Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Duterte increases OFW assistance funds to about P1-B

Trishia Billones, ABS-CBN News

MANILA - President Rodrigo Duterte on Monday said he has ordered a budget increase in assistance funds of overseas Filipino workers.
"They are our heroes. They and their families have sacrificed much for the country. We all know how a large part of our economy comes from their remittances," he said in his State of the Nation Address.
"That is why to ensure that their rights are protected, I order the increase of our assistance to the OFWs from P400 million to more than P1 billion," he added.
Remittances from roughly 2 million Filipinos working overseas account for around 10 percent of gross domestic product, which has grown at one of the fastest paces in the world in recent years.
In May this year, remittances reached $2.31 billion. This is 5.5 percent higher compared to the same month last year.
"We have been hard at war at securing the rights and welfare of our OFWs," said Duterte.

How young girl beat AIDS-causing HIV into remission

Mariƫtte Le Roux, Agence France-Presse

A South African girl has become only the third child to beat the AIDS virus into long-term remission -- almost nine years and counting -- after receiving a drug cocktail in infancy, researchers announced Monday.
The child was given a ten-month course of anti-AIDS medicine until she was one year old, then taken off the drugs as part of a medical trial.
Eight years and nine months later, the virus is still dormant and the girl healthy without needing treatment, a research team reported at the International AIDS Society conference on HIV science in Paris.
"This new case strengthens our hope that by treating HIV-infected children for a brief period beginning in infancy, we may be able to spare them the burden of life-long therapy," said AIDS expert Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) which funded the study.
Some scientists refer to sustained, drug-free remission as a "functional cure".
Unlike a traditional cure, where the virus is eradicated, the patient still has HIV in their system but it is so weakened that it cannot replicate or spread to sexual partners.
Researchers hope that by treating people as soon as possible after infection, they can one day induce drug-free remission for sustained periods of time, perhaps for good.
This has become a major focus of research amid fading hopes of finding a permanent cure.
The virus has proven more sneaky than imagined -- it has the ability to hide out in human cells and play dead for years, only to re-emerge and attack as soon as treatment is stopped.
Anti-retroviral (ARV) treatment inhibits the virus, but doesn't kill it, and infected people have to take pills daily for life which are costly and have side-effects.
Relapse possible
A rare group of infected people -- fewer than one percent -- are able naturally to stop the virus replicating. They are known as "elite controllers", but the mechanism by which they keep the virus at bay remains a mystery.
The girl does not have "elite controller" DNA, said the study authors.
Among people taking virus-suppressing anti-retroviral drugs, only a few have attained drug-free remission.
They include 14 adults in a French trial who were able to quit their medication after three years and stayed healthy.
A French woman aged 20, treated as a baby, has been healthy for 14 years since stopping her medication -- the longest-known remission.
In the United States, the so-called Mississippi Baby was in remission for 27 months after being given ART for the first 18 months of life, but the virus rebounded in a major let-down for researchers.
Now there is the South African girl -- the first case of remission in a child enrolled in a trial to test the effectiveness of early treatment, for a limited time.
"Relapse is a possibility in any case of remission," underlined study co-leader Avy Violari of the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg.
However, "the fact that remission has been for a long period suggests this is likely to be durable," she told AFP.
Researchers do not understand how the girl achieved remission when 410 other children in the trial did not.
"We can't tell if her immune system would have controlled the virus on its own or if the treatment made a difference," said Sharon Lewin, a professor of medicine at the University of Melbourne.
The girl was diagnosed HIV-positive on her 32nd day of life. After ten months of treatment, levels of HIV in her blood went from "very high" to undetectible.
Tests conducted when she was nine-and-a-half years old showed the vaguest trace of virus, unable to replicate, said the team. The girl had healthy levels of key immune cells.
Some fear the girl is in a minority of people for whom early treatment is sufficient to induce remission.
"Early treatment is good for lots of reasons. Early treatment stops HIV transmission, early treatment means the immune system stays in better shape and early treatment keeps the (virus) reservoirs small," Lewin told AFP. 
"Early treatment may also increase the chance of remission, but more studies are needed to really prove this."
Michael Brady, medical director of the Terrence Higgins Trust, an AIDS charity, said remission was "impressive".
"We just need to understand more about why this is and then find ways to apply it to others," he commented on the study.
The children in the trial were monitored for rebounding virus levels, and the experts stressed it is not a good idea for people to take themselves off ARV treatment.

