Saturday, April 23, 2011

Filipino Workers' victories and struggles celebrated in NY as May Day nears

Philippine Forum-NewYork/
http://nafconusa.org
NEWS RELEASE
21 April 2011

Reference: Anne Beryl Corotan; National Chairperson of NAFCON Youth Alliance, SANDIWA
Contact Info: sandiwa.national@gmail.com, info@nafconusa.org, (718) 5658862


NEW YORK -- On March 30, 2011, the "Justice for Sentosa 27++ Nurses" campaign has reached another milestone. US District Judge Joseph Bianco allowed a civil rights lawsuit to proceed against defendants Suffolk District Attorney Thomas Spota, his top assistant Leonardo Lato and the Sentosa Care nursing home firm. The suit states that defendants conspired to prosecute in retaliation for the mass resignation of the nurses from Sentosa Care last 2007. This decision puts more armor as the nurses and Atty. Felix Vinluan, the lawyer who was charged of conspiracy with the nurses, stride forward in struggling for justice and victory.

“I am happy with the recent developments. This is what we've hoped for in the first place but at the same time I can’t help feel a tinge of fear -- fear of the unknown and uncertainty. I do, however, console myself that we've always had truth as our guide and a myriad of support system as our shield,” says Archiel Buagas, one of the former nurses of Sentosa Care.

The Sentosa Nurses' Saga


The story unfolds in 2006 when the Sentosa 27++ (26 nurses and 1 physical therapist, and more healthworkers came out after) held a massive resignation from their health care facilities in protest of contract violations that Sentosa recruitment agency has committed against them. In retaliation, the Sentosa agency filed administrative and criminal charges, such as patient endangerment, against the health workers. Sentosa agency also charged Atty. Felix Vinluan with conspiracy for allegedly advising them on the resignation.

In 2007, the full blown campaign, "Justice for Sentosa 27++", spearheaded by the health workers, Atty. Vinluan and the National Alliance for Filipino Concerns (NAFCON), garnered support from all over the United States, in the Philippines and in a global scale. The strong collective strength, support and work of the community, various organizations and the bond between the healthworkers forged the way into sharply bringing attention to the case and the campaign.

"From the start, we, in NAFCON, have always believed that the nurses and Atty. Vinluan will win this fight. It may have taken years and a lot of strength and courage from the nurses and Atty. Vinluan to carry on with the big fight against this big company with its big political backers. But with collective action within the community, we have succeeded not just in achieving these gradual victories, but also in bringing awareness to the public that these kinds of abuses happen to our fellow Filipino migrant workers and that there are institutions which must be held accountable," states Jonna Baldres, Community Action Director for Philippine Forum-New York and NAFCON-US North East Coordinator.

On January 13, 2009, the Appellate Division of the New York Supreme Court, Second Department issued a writ prohibiting the criminal prosecution as it violates the nurses’ 13th Amendment right against involuntary servitude and Vinluan’s 1st Amendment right to free speech. It was at this time that the campaign of Sentosa 27++ was relaunched to “up the ante”.

On May 20, 2010, the New York Supreme court through Judge Stephen A. Bucaria denied Sentosa Care’s motion for summary judgment in the breach of contract case against the health workers. The court at this time also invalidated the enforceability of Sentosa Care’s claim for liquidated damages of $25,000.00 upon employee’s termination of the contract.

Victory for the Sentosa 27++ but the fight continues

These back to back victories, leading up to the most recent, were made possible by collective actions, committed support and unyielding passion to struggle for truth and justice. The fight has claimed victories but for the health workers, Atty. Vinluan, and the community, the fight is still far from over.

"The case of the Sentosa nurses is just a start. We have Leticia Moratal, Jacqueline Aguirre, Arizona 34 and hundreds more who have come out to give voice to the abused and trafficked migrant workers. And we will continue to fight and we believe we will win these struggles eventually as the community rallies behind us. We have seen it with the case of the Sentosa nurses, we believe we will witness more victories with the cases of the other trafficked victims," said Atty. Vinluan.

At present, NAFCON is handling more than a hundred cases of labor trafficking nationwide through its Stop Trafficking Our People (STOP) Campaign. Victims of Philippine-based recruitment agencies have come to the United States mostly on H2B visas, were promised certain provisions by the employers but were moved somewhere else and ended up working on different and inhumane conditions. With the neglect of employers and not having been given proper assistance by the Philippine government, the workers are oftentimes forced to deal with loss of status, making them more vulnerable and subject to criminalization by state forces.

"As long as the Labor Export Program (LEP) -- the policy of the Philippine government of sending away its people to other countries for profit -- is in effect, these types of abuses, such as what happened to the Sentosa nurses and the other trafficked victims, will persist. The current Philippine administration under President Aquino promised to increase jobs at home, and increase aid to Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) abroad. The challenge still remains until fruition is seen. We, in NAFCON, join the people in demanding from the Philippine government the generation of domestic jobs by pursuing genuine agrarian reforms and development of national industries so that the citizenry are no longer forced to decide and leave the country," states Baldres.

Call to rise up and speak out on May Day

Today, OFWs still suffer from worsening work conditions, abuse and government neglect. In its commitment to fight for workers' rights, NAFCON calls on all members of the community to stand up and let their voices be heard.

On April 24, member organizations of NAFCON such as Kabalikat Domestic Workers' Support Network and Philippine Forum, among others, will be marching for labor and human rights with the Independent Workers Movement and other migrant workers organizations. The march will start at the Bayanihan Filipino Community Center (40-21 69th St Woodside, NY) at 12nn.

“NAFCON is firmly committed to protect the rights and welfare of our kababayans in the United States. We will continue to fight until all demands are achieved. We demand Justice for Sentosa 27++. We demand to STOP trafficking our people. We demand an end to LEP. We demand legalization for all. We want justice for all migrant workers,” firmly positioned by Baldres.

On May 1st for the International Workers' May Day, together with the May 1st Coalition and other migrant and labor organizations and unions, we will march to stand up for workers and im/migrants' rights. Program will start 12nn at Union Square.

“It is the truth, we are the masses, we are the grassroots and we are the common. We blend in because we are one. Those in power are only as good as those that lift them up. We are their life source but oftentimes, they forget that the lowliest of us can also be their greatest strength. People need not live in shadows anymore, they have the option of speaking out and making things better for others. We might not see the effects now but I’m hoping in the near future, the lives of future workers and immigrants will be better because we insisted our voices be heard,” Buagas ended. ####

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The National Alliance for Filipino Concerns [NAFCON] is a national multi-issue alliance of Filipino organizations and individuals in the United States serving to protect the rights and welfare of Filipinos by fighting for social, economic, and racial justice and equality. It was launched in San Jose California in 2003. At present, NAFCON member organizations encompass over 23 cities in the United States.

Please visit nafconusa.org for more information on NAFCON and its campaigns. To join the NAFCON news list, please send a request to info@nafconusa.org.

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