Spreading our Wings

by Beryl Cruspero

One of the core services of Batis Center for Women in its more than twenty years of existence is organizing of its women clients. In the Women Empowerment Program, the women are helped to regain their self-confidence having been in distressed situations. Activities such as advocacy campaigns and awareness raising activities such as workshops, trainings and discussions on women’s issues and rights are just some of the activities conducted for them.

In 2007, Batis Center took a major leap when it decided to go into community organizing in order to reach a wider range of women migrants and their families. From being a center-based institution and catering only to walk-in or referred clients, it broadened its scope of work to extend its services and programs to the grassroots level. In an internal study conducted, it was established that majority of the women who sought Batis Center’s services were from the provinces of Bulacan, Nueva Ecija and Ilocos Sur. These three provinces were also identified as top sending provinces for undocumented migrants based on the data given by POEA.  Most of the women migrant workers applied for domestic work but ended up in exploitative situations in their country of destinations.

In September of the same year, Batis Center pioneered its organizing work in Bgy. Dalig, Balagtas, Bulacan by forming an informal support group of migrant women. Batis Center then replicated its work in Bulacan to Nueva Ecija and in Ilocos Sur in 2010. The clients that we happen to organize in the above mentioned areas were trafficked victims and severely exploited women from Malaysia, China, Middle East, Lebanon, Syria, etc. Services such as airport assistance, temporary shelter, medical assistance, legal assistance, educational assistance, and reintegration assistance were provided to them by Batis Center for Women.

Most recently, Batis Center engaged the returned women migrant workers into Social Entrepreneurship (SE). The women’s career interests and their level of entrepreneurial skills were first measured through an assessment. The women then undergo the training, “”How to Start your Business Right” and a mentoring session to help them develop their business plans. The enterprises being put up serve as reintegration assistance to the women. Aside from providing them the opportunity to gain economic opportunities, the SEs also hopes to serve as therapy to help in rebuilding the lives of the clients.

Batis Center also encourages the local government units to help the women in accessing their existing programs and services such as monitoring services, livelihood assistance, referral to agencies that provide services for migrant workers, legal assistance, continuous psychosocial assistance and educational and training assistance.

Organizing work will lead to the existence of extensions or satellite offices of Batis Center for Women in the different communities we work in. In the coming years, we see Batis Center spreading its wings in the field of community development and empowerment. We still have a long way to go through. All this would only be possible with the efforts of the women in the community, their families, the local leaders and other stakeholders. With efforts like these, we see in the coming years the fulfilment of Batis Center’s Empowerment Framework of Self-Help, Help Others, Help Society.

Trip Pinas: The Japan College of Social Work Philippine Study Tour Experience

by Julius Diyeng D. Canja

Batis Center for Women is committed to raising the awareness of the general public on the plight of women migrant workers in order to generate a strong public opinion against the exploitation and continued deployment of women migrant workers. To answer this challenge, one of Batis Center for Women’s efforts is by hosting study tours for students and professionals from Japan and other countries for them to get to know about the work that we do and the issues confronting women migrant workers and their families.

From February 3- 9 2011, Batis Center for Women hosted a study tour for students and faculty of Japan College of Social Work. The week-long study tour’s primary objective is for the participants to develop an understanding of how human and social welfare differs according to society, culture, geography, political and economic systems and circumstances. Through the study tour, it was also hoped that the students who are all Social Planning majors be introduced to multi-cultural social work by having a direct experience in interacting with Filipinos and women migrant workers and Japanese-Filipino children in particular in order for them to know more about the ways of life of the fourth largest minority group in Japan. It also aimed for the participants to develop an understanding of the nature of poverty and disaster management, and the role of gender empowerment and social action in bringing about social change.

The study tour which was dubbed as Trip Pinas was participated in by seven students and they were joined by two of their professors, Prof. Helen Fujimoto and Prof. Masaki Soeta. The study tour program included the following activities: workshops and discussions on Philippine history and culture, social realities and migration situation; homestay with Batis AWARE and Batis-YOGHI members; exposure to a rural community in Nueva Ecija; interaction with former migrants from Japan, Syria and Lebanon; visit to San Jose Orphanage and interaction with the children; sightseeing and historical tour in Corregidor Island and Camp Pangatian; community service with Buklod Tao in San Mateo and; interaction with UP Social Work and Community Development students.

In the first day, the students attended the lecture about the Philippine history and culture, social realities and migration situation which was discussed by Batis Center. The discussions imparted to them significant events in the history which helped shaped the country to where it is now, its peculiarities and some similarities from Japanese culture and the different places, traditions and celebrations which are worth seeing and experiencing. The lecture about the current status of the Philippines showed the crisis, that the country is facing. Poverty, scarcity in jobs and resources and the realities in life of Filipinos particularly from the marginalized sector were discussed to enable them understand and be critical of what is happening in countries other than their own. Aside from the lectures, activities to enhance team work and creative thinking were conducted.

