Tuesday, February 9, 2016

PHL Embassy working to bring home remains of Iraq fire victims soon

The Kurdistan Regional Government reiterated Tuesday morning its assurances to the Philippine Embassy that it will do everything possible to facilitate the repatriation of the remains of 13 overseas Filipino workers who perished in the Capitol Hotel fire in Erbil last Friday, the Philippine Embassy in Iraq posted on its Facebook account.
"While it normally takes two weeks or more before deceased migrant workers could be sent home, the Embassy is hopeful that with the support promised by Kurdish authorities, the families in the Philippines will not wait that long," the embassy said in a statement.
Elmer Cato, charge d’affaires of the Philippine Embassy in Baghdad, told GMA News Online that embassy officials met Kurdish authorities to coordinate the repatriation of the remains of the victims.
"On Sunday, the Embassy called on Governor Nawzad Hadi who told us that no less than Iraq Kurdistan region President Masoud Barzani have expressed great sadness over the deaths of the 13 Filipinos and ordered a thorough investigation into the incident," he said.
"With the victims identified and their loved ones notified, the Embassy will now focus its efforts on getting them home as soon as we can," Cato added. — DVM, GMA News

Señeres remembered for championing OFW rights

Members of both the Senate and House of Representatives on Monday praised OFW Family Club party-list Rep. Roy Señeres for his dedication to improving the lives of migrant workers and ordinary employees.
Senator Grace Poe said Señeres, who passed away on Monday morning at the age of 68 due to complications from diabetes, left behind a legacy "as a champion of the welfare of OFWs (overseas Filipino workers)."
"He will be remembered for his cause to make better working conditions for Filipino workers through their security of tenure," Poe said in a statement. "Our prayers are with him and his family."
Poe’s running mate, Senator Francis Escudero, said he is saddened by the demise of the former ambassador a day before the campaign season for those seeking national posts in the May elections kicked off.
"I am deeply saddened and shocked by the sudden demise of Ambassador Roy Seneres. He is a big loss to the OFWs and their families, whose causes and concerns he had fought for," Escudero said.
"Our deepest condolences to his family. I appeal to our people to pray for the eternal repose of Ambassador Seneres, as well as for strength for his loved ones during this difficult time," he added.
Senator Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. said Señeres had championed OFWs’ rights as a diplomat and fought for laborers’ rights as chairman of the National Labor Relations Commission.
In the House of Representatives, Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. said Señeres will be remembered for his "unwavering dedication and sincere service to our nation onto the very end."
"He is a great loss to our overseas Filipino workers’ community having spent most of his life to champion their concerns as well as those of the labor sector," Belmonte said.
Isabela Rep. Rodolfo Albano III said he considers Señeres a champion of the rights and welfare of Filipino migrants.
"I am saddened by the demise of the esteemed and respected colleague and legislator who had worked hard to uphold and protect the rights of migrant, and evel local, Filipino workers," he said in a statement.
Señeres was supposed to run for president under the Partido ng Manggagawa at Magsasaka until he withdrew his candidacy last Friday for health reasons. Xianne Arcangel/KBK, GMA News

DOLE assures assistance to kin of 13 Pinoys killed in Iraq fire

The families of the 13 Filipinos killed in a hotel fire in the Kurdistan region in Iraq are set to receive benefits from the government, Labor Secretary Rosalinda Baldoz said Monday.
The benefits, given to families of OFWs who are members of the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA), are in the forms of death insurance, entrepreneurial skills training and educational assistance for the victims' children.
"If the OFW is an OWWA member, they will be entitled to death insurance, if their children wish to avail of educational assistance, they can be provided by applying," Baldoz said.
"If immediate the family member plans to engage in business, they can avail of entrepreneurial developmental training," she added.
Baldoz said the financial assistance will be sourced from the integrated livelihood program of the Department of Labor and Employment.
"We’ll make sure employers will give families of OFWs who perished will be able to collect the benefits that are due them, life insurance, unpaid wages et al.," she said.
The 13 were among the 17 people killed in a fire that struck Capitol Hotel in Erbil, capital of the Kurdistan autonomous region, on Friday evening. They were all employed in the hotel.
Investigators said the victims all died because of suffocation.
The Philippine government has placed most of Iraq under Alert Level 4, which calls for mandatory repatriation. Kurdistan, however, remains only under Alert Level 1 due to a more "stable security situation."
The repatriation of the victims, which will be shouldered by the employers, is being coordinated with the Department of Foreign Affairs.
"The repatriation will be shouldered by employers. If employer fails, OWWA will shoulder the repatriation. Both, member or not," Baldoz said. —KBK, GMA News

