Justice for Grand Isle Shipyard Workers
On Monday, 18th March, the day after the death anniversary of Flor Contemplacion, supporters of the Justice for Grand Isle Shipyard Filipino Workers campaign staged a picket in front of the Philippine Embassy in Washington, D.C. to demand the resignation of Philippine Ambassador Cuisia.
Flor Contemplacion was a Filipina domestic worker who was executed in Singapore in 1995 based on what many felt were unfounded charges of murder. Flor became a symbol of neglect by the Philippine government towards overseas Filipino workers (OFW) and galvanized a global network of migrant rights advocates through Migrante International.
“We organized the picket to highlight the ongoing neglect by the Philippine government towards its ‘modern day heroes’ in this country,” declared Joanna Quiambao, a member of ILAW, Igniting Leadership and Action with Women. “18 years after Flor’s death, it is shameful we are still witnessing the same lackluster performance by the Philippine government in protecting the Grand Isle Shipyard Filipino workers and scores of other Filipino migrants who have been abused by their employers and recruiters.”
Twenty minutes into the program, Embassy officials invited the protestors to come inside to dialogue on the issue. The Embassy hoped to share information on their actions in regard to the group of Filipino offshore oil workers in Louisiana who are involved in a class suit against Grand Isle Shipyard for alleged slavery and human trafficking.
“The Philippine Embassy’s press release on their meeting, which basically absolved themselves of any shortcomings, shows a continuing lack of introspection and reflection on their work amongst migrant workers including the Filipino offshore oil workers in Louisiana,” remarked Josef Calugay of Katarungan, a local Filipino human rights organization. “Most troubling to me during the meeting was their insistence that they could not take action or be proactive without formal complaints or requests for assistance from the workers — hence their ‘monitoring’ stance for the past 2 years.”
According to Terry Valen of the National Alliance for Filipino Concerns and the Filipino Community Center in San Francisco, “The basic issue of expecting workers to come forward to them shows a clear lack of understanding of exploited workers or victims of abuse. We deal with this daily in our wage theft prevention work with caregivers and every other kind of worker. Fear of filing a complaint against one’s employer is very real. Very few independently approach the government or regulatory agencies, and there is clearly a history of OFWs especially being distrustful of the Philippine government specifically.”
Calugay agreed. “It really boils down to the fact that the Embassy faces a trust and credibility issue. They cannot expect someone to open up to them during one or two or three meetings. Trust is earned through your actions and past track record — which must not be as stellar as the Embassy thinks if they can’t get workers to talk to them.”
The picket capped an education drive that the Justice for GIS Filipino Workers campaign undertook over the past weekend that started with a community forum in San Francisco on Saturday and a forum in Washington, D.C. the following day.
“There is a real contradiction between the Philippine government’s role as an aggressive marketer and exporter of its people and its responsibility to protect these migrant workers. One role generates money for the government, while the other one entails spending money – which one do you think they would focus on? In the final analysis, the Philippine government is the number one human trafficker of the Filipino people. The meeting did nothing to change this analysis in our minds nor the decision to declare, on behalf of migrant Filipinos in the US, Ambassador Cuisia a persona non grata,” ended Calugay.