SEA Dispatches about OFWs titled Development Through Distress

Development Through Distress

Bonnibel Rambatan talks to Teo S. Marasigan and Zelda Santos about the phenomenon of Overseas Filipino Workers and help desk for distressed OFWs run in secret by a handful of Filipinos from various professions.

In this episode, Bonnibel Rambatan talks to Teo S. Marasigan, Filipino activist and New Naratif’s researcher, and Zelda Santos, a domestic worker and volunteer of a help desk for distressed OFWs in the United Arab Emirates, about the history of OFWs, how the government ended up aggressively exporting Filipinos, how did people decided to be one, bagong bayani narrative from the government, help desk for OFWs from OFWs, and who are the beneficiaries of this phenomenon.


Welcome to New Naratif’s Southeast Asia Dispatches. I’m your host, Bonnibel Rambatan, Editorial Manager for New Naratif. New Naratif is a movement to democratise democracy in Southeast Asia, and this podcast is one of the ways we attempt to do just that.

A primary reason that democracy seems to remain inaccessible to many is the sheer imbalance of power relations among various members of society that we still have to this day. Foreign domestic workers are a great example of this – people who labour under unreasonably long work hours and inhumane conditions, often with massive amounts of debt to pay and their ID documents taken away from them, not to mention the abuse by their employers who keep getting away with treating them like trash… It’s basically modern-day slavery.

So, one might ask, why doesn’t the government do anything about this? Teo S. Marasigan, a Filipino activist and researcher, may have an answer. According to him, at least in the Philippines, the entire economy of the country relies on the very exploitation of its people. In fact, the phenomenon of Overseas Filipino Workers, or OFWs as they are known, has become so institutionalised that the government has given it a legal name.

Yes, labour migration has helped address the short-term needs of migrant families and the economy, and has benefitted migrant-receiving countries, local elites, and the government. But on the other hand, building a structure where it’s okay for human beings to treat other human beings like that? It’s just not right. No matter how much the benefits are to the economy, or how much you spin it.

Fortunately, though, there are small ways for OFWs to push back, fight for their rights, and build their own resilience initiatives. In the United Arab Emirates, there’s a particular help desk for distressed OFWs, run by a handful of Filipinos from various professions working in the country. This organisation, of course, is run in secret. OFWs are able to reach the help desk through contact details that are disseminated only through word of mouth. It’s bare minimum, but it’s something.


Hello everyone. I’m Teo Marasigan. This is my first time to be in a podcast. I’m very happy to be here. Hello Bonnibel and the listeners.

That’s Teo S. Marasigan, the Filipino activist and researcher I mentioned earlier. He is the author of Na Kung Saan (In Which), a collection of essays, published by the University of the Philippines Press in 2018. Teo will talk to us about the phenomenon of OFWs at large, including the history of its creation and how it is sustained to this day, as well as its detrimental effects.

Hello, good morning. Here. Actually, thank you for inviting me to join with this podcast. I am here working in United Arab Emirates.

And that’s Zelda Santos, a member and volunteer of the help desk I mentioned earlier, striving to help exploited Overseas Filipino Workers in the UAE. If Teo does the desk research, Zelda is very much on the ground. As an OFW herself, Zelda is very familiar with the exploitation and violence that OFWs must endure in their day-to-day lives, which was the primary reason she volunteered at the help desk. Today, we’ll be hearing her side of the story.


OFWs Phenomenon

So we are today going to be discussing about OFWs, but I guess we could start with the first question. This is for Teo, right? How did we get here to this OFWs phenomena?

Because you mentioned in your research tale that this started as a stop gap measure, but then the government ended up aggressively exporting Filipinos. Could you just briefly tell us about that?

Yes, that’s true. On the one hand, the Philippines was faced with a balance of payments crisis and high unemployment. This is this was in the early 1970s. On the other hand, there was a construction boom in the Middle East fueled by petrol dollars. The Middle East was earning a lot. The Marcos government saw an opportunity to provide jobs to Filipinos in the Middle East. So the Marcos government considered labor export as a stopgap measure, but it immediately created a legal framework for it. It’s not only economic. Marcos quoted as saying that the Philippines exported its social political tensions and because of economic mismanagement, the Philippines was got into lot of debt. And because of that, it became even more dependent on labor export.

