Under: Deglobalisation, Publications

Results of an Investigation by Rep. Walden Bello, Chair of the Committee on Overseas Workers’ Affairs (COWA), House of Representatives, Philippines

May 25, 2011

After the referral to the Committee on Overseas Workers Affairs (COWA) of a speech by Deputy Speaker Erin Tanada on the plight of 11 OFWs in Los Angeles, California, USA, the Chair of the Committee conducted an investigation of the case while in the United States during the congressional break.

The Chair’s investigation confirmed that the case of the 11 is a clear-cut case of trafficking by a Philippine-based labor recruitment agency, Adman, with the possible connivance of a large Philadelphia-based corporation specializing in labor placement called Aramark.
The Chair found that the cause of the trafficked OFWs was pushed energetically by OWWA Welfare Office Alberto Adonis Duero.  However, relations between the Philippine government and the OFWs chilled owing to the latter’s perception that the Washington-based Labor Attaché, Luzviminda Padilla, wanted to send them back either to their employer in Mississippi or the Philippines and to their feeling that the government was reneging on promises it had made on their housing arrangements.  The Chair found that the OFWs were justified in interpreting the Labor Attaché’s position in the way they did owing to the phrasing of an email message she sent to Mr. Duero which was shared with them.  After interviewing her, however, the Chair did not feel she intended to send them back to their employer in Mississippi or to the Philippines, but this only emerged from a lengthy clarification.  As for the housing issue, the Chair could not arrive at an informed judgment on the matter since most of the OFWs refused to meet with him and he only got the Mr. Duero’s account of the dispute.

The Chair found Mr. Duero’s handling of the case to be admirable, but he was troubled by the rift that developed between him and his superiors in Washington, DC.   Part of Mr. Duero’s alienation stemmed from differences he had with Labatt Padilla on how to promote the welfare of the OFWs, part of it from a sense that he was not getting enough support from Manila for his work and his feeling that Manila was not taking the threat to his life seriously. The Chair found that on both counts, there was justification for Mr. Duero’s alienation.

As for POEA’s response to the case filed by the 11 against Adman, the Chair understands the frustration expressed by one OFW that while the POEA decision was favorable to them, it took over a month for it to be conveyed to them.  He also shares the frustration that an appeal by Adman brings with it the prospect that they might not be able to collect the money illegally extorted from them by the agency until after four or five more months and even face the possibility that the decision might be reversed.

The Chair is of the view that the Adman case has brought to light the possible abetting of trafficking and corruption at the POEA, which is involved in all phases of the deployment of OFWs.  This should be the subject of thorough investigation and prosecution, not only to root out corruption but to prevent the Philippines from falling into the “Tier 3” in the US State Department’s classification of countries from which people are trafficked—a status that would deny the country of some foreign assistance programs.
The Chair also feels that the involvement in transnational trafficking of Aramark and other US corporations and of personnel within the consular division of the US Embassy is a very real possibility and should be the subject of thorough investigation by the US government.

The LA 11 case shows that trafficking is big business.  Given the continuing attraction of the US as an employment site, despite the current recession there, trafficking to that country has become especially attractive to unscrupulous elements.  The enormous amounts charged by Adman from the 11 trafficked victims show the great profits that can be reaped by illegal traffickers working the US market.  The death threats received by Welfare Officer Duero underline the extent to which traffickers would go to preserve a lucrative business dealing in human labor.

The report concludes with a set of recommended measures directed at both the Philippine Government and the US Government which, in the Chair’s view, would bring justice to the LA 11 as well as address the broader problems of trans-Pacific trafficking brought to light by their case.