Press Release
September 24, 2008

Jinggoy appeals to DFA to establish diplomatic relations with Syria
to save distressed Filipino workers

Senate President Pro Tempore Jinggoy Ejercito Estrada today said there is an urgent need for the Philippine government to establish a diplomatic relationship with Syria and urged the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) to immediately set up the Philippine Embassy in Damascus to save Filipino workers in distress and ensure their protection and welfare.

Citing the records from Blas F. Ople Policy Center, Estrada said there are around 6,000 Filipinos, mostly women, working in Syria.

Ironically, most Filipina workers are exploited by their employers because of their illegal status, Estrada said.

Syria together with Jordan, Lebanon and Kuwait are considered to be high risk countries due to rampant reports of abuses committed against Filipino workers, mostly household helpers.

Of the four countries, the Philippines does not have diplomatic relations with Syrian government, according to Estrada.

The DFA had disclosed plans of opening new embassies and consulates this year in an effort to reach and be of service to more Filipinos abroad who continue to move out of the country for better employment opportunities.

New embassies will be established in Portugal, Ireland, Finland, Poland and Syria; while new consulates will be opened in Macau, Chongqing and Chengdu in China.

"I humbly appeal to the DFA to fast track efforts in formally establishing our diplomatic relationship in Syria which will be of great help to distressed nationals, who are usually unwitting victims of human trafficking and illegal recruitment, as well as fulfill its mandate of advancing national interest by upholding the rights of Filipino migrant workers abroad," Estrada said.

Last week, 17 minors (aged 14 to 17) were rescued by the Bureau of Immigration and National Bureau of Investigation from human traffickers and are believed to be transported to Syria, Lebanon and Jordan last week.

Estrada, Chairman of the Senate Committee of Labor, Employment and Human Resources Development and of Joint Congressional Oversight Committee on Labor and Employment, noted reports that most workers in Syria are women, who are more prone to physical abuses and other forms of exploitation.

Estrada acknowledged the fact that Philippine Embassy in Lebanon as the nearest refuge for the distressed Filipino workers in Syria. But considering the number of Filipinos there, severity of cases being accounted by the media and the presence of human trafficking syndicates in the Middle East area, an embassy situated in Syria would prove valuable in providing direct aid.

Estrada said relatives of Omega Ocampo and Jessica Morales had sought his assistance for a possible repatriation. Official communications were sent to Foreign Affairs Secretary Alberto Romulo thru Foreign Affairs Undersecretary for Migrant Workers' Affairs Esteban Conejos for appropriate actions, Estrada said.

Omega Ocampo, a Filipina working in Syria, was promised by her recruiter to land a job as saleslady in Italy but ended up being a domestic helper in Syria. According to her family, Omega is being maltreated by her employer and is forced to run away.

Another Filipina, Jessica Morales, 21 years old, also working as domestic helper, complains of physical abuse and being overworked.

"The minimum age requirement for domestic helpers is 23 years old; thus, she needs to be urgently repatriated," Estrada said, adding:

"From the cases we've been receiving from worried families who approach us, I think it is imperative that we strengthen links with the Syrian government at once if only to protect and save our troubled OFWs."

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