By José Abeto Zaide
In a day of thy calamity, better a near neighbor than a brother afar off. — Proverbs 27:10
Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter S. Cayetano told Kuwaiti Ambassador Saleh Ahmad Alhwaikh that firm commitments on the OFW’s welfare must be made by Kuwait before President Rodrigo R. Duterte visits the Middle East country. Secretary Cayetano met with the Kuwait envoy following the macabre death of domestic worker Joanna Demafelis. Kuwaiti Foreign Minister Sheikh Sabah Khaled al-Sabah also assured that his country is in close cooperation with the Philippines on the situation of our OFWs.
ACTS OFW solon Aniceto John Bertiz III backs Palace decision to keep the deployment ban, saying, “This is the problem if the (Kuwaiti) employer effectively owns the visa of the worker. You can be handed over to another employer there, almost like merchandise.” Bertiz wants Kuwait to end the modern-day slave trade of Filipino household service workers and take forceful steps to protect the rights and welfare of migrant laborers.
(Demafelis’ original employer was a Kuwaiti, who effectively owned the visa of the worker; and later “sold” her (together with the visa) to a Lebanese national. You can be handed over to another employer there, almost like merchandise.)
Bertiz said Kuwait does not have laws recognizing and promoting the rights and welfare of foreign workers doing household service. It does not adhere to ILO Convention 189 on basic rights of domestic workers. He urged Kuwait to do a Saudi Arabia, which recently sent its third most senior official, Prince Abdulaziz bin Saud bin Naif, to visit Manila to reassure President Rodrigo Duterte that the kingdom looks after our OFWs.
Closer to home, yesterday, 27 March, the family of Melody Albano Castro, a casualty of the recent earthquake in Hualien, Taiwan, was invited to the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office. Melody’s husband Jay-Ar Castro, her mother Mrs. Normida Albano, her brother Jayson Albano, and her daughter Given Grace Albano Castro came to receive from TECO Representative Dr. Gary Song-Huann Lin a donation totaling P600,000. The amount was raised by the Taiwanese Community in Manila to express condolences.
Present at the turnover were Dr. Michael Lin of the Taiwan Chamber in the Philippines, House of Representatives member and chairperson of Inter-parliamentary Relations and Diplomacy Rose Marie “Baby” Arenas, representatives of donors, Taiwan Association, Inc., MECO, DOLE, POEA and OWWA.
The bereaved family will receive an estimated total of P3.8-million assistance (adding up government funds, insurance claims, and the donation of the Taiwanese community in Manila). TECO representative Dr. Lin also offered to provide medical assistance to the husband Jay Ar Castro, who was recently injured in a motorcycle accident.
On its part, DOLE Secretary Silvestre Bello said Melody Albano Castro’s family will also receive P100,000 financial aid, despite the fact that she was not an active member of the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration. Secretary Bello added that Melody’s family will also receive P15,000 for funeral expenses and P10,000 annually for her daughter Given Grace Albano Castro’s elementary education.
Like the other TECO representatives who preceded him, Dr. Lin had also handed over Taiwan assistance to Filipino victims of earthquake and typhoons.
One of the more significant Taiwan responses to calamity was in the aftermath of typhoon Haiyan (Yolanda, 2013). Together with other donor countries, Taiwan, (which itself was also heavily damaged by the storm), sent to the Philippines an estimated US$12.3 million in relief materials (at least 680 tons) plus P1.2 billon worth of relief efforts (to build more than 1,000 housing units, 316 classrooms, one clinic, and one Catholic church by Taiwan’s Tzu Chi foundation). The initiative engaged 300,000 man workdays (P500 per day) and benefited 68,000 Filipino families who received cash, rice and material aid. As our immediate neighbor, Taiwan was among the first to deliver relief supplies to Philippines via its Navy vessels and Air Force planes. In addition, a 35-member Taiwan Root Medical Peace Corps arrived at the affected site to render medical assistance.
I first met TECO Representative Lin in December, 2003, when I was DFA chief of protocol and he was the Asia Pacific director-general of the Taiwan Foreign Office. I was accompanying the widow Mrs. Susan Ople to Taipei on a sad journey to claim the remains of the late Secretary of Foreign Affairs Blas. F. Ople. (Secretary Ople’s plane en route to the Middle East had detoured to land in Taipei in a desperate attempt to revive him.) Our One-China policy did not prevent Dr. Lin from doing the right thing by our secretary of foreign affairs and assisting our delegation on its mournful mission.