In memory of Flor Contemplacion, members of Migrante Ontario, iWWorkers, Gabriela Canada, and Anakbayan Toronto held a rally on March 20th outside of the Philippine Consulate.
Twenty years ago, Contemplacion was hanged despite insufficient evidence that she murdered another Filipina worker and her three year-old ward in Singapore. As Migrante Canada chairperson Tess Agustin said, “The collective shock over her execution grew in tandem with the disgust over the government’s weak last-minute efforts and dismal failure to save her life.”
Criticism of the Philippine government continued as the rally called for the resignation of President Benigno Aquino III.
To cries of “Tama na, sobra na, Noynoy resign na!” (“Enough is enough, Noynoy resign now!”) the groups banded together to attract the attention of passersby outside of the consulate.
Joanna Lacar of iWWorkers read a piece by Tess Agustin to highlight four things that many migrant workers have experienced under Aquino’s leadership: “1) The biggest budget cuts ever for OFW services, 2) Increasingly exorbitant state exactions and fee impositions, 3) Unmonitored recruitment and blatant trafficking, and 4) Anti-migrant policies that have compromised the welfare of migrants.”
Maru Maesa of iWWorkers spoke out against the passport fee increase. “It used to be $69, but now it has increased to $75,” she said. “In the Philippines, this increase is even higher in pesos. The government said that one of the reasons for this is because of the dollar fluctuation, but it’s not fair for us to collect more money from migrant workers.”
The terminal fee increase was also an issue for Maesa. She claimed that as recently as 2010, there was no terminal fee, but now, the government has put in a fee which is supposed to help manage airport line-ups. “The long lines at the airport are not the fault of the OFWs,” Maesa said. “The government isn’t giving us any service, any protection; they are just collecting fees from us.”
Rhea Gamana of Anakbayan Toronto led the group in singing “Kahit Konting Awa,” the Nora Aunor song from the film, The Flor Contemplacion Story. Families exiting the consulate stopped to read the organizers’ signs as they listened to the words, “Bigyan naman ninyo kami kahit na konting awa…”
For Viel Perida, political science student at Glendon College, the event literally hit close to home. “Flor came from the same town that my mom is from,” he said. “I witnessed her funeral. The whole town went to see the coffin go from her house to the cathedral. I was ten years old. But not enough has changed for caregivers since then.”
Jesson Reyes, Regional Coordinator of Migrante Ontario, emphasized that even in 2015, Filipinos should still care about Flor. “She was someone who migrated due to the lack of sustainable jobs back home. The very conditions that pushed her out are the same conditions that many domestic helpers are facing today: unemployment and landlessness. Now, under Aquino, we have approximately 6000 Filipinos leaving every day. A quarter of our workforce is out of the country now.”
Reyes stated that the government’s support for OFWs is not concrete enough. “After Flor, the Philippine government offered the Republic Act #8042 under Ramos. Supposedly, this was to protect migrant workers. But twenty years later, this policy is not being enforced. OFWS have to pay terminal fees. They have to pay increased passport fees. Why, when the policy to protect them is not even enforced?”
After the rally, Reyes’ words to the group were encouraging. “This was the call of Migrante Philippines, and the other Migrantes around the world. We answered the call. This isn’t where it starts or where it ends.” Contemplacion’s death sparked a discussion on OFW rights that continues today.
This article was published in The Philippine Reporter on March 27th, 2015.