Speech of Department of Justice Secretary Leila M. De Lima during the launch of the
IBP National Center for Legal Aid’s OFW Legal Assistance Unit and Anti-Trafficking in Persons Action Team (ATIPAT),
JBL Reyes Hall, IBP Building, Ortigas Center, 12 September 2011.
Friends, ladies and gentlemen:
The initiative to extend valuable legal assistance to overseas Filipino workers is crucial, timely and reflects the value we place on our history as a people.
Not quite often said is the fact that our country and our society is the product and result of the heroism of the early overseas workers of the world – the navigators, the explorers, the merchants.
We would not exist today were it not for the willingness by these pioneers to leave the safety and security of home to venture in far away lands in search of opportunities.
I refer to the sea-farers from the Malayan peninsula and the Sri-Visayan empire who first reached our shores in their "balangays” to lend us the brown color of our skin. To the European conquistadores and missioneros who came to our shores in their “galeones” both to colonize us and to plant the Cross on our land. To the merchants from China who came in their sampans and junks to lend us the wisdom and practice of their commerce.
We are, indeed, the descendants of overseas workers, the pioneering expatriates of humankind.
This, I surmise, must be one of the reasons why our imaginations are captive to the dream of success in far-away shores. The genes run in our Filipino veins. So, today, our kith and kin are spread all over the world in what seems to me is a reflection of the adventurous spirit of our forebears.
Today, we quote-unquote, “export” our most prized possession – our people. In the past several decades, we have seen the massive exodus of the best among us: the exodus of Filipino doctors; of Filipino managers; of Filipino missionaries; of Filipino nurses; of Filipino care-givers and domestic helpers; of Filipino teachers.
Which brings me to something that bothers me no end. It bothers me that, how come there is no exodus of Filipino lawyers?
My friends from the Integrated Bar of the Philippines gave me two answers.
One answer is that our profession is “non-export”. Meaning, we are really made for exclusive home-use and local consumption.
Another answer is that the Filipino lawyer is “non-exportable”. Meaning, no other country wants us.
A non-lawyer friend volunteered an answer: that the Filipino lawyer is like “renewable energy”. He said we are meant to be locally sourced and locally used. We are indigenous.
Of course, I do know that such was an underhanded remark. I know for a fact that “renewable energy” also means … “powered by wind”.
I know one important reason why you and I have stayed home. This is the reason: Justice, like charity, begins at home.
The initiative of the IBP to lend a helping hand to our overseas workers and the families they leave behind is a gesture both of charity and of justice.
For this, I both thank and congratulate you.
There is a major difference between the early overseas works from other lands who came to our country, and today’s overseas Filipino worker. The former left home as mighty political and economic powers in the quest for domination. Today’s OFWs leave home as vulnerable individuals simply in search of survival and better lives.
That today’s OFWs have to leave home just to provide for their families already smacks of injustice. That they should fall prey to illegal recruiters, oppressive and abusive employers and human trafficking syndicates aggravate the injustice.
Today, you took an important step to right that wrong.
Today, you underscored the important reason why you and I have stayed home – because we have countrymen to take care of.
My dear colleagues in the legal profession, I am proud of you. Very, very proud.
Another friend called my attention to the fact that the first Filipino to be canonized a saint of the Church was – technically – an OFW. Lorenzo Ruiz left the comfort of the Binondo convent to work for the Church’s mission in Japan. Historical accounts indicate that he was not a missionary, per se. He was part of what we might call “support staff”.
As the story goes, the OFW Lorenzo Ruiz died in Japan, a martyr, a victim of the cruelty of some elements in the host country.
My friend said that if the IBP had been in existence at that time, Lorenzo Ruiz might have been given excellent legal assistance and would have been brought home safe and alive.
I told my friend, “but that means he would have never been a saint”.
My friend does not wish to insinuate that we, lawyers, are stumbling blocks to sainthood.
Here’s the point.
Today, we refer to our OFWs as “modern-day heroes”.
With the IBP initiative, we can make sure they will remain exactly that - “heroes”.
“Heroes”, not martyrs.
Heroes who will come home one day to their families here. Home one day, alive and well.
Let’s all make sure that happens.
And this early, let me thank all of you on their behalf.
Maraming, maraming salamat po at Mabuhay tayong lahat!