Protect The OFWs

by Seneca Moraleda-Puguan

With anticipation and excitement, Criza queued for her birth certificate to be apostilled at the DFA Aseana office in Pasay, Philippines.

She was there early in the morning, holding a list of all the requirements she needed to accomplish. Since the queue was a bit long, we had the chance to get to know each other.

While I needed my documents apostilled for our family to move to Europe, she needed hers so she can visit her mother who works as a domestic helper for almost twenty years in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.

Criza eventually wants to stay there and be like her mother, hoping for a better life compared to the one she leads in the Philippines now.

At the age of 24, she works as a sales lady at a local mall in Rizal province, just outside Manila. She said that her salary is only 9,000 pesos, roughly $165, a month.

She said even if she wants to build a family in the Philippines, it wouldn’t be enough. With a nod, I agreed. Before we said goodbye to each other, we became friends on Facebook and I prayed for her.

Criza is just one of the thousands of Filipinos who wish for better lives, thinking that working overseas would be the solution. Many of them are professionals in the Philippines but would gladly work as factory workers and domestic helpers abroad because of better and higher pay.

I met many of them not minding the long queue at the DFA because they knew that their efforts will pay off. They may not know the challenges or dangers that await them but the motivation to provide for their families surely outweigh the uncertainties that lie ahead.

In fact, my own mother is one of them. She was a SPED teacher in Baguio City, but the low salary pushed her to pursue being a nanny in the United States twenty years ago. Already a senior citizen, she still takes care of babies the same age as her grandchildren. When the news of the murder of 35-year-old OFW Jullebee Ranara broke out, I instantly remembered Criza.

Ranara was one of the more than 200,000 Filipinos working as a domestic helper in Kuwait. Her charred body was found in the desert.

According to speculations, the teenage son of her employer raped, impregnated, ran over and burned her body. She left behind her husband and four children.

It was really a piece of heartbreaking and shocking news. But this is not the first time this happened to a Filipina helper in the said country.

According to news reports, there are already several cases where domestic helpers from the Philippines died at the hands of their Kuwaiti employers. But despite the threats, many aspirants are not deterred to pursue work overseas and still choose to brave abusive employers just so they can provide for their loved ones.

What future awaits Criza? This I can’t help but ponder. I hope she gets blessed with a kind and generous employer. I pray that her pursuit would lead to her being able to build and provide for her family.

I wish that she won’t have the same fate as Ranara and many others who were unfortunate to receive harsh treatment from their bosses, some even facing death.

Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) are considered modern-day heroes because of their big contribution to the economy of the country.

But what is the use of such an accolade if it costs them their lives? Is there a way to protect them? Is the Philippine government proactive enough to prevent tragedies such as the Ranara murder?

The government has set in place agencies such as the Philippine Overseas Labor Office (POLO) under the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) and the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) that provide support and ensure the rights and working conditions of OFWs all over the world.

But these agencies can only do so much to protect the millions of Filipino workers all over the world. They are doing the best they can, but it takes a concerted effort from all of us as a nation to send help and support to our modern-day heroes.

Filipino communities all over the world are called to look out for the welfare of each other.

I believe that this tragedy may have shocked the Filipino community in the Middle East and the rest of the world but will not hinder many of our countrymen to leave the country and pursue greener pastures elsewhere.

We can only hope that there will be no more Filipino who will experience Ranara’s fate. Our heroes, like Criza and Jullebee, and their families deserve much better. Let us all work together to protect them.

In case you are a Filipino working overseas reading this and experiencing harsh treatment from your employer, please don’t hesitate to reach out. Always remember that you are not alone. Help is available.

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