Another turning point is in the late 1980s and early 1990s, the Middle East construction boom ended and the feminisation of migrant labor happened. More and more women were joining the OFWs ranks compared to men. In my view, this was an opportunity for the government to change course, but it did not. Instead, it intensified labor export. I think this is the period that can be described as having sustained labor export after it was initiated that’s for.

More of the historical context. Right. I’d like to go over to Zelda here. So what was your own story? How did you decide to become an OFWs?

Maybe it was like 2018 or 2019. Yeah, actually the thing is, you know, it was really the poverty in the Philippines that pushed me to go abroad. Perhaps most of the Filipino who went abroad did so far to same reason as mine. But in my situation, my heart really bleeds when I see other children eating like this, eating like that. When my kids, my children have nothing, I cannot give them what they want. I cannot send them if they are sick. I cannot send them in a hospital because the budget is very tight. As a mother, as a single mother, you cannot just sit around and allow this to happen. That is why I decided to go abroad, just to change our lives.

Yeah. And what was the reaction of your family and your closest people around you at the time?

Actually, before I came here, this is the second country where I used to work. My first country where I work is in Qatar. I worked there for ten months, and then because of those violations, the working conditions there is not really good. I decided to go back to my country. So after that incident, my family doesn’t want me to go abroad again. But they are worrying a lot that I might experience same situations as what I experienced in Qatar. At first they are not pushing me to go abroad, but the situations in the Philippines, as I told before, as a mother, you cannot just sit down. So even they are worrying. I have to make sure that I have to do it for their future. I have to do it for them just to provide what they are needed to.

Bagong Bayani

Did you feel like because I understand that in the Filipino government often calls I mean, I think I forgot who started this tale. Maybe you can tell us more about this later, but there’s this whole narrative of OFWs as new heroes or Bagong Bayani or yeah, I’m not sure if I’m saying that correctly, but has there ever been a point, Zelda, where you felt like, oh, yes, I am a hero. This is something heroic, something patriotic? Or were you just more like desperate? And you understand the situation fully, but you still do it anyway? How did it go for you?

For me, those narrative, it’s really a propaganda of this government. Why I said so before, I was also a peasant advocates in the Philippines. So with the situation of the farmers, when it comes on their concern, their demands for the agricultural or something, their demands for their right to tailor everything, the government doesn’t know. They are not providing any help.

So when I decided to be an OFWs, I see same situation. There are many migrant workers here that are asking for help, but they are not giving them, they are not assisting them. What should be the government to be done? They are just only they are using us as a milking cow.

What are your thoughts and what are your findings based on your research about this propaganda and this exploitation and this inadequacy of the government to provide help for those who actually need them?

Yeah. With regard to your question about the new heroes, this rhetoric was started by President Cory Aquino, who replaced the Marcos dictatorship. And there have been many analysis of this government rhetoric and discourse. I think the green of truth is that there is an element of sacrifice in being an OFW.

You are leaving your family and friends behind, adjusting on your environment, among others, and that OFWs contribute a lot to the Philippine economy.

In her essay on the topic, political scientist Jean Encinas Franco says that the rhetoric or discourse makes labor migration seem common sense or publicly acceptable, legitimate, and seemingly unquestionable, quote unquote.

At the same time, it doesn’t play the Philippine state’s role in labor migration, so it makes it appear that labor migration is just a natural thing to do. This is interesting because it is also used to encourage Filipinos to leave the country. So it’s a natural thing to do, but actually it is the government encouraging the people to leave.

I also think that by downplaying the role of the state in labor migration and holding up over his work as heroic, this discourse depoliticises what heroism means in the country. You can be a hero without examining the Philippine state or the power relations or the political elites that hold political power in the country.

Social Tension Export

I’m also interested in your comment earlier about exporting social tensions. Could you talk more about that?

