An open letter to our fellow Filipino Migrant Teachers
Why we need to act together.
We left our country to work in a foreign land. Many of us were reluctant to leave our families and communities behind but the promise of a brighter future for us and our children led us to where we are now. We are here because we are trying to secure a life that is full of opportunities, not only for ourselves but also for our loved ones.
In the pursuit of our aspirations, we encountered challenges but we always resolved to face these problems for we know that a persistent attitude is the only way to go forward. Before we made our decision to come here, many of us were faced with the dilemma of leaving our families – sacrificing the company of our respective spouses and kids for a shot at the future.
Before we came here, we have to hurdle several interviews, seminars and backbreaking reviews and examinations. Many of us were short in finances but we sold our properties or even placed ourselves deep in debt so as not to derail our plans to become financially stable in the future.
In short, we gave all that we could, so we can start building a dream for ourselves and our families. We discovered however that the beautiful pictures that were painted in our imagination are not as what they seem to be. Now we discovered that the Recruitment and Placement Agency who we entrusted with our dreams is not acting with the best, or in fact not even a fraction, of our interests in mind.
Firstly, there was a lack of transparency in the process that we underwent as we are preparing our documents for our deployment here. The fees and charges were not even clear to us as the agency seems to invent new ways to empty our pockets every week. Many of us were not even able to read and study our contracts with the agency as we only received a copy of it on the eve of our flight.
Secondly, the agency is defrauding us with our hard-earned wages. Our contract stipulates that 10% of our monthly gross income for two years shall be paid to the agency. In reality however we were made to pay in advance 20% of our “expected” gross income for one year. To add insult to injury the “expected” gross income is bloated so as to make us pay the maximum advance payment. This overcharging of placement fees and the premature collection of the same is tantamount to illegal recruiting and is a violation of a Philippine law, the Republic Act 8042 or the Migrant Workers and Overseas Filipinos Act of 1995.
Further they say that the excess payment will be applied to the following year while we are not even sure of being renewed for the next year or if we would even opt to use the same agency next year. What the agency is doing, apart from milking us dry, is to indirectly restrict us from pursuing our other options as they intend to continue exploiting us.
Thirdly, the agency has instituted schemes that are grossly immoral and unfair to us teachers. One blatant example is its effort to corner many of us into borrowing from its partner lending agency that charges excessive interest rates. The agency is charging us illegally with steep placement fees, then turns around and refers us to its partner lending agency to charge us once again with exorbitant interest rates.
Fourthly, we are dismayed by which we are treated virtually as modern slaves. The agency cramped us up in dilapidated apartment units. What makes it even painful is that we are being overcharged with the rent for these unspeakable living quarters that were simply forced upon us. While the published rent of a unit is only around $800 a month, we are all charged $310 each with each apartment unit housing 4 individuals and at times up to 8. We have a right to a safe and clean place of dwelling. And we have a right to choose a place that we deem is best for ourselves as we are the ones spending for it in the first place. The agency however decided to simply disregard these rights and make money in the process.
Fifthly, many of us have experience first hand the threats and intimidation employed by the agency and its owner to force us to shut our mouths up and simply swallow the oppression. The agency even discourages us from communicating with other Filipino groups or else our contracts will not be renewed.
Sixthly, we are aware of some of our colleagues who, weeks after they arrived here, are still without school assignments but instead need to attend job fairs for placement. They were duped into believing that a job is waiting for them here for how else can they be issued working visas. For the meantime, interests payments for their debts pile up every day.
Further there are so many other individual issues that we are sure you have experienced with the agency as well. They have unlawfully opened our SS document without our consent, they have bullied us and treated us as if we are not responsible adults who can decide for ourselves, and much more. We share many of these horrible stories yet here we are appearing disorganized if not helpless.
Now what are we to do? Some of you may be thinking of just keeping silent and swallow whatever pride that is left within you. Some of you may take a step of getting a lawyer to secure your immigration papers. Or maybe you are one of those who are thinking of seeking justice against the agency in your individual capacity.
We are in a foreign land and unfamiliar with the environment. No doubt we can easily adapt like we Filipinos always do – but will we simply allow these injustices to continue to happen, not only to us but to the next batch of our fellow teachers? We don’t know any public officials here who can help us or a radio or a media organization that we can turn to – but will we simply join in the chorus of silence and inaction?
We strongly believe that it is in our best interest to act collectively. The same way that it is in the interest of the agency to keep us separate and scattered, to keep us vulnerable and powerless. The reason why the agency forbids us to talk to one another, or with any other Filipino groups for that matter, is precisely because the agency is afraid that we share our horrible experiences and in the process unite us into action.
We need to stand up. We need to act as a group. And here are the main reasons why:
First, we share a common goal in this struggle – a goal that we may be able to pursue our dreams for our families. When we coordinate our action, our effort will be much more effective as we have more brains, and hands and hearts working for our common objectives.
Second, these efforts require not only our time and energy but also our financial resources. Securing a lawyer alone to handle our immigration papers and pursue our case will involve a lot of expenses. And most of us are now drowning in debt caused by the exorbitant fees the agency is charging us. If however we act as a group, we have the power to negotiate a favorable arrangement that will make the shared burden lighter.
Last and more important, we very much know that in numbers there is strength. It is only through a united action can we achieve true empowerment. It is only through a concerted effort that our voice will be heard loud and clear. It is only through a unified struggle can we effectively protect our jobs and our future.
Again, it is an imperative that we act together. It is an imperative that we act now!
Mabuhay ang gurong Pilipino!
Concerned Filipino Migrant Teachers