Press Release
September 19, 2007



Senator Mar Roxas called on the Department of Labor and Employment to look into the continued recruitment of Filipino workers by such firms as First Kuwaiti International in light of findings by the Department of Foreign Affairs that the ban of entry to the war-torn country was being circumvented.

"The unabated recruitment of Filipino workers to Iraq, despite the government's deployment ban, is alarming, especially since they are being made to work long hours under extremely stressful conditions," said Roxas, who had filed last July 31 a Senate resolution requesting the DFA to look into the matter.

The Senator was briefed this afternoon by Special Envoy Roy Cimatu and DFA Undersecretaries Esteban Conejos and Rafael Seguis on the results of the government's fact-finding mission to Iraq.

Based on the briefing, the number of OFWs in Iraq has declined from 7,600 in year 2004 to 6,647 as of this year. Roxas said that the number is still considerable considering that the ban has been in place since 2004.

"We are happy that the DFA has shared with us the results of their fact-finding mission. Clearly, the government must demonstrate political will in charging these recruitment firms for endangering and deceiving Filipinos. We also need to put up a better system for monitoring the recruitment and deployment of our workers," he stressed.

Among the recommendations of the panel to better implement the deployment ban to Iraq are:

- requiring contracts of Middle East-bound OFWs to contain a provision that says "an OFW shall at no time be deployed or work in Iraq;

- for the Philippine Consulate in Dubai to inform Dubai Immigration that all Philippine passports bear the marking "Not Valid for Travel to Iraq"; and

- a perusal of the contracts of Filipino drivers employed by First Kuwaiti, Agility Co. and Jassim Co. of Kuwait, to determine whether violations are being committed.

"We have to show agencies and companies both local and abroad that we mean business, and that nothing comes before the safety of Filipinos," Roxas said, adding that the recommendations of the Cimatu team should be adopted.

According to Ambassador Cimatu, OFWs enter Iraq usually by air travel coming from Dubai or Kuwait, accompanied by their employers in chartered planes. The report also said "An OFW whose passport is stamped with 'Not Valid for Travel to Iraq' could still pass through immigration and be able to enter Iraq upon the facilitation of company representatives."

Closer monitoring of recruitment activities in the Philippines was also the urgent call of former OFW Ruperto Mirhan, who worked for two months inside the Green Zone in Baghdad as workshop and plant manager.

Mirhan said he decided to quit after two months due to health problems. He said that for two weeks, the US Embassy complex where he worked was the subject of day and night bombings by Iraqi rebels. "On night, a bomb landed and exploded two meters away from where I was sleeping. The ground shook and I was awaken from sleep, and it made me realize that I prefer to go home than to stay and work in Baghdad," Mirhan said.

Roxas said Filipinos cannot be blamed for trying to look for work outside the country. "Marami sa kanila ay kumakapit sa patalim dahil sa sobrang kahirapan. Kailangang parusahan natin iyung mga recruiters, legal man o iligal, na patuloy silang pinagsasamantalahan," he said.

The Senator said he will find out from the Philippine Overseas Employment Agency on how such recruitment agencies are registered in the Philippines, and find out how to improve the monitoring of their activities.

The findings of the DFA mission confirmed an earlier testimony at the US House of Representatives by American Rory Mayberry, a medical technician assigned to Iraq, that workers of various nationalities, particularly Filipinos, were being smuggled into Iraq and subjected to harsh work conditions in the construction of the US Embassy in the country.

After Roxas brought Mayberry's testimony to the DFA's attention, Foreign Affairs Sec. Alberto Romulo responded by organizing the group headed by Cimatu.

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