RIYADH, 21 February 2007 — Nearly 2,000 text messages were received by OFW-SOS Helpline — a handy, inexpensive, easy to use, accessible, 24/7 mechanism that can be availed of by Filipino migrant workers, anytime, anywhere in the world, to report cases of abuse and to request for government or NGO assistance, in its first year of operation.
Tas Espiritu, developer of the helpline, said that the system received the most number of messages from Filipinos in Saudi Arabia, averaging 45 senders or 110 SMS monthly, asking for assistance ranging from police, welfare and labor cases.
“The messages vary from non-payment of wages to expressions of dissatisfaction on some government officials, which we often discarded because it defeats the purpose and objectives of OFW SOS Helpline. Aside from real emergency calls, we also received prank messages,” added Espiritu.
“Espiritu is also the main action officer for Saudi Arabia who alerts the rest of the V-Team for Saudi-based cases and coordinates with the Center for Migrant Advocacy (CMA) in Manila for the other cases,” said Ellen Sana, CMA executive director.
Aside from Espiritu, Sana also acknowledged the contribution made by Vic Barrazona of V-Team in Riyadh, Bobby Soriano in the Philippines and Bong Ramilo in Australia.
V-Team, a group of OFWs in Riyadh advocating the rights and welfare of Filipinos in the Kingdom, is in close coordination with CMA on the resolution of cases received and handled.
Basically, the project aims to provide an online connection for overseas Filipinos by simply sending an SMS or text message to +639-2096-39767 for any or all of the following purposes such as voluntary registration of OFW, polls and surveys, and SOS SMS for help to distressed OFW.
In a year’s operation, the team has classified the calls received as “first-hand distress cases” or easy-to-handle cases because the sender consulted the helpline first.
Espiritu said that senders who know how to follow instructions advised by the action officers are the most likely to have their problems solved.
“Ironically, the degree holders are the most difficult to handle, they have to be empowered first in order for us to earn their trust,” Espiritu noted.
The action officers are trained to evaluate cases and offer advice. More than 50 percent of the total cases were those that can be dealt through “empowerment.”
“If a case has been evaluated and found to be valid, we would empower the distressed OFW by guiding him or her to solve the problem on his or her own. For example, if there is a need to send a Request for Assistance letter either to the POLO or the Philippine Embassy, the sender will be guided on the procedure to follow.
The sender will also be obliged to provide regular updates on the case so the team can closely monitor,” explained Espiritu.
He added that “real empowerment” is to help the distressed by giving all the tools and weapons they need, but they must be in the battlefront. Action officers discourage the “padrino” system such as when the sender drop names of influential personalities they apparently know so that their case would be given immediate attention.
“A case can be solved by the SOS sender alone based on the advice of our action officers on what to do. Thus, there’s no need for the sender go through the long and bureaucratic process just for his or her plea be heard,” said Espiritu.
On its first year anniversary, the team acknowledged individuals and groups who have contributed to the success of the system. The long list included Ronnie Abeto, Rashid Fabricante, Mike Bolos, Alex Asuncion, Roland Blanco, Rey Orbon, Max Bringula, Rodel Yap, Duane Sta. Ana, Romy Victoriano, Andy Relox, Dante Villaflores, Jay Ebora, Allan Sutarez, Arnel Codera, Noel Nuñez, Abdullah Sabig, Pat Mabanta, Bong Garan, Ferdie Arabit, Edgar Artugue, Caloy Borlaza, Edward of Iligan, Alfred of RKH Watch, Greg of Naseem Watch, Jun Abdulaziz of Sheefa Watch, Vic of Exit 8 Watch, Osang of RKH Watch, Dinan of Exit 9 Watch, Ricky of Umm’alhamam Watch, Jojo of UMIF, Mark and Rick Mercado of MEREX Forwarders, and Sinab Mabaning of International Philippine School in Riyadh.
Among the organizations or groups that helped were CMA, Juan!, Pusong Mamon Task Force (PMTF), Patnubay.com, MASA.com, Akbayan, Human Rights Watch, PAGASA (EP), APORAA, DABAW, Oasis, Rizal group, Akbayan, TUPA, Filipino employees of Saudi Oger, Filipino employees of STC, Olaya boys, , STC Boys Teletraffic, STC Boys CWO STC Boys GSM, STC BOYS Black Building, STC Boys Building 11, Black Phyton, Detecon Group, Future Generation Philippine School, Palm Crest International School.
OFW-SOS also acknowledged the help and cooperation of Philippine embassy and POLO officials and staff.
Abeto hoped that more action officers and volunteers would join the team to help resolve more cases. He said being part of the team has been a wonderful experience that cannot be bought by any amount of money.