Roy Señeres: knight in shining armor
Congressman Roy Señeres is an unforgettable character.
Señeres, who died on Monday several days after he withdrew as a presidential candidate in the coming elections in May, was a defender of oppressed overseas Filipino workers (OFWs).
I first met Señeres in the late 1980s when he was a labor attaché at the Philippine Embassy in Abu Dhabi, capital of the United Arab Emirates (UAE).
He went on to become Philippine ambassador to the UAE, chair of the National Labor Relations Commission (NLRC), and, at the time of his death, party-list representative of the OFW Family Club.
I would probably never come across a guy like Roy Señeres whose heart bled for oppressed overseas contract workers and put his lofty position at stake to defend them.
When I met him in Abu Dhabi in 1987, his two-bedroom condominium unit was filled to the brim with Filipino housemaids who had ran away from their cruel Arab employers.
The runaways were sleeping in the children’s bedroom, forcing the children to sleep with their parents Roy and Minnie’s in their bedroom, in the living room, dining room and even in the kitchen.
I didn’t know what happened to the runaway maids as I left Abu Dhabi after a little less than a week’s stay in the UAE capital.
I found out later in Manila that Señeres was able to sneak the maids, one by one, out of the UAE and return them to the Philippines.
The greatest triumph in Roy’s career as ambassador was the release of Sarah Balabagan, a Filipino maid in UAE, who was scheduled for beheading.
It was a much publicized story in the Philippines.
He had returned to the Abu Dhabi as Philippine ambassador to the UAE.
Sarah was found guilty by an apparently biased Arab court for stabbing to death her employer’s father.
Sarah, a Muslim from Maguindanao province, killed the old man after he raped her several times in his house.
Her claim that she was only defending her honor fell on deaf ears.
Roy pleaded with the UAE government to spare Sarah’s life and raised enough “blood money” to pay off the dead man’s family.
When Sarah and her family thanked Señeres for saving her life, he told them he was just doing his job as the country’s representative in a foreign land.
Even as chair of the NLRC, Señeres was fair in arbitration cases involving quarrels between employers and workers.
But he tended to favor the workers over the big companies, especially if he knew the employees were really aggrieved.
As a congressman for the party-list OFW Club, Señeres worked for the return to the Philippines of contract workers who were oppressed by their foreign employers.
As host of the public service program, “Isumbong mo kay Tulfo” at radio station dwIZ, I have lost count of the number of beleaguered OFWs Señeres was able to return home using his influence as a legislator and as a former Philippine ambassador to an Arab country.
When I would refer to Roy a crying family member of an OFW in trouble in a foreign country, he would always say, “Papuntahin mo sa opisina ko, at ako na ang bahala (Have him/her come to my office and I’ll take care of the problem).”
With Señeres gone, will somebody in government please take up the cudgels for oppressed OFWs?
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