On the next weekend on Oct. 13, during the 18th anniversary dinner party of Markham Federation of Filipino Canadians, a total of $7,500 was raised including the $6,500 donated by the Alex Chiu Charities to the Dunluan fund.
Word quickly spread about the campaign. On Sunday, Oct. 14, the Jocelyn Dulnuan Support Committee together with the San Lorenzo Ruiz Parish held a “Light a Candle for Jocelyn Memorial Mass" with Fr. Ariel Dumaran officiating at the St. Simon the Apostle Anglican Church on Bloor St. East . It was attended by about 200 people.
The memorial mass was a touching event, with speaker after speaker expressing profound sadness for Jocelyn's passing away and support to the effort to seek justice for her. Levy Abad, a musical artist and leader of Philippine Advocacy for the Arts in Canada (PATAC), wondered aloud why Filipinos have to go overseas for work leaving their families behind to be able to feed them.
This observation touches the very root of the predicament of tens of thousands of Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) in Canada and millions of them in more than a hundred countries. This labor export policy of the Philippines, started by Marcos in massive numbers in the 70s and 80s and pushed even more aggressively by the current Arroyo government (one million OFWs leaving per year is the goal) has led to countless cases of deaths, physical abuse, rape, unpaid wages, substitution of contracts, unpaid extended hours of work, etc. You name any imaginable exploitation of labor and the OFWs have experienced it. It is estimated that that an average of eight corpses of OFWs arrive at the Philippine airports everyday. That exceeds many fold the number of war deaths suffered by Canada in Iraq and Afghanistan combined. And we're not even mourning them? If this is not horrible, what is?
About 3,000 Filipinos leave daily to work overseas. There are about eight million (10 percent of the national population) of these OFWs. They remit $12 billion a year which keeps the Philippine economy afloat. Yet they are among the most exploited labor force of the country and the most neglected. What a way to treat people who were described by Cory Aquino as “modern heroes” and by Gloria Arroyo as “overseas Filipino investors.”
But going back to the case of Dulnuan. The Philippine Consulate suffered a setback when it was published in the mainstream media that it refused to help in the repatriation of the body of Dulnuan to the Philippines . It said these were “misleading reports”. But two relatives of Dulnuan, including Imie Belanger, said they were told at the consulate basically three things: the consulate has no budget for the repatriation; Dulnuan is not an active member of OWWA (Overseas Workers Welfare Administration); and that they should instead raise funds in the community.
This has been the standard response of the consulate staff when similarly approached in the past. Various migrant worker groups and relatives of dead live-in caregivers in Toronto would attest to this. These groups are frustrated at this cookie-cutter response and see it as an absolute lack of concern for the OFWs.
Michelle Landsberg, famous feminist activist and former columnist of Toronto Star wrote a letter to the editor denouncing the consulate for its “despicable attitude.”
On Wednesday, Oct. 10, after requests from us for the consulate to send us a copy of their press release read on the Oct. 6 press conference in Vaughan , John Reandino said on the phone that there is a revised press release to be sent later that day (Oct. 10). The revised statement said the consulate has “sufficient funds” to repatriate Dulnuan's remains to the Philippines .
The consulate deserves to be commended for this move and it is hoped that it will continue to assist in meeting similar needs of OFWs in the future. But there needs to be a system in place to avoid the frustration experienced by migrant groups and relatives of dead OFWs in Toronto .
The issue of repatriation on the Dulnuan case is now over. The great challenge now that faces the Filipino community and the Philippine government representatives in Canada : to seek justice for Dulnuan until it is achieved.
The Philippine embassy and the consulate in Toronto have the primary responsibility to protect the interests of its nationals in Canada . In fact, the Department of Foreign Affairs of the Philippines had issued a press statement saying the consulate should act so that justice be served and repatriation of Dulnuan be carried out.
I remember months ago, Ambassadot to Canada Jose Brillantes said in a breakfast meeting with the Philippine Press Club-Ontario that the third pillar of the Philippine foreign policy was the protection of the OFWs due to their enormous contribution to their country.
With all these policy pronouncements, there is no reason why tension should build up on the question of repatriation every time an OFW dies in Toronto . As to the question of funds, check this: According to a Migrante statement, the DFA has a reported repatriation fund of P45 million and the OWWA fund is reported to be at P8 billion. Also, according to the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas, overseas Filipino workers in Canada remitted approximately $591 million last year.
Although it is the Philippine government's obligation to protect the interests of its nationals in Canada , it is the moral responsibility of the Filipino community to be vigilant in helping so that Filipino nationals' rights and interests are defended and protected. We belong to one community here and the interest of one is the interest of all. These OFWs are vulnerable in foreign lands like Canada and those of us who have established ourselves here are in a better position to help out.
If only the countless Filipino organizations in their hundreds that fill the community news of our local papers in their endless inductions, parties, picnics, fiestas and festivals, if only they can band together to help our OFWs by pressing and working with the Philippine government representatives here to act quickly and decisively every time cases like those of Dulnuan, Pailanan, Tejada, etc. happen in our midst. If only we can begin to realize that we can not depend on anyone but ourselves to take care of our community and OFWs.
We have started in the case of Jeffrey Reodica and other similar cases before him, we now have the case of Jocelyn in our hands. Let us meet the challenge by seeking justice for her.
For a start, let us think about the following questions that need attention in the case of Jocelyn:
1. Why were some of the organizers of the Jocelyn Dulnuan Support Committee told by police authorities not to talk about the case in the community?
2. Why were they questioned why they had to hold a press conference?
3. Why was the list of viewers of Dunluan's body limited to 20?
4. Why were those in the list told not to talk to the media about what they would see in the viewing?
5. Why was the viewing schedule not announced even to those in the list until the last minute?
6. Why is the police tight-lipped about the circumstances and other information about the murder of Dulnuan until now, two weeks after the incident?
7. Why is the investigation not pursuing the statement of Dulnuan's husband about Jocelyn's telephone call shortly before she was murdered?
8. Why don't we see any visible effort on the part of the Philippine government to pursue justice for Dulnuan? After her body is repatriated, will Jocelyn's death be forgotten and her killer(s) not pursued seriously unlike if it were a highly-placed citizen who was murdered?
9. How many more Dunluans will it take ‘till we know “That too many people have died”? (With apologies to Bob Dylan.)