The case of Marilou Tabuno

Community Opinion & Analysis Aug 1, 2006 at 11:42 am

Open Letter to Consul General Alejandro Mosquera

We are sure that you know of the case of Marilou Tabuno, of Urdaneta, Pangasinan, Philippines, who came to Toronto, Canada this April, like many Filipinos before and after, to provide for a better life for her family. On May 23, she was hit by a car while walking along Bathurst St. on her way to remit money to her family. She leaves behind four children and husband. Our condolences and prayers go to Mr. Tabuno and their four children. Mr. Tabuno, as you well know, is unable to work due to his partial paralysis. Mrs. Tabuno’s death is, therefore a triple tragedy: the four Tabuno children were deprived of their mother, Mr. Tabuno of his wife, and the Tabuno family of its only income earner.

In situations such as this, where Philippine citizens have come to misfortune or death, we expect the consular offices of the Philippines to come vigorously to the timely aid of its citizens, if alive, and to expedite the transport of the body back home to the Philippines, if dead. Alas, this is not what has befallen the late Mrs. Tabuno. The body of Mrs. Tabuno was only sent home mid July, almost two months after her untimely death. Why, might we ask, this egregious delay?

The disturbing reasons are such: 1) the local consulate refused to act as guarantor so that Mrs. Tabuno’s body could be transferred from the morgue to Bernardo Funeral Home for shipment to the Philippines; 2) after Marilou’s sister, Lisa, sought the help of the consulate to avail of avail Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) repatriation funds, because no local OWWA welfare office is assigned to Canada, first she was dismissed until she provided proof of Marilou’s membership in OWWA, then Lisa was told that no action could be made for three weeks because OWWA Administrator Marianito D. Roque was out of the country, finally that there was no OWWA money because its fund had been depleted! To add insult to injury, it was actually suggested to Malou’s sister that she advance the monies received from the insurance of the driver who had hit Marilou and from fundraising efforts of local Filipinos, namely to endanger the monies that the Tabuno family now depended upon after the death of their only income earner, on the feeble promise that it would be reimbursed by OWWA!

First, it is completely absurd that OWWA is rendered unable to repatriate one person just because its Administrator is out of the country! Second, what is going on with OWWA’s administration that the deceased’s sister had to provide independent proof of Mrs. Tabuno’s contributions to OWWA? What if the deceased had no relatives or that the contributor’s receipt had been lost? Can OWWA so easily shirk its responsibilities? Third, we might wonder how it is that OWWA, who collected P18 billion alone in 2005 from fees, would find its repatriation fund depleted? Surely it can’t be because many OFWs are availing of these monies? Is so little of the funds allocated to repatriation? Cannot funds from other parts of the OWWA stash be transferred for such emergencies? Fourth, if the consulate is so confident of OWWA, why did it not just advance the monies out of its budget instead of putting pressure on the Tabuno family?

It turns out that the Consulate may have very good reasons to place little trust in OWWA. As it turns out before the last election, the Philippine government illegally transferred P530 million from the OWWA Medicare fund to Philheath. Also, $21,000 U.S. and P5 million were charged to the OWWA Trust Fund rather so Philippine soldiers could fight for the US in Iraq on the ludicrous ground that such soldiers are OFWs! We would think that such funds be taken from the Department of Defence? Finally, with the OWWA Omnibus Policies of 2003, OWWA’s orientation was transformed from a service agency for OFWs to something like a business for growing capital. One product of this changed orientation is that P6 billion out of P8 billion of OWWA funds, the funds collected from OFWs to provide them with services in times of need, has been transferred to the Land Bank and the Development Bank of the Philippines to risk on business ventures, sort of like an RRSP, out of which these two banks can collect every three months a fund depleting ¼ of 1% service fee. Another, part of this fund is now contemplated for the forming of an OFW Bank by means of these two banks and the bankrupt Postal Bank!

This malfeasance of almost P8 billion of the monies of OFWs entrusted to OWWA is very good reason indeed why the consulate displays so little trust in OWWA! Of course, these are all beside the point! Irrespective of any OWWA, the Philippine government has the sacred duty to bring home the stranded bodies of Filipino citizens who have met misfortune abroad! In this the Philippine Consulate in Toronto was inexcusably negligent.

We, the undersigned organizations and individuals, protest this callous delay on the part of the Consular office in regards to helping expedite the return of the body of the late Mrs. Tabuno. We call on the Consulate to be vigorous in aiding oversees Filipinos who have suffered misfortune. We also denounce the emptying and risking of monies entrusted by OFWs to OWWA for risky business ventures rather than for timely services. We call on the government to cease and desist from any activities that risk these funds. Third, we demand that an OWWA Welfare Officer be assigned to Canada.

UFiND (United Filipinos for Nationalism and Democracy); Damayan Information Centre; Filipino Worker’s Support Committee

We are calling on all Filipinos and their organizations to add their signature to this open letter. If you wish to add your name or the name of your organization, you can email us at fwsc.tor@