Usually, negative opinions and impressions of most politicians back home about the presence of Overseas Filipinos Workers in Iraq and Afghanistan, during this election period, are being set aside for the sake of winning more votes. Why? Because as they said every vote counts and they need numbers from all over the world. Sometimes they get it even from the underworld where dead people can still manage to vote.
If we could still remember last year when a chopper crashed in Kandahar Air Field killing 10 Pinoy workers, everyone was at the opinion that OWFs in Afghanistan should go home. It was Abe Mulong Caracas of Naks Naman and of GMA7 who called me and had an interview about the OFWs’ plight here in Afghanistan.
The government even intensified the enforcement of travel ban going to Afghanistan after that, while other potential presidentiables that time expressed their opinion that we, Filipinos here, should be given alternative jobs after forcing us to go home. Sounds so concerned right?
It was a tooth and nail conflict of opinions whether it is right to force us home or lift the travel ban instead and regulate the flow of OFWs into the war zone. The choice between substantially high-paying job and the safety issue is running around the heads of everyone, whether one should go home or should stay. Among many issues, choices and alternatives, the decision to stay for work always wins, and as always the convincing idea goes back to square one - we can achieve better future for our family in this area.
By the way, I would like to thank Mulong for airing the Overseas Absentee Voting (OAV) of Filipinos here in Afghanistan, last April 17,2010. When I sent the details, photos and video to GMA7, again it was Mulong who made an overseas call to me and we talked about the recent OAV. Thanks also to GMA Network for the flash report.
Now, they must know that we are also voting despite pressures here in Afghanistan!
And speaking of OAV, I would like to commend Ms. Catherine Sobrevega and the rest of the members of Filipino-in-Afghanistan (FIA) for exerting efforts in order for the OFWs in Afghanistan could exercise their right to vote. Catherine personally got in touch with officials of the Philippine Embassy in Islamabad, Pakistan to work on the absentee voting here. She actually even made the process really formal and really fun. It was held inside the compound of Red Sea Engineering in Kabul last April 16, 2010. The national anthem was sang, made few speeches, started the process and ended it smoothly.
I wonder what the Philippine Ambassador to Pakistan had told Ms. Sobrevega, who is the chairman of the FIA. Did the ambassador say “Don’t go to Afghanistan it's too dangerous and we have existing travel ban over there?” as a gesture of concern? Or "Don't forget to vote for my candidate huh?"
When I told the Astig Pinoy group in Iraq about the OAV in Afghanistan, everyone was wishing that hopefully next time there will be the same activity too in Iraq, where they can be involved in political processes back home while being abroad. I agree with them, every Filipino abroad should be given the chance to participate in election, wherever they are, well of course, unless otherwise they are in prison.
It is undeniably true that aside from being the biggest dollars earners and the biggest support to Philippine economy, the strength of OFWs can even make a king if only they wish. And it is also undeniably true that for a very long time, after Ka Blas Ople passed away, what the OFWs is getting from the government are all broken promises, as whole.
But as we can see, the OFWs of today are far different in the old days as we have been empowered by our voice through internet and other media, much more we are organized and united. Each presidential candidate is having real hard to find the right magic words in order to convince the OFWs to get solid votes. Simply because OFWs of today have grown and has become more mature in facing issues. Organized in the sense that we can gather around and have a single stand on every issue, whether through internet or in the middle of war. We can even campaign and participate discussions online.
Filipino communities abroad now gather not only for bar-b-Q, beer, gossips, and photo sharing. We gather around for political issues and act upon it. We write blogs, we post shout outs, we write comments, we post photos, we write to the government, we reach for media, and many other pro-active works. In short, we revolutionized activism from street to broadcast media, to internet and to every corner of the world. (We can even commit coup de' etat in the Facebook..lol!)
Recently they made into law that the OFWs be exempted from paying documentary stamp, travel tax, remittance tax, and airport fee, under Section 22 of the Republic Act 10022, and again Filipinos here in Afghanistan will never be benefited out from this new law since we are not considered the regular OFWs under the definition of POEA and OWWA (correct me if I am wrong, but I am confident I am correct), because of the existing travel ban. Instead of us enjoying such benefits, government people are enjoying benefits they are getting from us working in war zone, just to let us through. It is really heartbreaking, because we are here for decent works, helping the Afghans and the Iraqi people build their lives and as we build theirs, our government exploits ours.
Nevertheless, thanks to God, by allowing the Filipinos here to exercise the right of suffrage. By this, the government, through DFA and COMELEC, is somehow impliedly recognizing the Filipinos here as OFWs. OAV is only given to those Filipinos working abroad and for those who have never lost their Filipino citizenship as long as they are registered voters. So since we have OAV here, I believe they will hear our voice once again OFWs in banned country, as they have our votes.
Let us hope that this scenario should not only be limited during the time when there is a national election but rather should go forward. Otherwise it will be a clear spit on our faces that we are just being at their pleasures. Filipinos in Afghanistan should enjoy what other OFWs in other parts of the world are enjoying since we are sharing to the government the same piece of bread, where most of the time, we give them the biggest.
We are hoping that the next administration will reconsider the lifting of the travel ban. That is the only thing we have right now is to keep hoping and hold on to it patiently until the better one with a heart for OFWs sits in Malacañang.
So in short, despite the fact that the almost 7,000 Filipinos in Afghanistan are considered one of the biggest dollar-senders to the Philippines and actively participating in the political processes in the country, we are not getting what we have been appealing for to the government. We are not being heard.
For the Nth time, since I was in Iraq, we are discussing the big advantage we could possibly get when this over-imposed travel ban is finally lifted, it will be a happy day for all of us. We all know that the success of OFWs abroad is also a success in dollar-earning ability of the government, and we will champion the Philippine economy eventually-that we can guarantee to them.