|Pinay workers jubilant upon arriving on chartered flight from Kuwait|
|Urgent measures should be taken to prevent this emerald paradise from becoming a total "cesspool."|
I knew Ma. Lourdes “Meilou” Sereno long ago, when she was teaching at the UP and a corporate lawyer, and from time to time, our paths would cross on various social occasions. I haven’t seen her socially for many years now, and I only managed to read about her and her work with the late former Justice Florentino Feliciano in the PIATCO case. Later, after she was appointed to the Supreme Court as its Chief, I’d drop in on various hearings in the session hall.
CJ Sereno was recently quoted in the news as standing pat at the SC’s helm---refusing to resign despite tremendous pressure from various quarters, and despite a good number of her colleagues in the High Court having testified openly against her in the House hearings.
I am not surprised about CJ Sereno's resolve to stay in her post---in fact I would be more surprised if she suddenly throws in the towel. That’s how I knew her in the past: very sure of herself and tough as nails. At this point I wish Meilou Sereno the best of luck in this biggest battle of her life.
I feel awfully sad, though, for the Supreme Court that we once held in such high esteem, as we remember all the personalities who had passed through its hallowed halls---many of whom were regarded as demi-gods whose pronouncements on various issues were always ex-cathedra. In contrast, I felt great distaste over the mud-throwing we citizens witnessed in recent months in the House of Representatives and in media, among those once-upon-a-time demi-gods of the SC who testified against the CJ in public..
In recent weeks that once-venerable institution has suffered immensely and I doubt if it could recover its lost glory soon---given all the public mud-slinging among Their Honors in recent House hearings. It has been heart-breaking for those of us who believe in old-fashioned reverence for esteemed institutions, especially the SC. The whole controversy involving CJ Sereno and her colleagues---laid out before House members many of whom are themselves not exemplars of ethical behavior---has left a bad taste in the mouth.
I note, however, that Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio has distanced himself from openly joining the fight---refusing the House invitation to testify against the Chief Justice, unlike their other colleagues. It was a smart move on Justice Carpio’s part, making him look statesmanlike.
Two issues now facing the Duterte administration---the sorry plight of Filipino workers in Kuwait and the destruction of our island-paradise of Boracay--- will have tremendous repercussions on the nation’s economic life. Both issues have to be handled with decisive authority by the President. .
On the situation of our OFWs in Kuwait: the DFA estimates that there are some 250,000 Filipino workers there, employed mostly as domestics. Stories of physical abuse and humiliations against our OFWs there are not new, but the shocking revelation about a dead Filipino woman kept in a freezer for a year in an abandoned apartment in Kuwait exploded like a time bomb and shook our nation to its roots in its unimaginable horror.
This is a situation that cries to high heavens for justice and President Duterte has done the right thing in sending planes to repatriate all our workers from Kuwait. But that doesn't solve the huge problem of our OFWs in the Middle East. It has only begun.
The horrible treatment of our OFWs, especially our women, in Arab countries stems from the fact that many of them or perhaps most of them are illegal entrants---victims of unscrupulous recruiters here who prey on their ignorance and acute poverty. Because many of these OFWs are illegally staying in Kuwait, and other Arab countries, they are logical targets for harsh treatment and abuse from their employers---who would otherwise turn them over to the authorities as illegals if they protest.
In the case of the late Joanna Demafelis, the Filipina stored in a freezer, it is obvious that despite her sister Jessica’s efforts to locate her for a whole year--- seeking help from POEA and OWWA--- these agencies did not lift a finger to find her (it was the Kuwaiti police who found her in the deserted apartment). President Duterte should order heads to roll in those two agencies for their unspeakable indifference.
The episode of the frozen Filipino woman emphasizes a central point: many of our people, in their abysmal poverty, are kapit-patalim. They know all the abuses that citizens especially in non-Christian countries commit against them but still they leave in droves--- because of the grinding poverty in many regions of our country. What is needed is for government to truly rev up the economy so that our citizens could find employment here--- instead of exporting especially our women as toilet-cleaners and yayas of the world, most prone to abuse.
Three decades ago, it was Indonesians, Thais and Indians who were exported as domestics, but now those countries have progressed while we still rely heavily on exporting especially our women, who are subjected to abuse in the Middle East. This is a reality that our economic geniuses must remedy.
I would advocate pushing the training programs under TESDA full throttle---so that our people get to acquire skills that locally-based industries could absorb, as PEZA Chief Ching Plaza emphasized in our dzRH interview recently.
As for Boracay, the Tourism Department has to enforce rules and regulations to ensure that better sewage systems and garbage disposal are constructed---no two ways about it. Environment Secretary Roy Cimatu stresses that 51 tourist establishments on Boracay would have to be shut down as their sewage is channeled directly to the sea---in violation of the Clean Water Act of 2004. But the 51 resorts are only part of over 200 found with faulty sewage facilities that threaten to cause epidemics.
Obviously local officials in Malay in Aklan, which has jurisdiction over Boracay, have not been enforcing the laws. Mr. Duterte mulls closing down the island to international tourism for some period while total clean-up and rehabilitation are undertaken. There's worry, however, that closing down the island would greatly affect our tourist industry---and the economy. But there seems to be no other recourse as otherwise, that world-famous paradise island would be forever damaged.
In both cases of our OFWs in the Middle East and the rehab of Boracay, the political will of the Duterte administration will have its acid test.