Opposition Senator Leila M. de Lima has pressed for the designation of human rights attaches in selected Philippine embassies and consulates to address the growing cases of human rights violations committed against overseas Filipino workers (OFWs).
De Lima reiterated said proposal in the wake of increasing reports of harassments and human rights violations against OFWs, especially among household service workers (HSWs).
“It is unfortunate that our overseas workers have always been subjected to abuses and harassments. They work night and day, often in difficult and dangerous conditions, just to be able to provide better opportunities for their families here,” she said.
“Recent reports of harassments on our OFWs should compel our government to consider designating human rights attaches, especially in countries where our workers are most vulnerable in the hands of their foreign employers,” she added.
In December 2016, De Lima filed Senate Bill No. (SBN) 1230 seeking to amend the Charter of the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) as the national human rights institution and strengthen its powers and functions.
Under SBN 1230, she proposed that human rights attaches be designated in select Philippine embassies and consulates in order to address cases of human rights violations committed against OFWs.
She has also filed SBN 1785 amending Section 23 of Republic Act (RA) No. 8042, to highlight the invaluable role of the CHR in human rights education of OFWs and in providing legal assistance to them.
De Lima, who now chairs the Senate Committee on Social Justice, Welfare and Rural Development, noted the increasing reports about OFWs who were subjected to violence, sexual harassment, and maltreatment in the hands of their foreign employers.
“Sexual harassment is one of the most appalling offenses that can be committed against OFWs-our modern-day heroes who work hard to support their families in the country-because it steps into their very dignity as individuals,” she said.
Recently, a female OFW from Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, was reportedly driven to commit suicide to evade sexual advances by her employer’s son-in-law. Her husband confirmed that the case already reached the Embassy of the Philippines and Department of Foreign Affairs-Office of the Undersecretary for Migrant Workers Affairs but the two offices simply asked him to “wait and see.” Citing a different case of an abused OFW, De Lima noted that the parents of migrant worker identified as “Andrea” expressed disgust over the government’s failure to bring their daughter back home, five months after Andrea released a video seeking help because she was allegedly sexually abused by her employer.
De Lima said she hopes that two Filipino women who suffered abuses in the hands of their foreign employers in Saudi Arabia would not become again mere “figures and anecdotes” of the many incidents of harassment committed against OFWs.
Among the earlier reported incidences of abuses involving OFWs include the cases of Joanna Demafelis whose body was found in a freezer in an abandoned apartment in Kuwait in February 2018, and Mary Jane Veloso, a human trafficking victim convicted for carrying 2.6 kilograms of heroin at the Yogyakarta Airport in 2010.
De Lima maintained that the safety and welfare of OFWs should always be the government’s top priority, saying, “if saving some of them from abusive employers means getting them back to the country, then the government must do it as soon as possible.”
“Many of our OFWs have endured physical and sexual abuses so they can support their families here. Our government and the private recruitment agencies should ensure that our OFWs are safe and do not fall victims to abusive employers,” she said.
Despite her continued unjust detention, the Senator from Bicol reiterated that she will keep on working hard in promoting a just society not only for the OFWs and their families but also for other less privileged and marginalized sectors.