Year 1993 when I arrived in Jeddah, KSA and got involved in community service and at that time I can smell the remnant of the 1st Gulf War. During the first 4 years as an OFW I met some renowned Filcom Leaders based in Jeddah, to name a few like, Gerry Cuares, Ernie Geslani, Gil Manese, Gerry Sano, Rudy Dianalan, Omar Chip Tiozon, Jimmy Leonida, Manny Arroyo, Rashid Fabricante, Mel Dazo, Fred Castolome, Ernie Hernandez, Emman Bernaldez, Francis Oca and many more.
I was just an observer whenever a meeting was called; at that time I was a proud member of Boholano Community in Jeddah (BC-J), the Bohol Leyte OFW Cooperative (BLOC), and the Overseas Filipino Workers Cooperative Council (OFWCC).
Working in Manila with a good job, I never dreamed to work abroad but I was updated with OFW events, it maybe because my girlfriend and now my wife was a former OFW too.
I remember that before the downfall of the then Pres. Ferdinand Marcos a group in Hong Kong known as UNIFIL led by Ms. Laguindan (not sure of the family name) and a number of domestic workers fought with the former President to suspend the required remittance imposed on all OFW globally. OFW Filipino community organizations in Saudi Arabia supported the moved and were then very vocal on this issue.
In spite of the absence of internet/emails at that time but with the help of media, Pres. Marcos lifted the order when he realized that the issue was gaining momentum among OFWs worldwide. That was indeed a triumph for the OFWs.
In 1988, Filipino Migrants struggled hard for the exemption in paying income taxes. I also remember that OFWs globally were pushing then Pres. Cory Aquino for absentee voting and representation in Congress and other government agencies involved in OFW concerns.
In 1992 when the 1st Gulf War erupted, the Middle East OFWs was for the first time the center of attention of the government.
I was already in Jeddah when Year 1994-1996 Filcom-Jeddah led by KASAPI Congress worked hard to convince Pres. Fidel Ramos and some members of the Cabinet that presidential appointee for party list Mohd. Omar Fajardo and Mr. Sid Aligada will represent the OFWs in Congress. We succeeded but due to some opposing parties who were not pleased with the said appointments the Filipino Community in KSA broke up into pieces thus the unity and even up to now becomes too elusive to achieve.
In 1995 if I’m not mistaken Gaycanco Commission was formed to look further the Contemplacion case, Mr. Sid Aligada whom I called “Kuya Sid” in our Christian community was appointed as one of the Commissioners. It was also then the Terminal Fee was abolish and more OWWA centers were introduced.
Year 2002 up to present – Absentee Voting Law was enacted into law, and the creation of OUMWA (Office of the Undersecretary for Migrant Workers Affairs) at Department of Foreign Affairs.
All of it is more about the welfare and concerns of OFWs but I can’t feel the overall impact of OFWs into the mainstream of our political system. We even don’t have representation (OFW sector) in Congress.
I will keep on saying again and again, WE have to admit the fact that OFWs are so fragmented, and the result is – we still don’t have an authority and say on how our government agencies that oversees OFWs issues and concerns has to be ran.
We fought for the passage of the Overseas Absentee Voting Law, we won and now it is in placed and yet others refused to be part of the process.
The saga en route to OFW empowerment continues….