A Primer for the

United Filipinos in Hong Kong (UNIFIL-HK)

 

Historical Background

During the dictatorial regime of Marcos, the Philippine economy was in state of "financial hemorrhage". Foreign and domestic debts soared high from a mere US$599 to a staggering US$28 billion.

Paying back these loans would mean that the country would have to generate as much needed foreign exchange as it can from its exports. However, with the continuing drop in the prices of exportable raw material, the Philippine government has marketed other exportable products, of which the most recent but very lucrative business is exporting "cheap labor". In exchange for dollars, the government is now aggressively peddling this "commodity" in the international market.

In the face of alarming Balance of Payments (BOP) deficits and huge external debt obligations, alongside the government's incapacity to generate much-needed foreign exchange, in 1982, the then Pres. Ferdinand Marcos issued Executive Order No. 857 (EO-857) or popularly known as the Forced Remittance. In this decree, all overseas contract workers (OCW) were compelled to remit 50% to 70% (depending on which category the workers belong to - whether seafarers, professionals, construction workers or domestic helpers) of their total earnings. The bill also prohibits the use of non-banking channels such as "pakidala" system and restricts OCW to remit "only through government-authorized channels". Those OCWs who can not produce proof of remittance amounting to 50% to 70% of their monthly earnings will face punitive acts such as losing their rights to renew their contracts, renew their passports, cancellation of working contracts and banning workers from the list of eligible workers for overseas employment. Since migrant workers are also spending part of their salary in the host country, remitting 70% of their salary is not as easy as it seems. Such punitive provisions forced Filipino migrant workers to borrow money from financing agencies and remit the money through banks for them to have remittance receipts as proof. The executive order makes remitting money a burden to OCWs.

While some Filipino migrants do not know how to oppose this decree, several Filipino migrant organizations were campaigning against EO-857. Picket-rallies were held outside the Philippine Consulate and in some parts of Central where there were big concentrations of Filipinos during Sundays, to propagate the anti-Forced Remittance sentiments among the migrant Filipinos in Hong Kong. These activities laid the grounds for a more effective action among the anti-EO-857 activists.

In 1984, eleven (11) Filipino migrant groups and organizations in Hong Kong formed themselves into a tactical alliance known as the United Filipinos Against Forced Remittance (UNFARE) to spearhead the campaign against EO-857. More picket-rallies were conducted with bigger mobilizations than before. Other forms of campaigning such as signature gathering, education and information drive and cultural presentations were launched to reach the widest number of Filipino migrants in Hong Kong. Internationally coordinated mass-actions were held through the network of Asia Pacific Mission for Migrant Filipinos (APMMF) combined with lobbying work made by women's organizations, groups of lawyers, trade unions and other cause-oriented groups and institutions in the Philippines.

In May 1st of 1985, due to continuing pressure from home and abroad, Pres. Marcos issued Executive Order No. 1021, abolishing the punitive provisions of EO-857 and declaring the "pakidala system" legal. The united efforts of the Filipinos in Hong Kong bore fruits. This victory over anti-Forced Remittance campaign is a concrete, glaring example that if we are united, we could make history.

Inspired by the gains in the campaign, the groups decided to formally form themselves into an alliance. In May 12th of 1985, under a new name, the United Filipinos in Hong Kong (UNIFIL-HK) was established with a broader perspective.

 

What is United Filipinos in Hong Kong (UNIFIL-HK)?

The United Filipinos in Hong Kong (UNIFIL-HK) is an alliance of Filipino migrant organizations in Hong Kong. Founded in May 12, 1985, it aims to consolidate Filipino migrant organizations into an alliance, raise consciousness of migrants on problems, issues and root causes of migration in the Philippines, and mobilize them to address the issues towards a resolute action. The member organizations are united in the struggle to defend the rights and welfare not only by migrant workers but also their families by upholding the struggle of the Filipino people for a society based on justice, lasting peace, social progress, independence and free from incursions of foreign elements.

 

Why is it necessary to form an alliance?

The experience of migrant organizations in Hong Kong in the campaign against EO-857 taught us the lesson of unity. Were it only a handful of organizations that stood up against the bill, we would not have been able to defeat this anti-migrant policy.

Like-minded organizations look for common purpose. Fostering cooperation and collective work among migrants is crucial in defending our common interest.

There is a certain sense of urgency for the different migrant organizations to bind themselves under the banner of the alliance. With the intensifying attack on our rights and welfare principally by our own government through its Labor Export Program (LEP) that makes us comparable to commodities for sale, the need to be united is for the best interest of each one of us. Only in our united strength can we defend ourselves.

 

What is expected from the members of the alliance?

Members are expected to attend the activities, join mass actions, participate on ongoing campaigns of the alliance and launch activities of their own in response to the general call of the alliance. It is also their duty to recruit new member organizations for the alliance.

Member organizations of UNIFIL-HK need to have representation in the Council of Representatives, the highest decision making body of the alliance between Congresses.

Moreover, as part of organizational responsibilities, members have to pay their monthly dues and their annual membership fee. The alliance also welcomes financial and material contributions from members.

 

What can member organizations get from joining the alliance?

