This morning I was with the group of former Las Pinas representative Cynthia Villar to witness the reunion of 3 repatriated OFWs from Dubai with their families. The Villar Foundation, with Mrs. Cynthia Villar at the helm as Managing Director, has been at the forefront of repatriation efforts as part of its commitment to help distressed Overseas Filipino Workers abroad. The foundation in coordination with the Office of Senator Manny Villar as well as related government agencies such as the Department of Foreign Affairs, Department of Labor and Employment, Overseas Workers Welfare Association (OWWA), and the Blas Ople Center and Migrante have repatriated close to two thousands distressed OFWs for the past 2 decades. The group who arrived today from Dubai has been the second batch of OFWs that were given aid by The Villar Foundation this year.
The distressed OFWs had the sought the help and protection of POLO OWWA (Philippine Overseas Labor Office-Overseas Workers Welfare Association) in Dubai and The Villar Foundation as they have suffered from different forms abuse and maltreatment from their Arab employers there. Here are their stories:
31 year old Romilyn Daglupo who worked as a domestic helper in Dubai, UAE left the country pregnant last year. Upon learning that harsh punishment awaits pregnant unmarried women in UAE, she ran away from her employer out of fright. It was her friend’s mother who sought financial assistance from The Villar Foundation’s Sagip-OFW for her safe return to the country. When asked how she feels about returning home, she shared that, “Masaya po ako at nagpapasalamat kay Maam (Mrs. Cynthia Villar) sa pagtulong sa amin.”
Joanalin Pascua, also sought refuge at POLO OWWA in Dubai after experiencing hardships in the hands of her foreign employer. She recounted how her female employer overworked, underpaid, and physically abused her. She related that, “Yung amo kong lalaki mabait sa akin, yung amo kong babae ang lagi akong sinasaktan at pinagiinitan.” When asked if she is still willing to work abroad again if given the chance, she confided that, “Hindi na po, dito na lang po ako sa pamilya ko.”
24 year old Jacquelyn Costuna ran away from her employer because of the way her Arab employers maltreated and verbally abused her. She described her experience with them as, “Mahirap po doon, lalo na yung alagaan yung bata. Pagnagkamali ako, sinasaktan ako agad. sinasabunutan, binabatukan, sinisigawan.” She stayed at POLO-OWWA refuge house together with Joanalin until their repatriation.
Four repatriated OFWs were expected to arrive today but only three made it as the other one was detained at the immigration when they were about to leave due to the pending unresolved case of the agency where she was connected. Mrs. Villar shared that as much as they would like to help all distressed OFWs in POLO-OWWA – Dubai, due to limitations in the budget and the gravity of their cases, they can only help as much. For OFWs who seek the foundation’s assistance but had to settle formal court cases or complaints filed against them by their foreign employers, the foundation leave it to the OFW’s employment agency to do an action on the matter or course them through the proper government body who is more in the position to help them in such cases. Mrs. Cynthia Villar related that, “Yung mga me kaso don mahirap sila matulungan agad kasi of course ibang bansa yon, me sarili silang rules and laws that we have to abide to and respect also. At sa mga ganong kaso, we leave it to the DFA to handle such cases, sila ang mas me jurisdiction don.”
Mrs.Villar shared that Overseas Filipino Workers have always been close to her and Senator Villar’s hearts because it was a wife of an OFW, a seaman, who first bought a house from them . Their first clients in their housing business were in fact these seafarers. They have always admired the OFWs’ tenacity to improve the lives of their families, heroism, and courage. And for this reason, they have made it their mission to help and protect them through the The Villar Foundation’s Sagip OFW/OFW Assistance. Aside from shouldering the repatriated OFWs airfare, return tickets to their provinces and exit pass expenses, The Villar Foundation also provide them with livelihood opportunities through its Skills UP & Livelihood Assistance Package. In partnership with various organizations, The Villar Foundation under this project helps the repatriated OFWs gain the necessary skills that would allow them to find employment locally. They are also provided with livelihood skills training in case they want to jump start their own business. The foundation also extends medical assistance to returning physically abused and maltreated OFWs to ensure that they are in good health. Burial assistance and legal aid services are also extended to those OFWs in need of such services.
Each day millions of Filipinos face the stark reality that the money that they are earning sometimes does not even compensate for half of their families’ basic needs. We cannot blame them for wanting better lives for their families even at the cost of their own welfare and safety.
Nearly two million Filipinos leave each year to work overseas and a big margin of this number, sad to say, are non-professionals. They are domestic helpers like Romilyn, Joanalin, and Jacquelyn who easily fall prey to the opportunistic demands of foreign employers. The government can only do little to help them as it battles with other humongous problems here at the home front.
The Villar Foundation clearly knows that the task of protecting fellow citizens especially the ones off shore does not only lie on government efforts alone. They have a good grasp of what nation building is. They have proven this again and again by doing their best in providing whatever help they can extend to distressed OFWs and by closely working hand in hand with the government in an effort to deliver services that would not only address the OFWs’ immediate needs but uplift their lives as well.