Well, to put it simply, somebody said that if there’s no labor migration, there would have been a revolution already in the Philippines because there’s a lot of unemployment, a lot of anger, social conditions, corruption, inequality, et cetera. But it became like an exit valve, a safety valve where you released the tensions simmering within Philippine society.

Going Abroad is Always an Option

I’m going to come back to Zelda here. You did say that a lot of your families, family members and friends were worried when you wanted to go back to as an OFW again to the Gulf countries, to the UAE.

Were there also like, how was it like the anger for the government that Teo just mentioned? Were there discussions about how this was all you were wishing the government could do better in those days, before you went to after you went home from Qatar and before you went back to become an OFW again, what were the discussions like in your circles, in your families and friends?

Actually, when I go home, I started to find a job there because I think working abroad, it’s not for me, but as what the there are many Filipino peoples in our country, in the Philippines that are jobless. So is there any option? Going abroad is always an option now because the government is only they are introducing this, the labor export program. Go abroad, you can have the money there. So that’s why it is really my problem when I was here, because my experience, I was addictive of human trafficking.

Actually, I came here without agencies in the Philippines. So I entered this country using a visit visa. This situation, how can I go with these situations? If I have a choice, why is this happening? And when I was here and then when I was here, we are just like a prostitute. We are polling line waiting for the employer to choose you. It depends on how you perform. We are locked in room. They are confiscating our phones. They are not allowing us to contact our family in the Philippines to let them know our situations. They are not giving us food. If we didn’t do the trial, there is no food. My first six months here, you had no phones.

You had no means of contact with your family for six months?

They give me one for five minutes, I think one week when I stayed there. One week? Yeah. After that, no, nothing.

OFWs Situation

Oh, wow. That’s pretty harsh. Are people aware of this? Because again, once again, we did mention over and over that this is an initiative that the government is continuing to push. But it’s very inhumane and it’s very, modern day slavery would be an appropriate term to call that.

You must have felt very helpless because again, this is an initiative that the government is continuing to push. But at the same time, all of these horrible exploitations are happening. And I understand that eventually you volunteered at a help desk.

But before those times, I was wondering how you actually how was it like for you and for your friends? What was the discussions like? What was the anger like?

My first three months when I was here, because we already see our situation there. Actually, in one accommodation, in one room, we are like 20 or 30 people. So they are allowing us to go outside when we are only going to the office. So if you are not going to the office, you’ve been luck in that accommodation. There are some who are you know, they are their phones. They didn’t give that to the agency because they are confiscating.

There are some who are who have two phones. We are asking our family in the Philippines to load, to give some loads. So we have those social media with folks that we are asking help to the government to rescue us there because our situation is very worse. We came here just to find work, to have a decent job.

But our situation in the Philippines is worse than what we experience here. We cannot allow to go outside. We don’t have money. We use the social media. But the thing is, the government really doesn’t care. As long as they are sending Filipino migrants here, they doesn’t care at all. Whatever happened to you, it is your choice.

They always blame us. So who lets you go there? Who pushed you to go there? It’s you. You decided to go there. They are not thinking why we end up here? Why is the job that work in the Philippines the working condition in the Philippines? Is there any job in the Philippines? They are not thinking about it. They are just thinking how they can send people here to be asleep.

Before the Help Desk

I’m just curious, how did you manage to survive? And like, what kind of thing? I mean, before you eventually found the help desk and started volunteering to help others? And how did you and your peers survive? I mean, what kept you going? Despite all of the exploitation or maybe some of you did not survive? You can tell me.

In our accommodations, there are some, they send them home, but as always, stay here. We are looking at least we can go from this accommodation we can go out with these agencies so we have to find at least a good employer.

So when we have those trials we are still looking for the good employer at least we can go because in that agencies you cannot do anything. We’ve been lucky. So when I got my first two or three employers I have four employers before when I got the one where I finished my contract, those are really worse.

So when I was working with those who lasted my employer I volunteer so even I reached with this for the distress of OFWs I used to help on my own initiative. So I have to study about the labor law here. I have to learn more about the policy here. So enable to give good advice for those who are in me. Same with my situations.

Actually, I used to read those pages. I joined some group chat of Filipino workers that they have same situation as me. So we are changing our opinions. And then one of my colleagues advised me like this there is a desk that is helping over the values.