As Filipino workers in a foreign land, our sense of patriotism drives us to join hands with our "kababayan". By joining the UNIFIL, we foster the sense of cooperation and solidarity among Filipino migrant workers.

The alliance's experience in leading campaigns against policies and regulations of the Philippine and Hong Kong governments victimizing migrant workers has proven that only in our united actions can we achieve our objectives. From the victorious struggle against the EO-857 up to the recent lowering of the authentication fees are concrete examples of our gains beneficial not only to members of the alliance but for the migrant Filipinos in general.

 

What are the activities of the alliance?

The activities of the alliance are determined by its member organizations through Congresses and Council of Representatives' meetings. Activities range from social encounters, welfare projects, education and training and campaigns for rights and welfare.

The alliance has its yearly activities such as (01) International Labor Day - May 1st, (02) International Women's Day - 9th of March, (03) Migrant's Day - November 4th, and (04) International Declaration of Human Rights - December 10th. Since majority of the Filipinos have Sundays as their rest days, the alliance usually hold its activities on the nearest Sundays of each of the mentioned commemorative days.

Aside from the regular yearly activities, the alliance also conducts from time to time picket-rallies, public forums, protest march and other forms of mass actions when actual condition requires.

 

Does UNIFIL work with migrant organizations of other nationalities?

Yes. The UNIFIL believes in the spirit of international solidarity. We share the same struggles with them against commodification of peoples and labor around the world by imperialism. It is important to coordinate and cooperate with migrant organizations of other nationalities to achieve this end.

In 1996, the UNIFIL, together with other organizations like the Far East Overseas Nepalese Association (FEONA), Association of Sri Lankans in Hongkong (ASL-HK), Friends of Thai (FOT) and Indonesian Group formed the Asian Migrant Coordinating Body (AMCB).

Through the AMCB, the UNIFIL works in solidarity with other migrants in defending and asserting our rights and welfare in the host countries. Just recently, the AMCB has been spearheading a campaign against the unjust proposal to cut wages of foreign domestic helpers in Hongkong.

 

What is the relation between the alliance and other institutions?

There are migrant serving institutions in Hong Kong that work closely with UNIFIL-HK. They are (01) The Mission for Filipino Migrant Workers (HK) Society (MFMW), (02) the Bethune House Migrant Women's Refuge (BH) and (03) the Asia Pacific Mission for Migrant Filipinos (APMMF).

The MFMW is a non-profit, non-stock institution that serves migrant workers in Hong Kong in their psychological, physical and employment related problems. They provide services such as counseling, para-legal training and in giving migrant orientation. Assistance to distressed migrant workers on their ongoing labor disputes with their employers such as preparing statements; legwork and referral to lawyers are also provided by the Mission.

The BH is women's refuge house put up by the MFMW to provide shelter to distressed Asian migrants. In this shelter, staffs and volunteers provide different type of skills training like handicrafts making, dress making, cultural arts and para-legal to the residents while they are waiting for the processing of their cases. Education on different migrant and national issues are also provided to residents of Bethune House. The residents of BH were organized as Friends of Bethune House (FBH), one of the member organizations of UNIFIL-HK.

The APMMF is a regional non-government institution who helps migrant Filipinos in Asia, Pacific and Middle East to get organize. They provide seminars and workshops, publish guidelines and brochures about organizing Filipinos abroad. They are also actively involved in campaigns against anti-migrant policies. Through their international network, campaigns against policies and regulations of the Philippine government or of the host countries victimizing migrant Filipinos, they are able to service migrant Filipinos in the region.

Though the UNIFIL is independent from these institutions, it is working closely with them. The MFMW, BH and APMMF are institutions who have long history of supporting UNIFIL-HK in its programs and activities. In fact, MFMW and APMMF helped in organizing the alliance way back in 1985.

 

What is the relation between UNIFIL-HK and MIGRANTE International?

MIGRANTE International is the global alliance of Filipino migrant organizations. With its Executive Committee based in Manila, MIGRANTE is in the forefront of Filipino migrant's struggle, spearheading campaigns against policies and regulations of the Philippine government victimizing migrant workers.

UNIFIL-HK and MIGRANTE have been long partners in launching campaigns, programs and activities. In fact, UNIFIL-HK was a member of the ad-hoc committee that started the process of the creation of MIGRANTE.

UNIFIL-HK is the principal partner of MIGRANTE in implementing its programs here in Hong Kong. They conduct consultations in issues affecting migrant Filipinos on a regular basis. Some members of UNIFIL-HK are also members of MIGRANTE. UNIFIL-HK encourages its members to also register as members of MIGRANTE International.


How can an organization be a member of UNIFIL-HK?

Any Filipino migrant organization in Hong Kong with no less than 20 registered members, will uphold the basis of unity and the constitution and by-laws of the alliance can apply to be a member of UNIFIL-HK.

 

You can reach UNIFIL-HK in:

United Filipinos in Hong Kong (UNIFIL-HK)
2/F., New Hall, St. John's Cathedral,
4-8 Garden Road, Central, Hong Kong SAR
Tel nos.: 2810-4379, 2522-8264
Fax no.: 2526-2894 E-mail:
execom@unifil.org.hk

[Back to Main]