Wednesday, September 2, 2015

2,454 Filipino Muslims to perform Hajj this year

JEDDAH - A total of 2,454 Filipino Muslims are expected to perform Hajj this year, Philippine Consulate officials said on Sunday.
 
Consul Germinia V. Aguilar-Usudan, Consulate Acting Head of Post, said the first two batches of pilgrims arrived and were welcomed and assisted at the Prince Mohammad bin Abdulaziz International Airport in Madina, Saudi Arabia on August 23.
 
Usudan said the pilgrims were on board two different flights—via Saudi Airlines SV871 and Emirates Airlines EK807.
 
Usudan and other consulate officials as well as officials from the National Commission on Muslim Filipinos (NCMF) also welcomed and assisted the subsequent arrivals of more than 1,000 Hajj pilgrims from August 24 to 26.
 
Usudan said it is expected that 2,454 Hajj pilgrims will arrive in the Holy City of Madina in the coming days—the highest recorded number of Philippine Hajj pilgrims' arrival in the said city.
 
Hajj 2015 is expected to fall on the third week of September. 

The Hajj is an annual pilgrimage and the largest gathering of Muslims in the world. It is one of the five pillars of Islam. Muslims are encouraged to join the Hajj at least once in their lifetime by traveling to Mecca and Madina in Saudi Arabia. —KG, GMA News

OFW groups eye face off with BoC chief Lina during Congress probes

The planned dialogue between a coalition of pro-migrant groups and Customs Commissioner Alberto Lina on Monday did not push through, with the coalition opting to just face Lina and other Customs officials in Congress.

"Hindi natuloy kasi nung sini-set na 'yung schedule ng BOC (Bureau of Customs), nag-decide ang coalition na doon na lang pag-usapan sa House [of Representatives] and Senate," Ferdie Maglalang of the Blas F. Ople Policy Center, a group that assists distressed OFWs, told GMA News Online on Tuesday.

"Kasi naisip na mas transparent sa Kongreso at talagang magkakaroon ng reporma keysa sa dialogue ng BOC," he added.

The dialogue would have centered about the BOC's plan to manually inspect balikbayan boxes and its other reforms that are said to be anti-OFW.

Maglalang said their decision not to push through with the dialogue stemmed from their past experience with the Manila International Airport Authority (MIAA) regarding the P550 terminal fee issue. He said their dialogue with the MIAA went nowhere.

"Napaso na dati 'yung coalition," he said. "[We tried guiding the MIAA], pero wala ring nangyari."

Members of the Coalition include the Blas F. Ople Policy Center and Training Institute, the Philippine Migrants Rights Watch, the Pinoy Expats/OFW Blog Awards, Inc., Patnubay Group, LBS Recruitment Solutions, Inc., the Global Asia Alliance Consultants Inc., United Filipino Seafarers, Filipino Migrant Workers, OFW Family Partylist, Center for Migrants Advocacy, Kabalikat ng Migranteng Pilipino, Inc., Kapisanan ng mga Kamag-anak ng Migranteng Manggagawang Pilipino, Inc. and Federation of Associations of Manpower Exporters.

The House investigation on balikbayan boxes, which was sought by Bayan Muna party-list Rep. Neri Colmenares, will take place on Wednesday at 1:30 p.m. On the other hand, the Senate probe will be on Thursday at 10 a.m.

The investigations will push through despite President Benigno Aquino III's order for the BOC to stop its manual inspections of balikbayan boxes after it drew flak from OFWs.

Lina announced last August 28 that new guidelines on balikbayan box inspections will be signed on Wednesday after they finalize its details on Tuesday.

These guidelines will include a multiple-step process using mobile x-ray machines and smaller devices to detect anomalies in boxes without opening the containers.

Meanwhile, another pro-OFW group, Migrante, which spearheaded the "zero-remittance" protest last Friday in reaction to balikbayan box debacle, will push through with its meeting with  Lina.

In a text message to GMA News Online, Migrante chair Connie Bragas-Regalado said the meeting will take place on September 9. —KBK, GMA News 

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Pinay sisters lauded in ‘X-Factor UK’ are drafted professionals –report

The all-Filipina girl group who recently made a splash on talent show "X-Factor UK" may find themselves at the center of controversy following claims that they are seasoned professionals who have TV appearances and record releases in the Philippines and other Asian countries.

4th Power, a group of four sisters hailing from Isabela province, dazzled the 'X-Factor UK' audience on the first week of the talent show's 12th season by belting out the hit song 'Bang Bang' by Jessie J., Ariana Grande, and Nikki Minaj, complete with an energetic dance number.
 
Their performance not only impressed the audience but also won a standing ovation from judges Simon Cowell, Cheryl Fernandez-Versini, Rita Ora, and Nick Grimshaw.

Prior to their performance, a home video that showed their trip from the Philippines to the United Kingdom to audition was played, capturing how anxious and excited the sisters — Mylene, Celina, Irene and Almira — were to perform in front of the judges.

