Below is the first installment of a series of cross-posts from DiamondMinds, a portal created by Chanzo Greenidge, Ph.D, to facilitate multidisciplinary discourse on migrant issues. This interview was conducted with Manolo Abella, a Filipino community representative based in Kuwait City, and delves into the daily struggles faced by Kuwaiti OFWs. To access the full transcript and audio version of the interview, see the original post here.
Q: So the MFA, the Filipino Foreign Service is not present in Kuwait? They have consulates in Abu Dhabi, No? Like the Foreign Service for the Philippines, are there any Filipino diplomats based here?
Yes, we have; here in Kuwait.
Q: But what is the relationship between the workers and them?
(Laughs) That’s very hard because you know just like before we had this Philippine Ambassador here, we could not mingle with him, that’s why we had no service; that’s why we make some petition, we make some signs for all Filipinos here to go ahead to picket the foreign place here, that they will make change.
So now, we are lucky that this guy here now is very good. This is attorney Josephus Jiminez. He is very good and he is also a very helpful guy. But even how he is very kind and good, if the government of the Philippines doesn’t also support him, how could he help all the people, how could he manage to help these (dates) here move forward. They should have written the Philippines.
But Carmelita Dimzon, from the OWWA, we have 12 billion pesos in the OWWA fund, but we have a problem, a severe problem for this one. This Aristondo, he has been in jail for 14 years and we are also publishing (names of) some other people from the Philippines – 1 million pesos only for release.
But as of now, nothing; nothing can happen
Q: So there are not more Muslim Filipinos coming to the Gulf than Christians?
Christian is more than Muslim. Muslim only in Mindanao. And mostly also the older Christians most of the (dates) are Christians who have graduated from school. They are diploma graduates but they are working here as (dates).
Q: So its people with a lot of skills but when they come here they are working in those kind of jobs?
In the Philippines they are recruiting. They have agencies. But these agencies in the Philippines they also send the (dates) to other agencies here; and that is illegal, right? It is the same like human trafficking, right?
Suppose if you have an employer, suppose the employer goes to the Philippines to hire. Not the agencies here in Kuwait. They will give some other agency the job of hiring and when the (dates), they will come here in Kuwait, then after they will book a standby, they will settle here and they would find another employer. . .
So with the 2010 elections coming up are any of the candidates reaching out to people outside of the Philippines, like Filipinos in the Gulf. I know the campaign is going on now so are there any parties or candidates who are advertising?
Only through Fiji. Probably later; but as of now, nothing.
Q: Are Filipinos outside of the Philippines allowed to vote?
Q: You vote at the consulate?
Yes, but I think here voting is too much problems because they ask for documents. I don’t know why. They want us to prove that we are Filipino boater; registered.
But this one is very far, the Filipino embassy here. The officials from the embassy they go out direct to the Filipino company, then they will give a lecture; talk to them that you must register. But why don’t they go to the OWWU who holds the power? We have no chance to vote because we are very busy.
The embassy here also serves the OWWA. If there is no OWWA the embassy is nothing, right. We are the ones who make money for them through our family remittance. In our country if they can pay $25.00 each for insurance for us, we are also entitled to vacation; entitled to loans; training programmes, housing loans. In fact we have too much problems here. We cannot get nothing!
As of now in the embassy, in OWWA National Terrace, last month I counted up to 150-plus, there are 150 dates there in the centre, they are also waiting for money to send to the Philippines. I know there is money for repatriation. There is a fund. In the Philippines we have 3 billion pesos in the OWWA fund so why OWWA do not give to the Filipinos who want to go back to the Philippines?
And while they are waiting for that one, they cannot go any place because they have no plane ticket. How? What is the problem? All we have to pay is $25.00 each so that we have an entitlement for repatriation.
Q: When persons go back to the Philippines from the Gulf, do you find that they open businesses there or they get better jobs there? Is it easy for them to get back into normal life?
It’s very hard. Before, in the Philippines, throuth the OWWA, we could have opened small businesses there but in the Philippines now, the crime rate is very high. But now the dinar changed to Philippine currency is 161; before it was 193. It is down. When the exchange rate id sown the crime rate is high. When the exchange rate is down how can we make it? It is very hard to manage because your salary (is small). It is very hard to make a living. The crime rate keeps going up but your salary keeps going down. . . how . . .?
Q: What about unions in the Philippines, do they help the OWWA as well? Do they represent their interest
No, we have no unions here. We have no officials here, no members, nothing. It’s only those guys and ladies here; they ask for assistance from me. They want to call me then I will support them. I spend 40-60……. with my own expenses, but we have no unions here; we have nothing.
Q: What about the ILO here, the UN? Last year they had an Arab employment forum. They didn’t invite any of the groups?
No, nothing. We have nothing. We are only helping other people because we want to stop this misbehavior, this maltreatment for the next generation. As of now if we do not stop this habit, how much more for the next generation if nobody helps; if nobody works for it? They never help Jimenez in the Philippines.
They never help him enough in the Philippines. It’s like with me. If I don’t help people here . . .so for me I have to use my initiative to help other people. We have nothing here. . . we have nothing. We are not brothers but we must unite. We must unite.
