Tuesday, January 4, 2011

The New Mile High Club

George Francis, the baby left in a Gulf Air toilet.
There is a new mile high club in the skies these days. And no, I'm not talking about couples doing funny and explicit stuff in airplane toilets.

I went to the barber this afternoon to get my long overdue haircut. As I watched my hair being trimmed by skillful hands, my eyes caught glimpse of the TV screen behind me through the mirror. What was on the news this evening didn't surprise me anymore: a 5-6 month old male fetus found in the trash bin of an airplane toilet. Airport officials at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) said that airline cleaners found the fetus in the waste bin of an Etihad Airways flight from Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. It was likely that the mother of the fetus had an unwanted pregnancy while working in the Gulf countries and had the child aborted and disposed of in midair to avoid relatives in the Philippines from finding out. You can read more of this news here.

Just last year, in September, another Filipina abandoned a live newborn baby in the toilet waste bin of a Gulf Air flight from Manama, Bahrain. The baby, who was already blue when found by airline cleaners, was luckily saved and turned over to airport staff and the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD). He was aptly named "George Francis" after the code name of the Gulf Air flight that brought him here. A few days since his rescue, his mother finally went public, telling police investigators and the DSWD of her sexual abuse in Bahrain by her Arab employer. Mother and child has since been reunited. (For more on George Francis, click here.)

These two cases of child abortion and child abandonment in passenger planes from the Middle East is an alarm to authorities of the growing number of sexual abuse cases being faced by Filipinas working abroad. If there is so much being done to monitor and assist OFW treatment in the hands of the employers, then none of these should have happened. I believe, the distance and the lack/misuse of funding is creating an atmosphere of laxity among our embassy and consulate officials in terms of monitoring the status of our laborers abroad. Me and my family have been witness to the painstakingly slow response of these agencies particularly the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) in ensuring that services intended for OFWs and their families are being given on time.

My father died in 2007 due to a car accident in Saudi Arabia. Unfortunately, when he died, he and my mom were involved in a marriage annulment case which was not yet decided by the court on the time of his death. Before he passed, he has been with another woman abroad for some time, and at his death, this woman is seeking part of his employment benefits which our family is also claiming. The equivalent of 20 years of employment benefits was already sent by the employer to the DFA for processing and delivery to the rightful recipients. However, despite our family presenting credible evidence including a court decision denying my father's plea for an annulment, the DFA didn't grant us the money and instead wanted us to go into a negotiation with the other woman, whose marriage is not honored by any court in this land! How come DFA cannot decide on their own who is the lawful wife when the court and OWWA had already attested that we are the rightful recipients of these benefits? And now this other woman is also using her invalid marriage certificate to cash in on my deceased father's Social Security benefits. What kind of government service is going on here then?

A massive shake up and revamp must be done within the confines of the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE), Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA), Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) and the Deparment of Foreign Affairs in terms of rank and file and performance evaluation to bring back good service, clientele confidence and integrity in these agencies. I hope the Aquino Administration will work on reforms in these institutions in the fastest time possible.

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