Friday, July 21, 2017

Cayetano tells Washington: You are not our boss

Foreign Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano said on Thursday that the government would not send any representative to a US congressional inquiry into extrajudicial killings under President Duterte’s antinarcotics campaign.
Cayetano said he had instructed the Philippine Embassy in Washington to instead send the US House of Representatives’ Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission a copy of the government’s report to the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in May.
As a senator, Cayetano led a Philippine delegation to the UNHRC’s universal periodic review (UPR) session, where he denied allegations of a wave of state-sponsored summary executions in Mr. Duterte’s war on drugs.
“All I’m saying is, they are not the United Nations, they are not our boss, so they have no right to summon us. Now if they invite us as a guest, then we’ll make an assessment and decide whether to go,” Cayetano told ABS-CBN News.
He said the US Congress should not be “fooled” by advocates who had a political agenda.
“But we’re making it very clear that we don’t report to them, and to be fair they are not asking us to report to them. It’s really how the media portrays the hearing but the hearing is for them internally,” Cayetano stressed.
According to its website, Lantos’ commission will call three witnesses on July 20: iDefend Philippines spokesperson Ellecer Carlos,  Amnesty International’s Matthew Wells and Human Rights Watch’s Phelim Kine.
The witnesses will “provide policy recommendations for ensuring accountability for human rights violations” and addressing the drug problem while upholding public health and the rule of law.
Presidential spokesperson Ernesto Abella on Thursday dismissed suggestions that the US inquiry would affect diplomatic ties between Manila and Washington.
“Our relationships are based on other things rather than these temporal matters,” Abella told reporters.
 “We respect the views of the commission and we greatly value the support of the United States that they have given to us and continue to give our country as we address our important economic and social development objectives,” Abella said.
He said the issues in the commission hearing “must be discussed in the context of the scope of the challenge that we face and the actions that we are taking to address it.”

New BOC rules state only sender's kin can receive balikbayan boxes

Starting August 1, only relatives of the sender can receive balikbayan boxes sent from overseas, GMA News' JP Soriano reported on 24 Oras on Thursday, citing a memorandum from the Bureau of Customs.
Customs Memorandum Order 04-2017 also states that a balikbayan box should include an itemized list of its contents as well as receipts for items that are newly purchased.
However, these new regulations do not sit well with forwarding companies, saying they make sending packages burdensome to Filipinos abroad.
"Kung ang reglamentos ng Customs ay ayon sa batas na nakalagay ngayon, ito ay magpapabigat sa ating mga kababayan," said lawyer James Ian Dela Vega, counsel for Door To Door Consolidators Association of the Philippines (DDCAP).
"Kung pinadala niya po ito sa kanyang kaibigan, sa kanyang girlfriend o sa kanyang nobya, hindi po siyang maaring magkaroon ng availment doon sa insentibong o pribileyong ibinibigay ng batas," he also said.
Under CMO 04-2017, senders must also prove that they are Filipino by giving a xeroxed copy of their passports to the forwarding company, and must be amenable to possible inspection of their boxes.
"Kung sakaling mali, hindi kumpleto, walang resibo, maaring patawan siya ng Bureau of Customs ng kaukulang duties and taxes para sa pinadala niyang mga personal na bagay na walang tamang suportang tamang dokumento o papel," Dela Vega said.
But according to Athena Dans, chief of Manila International Container Port's Informal Entry Division, all the provisions under CMO 04-2017 are basic and similar to what is being practiced in other countries.
"That's a declaration. You are declaring what's inside the box. Basic naman yan sa customs all over the world. You have to declare what you are importing," Dans said.
She said such measure will help curb smuggling. "Kami sa Bureau of Customs, we have to protect government revenues, sila naman kasi negosyo yung sa kanila."
Dans assured OFWs that they have nothing to worry about if they would just follow the regulations in sending balikbayan boxes. Rie Takumi/KBK, GMA News

Saudi imposes “dependent’s fee’

Saudi imposes “dependent’s fee’ on foreign workers The government of Saudi Arabia now requires expatriate workers, including overseas Filipino workers, to pay for each family member or dependent holding a resident permit or iqama. Starting July 1, 2017, foreign workers in the Kingdom have to pay to the General Directorate of Passport the amount of 100 Saudi riyals or approximately Php1,350 per dependent per month. Dependents include wife or wives, children, parents, in-laws, house workers, drivers, and any person whose name is registered in the system as sponsored by the expatriate worker. The fee applies to dependents of all expatriates working in the private sector. The fee will be paid in advance up to the date of validity of iqama and is nonrefundable. The government will not issue exit and re-entry visas or renew residence permits without payment of dependent’s fee. The dependent’s fee is being implemented gradually and annually through the government-run SADAD payment banking system. It will be increased to SR 200 per dependent per month on July 1, 2018, SR 300 per month on July 1, 2019, and SR 400 on July 1, 2020. The Saudi cabinet approved the collection of dependent’s fee from foreign workers reportedly to boost state revenues to offset the impact of the drop in oil prices./END

