Press Release
July 31, 2007


Senator Mar Roxas expressed alarm over an allegation that 51 Filipino laborers had been "smuggled" into Iraq from Kuwait to work at the construction of the United States Embassy in Iraq.

He called onto the Department of Foreign Affairs and the Department of Labor and Employment to seek all proper diplomatic channels to verify such information, which was presented in a testimony before a US Congressional committee.

"I call on the DFA and DOLE to urgently look into this report, and if verified, to ensure the safe return of the said Filipinos being forced to work in Iraq," he said.

"These 51 Filipinos, and many others who may have a similar plight, were supposedly duped about working in Dubai, but they only learned that they were being brought to Baghdad when they were on the plane. If true, this is forced labor at its worst," he added.

Roxas was informed that the said information was revealed in a hearing last July 26 by the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform of the US Congress, which was probing alleged abuses in the construction of the US Embassy in Iraq.

Rory Mayberry[1][1]-an emergency medical technician contracted to First Kuwaiti, the construction company building the US Embassy in Iraq-testified before the committee that he was tasked to shepherd 51 Filipinos to Iraq. He told the committee that these Filipinos thought they were bound for Dubai, Saudi Arabia to work in hotels there, and had no idea that they were being brought to Baghdad.

"It is distressing to hear that our fellow Filipinos are being deceived into working in Iraq by unscrupulous contracting firms. I call on DFA and DOLE officials to verify these reports, and if verified, to ensure the safe return of our people," Roxas said.

Mayberry also told the US Congress committee that when these Filipinos raised an uproar in the plane when they learned they were being brought to Baghdad, a security officer supposedly working for the construction company threatened them by waving an MP-5 machine gun. Eventually, he said that the Filipinos were "smuggled into the Green Zone" of Iraq, past US Security Forces.

Mayberry also testified that these Filipinos, among other laborers forced to work on the US Embassy in Iraq, were working without the proper safety equipment, and many were injured in the process.

"As far as I remember correctly, the ban on travel to Iraq had not yet been lifted. Why do we then hear reports of Filipinos ending up there?" Roxas asked.

"If these testimonies are true, then the stamps on our passports saying 'not valid for travel to Iraq' means nothing. Such stamp is not enough," he added.

"This is not just a violation of our travel ban, this is forced labor. And unless we have officially accepted that the days of slavery are back, the government must act," he stressed.

In 2004, the government had previously banned Filipinos from travelling to and working in Iraq, after Angelo dela Cruz, a truck driver working for a Saudi trucking company, was abducted by Iraqi militants. Dela Cruz was released only after the Philippine government pulled-out its peacekeeping troops from Iraq.

Roxas said the Philippine Embassy in Iraq must conduct an inspection of the US Embassy construction site, to get in touch with US officials there, and to indeed see for themselves if there are indeed Filipinos in the vicinity.

"Another testimony like that on the forced labor of Filipinos there might not be forthcoming, so Philippine diplomatic officials better get moving in looking for those Filipino workers in Iraq," he said.

At home, Roxas said foreign affairs and labor officials must immediately check all recruitment and deployment agencies here to see who among these have sent Filipino workers to the said Kuwaiti company.

Roxas stressed that this situation highlights the need to address the welfare of OFWs, as they suffer abuses abroad, at the same time as their families are suffering from a missing family member.

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