11.ofws.stranded

Overseas Filipino workers, who are alleged human trafficking victims, in Los Angeles, California.

 

The 11 Filipinos in California who are allegedly victims of human trafficking in the United States are seeking help from the Philippine Government to allow them to pursue their case against their recruiters.

The group is now in Los Angeles and has been subsisting on the kindness of the Filipino community for their food and daily expenses.

“The Filipino community in Los Angeles is helping them, but we are also seeking assistance from the government, particularly the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA), so they can pursue their case here,” Deputy House Speaker and Quezon Rep. Lorenzo Tañada III told the Philippine Daily Inquirer in an interview last week.

OWWA officer Don Duero said that initial investigations showed a possible conspiracy between Philippine and U.S.-based individuals and companies.

He added that there may be more victims.

In October, Tañada met with the hapless Filipinos, who expressed their desire to stay in the U.S. while the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) reportedly got involved in the case.

The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) has a legal assistance fund, which is supposedly allotted for the legal needs of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) in distress.

In the 2011 budget, the legal assistance fund has been appropriated P25 million, even if the Migrant Workers Act states that it should get at least P100 million.

The 11 OFWs — Rufino de Guzman of Bulacan, Norman Paul Yaranon of Pangasinan, Ronilo Cruz of Nueva Ecija, Ricardo Jabagat of Negros Oriental, Vuenas Ian de la Puerta of Iloilo, Mario Abaday of Batangas, Manuel Jusayan of Samar, Imelda Nosa of Cavite, Arlene Dorotan of Ilocos Norte, and Eutropia Velasco and Khalid Anthony Velasco, both of Quezon province — were recruited by ADMAN Human Resource Placement and Promotions in Manila for a seasonal work program in Virginia and Colorado under Aramark.

The workers reportedly spent up to $7,000 for medical examinations, job placement and work visas before securing the necessary papers to travel to the U.S.

Aramark is a “leader in professional services, providing award-winning food services, facilities management, and uniform and career apparel to healthcare institutions, universities and school districts, stadiums and arenas, and businesses around the world,” according to the company’s website.

It is listed in Fortune magazine’s 2010 list of “World’s Most Admired Companies.”

The OFWs claimed they were promised a wage of $7.25 to $8 per hour for cleaning hotel rooms, but were just given $4.75 per room.

Some were promised to work as waiters, but reportedly ended up as housekeepers.

And instead of working in Virginia and Colorado, they were deployed to Biloxi, Mississippi, allegedly under Royal Hospitality Services Inc.

However, Aramark and Royal Hospitality Services said the contract appeared to be forged and that they have no office or outlet in Mississippi, according to a report by ABS-CBN news.

“We conducted an internal review and found that our name was misused to provide fabricated employment offers with forged signatures,” said Kristine Grow, a senior director for Aramark Communications.

“This was done without our knowledge or permission. We are committed to complying with the law in all of our hiring policies and practices. It is also important to note that our Parks and Destinations business has no operations within Mississippi.”

“The employment offer to these individuals was obviously fake,” Tañada said in a privilege speech last week.

“We are now faced with the question: Which government agency should have verified this? Was it in the Philippines or the United States?”

The Quezon lawmaker said that the case of the 11 OFWs could just be the “tip of the iceberg.”

“How many more agencies registered have been practicing this sort of manipulation against vulnerable Filipinos seeking employment for the future of their families? And how many are those agencies which are not registered but still manage to traffic our countrymen abroad?...No matter how many agencies we register and suspend, trafficking in persons covertly occurs right under our noses,” Tañada said.

He said the country has enough laws including the Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act (or Republic Act 9208) and the Migrant Workers Act, but that these are not being fully enforced because trafficking cases such as the experience of the 11 OFWs still happen.

Meanwhile, one of the 11 Filipinos, Rufino de Guzman Jr., said he has sold his belongings to other Filipinos in order to survive.

He said he is hoping to find a new job so he can stop worrying about his next meal.

Tañada, the second highest-ranking official in the House of Representatives, said the victims should be given the opportunity to work legally in the U.S. while the federal agencies involved are trying to establish if there is a case of human trafficking.

“The fact remains that they were given valid U.S. working visas, which means, that there was supposedly valid employment offers to these Filipinos,” Tañada said.

The visas of the victims, according to the Philippine Consulate, will expire in the next few weeks.

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