UNIFIL-HK Celebrates Thirty Years of Advocacy
United Filipinos in Hong Kong (UNIFIL-HK) celebrated its 30th anniversary this past Sunday with a march, an ecumenical service and a variety show. The festivities marked an important date in the history of one of Hong Kong’s earliest and most important domestic worker advocacy groups.
At 11 a.m. a group of domestic workers carrying placards marched in a tight circle on Chater Road before a bandstand that had gone up earlier that morning. Then they gave way onto Statue Square, where hundreds gathered to listen to Father Dwight of St. John’s Cathedral conduct a service. On the bandstand a series of performances followed, including a group who performed Taekwondo. More song and dance numbers were scheduled for the afternoon, though they faced cancellation because of rain.
UNIFIL-HK was formed in 1984 and was originally called “United Filipinos Against Forced Remittance” (UNFARE), taking its name from a deeply unpopular executive order that then-president Ferdinand Marcos of the Philippines had signed in 1982. Executive Order No. 857, commonly called Forced Remittance, required all Filipino workers signed to contracts overseas to remit 50%-70% of their income back to the Philippines. If workers failed to do so, they faced punitive measures, including forced lending agency loans that could amount to debt bondage.
UNFARE conducted picket rallies, education and information drives, signature drives, gave cultural presentations, helped organise internationally coordinated mass-actions, and teamed up with lawyers, unions and women’s organisations to lobby against the draconian law. Facing pressure at home and abroad, Marcos abolished Forced Remittance on 1 May 1985.
After this major achievement, UNFARE did not end its efforts, but rather reformed itself into UNIFIL-HK to wage campaigns on other issues. Today UNIFL-HK is “united in the struggle to defend the rights and welfare not only by migrant workers but also their families by upholding the struggle of the Filipino people for a society based on justice, lasting peace, social progress, independence and [sic] free from incursions of foreign elements”.
Cynthia Tellez, general manager of the Mission for Migrant Workers (MFMW), a close partner of UNIFIL-HK, spoke Sunday of the centrality of UNIFIL-HK’s advocacy in the history of Filipinos in Hong Kong, and the ways that it helps to empower them when they return home to take up other work.
“They have been very bold in putting forward demands, and expressing what they think should be told, what should championed, and how it should be implemented,” she said.
“They deal not only with Hong Kong but their home country, because that is where their roots are from.”
We extend our deep admiration for the achievements of UNIFIL-HK and may its work continue with success!