Wednesday, 9 February 2011

What's Happening To The Overseas Labor Office of the Philippine Embassy in Seoul?

As they say in Pilipino, batu-bato sa langit, tama’ay huwag magalit. It means whatever pebble is thrown heavenwards, if it hits anybody on its way down, he (or she) shouldn’t get pissed off.  So, if this pebble of a blog hits anybody out there….

Before I start, let me just summarize a few acronyms that I foresee I would use  throughout this blog (to save me a lot of keystrokes!):

SGC:  Seoul Global Center
POLO:  The Philippine Overseas Labor Office of the Philippine Embassy in Seoul
FMW:  Filipino Migrant Worker
MFF:  My Filipino Friend

And now, the story.

I was chatting with MFF the other day and wasn’t at all surprised with the story MFF told me.  Basically, the short story was:  (1) A FMW went to the SGC to seek assistance regarding unpaid wages from the FMW’s employer, and (2) the SGC was able to help the worker successfully claim the unpaid wages back. 

Everybody happy? Nah.

Well, it’s always sad to hear stories about the migrant workers in Korea receiving this kind of unfair treatment from their employers, but the sadder part of the story was, before the migrant worker went to the SGC for help, the worker had already gone to seek assistance for this problem from the POLO, where, according to the FMW, the people there weren’t able to help him, and that they said that it’s just the way it is in Korea:  that employers sometimes just don’t pay up, or something to that sort.  

And being also a Filipino, my friend was able to talk to this FMW, who said that since the POLO couldn’t seem to provide the help that FMW needed, that worker had to run to the SGC instead for help.

And while they were talking, the FMW expressed helplessness while at the POLO, even describing the people at the POLO using a Pilipino word which I couldn’t get myself to write on this page. It’s a five-letter Tagalog word, whose meaning, when I googled it, meant, well, I will let you know if you ask me in person. Ha-ha-ha! That word actually had two meanings, both of which are not at all pleasant to use as a description.

I consider myself lucky that, being also a FMW myself, I do not encounter this kind of problems my fellow FMWs do.  But upon hearing this story from MFF, it makes me wonder how disgusted that FMW must have been to use that five-letter word. I thought all this time, the main purpose of the POLO is to give assistance to FMWs who go there for help.  I don’t know the exact details of the FMW’s ‘unpaid wages’ problem, but I wonder why was the SGC successful in helping the FMW, the POLO was not? Hmm…

As I continued chatting with my friend, I also shared my own unpleasant experience with POLO. Thankfully, it didn’t involve unpaid wages. Otherwise, I would have starved for a long time!

My first bad experience happened years ago, and I consider it a closed episode.  A POLO staff slammed the door of the POLO office on my face (a no-no if the person is a FMW and a big mistake if that person is me!).  That staff is no longer with the POLO, and by the way, I reported that staff to the Philippine ambassador at the time.

Anyways, I told MFF that I have a ‘fresher’ experience to share.  ‘Fresh’ as in just three months old!

Here it is:

I became a part of the POLO’s mailing list during the time of the former Labor Attache Delmer Cruz. And I continued to be until….November 2010. That’s three months ago. It was a good, efficient idea to email advisories, notices and new labor regulations to the Filipino Community in just one go. 

And I always read those advisories and even replied at times.  But then, on November 10, 2010, when I received the ‘traffic advisory’ (for the G20 Summit) from the current labor attaché, all the recipients (all of the Filipino Community in the mailing list) could see that the email was forwarded from one embassy staff to another, and to another, until it was finally forwarded to the whole Filipino Community.  All the recipients had to scroll down to the bottom of the email just to find out if getting some grocery at the COEX mall that day would require the police to inspect how much cooking oil or toilet paper you have in your shopping bag, or if the urge to admire the artifacts at the National Museum that day would also require them to frisk your ‘artifacts’… from head to toe!

Being a professional, I was disappointed with the way the email was written, considering that it was an official communication from an embassy.  So, I replied to the sender, the current labor attaché, to (1) thank her for the traffic information, (which made me avoid COEX and the National Museum that day), and (2) to ask somebody to ‘edit the whole email before forwarding it to the whole Filipino Community’ because ‘this kind of sloppy communication does not reflect well on the embassy’.

I guess she didn’t take it constructively, because since that day in November, I have never received any advisory or communication from the POLO.  I was taken off from the mailing list!

And how did I confirm this?  I simply talked to a few of the fellow recipients in the list, who confirmed that my email address is no longer in the emails.  Oh well, I got excommunicated. Ha-ha-ha!

I don’t mind being taken off from their mailing list.  Life goes on for me (although I haven’t been to the COEX mall and the National Museum since). Ha-ha-ha!  But at least, I now know what kind of people are running the POLO, or the kind of person sending out the official emails.  Perhaps, they are the kind whose vocabulary does not include the words ‘constructive criticism,‘ ‘open-mindedness’, ‘public service’ or worse, ‘we are here to assist the freakin’ FMWs’!

I don’t think it wouldn’t have happened if Delmer Cruz, the former labor attaché, was still the one running POLO. That guy had ideas (and was open to ideas), he knew how to relate to the FMWs, and I saw for myself how hard he worked.  No wonder, the FMWs signed a petition for him to stay longer even after his term ended in early 2010.  The FMWs in Korea liked him and the work he was doing! But I’m not sure about the current one.  You tell me.

I’m quoting what my MFF said that when one goes to an embassy for a transaction or help, ‘one goes there to feel positive after, and not to be negative.’ But it seems that with my own personal experiences (and perhaps with those of other FMWs), POLO is bereft of anything positive.

So, today, while I continue to chat with MFF, I join that FMW who went to the SGC in asking, ‘what’s happening to the POLO in Seoul?’’

Can somebody please tell me what? 

Maybe the ‘batu-bato sa langit’ can.