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A true priority?

TIME WAS when our diplomats looked upon overseas contract workers or OCWs (the term used before former president Fidel Ramos urged its replacement with “overseas Filipino workers” or OFWs), as mere annoyances and inconveniences.

I remember one diplomat decrying some decades ago that the members of the foreign service had been “degraded” into nannies who had to look after the plight and problems of overseas workers such as domestics, construction workers and even entertainers. Diplomats, said the former Department of Foreign Affairs official, should be focused on such high-minded concerns as foreign relations and foreign policy and not on such “small” matters as the problems of workers abroad.

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But a series of controversies—most notable of which, I think, was the execution of Flor Contemplacion in Singapore—brought our diplomats’ indifference into focus. “Burned” by the people’s anger at Contemplacion’s fate, the DFA announced it was retooling its policies and giving “priority” to the “care of nationals,” especially OFWs, which has previously been only a consular concern.

One wonders, though, if the change of heart has really been genuine enough to penetrate into the DFA’s DNA, into making the “care of nationals” a true priority in the list of the foreign affairs department’s concerns.

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One need only take a look at recent history and the spate of criminal cases filed against OFWs. Too often, the alarm is raised and media attention is focused on the worker—legal or illegal—in need only when he/she is facing the death penalty. Then everyone is seen to be “moving heaven and earth” to spare the Filipino’s life, with even the president personally intervening in the case.

But one wonders: What had the DFA and its representatives, and the lawyers they were supposedly talking to, been doing in the time before the affairs headed toward the deadly juncture?

Shouldn’t the embassy involved, and the higher-ups at home, have been exerting all possible efforts to come to the OFWs’ aid long before the first hearing or sentencing? All too often, the DFA is seen to act only when a sentence has been handed down, and then all that’s left for the government to do is to delay or mitigate the punishment.

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MY impression is that the “priority” given to overseas workers reaches only as far as lip service, a declaration with little bite or substance and not backed by any sense of urgency or concern.

Otherwise, we wouldn’t see so many cases of Filipinos getting into trouble abroad, ending up behind bars, languishing in obscurity if not anonymity, despairing of any real form of legal aid or even just advice.

But should we wonder about this situation when right here at home, the DFA cannot even act against a foreign power flouting our laws and regulations, and making a spectacle of our legal processes?

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During the recent hearing on the proposed DFA budget, a member of Congress brought up her years-long issue against a foreign government which had leased her property for use as its official residence and then left it in disarray. Despite years of legal proceedings, the case is still languishing in limbo, and the DFA has proven to be of little help, showing little inclination to step in or intercede on the lawmaker’s behalf. No action abroad, and no action at home—will the next foreign affairs secretary prove to be any better?

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WE spent part of our Sunday outing at Luntiang Republika (Green Republic), a farm run by the couple Hilda and Ed Cleofe in Taywanak Ilaya, Alfonso, Cavite.

Hilda met us at the gate of their farm and, despite wearing a special boot for her broken foot, proceeded to tour us through their vegetable plots and animal pens that housed native pigs, ducks, geese, chickens and turkeys.

The Cleofes are not your “typical” farmers. They are trained development workers who, in their retirement, decided to give their “green” advocacy to practical use. In Luntiang Republika’s website, they declare their belief in “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of the future generations to meet their own needs.”

This principle is put into operation mainly by the use of “a greener and sustainable way of farming,” translated into “letting nature do its job, farming that does not harm the land, and not taking away (what) we cannot give back.”

For instance, their native pigs are housed in a rough wooden enclosure that has about a meter-deep flooring of rice hulls (ipa), which is mucked and cleared out every few months. The waste products are then kept in a compost pit and used to fertilize the vegetables and other vegetation in the farm. And despite this setup, the pig pen doesn’t smell nasty at all, since the pigs are fed only organic vegetables.

Say the Cleofes: “The farm is a sanctuary where we recharge our tired bodies after a full week spent in the city and in the suburbs.”

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WE saw no greater proof of Luntiang Republika’s advocacy than during the lunch they served to our group of 15, including a pugon-baked cochinillo that we recognized as a sibling of the piglets running around the pigpen. The lechon was tender and tasted clean as only a truly organic-bred pig could. I especially liked the laing flavored with coconut milk and a hint of chili, while the bulalo had tender beef chunks and sweet corn cobs.

On weekends, we are told, a team from Luntiang Republika vends fresh and bottled and dried goods from the farm, including herbal teas, tuyo, tea concoctions and even fresh buko. Orders may be picked up at the Ayala Alabang Saturday Market until 12 noon, or visit their website at www.luntiangrepublika.com.

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TAGS: Diplomacy, Fidel Ramos, Flor Contemplacion, Overseas Filipino Workers
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