Elanel Ordidor is a Filipino home care worker in Yunlin, Taiwan, and a political commentator on social media with a following numbering the thousands. In a recent Facebook live stream, she angered supporters of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte by speaking of re-opening workplaces in the Philippines to help alleviate the acute economic and food crises.

“As a Filipino, I fear for my countrymen who sooner or later will have their food supplies depleted because of the quarantine,” she said.

Ordidor’s livestream was bombarded by trolls and “DDS” (Die-hard Duterte Supporters). Responding to the trolls, she said that said the administration-aligned politicians “should be loyal to the people and not an individual.” On Duterte, she said, “If I had a chance to meet the President in person, I would slap him.”

“DDS” circulated parts of her video on YouTube, created a petition to have her deported, and sent death threats to her social media accounts bearing pictures of her three children back in her hometown.

What is extraordinary about Ordidor’s case is a Philippine government official’s direct intervention, seemingly on behalf of her harassers.

On April 17, Philippine Labor Attache Fidel Macauyag allegedly met with Ordidor to pressure her into deleting her posts, and to issue a public apology or else face uncertain consequences. Intimidated, Ordidor agreed, but she changed her mind after the encounter. She told The News Lens, “When political opponents of the Duterte administration are lambasted, are their critics obligated to apologize? There’s no reason for me to say sorry. It’s not wrong to criticize the government. It’s within our rights to point out wrongdoing in government.”

Several days later, on April 25, Macauyag released a scathing statement describing Ordidor’s posts as “nasty and malevolent” and announced he was acting for her deportation. According to Macauyag, Ordidor violated the Philippines Cyber Libel or Cybercrime Law.

After being harassed and threatened with deportation, Ordidor was relieved to hear this week that the Manila Economic Cultural Office (MECO) apologized for their representatives overstepping their bounds. MECO Chairman, Angelito Banayo said that deportation is the prerogative of the Taiwanese government, affirming an earlier announcement by the Taiwan Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

A series of officials and agencies washing their hands of the issue came after Ordidor received demonstrations of support. Banayo now claims that Macauyag acted unilaterally after being informed of social media stir caused by Ordidor’s commentary, and that the Attache has learned the error of his ways. The April 25 statement was made public as an official release of the Philippine’s Department of Labour and Employment (DOLE), an agency under the direct supervision of the President. Malacanang, the Presidential Palace, has since denied having a hand in the debacle.


Photo Credit: CNA

Manila Economic Cultural Office Chairman, Angelito Banayo.

Lennon Wong of the Serve the People Association, which runs shelters for migrant workers, doubts MECO’s sincerity and sees their political backtracking as damage control. He told The News Lens, “MECO and POLO Taichung are schizophrenic and mysterious on this issue. While Macauyag, along with two officers, went to threaten Ms. Ordidor, MECO representatives feigned ignorance about it — the same attitude from the Duterte administration. It's so puzzling and confusing to try to know the real motivation of this despicable act, or even who's behind it. It seems it's the scout move of Macauyag, but it can’t be that alone.”

Despite welcoming MECO’s apology and pronouncements, Wong cast doubt on their record in addressing migrant concerns saying that harassment cases have come up in the past. Under Duterte’s rule, representatives from the office have responded in a partisan manner to voices unfavorable to the regime.

Did Ordidor break any laws?

Attorney Kristina Conti, of the National Union of People’s Lawyers has handled many clients incarcerated due to the lockdown. In her view, Ordidor did not commit any infractions, let alone a criminal offense.

She said that “even assuming that her statements do amount to libel, the proper procedure is to charge her in Philippine courts, after successfully asserting jurisdiction and establishing probable cause. Criticism of public officers, especially of the president, is protected speech because from a larger perspective, it is made in the interest of society and the maintenance of good government.”

As for whether the Philippines can order Taiwan to deport her, Conti says that “the power to expel or exclude aliens from Taiwan is vested in the political department of the Taiwanese government, not the Philippines.”

Wider crackdown

Ordidor’s treatment is of a piece with the Philippine government’s abrogation of citizen rights during the Covid-19 lockdown.

On top of the gross lack of services afforded to Filipino citizens, authorities have endeavored to silence critics who have used social media as a primary platform while in quarantine. The National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) has been sending out summons to those it deems as culprits spreading ‘fake news” or anything maliciously targeting the president. Ordidor was among the people being investigated, according to the NBI.

Several notable arrests have already been made. A film writer in Cebu city and a public school teacher in General Santos city, among others, have been jailed for their online indictments of the administration. All were carried out under the authority of the We Heal as One Act, signed at the end of March, granting Duterte emergency powers. Among these powers is the ability to penalize anyone who the authorities deem as peddlers of malicious information about Covid-19 and the state’s response to it.

Just this week, Duterte renewed threats to declare Martial Law to quell outrage over the government’s response. However, Joanna Concepcion, Chairperson of Migrante International, a people’s organization dedicated to empowering Filipino workers worldwide said that the case of Ordidor “is already a dangerous sign of what Martial Law could look like if its effects were extended to Filipinos overseas.”

Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) are currently encountering obstacles to repatriation. Thousands are stranded in Manila because they have received no assistance from the government to deal with transportation stoppages.

The treatment of Ordidor’s case has further highlighted the government’s selective profiling of its detractors. Mocha Uson, the Duterte-appointed Deputy for the Overseas Worker’s Welfare Association, posted pictures on social media flaunting a visit to more than three hundred newly returned OFWs in quarantine in Batangas province. Mass gatherings are a violation of lockdown regulations, but the leniency on Uson, a self-professed “DDS” herself, speaks to the selective enforcement of the lockdown for administration loyalists.

Gilda Banugan of Migrante Taiwan personally noted that attitudes of OFWs have shifted somewhat as a result of this affair. She admitted that fear plays a factor in posting online as migrant workers would rather avoid harassment and attention, but that on the whole, many are now faced with re-evaluating their politics. She told The News Lens, “Now that the Taiwanese government has spoken, opinions of OFWs have become split on how they view their own government.”

The NBI has yet to call off its investigation. Meanwhile, Ordidor is thankful for the support she has received for standing up to authority figures and maintains that she was exercising her free speech rights.

According to her, the video’s message was muddled by those few sound bites. “We should be thinking of how to help ordinary people who are in desperate situations — help them to amplify their voices.”

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TNL Editor: Nicholas Haggerty (@thenewslensintl)

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