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Filipinos Rally Against Iraq Ban

August 21, 2004|From Associated Press

MANILA — About 3,000 Filipinos seeking jobs in U.S. military camps in Iraq marched near the presidential palace Friday to pressure the government into lifting a ban on sending workers to the Middle Eastern country.

The ban was imposed last month after a Filipino truck driver was abducted by Iraqi insurgents. He was released after Manila met the kidnappers' demands and pulled out its troops ahead of schedule.

About 4,000 Filipinos already work in U.S. military camps throughout Iraq.

One of the rally organizers said workers in Iraq could earn monthly salaries of $500 for ordinary jobs and $1,200 for professional positions -- wages they can only dream of in the Philippines, where unemployment runs 13.7% and a third of the population lives on less than $1 a day.

Chanting, "Lift the ban now!" the job seekers marched from the financial district of Makati to the Malacanang presidential palace, but were stopped by a police barbed-wire barricade.

Some were tearful, clutching rosaries as they held placards urging President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo to lift the ban.

Labor Secretary Patricia Santo Tomas said the ban would not be lifted soon. "It is still not safe now, according to our assessment," she said.

But protesters said they were willing to risk their lives.

"We are prepared to die for our families," said Corazon Tiglao. "I am not afraid to go there. Instead, I fear for my children because they might die of hunger because there are no jobs here."

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