Q:So are there like clubs or groups? How do Filipinos organize; around the churches or are there sports clubs?
Yes there are some other Filipino groups. We have meetings through sports but most through the churches. But for me I never go anywhere; only to work, here, for sending money. But if somebody wants my help I will take up the complaint. There was this guy, his company did not give him six months salary. So I make a report, I take it to the company and after a month, there is no action. I talk to the embassy here, the embassy also talks to the company and they have to give the money for those months. Also they have to pay all his medical expenses. But suppose I had not taken action for that one. . .nothing.
Sometimes they tell me ‘You are helping. Why? Because you need money?’ I say no, no, no, I do not need your money. We are just only helping. Because some guys they thought we we helping because we need money. We say no, no, no. we are spending our own money when we go to the embassy. We must unite because this company does not care about us. If you are not connected. . . after a few months they would do nothing. Sometimes they ask you need money?. . .I say no, no. I do not need your money, we are just only helping. It is our expense; we are using our own money. We have no union here. We are only like social workers. As of now, me and my comrades now, we want to make an application for higher pay. I talk to the people and if they want to make an application, I recommend it and we go from there.
Q: So are you granted access to lawyers in the Philippines?
No, no, no. Not now. We have no access.
Q: Who runs the homeless shelter?
Filipinos. The Philippine embassy. That one is the OWWA shelter but only for women. But for us, for men. . .nothing. Some guys are saying they will to go Qatar. You know what happen in Qatar? They are leaving. There is no shelter for them.
Q: So if a Filipino wants to take a case to court, how does he get representation? He can’t take it to court here?
Most times he can go to the embassy and tell them that this guy, that his case is in the court. But most times they are sleeping. But this man now, as I told you, this new one, he is not sleeping. When I talked to him he told me just help me and I will help you. We are helping each other, this new one in Kuwait. But before, de Jesus, he was not good. One lady there, inside the embassy, was slapped by the police. Why did the police go into the embassy? That is Philippine territory. I told her to go to the embassy. She was very lucky that when she went to the embassy with the police, the gate was open and this attorney Josephus Jiminez told them you cannot come in. This is Philippine territory; not Kuwait territory. He is very nice. But the police they told the agency they will close the agency. You cannot get any dates now.
Q: Do you find that Filipinos who migrate, let’s say to Kuwait, will move around the gulf? Would they go to Qatar or Saudi to live or do they just stay in Kuwait?
Only some Filipinos, the ones who get the big salaries but most here are drivers. They are hiring mostly drivers here in Kuwait. Our passport is only valid for Iraq but not for Hera but this company will force the drivers to go to Hera and if something happens to they will charge that guy most of the time. Some companies give a bonus to some if they will go to Iraq, but if something happens to them, nothing, because that is illegal. They will blame the Filipino because why you go there? They cannot get anything from the OWWA, right, because their passport is not valid for there. If they go to complain they tell them you can go, you can go because they need money but in time of trouble, nothing.
This kind of thing happens all over because I have a friend, his daughter is in…………………. He asked me if I could do something for her. Her employer did not pay her for almost ten months and did not allow her to go on vacation. I had to send a lot of emails, take action, but at our own expense.
Q:So what would suggest to government or businesses who want to help migrants? What are five things you would need most important?
I can ask only that the government is good to the old people all over and they must do their job. Right now they are doing the job only for the money. Why not help us? The government officials would not be seated in that position without us. And they wouldn’t have so much money without us. Only with us could they make such money for the Philippines so why they are not helping us?
Q: How do Filipinos learn Arabic? Are there classes?
Most of what you hear is Arabic, so you learn to speak it. If you hear it you can learn fast but if you don’t like to learn it’ll be a little difficult. But you can learn to speak it and to write it accurately. If you are living and working here you have to adapt to the culture or if you want to change your religion because if you are a Muslim you must know it. There is a lecture.
Q:So the Filipino representatives, do they have relationships with Indian groups that represent Indian workers or Pakistani workers or is it just Filipinos alone?
Only ones that approach me. I am not a coordinator here but if they want some help from me, no problem; I’m just helping. That’s all. Any time they want support, I also support them.
Q: Do you know whether the Indian community has a similar organization like yours?
Yes the Indians, they have a group similar to us. The Indian community they are also fragmented but in terms of the embassy, if there are any problems they tell me ‘your embassy is good.’ Indians – nothing.
Q:So there are no NGOs? I met a few NGO’s who work in the Philippines for migrant workers. Are the NGOs in the Philippines in contact with you?
Yeah, yeah. That’s why I told you about the guy, when he had the problems with his salary. He had stopped working and I called them. But how much more can we take here. Anything happen to them the company must support and must stand our medical expenses.
There was this guy, after working for six months he got an injury; his knee was swollen. They sent him to the Philippines and after four weeks he was dead. That one injury maybe (gangrene?). Yes.
If nobody help us here. . . but now, as I told you this guy, this Josephus Jiminez. . . it’s not like before.
View the unabridged transcript here.