Filipino Youth in New York and New Jersey Celebrate “Florida 15” Victory

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Press Statement

27 February 2013

Bea Sabino, Chairperson, Anakbayan NJ
Matthew Cheirs II, Chairperson, Anakbayan NY


Anakbayan Vows to Keep Up the Fight Against Human Trafficking and Modern Day Slavery


The “Florida 15” at a Press Conference in Woodside, NY. Photo by Jonna Baldres

On February 18, the “Florida 15” (F-15) labor trafficking survivors announced the approval of their T-Visas and issuance of employment authorization cards in a press conference with Atty. Felix Vinluan and members of the Stop Trafficking Our People (STOP) Task Force led by the National Alliance for Filipino Concerns (NAFCON) at the Bayanihan Filipino Community Center in Woodside, NY.

The F-15, surrounded by community organizations and supporters, declared their continued commitment to speak out against labor trafficking and to demand justice for other migrant workers experiencing unfair, slave-like labor conditions in the United States.

The “Florida 15” Inspires Us

Anakbayan congratulates the “Florida 15” and the STOP Task Force for reclaiming the workers’ legal right to live and work in the United States. The F-15’s former employer and owner of San Villa Ship Management Co., Jose “Jojo” Villanueva, deprived them of that right when he failed to renew the workers’ H2-B visas without their knowledge, leading them to overstay in the US without proper documentation until the approval of their T-Visas in the beginning of February 2013.

For the F-15, the truth in their shared experiences is the only weapon against the injustices that they suffered. They sacrificed time with their families, safety and security, and even risked unemployment in the name of exposing the plight of migrant Filipino workers. They chose to fight rather than to surrender, despite the obvious challenges of going public with their case.

For these reasons and more, Anakbayan is grateful for the inspiration that the F-15 has given its membership and the community. The F-15 opened their homes to us, shared their stories and their goals with us, and most importantly, helped build people power among the Filipino community. They proved that youth and students united with the workers in struggle makes for a strong movement that genuinely responds to the interests of the broader population.

The Struggle Continues

The efforts to achieve justice for the F-15 are far from over. Villanueva and his cohorts have yet to pay back-wages and costs to all damages imposed on the trafficked workers. Villanueva is currently in hiding from several civil lawsuits filed against him.

Anakbayan is calling on the community to hold Villanueva accountable, and make him face the allegations against him in court. If you have any information regarding Jose “Jojo” Villanueva’s whereabouts, please contact Michelle Saulon, NAFCON Regional Coordinator, at or call (347) 867-1550.

“Modern Heroes”, Slaving Without Protection From the Government

The F-15 is only one group out of the increasing number of Filipino workers coming out of the shadows of labor trafficking and modern-day slavery. NAFCON has been handling over a hundred individual cases of human trafficking since its founding in 2003.

Anakbayan challenges the Aquino government to be accountable for the gross failure of the Philippine Overseas Employment Agency (POEA), Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA), and the Philippine Embassy and Consular Offices across the United States to protect and uphold the rights of Filipino workers.

The estimated 12 million Filipinos living abroad are hailed as “Modern Heroes” because of their significant contributions to the Philippine economy. Overseas Filipino Workers’ (OFWs) remittances accounted for 10% of the Philippines’ Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in 2011. Additionally, OFWs sent $17.3 billion in remittances from January to September 2012 alone.

Despite these figures, OFWs run the risk of being involved in unfair labor operations, various forms of employer abuse, detention and deportation, while also dealing with family separation for indefinite periods of time.

Anakbayan demands that the Philippine government take its duty to protect the rights and welfare of OFWs seriously. We cannot allow any more instances of worker exploitation, abuse and death among the people who contribute so much to the wealth of our nation but receive very little in return.

Scrap the Labor Export Policy

An average of 4,600 Filipinos, coursed through government agencies such as the POEA, decide to leave the Philippines each day to take their chances in other countries in order to provide for the education, healthcare and livelihood of their families.

The Philippine government’s weak attempt at industrializing the country is by selling our people and resources to foreign investors and companies. This has led to low-paying jobs and widespread unemployment at home, compounded by rising costs of basic commodities and privatized social services.

The commodification of the Filipino people as export products to boost the country’s economy has been in place since the 1970s. Anakbayan believes that genuine land reform and national industrialization of vital industries is the only way to truly revitalize the Philippine economy. This will end the nation’s dependence on exporting people and resources for cheap in exchange for expensive imported goods and services that majority of the Filipino people cannot afford or benefit from.

Filipino Youth United for Immigrant Rights

The victory of the Florida 15 is a product of sustained collective action from individuals and organizations that united for immigrant rights.