Fil-Am group to relive People Power revolt for new generation

SAN FRANCISCO - Thirty years define a generation, or so says Merriam-Webster.  Those three decades supposedly span the average time between an individual's birth and parenthood, between earliest learning and teaching, emulating and modeling.
Nineteen eighty-six was the year Filipinos delivered what is now known throughout the world as "People Power," the peaceful uprising that culminated on Epifanio de los Santos Avenue—also known as EDSA—that brought down a once-feared dictatorship.
Between then and now, a new generation of Filipinos has been born, many of whom have never heard the words "People Power" or confuse it with similar movements that ousted another Philippine president a few years later.
For them, a group of individuals who fought the regime of Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos and risked their lives leading or supporting the opposition is dedicating a series of events to honor Filipinos' greatest gift to democracy. 
Organizers of  "EDSA People Power @30" have partnered with the Philippine Consulate General in San Francisco and Filipino American nonprofits for a tribute that evokes the spirit of the revolt.
"We were beginning to realize that while it had often been said that the Marcos dictatorship silenced a generation of national leaders,  the 30 years after 1986 produced a generation of Filipinos—in the Philippines and around the world— who were ignorant of what People Power was," Susan Po- Rufino, co-organizer of the 30th anniversary events, told Philippine News. 
"We were collectively worried about this post-EDSA People Power generation whose history textbooks hardly contained any references to this phenomenon that propelled the Filipino people as global models of peaceful, radical political change. In fact, there seems to has been a rash of revisionist accounts lately about the Marcos regime,  in effect,  trivializing the 1986 People Power revolution which other nations had been emulating since then."
An essay-writing contest for Filipino American residents born before 1986 launches the  remembrance. Book readings and presentations, a screening of a documentary and a photo exhibit at the consulate will relive the highlights and unseen moments that restored freedom in the archipelago nation.
Po-Rufino credited Consul General Henry Bensurto for conjuring up a "celebration...(that looks) to the future - have the post-EDSA generation as featured speakers, sponsor an essay contest eligible only to this generation."
 
