“Community Celebrates Victory for Florida 15 Trafficked Workers, But Still A Very Long Way To Go” – NAFCON

20 September 2012
Reference: Zarah Vinola, Publicity Head, National Alliance for Filipino Concerns (NAFCON), U.S. North East,ne@nafconusa.org
“Community Celebrates Victory for Florida 15 Trafficked Workers,
But Still A Very Long Way To Go” – NAFCON
NEW YORK — 11 months after the first meeting of the National Alliance for Filipino Concerns (NAFCON) with the Philippine Consulate of New York in October 2011 to present the cases of labor trafficking among migrant workers in the United States, the 15 victims of labor trafficking from Florida, also known as the Florida 15, finally received an initial subsistence fund amounting to $333.33 per victim. This, according to NAFCON, is a small and initial victory in the long pursuit for justice for the workers.
“It is through community support and consistent community pressure that we push the government to answer for its obligations to its distressed nationals,” states Michelle Saulon, the North East Regional Coordinator for NAFCON. According to Ms. Saulon, NAFCON and its member organizations will continue to follow up with the Philippine government for legal assistance and subsistence funds and the immediate prosecution of the traffickers.
Florida 15 Trafficked Workers
Florida 15 or F15 is a group of Filipino workers who were recruited between 2008 to 2009 by the Philippine-based San Villa Ship Management Co. owned by Jojo Villanueva to work at different country clubs and hotels in Florida as waiters, cooks, and housekeepers. They were required to pay up to $2500-7000 each for placement fees and when they started working, were given only $6 per hour as opposed to the payrate of $16-17 per hour, and without overtime pay. Many of them were also paid only once a month and paychecks were issued very late.
Aside from the late payment, the agency also failed to renew their H2-B visas without notifying the workers which led to the overstay status of the workers without proper documentation despite the workers’ consistent follow-up. The loss of immigration status also resulted to some being arrested by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Agency and are pending deportation.
“The ‘Florida 15’ is only one group among the thousands of trafficked victims who are in need of immediate assistance, support and protection for their rights and welfare,” Saulon continued.
The F15 workers are also fighting for their right to obtain T-visas. Atty. Felix Vinluan, immigration and labor lawyer who has helped trafficked Filipino workers over the years, is currently handling the case.
Fight Against Labor Export Policy and Human Trafficking
NAFCON acknowledges the institutional and structural problems that breed human and labor trafficking.
“As long as there is no genuine land reform and national industrialization in our homeland, landlessness and joblessness will persist. Coupled with the Labor Export Policy (LEP) implemented by the Philippine government, these policies and practices will continue to cause thousands of Filipinos to migrate overseas, suffer exploitation and become vulnerable to trafficking. We have a whole system of migrant workers’ exploitation ahead of us that needs to be fought against,” states Jonna Baldres, national deputy general secretary of NAFCON.
NAFCON has attended and still continue to deal with cases of human and labor trafficking. Examples that NAFCON handled and supported are the Sentosa 27++ nurses, Arizona 34, South Carolina 12, Adman 11, Teachers from Los Angeles, Maryland and countless individuals, such as Elma Manliguez, Leticia Moratal and Jacqueline Aguirre, who suffered unfair labor laws and regulations, slavery, inhumane working conditions and discrimination from their employers. They were once victims and are now fighting survivors advocating and empowering others to come out and fight for their rights and welfare.
As for F15 workers, they have this to say on their almost 2 years of struggle, “Let F15 be an inspiration for other Human Trafficking victims out there, that never hesitate nor hide in the shadows. Be brave and stand up for your rights as there are still people out there who are willing to take your hand and say we are here to help!”
Stop Trafficking Our People (STOP)
Aside from the demands of the Florida 15 workers, NAFCON, with its overall Stop Trafficking Our People (STOP) Campaign, also brings to attention the responsibility of the Philippine government to check and investigate as to why employment agencies such as San Villa Management Co. were allowed to exist and operate in such manner, and why these kinds of agencies are unchecked by the government’s own Philippine Overseas and Employment Agency (POEA) allowing workers to leave the country and be employed by such.
On September 24, the Florida 15, with the support of NAFCON, allied organizations and concerned individuals are calling on the community to pack the court room and mobilize and show support for their case. The action will take place at 225 Cadman Plaza East, Brooklyn at the Eastern District court of New York to be followed by a press conference. This action is part of NAFCON’s STOP Campaign and the Dignity and Justice for Immigrants Campaign, a campaign that is pro-migrant, pro-people and pro-Filipino.
The STOP Campaign is currently coordinated by the STOP Task Force. For more information or to volunteer for the STOP Task Force, please contact Michelle at michelle.saulon@gmail.com or Yves Nibungco at yvesnibungco@gmail.com. ### 
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