Anakbayan is urging Filipino-American youth to take a stand against labor trafficking and modern-day slavery. Get involved in the Stop Trafficking Our People Campaign by contacting Yves Nibungco, Coordinator of the STOP Task Force and Secretary General of Anakbayan NJ, at or call 201 253 5662.

Join Anakbayan’s “Youth for Immigrant Rights” contingent at the International Workers’ Day March in Union Square, NYC on May 1st, and the Philippine Independence Day Celebration on June 2nd.

The youth must be active participants on the side of the workers and not just neutral spectators to these injustices. As inheritors of this society, we are in the position to critique the Philippine government and the global system that forces our people to endure such hardships just to survive. As inheritors of this society, we are also in the best position to push for, and implement, alternatives that would ensure a brighter future for immigrant communities in the US.###

Filipino Youth and Students Extend Support to Enslaved Filipino Oil Rig Workers and Their Families

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Photos by Robert Roy

For Immediate Release

21 January 2013

Matthew Cheirs II, Chairperson, Anakbayan New York
Bea Sabino, Chairperson, Anakbayan New Jersey


Activists urge the community to defend immigrant workers’ rights in the face of modern-day slavery

New York, NYProgressive Filipino youth group, Anakbayan, participated in a series of events in New York City to demand justice for the Grand Isle Shipyard (GIS) workers. A group of over 70 Filipino workers have filed a class action lawsuit against Grand Isle Shipyard, Inc. for labor abuse and exploitation, unlawful deductions, isolation and violation of civil liberties, human trafficking, racism, discrimination and modern day slavery.
Since 2008, an estimated 500 Filipinos have worked for GIS, deemed one of the most dangerous oil platforms in the Gulf of Mexico. Its serious safety code violations need to be addressed immediately, according to the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement.
The Justice for GIS Filipino Workers Campaign (J4GIS-Fil-Workers), led by Philippine Forum, was launched on January 16 with a press conference composed of community leaders, Filipino civil rights attorney, Ellaine Carr, two former GIS workers, and the wife and children of Avelino Tajonera, one of the three Filipino workers killed in the oil platform explosion on November 16, 2012.

Youth Unite with Immigrant Workers

The New York and New Jersey chapters of Anakbayan are collaborating with various immigrant and worker groups in the area to raise awareness about labor trafficking and modern day slavery.

On January 18th, a picket was held in front of the Philippine Consulate in New York to demand accountability from the Philippine government.

Philippine Ambassador Cuisia claims he has been aware of the unsafe working conditions at GIS since 2010; yet 3 of our kababayans are dead, hundreds exploited. The Philippine government, through the Labor Export Program, supplies the world’s industries with millions of Filipino workers. Workers whose rights and welfare the government fails to protect,” said Matthew Cheirs II, Chairperson of Anakbayan New York.

The Louisiana contingent’s visit concluded with a Community Reception and Candlelight Vigil on the evening of January 19 at the Bayanihan Community Center in Queens, NY.

Dozens of supporters came out to hear the workers’ testimonies about the harsh conditions they experienced while working at GIS. The Tajonera family shared stories of courage and grief over the death of Avelino Tajonera, who risked his life to provide for his wife and young children.

Trafficking survivors, including the “Florida 15”, shared words of encouragement with the GIS workers. Community members and grassroots organizations also commended the workers’ determination and expressed their support for the campaign.

Alice Feng, Educational Officer of the Revolutionary Students Coordinating Committee, said in solidarity, “As students, we have the task of bringing their [the workers’] struggles to light in the broadest way possible. Our struggles on campus are connected to our struggles in our communities and our homelands.

Take a Stand Against Slavery

The workers’ week- long visit to New York City is only the beginning. Anakbayan is urging Filipino- American youth in New York and New Jersey to stand up for immigrant rights and actively participate in the J4GIS-Fil-Workers campaign.

Filipino laborers escaping slavery under Spanish colonial rule at the time of the Manila- Acapulco trade were the first Filipino settlers in the United States. They found sanctuary in Louisiana in the late 18th century. Today, workers imported from the Philippines, are enduring similar conditions that Filipino pioneers in the US fled from centuries ago,” shared Bea Sabino, Chairperson of Anakbayan New Jersey.

Slavery should not have a place in the 21st century,” continued Sabino. “We call on our fellow Filipino youth to take a stand against exploitation and racism. Help us spread the word by organizing public forums and signing up for the Fact Finding Mission to Louisiana on February 20-24, 2013.

To set up an information session at your church, campus or community space, please contact Bea Sabino (201.779.6886) for New Jersey, or Matthew Cheirs II (917.601.0378) for New York.

For more information about the Justice for GIS Filipino Workers Campaign, please contact Anne Beryl Corotan (516.901.1832), or Jonna Baldres (646.578.7390), of Philippine Forum.###

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