Press Release
August 16, 2006

Gordon calls for release of all OFWs
being forced to stay in Lebanon

Senator Richard Gordon has urged the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) to ask the Lebanese government to tell its citizens to refrain getting the passports of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) and preventing them from fleeing Lebanon as it is "their human right to escape being caught up in the middle of a war."

Gordon, who is also chairman of the Philippine National Red Cross, has lamented reports that many Lebanese employers have been preventing OFWs and migrant workers of other nationalities from leaving the war-torn country.

The senator said preventing OFWs and other migrant workers from going home to their countries violates the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Migrants.

Gordon lamented that at least one OFW had already died and three others injured after falling from the apartment buildings where they worked, in apparent attempts to escape.

Lebanese employers should not physically prevent migrant workers from leaving Lebanon or forcing them to stay by not releasing their passports and other travel documents, he said.

"I make this appeal on behalf of the thousands of Filipinos, Sri Lankans, Ethiopians and persons of other nationalities who, despite their not being a party to this conflict, are now being detained against their will in the midst of this war. These thousands of workers had been working as domestics, nurses, caregivers and others, in that region, but their passports are being withheld by their employers, preventing them from fleeing to safety," Gordon said.

In a privilege speech, Gordon cited numerous stories of "shockingly barbaric behavior," and stories of non-payment of salaries, and of employers locking migrant workers in their rooms.

Michelle Tumagan, a 24-year-old with two children who worked for a certain Joumana Saber in Lebanon, died while attempting to flee, Gordon said.

"She was promised a salary of two hundred dollars a month but only received one hundred fifty dollars Her employer only fed coffee and bread and she was locked in her employer's residence," the lawmaker enthused.

"As if her life there was not difficult enough, when the war began, she desperately tried to escape her employer's residence to join the Filipinos who were being repatriated. She reportedly scaled down the fourth floor of the residential building but this attempt cost her, her life," he added.

Three other OFWs, namely Janet Aliangan, Vanessa Butalan and Prescilla Ronato, sustained injuries trying to escape from the residences of their employers.

During the Senate hearing for the supplemental budget last Monday, Gordon, addressing OWWA Administrator Marianito Roque, said the bottom line is, all these women fell while trying to escape because the government could not help them. Has the government even complained to the Lebanese government that our people are being prevented from leaving? Is there one letter that they can show protesting the deaths and injuries of our people.

At the same time, Gordon, as chair of the PNRC, has asked the International Federation of the Red Cross and the Red Crescent Societies, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), the Lebanese Red Cross and the Syrian Arab Red Crescent Society (SARCS) to help in tracing OFWs in Lebanon, especially the undocumented ones.

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