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The Philippine Voice at the IOM

(Article published in the Jun  10, 2009 issue of Manila Standard Today) 

It’s a perfect fit: Esteban B. Conejos, Jr. and the number two slot in the Office of the Director General of the International Organization for Migration (IOM).  And should things go as we hope they do at the coming IOM elections, Steve will be holding the position from 2009 to 2014.

 The Philippines, it is often said, is a migrant sending country.  And the figures cited by Rebecca J. Calzado of the Department of Labor and Employment during the International Dialogue on Migration in Geneva about two years ago bear this out.  In 2006, we had about 8 million Filipino migrants in 197 countries. About 3.57 million are in the Americas; 1.84 million in the Middle East; 1.22 million in East and Southeast Asia; 800 thousand in Europe, 339 thousand in Oceania; 89 thousand in Africa.  Two hundred forty four were on ships floating around the seven seas.  Multiply these numbers with the usual number in a typical family and you get a rough but fairly reasonable idea of how much of what we are is accounted for by where many of us live.

 And since migration is not a local phenomenon but a global occurrence, then it stands to reason that we ought to be in a position to provide our meaningful inputs in the policies and concerns of organizations that focus their attention on the migration issue.  The IOM is one such organization; in fact, in my view, the organization.


Established in 1951, IOM is the lead inter-governmental organization working closely with governmental, intergovernmental and non-governmental partners regarding migrants. It has 125 member states with a further 18 states among the 94 observers and maintains offices in over 100 countries.  It is dedicated to promoting humane and orderly migration by providing both services and advice to governments as well as to migrants.

IOM works to help ensure the orderly and humane management of migration, to promote international cooperation on migration issues, to assist in the search for practical solutions to migration problems and to provide humanitarian assistance to migrants in need, including refugees and internally displaced people.

Clearly then, the IOM is where, among many others, the Filipino voice ought to be often heard.  And there is no better person, at this time, to project that voice other than Steve Conejos.

Steve is not a stranger to the IOM.  In May two years ago in Vienna, Steve was a major speaker in a conference of government officials, parliamentarians, experts as well as NGO representatives from both developing and industrialized countries that centered on the potential of diaspora communities in contributing to coherent policies maximizing the development potential of migration. 

This was followed by his chairing for 14 months the 2nd meeting of the Global Forum on Migration and Development (GFMD), from the 27th to the 30th of October 2008  hosted by the Philippines.  On his initiative as chairperson, Steve had  William Lacy Swing, who had just assumed his post of Director General of IOM on the 1st of that month, deliver the opening speech that began the general debates of the conference. 

At the end of the meeting, Swing was to later to give Steve tribute, saying: “I would like to congratulate the Philippine Chair for its courageous and deft handling of the GFMD process, to wide acclaim, and its perfect organization of the smooth handover of the GFMD Chair.”

Steve’s conference handling acumen was, of course, the result of his hands-on work on grappling with problems of Filipino migrants.  As our Undersecretary of Foreign Affairs for migrant affairs, he worked closely with IOM in repatriating 6,000 Filipinos from Lebanon during the war in 2006.  This did not escape the notice of the President: Steve was awarded the Presidential Citation for Leadership.  Also in 2006, Steve assisted Filipinos fleeing from danger in Dili and Tengiz. 

He helped the evacuation of our countrymen, when the firing started, from Georgia in 2008 and from Gaza just this year.  Everyday, hundreds of OFWs receive from his office and his person medical, psychological, legal, consular and repatriation assistance at every stage, from pre-deployment, to on-site protection all the way back to return and reintegration to their communities.

When Steve gets the coveted post as Deputy Director General of IOM, he will be working as part of  the Director General’s Office which has the constitutional authority to manage the IOM and carry out activities within its mandate through the formulation of coherent policies and of ensuring that programme development is consistent with strategic priorities.

To administrative work, Steve is no stranger either.  From his desk at the DFA, he administers the annual budget of the Assistance to Nationals Fund, amounting to US$3.1 million and the US$625,000 Legal Assistance Fund.  He is a member of the board managing the Workers Welfare Fund worth US$250 million.

Maybe Steve’s stellar performance in mobilizing resources for migrants is in part due to his having been Undersecretary for Operations of the Department of National Defense from July 1998 to February 2001.  His responsibilities then included formulating and implementing Philippine security policy through the Armed Forces of the Philippines, the Philippine Veterans Office, Office of Civil Defense, Government Arsenal and National Defense College.

Or maybe it was on account of his graduate studies leading to his degree of Masters of Law from Georgetown University, in Washington, D.C.

           But certainly, his heart for the migrant and his plight must have been formed at the Ateneo Law School where he was graduated with Bachelor of Laws in 1974 after having me, the previous year, as his teacher in Taxation.  From that class he could not have taken flight, or migrated, for I was the only one teaching that subject then.