Maybe you can join them. One of a friend contact me and then ask me to join if I can join with that so because of my situation I wanted to so I decided to join like what I am doing like this I am helping Filipino migrant workers but my knowledge is very little so I wanted to learn more. It is good thing that I joined with this group.

The Threats

It must have been pretty dangerous volunteering there, I imagine. Can you tell us about maybe the dangers or the threats or how you felt at the time that doing something that you have to prioritise your safety as well but also you’re helping other people what was it like?

It is not about my problem is what if regards with my security what if those agents because I have experienced before that there are one agent that I call because I have to what is this? What do you call it? I have to portray like I am the member of their family. I asked the agent that I am the sister of that of W that seeking help, that we are going to go to the police station to report what is happening to one of our Kabayayan that’s been abused with the employer. And then the agent keep on calling me. We are going to report you also because there is no violation. They are explaining that there is no violation but there is a violation.

The one that we helped before is not working as the contract violation there is no rest, they don’t working hours, they are not giving food same what happened to me, he has been luck. That is my concern before my security if I will continue to help Philippine migrant workers here, it might end up like they will send me back to the Philippines because in this country. They are very strict in regards to this organisation, building some organisations to help distress Philippine workers.

Emotional Journey

Yeah. So facing all of these challenges, right? So despite the dangers to your safety and despite all of these threats and also the challenges that you need to learn a lot of things, a lot of new things about labor law and about everything else, it must be pretty exhausting for you, and it must be pretty anxiety inducing as well.

Were there times where you just wanted to give up? You just wanted to be like, you know what, I’m just going to go back to the Philippines? Or were you just adamant that, hey, no, these people need help and I must keep going? How is it like the emotional journey, so to speak, that you’ve experienced throughout all of this?

It is really sad on my part when we cannot provide more of what they are needing, the assistance that the government failed to provide. It is really sad when some of those victims refused to fight the right because they are peer. They might end up to become worse if they will still continue fighting. It is very hard. And in my case, I am very angry. I cannot do anything only just to give them some advice to do like this, to go with these agencies, to tell them that the government in my own opinion, the government doesn’t care.

I have a lot of experience here. They are only ending. They put the concern of the distress over in one agreement. For example, a rape case. Instead of giving them the justice, they are only telling to the victim, the agency will only provide you ticket, you go home.

Did the case ever proceed like amount to anything?

Those in the government? They doesn’t care. They only end up to finish the complaint. They will tell to the victim, okay, have a settlement, you go to the embassy and we will have the agreement with you and with your agency. So they will only provide tickets. Imagine that. Really? I am hungry now. It reminds me, those victims they are already picking with their employer. They are victim with these agencies. And even the worst is with our government. They are still victims.

What Keeps Me Going

I understand that this must make you feel very angry, but also, what are your hopes? Because you’ve been angry for a long time and it’s a very dire situation, obviously. But I see you there and you keep fighting. So what keeps you going? What keeps you hopeful to really fight for more? Just struggle? Despite all of these things.

I’m still fighting for the our right. For our working at least improve our working condition here. Hopefully, the government should take responsibility in all of this.

I’m going to start cry. I hate the idea of this, really. How many Filipino workers should be abused before they will act before they will take responsibility extremely how many those who are sitting there, how many salary they can get from us here.

I also believe that you’re doing amazing work there because at least even if you feel that there isn’t much you can do without the government helping. But I believe that your presence, you and the other volunteers in the help desk itself has made at least given some hope that they’re not alone, that the OFWs the domestic workers and everyone else who are the victims of these cases, even if the cases are terribly handled.

But at least they’re not alone because there’s you there and there’s like other volunteers at the help desk. Right. What has been the conversations, the comments, like, between you and the people that you’ve helped or yeah, the people that I think have found the organisation, the help desk in general helpful.

When you help those in need. There are some cases that there are cases that they win. It’s not really that winning conditions on that, but they are already out with that situation. For example, with the story report that was written by to you, it was Angie and what is the name of the other one? Lori. Lori. Yeah. We used to help them actually the rescue, everything.

