July 11, 2010
Filipino Educators Federation of Louisiana
A newly formed Filipino teachers group based in Louisiana, USA received yesterday (July 9 US Pacific Time) a prestigious award conferred by the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), a large US-wide union of teachers and professionals.
In a national convention of the AFT, the Filipino Educators Federation of Louisiana (FEFL) was awarded the President’s International Democracy Award. This award was created two years ago by AFT “to highlight the continuing struggle for human rights around the world.”
In an earlier letter to FEFL informing of the award, AFT stated, “We have selected your organization for your perseverance in fighting against the abusive treatment of placement agencies, its dedication to promote the rights and welfare of all educators and migrants and its commitment to the democratic and legal system.”
In the letter addressed to Ingrid Jomento-Cruz, the founding President of FEFL, AFT further said “AFT leaders and staff have witnessed the immense courage you and your colleagues have displayed in the face of great adversity.”
Jomento-Cruz, also an active member of AFT, received the award in behalf of the Filipino teachers group. Jomento-Cruz and other Filipino teachers have been instrumental in organizing the efforts of Filipino migrant teachers against the abuses of their recruitment agency, Universal Placement International (UPI) and its Philippine-based counterpart, PARS International. Jomento-Cruz was also accorded as the International Honoree during the same event.
The efforts of the Filipino teachers in coordination with AFT and other groups resulted to initial legal victories including the decision by Louisiana Workforce Commission ordering UPI to refund up to $1.8 Million in fees to the teachers.
In her acceptance speech, Jomento-Cruz cited how AFT helped them revisit a Filipino virtue of Bayanihan. “It is most impressively displayed in the old tradition of neighbors helping a relocating family by getting enough volunteers to literally carry the house on their shoulders and moving it to its new and better location. And believe it or not, that act is done with happy, festive and unexpecting disposition. We can clearly see then that these heroes in the community collectively work and sacrifice for each other and be heroes to one another. In essence, Bayanihan is all but one with the spirit of Unionism.”
“AFT made us realized a strong message of being heroes in our own ways united as a potent force, unloading each other’s burden, pushing common goals and aspirations with pride and dignity,” added Jomento-Cruz.
The AFT convention, held in Seattle, Washington, is currently ongoing and is attended by more than 3,000 union members and guests from labor and union network all over world. Filipinos are well represented in the convention with Filipino migrant teachers as delegates from different states including Baltimore, Washington DC, California and Louisiana. International guests also include Philippine-based organizations; Annie Geron, Secretary General of Public Services Labor Independent Confederation (PSLINK) and Ian Seruelo, US-Liaison Officer of Partido ng Manggagawa (PM). PM and PSLINK have been supporting the organizing, campaign and legal efforts of Filipino teachers.
The formation of FEFL earlier this year marked the unified and coordinated action by migrant Filipino teachers in Louisiana to push back against the exploitative practices of their placement agencies. The founding objectives of FEFL include the following: (1) To help Filipino teachers and workers who are victims of trafficking, oppressive forms of recruitment and unfair labor practices; (2) To implement campaigns to pursue justice and enforce the rights of migrant teachers and workers; (3) To advocate for the promotion of the welfare of migrant workers both in the US and in the Philippines, and (4) To raise public awareness about the plight of migrant teachers and workers as a whole.