The students were also able to experience an overnight home stay with a Filipino family. They were assigned to either a member of Batis AWARE or Batis-YOGHI’s family or to a Batis Center staff. Students were asked about their experiences during their home stay and everyone said that they got to experience or see things which they have never done or seen before. Some were able to go to the wet market, interact with other family members, got a glimpse of how Filipino families are like, felt the warmth of other relatives of the host families and the hospitality even of other neighbors, went around the local community, ate native cuisines, played with the kids and a lot more. The students said that it was a positive experience for them and some even said that it was the highlight of their study tour. They were hoping that the home stay had been longer.

To get a glimpse of life in the rural community, the group was brought to Cabanatuan, Nueva Ecija. They were able to meet local leaders, visit a public school, tour a barangay and most importantly interact with Batis Center clients who were former migrants from Lebanon and Syria. Going around the community they saw the big houses which were owned by families of Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs). However, they also learned that not all OFWs have successful migration experiences just like the Batis Center client who had a negative experience in Syria.

The visit to the Bahay ni San Jose Orphanage was also a moving experience for the group. Here they were able to interact with children who were abandoned by their parents and children with special needs. The kids prepared a heartwarming presentation to welcome the group. In turn, the students played with the kids and taught them how to make origami. They also brought snacks which they shared with everyone. The group left with smiles on their faces knowing that even for a short period of time they made the children happy.

Community service was also an important part of Trip Pinas. It was fulfilling to be able to contribute to the development of a community. The group visited Buklod Tao, a people’s organization that aims to strengthen the capacities of the community in disaster preparedness and environmental conservation. Ka Noli, the president briefly discussed in the morning the nature of work of the organization. Afterwards, the groups was then introduced to gabion box making, a wire-mesh box that has to be filled with rocks and are to be placed along the riverbanks to avoid the erosion of the soil and flooding in the community. The group formed a human chain to pass along the rocks that will be stacked inside the gabion boxes. This was also a good opportunity for the JCSW students to interact with the Community Development students from the University of the Philippines and the members of Buklod Tao. The group was also able to help plant pechay in the organic urban garden of Buklod Tao. Despite the burden of carrying heavy rocks, everybody was just grateful that they were able to help the community and enjoyed doing the tasks as well.

Of course it is not just work all the time, the group was also able to do sightseeing in historical spots such as Corregidor Island in Bataan and Camp Pangatian in Nueva Ecija. These two sites were very significant to World War II particularly during the Japanese occupation in the Philippines. The visit to these sites was not to point out the atrocities of the Japanese during the war but to show them the consequences of war and how it affects the lives of people especially the innocent ones. It is also a call for everyone to strive for peace at all times.

The trip ended with a Sayonara Party attended by the JCSW study tour participants, Batis Family and students from UP. The JCSW students had a song presentation and showcased their clay sculptures which represent how they feel about the whole program and what they will remember most about it.

Experience plays a major role in learning. In this case, the study tour experience allowed the students to see what is happening outside of Japan, know more about the social issues and at the same time interact with people from other
culture. Hopefully through this experience, they have come back to Japan with raised awareness, has grown more compassionate towards people from other cultural background and learned lessons that will aid them to become better persons and contribute to a better world. 

Marriage of Convenience: Causes and Consequences

by Rose Otero

Why would anyone risk marrying a stranger? It may sound fussy but it happens. Marriage could be arranged as a joint undertaking of two people for practical or financial benefits rather than out of love or personal attachment. This is called marriage of convenience and is the current and common way taken by several Filipino women going to Japan. With Filipino – Japanese marriage, the Filipino spouse then becomes eligible for a “Spouse of a Japanese National” visa which would enable her to enter and work in Japan.

In March 2005, Japan started to employ restriction measures to Filipino entertainers going to Japan as part of its efforts to combat human trafficking. Japan no longer accepted the Philippine government issued certificate to prove that the holder is a bona fide performing artist. Rather, Japan requires that an entertainer must have at least two years work experience in an entertainment industry outside Japan. This strict policy has caused a sudden drop of the deployment of Filipino entertainers to Japan. Consequently, Filipino-Japanese marriages intensified and many of which occurred for convenience purposes only – for the sake of a spouse visa. This is a reality which Batis Center for Women eventually verified through its own cases.

From 2007 to 2010, Batis provided services to 42 cases of women migrants returning from Japan who were victims of trafficking. Twenty-seven of them entered Japan through spouse visas, 11 had entertainer visas while four had tourist visas. All of them have similar reasons behind their determination to go to Japan.

More often than not, recruiters and traffickers took advantage of the women’s vulnerability, offering them help to enter and find work in Japan. This help however involves deception and fraud which are present in cases of trafficking.  The women were recruited to work as entertainers in Japan, promised with good pay and benefits but were told that they would need to marry a Japanese man in order to get a visa. In some instances, when the women observe ambiguities in the process, the tendency is for them to withdraw from going to Japan. Nevertheless, some would still pursue the flight despite the uncertainties as they and their families would be coerced or threatened by the brokers should they back out.

