Lift the Deployment Ban for Filipinos in Afghanistan sign now

The Afghanistan ban was imposed as a result of the kidnapping by the Taliban of Angelito Nayan in October 2004. Nayan is a Filipino diplomat who was then working with the United Nations to monitor elections in Afghanistan. His kidnapping, similar to that of Filipino truck driver Angelo dela Cruz in Iraq a few months earlier, grabbed the attention of Filipinos. He was subsequently released. The ban notwithstanding, there are around 5,000 Filipinos (some reports peg the figure at 7,000) working in Afghanistan.

There is no denying the risks associated with working in Afghanistan. Before accepting a job in Kabul, I inquired about my employers risk mitigation measures for its staff. I was told that Ill live in a fortified and heavily-guarded villa, work in a similarly well-guarded office, and travel in an armored vehicle. And for the first time in my life, I had to wear an armored vest on my way to work. I understand that many other Filipino workers have similar, if not tighter, security arrangements in their own projects.

To be sure, security arrangements are not fail-safe. Last October 2009, a guest house for United Nations employees in Kabul was attacked. Five of the UN employees were killed, one of them a Filipina. As the guest house was near our own, my employer evacuated us to Delhi for several days. A few months later, a helicopter carrying Filipino workers exploded mid-air in Kandahar, killing many of those on board. More recently, a Filipino security staff of a Usaid project in Kunduz was injured in an attack that killed four of his colleagues.

But compare these figures with the latest statistics on hijackings in Somali waters: The recent hijacking brings to 81 the number of Filipinos currently held captive by pirates: 18 on board the MT Motivator, three on board the FV Tai Yuan 227, 19 on board the MV Eleni P, one on board the MV Iceberg 1, 19 on board the MT Samho Dream, and 21 on board the MV Voc Daisy, DFA records showed.

Im not sure if there are comparable security arrangements for seafarers working in vessels that pass through the Horn of Africa. The frequency of hijackings seems to indicate otherwise. In any case, the Philippine government seems comfortable with the practice of vessel owners or their representatives negotiating with pirates for the release of Filipino seafarers. It does not seem comfortable, however, with the idea of having another Angelito Nayan.

Why do Filipinos opt to work in Afghanistan despite the danger? The answer, I suppose, is not very different from the answer of seafarers who opt to work in vessels passing through the Horn of Africa. Almost every week, there is a report of a vessel getting hijacked by Somali pirates. But this does not seem to deter Filipino seafarers from working in those vessels. And this does not seem serious enough for the Philippine government to impose a ban on deployment of seafarers to work in vessels that pass through those waters.

I am not calling for a ban on deployment of seafarers. Far from it. My point is that there is a differential treatment by the Philippine government between two classes of workers that are more or less similarly situated. Deployment of seafarers is allowed, and they enjoy the protection of the Philippine government. Deployment of workers to Afghanistan is banned, and Filipinos who work there are left on their own.

It is curious though that the Philippine government does not prohibit remittances coming from workers in Afghanistan. If we assume that each of the reported 5,000 Filipinos in Afghanistan remits an average of $1,000 per month, we are looking at $60 million in annual remittances from those workers. Thats P2.7 billion in annual contribution to the Philippine economy. Allowing those remittances to come in without providing protection to their sources is akin to saying, Your money that helps keep the Philippine economy afloat is welcome, but we will not protect you.

It is high time for the Philippine government to revisit the ban. It is ironic that Indonesia, which has less than 1,000 nationals in Afghanistan, maintains an embassy in Kabul, whereas a country that has 5,000 workers in the country does not even have a consulate there. The reality is that as long as there are not enough opportunities for Filipinos in their own country, they will look for those opportunities elsewhere, even in dangerous places.

Opportunities abound in dangerous postings like Afghanistan precisely because not many people are willing to work in risky areas. When you add the fact that Filipinos skills in rebuilding a post-conflict society are in high demand, the influx of Filipino workers to Afghanistan becomes understandable. It is not fair for the government to provide protection to some overseas workers and not to others. The Philippine government should lift the ban. (Source: http://globalnation.inquirer.net/viewpoints/viewpoints/view/20100712-280642/Lift-the-deployment-ban-to-Afghanistan)

We, the undersigned, hereby petition for the lifting of the Deployment Ban for Filipinos in Afghanistan.

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George CarrBy:
Entertainment and MediaIn:
Petition target:
Philippine House of Representatives, House of Senate, President of the Philippines, Vice President of the Philippines, Department of Foreign Affairs-Philippines, Philippine Overseas Employment Agency

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