Drafted?

Citing an unnamed source, an article on Mirror, a UK tabloid, said show producers drafted the girl group with full knowledge of their professional background, and have had several meetings and deliberations before inviting them to be a part of the show's latest season.

“Executives looked at everything they had done before and discussed them at length before making the decision to invite them back and make them a big part of the launch show. Obviously they were exactly what had been expected. But the judges had not been told what was coming, to ensure their ­reaction was as strong and completely natural as it could be,” the article quoted the source as saying.

The group has competed in several talent shows in the Philippines, including “Pinoy Idol,” “It’s Showtime” and “Talentadong Pinoy.”
 
The Pinay sister act has been known by names such as The Gollayan Sisters and The Cercados and have also joined the biggest talent show in South Korea, “Superstar K6," as M.I.C.A., where they reached the competition's final round.
 
They reportedly debuted as 4th Power in the "X-Factor UK" auditions this week, and got four 'Yes' after they have won the hearts of the judges.

Foreigners welcome

Simon Cowell showed full support for the Pinay girl group, despite being foreigners.

“It felt their time was right and if they have been on something before we could do a better job with them, make a better record than anyone else. They got a bigger reaction than any British act. They could give Little Mix a run for their money,” he said.

Cowell added, “Part of me welcomes foreign talent in case we may not find enough at home. Another part of me thinks it is a badge of honour if you do well on the UK show. We sell it all around the world. That’s the one they all want to audition for and I’m competitive against the other versions of the show. So I like it if ­foreign talent comes to the UK and not to their home country.”

The issue of whether professional should be allowed on the show has yet to be settled.

However, this is not the first time that the show was attacked for “scouting” talents, like former finalists Jahmene Douglas and Stevi Ritchie, who admitted to being drafted by the show's bosses.

According to the rules of the show, “Acts may be invited to audition for the programme by ­researchers acting on behalf of the ­producer. Such acts will be ­required to go through the audition process.” Bianca Rose Dabu/KBK, GMA News 

DFA: No word yet if Pinoys among casualties in Saudi oil company fire

The Department of Foreign Affairs on Monday said it has yet to receive information on whether there were Filipinos caught in the fire in an oil workers' residential compound in Saudi Arabia, where 10 people were killed.

In a text message to GMA News Online, DFA spokesman Charles Jose said, "Our Embassy in Riyadh has so far not received report of any Filipino injured or killed in the (Saudi) Aramco fire."

Earlier, however, the Philippine Ambassador had gone onsite to personally check on the situation there.

Reuters report on Sunday said the Saudi national oil company did not identify the nationalities of those killed from the fire.

However, the Civil Defence agency there said among those killed were three canadians of Asian origins, a Pakistani, and a Nigerian woman.

It also said in a new statement that 259 people were injured in the fire. Aramco, however, said only 83 were hurt. Rose-An Jessica Dioquino/KBK, GMA News 

Self-doubt leads Dubai’s ‘Birit Heartthrob’ to passion for singing

AL AIN, United Arab Emirates – To find his real self and calling, overseas Filipino worker (OFW) Zack Allen has resorted to singing, and later on earned the moniker “Birit Heartthrob of Dubai.”

“I felt I was lacking as a person,” said Allen, 35, a visual merchandiser with the Al-Futtaim Group, via email.

Two years after he arrived in the UAE in 2007, Allen started joining singing competitions held in Comedy Junction Dubai.

“Sa singing ko nahanap ang sarili ko. Nasabi ko ‘yan kasi hindi ako nilubayan ng kanta, kahit saan ako mapunta at sino makasama ko, 'yung pagkanta kaakibat ko na, hindi siya nawala,” he said.

Allen's efforts have not been for naught — he won third place in the “1st Pinoy Song Festival” in August 2009, second in the “Freestyle Sing-alike” in October 2009, fourth in the “CJ Birit” in June 2012, third in the “X-Factor Challenge” in March 2013, and fifth in the “Birit King” in June 2015.

“Through I haven’t bagged a title at any singing competition, I have created a niche in the music circle here,” said Allen, whose influences included Martin Nievera, Jed Madela, Adam Lambert, David Cook, Caleb Johnson, Chris Daughtry, and Taylor Hicks.

Allen has been the front act during the shows of Anton Diva, Tammy Brown, Fudge, Tekla and Pooh, Aljur Abrenica, Sheryn Regis, Angeline Quinto, Kim Chui and Paolo Avelino here.

He has also been involved in two shows: in “Zack Allen Reborn,” a birthday show organized and produced by the Gems Productions; and in “Higher Note,” a birthday and fund-raising show organized and produced by the AMA Productions in cooperation with the Comedy Junction.

“I started out singing as a member of a church and school choir during my younger years. In those days, I have learned a lot when it comes to singing,” Allen said.

“Going to college was a lot more intense and difficult; that was the time I took to the stage. Going solo as wedding singer was the big start of my singing career; from that, I just follow what my heart says,” he added.

