By Don Tagala, ABS-CBN North America Bureau

January 24, 2013

WASHINGTON– Philippine Ambassador to the US, Jose Cuisia Jr. said he is not going anywhere.

That’s his response to the Philippine Forum’s call for his resignation, as he denied the Philippine government’s alleged inaction on the labor conditions of Grand Isle Shipyard (GIS) Overseas Filipino Workers (OFW) in Louisiana.

“Where were they?” Cuisia said, “The point is they (Philippine Forum) did not even have representatives there, they were not there. I was there twice. Our Deputy Consul General Ron Castro, for almost two weeks, our welfare officer was also with them. They spoke to them. They helped the families. They made sure that they were given proper attention by Black Elk and GIS.”

Attorney Ellaine Carr is representing the OFWs who filed a class lawsuit against their employer – Grand Isle Shipyard and recruiter DNR Offshore and Crewing Services for alleged discrimination, trafficking, slavery, wage theft and fraud.

Carr says the Philippine government needs to step up, after 3 Filipinos were killed in the Black Elk Oil Rig Platform explosion in the Gulf Coast last November.

Carr said, “The support that we’re expecting is more active involvement of the Philippine government in the investigation of GIS, DNR as well as Black Elk’s operations.”

But Cuisia asked: “What can we do? Because if BSEE (Federal Bureau of Safety and Environment) is investigating, we cannot be involved. In the first place, we don’t have the capability, or the authority, it is the Federal Bureau of Safety and Environment.”

Cuisia said the Philippine Embassy went as far as asking many of the remaining OFWs still working at the Grand Isle Shipyard and Black Elk oil rig platform about their work conditions.

“Sabi ko meron ba kayong reklamo tungkol sa GIS o tungkol sa Black Elk, sabihin niyo na ngayon, para mapaabot natin sa gubyerno,” Cuisia told the workers. Cuisia said the workers did not report any labor violations, as their other Filipino co-workers claimed.

Cuisia said he left his contact information to the OFWs so they can call the embassy privately when their employer is not around, but Cuisia said the remaining workers have not responded to this day.

International Migrants Alliance member Julia Camagong said, “Just to respond to the Embassy’s press statement, that they have been helping the workers, and they have been responding to the need of the workers, that they have given airfare and sent the workers and the families of the survivors to the U.S.,–that is their responsibility, that is the least that they could do. But up until this date, they still have not done anything.’

The Philippine Forum called on the embassy to shutdown the alleged abusive employer’s company as well as the recruiter DNR that brought these Filipinos to Louisiana.

“We cannot close them just like that. If in fact this case finds them culpable, then the Philippine Overseas Employment Agency will have some basis. We were just waiting for the results,” said Cuisia.

While most of the families of the OFWs involved in oil rig explosion are thankful for the government’s actions, as shown by their letters and emails to Cuisia, last weekend the Tajonera family and a few other former employees of Grand Isle Shipyard participated in a protest at the Philippine consulate and at a memorial for those who were killed in the November explosion Louisiana.

“I think they should wait until all the facts are out, they wait for the investigations. There is an investigation ongoing,” Cuisia said.

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