The timing for a history lesson could not be more ideal. 
"A crucial Philippine national election is coming up, and there's a whole generation of Filipinos and Filipino Americans who are not aware of one of the most corrupt and brutal dictatorships in the world," co-organizer Mila de Guzman referred to the national elections in May.  Many of the candidates are relatives or allies of Marcos and his cronies as well as of his fellow ousted president (now Manila Mayor) Joseph Estrada and his successor Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, who is in hospital arrest on corruption charges. 
Po-Rufino, a luxury real estate broker, and de Guzman, a freelance journalist, have a personal stake in the enterprise.  Both have family members who were herded into military camps along with other political activists who challenged the dictatorship.  They themselves were anti-Marcos activists , but their thoughts are with those who died or disappeared and missing to date or otherwise subjected to atrocities after Marcos declared martial law in 1972.
"More than 3,000 were killed, thousands imprisoned and tortured, women political prisoners were subjected to rape and other sexual abuses," said de Guzman.
Overseas Filipinos were not safe from regime operatives.
De Guzman said she was forced into "involuntary exile" as a UN employee when her Philippine passport was revoked by the consulate in New York.
"Activists in the US were not spared from the surveillance and harassment, and even murder," she stressed.  "Seattle union leaders and anti-Marcos activists Silme Domingo and Gene Viernes were gunned down at their union headquarters on June 1, 1981 by Marcos gunmen. In an example of People Power, the Seattle community joined together and formed the Committee for Justice for Domingo and Viernes to pursue justice  and filed a civil suit in 1982. In 1989, the U.S. Federal District Court in Seattle found the Marcoses, along with their U.S. based co-conspirators, guilty of the murders. It was the first time a former head of state was brought to  U.S. court for the murders of U.S. citizens and found liable."
Their common enemy brought the two women together.
"We met either in a demonstration or an educational event in the early 1980s and became friends," said de Guzman.
Po-Rufino recalled taking part in anti-Marcos activities as a "sort of coming-of-age" for herself, but quickly qualified the People Power movement in the Bay Area as "minor compared to the sacrifices, dedication, deprivations of those in the resistance movement back in the Philippines."
The experience strengthened her character.
"It taught me to make choices, stand up and speak up for what I believed in - not that I did not have this exposure at the Diliman campus of UP in the '60s or for that matter, at home where my father would invite over his fellow former detainees during the witch-hunting days of the 1950s," said the member of Movement for a Free Philippines founded by former senator and presidential candidate Raul Manglapus. 
"It rankled me no end when, at that point in the life of the Filipino nation, many people I knew refused to take sides. That's when I decided to have crash courses in Zen so I could savor that bright shining moment of February 25, 1986!"
San Francisco was ground zero for victory of stateside People Power.
The day that then-Consul Gen. Romeo Arguelles announced he was defecting from the Marcos administration opened the formerly forbidden doors of 447 Sutter Street to all Filipinos including opposition leaders and media including Philippine News.  Arguelles was the first Philippine diplomat to reject the dictatorship.
   
Po-Rufino had made the site a daily destination "within the crowd control metal barricades which the SFPD had set up every day of that month (and the month before) chanting for Marcos to step down and that Cory Aquino be declared president of the Philippines."
De Guzman, who by then had relocated to San Francisco and joined the Coalition Against the Marcos Dictatorship, stayed glued to the television those pre-internet days, due to work.
She lost no time after her comrades had occupied the consulate while overseas compatriots reclaimed Malacanang Palace in Manila to fulfill a long-awaited plan.
"Two days after the overthrow of the dictator, I was at the Philippine Consulate applying for a new passport to travel to the Philippines for the first time after almost a decade," she told Philippine News.  "When I called my family, the first words of my Dad, who was celebrating his 70th birthday that April, were: 'Come home now, you'll be safe.'"
Ten years later she wrote her nieces, Rachel and Raquel, then-11 and born in March and April 1986.
"I told them that I hoped that they would never live through a dictatorship, that the historical event of People Power would serve as a reminder that social justice and freedom are worthy causes to support, and that they would pursue whatever professions their hearts desire and try to give something back to society as their lives would be much richer by that humanity," said the author of upcoming book "Women Against Marcos:  Stories of Filipino and Filipino American Women Who Fought a Dictator."
"Time will tell if my words had any impact on them," she added.
Po-Rufino's children Angelo and Georgina tagged along on their mother's many meetings and rallies.  Her son now lives with his wife on the East Coast will commemorate in spirit, but her daughter will definitely be among the Gen-Y and Xers and Millennials EDSA People Power@30 aims to inspire. —Philippine News

2 Pinoys among 5 seafarers held hostage in Nigeria –report

Five crew members of an oil tanker — two of them Filipinos — are believed to be being held hostage by separatist rebels off Nigerian waters, according to a US News report over the weekend.
The report, citing the Associated Press, said the rebels hijacked first the Greek-owned MT Leon Dias then took with them the crew members — the Filipino captain and third engineer, the Russian chief engineer and electrician, and a fitter from Georgia.
The Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said it is still "awaiting official confirmation" from the Philippine Embassy in Abuja regarding the report.
The rebels were reportedly espousing an independent state of Biafra in southeast Nigeria.
The Philippines is one of the world's largest providers of shipping manpower in the world.
A bulk of Filipino seamen or more than 20 percent of the world’s 1.2 million sailors are manning oil tankers, luxury liners, and passenger vessels worldwide, exposing them to piracy attacks.
Piracy and ransom kidnappings of Filipino sailors have long been a problem for the Philippine government as it lacks the capacity to monitor their movements when at sea.
As a policy, the Philippine government does not negotiate nor pay ransom to kidnappers, but gives ship owners the free hand in negotiating for the release of abducted Filipino sailors. —KBK, GMA News

