MANILA, Philippines—Susan K, the Radyo Inquirer dzIQ 990AM and television host, would have ended up with a Saudi baby had the mother’s husband not changed his mind.
The baby’s mother was a domestic helper who was raped by her employer in Saudi Arabia. Her dejected husband could only think of two options “separation or abortion.”
Susan Andes (aka Susan K), the host of the “Bantay OCW” program on Radyo Inquirer, offered to adopt the child.
“I did that to keep the baby alive,” Andes said.
However, when the baby was born, the husband had a change of heart. “Please don’t take the child anymore,” Andes quoted him as saying.
After all the anguish and hurt, he finally accepted the child and reunited with his wife, said Andes.
Happy endings like this are what inspire the radio broadcaster to continue serving overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) through the “Bantay OCW: Ang Boses ng mga OFW” (“OCW Watch: The Voice of the OFW”).
Often acting as a social worker or family counselor, Andes has for the past 17 years taken on many roles, depending on the needs of the country’s “modern-day heroes.”
Sometimes she is a hard-hitting broadcaster, denouncing illegal recruiters on air, as she is heard to do every Monday to Friday from 9 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. on Radyo Inquirer 990AM, and viewed livestream worldwide on dziq.am.
Or, she could be a teacher, charitable institution or agony aunt to OFWs and their relatives needing shelter, money or just someone to talk to.
The host is also the program’s scriptwriter, producer and director. “A one-woman band,” she said.
Awards and recognition
For her dedication to public service, Gawad Tanglaw (Tagapuring mga Akademisyan ng Aninong Gumagalaw) has conferred on Andes’ show the People’s Choice Award for Best Public Service Program for the fifth year in a row.
The show has also won recognition from the Catholic Mass Media Awards (CMMA), Kapisanan ng mga Brodkaster sa Pilipinas Golden Dove Awards and PopDev Media Awards over the past few years. Andes is a CMMA Hall of Fame awardee.
Beyond trophies and recognition, however, Andes said “seeing the joy on their faces after helping them get through an ordeal is the most fulfilling” for her.
She does not only air or write about the problems of OFWs. “We find solutions,” said the Radyo Inquirer announcer and columnist for the Inquirer’s Global Pinoy section.
Her team of four coordinates with different government agencies, including the Department of Foreign Affairs, Department of Labor and Employment, Department of the Interior and Local Government, Overseas Workers’ Welfare Administration (Owwa), Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) and the National Labor Relations Commission.
The show also has strong links with Philippine embassies and consulates, the Integrated Bar of the Philippines, local and international nongovernment organizations involved in migration, labor, women and health like Kakammpi (Kapisanan ng mga Kamag-anak ng Migranteng Pilipino).
Love for family
Since she started the show with Radyo Mo Nationwide in 1997, Andes said she has encountered all the problems of Filipinos working abroad, from financial woes to marital infidelity.
“Every day, I face new problems. Different problems that make me forget mine,” she said.
“It’s complicated,” Andes said of the lives of OFWs.
But the one thing all the sad stories had in common was “love for family,” she said.
“I guess every Filipino family has at least one member abroad,” said Andes, whose own two siblings are in Europe.
Her family members working abroad sparked her interest in the OFWs’ condition. When asked by the station manager at her first job on radio what kind of program she wanted, then 32-year-old Andes replied without hesitation, “a public service program for OFWs.”
Around 10 million Filipinos work or reside abroad, according to December 2011 data from the Commission on Filipinos Overseas. The National Statistics Office estimated the number of Filipinos working overseas at 2.2 million in an April to September 2011 survey.
Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) figures show that money sent home by OFWs reached $21.39 billion in 2012. The central bank projected remittances would grow by 5 percent to $22.46 billion this year.
“Most OFWs leave the country with the hope of a better future for their family,” said Andes.
The lifestyle of the family usually changes when a relative goes abroad. There seems to be a need to flaunt “what they have now that they could not afford before,” Andes explained. Because of this, they are unable to save and the OFWs are forced to extend their work contracts, taking them further away from their families, she said.
“Bantay OCW” now focuses on education and empowerment. They invite experts to talk about financial literacy, entrepreneurial opportunities, wise investments and proper spending.
Andes said three to five years would be enough time for migrant workers to save and return to their families in the Philippines or get them settled anywhere in the world.
With problems involving family issues, all they can do is listen and give advice, she said.
But when it comes to illegal recruitment cases, the show ensures that the victims recover their money as soon as possible.
Sometimes this involves Andes actually calling out the illegal recruiters and scolding them on air. “Hey! You are an illegal recruiter, you better return the money or I’ll have you jailed,” boomed the petite public service broadcaster as she reenacted how she deals with illegal recruiters.
Some of the recruiters have complied and personally returned the money to the complainants, Andes said.
Not surprisingly, she has received death threats. But she only fears for the lives of her three daughters, said the 49-year-old single mom.
Hospicio de Susan
Andes said her house is small but it has become a second home for OFWs. Some even dubbed it “Hospicio de Susan,” she said.
“I cannot give total solution. ‘Bantay OCW’ can only give temporary relief,” she said.
“But somehow, by listening to them, helping them in my own little way and letting them know they have someone to run to in times of need, perhaps I have given them justice,” she said.
The program is telecast on PTV 4 on Tuesdays from 8 p.m. to 9 p.m. and GMA News TV International. Print versions of the show appear in different publications, including Inquirer’s Global Pinoy section that comes out on Sundays, Bandera on Wednesdays and Fridays, Remate on Sundays and Watchmen Daily on Mondays. Abroad, the stories see print in Groove Magazine in Hong Kong, Filipino News in Italy and OFW Pinoy Star in Singapore.