Maltreated Pinoy shares how mobile OFW app helped him flee abuse in Fiji Island

Aleta Nieva Nishimori, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Aug 26 2021 05:49 PM

MANILA - An overseas Filipino worker on Thursday shared how a mobile app developed for OFWs helped rescue him from his abusive employer in the Fiji Islands.

“Isa po akong professional at sa edad ko na ito, hanap ko lang po ay trabahong marangal at irespeto po ako. Nakapag-trabaho na ako sa maraming multinational and international companies pero hindi ko akalain na magiging ganun trabaho ko sa Fiji Islands,” said Almedo Lopez.

(I am a professional, and at my age I am only looking for a dignified job and respect. I have worked for many multinational and international companies but I never thought that my job would be like that in Fiji Islands.)

The 59-year old worked as as a supervisor for a manufacturing company in Fiji Islands in the south Pacific. He left the Philippines in March for a one-year contact but never got to finish it.

“Umabot lang ako ng hanggang 3 months, July, at in-end ko na po 'yung work ko. Nakaranas ako ng verbal abuse, professional harassment, and siyempre po 'yung kaba at kalungkutan na hindi ako makatagal sa ganitong klaseng trabaho at after po nun nag-resign na ako,” he said.

(I only lasted 3 months, I ended my work in July. I experienced verbal abuse, professional harassment, the fear and loneliness that I could no longer stay in this kind of work, so I resigned.)

In a virtual press conference held Thursday morning, Lopez recounted how he was made to work beyond office hours. His contract was also violated as he was made to take on tasks other than the job responsibilities he signed up for.

“In fact po, pinupwesto nila ako sa production blilang isang operator-staff. Una, lunch break lang daw para tumulong sa mga operators, 45 minutes lang naman, so ok lang. Pero kinalaunan po dinadala na ako sa production buong araw, very physical po 'yung trabaho,” he said.

(In fact, they placed me in the production as operator-staff. First, it was only during lunch break to help operators, it was just for 45 minutes so it was ok. Later on, they would bring me there every day, the work was very physical.)

Lopez said he was also made to work for a procedure, twice a week, that lasts for 4 hours, and 8 hours on a weekend. He said the procedure was very physical and tiring, especially for his age.

“Bukod po doon walang sawang verbal abuse ang naranasan ko sa employer na ito. Parang psychological technique na sasabihin na wala akong silbi, inutil ako, na istorya lang daw resumé ko at wala akong na-accomplish. Gusto niya mangyari na mag-sorry ako at aminin ko na ganun ako pero nanindigan ako. Sabi ko naman sige mag-aadjust muna ako sa kagustuhan ng employer na ito,” he said.

(Aside from that, I experienced unending verbal abuse from my employer. It was like a psychological technique that the employer would tell me how useless I am, that I just made up my resumé, and that I have not accomplished anything. The employer wanted me to say sorry and accept it but I stood my ground. I just said that I would adjust to what the employer wants me to do.)

In spite of his efforts to adjust, the employer continued to mistreat him, said Lopez.

That’s when he decided to seek help and press the red button on the Abizo OFW app. He learned of the app when he was applying for his permit at the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) prior to deployment. He downloaded it and never thought that he would be using its services.

“It was first week of July, sabi ko hindi ko na kaya ito—physically and mentally—so in-open ko 'yung Abizo OFW app. 'Yung app may emergency red button kung saan tatanungin kung anong klaseng emergency. Pinindot ko ito at nakatanggap ako agad ng reply at notification sa email. Ginabayan ako ng app sa buong proseso,” he said.

(It was the first week of July, I said I could no longer take it—physically and mentally—so I opened the Abizo OFW app. The app has an emergency red button where you will be asked the kind of emergency. I pressed it and immediately received a reply and email notification. The app guided me through the whole process.)

In about a week, Lopez said a notice of repatriation was issued. However, his repatriation was delayed due to COVID-19 restrictions in the country where he would be transiting. He was finally repatriated on August 20 and is now completing the mandatory quarantine in Cebu.

The Abizo OFW app, developed by Advanced Abilities and Galileo Software Services, is part of the OFW Global Monitoring Project of the POEA.

“Ang layunin po nito is ma-monitor and mabigyan ng agarang tugon ang ating OFWs lalo na kung sila ay nasa isang emergency situation,” said Jeffrie Busog, project implementation officer of Advanced Abilities.

(The goal is to monitor and give immediate response to our OFW, especially in emergency situations.)

Busog said the platform currently monitors 13,000 OFWs in around 45 countries. Lopez is the first OFW successfully repatriated with the help of the app.

Lopez’s repatriation cost was covered by the insurance he purchased from Fortune Life Insurance Company and Fortune General Insurance through AAB Management Services and Insurance Intermediaries.

“Malaking bagay 'yung combination ng Abizo OFW app at ng insurance na nakuha ko from Fortune Life and Fortune Gen sa pamamagitan ng AAB Management Service. Itong AAB Management Service ang nagpapatakbo ng Abizo OFW app,” said Lopez.

(The combination of the Abizo OFW app and the insurance I got from Fortune Life and Fortunre Gen through the AAB Management Service was a big help. AAB Management Service runs the Abizo OFW app.)

As a deployment requirement, Lopez availed of a $40 yearly medical insurance from them. Repatriation is included in the benefit coverage.

“Sobrang laking tulong po ng insurance. I hope na maunawaan din po ito ng mga kapwa ko OFW. Kailangan po talaga ng insurance for your peace of mind,” said Lopez.

(The insurance was a big help. I hope our fellow OFWs would realize this. They need insurance for their peace of mind.)

AAB Management Service president Angelo Antonio Buendia said their 24/7 insurance coverage starts on the day of departure of the OFW.

“Sometimes ang thinking ano lang ito, some requirements that we need to fulfil or bola lang ito, walang silbi when in fact there is a real value. When do you realize that value? 'Pag may claim. Hindi ito money-making scheme, it’s real,” Buendia said.

(Sometimes they think it's just some requirements that we need to fulfill or that it’s useless, when in fact there is a real value. When do you realize that value? When there is a claim. This is not a money-making scheme, it’s real.)

Lopez is set to return to Manila on Sunday after completing his quarantine period in Cebu. He said he will set a meeting with the POEA to discuss the possible filing of a complaint against his employer. 

“Ayoko na pong umalis ng Pilipinas,” said Lopez, when asked if he still wants to work abroad.