By Tirso N. Paglicawan, Jr.
“Upang tunay na ipaglaban, itaguyod at pangalagaan ang ating mga karapatan at kapakanan, mga OFW sa buong mundo, magkaisa,” (“To truly fight, promote and secure our rights and welfare, OFW of the World, unite”), an ardent and urgent call made by Advocates and Keepers Organization of OFWs Inc. (AKO OFW) partylist nominees led by Dr. Celerino “Dok Chie” L. Umandap and independent senatorial aspirant Engr. Francisco “Frank” G. Naval as they filed their individual Certificates of Nomination and Acceptance (CONA) and Certificate of Candidacy (COC), respectively before the Commission on Elections (COMELEC) in Intramuros, City of Manila recently.
“Walang sinumang higit at totoong magmamalasakit sa ating mga OFW kundi tayo rin mismong mga lehitimong OFW” (There is no other who would be more and genuinely concerned to the OFWs but we, the bonafide OFWs ourselves”), Umandap further declared.
Umandap is the founding chairman of AKO OFW, a global volunteer network with a long sterling track records of helping search, rescue and repatriate distressed Filipinos in the overseas.
“AKO OFW, ang partylist na binubuo ng mga tunay na OFWs, nagkakaloob ng totoong serbisyong may malasakit” (AKO OFW, the partylist which is composed of genuine OFWs, provides a truly concerned service to the OFWs), AKO OFW president Marcia “Mars Gonz” Gonzales – Sadicon who is also a nominee, emphasized.
She strongly reiterates, “our partylist seeks ‘genuine’ representation of OFWs in Congress.”
Meanwhile, Naval who hails from Bicol region and a lone OFW senatorial candidate
worked in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia for 29 years. OFW global leaders declared their allout support to him and vowed to help him wage a national and worldwide campaign to make sure that migrant workers would finally have true representation in the Senate in his person.
Corollary, aside from firm commitment to provide more sustained benefits and special privileges for OFWs and family members, AKO OFW also announced that their platform of governance is to ultimately expose, oppose and eventually stop all irregularities in the deployment and employment of OFWs during that historic occasion at the Palacio Del Gobernador building.
Spearheaded by Umandap and Gonzalez – Sadicon, the duo was joined by fellow nominees, namely OFW veteran Butch Baliao, Cesar Gervacio and Gina Montalban.
A duly recognized non -governmental organization by the Philippine Embassy in Kuwait, AKO OFW was registered on November 2015 in the Philippine Securities and Exchange Commission under registration number CN201617206 and since then, it had always been in the forefront of struggle to promote, protect and secure the benefits, interest, rights and general welfare of OFWs and their families worldwide.
As a social network – based international volunteer group, its Facebook (FB) page currently has over 257,000 followers and roughly, it has more than 9 million up to 16 million FB accounts reach every month.
Presently, the organization has 165,000 strong card -bearing volunteers – members who had registered online through the organization’s official website www.akoofw.org.
Umandap and company naturally relate to the OFWs’ experiences and misfortunes because they themselves have their own experiences and personal encounters as either OFWs or OFW welfare advocates.
Umandap, as an OFW himself specifically worked as a Dental Hygienist and later on as the only Filipino who worked in the office of the Undersecretary of the Ministry of Health, Dental administration in Kuwait for fourteen (14) long years.
“I felt to be homesick, I then was also got huge problems and indescribable fears of the uncertainties of the future,” Umandap stated.
“Though, I belong to the category of the ‘skilled and professional’ OFWs, I am actually among the unskilled household service workers who have been “victims” of Maltreatment, Abuse and Exploitation (MAE) because eversince, I had been selflessly and tirelessly extending assistance to them, our unsung, oftenly and openly vulnerable, disrespected and or neglected ‘modern day heroes.”
For her part, Gonzales – Sadicon, reiterates her own guiding principle in life to concerned OFWs, “Beyond helping, discipline.”
The group got recently a remarkable attention from the public as it initiated “Bantay OFW” Mobile Application for distressed OFWs or simply, “Bantay OFW;” and spearheaded an ardent call to His Excellency Rodrigo Roa Duterte to come out with an order to the concerned agencies of the government to more stringently and much strictly implement the regulatory policy on escrow deposit on foreign recruitment agencies (FRA) of US$10,000 to settle all valid and legal claims and satisfaction of all judgment awards arising from violations of contracts of employment of OFWs.
The group’s objectives, mission and vision include promotion of respect for the rights of Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) and their families and to highlight the contributions of OFWs to the Philippine and global economies; to assist OFWs in their individual and/ or collective concerns including but not limited to labor, legal, health or medical, economic and/ or psycho-social or other concerns relating to their families in the Philippines; to articulate the concerns of OFWs on issues affecting them as well as support and promote beneficial reforms, legislations, policies, programs and projects in line with the protection of rights and promotion of welfare of OFWs; to develop an accessible corps of professionals to offer expert advice, respond to and address the concerns of OFWs including but not limited to lawyers and paralegals, medical practitioners, counselors, mental health professionals, social workers and financial advisors; to consolidate, develop and be a reference point for good practices and influence the mainstreaming of these practices into the Philippines and host governments’ policies and services; to advocate for cohesive host government policies on the integration and social inclusion of OFWs into existing systems and institutions; to cooperate with other organizations of similar aims and engage relevant Philippine and host governments’ agencies in upholding and promoting the rights and welfare of OFWs; and to engage public support for beneficial causes for OFWs through information campaigns and other
initiatives, among others.
During the filing, Baliao quoted the wise words of the great Blas F. Ople, “We may not be a world better in business but we are recognized global champions in labor.”
The group emphasized, “Of all sectors, OFW sector are one of the the most vulnerable.
Yes, majority of OFWs are Maltreated, Abused and Exploited (MAE).”
“Worse, our being victims of MAE and our vulnerability happens right here in our own home country, the Philippines and at the same time, in our destination – countries abroad.”
“Worst, the individuals and institutions that are created and mandated by law to promote, protect and secure the benefits, claims, interest, rights and general welfare of the migrant workers are exactly the one who performs otherwise.”
“The sad and painful realities, as recent events unfold, OFWs’ flight and plight, from the date and time of our application to work abroad, on the deployment up to the instance of actual employment, we are oftenly and openly victimized.”
“Very unfortunately, there are bogus people who are misrepresenting or using the OFWs for their own selfish and vested interests.”
“There are others who take advantage of the miserable situations and bad fate of the Filipino migrant workers.”
“It is these circumstances and reasons as aforementioned that AKO OFW Inc. is offering itself to be of service as partylist representative to continuously help search, rescue and repatriate distressed OFWs and also uplift the socio – economic conditions of those others who are similarly situated and in one way or the other have all remained “hapless, helpless and hopeless” victims of said MAE (Maltreatment, Abuse and Exploitation) of their respective employers, the inaction or neglect of their own local recruitment agencies in our country, the counterpart foreign recruitment agencies abroad and the gross irresponsibility of some officials and employees of Philippine government agencies and that uncaring attitude or unconcerned initiatives of some members of our own families,” AKO OFW partylist concluded.
Relatively, Naval states that his advocacy, if ever he won the election includes
creation of Department of OFWs, OFW hospitals, OFW banks, OFW pension plans and to sustain the economic stability of the nation, he would push for “Isang OFW sa Bawa’t Pamilyang Pilipino” policy.
Very supportive of the Federalism initiative of the administration of President Rodrigo R. Duterte, he envisions to make this form of government as a means for economic upliftment and progressive regional states for the sole benefits of the greater number of Filipino people and not for political interests of the selected few.