Press Release
December 19, 2015


Amid reports that a Filipino domestic helper was deprived of food and forced to work without pay in Singapore, Sen. Miriam Defensor Santiago called for the creation of a task force to monitor the status of documented migrants who may be at risk of abuse abroad.

Santiago, chair of the Senate foreign relations committee, vowed to file a resolution when Congress opens in 2016 to express the sense of the Senate that a multi-agency task force must seek to prevent maltreatment of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs).

"I fear that Thelma Gawidan is not an isolated case. How many other Filipinos in foreign countries endure the same fate only so that they can send money to their loved ones at home? The government must find out and help all of them," the senator said.

Gawidan, 40, claimed before trial courts in Singapore that she had been fed only instant noodles and bread by her employers from January 2013 to April 2015, until her weight dropped to 29 kilograms from 49 kilograms.

She also alleged that she did not receive her salary, and was not allowed to leave her employers' condominium by herself, until she managed to escape. Gawidan has since stayed with a shelter run by a non-profit workers' rights group.

"Fortunately, Thelma was able to escape from what appears to be modern-day slavery. But what would have happened if she remained in that situation, or if she got caught while trying to escape? We have heard similar stories; we do not like how they end," Santiago said.

The senator suggested that the government proactively seek OFWs who have been reported missing or who have not reached out to their families for a certain period of time. Help desks must also be set up in Philippine diplomatic posts abroad.

The multi-agency task force Santiago has in mind includes the Department of Foreign Affairs, the Department of Labor and Employment, the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration, and the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration.

"We defeat the purpose of documenting all OFWs if their records waste away in archives. Locating OFWs reported missing is a difficult task, but it is the responsibility of government, especially to those whom it calls modern-day heroes," Santiago said.

The senator also scored the Aquino administration for failing to address poverty, unemployment, and lack of job opportunities, which she said are the main reasons Filipinos are forced to go abroad despite the risks.

Santiago said that, if elected president, she would institutionalize and expand the existing conditional cash transfer program and focus on work-for-pay strategies instead of dole-outs. She has filed the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Act as early as 2009.

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