Rappler reports on Damayan at the People's Climate March

Post by: Ayee Macaraig from Rappler

Climate activists say the challenge for Aquino is to make his energy policy, which currently supports coal plants, consistent with his climate change plan

NEW YORK, United States – Rosalina Cionelo, 70, has been working as a domestic worker overseas for 20 years, saving up for her family’s future and looking forward to retirement in her hometown in Dulag, Leyte.

Yet in just one day, when Super Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) ravaged the Visayas on November 8, 2013, all her backbreaking work was gone. She is now among Filipino domestic workers here urging the Philippine and US governments to ensure that they get immigration relief to continue working and sending remittances to their families.

Cionelo and her New York and New Jersey-based domestic workers’ group called Damayan joined the People’s Climate March here on Sunday, September 21, to highlight how climate change affects Filipino migration and poverty. The march was touted as the largest climate rally in history, with 310,000 people participating.

Climate change is a key issue for the Philippines, which is the third most disaster-prone country in the world according to the World Disaster Report 2012.

“My house until now has no roof,” Cionelo told Rappler on the sidelines of the march. “Everything was gone. The interior is all ruined. My brother’s livelihood, he used to have a piggery, now it’s all washed out. I have 3 hectares of coconut plantation and mahogany trees, no more. Now, I have to start from scratch. That’s why I would like to request from the US government to grant us this [temporary protection status] so I can work with no fear.”

The Philippine government requested the US for a temporary protected status (TPS) for Filipino workers back in December 2013. With a TPS, the US may allow workers from a country that experienced an environmental disaster or armed conflict to continue working without being detained on the basis of immigration status.

Yet, until now, the US government has yet to grant the request. Damayan Coordinator Linda Oalican blamed this on the “lukewarm support” of the Philippine government. He called on President Benigno Aquino III to raise the issue while he visits the US this week.

“President Aquino, we really need temporary protected status. Please remember that we, the overseas Filipino workers, are really supporting the economy of the country ….. Many of our workers are aging mothers. You know how hard it is to work without work authorization? It’s very hard, President Aquino. We don’t deserve that,” said Oalican, also a domestic worker for 20 years.

Oalican stressed the connection between the climate crisis and economic crisis, where the effects of extreme weather events like Yolanda undermine economic growth. She said this forces many Filipinos, especially mothers, to become domestic workers abroad and become vulnerable to labor trafficking.

“Many of us are college-educated. We have professions back home, all of us have families. All of us send remittances, the largest source of revenue for the government of the Philippines but what’s happening to us? We are the so-called modern heroes for the Philippines. All we want to do is work to support our families and we need immigration protection to be able to work legally,” said Oalican, a former community development specialist in the Philippines.

Carrying Philippine flags, brooms and a giant mop to symbolize their plight, Oalican, Cionelo and members of Damayan walked the streets of Manhattan to push for their advocacy, and to call on their government and other world leaders to act on climate change.