13 Filipino workers killed in Iraq hotel fire identified

The 13 Filipino women workers who died in a hotel fire in Iraq have all been identified, the Philippine Embassy in Baghdad said Monday, as it clarified earlier reports that 14 Filipinas died in the incident.
“Kahapon, natapos namin yung pag-identify ng mga remains nung ating mga sinawing palad ng mga kababayan. Right now, we’re in the process of notifying their next of kin,” charge d’affaires Elmer Cato said in a “News To Go” interview.
The Filipinas were among the 21 killed in a fire that struck the Capitol Hotel in Erbil, the capital of the Kurdistan autonomous region on Saturday.
Cato said the regional government of Kurdistan mistakenly identified one of the fatalities as a Filipina.
“Nung dumating kami nung Saturday at binilang namin yung mga remains na nandoon, 13 lang and in-explain nila sa amin na yung isang biktima ay akala nilang Pilipino ay hindi pala...Tinanggal na nila sa listahan kaya naging 13,” he said.
The envoy said they hope to fly the remains to the Philippines as soon as possible.
“Sa normal process, it would take dalawang linggo bago maiuwi pero sa palagay namin, dahil sa assurance ng regional government ay mapapaaga natin yung pag-repatriate ng remains,” he said.
The Philippine government has placed most of Iraq under Alert Level 4, which calls for mandatory repatriation. Kurdistan, however, remains only under Alert Level 1 due to a more “stable security situation.”
“Yung Kurdistan ay host sa pinakamaraming mga OFWs sa Iraq. Estimate natin is 2,000 Filipinos siguro, 1,500 ay nasa Kurdistan region,” Cato said. Kathrina Charmaine Alvarez/ALG, GMA News

DFA exec: We have no authority over Zapanta’s blood money

The Department of Foreign Affairs cannot spend even a single centavo of the P23 million raised to save the life of overseas Filipino worker Joselito Zapanta, who was sentenced to death and eventually executed in Saudi Arabia.

DFA spokesperson Assistant Secretary Charles Jose on Sunday assured the public the money is intact, and that it will be up to the donors to decide whether they want their money back or spent it for other purposes.

“Itong money na ito, ni-raise na ang purpose ay pambayad ng blood money sa pamilya ng biktima ni Joselito Zapanta. Wala kaming authority na gamitin ‘yun for any other purpose," said Jose in an interview on dzBB radio.
"Dahil hindi natuloy yung pagbayad ng blood money, kailangan namin ng decision from the donors on the disposition [of the money],” he added.

Asked if the money could be used to help Zapanta’s family, Jose said: “Hindi kami ang magde-decide noon. Ang DFA ay custodian lamang ng perang ‘yun.”

Also, he said the blood money cannot be reverted to national coffers because it came from private donors.

Earlier reports indicated that the money is in a bank account opened by the Philippine Embassy in Saudi Arabia.

Zapanta, 35, was sentenced to death for the killing of his Sudanese landlord over a rent dispute and for taking the latter’s mobile phone and cash.

His victim’s family initially demanded 5 million Saudi Rial blood money, but it was later reduced to SR 4 million or P48 million.

Under the Shariah Law, blood money is a compensation given to the family of murder victims to forgive the offender.

At least P23 million in blood money was raised through donations, but it was not enough to save Zapanta.
He was executed on December 29, 2015, despite appeals for compassion and deferment of execution from President Benigno Aquino III and the DFA.
Last week, Senator Cynthia Villar filed a resolution seeking an inquiry to determine the status of Zapanta’s blood money.
She raised the possibility that the amount could be used to serve some other causes such as to help the children left by Zapanta, aged 12 and 10, or other OFWs on death row. — LBG, GMA News

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