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Ambassador Benavidez disrespects NZ unions and media

*APMM Statement*

22 February 2014

*Ambassador Benavidez disrespects NZ unions and media, should make public apology*

The recent public statement of Ambassador Virginia Benavidez on how Filipino migrants should treat local trade unions and the press in New Zealand is outrageous and should not be treated lightly. It amounts to a major diplomatic gaffe in a country where trade unionism and media advocacy are highly respected institutions. Benavidez must think she can deal with them the same way that the Philippine government has been dealing with genuine workers' organizations and media in its own backyard - i.e., with gross disrespect and hostility.

In a meeting of Filipino migrants that was organized by the Canterbury Pilipino Assistance Group (CPAG), Benavidez declared thus: "If you have problems with your job, don't approach the unions and media especially those posting stories in the New Zealand Herald." Shocked members of the audience reported the matter to First Union, one of the largest trade union centers in NZ, and the Union Network of Migrants (UNEMIG), its migrant worker affiliate.

The union's General Secretary Robert Reid has been moved to declare her statement as "nothing less than gross interference in the domestic affairs of New Zealand", and will be asking the New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade to discuss the matter with her. Migrante Aotearoa, the largest Filipino migrant organization in NZ, has also denounced her statement and her subsequent denial, demanding that she make a formal public apology. All in all, Ambassador Benavidez has been an embarassment to local and Filipino communities in NZ.

The Asia Pacific Mission for mIgrant Workers (APMM), a regional migrant service institution that has a resident Country Coordinator in New Zealand, takes the position that Benavidez's statements were not simply a matter of impropriety or tactlessness, but was a willful act of malice against trade unions and media organizations in NZ. With regard to her ill-will against unions, Benavidez made the grievous error of attempting to demonize NZ unions, which have been fighting for the protection of all types of workers in the country for decades now. Her sneaky form of attack manifests an ideology-based compulsion to undermine democratic institutions in NZ, and to further deprive migrant workers of their fundamental human rights.

It is hardly a secret that the Philippine government remains one of the most flagrant human rights violators in the region, labour and media rights among them. With ambassadors like Benavidez, the Aquino government is trying to export these rights violations into migrant receiving countries in a shameless way, as part of its neoliberal labor-export program that seeks to peddle cheap and docile labor abroad. They do so without due regard to local political environments that actually respect and implement core labour standards.

Such envoys of labor flexibilization and media repression should refrain from promoting their ideological biases in countries that respect migrant workers' rights and press freedom, as doing so creates animosities with locals that run counter to their diplomatic duties. We therefore call on the Aquino government to duly reprimand Ambassador Benavidez for going overboard with her anti-union and anti-media stance, and to require her to make a public apology in New Zealand. We also call on Filipino migrant workers in NZ to stand their ground and resist attempts by their own government to deprive them of their fundamental human rights. #

*Reference*: Joselito Natividad;

*Asia Pacific Mission for Migrants (APMM)


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