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14/01/2013: PH Embassy Denies Inaction in Case of Louisiana Offshore Oil Workers

PRESS RELEASE
WDC-001-2013
14 January 2013

WASHINGTON, D.C.—The Philippine Embassy told a New York-based Filipino community organization to get its facts straight before accusing the Philippine Government of inaction in connection with the allegations of several Filipino offshore oil workers that they had been exploited and abused by an American company.

“While we welcome their sudden interest and belated expression of concern for Filipino offshore oil workers in the Gulf of Mexico, Philippine Forum and other so-called solidarity groups should have first done their homework and get their facts straight before accusing us of indifference,” Ambassador Jose L. Cuisia Jr. said.

The envoy issued the statement in response to allegations by the group that the Philippine Embassy failed to look into the condition of Filipino workers contracted by Grand Isle Shipyard Inc., a Louisiana-based firm that is the subject of a second class action lawsuit filed last week on behalf of some 70 Filipino workers.

In a press release intended to drum up public support for the lawsuit, the Philippine Forum alleged that Ambassador Cuisia ignored a request of the complainants for a dialogue and that he was oblivious to the plight of Filipino offshore oil workers the group says are being exploited by the company.

“This is an unfair assertion coming from a group that claims to represent the interests of our offshore oil workers,” Ambassador Cuisia said. “We have no problems with Philippine Forum if it wants to publicize its involvement in this issue but it should not do this at the expense of the Philippine Government.”

Contrary to allegations, Ambassador Cuisia said the Embassy was aware of the problems of the workers as early as 2010 when Embassy officials met with eight Filipino offshore workers prior to the filing in a Louisiana court by Filipino-American lawyer Ellaine Carr of an earlier class action suit against Grand Isle.

He said the Embassy, through the Philippine Overseas Labor Office under Labor Attache Luzviminda Padilla, remains in contact with Carr in connection with the first lawsuit and had recently even offered to help in the filing of a complaint for labor standards violations before the US Department of Labor.

In connection with the 16 November fire in an offshore oil platform in the Gulf of Mexico that left three Filipinos dead and three others injured, Ambassador Cuisia said the Embassy immediately made its presence felt on the ground and extended assistance to the victims and their families.

Ambassador Cuisia said he himself met twice with Filipino workers in Louisiana in November and assured them of assistance should they have any complaints against Grand Isle.

“Up to now, the Embassy has not received a single call or email from any of the workers,” he said.

The Ambassador said the Embassy also demanded an apology from Black Elk Energy Inc., owner of the ill-fated platform, for insinuating that the 16 November accident was a result of the incompetence of Filipino offshore oil workers.

It was also the Embassy and the Philippine Consulate General in Chicago that requested the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to investigate possible safety violations in connection with the incident.

Ambassador Cuisia added that the Embassy and the Consulate General also assisted the families of the victims by facilitating their travel to the US and providing moral and other support to them.

He said the Embassy continues to provide guidance to the families on the courses of action that are available to them, especially in ensuring that they receive all the benefits that are due them.

“Where was Philippine Forum while we were doing all these? What could be the reason why it would come out of nowhere and suddenly act as if government has done nothing and that it is the only one that can champion the cause of Filipino offshore workers?” Ambassador Cuisia asked.  ###