FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
17 January 2013
Family Members of Filipino Workers Killed in Louisiana Oil Rig Explosion Demand Justice
NEW YORK – Family members of the Filipino workers who died in the Black Elk Energy oil platform explosion in Louisiana last November 16, 2012 join the search for justice for their loved ones. A press conference was held on January 16 at the Bayanihan Community Center in Woodside with the family members, along with some of the over 100 workers involved in the class action lawsuit against the Grand Isle Shipyard (GIS), the company which hires and supplies Filipino workers to oil companies and platforms in the Gulf of Mexico.
The family members and workers spoke about their experiences on this ordeal, especially on issues of labor abuse and human rights, to raise awareness and gather support within the community for their campaign.
The explosion at the Black Elk platform claimed the lives of three workers and left three in critical condition. The families were joined by members of community organizations to announce the launching of the Justice for Grand Isle Shipyard Filipino Workers (J4GIS-Fil-Workers) Campaign, led by Philippine Forum, starting with a week-long series of actions.
Anne Beryl Corotan, representative of the Philippine Forum and the National Alliance for Filipino Concerns (NAFCON), opened by noting the precarious conditions of Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) in the United States. She also presented the demands of the J4GIS-Fil-Workers Campaign, “We demand for the shut down of GIS, Black Elk and the DNR Offshore Crewing Services and for the Filipino workers who are still inside the GIS to be granted humanitarian visas. We demand for President Benigno Aquino III and the rest of his administration to uphold the rights and welfare of all migrant workers and to genuinely provide the services that the workers need.”
Ricardo Ramos, one of the former GIS workers, said the following of the response of the Philippine government on their case, “If the Philippine government was genuinely interested in helping us workers here, whom they even call modern-day heroes, then these abuses, these deaths, would never have happened. We demand justice for our co-workers who died and for all workers who have become victims of GIS, Black Elk and DNR Offshore Crewing Services.”
Ferdinand Garcia, one of the first among the former workers of GIS who filed the class action lawsuit against the company, said the embassy knew of their conditions as early as 2010, but when asked what help the Philippine embassy extended to them, he simply said “Wala. (Nothing.)” Garcia added, “We demand that the president give importance to Filipinos who bring in bulk of remittances to the country.”
Jade Diane Tajonera, daughter of Avelino Tajonera, one of three Filipino workers killed in the explosion, gave a deeply moving testimony. “We are here to fight,” she said. “OFWs are humans, not animals, not robots. We salute all OFWs who leave the country and provide for their families.”
As for the loss of her father on November 16 last year, this was what Jade had to say, “The company had taken away my father. If we ask for the life of our father, can they give it back to us? He died because of the greed of the company.” This sentiment was shared by her brothers during the press conference.
Avelino’s widow, Edna Tajonera, spoke of the tremendous loss of a husband and father to their children, especially as the two were high school sweethearts who were married for 30 years, 17 of those spent by him working abroad. A painful episode she described was when the funeral was being prepared, Filipino traditions were violated when the company did not allow his co-workers to attend. Mrs. Tajonera presented one of the urns containing his ashes.
Mrs. Tajonera also cited the violations of Black Elk on compliance to safety working conditions, which, she expressed, if addressed early on by authorities, could have not led to the death of her husband and the other Filipino workers. “Why did they have to wait for someone to die?” Mrs. Tajonera said.
Mrs. Tajonera also acknowledged the help that the community organizations, the lawyers and the other Filipino workers have been giving and extending to their family, which, she said, gives them the courage and strength to fight for her husband’s case.
More family members of workers who died at the explosion have also expressed to join the campaign, while Non-Filipinos have also delivered solidarity messages for the GIS Filipino workers at the press conference.
“This year, we are commemorating 150th year of the Emancipation Proclamation. But until now, in 2013, modern-day slavery still exists victimizing hundreds of our Filipino brothers and sisters. We must fight to end slavery in all forms,” Angel Martinez of People’s Organization for Progress (POP) said.
“We are the Mexican, Indian and other workers who went on strike to protest forced labor at a crawfish processing plant that supplies to Wal-Mart in Louisiana called CJ’s Seafood. Like our Filipino brothers, we were also forced to work like machines doing 15 to 24 hour shifts per day. We were also threatened but we also decided to unite and build power to demand responsibility from those who benefited from our forced labor. We are here to fight side by side with our Filipino brothers,” Saket Soni of the National Guestworkers Alliance said at the press conference.
Sisa Pakari Cultural and Labor Center and Frente Unido de Inmigrantes Ecuatorianos (FUIE) were also at the press conference to express support.
Julia Camagong, representative of International Migrants Alliance (IMA) in the United States, said “The GIS Filipino workers have the support of over 100 grassroots member organizations of IMA across the globe. We demand that Philippine Ambassador to the US Jose Cuisia, Jr. resign because he did not perform his responsibility to protect the rights and welfare of the Filipino migrants in the United States.”
There will be a picket at the Philippine Consulate in New York (556 Fifth Avenue, between 45th and 46th streets) on Friday, January 18, at 3 PM, to air grievances of the families and workers to the Philippine government. On Saturday, January 19, a community reception and memorial will be held at the Bayanihan Community Center (40-21 69th St Woodside NY) at 6pm for the workers who were killed at Black Elk in November. On February 22-24, a solidarity mission to Louisiana will be organized in support of the GIS Filipino Workers.