PHL Embassy denies inaction in case of Louisiana offshore oil workers

January 14, 2013 10:10 pm 

By Michaela del Callar

MANILA, Jan. 14 –- The Philippines' top envoy to Washington Monday told a New York-based Filipino community organization to get its facts straight before accusing the government of neglecting Filipino offshore oil workers allegedly exploited by an American company in Louisiana.

Ambassador to Washington Jose Cuisia debunked accusations the embassy failed to look into the condition of Filipino workers contracted by Grand Isle Shipyard Inc., a Louisiana-based firm the subject of a second class action lawsuit filed last week on behalf of some 70 Filipino workers.

“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,” Cuisia said in a statement from Washington and released in Manila.

Philippine Forum claimed Cuisia ignored a request of the complainants for a dialogue and that he ignored the condition of the oil workers.

“This is an unfair assertion coming from a group that claims to represent the interests of our offshore oil workers,” 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, the envoy said the embassy was aware of the problems of the workers as early as 2010.

He said 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.

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, Cuisia explained.

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

Cuisia said he even 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.

Cuisia said the embassy also demanded an apology from Black Elk Energy Inc., owner of the ill-fated platform, for insinuating that the 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, he added.

Cuisia said 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?” Cuisia asked. (PNA)

HBC/MDC/ABB

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