In the wake of massive labor trafficking and lay-offs,
Phil. Govt Asked Stop the Brain Drain and Create People-centered Development

By Marivir Montebon
MHC Managing Editor

In the spate of big labor trafficking cases in the US, the Migrant Heritage Commission (MHC) has called Philippine President Benigno Aquino Jr. to address the problem on massive poverty in the country and to stop using "blood and sweat" capital of its citizens as its way to pump prime the economy.

"Exporting labor as a way to make the Philippines survive cannot go on forever. The Aquino government must now take the more strategic route of industrializing the Philippines and providing education and jobs to its people in its own shores," said Arnedo Valera, co-executive director of MHC, a Washington, DC-based not for profit organization serving immigrants in the US.

Valera issued the statement in the wake of the recent massive job termination of Filipino teachers in Prince George county in Maryland.

Valera quipped that the blood and sweat of immigrants which results in billions of dollar remittances is way too vulnerable for its citizens and their families.

"The dollar remittances of immigrants provide immediate relief for the consumption needs of our people. But government must think and advance a more economically strategic remedy to poverty which is development of local industries and the appropriate education needed for that," said Valera.

In Aquino's recent state of the nation address, Valera said that the president must not deceive the people into believing that all is well in the Philippines. "The economy has gone worse, and so we have to look at ourselves and our government inwardly, to start in our own backyard to boost our economy and not use massive labor exportation as a solution to our problem. In the long term, it is hurting us and our own families," explained Valera.

Recently, the American dream has become a nightmare for some 500 Filipino teachers of the Prince George County in Maryland, as they stand to lose their jobs, some as early as July of this year.

The Department of Labor recently ruled the county's public schools willfully violated the H1-B programs that grant the teachers their working visas in the US. In effect, the county has been disbarred from hiring foreign teachers and imposed a fine of $100,000.

The greatest losers are the teachers and their families.

In a gathering called for by the Philippine consulate in Washington, DC, the teachers expressed their anxiety and anger over their situation and also explored possibilities on how to maintain their work statuses in the US, despite the very limited time to act on it.

In tears, Angeline, real name withheld, spoke during the gathering of some 200 teachers and immigration lawyers, on the difficulty they are facing to be able to get a new petitioner employer for her to maintain her work status in this short period of time.

Her situation is shared by majority of the teachers, who were recruited in the Philippines in the early part and mid part of 2003 by the Prince Georges County Public Schools in Maryland and some in New York.

"I was excited and hopeful that my job as teacher in the US may finally be the answer to our dream of a better future. But now it has become bleak. We relied on their promises,representations and trusted them that our papers to become permanent residents are in order. We are not chattels" Angeline angrily but tearfully said.

"The PG County has done a big stride to hire top caliber teachers in the Philippines in order to work in the US, only to be unduly and unfairly treated. The department of labor must reconsider its decision and rehire the teachers," says Grace Valera Jaramillo, MHC co-executive director, who attended the teacher's rally Friday seeking for their reinstatement at the PG County public schools.

During the forum, Atty. Valera, who is also UN representative to human rights and migration through the Foundation for the Support of the United Nations, cited short term goals which the teachers could do. It includes exploring possibilities of changing their non-immigrant visas into other categories such as B-1, B-2 visas, F visas, or student visas, especially for those who have dependents or children under 21 so as not to disrupt their studies.

Valera said that another short term goal is to find an employer who is willing to sponsor them for H-lB and for permanent resident status.

For the past two years, the MHC has been assisting teachers from various states especially those who were recruited from the Philippines only to find that there are no existing jobs for them in the United States.

Since March of this year,PG teachers have been referred to by the Pilipino Educators Network (PEN)to MHC in their tenurial woes and immigration related problems.

During the gathering, Valera cited long term goals for teachers, which could include the possible filing of unfair labor practice complaint, unlawful termination before the wage and hour division, and a discrimination case before the EEOC.

"The teachers can also file a complaint for damages, injunction and other immediate remedies to stop the seemingly systematic, blitzkrieg termination," he said.

Valera likewise added that the teachers could explore the U and T non-immigrant visas under the theory that serious violations of immigration and labor laws is included in the definition of trafficking. "In the interim, the teachers could request the Immigration and Citizenship Enforcement to issue a 'continued Presence 'status to teachers."

Valera also said that a legal cases should be filed against the recruitment agency which exacted fees from the teachers.

Early this year, the MHC's Legal Resource Program has assisted the PEN to ask the Department of Labor, Education, and the Immigration for a status quo and a re-entry process for teachers entangled with the PG County's labor case.

In arguing for the teachers, the MHC and PEN said that it was not the teachers' fault that the County had violated certain provisions on the hiring process of the H1B program and therefore must not be made to suffer by losing their work tenure.

The disbarment penalty however has made the County unable to rehire the teachers back.

With the turn out of events, Angeline and her colleagues are now in a mad scramble in search of new petitioners or they could decide to just go back home to the Philippines. In whichever way, they will always feel they have been cheated and their families unduly jeopardized.

MHC co-executive director Jesse Gatchalian reiterated the need for Philippine government to pass the Magna Carta for Immigrants Rights to include a rigid check of the availability of legitimate jobs abroad and legal assistance for immigrants so that Filipinos may be protected from unscrupulous recruitment agencies and employers.

Immigrant communities here recently signed a petition resolution during the MHC initiated First International Migrants Rights Summit, seeking the creation of the Magna Carta of Rights of Migrant Workers to be adopted by sending countries. This charter aims to provide stiffer civil and criminal penalties to recruitment agencies, transparent mechanisms for redress of grievances, and government funds must be set aside for victims and their families. The Charter must define more reliable/systematic verification processes of the legitimacy and safety of job offers in the countries of destination.

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The Migrant Heritage (MH) Chronicle News Flash is under the Research, Information, and Publication Program of the Migrant Heritage Commission (MHC) with Arnedo Valera, Esq. as Editor-in-Chief and New York-based Marivir Montebon, as Managing Editor.

MHC, a non-profit, 501 (c) 3 service-oriented non-governmental organization, is managed by three executive directors: Arnedo Valera, Grace Valera-Jaramillo, and Jesse Gatchalian.

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