is a continuous rise of the unemployment rate (and self-employment do not count, by the way).

The Aquino government is supposedly on the move to deploy Filipinos for 4.6 million jobs abroad.  Accordingly, the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) was able to increase their target of overseas deployment by 290 percent in 2011 instead of their targeted 1.6 million only.  As of January 2012, POEA considered at least 155 countries to have valid working conditions.

Thus, labor exportation continues to be a part of such hoopla, calling Overseas Filipino Workers as “modern-day heroes” because they keep our economy afloat.  Reports state that PHP 500.331 million-worth of remittances was delivered by the POEA to the National Treasury.  The amount is PHP 139.94 million higher compared to 2010’s remittance of PHP 360.95 million.  Not bad for the OFW business huh?

But while being modern-day heroes entail supposed honor in raising the country’s pride and economy, our OFWs continue to languish as modern-day slaves in other countries.

Migrante International, an organization for the welfare of Filipino workers and migrants, said that the remittance of USD 200-300 per migrant worker is just enough for a family’s monthly expenditures for food, housing, medical needs and education.  With the additional taxes and rising of prices of oil and commodities and the economic aspects of inflation and devaluation, these modern-day heroes can barely fly high and save their families from their nemesis of poverty, desperation and death.

Beyond the aspect of keeping our economy afloat, the perils of political turmoil in other parts of the world gravely affect the safety of our OFWs.  Conflicts in the Middle East and parts of Africa pose great danger to these migrant workers.  Terminated contracts and physical abuse continue to trend as among the top factors causing suffering among them.  Reaching out to Philippine authorities to help them get back home for safety even prove to be a difficult and tedious process, assuring less hope in providing protection and security.

Moreover, Migrante International has monitored a strong increase of unfair labor practices and inhumane treatments and conditions in the hands of Saudi Arabian employees.

OFWs in companies like Al-Suwayeh, Al-Zahran Operations and Maintenance Company Ltd., Al-Sabillah, Al-Naseeb Establishments and Al-Fath Contracting Est/Aldalawi Contracting Establishment, were victims of illegal recruitment or contract violations such as collection of fees without official receipts, overcharging of placement fees, loans with high interest rates, illegal salary deductions, non-issuance of working permits and non-payment of salaries, among others.

Though the POEA has conducted at least 41 Anti-illegal recruitment seminars and 774 pre-employment orientations in 2011, these did not prevent OFWs from suffering maltreatment, if not animal treatment, from their employers abroad.  Further, four Filipinos have already been sentenced to death abroad in the last two years while 123 Filipinos are sentenced to death row.  Thousands more are stranded in different countries desperate for repatriation.  These clearly point to a blatant disregard for the welfare of the OFWs, underscoring the neglect, inefficiency and lack of concern on the part of the Filipino consulates and their officials.

Needless to say, I don’t buy the term modern-day heroes.  It is such a misnomer.  I wish the government would stop calling them as such.

They who are desperate to come home and be with their families.  They who would rather slave their asses off in their native land than be far away in a strange land whose employees treat them like scum.  They who dream of a living wage, not dying wage, to be able to provide decent life for their families: with three full meals a day, clothing and shelter.

These are simple and heart-felt prayers, which are really not impossible if only the Aquino government would listen.

As millions of Filipinos form a sea of humanity today, desperately praying to the miraculous image of Jesus of Nazareth, praying for a better life and for a job, it really calls to mind how the massive crowd reflects the poverty of our country.

I would like to believe that God is pro-poor.  After all, He came from the working class himself, being a son of a carpenter.  May God bless us all.

Beverly Ann S. Musni, Yr. is a free spirit.   She is a wanderlust, a dreamer and a frustrated rock star who dreams of travelling the world one day.  She is a world peace advocate.


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