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Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) are rightly revered in the Philippines, considered as heroes and heroines. And whenever I am at Ninoy Aquino International Airport in Manila, I realise why. It’s not just about their economic contribution, it’s also about humanity. One simply cannot be untouched by the alternating emotions of the Arrivals and Departure halls, respectively. Reunions. Farewells. Joy. Sadness. Humanity stripped bare. – The Moodie Blog, February 13, 2013
Every time any international brand executive celebrates a successful year’s business at Duty Free Philippines they should stop to consider the human stories that lie behind every every sale, every unit, ever customer.
Most of Duty Free Philippines’ sales are to so-called OFWs – Filipinos working abroad who expect to return permanently when their contract overseas expires or they retire.
It is estimated that between 9.5 million and 12.5 million Filipinos work or reside abroad, about 11% of the population – many of them classified as OFWs. Collectively the money they remit home represents a staggering 13.5% of the country’s GDP, the largest percentage of any country in the world.
Many of those OFWs work in duty free, led by a huge contingent at Dubai Duty Free and other Middle Eastern travel retailers. There they enjoy pleasant working conditions, decent accommodation and excellent treatment. But as I have written in this Blog before, many others are not so lucky and the newspapers in the Philippines abound with stories of abuse that OFWs have suffered abroad.
Just in case you doubt me, let me point you to a tragic story this week from GMA News, an online site for Filipinos home and abroad. The headline reads ‘Remains of Pinay found dead in Bahrain shelter brought home to Philippines’.
The report tells the harrowing story of OFW Kathleen Ann Viray Ilagan, 31, whose body was delievered this week to Ninoy Aquino International Airport. Earlier this month Kathleen was found hanging in a bathroom at the Philippine embassy’s shelter for abused domestic workers.
I guess we’ll never find out why she hung herself (or indeed if she even did, as her family are calling for an inquiry into the circumstances of death), nor how she had been abused, let alone the identity of any perpetrator of such abuse.
Kathleen will just become another statistic, a number, an unlucky victim of being the wrong OFW in the wrong place at the wrong time. All because she had the combination of immense courage and sheer financial need to go and work abroad in a distant land and alien culture, simply to provide for her family.
I always, always admire how respectfully Duty Free Philippines treats its OFW customers, recognising their immense sacrifices and contribution to society. If only the rest of the world would display such humanity.
So farewell Kathleen Ann Viray Ilagan. It is no solace now but however, wherever, whenever you died, you died a heroine.