A graduate of Philosophy and Psychology from the Mary Help of Christians in Pangasinan in 2000, Zack also aims to give honor and pride to his family back home.

“Whenever I felt lonely, I go back to the very reason why I am away from home -- to give honor and pride to my family,” he said, adding.

He considers arts and music as his passion. “Way back at school, I was a stage actor and playwright, a dancer at times.”

Challenges

Surrounded by the other Filipino musicians here, Allen said he makes sure to “up my ante” every time he goes on stage.

“The main challenge as a freelance performer here is that, I am only good as my last performance -- I have to up my ante every time I am onstage -- whether doing my own shows, or guesting with the others' shows, or even in competitions. That is my imposed challenge to myself -- be better always than my last performance,” he said.

He also believes that each of the artists here are as worthy as him: “Everyone is unique. Everyone has his own way of expressing his craft. I touch people’s lives and that's what is important and what keeps me going.”

“I know that I am still a ‘work-in-progress,’ but I do believe that my garnered accolades had already brought pride and joy to my family. Even I haven't been a champion in any singing contests here, just being a grand finalist or a runner-up is quite a feat already,” Allen concluded. —KBK, GMA News 

Monday, August 31, 2015

ADB Delegates Visit Pag-IBIG Fund During Cross-Regional Forum on Remittance

ADB Delegates Visit Pag-IBIG Fund During Cross-Regional Forum on Remittance Pag-IBIG Fund was one of the three key institutions in the country recently visited by around 37 delegates of the international forum on Promoting Remittance for Development Finance of the Asian Development Bank (ADB). The event was the first cross-regional forum on remittance attended by delegates from development member countries (DMCs) of the ADB.

The site visit, as indicated in the program, is on “remittance innovations in the Philippines.” “We are honored that ADB has chosen Pag-IBIG Fund as one of the three government institutions in the Philippines to be visited by the delegates of the cross-regional forum on remittance,” said Pag-IBIG Fund President and Chief Executive Officer Atty. Darlene Marie Berberabe during her presentation of Pag-IBIG Fund Benefits for Migrant Workers before the delegates at the Pag-IBIG office in Justine Bldg., Makati City.

 Atty. Berberabe presented to the ADB delegates Pag-IBIG’s programs for OFW members, including access to financial services like remittances and loans wherever they are in the world. Atty. Berberabe informed the delegates that OFW membership with Pag-IBIG Fund continues to grow, reaching 3.9 million as of December 2014, and remitting a total of P1.7 billion Pag-IBIG membership contributions in the same year.

 OFW members of the Fund represent 27 percent of the 14.8 million total Pag-IBIG membership level. They are one of the fastest growing sectors in terms of Pag-IBIG membership. “In response to the growing Pag-IBIG membership of OFWs, we established an OFW Center at our Justine Bldg. Makati office that provides an integrated service for OFWs,” Atty. Berberabe added. In partnership with the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA), Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA), and the Philippine Health Insurance Corporation (PhilHealth), the OFW Center offers services such as membership registration, remittance of member’s savings and loan payments, issuance of Overseas Employment Certificate, pre-departure orientation, investment center for modified PagIBIG 2, and acceptance and release of housing and short-term loans, among others. “We recognize the sacrifices and efforts of our OFWs in order to give their families a better future.


 It is only right that we give them the best service,” Atty. Berberabe added. The ADB delegates conducted a site visit for them to learn about public and private support activities for migrants and remittances.

SSS inks pact with Luxembourg for social security protection



The Social Security System (SSS) officials led by President and Chief Executive Officer Emilio S. de Quiros, Jr. visited the cities of Moscow, Rome, Milan, Luxembourg and Paris from May 9 to 19, 2015 as part of its coverage drive to reach out to Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) and meet with the Filipino Communities in Europe to brief them on the importance of various SSS programs and services.

First photo above shows President de Quiros (2nd from left) with Philippine Ambassador to Belgium and Luxembourg Victoria S. Bataclan (3rd from left) together with Minister Romain Schneider after the two parties signed the Philippines-Luxembourg Social Security Agreement (SSA). SSS Senior Vice President for Accounts Management Group and Concurrent Head for International Operations Division Judy Frances A. See (left) and Inspection Generale de la Securite Sociale Head Claude Ewen (right) witnessed the event.
The Social Security Agreement includes the equality of Filipino nationals in contributions of social security benefits in Luxembourg and export the same benefits if they plan to return in the Philippines. Worldwide, there are about 400,000 OFWs and migrants who are SSS members and a considerable percentage of this number is from the European countries.
SSS has also set-up an Information Desk to provide various services such as on-line inquiry/ verification, registration, data amendments, claim applications and Annual Confirmation of Pensioners (ACOP) requests. Third photo shows Head of SSS Foreign Branch Expansion & Monitoring Department Atty. Sylvette C. Sybico (middle) supervising the SSS team in extending assistance and answering member's queries from OFWs in Moscow.

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