The International Assembly of Migrants and Refugees (IAMR) on Thursday hit United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and President Arroyo for statements they issued on Wednesday at the 2nd Global Forum on Migration and Development (GFMD) held in Manila .
The organization of migrant groups that gathered in Manila to protest the 2nd GFMD did not appreciate the UN chief’s speech at the opening session of the forum, where he said that “migration can and should be a tool to help lift us out of this economic crisis.”
They also branded President Arroyo’s speech as “pure rhetoric, grandstanding and empty promises.” The President told an audience of government officials from 163 UN member-states that her administration is doing its best to invite investors that will make available high-income jobs to prevent Filipinos from leaving the country.
‘Migration Dehumanizes Us’
Eni Lestari, an Indonesian domestic helper who chairs the IAMR, disagreed with Ban.
"We refuse to be further exploited by developed countries, financial institutions, and our own bankrupt governments to save the sinking boat of neo-liberal globalization. In the first place, it is this crisis of unprecedented poverty and joblessness that forced us to leave our families and work like slaves abroad,” she said in a statement.
“The UN can't convince us that more of the same policies will give us a better life," she added.
Lestari said Ban should listen to Pope Benedict XVI, who, on Wednesday, said the Philippine government must prioritize generating local jobs to minimize migration. The Pope expressed concerns on how migration has separated families and resulted in the breakdown of family values.
The Pope made the remarks in the welcome reception of Philippine’s new Ambassador to the Holy See Cristina Ponce-Enrile.
"Even the Pope recognizes that forced migration dehumanizes us and will in no way lead to development. He recognizes that what poor countries must address are basic problems like unemployment and landlessness. It is about time that the UN takes a long hard look at the situation of migrants and confront these issues head-on," said Lestari.
"We will see no end to situations wherein migrants are vulnerable to human rights violations, as long as labor exportation is institutionalized as a tool for survival for poor peoples and a means by which governments and big businesses profit," Lestari said.
Arroyo called a ‘hypocrite’
The group also called the President a “hypocrite.” They said President Arroyo does not have the right to speak on their behalf because it was allegedly under her administration that incidents and issues of deaths, family separation, human rights violations of migrants worsened.
“Arroyo is lying when she says that her economic plans are designed to give opportunities to Filipinos for employment in their own country. She portrays herself a hypocrite when she states that she longs for the day when 'migration is a career option, not only a choice',” the group said in a statement.
The IAMR stressed that while Arroyo has denied implementing labor export as a policy, the government’s "regulated expatriate program" attests to how the Philippine economy has become dependent on forced migration and export of cheap labor.
They maintained that the program promotes the “commodification” of Filipino workers.
They also belittled Arroyo’s statement regarding the creation of seven million jobs in the past seven years.
“The migration phenomenon, the exodus of Filipino workers abroad and the brain drain of professionals in the Philippines are results of systemic underdevelopment, characterized by perennial joblessness and underemployment, landlessness and lack of basic services,” they said.
“Even the so-called emergence of Business Outsourcing Jobs such as call centers and medical transcription careers are nothing to boast about, not when these are contractual jobs that, though relatively high-paying, still exploit our skilled workers' cheap labor and worse, subject them to inhumane working conditions,” they added.
“The IAMR maintains that migration is not a tool for development and the country's human resources should be maximized to benefit our national industries and development and not foreign interests. Only when the Philippines truly has strong fundamentals to speak of through national industrialization, genuine land reform and provision of basic services can forced migration be resolved,” they said.
Leftist Solons Support IAMR
Five leftist congressmen on Thursday issued their support to the IAMR and joined the group in protesting against the GFMD.
“The GFMD is only concerned on how to 'effectively address current and emerging patterns and trends in migration' to capture remittances from migrant labor that is estimated by the World Bank to have reached US$251 billion in 2007, up from US$31 billion in 1990,” they said in a statement said.
The signatories to the statement are House deputy minority leader Bayan Muna Rep. Satur C. Ocampo and party-mate Teddy Casino , Gabriela representatives Luzviminda C. Ilagan and Liza L. Maza, and Anakpawis Rep. Rafael V. Mariano.
“The so-called concern of governments of both labor-sending and labor-receiving countries, and big local and multinational corporations and banks who have been raking in big profits from migrants' hard-earned remittances is actually rooted in the hard fact that include remittances outpace official development assistance (ODA), which amounted to a mere US$54 billion in 1990 but reached only US$104 billion in 2007," they said.
“Arroyo's labor export policy and the GFMD promote the trafficking of Filipino women and children, as mail order brides, domestic workers and caregivers, and prostituted women in countries such as the US, Japan, Malaysia, Singapore, Kuwait, and Canada, among others, with some estimates placing the number of Filipina victims of trafficking from 300,000 to 400,000 annually," they said.
“We vow to oppose all policies and designs that seek to heighten the level of exploitation of all migrants as we link up arms with them in their struggle against modern-day slavery,” they added.