Manila is known as a metropolis of shopping malls — a sign, some would say, of the success of consumer capitalism.
But in the shadow of the sprawling Araneta Center, Migrante International fights against the effects of a labor export policy that forces millions to leave the country looking for work.
It is a policy that led Jennifer Dalquez, like so many other young Filipinos, to leave the Philippines in search of a secure future. Instead, she became a victim of circumstance. Forced to defend herself against an employer who was attempting to rape her knife-point, which led to her place on death row in the UAE.
When I recently visited Migrante’s national office, the parents of Dalquez were living with migrant organisers and gaining assistance from the organisation in their campaign to have their daughter freed.
But after a surprise acquittal on June 19, she now only faces a sentence of a further 2.5 years for allegedly stealing her employer’s cell phone.
The labor export policy, officially denied by the government, was first introduced under President Ferdinand Marcos’s regime. While Martial Law was toppled, the policy continued and has intensified over recent years.
But for the hardworking organisers of Migrante the death penalty acquittal provided an important breakthrough and great moment of relief and celebration.
As Jennifer’s mother, Alicia Dalquez told Gulf News, “I am overwhelmed with joy. The whole family is happy now that she’s acquitted … She called me on Monday night and I told her she has been acquitted. She cried because she was very happy that she can finally come home after two-and-a-half years. I told her to be good and be faithful because Allah will help her.
“When I relayed the good news to her children, Mohajid, 9, and Abdurahim, 6, the latter just cried. I did too, and our tears are not of sorrow but of joy.”
Similarly, Migrante Middle East coordinator Nhel Morona told Gulf News, “We will keep on praying in the spirit of Ramadan, that the UAE government will allow her to join her family in the Philippines at the earliest”.
Dalquez’s story is far from unusual. Migrante International formed in 1996 following the hanging of a Singapore based domestic worker, Flor Contemplacion. The case brought huge outrage against the Philippine government for failing to act to save her life.
Another significant case was Angelo Dela Cruz who was kidnapped and held hostage in Iraq in 2004 before a viral storm of activity from Migrante and others pressured the government to pull Filipino troops out of that country and saving dela Cruz from her captors.
Still ongoing is the case of Mary Jane Veloso who faces the death penalty in Indonesia for allegedly unknowingly becoming a drug trafficker on behalf of her recruiter.
During a family visit in March, a Migrante spokesperson explained that “Mary Jane cheerfully shared her experiences and skills she learned in prison and will use these in the future to help her family. She professed her innocence [of] the charges against her, and that in her heart, she [has] already forgiven her recruiters but fervently wished that the recruiters will admit what they did to her”.
“As she bade goodbye to her family, she wished that she can soon enjoy their company outside the prison walls and without prison guards hovering around them. She longingly told her expectant children that she is praying hard for her to come home by December to celebrate Christmas with them.”
Since its formation, Migrante and its 200 affiliates in 23 countries have handled thousands of welfare and rights cases, including cases of deaths, rape and sex-trafficking, wage cuts and maltreatment, anti-migrant policies and laws, evacuation in times of war and better services and support for overseas workers.
However, Migrante is not simply a legal support or welfare service, it is an organisation that also actively campaigns, holds street protests and combines with other movements of the oppressed to overturn policy and fight for a new Philippines, one truly based on the fight for self-sustaining economy based on national industrialisation, agrarian reform and human rights.
It is on this wider program of change that Migrante hopes it can undo the problems of Philippine society, including forced migration.
As Migrante Middle East coordinator Nhel Morona explained, “Her [Dalquez’s] victory is a victory of each Filipino migrant and their families who are never tired of seeking justice.”