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Bong Go cites need for DOFil amid plight of Filipinas in Syria

Bong Go
Bong Go

SENATOR Christopher “Bong” Go has expressed his grave concern over the reported trafficking of some Filipino women forcibly taken to Syria and abused by their employers, saying that this is one of the reasons why he is bent on pushing for the passage of a bill that will establish the Department of Overseas Filipinos (DOFil) that will better protect their rights and advance their welfare.

“Bagong bayani kung ituring natin sila na halos sampung porsiyento ng ating populasyon. Sana naman ay suklian natin nang mas maayos at mas mabilis na serbisyo ang kanilang sakripisyo para sa kanilang pamilya at sa bayan,” Go said in a statement.

“Ayaw ko talagang makitang merong mga OFWs natin na naaabuso, lalo na nasa malalayong lugar sila. Sa mga nang-aabuso ng kapwa tao, dapat sa inyo putulan ng…!,” he exclaimed.

Recently, an article from the Washington Post reported on the story of Josephine Tawaging, a Filipina who moved to Dubai in search of work, only to be sent to war-ravaged Syria to be “sold”.

Upon learning about the story of Tawaging and other Filipinos who could be in the same position as she is, Go said that he will immediately coordinate with concerned government agencies to save Filipinos who are victims of human trafficking in Syria.

“Makikipag-ugnayan ako sa mga kinauukulang departamento at ahensya ng ating pamahalaan para sa agarang pagsaklolo sa mga kababayan nating naaabuso sa bansang Syria,” Go said.

If crime syndicates are behind the trafficking of Filipinos, Go mentioned that an investigation must be conducted.

“Kung kailangang imbestigahan ang modus na ito o kung merong sindikato na nasa likod nito, dapat gawin na ito upang maiwasan ang mga kasong ito,” he said.

In a tweet last Tuesday, January 26, Foreign Affairs Teodoro Locsin, Jr. said “I am emptying the shelters of all wards—no later than next flight out; sending a team to do it. It won’t happen again. Good intentioned NGOs (non-government organizations) complain about violations of privacy and risk of naming victims but for me [The Washington Post] got the job done.”

The Department of Foreign Affairs already conducted a probe on the staff at the embassy in Syria on alleged poor treatment of Filipinos seeking shelter there. An administrative investigation has already been conducted on several personnel and a human rights lawyer was also deployed to look into the matter.

To provide better protection to overseas Filipinos, the Senator had earlier filed Senate Bill No. 1949, otherwise known as the DOFil Act of 2020, which is the third version of a measure he first filed in July 2019.

The bill creating the DOFil is one of the priority measures of the present administration as mentioned numerous times by President Rodrigo Duterte, including in his last two State of the Nation Addresses. The President recently certified this most recent version filed by Go as urgent, which prompts the legislative branch to act on the matter immediately. It is also one of the top twenty priority measures identified by both houses of Congress this year.

“One of the main features of my proposed DOFil bill is the one country-team approach,” Go noted, stating that this requires all officials in Philippine diplomatic posts to act together as one team, regardless of their mother agencies, in the country of assignment, in protecting the rights and advancing the welfare of Filipino migrant workers there, with guidance from the Department of Foreign Affairs and the Philippine Foreign Service Posts.

The proposed department can also initiate and help prosecute human trafficking cases in coordination with the Department of Justice.

“Kapag naitatag na po ang DOFil, maaasahan niyo po na mas mabilis mapo-prosecute at maipakukulong ang lahat ng mga sangkot sa trafficking in persons dito sa Pilipinas,” Go said.

He added that overseas Filipinos in distress may swiftly be provided with assistance due to the one country-team approach.

“Kung in distress ang isang Pilipino abroad, kadalasan, hindi nila alam kung saan lalapit para humingi ng tulong. Minsan sa radyo, meron sa Facebook. Pero kung merong one country-team approach tayo, alam ng mga kababayan nating humihingi ng tulong kung saan pupunta,” he said.

Ending his statement, Go urged Filipinos who wish to work abroad not to fall for dubious, illegal recruiters and follow the correct process when seeking employment.

“Sa huli, ang panawagan ko naman sa mga kababayan nating nais mag-trabaho sa ibang bansa, huwag po sana tayong magpaloko sa mga taong nagsasabi na pwedeng magtrabaho abroad gamit ang visit visa lamang,” Go said.

“Ang mga nalokong kababayan natin sa Syria ay pumasok ng Middle East gamit lang ang isang visit visa. Dumaan po tayo sa tamang proseso ng pag-register sa POEA at sa mga licensed recruitment agencies para hindi po mangyari ito sa atin,” he added.

He also emphasized that his office is always open to listen to the concerns of Filipinos victimized by illegal recruiters.

“Sa sinumang overseas Filipino na gustong humingi ng tulong at magsumbong ng mga panlolokong ito, bukas ang aking opisina para tulungan at pakinggan kayo. Magtulungan lang po tayo,” he ended.

In 2018, Filipino masseurs in Kuwait were rescued after reaching out to radio host Raffy Tulfo in his show, Raffy Tulfo in Action. Through Tulfo, the victims got in touch with Go. Go referred them to the National Bureau of Investigation to ensure their safety and for the eventual prosecution of the Filipino illegal recruiter.

In December last year, Go also played an instrumental role in the successful repatriation of Malik S. Darimbang, an OFW who was stuck in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia for six years after he got involved in a road accident which led to the death of a Pakistani national.

During the same month, Go also welcomed the decision of a Kuwaiti criminal court which sentenced to death by hanging a Kuwaiti woman for killing Filipina domestic worker Jeanelyn Padernal Villavende in December 2019.