Group Celebrates Consular Campaign Success, To Remain Vigilant Vs Other Migrant Issues
The Filipino community is reaping the fruits of their labor after more than a year of dedicated hard work for the campaign calling for a permanent consular office in Alberta.
Philippines’ Gabriela Women’s Party representatives Luz Ilagan and Emmi de Jesus co-authored House Bill 4971, “An Act Creating a Full Consular Office in Alberta, Canada and Providing for Funds Therefore.”
In an Oct. 7th letter, the Department of Foreign Affairs’ (DFA) Legislative Liaison Unit responded to Ilagan saying “the Department sees the merit of opening a full-time Consulate General in Calgary given the number of Filipinos in the area as well as its physical distance from Vancouver, Canada” and “shall be considered in 2016 after a universal review of our network of Foreign Service Posts during the DFA Strategic Plan Review in 2015.”
Until the establishment of a permanent consular office, DFA also stated in the same letter that “the Philippine Consulate General in Vancouver will increase the frequency of consular outreach missions to Calgary and its surrounding areas in order to address the consular needs of Filipinos in the area.”
Alberta is home to over 100,000 Filipinos, including permanent residents and temporary foreign workers.
In a separate letter dated Sept. 22, Philippine Senator Grace Poe conveyed to Migrante Canada chairperson Tess Agustin the DFA’s response to her that indicated the foreign affairs office is considering the request to open consular offices in Calgary and Winnipeg in 2016, following a review of its existing foreign posts around the world. The office of Senator Poe is one of the politicians that Migrante lobbied for assistance in their campaign.
“The hard work of Migrante Alberta members, the members of the Coalition and our community supporters made this happen,” said Marco Luciano, Secretary General of Migrante Canada, in an email to the members of the Coalition to Open a Consular Office in Alberta. “The realization of this campaign is our victory and our community’s victory.”
Migrante Alberta kicked off the campaign through a petition at the group’s formal launch in August 2013. A coalition to open a consular office was formed after successful community fora in Edmonton and Calgary in the fall of 2013. Since August 2013, the coalition was able to collect and send about 7,000 signatures to DFA.
In June 2014, coalition members and individual supporters mailed campaign postcards to DFA’s office in Manila. In July, the coalition sent a hundred of letters to the 35 members of the Congressional Committee on Overseas Workers Affairs, 49 members of the Congressional Committee on Foreign Affairs and three (3) senators sympathetic to the group’s campaign. The campaign was closely coordinated with the international alliance Migrante International and Migrante Sectoral Party based in the Philippines.
Migrante Alberta also maximized social networking by initiating the “Selfie Project” in February of this year. Supporterspost their selfies with their personal signage calling to open a consular office in Alberta on the Consular Campaign Facebook Page or through an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Meanwhile, Luciano said that the consular campaign is not yet over until an actual office and official is in place in Alberta. “We need to continue to be vigilant so this should not turn into a ‘broken promise,’” he said.
Luciano added that the assistance of the Philippine government is much needed as temporary foreign workers (TFWs) expect to face the ill-effects of the changes to Canada’s Temporary Foreign Workers’ Program. In July 2014, the federal government announced changes to the TFW program which included a two-year stay cap for “low skilled workers” and higher fee that employers have to pay for hiring a TFW, among others.
Worse, foreign workers who came to Canada on or before April 2011 who failed to obtain permanent resident status by April 2015 will have to leave Canada, as a result of the four-year cap set by the old TFW program. Migrante predicts that this will result to mass removal of TFWs or an army of undocumented workers.
“We will continue to put pressure to the Philippine government to make sure it prioritizes Alberta as the situation of TFWs worsens,” said Luciano.
OAV budget cut
As Migrante Alberta celebrates the victory on the progress of the consular campaign, the group remains vigilant about other migrant concerns.
Migrante Alberta condemned the scrapping of the overseas absentee voting (OAV) in the 2015 budget.
During the budget hearing in the House of Representatives on September 25, the Commission on Elections (Comelec) said its proposed budget for OAV registration was not included by the DBM in the Comelec’s 2015 budget in the National Expenditure Program.
“This is an utmost violation of the democratic rights of Filipino nationals living outside the Philippines,” said Luciano. The Overseas Absentee Voting Act, considered a milestone upon its passage in 2003, recognized the right of Filipino migrants to vote.
History of disenfranchisement
Despite the billions of dollars migrant Filipinos send back home that keep the Philippine economy afloat, migrant Filipinos and their families don’t get the service they deserve.
Luciano said that this was not the first time migrant Filipinos experienced disenfranchisement by the Philippine government.
Over the election years, the Philippine government had allocated meager budget for the OAV: P52.8 million for the 2004 Elections; P43.414 million for 2010; and P43.4 million for 2013.
Recently, Davao City Rep. Isidro Ungab, appropriations committee chairman, said that his committee will include “a small amount” in the 2015 budget for the OAV, “whether it is P1 million, P5 million or P10 million.” Earlier, DBM Secretary Florencio “Butch” Abad tried to shift the ire of the migrant Filipinos by saying that the necessary funding for OAV requirements will be coming out of Comelec savings.
“The Filipino migrants don’t need band aid solutions nor consolation acts, specially from Abad who is allegedly involved in the pork barrel scam,” said Luciano. “OAV budget is not dispensable funds, nor are migrant Filipinos!”
As a result, the low OAV turnout only reflects the inefficient system that the insufficient funding has caused to the full exercise of this basic right. OAV statistical data in the 2004 Elections showed there were only 233,138 actual voters out of the 359,296 registered voters, only 81,732 came out to vote out of the 504,124 registered voters in 2007 Elections, and, only 153,830 voted out of the 589,830 OFWs who registered for the 2010 National Elections.
In 2009, the registration period was two months shorter of the original plan. The registration period was postponed to start on February 1, 2009 instead of the originally planned start date of December 1, 2008 to ensure that the embassies and consulates have enough time to prepare.
Moreover in 2013, the Comelec removed the names of more than 238,000 overseas Filipino voters from its voters list. The reason for the de-registration of these overseas absentee voters (OAV) was that they failed “to notify the commission of their intent to vote on May 13″ despite being given the opportunity to have their names retained in the National Registry of Overseas Absentee Voters.
“The Philippine government continues to politically marginalise overseas Filipinos who always save the sinking Philippine economy,” said Luciano. “This has to stop, and it has to stop, now!”
Globally, dollar remittances from Filipinos reached $21 billion in 2013. Filipinos in Canada alone have been sending an annual average of $2 billion in remittances.
“The Philippine government continues to coddle its officials who have been implicated in plundering millions of funds while turning a blind eye to sectors in need like migrants,” Luciano added.
Migrante Alberta vows to continue to be vigilant in protecting migrant rights, alongside other migrant groups under the banner of Migrante International and its chapter Migrante Canada.