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April 1995 Volume 2 Number 4

Philippines to Restrict Overseas Workers


The Philippines has instituted rules to limit the numbers of workers overseas because of mistreatment of Filipino workers abroad. The Philippines is among the world's top labor exporting countries, with an estimated 2 to 3.5 million Filipinos working in some 140 nations as construction workers, domestic helpers, entertainers, crew members on ships, hotel employees, teachers and office clerks.

In 1994, Filipino overseas workers sent home some $2.4 billion through formal channels, up from 1993 remittances of $2.2 billion. The economic impact of these remittances in the Philippines is believed to be over $8 billion annually, or one-sixth of the Philippines $52 billion GDP.

On March 17, 1995, Singapore hanged a 42 year-old Filipina maid for killing in 1991 another maid and a child. Her case became a cause celebre in the Philippines after two other Filipinos argued that she was framed.

Philippine President Ramos asked that the execution be postponed and, when it was not, the Singaporean Prime Minister was forced to postpone a scheduled trip to Manila. There are about 75,000 Filipinos working in Singapore, most as maids, and on March 26, 1995, there were massive demonstrations throughout the Philippines to protest harsh treatment of Filipinos in Singapore. As public resentment swelled, President Ramos recalled the Philippine ambassador and banned Filipinas from going to work in Singapore.

The maid's March 26, 1995 funeral march turned into a massive demonstration against Singapore for executing the maid, and against the Filipino government for failing to protect Filipino workers abroad. Some reports compared the emotional outpouring for the executed maid to the 1986 revolt that led to the end of the Marcos government.

Philippine President Ramos ordered the evacuation of Filipina maids who wanted to leave Singapore and sent military aircraft on March 29 to fly home 83 Filipina maids. Most of the maids who signed up for the flight home claimed they were mistreated by their Singaporean employers or were homesick. Several days later, Ramos extended the invitation to return home at government expense to overseas workers in other countries.

The hanging of the Filipina maid in Singapore has reopened a debate over how to protect Filipino migrant workers abroad. Every year, reportedly "hundreds" of Filipino migrant workers return in coffins, usually as a result of workplace accidents, but also for violating other countries' laws.

The Middle East and Singapore are among the places most frequently cited as abusing Filipino workers. The Philippines has been pushing for a U.N.-sponsored global conference on labor migration. The Philippines sponsored a resolution in the United Nations seeking more protections for migrant workers.

Most Asian labor-importing nations object to more migrant worker protections.

A high level Thai official called for an agreement on the free movement of labor after the hanging of the Filipina maid. Such an agreement would give ASEAN member countries a framework upon which to base uniform rules for the protection of workers' rights. The issue is expected to be raised at an informal meeting of ASEAN economic ministers in April 1995.

In 1994, the Philippine government required Singaporean recruitment agencies to post a $4,000 bond for every 50 domestic helpers they recruited in the Philippines. Manila says the bond will be put in escrow and used to help maids who have been abused in Singapore.

The Department of Labor and Employment has also started an accreditation scheme for foreign employers. DOLE reports that domestic helpers in Japan can earn $ 1,200 a month compared to $200 monthly in Saudi Arabia.

Following pressure after the hanging of the Filipina maid in Singapore, President Ramos appealed for clemency for a Filipino worker sentenced to die for murder in the United Arab Emirates. The Philippine leader has also ordered full legal assistance to another Filipina domestic being tried in the UAE for murdering her employer, who had allegedly raped her.

Filipina maids in Hong Kong are worried that as the colony prepares to be turned over to China, they will lose their jobs. Chinese government officials have given no official response to the question of whether Filipina maids will be able to be employed in Hong Kong after 1997. There are about 100,000 Filipina maids in Hong Kong, earning an $US 485 per month. The average per capita income in the Philippines was $770 yearly in 1992.


"Ramos to seek clemency for condemned Filipino in UAE," Agence France Presse, March 28, 1995. "83 Filipina Maids Fly Home on Military Plane," Agence France Presse, March 28, 1995. Philip Shenon, "Filipinos crowd Funeral route of Executed Maid," New York Times, March 27, 1995, A3. Lara Parpan, "Filipina maids face uncertain future in Hong Kong," Agence France Presse, March 26, 1995. "The Philippines and Singapore: Bad Blood," The Economist, March 25, 1995. Philip Shenon, "Singapore Puts off Prime Minister's Trip to Manila," New York Times, March 20, 1995, A3. Alistair McIntosh, "Poverty Drives Million of Filipinos Overseas," Reuters, March 23, 1995. Nirmal Ghosh, "More Schemes to Protect Overseas Workers," InterPress Service, March 9, 1995.
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