The OFW desk helped them to go out with that situation. The good thing is we are not just only helping them to go out with their situations, we are encouraging them to at least share their experience with the others who in the same situations.

So the positive thing is if there are many, there are some of our Kababayans that they have, they are sharing their stories on how they paid and how they demand. So that is the thing. So with that experience, there are many of our Kababayans that we can rescue, we can educate them how to deal with their situations.

The Beneficiaries

Yeah. And I’m pretty sure hearing these stories can be pretty empowering for other distressed OFWs. Right. So the thing that you’re doing, Zelda and also Teo writing about that, I think it can be pretty it is our hope that it will empower and push for more positive change in this phenomena.

So even if again, it’s a structural phenomena. So yeah, I wanted to come back to that. Teo, can you elaborate more on the dependency of the government on this phenomena and maybe like who the beneficiaries are and so on?.

Well, thank you Bonnie. As I argued in the article, labor migration provides immediate relief to OFW families into the Philippine economy. We’re not denying that some OFWs are able to send their kids to school, even repair their houses, et cetera. The National Migration Survey of 2018 shows that remittances go to the basic needs actually of Filipino family food, education, health services, et cetera. Remittances go far, but not that far.

At the same time, labor migration has benefited recruitment agencies because the government has privatised recruitment. So they have allowed agencies to collect fees from prospective of OFWs. Also banks and money transfer companies because of W is monthly, or more than monthly. Actually. I heard from Zelda, she sends, I think weekly. So the banks and the money transfer companies are benefiting from them, of course, OFWs receiving countries because they have access to cheap labor. And the biggest businesses in the Philippines, malls, real estate, et cetera, all of these are beneficiaries of the OFWs phenomenon.

I argue, however, that the Philippine state is the biggest benefactor from labor export with little government effort. Labor migration benefits the government by ensuring employment abroad for a significant section of Filipinos and bringing remittances to the domestic economy, providing many families basic needs and soothing potential discontent and anger.

It enables the government to collect huge taxes and boost about economic growth, while lessening the pressure to generate decent domestic employment. It therefore contributes to the government’s economic and political survival in which government would be brave enough to reform this practice. While OFW’s efforts to help their communities by sending funds for construction and virus programs are well intentioned, these are indirectly political in that they obscured the government’s failures in this regard.

So the Philippines with regard to dependency, in dependency on OFWs remittances, you can see the government not really resolving many important problems in Philippine society. Like for just even the basic heavy traffic, high power rates, high water rates, these are things that a government that’s not dependent on something else would try to resolve because the economy and the people depend on it. But the government just lets this chaos happen to ordinary Filipinos because the economy will still, quote unquote, grow because of remittances. So this kind of dependence is happening.

Unsustainable Labor Export

Yeah, I’m wondering what are the arguments from the other side? And also if you’ve heard, if you’ve researched, for example, like, oh, we can’t actually stop this, because if we stop this, this and this and this will happen, we’ll get into a crisis. Or all of these common talking points that people like to that the government usually likes to say.

So if we stop exploitation of Filipinos, if we stop OFWs what would actually happen to these beneficiaries, would you agree that it might cause some kind of, like, economic crisis for a while? Or what are your thoughts?

Well, one thing I’ve learned from doing my research is that actually there’s more of a consensus among scholars that labor export is not sustainable, but this is not reflected in government policies. How does the government justify this? I’m thinking actually they don’t. They just encourage they think that now it’s like a natural thing to do. So it is so deeply ingrained that they don’t have to justify it. It’s just the way things are. Creating jobs at home is not something they think about.

I think the main thing is to encourage employment in the Philippines to create decent jobs in the Philippines. I think it’s not immediately stopping of OFWs, but creating better conditions in the Philippines to encourage Filipinos to go home. But of course, even that is radical talk. Because it has become so common sense to even speak about generating decent jobs in the Philippines.

