Human Trafficking Continues Under Aquino Administration, US Watchlist Ranking Deceiving Fil-Ams Call for Investigation, Shutdown of Trafficking Operations

Press Release
October 19, 2011

References:
Jun Cruz, National Alliance for Filipino Concerns (NAFCON), info@nafconusa.org;
Jackelyn Mariano, BAYAN USA Northeast, bayanusa.ne@gmail.com

Human Trafficking Continues Under Aquino Administration, US Watchlist Ranking Deceiving
Fil-Ams Call for Investigation, Shutdown of Trafficking Operations

Filipino-Americans under the banners of two national alliances– the National Alliance for Filipino Concerns (NAFCON) and BAYAN USA– are joining forces and calling for broad multi-ethnic cooperation and support to stop the epidemic of labor trafficking, a form of human trafficking, from developing countries such as the Philippines to the United States. They state the Philippines so-called improved ranking on the US Watchlist of countries on Human Trafficking is deceiving and hypocritical as aggressive labor trafficking operations from the Philippines to the US continues under the administration of Philippine President Benigno S. “PNoy” Aquino III.

Under the joint campaign initiative “Communities United Against Labor Trafficking” the two alliances are calling attention to the government-facilitated Labor Export Program (LEP) and the culpability of its various departments such as the Philippine Overseas Employment Agency (POEA) which have dealings with foreign recruiters undertaking labor trafficking operations, such as the US-based SentosaCare LLC.

In 2006, NAFCON took the lead in assisting and advocating for the Sentosa 27+, a group of Filipino nurses and one physical therapist subjected to illegal recruitment from Manila to New York. Contracted in Manila by the Sentosa Recruitment Agency, the health workers were to work as staff nurses for SentosaCare-owned healthcare facilities in the US, while these facilities processed their H1-B work visas.

However, upon their arrival, a Sentosa representative informed the 27 that no work was available for them in their respective contracted facilities. They were hoodwinked to accept work instead as agency nurses, in which they faced workplace discrimination, abuse, lower wages and benefits, and wage theft.

Upon exercising their right to resign from their employers, SentosaCare LLC filed charges of breach of contract against the health workers.

A Common Problem

“What happened to the Sentosa nurses is unfortunately a common problem here in the US. But their inspiring example to fight for justice and to shutdown SentosaCare LLC has also inspired many other victims of labor trafficking to step forward and fight with massive community support,” states Mara Ibarra, NAFCON spokesperson.

In recent years, NAFCON and BAYAN USA have also provided assistance for Filipinos trafficked to the US as hotel workers, such as the Adman 11 in Los Angeles, the Florida 15 and the Arizona 34—cases which all involved work visa scams in the H1-B and H2-B visa categories.

“In most cases, the victims seek assistance from Philippine consular offices here in the US first, but are not offered help,” Ibarra stated.

Aquino: Failed Economic Policies & Watchlist Ranking

“This is not a Filipino problem. This is a problem of every underdeveloped country in the world with a government milking its overseas workers for remittances to prop up sinking economies they refuse to fix,” states Berna Ellorin, chairperson of BAYAN USA. “In the case of the Philippines, Aquino’s economic policies have failed to eradicate deepening poverty and joblessness, the reasons why Filipinos have no choice but to seek work abroad and often fall into these labor trafficking schemes. At the same time, the Aquino government continues to allow traffickers like SentosaCare LLC maintain their recruitment licenses with the POEA despite public outcry.”

On the Aquino administration’s boasting of its improved ranking from Tier 3 to Tier 2 on the US government’s Watchlist on Human Trafficking, Ellorin asserts—“Philippine government is NOT doing anything to stop human trafficking, as this so-called Tier 2 ranking wants to claim. It is actually pushing it. In fact, the offices and departments of the LEP and their anomalous dealings with recruiters in work visa scams look more like one big human trafficking syndicate raking in profits for the Philippine government and these traffickers than anything else.”

Shutdown Labor Trafficking Operations Now! Stop Human Trafficking!

Under “Communities United Against Labor Trafficking”, one of the key demands of the alliances is for the complete shutdown of labor trafficking operations from the Philippines by way of a Philippine Congressional investigation of the POEA, and the various agencies Filipino workers in the US are implicating in labor trafficking schemes, such as SentosaCare LLC.

A fierce proponent for a Congressional investigation has already been identified House Representative Neri Colmenares of the Bayan Muna Party List in the Philippines. Other allied representatives in the Philippine Congress have already offered their support to the call for an investigation and prosecution of agencies found guilty of labor trafficking from the Philippines.

Additional demands include the immediate release of public funds from the budgets of the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) and Overseas Worker Welfare Administration (OWWA) in the Philippines for legal defense and relief for Filipino victims of human trafficking to the US, many of who are forced into undocumented status because of work visa scams.

“The Philippine government has the power to right these wrongs and shutdown these labor trafficking syndicates. It also has the ample funds to assist trafficking victims. The Aquino government needs to prove in action, not just in rhetoric, which side its really on—that of the traffickers or the trafficking victims,” Ibarra ended.

A national rally against labor trafficking will take place Friday, October 21st, 9:30am in front of the Philippine Consulate General office in mid-town Manhattan. ###

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