Iglesia Filipina Independiente
1500 Taft Avenue, Ermita, Manila, Philippines
Serving and Witnessing with the Filipino Migrant Workers
Pastoral Message of the Obispo Maximo
on the Occasion of the IFI's 113 Proclamation Anniversary
"Jesus came to
Samaria in a town called Sychar, near the plot of ground Jacob gave to his son
Joseph. Jacob's well was there, and Jesus, tired as he was from the journey,
sat down by the well. It was about noon. When a Samaritan woman came to draw
water, Jesus said to her, "will you give me a drink?" The Samaritan
woman said to him, "you are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you
ask me for a drink?" Jesus answered her, "if you knew the gift of God
and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would
have given you living water." (John 4:5-10)
The Philippines, for
the last 50 years, is a leading nation in sending its own people as migrant
workers overseas. Joblessness, or the lack of adequate employment, in the
country has triggered the diaspora of millions of Filipinos to many parts of
This diaspora now
counts to 15 million overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) or about 10% of the country’s
population and approximately a third of the country's labor force. They are employed
as domestic workers, medical assistants, construction workers, maritime
workers, information technology experts, among other kinds of jobs, in Europe,
the Middle East, East Asia, Australia and North America.
Data from the
Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) state that under President Benigno
Simeon Aquino, the number of OFWs leaving the country has increased. From the
2,500 Filipinos leaving the country everyday in 2009, deployment abroad jumped to
6,092 daily in early 2015.
For the last three
decades, more women are leaving the country. They are mostly employed as
household workers, where they are vulnerable to exploitative working
conditions. This reflects a gender shift in the nature of labor migration
compared to the 1970s, where mostly male Filipinos left the country to work in construction
development is the increase in number of Filipino sea-based overseas workers.
The Philippines is now the biggest provider of seafarers to international
shipping companies. Seafarers compose a special sector of OFWs sailing the global
waters on foreign ships and primarily working as deck hands, cabin cleaners,
engine room machinist and oilers, and cooks aboard tankers, cargo ships and
Estimated at around
400,000, the Filipino seafarers is a major sector of OFWs that contribute to
Philippine economy and to global trade. In 2014 alone, the Bangko Sentral ng
Pilipinas said seafarers' remittance reached $5.6 billion. However, Filipino
seafarers are hired for contractual and temporary employment, receive low wages
and suffer from poor labor and safety standards aboard foreign ships. They
suffer from unfair labor practices and exploitation and left with almost no
protection at all from the Philippine government.
Instead of addressing
the roots of labor migration, the government institutionalized exporting its
own people and is now a major economic policy of the state.
greatly contributes to the growth of the Philippine economy. The Bangko Sentral
ng Pilipinas noted the growth of 6.2 percent increase in OFW remittance in 2014
at the all-time high of $26.93 billion, breaking the previous record of of
$25.35 billion posted in 2013.
For this, OFWs were
hailed as “modern-day heroes” for keeping the country’s economy afloat at the
expense of leaving their families behind to work overseas. But despite their
contributions, the state provided inadequate support to OFWs. Migrante
International, a global alliance of migrant Filipinos, has long complained of
"government’s neglect and incompetence."
said "series of executions of OFWs on death row, the biggest number so far
under one regime, are glaring examples of just how insincere, insensitive and
inept the Aquino government is in upholding and securing the protection and
welfare of our workers overseas, while ironically also showcasing a more
blatant and unapologetic labor export policy that exploits our OFWs’ cheap
labor and influx of remittances but sadly offers them nothing in return,
especially in times of need."
documented 123 OFWs on death row and at least 7,000 in jail, many of whom were
arrested, detained and go through court proceedings without an embassy-retained
lawyer or no lawyer at all. OFWs, as a result, are deprived of due process and
go straight to jail without any legal assistance from the Philippine
narratives of Filipinos in diaspora all point to the same end -- the government
has repeatedly failed to show any genuine concern and response to the plight of
OFWs in distress, and abandoning them in times of crisis and emergency.
The Iglesia Filipina
Independiente, as a Church witnessing with migrants, is concerned with the
plight of Filipinos in diaspora and their families left behind. We commend the
sacrifices of migrant workers in behalf of their families and their
contribution to the Philippine society. We share their pain living in a land
far away from their loved ones and working under harsh conditions. We feel
their anguish as they fall victims to various forms of exploitation, discrimination
and rights violations.
Looking at their
situation with a perspective of social justice, development, and human rights,
we strongly believe that OFWs plight will worsen and their rights disregarded
as long as the government intensify its labor export policy. The protection of
OFWs' rights and welfare should manifest in the creation of jobs and just wages
in the country, regulated control of the prices of basic commodities in the
domestic market, and the provision of adequate social services to the poor,
which will put a stop to forced migration.
We strongly believe
that domestic poverty is the principal factor behind forced migration. The
government should be cognizant of the need to protect the national economy and
domestic market from the abuse of foreign capital which exploits the Filipino
workers' cheap labor. We take our stand that the only way to resolve forced
migration - and the complex web of social and economic conflicts in the country
- is to address the root causes of poverty in the country through genuine land
reform and national industrialization.
The Iglesia Filipina
Independiente, therefore, in this regard, opens its doors for a continuing
dialogue with OFWs to become a sacrament of the aspirations of the Filipinos in
diaspora for a Philippine society where families need not be separated by
poverty and social inequality, where labor and persons need not be commodified
in the altar of a globalized capitalist economy and market as millions of fathers
and mothers, sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, seek a brighter future
for their loved ones.
The Iglesia Filipina
Independiente selflessly offers herself as "Church in service and
witness" for and with all the Filipino migrants throughout the world, and
journeys in special solidarity with them towards the promotion of justice,
development and dignity in response to the phenomenon of forced migration. With
this commitment, we will seek the cooperation of Churches in different parts of
the world in serving the Filipinos in diaspora and in witnessing with them, in
the spirit of solidarity and hospitality in the affirmation of human dignity
and the universality of human rights.
The Samaritan woman
drawing water from Jacob's well at noon time icons the millions of mothers and daughters
and sisters among Filipino migrant workers who have left their homes to draw
water for their families from a well far from home. It was the need for water
that drives them outside the shelter of their homes, to carry the heavy potted
jar over their heads, walking the distance under the heat of the scorching
But the Samaritan
woman finds Jesus sitting next to the well. Jesus asks her for a drink and told
her he can make her drink living water. She is expecting for water but she is
offered the living water. This images the dialectic encounter between our
mostly women OFWs with their host country whom they make to drink from their
potted jar, and from whom they draw water for their living.
But Jesus by the well
represents the encounter between the Churches overseas and the Filipino
migrants. The image gives expression to Churches welcoming migrants and
offering pastoral and spiritual care to migrants. The challenge of Christ
appearing and revealing himself to the Samaritan woman by the well serves as
the foundation for the mission of the Churches in addressing the structural
phenomenon of global labor migration and in offering solidarity and hospitality
to migrant workers.
Let us, therefore,
celebrate the 113th proclamation anniversary of the Iglesia Filipina
Independiente in service to and in witness together with the Filipino migrant
workers in diaspora all over the global world.
† Most Revd Ephraim S. Fajutagana