PH urges Taiwan to protect Filipino workers
MANILA, Philippines—Malacañang has formed a team from the Manila Economic and Cultural Office (Meco) in Taipei to ensure protection for Filipino workers in Taiwan after reports of harassment and attacks by Taiwanese angry over the fatal shooting of one of their fishermen by Philippine coast guards last week.
Vice President Jejomar Binay, President Aquino’s adviser on migrant workers’ affairs, on Saturday urged the government of Taiwan to protect Filipino workers on the island.
“We heard and we read in the papers that they have been hit with bats and four have been hospitalized,” Binay said.
“We are appealing to the Taiwanese people to spare our overseas Filipino workers from conflict,” he said.
The International Migrants Alliance (IMA) also urged Taiwan to protect Filipino workers on the island, whom the Hong Kong-based group described as “innocent.”
Eni Lestari, the Indonesian chief of IMA, also called on Taiwan and the Philippines to resolve diplomatically the conflict that arose from the killing of fisherman Hung Shih-chen by Philippine coast guards in waters off Balintang Island in northern Philippines on May 9.
Lestari said IMA had received reports of harassment and discrimination against Filipinos in Taiwan.
“This should stop. No physical attack or any act of racist discrimination should be done or condoned,” she said.
“The Filipino migrants in Taiwan do not only (work for their families back home and contribute to the Philippine economy), but also contribute to the economy of Taiwan and attend to the needs of the families they work for in Taiwan,” she added.
Taiwanese media reported that a Filipino was treated in hospital after being attacked with a bat by a gang of youths.
Meco Chair Amadeo R. Perez Jr. said after returning late Thursday that the Philippine government had verified the attack and that it was documenting other cases.
Deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte on Saturday said the Aquino administration expected the Taiwanese authorities to act on reports of harassment and attacks on Filipinos on the island.
“We’ve seen reports that their leaders have assured the safety of our people there. We expect them to act on these reports (of attacks),” Valte said.
Ma orders protection
Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou called for calm on Friday and urged Taiwanese to act decently toward Filipinos.
Speaking to scholars who attended a conference of the International Law Association in Taipei, Ma said he had ordered Taiwanese law enforcement agencies to protect the more than 87,000 Filipino migrant workers on the island.
The fatal shooting of Taiwanese fisherman Hung Shih-chen by Philippine coast guards on May 9 has sparked anger in Taiwan and led to retaliatory measures, including a freeze on hiring Filipino workers, suspension of official and economic exchanges, and tourist travel to the Philippines.
Speaking on state-run radio, Valte said the Meco team would work with Taiwanese officials to stop harassment and attacks on Filipinos.
The team would document cases and report them to the Taiwan Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which would investigate attacks and harassment of Filipinos, Valte said.
She said the government had refrained from responding to reports of harassment of Filipino workers in Taiwan because it did not want an escalation of tensions, which could hurt both the Philippines and Taiwan economically.
No alternative markets
Valte spoke again about “contingencies” to deal with fallout from the new tensions with Taiwan, including tapping “alternative markets” for Filipino migrants whose applications for jobs in Taiwan had been frozen.
But, according to labor market expert Emmanuel Geslani, there are no alternative markets for Filipinos in Taiwan.
“Malacañang should stop deceiving the public … that there are other markets where (overseas Filipino workers) can find work,” Geslani said, adding that such statements from the Palace could “further infuriate Taiwanese employers who are now serious[ly considering] removing Filipinos as their contracts expire.”
Labor Secretary Rosalinda Baldoz said the government was looking at the Middle East, South Korea and Malaysia as alternatives to Taiwan.
But Geslani said those markets could not absorb Filipino workers trained for jobs in Taiwan.
South Korea, he said, has a yearly quota of 7,000 workers, which cannot be increased anytime.
“The Middle East does not have electronics factories or manufacturing companies where most of our workers are working and there is no country that can offer the same salary that our factory workers are getting (in Taiwan), which is P30,000 a month plus overtime,” he said.
Malaysia has electronics and assembly businesses, but these, according to Geslani, are small compared with the factories in Taiwan.
Taiwan’s suspension of tourist travel to the Philippines is beginning to be felt by the Philippine travel trade.
Businessman Alfredo Yao said Zest Air, the budget airline he launched in 2008, was halting daily chartered flights between Kalibo and Taipei until the tensions cooled down.
Philippine Airlines and Cebu Pacific, the country’s largest carriers, continue to operate flights to Taiwan, their press officers said.
Ayala Land Inc., which operates hotels in Metro Manila business districts and a resort hotel in El Nido in Palawan, said Taiwanese clients were canceling their reservations.
Yao, who also owns the 55-room Sol Marina on Boracay Island, said the resort hotel had started to receive cancellation orders for Taiwan bookings.
The resort, which claims an occupancy rate of 80 percent, can sometimes accommodate as many as 40 Taiwanese guests a day, Yao said. With reports from Jerome Aning, Tina G. Santos, Miguel Camus, AFP and China Post/ANN