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Media ban at the Consulate

06 March 2017

By Daisy C.L. Mandap

There, the word that someone at the Consulate says is not accurate. There is no media ban at the ATN section there, just a kindly reminder that we are no longer allowed to get into the enclosed, bolted and heavily secured part of the Consulate.

What gives?

We were given two reasons by two different officers. First, that we interfered with normal office work and were prone to hijack complainants waiting to be heard by the very busy ATN officers. Anyway, we could always ask for an interview and be met at the reception area by the officer we wish to speak with, if he/she agrees.

Second, that there was heightened concern about their security.

Both reasons suck.

First, we have never demanded that an ATN officer give us an interview. In fact, some of them close or even lock their doors when they do not want to talk to anyone, especially us outsiders. Often, we would try to call up, text or email first, but we tend to be ignored.

There are also instances when an instant reply is necessary, such as when we had to relay the information that a group of OFWs were held up at the border with Shenzhen because a member of their tour group decided to go underground.

Second, it’s an affront to tell us that we could compromise the security of the VIPs inside.
We have been in this place long enough to tell upstarts that open communication is the only way to establish good relations in the community. But with no regular consultations with community leaders or media representatives as before, how could the Consulate get its views known to its constituents? Or conversely, understand the concerns of the people it is tasked to serve?

We are here to help officers make their activities, concerns and messages known to the rest of the community, but it should be a two-way process. They cannot demand to see us and other community representatives only when they see fit.

It has to be told that we get a lot of queries and complaints from OFW who say that they could not get anyone from the Consulate to help them. Instead of winding them up we tend to make excuses for the Consulate, especially the officers who treat us as friends, instead of as pests who need to be kept out of sight.

But with this new development, it has become unpalatable for us to continue doing so.

Why should we make excuses for people who don’t seem to care that some vulnerable members of the community need to be attended to, fast? Why should we pretend that our government’s representatives here feel for them when even we whose main duty is to seek answers to their concerns are kept at arm’s length?

What makes this whole thing even more deplorable was the lack of consultation, or proper notice. One day we were just in there, asking about a 4-year-old illegal recruitment case that was brought to our attention only recently, and the very next day, we were told that the area was already off limits to us.

Since we were already there, what would it have taken the officers concerned to tell us to our faces that we were disrupting work, and should stay behind the barred doors, like any other Filipinos they deem to have no business being there?

Would it have been too much to ask for a meeting so we could all sit down and address our mutual concerns?

By the heavy handed way the already formidable doors of the Consulate were shut in our faces, it was made clear to us that our concerns are not their concerns, that we are not seen as partners in the task of providing factual, speedy information to the rest of the community.

We cannot be blamed if we now hesitate to go to them to get answers to our questions. If they do not need us, much less do we need them to get our work done. We have served this community for the past 21 years, rather well, if it must be said. We could do it alone.

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