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Filipino Workers reject US navy offer, insist justice be done first

by Coalition in Defense of Immigrant Rights Friday, Aug. 11, 2006 at 1:05 PM 213-241-0906 337 Glendale Blvd. Los Angeles, CA 90026

The Coalition in Defense of Immigrant Rights (CDIR), in support of the Filipino wokrers demands and just struggle, printed this news that appeared both in the Balita Weekend , a Filipino American news weekly in Southern California and in the Filipino Channel North American that featured the discrimination of Filipino civilian workers at the US navy facility here in San Diego. The Workers flatly rejected an offer by their manager to take them back in, saying it sweeps off their complaints against repeated abuse and discrimination and demands for better working conditions, and releases the US Navy from any responsibility in their dismissal.

Filipino Workers reject US navy offer, insist justice be done first

August 7, 2006

SAN DIEGO—Filipino civilian workers at a navy facility here flatly rejected an offer by their manager to take them back in, saying it sweeps off their complaints against repeated abuse and discrimination and demands for better working conditions, and releases the US Navy from any responsibility in their dismissal.

In the meantime, three community-based organizations—the One Vision One Voice Movement, the Center on Policy Initiatives and the San Diego Works for Better Health—took notice of the workers' plight and began the process to provide temporary relief, including medical and legal aid.

On July 31, the US Navy's Morale, Welfare & Recreation (MWR) office invited the 18 Filipinos for an interview with their manager named Fred Maguyon and another official identified as Bonni Essenfeld, the regional personnel manager.

As it turned out however, the 18, who worked as housekeepers at the Navy-owned Admiral Kidd Inn were asked to sign a document that makes them admit to a wrongdoing they did not commit and accept punishment for it, while it also clears the Navy of any responsibility.

"You may elect to accept the suspension x x x or you may accept the time you have been away from your position x x x as your suspension time," wrote Maguyon in a letter to each of the 18 workers. Maguyon gave them seven days to respond. A xeroxed copy of that letter was obtained by this reporter.

The workers said it was a "betrayal" by their manager who was supposed to protect and fight for them because it did not address their basic complaints, namely, the repeated abuses and discrimination, the unbearable working conditions and the work overload. The workers had been forced earlier to surrender their identification cards under pain of being arrested and handcuffed inside the naval base in Point Loma. At least 10 policemen and two police dogs kept them at bay while security aides removed decals from their cars and confiscated their IDs.

"This is harassment. This is retaliation," yelled Aida Montoya who has worked in the same facility for the last 26 years. She said she refused to sign the paper and berated Maguyon for his insensitivy and rude tactics.

Interviewed by this reporter, Montoya recounted how Maguyon tried to woo her back. "I told him: 'We're the ones running the facility, not you! Yet you treated us as the lowliest. You treated like we're animals'," she said, almost on the brink of crying.

Myrna Costelo, who has put in 18 years as housekeeper, also walked into the room for the interview. She said her blood boiled the moment she saw Maguyon and could barely hold her temper.

"He wanted me to work in another facility and told me to sign the paper. I refused and walked out without even saying goodbye," Costelo said.

Reached for comment on Aug. 2, Maguyon begged to "please stop calling me" and forthwith put down the phone. He referred all questions to the Navy's Public Affairs Office.

A spokesman for the Navy, however, deferred comment until he gets the full story from the Navy personnel involved.

A reader in San Diego, Vilma M. Crisologo, commented in an e-mail that Maguyon should be "roasted in a well-deserve reprimand by superiors" and demoted in rank or position.

"He acts like he's a god on a pedestal and yet he's not the commander of the naval facility. How pathetically atrocious that he's so obssessed with the little power he got," said Crisologo.

"I hurl a challenge to the naval officers concerned to look into this matter seriously. This is an issue that cannot be ignored but rather needs immediate resolution," she added.

Two other workers went in for the interview earlier. One of them, Michiko MacDonald, a Japanese American, said she signed the paper without understanding the contents because she does not understand English very well.

She said Maguyon did not explain what she was signing, except that she was being rehired and reassigned to another work site.

Though they didn't sign, Montoya and Costelo managed to get copies of the paper that Maguyon asked them to validate.

Upon learning of the paper's contents, the rest of the 18 workers cancelled their appointments with Maguyon and Essenfeld.

On Aug. 1, the workers met with representatives from two organizations—Edward Asparis, a regional coordinator for MAAC Project; and Quynh Nguyn of CPI—and again recounted their ordeal that began on June 20.

Asparis said his group would enlist private and government agencies to take care of emergency problems like food, medical needs, temporary work, workmen's compensation, etc.

Nguyen explained she would get community organizations and lawyers groups to advocate and defend the workers' rights.

The One Vision One Movement through its founder Dr. Maria Lourdes Reyes has been coordinating efforts to assist the workers with legal help and has sounded out a number of Filipino lawyers to take the case.

The workers have written letters to Sen. Barbara Boxer and San Diego Rep. Bob Filner requesting their intervention. They also asked them to investigate the Navy's policies pertaining to civilian employees.

The plight of the 18 workers has caught the attention of many Filipinos across the United States and in naval facilities abroad where the workers have close relatives. (ROMEO P. MARQUEZ)

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