In a speech to the ISS in December 2010, Atty. Eric Mallonga reported that OFWs trafficked abroad by illegal recruiters and trafficking syndicates were of particular concern to the US Embassy in Manila because they were the ones most in danger of inhumane exploitation and prostitution. In fact, Atty. Mallonga pointed out, the Philippines had already twice been delisted on the US State Department on Human Trafficking, placing it within the Tier Two Watchlist—This despite having a law against the trafficking of persons. The lack of its proper enforcement would only lead to continued violations and subsequent delistings. A third delisting would mean that the Philippines would then be relegated to a Tier Three classification, resulting in the stoppage of US aid to that country (in the Philippines, estimated at US$450 million per annum) along with a recommendation to the United Nations to impose similar sanctions.
For Atty. Mallonga, the diaspora of ten million Filipinos for greener pastures abroad primarily for economic reasons was certainly a grave concern. While it was true that there have been many positive experiences in overseas migration, with the families of OFWs experiencing financial upliftment, including sending their children to better schools, both local and foreign, in general the negative consequences in overseas migration for employment purposes or even for marriage far outweighed the positive. This was because the diaspora of OFWs involved a lot of insufficiently-educated and unskilled blue collar workers who in their quest for better wages and working conditions, have oftentimes ended up the victims of criminal syndicates or being the ones who formed their own gangs themselves. In the case of women, many have been exploited, abused, and prostituted.
Even more disturbing to Atty. Mallonga have been the profound impacts on family members left behind by overseas migration. He reported to the ISS that nuclear families of OFWs have been found to self-destruct and lose their basic sense of morality. In addition, there were also gender dynamics at work within the family that disrupted and ultimately destroyed it: When the OFW was a female who left behind her husband to care for their family, Atty. Mallonga explained, the oldest daughter was sometimes viewed as the substitute mother and sadly, even the substitute wife. There have been children born from incestuous situations arising from the absence of the mother and her failure to protect her children from a predator, usually a father or stepfather. Unfortunately, the experience of childcaring agencies in the country has been that most cases of child physical and sexual abuse were indeed a result of the female OFW phenomenon.
When it was the mothers who migrated, continued Atty. Mallonga, there was an even stronger negative impact on children left behind: When the primary caregiver and nurturer, usually the mother, became an absentee parent, there was a consequential decline in family solidarity and moral values which resulted in poor school attendance due to the children growing up unsupervised and unattended to, and the father spending the mother’s remittances on vices rather than the family. Which was not to say that there were no problems if the OFW was male. When it was the father who left his family behind, the oldest usually became the substitute father, abusing his disciplinary authority over his siblings with little or no regard for personal boundaries or limitations, even while he himself still needed to be disciplined. In either case, the over-dependence on the absent parent has at times proven unproductive, with the remaining parent requiring assistance from his or her spouse which was not always forthcoming when it came to family decision-making, often leaving children unguided and unfettered, clueless as it was as to their family values and identity. Moreover, women married to OFWs if not OFWs themselves were prone to harassment wherever they were, including being subjected to advances by other men, sometimes members of their husbands’ own families.
It was while Atty. Mallonga was prosecuting a case of sexual harassment for an OFW versus a labor attache in Lebanon that he got a bird’s eye view of the overwhelming problems of OFWs in the Middle East: A female domestic helper had run away from her sexually abusive Lebanese employer and sought refuge at the Philippine Embassy, as many OFWs in the Middle East were prone to do in whatever the Islamic State where they had sought employment—Jordan, Kuwait, Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Qatar, or elsewhere in the Middle East, sometimes even as far as Libya or Tunisia in Northern Africa. Wherever it was that they were in the Middle East, the rules were the same— The employers would collect their employee’s passport and keep it. Thus, the employee was effectively held hostage as their passport was their only legal documentation to escape oppressive circumstances and seek refuge. With the confiscation of their passports, employees had no choice but to do as told by their employer. If the employee was a woman, she could not complain against her employer for slavery or even rape. The employer could decide not to pay any salaries or wages, and even lock her up in a small room to rape and torture her. There was nothing that she could do but attempt to escape, and even if she were successful and managed to leave the confines of a high-rise condominium or nomadic tent in the Bedouin-controlled desert, she could find herself a virtual prisoner in the basement of the Philippine Embassy, the only place of safety and refuge where she could not be touched by virtue of it being an extension of Philippine territory under the principle of extraterritoriality.
Once an OFW had made it to the embassy, the expectation is that the Filipino diplomats, including labor attaches, assigned there would be helpful and sympathetic to them, acting in their best interests. Unfortunately, this was not always true. There are many diplomats and attaches working in embassies and consulates who are abusive themselves, and even if they are not, they are constrained to abide by the laws of their host countries. Thus, OFWs who have successfully escaped from an abusive Arab employer could just as easily find themselves confined to the embassy basement for years until a diplomat managed to secure blanket amnesty for refugees.
In the predominantly-Islamic countries in the Middle East and Northern Africa, adultery is punishable with death by stoning and even the most minimal baring of skin could be interpreted as constituting seduction on the part of a woman. But this does not change the fact that human beings fall in love and find themselves in compromising situations. Women have gotten pregnant from liaisons with either a fellow OFW or a Muslim male, whether single or married, although others have gotten pregnant because of rape. Regardless of the circumstances, it is the woman rather than the man who is going to be accused of having sexual motives, and a pregnancy outside of marriage, even due to rape, will warrant her immediate incarceration and trial for adultery or seduction. If the OFW is not successful in escaping, she almost certainly stands to be indicted for such crimes, however ancient, even if she happens to be the victim.
When women do arrive home from these Arab countries, pregnant whether from sexual abuse or from a consensual relationship, there remains the problem of how to explain it to their husbands, children, families, and communities. Such situations have led to newborns being dumped in airplane bins or trash cans, if not being abandoned in hospitals, churches, the streets, or even marketplaces.
If an OFW is to give birth in the country of her employ, she is forced to seek out some backroom clinic or residential toilet where she can do so undetected by the muttawa’in or religious police. An extramarital pregnancy being as much a crime there as an extramarital affair, resulting children are often left with other OFWs or families. Those OFWs or families not being permanent themselves, custodial transfers from one family to another are bound to take place, with the child being forever hidden from the public. Such children never get to experience what it is like to have a family and live a normal life. Such children never get an education. Such children live in a perpetual state of fear and paranoia about being discovered by the religious leaders of the Islamic state they are in. Locked inside the house and left with nowhere to go to seek assistance or refuge, they are brought up to accept the unfortunate circumstances of their birth and with it, the neverending need to stay hidden.
Although the social costs of migrating to Japan may not be as grave as those of migrating to the Middle East and Northern Africa, there are nonetheless costs. Japanese gangs such as the Yakuza prey on women, and Atty. Mallonga cites the case of a Filipina who ran a restaurant in Kyoto for 15 years until the Yakuza moved into the territory and demanded not only protection money, but also that she turn her restaurant into a brothel. The woman, who had been able to buy a family home and send her children to school with her earnings, was forced to leave Japan and never return.
It is the same with migration to Indonesia and Malaysia (where there a many undocumented Filipinos in the Federal State of Sabah). Filipino women may think that they will be able to escape poverty by migrating to nearby Islamic countries, but the reality is that there they face exploitation and syndicated prostitution, and they are trafficked and confined to prison-like quarters...
(Thanks to the original author)