The lack of economic opportunities in the Philippines on one hand and the push factors (i.e. financial needs for medication of a sick family member, education for siblings, payment of debts, housing, etc.) coming from the family on the other hand are among the reasons behind the aspirations of the women to work overseas. For someone who is desperate to work in Japan and earn money for the family, they would be willing to do anything even marrying a total stranger. Recruiters would convince the women that the marriage is “fake” and will just be done to facilitate their entry to Japan.

The women then become more vulnerable on-site and would find themselves manipulated and coerced by traffickers, verbally and physically abused, trapped in an exploitative work, with restricted mobility, and in a debt bondage. Low salary, unjust deductions and penalty system in the club on top of the payment for the Japanese “husbands” would make the situation even worse.

Lucky are those who were able to escape or be rescued during raids in the club and were provided with necessary assistance and repatriation services. For some women, they get a divorce before they return to the Philippines. For those who do not know any better, they stay married till they return to the Philippines. However, divorced or not, the consequences are all similar when they return home.

There is no divorce in the Philippines, only annulment. So for the women who got divorced in Japan, they still would need to obtain an annulment in the Philippines in order for the divorce to be recognized in the country. This process is called “Petition for recognition of foreign judgment”.

Marriage annulment in the Philippines is a difficult and tedious process that would require a large amount of money for legal services. Annulment of marriage on the average would cost around PhP250,000 – an amount which the women hardly have. To date, none of the 27 women who entered into marriage of convenience pursued an annulment of marriage.

One step towards the recovery of the women from their negative migration experiences is the legal dissolution of their marriage. But since they could not afford the legal process of annulment, the women until now bear the effect of engaging to marriage of convenience. They might have recovered from trauma but they were not able to regain their civil status. Those who want to get married with their real boyfriends could not marry because the previous marriages with their Japanese husbands are yet to be annulled. In this case, the social cost of marriage of convenience could be for lifetime. 

LESS is More for Women Migrant Workers

by Andrea Luisa Anolin

Filipinos leaving for overseas work do so because they find a lot of things lacking in the Philippines. Foremost of which is the opportunity to work (gainful or otherwise), to receive income way above whatever it is they earn as laborers in the Philippines, and the perceived opportunities for growth and personal development. And in their actual country of destination, many Filipinos either find, are promised, or perceive that there is an abundance of whatever it is they find lacking in the Philippines.

In most cases however, overseas Filipinos workers (OFWs) get more than what they bargain for. Along with the perceived and actual benefits of migration, OFWs also invariably deal with the social and personal costs of their migration experiences. From wanting more out of life, many returned with less than what they were aiming for.

Moreso for Filipino women migrant workers who end up mostly working as domestic workers, entertainers, factory workers, and caregivers. These are jobs that leave women migrant workers vulnerable to abuse and exploitation.

Batis Center for Women has been addressing the issues and concerns of returned distressed women migrant workers since the late 1980s. The women, spurred by their dreams of better lives for themselves and their families, ended up in situations of abuse and exploitation. From a sea of despair in their countries of destination, Batis Center for Women offered a stream of hope to returned distressed women migrant workers.

From the provision of direct assistance and welfare services, Batis developed its programs and services until the institution had the capability to address the medium-term needs of the women through awareness-raising, organizing, alternative livelihood projects / social enterprise development, and other social and economic reintegration activities. Through more than two decades of institutional herstory, Batis was able to assist individual clients and groups of clients (through Batis AWARE and other group formations) in setting up enterprises. From the earlier alternative livelihood project such as the sewing shop, Batis has played a role in the establishment of Batis AWARE’s vigil candle shop. Batis AWARE has since then established other enterprises such as the burger shop and a small canteen. Batis also assisted individual clients set up small enterprises in Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao and the most recent enterprise set up by Batis with a group of the institution’s women clients is the laundromat in Quezon City.

In our desire to bring the services (reception to reintegration) for returned distressed women migrant workers closer to the ground and to create a direct impact in communities where the women come from, Batis Center for Women in 2007 initiated community organizing work in identified areas in Bulacan and Nueva Ecija after it was established that a clustering of the institution’s clients were to be found in these provinces.  In 2010, Batis included Ilocos Sur in the scope of its geographic work.  Batis’ vision was to create a local social and economic support and reintegration network to create the environment at the local level for the individual initiatives of the Batis clients to fluorish and become sustained by connecting it with available services and on-going initiatives in the area with the support of the local government, the business sector, the private sector, migrant associations, and other stakeholders.

By linking the economic initiatives of returned distressed women migrant workers to create the enabling environment for support, scaling-up (growth) and sustainability, starting out with LESS can translate to more opportunities for the returned distressed women migrant workers, their families and local economies to benefit from these linked economic initiatives.  In the long run, these linked initiatives is envisioned to become a local social and economic support and reintegration network for prospective, confirmed, active, and returned migrant workers and their families in order to minize the social costs and optimize the gains of migration for local economic development, and wealth & job generation. 