Women’s Front: Tales of modern day slaves and fallacies of the Migrants Act of 1995


The Republic Act 8042, otherwise known as the Migrant Workers and Overseas Filipino Act of 1995 institutes the government policies for overseas employment and establishes a higher standard of protection and promotion for the welfare of migrant workers, their families and overseas Filipinos in distress.

The law contains beautifully worded promises. These promises generally leads the country in the pursuit of independent policy, national interest, self-determination, and upholding the dignity of its citizens. Concretely, the law provides full protection to labor – local and overseas. It recognizes the significant economic contribution of migrant workers but it does not promote overseas employment to sustain economic growth and propel national development. The law further acknowledges the equality of men and women. It embodies the duty of the country to adopt and ratify bilateral agreements for the protection of migrant workers. It embodies the migrants’ rights to free legal assistance and accessible skills development and enhancement. These are all embodied in Section 1, paragraph A-H of the law.

In Section 2, it elaborates that the Philippines will only send overseas workers to countries that have existing labor and social laws that Filipinos can hold on to. It also stated that receiving countries should be signatories and ratifiers of multilateral conventions pertaining to the welfare of migrants workers.

The provisions of the law make it appear that the Philippines is a good model for the protection of migrant workers rights. However, after 22 years since the enactment of the RA 8042, has served as a deceitful cover for escalating commodification of people and modern-day slavery. It served as a beautiful curtain hiding the gruesome face of our country’s labor export policy.

The law was enacted after the hanging of a Filipino domestic worker, Flor Contemplacion in Singapore in 1995. Notwithstanding this, the Philippines continued to send women domestic workers overseas. RA 8042 states that the government will not promote overseas employment as one of the driving force of the country’s economic growth but data shows otherwise. This year, data from Migrate International states that around 533 domestic workers are deployed everyday – a 207% increase since 2015. The Cordillera region is one of the biggest source of domestic workers deployed to the Middle East and to the Asia Pacific region. Bigger populations of Cordillera migrant workers are found in Saudi Arabia, Hong Kong, Singapore, and Malaysia.

The government cannot deny the economic alleviation that foreign remittance contributes to the Gross National Product which actually kept the ailing Philippine economy afloat for decades. This runs contrary to the statement of the law that it will not promote overseas employment as the economy’s saving grace.

Despite the provisions of the law that it will not deploy Filipino overseas workers to countries that do not have laws to protect migrants, reality says otherwise. Huge numbers of domestic workers are still deployed in Saudi Arabia that is enforcing the KAFALA system. This is a system that institutionalizes the slave-like conditions of domestic workers. The employers control the mobility, residency, transfers of work and exits of domestic workers. It also disregards the bilateral agreement on migrant workers welfare signed by sending and receiving countries.

In the Asia Pacific region where most of the domestic workers are women, they suffer the non-recognition of domestic work as work. This denies the migrant domestic workers the equal labor protection and full social integration to the foreign country. Their contracts of employment are covered by special employment contract under the Immigration Policy and not under the receiving country’s Labor Standard Law.

Slave like stories continue to be heard. After 22 years since 1995, the voices never died down. In fact, the voices became a deafening noise. Innabuyog handled and documented numerous cases of 1) Illegal recruitment – no job placement overseas, overcharging and illegal fees, contract substitution; 2) Repatriation – missing migrant workers, sick, sexually and physically abused, and victims of illegal recruitment; 3) Maltreatment – unpaid salary, low wages, over worked and no rest days, poor food and accommodation, inhumane working conditions; 4) Contract violations – contract substitution, different job, different employer, pre-termination of contracts by the employer without valid reason; 5) Rape and Sexual harassment; 6) Trafficking of Persons – organs, human transport, illegal recruitment; and 7) Blood money. These tales continue as labor export continue everyday.

RA 8042 did not, in any case, ease the plight of migrant workers. The government continues to neglect with impunity the overseas workers in distress. Most of the issues of the migrant workers that Innabuyog has assisted is the lack of legal assistance from the government which contradicts the law. Our migrant workers are left with no recourse but to accept their misfortune and be at the mercy of their receiving countries and employers. There still is vague data on migrant workers in detention and in death row.

Moreover, since the enactment of the aforementioned law, recruitment and placement fees of migrant workers were never regulated. This allowed the unscrupulous and even the licensed recruitment agencies to extract exorbitant fees from applicants.

Until the government has the political will to create regular jobs with living wages at home through national industrialization, horrifying tales of modern day slavery continues. June 7 marks the 22nd year of the RA 8042 and it is high time for the government to review if it had really served the interest of our migrant workers or was it just a decorative piece of paper luring our labor force to serve abroad? # media practitioners and evoked bitter memories of martial law.

In these extremely pressing times, the media, journalists, and netizens should not be censored but should instead be encouraged to work together in investigating the Mindanao crisis and examining the basis, implementation, and possible excesses of martial law.

Thorough reporting on the martial law in Mindanao is crucial now more than ever in providing the public the context by which armed conflict persists in Mindanao, other than merely reinforcing the prevailing anti-Muslim bias and accepting that such “terrorist” attacks stem solely from these groups’ objective of sowing chaos and violence – and thus justifying the irrationality of Duterte’s martial law.

We call on our fellow media practitioners and fellow freedom-loving Filipinos to remain vigilant, resist censorship and any form of attack against freedom of expression, and demand the immediate lifting of martial law in Mindanao.

Let us not allow press freedom to be another casualty of Duterte’s martial law. # nordis.net


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