Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Too little, too late?

This was my column on the date indicated above. This post is antedated.

So, acting Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario is in the Tunisian capital of Tunis to personally oversee the evacuation of Filipino overseas workers from conflict-torn Libya. Del Rosario’s physical presence so close to Libya (reports indicated that he would have wanted to go to the Libyan capital of Tripoli had there been flights available) has sent quite a number of eyebrows into the stratosphere.

There are those who insist that whatever direct benefit to be gained from del Rosario’s physical presence in the area is purely symbolic. The job of welcoming Filipinos streaming out of the border between Libya and Tunisia, arranging flights back home, and providing various forms of assistance can be delegated to bureau chiefs. There’s also the matter of security. It’s a romantic gesture devoid of practical significance, critics say.

But there are also those who laud del Rosario’s courage and hands-on approach to managing the crisis. I think it’s the first time that someone so high up in the bureaucracy took a more direct hand in managing a crisis affecting overseas Filipino workers.

I know this is not the right time to engage in blaming but we really must try harder to become more proactive in managing crisis situations involving Filipinos abroad. The conflict in Libya did not happen overnight—there were indications that the problem would escalate to crisis proportions very early on. In fact, most other countries already pulled out their nationals from Libya as early as three weeks ago! A friend who has a sister working as a nurse in Tripoli shared that in the hospital where his sister works, only Filipino nurses are left behind; the others have already been evacuated out of Libya by their embassies.

We continue to celebrate the arrival of each batch of Filipinos streaming in from Libya. Most of these overseas workers have been able to get home because of the efforts of their employers. Most of the Filipinos who truly need help in Libya are still in that country. And I fear that the horror stories will begin surfacing soon.

Is del Rosario in the area to deflect forthcoming criticism?

***

I am glad that President Benigno Simeon Aquino III spoke up “to set the record straight” on renewed attempts to rewrite history by Senator Bongbong Marcos.

Marcos last week said that had his father, the later dictator Ferdinand Marcos, not been thrown out of office during the Edsa 1 uprising, the Philippines could have become another Singapore.

P-Noy rebuffed Marcos by saying that, on the contrary, the Philippines would have gone the way of Libya if the Marcoses had not been thrown out of Malacanan Palace in 1986.

I understand why Senator Marcos—and his mother and siblings—continue to insist on a different version of how things were in this country during the period when they ruled like monarchs. Family honor is an important value for many Filipinos; sometimes the matter is romanticized to outlandish extremes such as when sons or daughters commit murder to avenge a family’s honor. Besides, it is obvious that the Marcoses still have grand political plans for themselves thus the need to constantly deodorize their image as well as that of their father’s.

Defending family honor is one thing; conjuring rosy hypothetical scenarios is another.

Senator Marcos’ insistence that this country could have done better if they had been allowed to continue being in power has no factual or empirical basis whatsoever. In fact, all indications point to the contrary. The country was in terrible shape economically and politically, as well as in other facets of its national life in the years leading to Edsa 1. There was absolutely no way that the country could have survived, much less prospered, had the Marcos dictatorship been allowed to continue wrecking havoc on the country and on Filipinos.

The Marcoses have the brazenness to assert their twisted version of the way things were when the dictator was in power because Filipinos, in general, have a short memory and are thus prone to forgive easily, and because the Aquino administration continues to be hell bent on demonizing Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.

Hopefully, P-Noy’s recent attempt to put the Marcoses in their place is also indicative of this government’s position on whether or not the remains of the late dictator could be buried at the Libingan ng mga Bayani. Ferdinand Marcos might have been a decorated Filipino soldier (assuming those medals were indeed authentic) but what he did to the country and to many Filipinos during his reign of terror does not entitle him to be buried alongside Filipino heroes. It would be the highest form of sacrilege.

***

I wrote in this space the other week about the plight of Filipino seafarers, particularly new merchant marine graduates who aspire to get jobs on board ships through local manning agencies.

Most of the candidates are forced into months—in many cases, even years—of forced servitude by the manning agencies. They are exploited mercilessly, made to function as unpaid and overworked messengers, janitors, drivers, and servants of employees of these manning agencies in exchange for the promise of employment.

I received a number of E-mails in response to that particular piece, most of them from seafarers themselves and their families. These E-mails essentially validated what I already wrote previously about the unfair and illegal practices of most of the shipping companies and manning agencies.

One email sender confirmed that the practice of requiring candidates for employment to render service as “utility personnel” is the standard in the industry. Apparently there are just too many candidates for employment; there are just too many Filipinos who aspire to become seafarers thus allowing shipping companies and manning agencies to get away with mass-scale exploitation. In many instances, one email sender said, candidates for employment have to beg manning officers just to put them in a waiting list to become utility personnel. In short, the shipping companies and manning agencies get away with bloody murder because there are just too many people who are not just willing, but in fact begging to be victimized.


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