It’s still fighting radical top in the Philippines to create decent jobs in the Philippines. So this is the condition we’re in now. So it will really take a lot to pressure the government to stop labor export and to create decent jobs at home, especially because the way the Philippines has been going has proceeded through time. It just depends on OFWs. And there’s this new source of life blood like BPO, business process outsourcing, call center, but basically everything, all economic policies are basically just the same and dependent on foreign investors, et cetera.

What Can Be Improved

It’s interesting that you said that the government or like anyone, doesn’t have to justify it anymore because it’s just second nature. It’s just like the way things are. So that means that we really need to push for all of these various counter narratives, right in our activisms, in our protests. Do you think that what would you say would be most effective to fight against these narratives?

And also if you think that there are things that are still lacking in our activisms, in our protests and our resistance, what could be improved from our side, not from the government side, to actually demand more from the government within the presence of all of these narratives, that we need counter narratives. We need, like action to demand more from the government, and we need to perpetuate counter narratives to the current narrative so that we don’t just people just won’t just believe that it’s just the way things are. We need to push for change.

So I was asking, what do you think is lacking in our own side from our own activisms, protests, resistance activities? What can be improved so that we can fight back in a more efficient manner?

While you were asking this question, one thing that came to my mind was the need for new narratives. And I’m doing research for New Naratif, contributing articles to New Naratif. And one thing that I’ve been learning is how really bad the situation in the Philippines is. So when I was writing about OFW phenomenon, the Philippines ranks 4th, 5th. But when you do a per capita study, it emerged that the Philippines is like the top dependent on remittances top exporter of labor. So it’s really big.

And now I’m doing research about the oligarchy and inequality in the Philippines is one of the worst in Asia. So these things because I think Filipinos are submerged in our reality, but when they see this bigger picture, they understand that there really is a problem that needs to be solved. So that’s one kind of narrative that we need to promote. I think there’s a lot. Of improvement that can be done with regard to presenting our costs, presenting our issues usually on the basis of OFW struggle, of resistance and also the experience of suffering and exploitation. So I think we have to touch base with that so we can have a basis for raising understanding about labor export in general.

Do you have any thoughts on this, Zelda? How do we improve these? How do we improve our own movements? How do we empower ourselves to create, to demand better from the government and maybe foster more solidarity and all of that?

What we are doing here, especially now, we are organising our co migrant Filipino worker here. We are building community of Philippine people here that will have the same call for the improvement to demand about the improvement of working conditions, the living wage, our rights and everything here. So we are hopefully our initiative will gain more support to expose the worsening situations of the effect of this labor policy that the government is imposing us and hope if we can build more organisations that fighting for the rights and welfare of migrant Philippine workers I think it will help a lot. Because you cannot fight alone, I guess.

What Can the Listeners Do

In relation to that. What can the listeners do if they are moved to help? What can the listeners do to help in general and what can the listeners do to help? Like the thing that you’re doing with the help desk and you as a volunteer and other volunteers in general.

Actually, now, what we are doing now, there is some policies now that they are imposing here, for example, there are some what is this, the OEC? There are some requirements that they are imposing us to do, which is not required within this country. It is just a new face of corruption. So we are helping our Filipino community here to expose this kind of corruption

There are some mandatories that they are imposing us, it’s not beneficiary, it will not benefit us at all. Those pill held, those extra baggage for us to pay. We are exposing this at least the Filipino community, not only here and also all over the world, we’re here that they are doing this kind of policies, imposing these policies, trying to make an experiment. If we will accept or no they are just trying to make some experiment enable to have this kind of corruption if we will accept it again or we will.

Yeah, and I guess that happens a lot, doesn’t it? Like people just test how much more that others can be exploited, how much more that workers can be exploited. But it’s really good, it’s really amazing that you guys are fighting back, right? And I think I believe the listeners here can amplify those voices wherever they hear it.

I guess that’s the least that we can do, right? Because I also understand there’s all these restrictions on financial support and all of these, especially in the united Arab Emirates. So it’s pretty challenging. But yeah, the least we can do is to amplify the voices and finding out campaigns to support you.

