MANILA, MAY 8, 2007 (STAR) There is no ban on the deployment of Filipino workers in Nigeria. But after eight Filipino workers were kidnapped together with three South Korean executives on Thursday last week in the southern part of Nigeria, Manila ordered the evacuation of all the other Filipinos from that country. The captives were working on a construction site for a power plant.

Even if Manila imposed a deployment ban in Nigeria, the numerous job opportunities in the oil-rich country are likely to prove irresistible for Filipinos seeking employment abroad. Not even the stories of beatings and starvation while in captivity, narrated by one of the hostages, are likely to dissuade Filipinos from accepting jobs in Nigeria.

Filipinos have also defied the government’s travel ban in Iraq. Among the most prominent of these workers are truck driver Angelo de la Cruz, whose abduction by Iraqi gunmen forced Manila to withdraw its token humanitarian contingent from Iraq, as well as the worker who died in a rocket attack on the Green Zone last week.

After De la Cruz was rewarded with a hero’s welcome plus a house and lot and scholarships for his children for his defiance, it was inevitable that other workers would follow in his footsteps. Nearly three years after his abduction, Filipinos continue to defy the travel ban, risking their lives and then expecting their government to bail them out when they run into trouble.

This need not be the case. There are ways of effectively enforcing a deployment ban. One is by revoking the license of any recruiter who defies the ban or goes around it by sending workers to Iraq through a circuitous route to avoid detection. Apart from losing his license, the recruiter should be required to pay stiff fines and face criminal charges for human trafficking.

The government must launch an aggressive information campaign about the deployment ban. Any worker who willfully defies the ban should also be punished. Recidivists should be meted the heaviest penalty: immediate repatriation if he is abroad, and a permanent prohibition from working overseas. Unless recruiters and workers alike are made to realize that disregarding a deployment ban carries penalties too heavy to make it worth the risk, we will continue to see Filipinos in trouble spots around the world finding themselves in the wrong place, at the wrong time.

Government won’t negotiate directly with Nigerian hostage takers The Philippine Star 05/08/2007

The Philippine government has rejected appeals to directly negotiate with Nigerian gunmen holding hostages eight of its nationals and three South Koreans.

Brushing off calls by relatives of some of the hostages for direct talks, Foreign Undersecretary Esteban Conejos said they would rely on the Nigerian government to bring an end to the crisis.

A day earlier, one of the Filipino hostages appealed for help in a recorded radio message, saying they were being beaten and starved by their captors in a Nigerian jungle.

The recorded message could be "an attempt to sow panic among us especially to raise the anxiety level of the families here," Conejos said.

In the recording aired by dzBB radio, one of the Filipino hostages said they feared for their lives and urged the government to contact the kidnappers because "every single hour is important."

But in the same recording, a heavily accented voice could be heard in the background telling the hostage what to say.

Conejos said Nigerian government negotiators have contacted the gunmen who seized the eight Filipino workers and three South Korean executives last week from a Daewoo Engineering and Construction site in the oil-rich African nation’s southern delta region.

"We have agreed – the South Korean government, Daewoo and the Philippine government – that we will not be dragged into a negotiation, separate or tripartite with the kidnappers," Conejos told reporters.

"We have been assured by the Nigerian government that all of our eight OFWs (overseas Filipino workers) are sound and in good condition," Conejos said.

He stressed that only the Nigerian government was authorized to enter into talks with the kidnappers, whose identities and demands remain unknown.

Conejos said he met with the families of the hostages yesterday to brief them on the talks, and appealed to the press to avoid being used by the kidnappers in advancing their interests.

Philippine diplomats were also working closely with South Korean officials on the ground in Nigeria.

Meanwhile, 26 of 45 Filipinos who also worked in the Daewoo compound were flown home to Manila yesterday while the rest were scheduled to return today, Conejos said. – Pia Lee-Brago, AFP

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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