CHR commissioner laments DoLE chief’s statement; says migrant workers’ rights also a priority

CHR commissioner laments DoLE chief’s statement; says migrant workers’ rights also a priority

Press Release from the Office of Commissioner Gwendolyn Ll. Pimentel-Gana | 29 March 2018

Commissioner Gwendolyn Pimentel-Gana of the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) expressed disappointment over a recent statement of Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III criticizing the CHR for its focus on political crimes and the war against illegal drugs rather than on migrant workers’ rights.

“It appears to me that our labor secretary had been misinformed. The CHR along with other government agencies such as the Department of Foreign Affairs was an active participant in the global discussions regarding the UN’s Global Compact on Migration. We are also in the process of establishing an observatory on migrant workers’ rights that would help generate information and data on the rights and welfare of our overseas Filipino workers,” Commissioner Gana who serves as the CHR’s focal person for migrant workers’ rights said.

“Let me assure the labor secretary that we at CHR share the same deep concern over rising reports of abuse and maltreatment involving our OFWs especially women domestic workers,” she said.

The commissioner in charge of migrant workers’ rights said the CHR is also concerned by reports that several stranded OFWs in Saudi Arabia have resorted to selling their blood in order to send money home to their families. She expressed fears that the economic downturn in Saudi Arabia has led to the abrupt retrenchment and delays in salary payments for many OFWs.

“I hope that the good secretary would welcome a constructive partnership between DoLE and the CHR for the sake of our modern-day heroes,” Commissioner Gana said.

In a recent congressional hearing, Labor Secretary Bello chided the CHR for being “more concerned with political crimes” instead of looking after the welfare of OFWs.

When asked by ABS Rep. Eugene de Vera if the CHR had reached to DoLE in relation to the case of OFW Joanna Demafelis, a domestic worker found dead in a freezer in Kuwait, the labor secretary replied:

“Actually you are correct, your honor, that the mandate of the CHR includes the advocacy for the protection of the rights of our workers abroad. Unfortunately, I don’t think they have time to consult with us, they are more concerned with political crimes, I think so, your honor.”

Commissioner Pimentel-Gana said the response of the labor secretary was unfortunate considering that the CHR was supportive of the Duterte administration’s actions to prevent modern slavery involving Filipino domestic workers in the Middle East.

A few weeks ago, the CHR through the office of Commissioner Gana issued a statement supporting the DoLE’s total deployment ban of Filipino workers to Kuwait following the discovery of OFW Joanna Demafelis’ frozen body.

Commissioner Gana believes that the DOLE & the CHR can work out any differences in opinion in a cordial exchange of views on how the two agencies can work together to promote a rights-based approach to the recruitment and deployment of OFWs.

“We are all public servants here. Protecting the rights of our migrant workers requires a whole-of-government approach, and we consider DoLE as well as the DFA as our allies in this shared advocacy,” Commissioner Gana said.

She assured the public that the CHR will continue to pursue programs and activities that promote the rights and welfare of millions of OFWs and their families in partnership with civil society groups and various government agencies.

“Last week, we were able to successfully work on the repatriation of a distressed OFW from Kuwait in partnership with the Department of Foreign Affairs and the Blas F. Ople Policy Center.

“We look forward to working closely with DoLE in advancing the cause of migrant workers’ rights worldwide,” the commissioner said. ■