This initiative, hopefully it will spread, it will continue. Actually, as what you said, we are really in limitations of resources, especially financial because there are some cases that we need to rescue our Kababayans. We only can provide load. Okay? We will provide 30 degree so that you can call the labor, so you can call our embassy to inform your situation. That is the only thing. But not all the time. You have the money in the pocket. Because we are also working here, at least, hopefully we can gather some at least financial help from the other listeners that can provide for the at least financial support for continuous for the distress.

Actually, those financial assistance we are asking is usually there are some of our work of a buyer that they are canceled by the employer or they’ve been terminated. They don’t have work here. So at least we can provide at least good assistance for them while they are looking for a job. Actually, we are providing that, but it is limited because our source assistance also in our salaries, it is voluntarily. So hopefully this initiative can help us, migrant workers to at least they will feel that we are only the one who is fighting for them. There are many people, those who listen that are really concerned.

Yeah, I’m sure of that. I’m sure all of the listeners here are very concerned about this modern day slavery going on. Still until today, this exploitation is just kind of like pretty extreme. So thank you so much for bringing this to the to the forefront and I think you’re doing amazing work, Zelda

Teo, do you have any any further thoughts and support and all of these things maybe here we can push for, I don’t know, like government accountability in other ways for those of us who are not directly involved with OFW and stuff.

I think number one is to educate ourselves about this condition so we can have a firmer grasp of these are not just isolated incidents of abuse, what Zelda happened, what happened to Zelda and to get to her colleagues. These are not isolated incidents, but to have a bigger picture analysis of the structural causes of labor migration that would be one.

Another is what you said, Bonni, amplifying the voices of OFWs, their struggles, their situations, cases of abuse and also the way they fight back, the way they try to call on the government to respond to their cases.

Yeah, I think the third would be right to call for government accountability and to call for accountability with regard to the situation of OFWs and basically to generate decent jobs at home. I think that’s the main call migrant is known for calling for government. It’s the Philippine government that they’re really asking to act. It’s not really the migrant receiving countries or it’s migrant receiving countries as well, but mainly the Philippine government because they want to address the root causes of labor migration. So that’s also what our readers can do to help because the Philippine government, as I said, is really dependent on OFWs. It would take voices of everyone to push it into a different direction.

Yeah, because I think one of the trends that I’ve been watching is because of our media technology and the way things are happening, people have become so divided and fragmented. We are not talking to each other as much as we should. I think that’s also one, because labor migrants only from the Philippines are everywhere, should also listen to labor migrants if they come across them, what are their situation, how difficult it is, what pushed them? I think nothing did like something as real and as concrete as listening to.

People talk, actually as what they said actually. This is really what I wanted for the government, at least these agencies, especially our government agencies, to have a big differ at least and more to domestic worker concern because that’s my experience. They are really not listening. I hate the idea that we are paying their salary but we are not receiving anything. They didn’t listen to us.

Yes, again, that’s why I think amplifying these voices over and over again, I think that matters. And hopefully, yeah, you should be listened like all workers should be listened to. Best of luck. I mean, thank you so much Teo and Zelda. You’re doing such amazing work and I do believe that we really need to keep fighting forward.


And that wraps up our discussion with Teo and Zelda. They are doing amazing work, with Teo on research and Zelda on the ground, and we can’t stress enough how much help is needed for this cause to move forward. Unfortunately, restrictions in the United Arab Emirates means that the help desk is unable to solicit or even receive financial donations, which puts them at an even more disadvantaged position.

However, you, dear listener, can help by amplifying the voices OFWs and domestic workers specifically. Tell everyone about the conditions, issues, and struggles they face, and that the government needs to stop enabling this modern day slavery. Share the articles on OFWs that you can find on our website,, and support the campaigns and struggles that you can find on the issue everywhere.

My name is Bonnibel Rambatan, and this has been Southeast Asia Dispatches. Brought to you by New Naratif, and produced by Dania Joedo. I’ll see you around.



The Philippines’ Dangerous Dependence on the Exploitation of its People

While it started labour export as a stop-gap measure, the Philippine government now aggressively exports Filipinos. Labour migration has helped address the short-term needs of migrant families and the economy, and has benefitted migrant-receiving countries, local elites and the government, but also poses serious long-term problems to migrants, Filipinos, and the country.

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