After six years of advocating migrant rights abroad, the Duterte administration will step down with the assurance that reforms are now taking place in host countries to protect overseas workers, including Filipinos.
Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr., in a speech read by Foreign Affairs Undersecretary Ma. Theresa Lazaro at the Duterte Legacy Summit: Final Report to the People, said the Duterte administration was instrumental in the adoption of the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly, and Regular Migration (GCM).
GCM is the first intergovernmental negotiated, multilateral, non-binding instrument that addresses issues concerning migration.
Among others, the Philippines was able to make its voice heard in the international fora by openly denouncing the Kafala system, said the top diplomat.
“The DFA, guided by the instructions of President Duterte, actively advocated for the abolition of the Kafala system in the Middle East,” he said.
“We have made our voice heard in international fora and engaged with host governments to abolish this oppressive system. We welcome positive labor reforms in the Middle East resulting from this campaign,” he added.
Locsin said the Department of Foreign Affairs also provided direct assistance to affected overseas Filipinos by being at the forefront of the government’s anti-trafficking and anti-illegal recruitment efforts.
“We pursued cases to seek justice for victims of these crimes, the most visible of which are the cases pursued against the employers responsible for the deaths of OFWs Joanna Demafelis and Jeanelyn Villavende,” Locsin said.
In the face of an unprecedented global health pandemic, he said the DFA repatriated distressed Filipinos while contributing to national efforts in facilitating vaccine procurement.
Since March 2020, the top diplomat said almost half a million Filipinos were able to return home through DFA assistance.
“The safety, welfare and well-being of our overseas Filipinos is a shining star of the Duterte Legacy,” he said.
‘Friend to all, enemy to none’
Apart from promoting migrant rights, Locsin said the Philippine government pursued an independent foreign policy where the country is a “friend to all, enemy to none”.
“Through this, the Philippine Government strengthened existing ties with traditional partners while enhancing engagement with new and non-traditional partners in support of our national interests,” he said.
He also highlighted the Philippine chairmanship of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) in 2017, the summit of which was able to produce the “Asean Consensus on the Protection and Promotion of Migrant Workers.”
He hailed how the Philippines has leveraged its relationships with key partner countries, resulting in achievements “that were previously not thought possible.”
“Under this administration, we finally witnessed the return of the Balangiga Bells from the United States; a step forward in righting the wrongs and injustices of the past,” he said.
“In asserting our position as equal partners, the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) with the United States has been improved, as its implementing guidelines have been updated and clarified, to address current realities and to ensure parity and mutual respect with our only treaty ally,” he added.
Likewise, he said the Philippines was able to revitalize its relationship with China, demonstrated by the signing of 29 bilateral documents and agreements.
“We have instituted channels for candid discussions on security matters, including matters pertaining to the West Philippine Sea, and the mechanisms we established will continue to be essential to maintaining constructive bilateral dialogue,” he said, referring to the Bilateral Consultative Mechanism on the South China Sea.
While engaging the two superpowers, Locsin said the Philippines still actively engaged and deepened relations with other key bilateral partners such as Japan, Korea, India, Australia, the European Union, Saudi Arabia, and Israel, among others.
“As we start a new chapter in our nation’s history, we hope to build upon these initiatives in response to an ever-changing and complex international landscape and mindful of the specific thrusts of our incoming Chief Architect of Philippine foreign policy,” he said. (PNA)