New OFW ID was not rushed for Duterte's SONA –Bello


Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III on Wednesday denied that the new ID system for OFWs was rushed in time for President Rodrigo Duterte's second State of the Nation Address (SONA) on July 24.
"Itong idea of OFW ID, panahon pa ni former President [Fidel] Ramos," Bello said at a news conference.
"It is high time that our OFWs should be given this benefit of an ID. Hindi ito para sa SONA. Matagal na ito. Hindi ito minadali."
Bello said the idea was only realized now because of Duterte's initiative. "I am proud to say that we now have a president who put into realization 'yung matagal nang pangako sa ating mga OFW," he said.
The new ID called iDOLE or ID of the Department of Labor and Employment will replace the Overseas Employment Certificate, which many OFWs want abolished for supposedly being useless and a financial burden.
New ID will be free
Amid criticism, Bello stressed that the iDOLE will be free.
"Libre, absolutely free ang cost ng OFW ID in relation to the OFW kahit balik manggagawa," he said. "It could be from OWWA (Overseas Workers Welfare Administration) funds, it could be from DOLE funds, but definitely no OFWs will pay for his or her ID."
Kodao Productions reported on Saturday that the OFW ID will cost Filipinos P501 while the delivery will cost them an additional P200.
Bello said the DOLE will hold consultations with major recruitment agencies, the OWWA, Philippine Overseas Employment Agency (POEA), and local government units regarding the implementing guidelines of the OFW ID and how agencies or employers will shoulder its cost.
"Ang sabi ko nga, yung tungkol sa payment or cost ng ID is not a problem because it will be a decision that will be arrived at after consultation with the employer, LGU, and OWWA, and POEA," he said.
The consultation, Bello said, is set for next week.
Lucy Sermonia, president of the Coalition of Licensed Agencies for Domestic and Service Workers (CLADS), said they expect to settle the confusion after next week's consultation.
"Meron ngayon pong lumalabas na mga payment na isho-shoulder ng recruitment industry," she said. "Ito po ay magkakaroon po kami ng malawak na konsultasyon dito po sa ating pamahalaan lalong-lalo na po dito sa Department of Labor."
Burden on employers
She said shouldering the reported P700 fee will be too much as employers already shoulder expenses, including placement fees, that OFWs are not obliged to pay under Republic Act 10022 or the Migrant Workers and Overseas Filipinos Act of 1995.
Smaller agencies, she added, will not be able to keep up with payments if the costs for OFW IDs will fall on recruitment agencies.
Despite the confusion, Sermonia said they support the new OFW ID system.

"It's about time po talaga na magkaroon ng ganitong ID ang ating mga bayaning OFW na regalo po ng ating pamahalaan under the Duterte administration," she said. —KBK, GMA News

Are OFWs no longer in demand or competitive?


MIGRATION practitioners and stakeholders have this sinking feeling that overseas Filipinos—overseas Filipino workers (OFW) mainly—are losing their competitive edge in the world stage.
The Philippines—long esteemed as the great example of labor and migrant mobility—is said to have been left behind in the international arena seeking to formulate and establish a global migration policy.
The dialectics of migration shows that both external and internal factors are causing this dilemma.
The rise of a neo-nationalist policy in Europe brought about by the mass movement of migrants and refugees; the US President and the Republican Party’s claim about a deluge of criminals, rapists and drug lords from Mexico; the Australia and New Zealand First policies emulating that of Donald Trump have redefined migrants as job-snatchers and benefits/welfare program smoochers.
Keep them out or make it hard for them to come in, is now a rallying cry – even in the Middle East, especially in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia with its Saudization policy.
In addition, the decline in oil prices that resulted in a reduction or suspension of projects requiring foreign skilled workers, the threat of terrorism and constant attacks of Islamist extremists which resulted in the isolation of Qatar by the major oil-producing nations have all contributed to reduced manpower requests from traditional employers and country destinations.
Internally, OFWs are now older and overqualified to find decent, good paying jobs at home. The present crop of professionals and skilled workers are handicapped by an educational set-up that is disconnected from the economic system, producing graduates that are not on a par with their counterparts overseas, and a government that changes priorities and direction every six years, leaving professionals and skilled workers to fend for themselves.
The majority of OFWs are trades and service workers, associate professionals, technicians and technologists. These occupations do not require a college diploma, but at least sufficient academic grounding (two years in college or completing a tech-voc course) and acquiring competencies that meet the requirement not only of the local industries but overseas employers as well.
Besides, overseas Filipinos and their remittances are the ones hailed as New Heroes. The local workers on the other hand compete for employment scraps at home, for jobs paying the highest minimum wage of P491 daily in Metro Manila, according to the National Wages and Productivity Commission (NWPC).
OFWs remain low-skilled
The 2016 figures from the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) indicate that some one million OFWs are not professionals or managers. In fact, the associate professionals, trades and craft workers, sales and service workers, technicians, service and sales workers comprise almost half of all OFWs deployed in that year—1,090,415 from a total of 2,185,000.
If OFWs in the elementary occupations are included, then OFWs in the middle- to low-skilled work categories keep the economy afloat.
Apparently, the level of skills mismatch borne out of a disjointed education/qualification framework and absence of responsive government programs to elevate the skill levels of those in the labor force fuel the exodus of OFWs from the various regions of the country.
If our mid-level and less-skilled workers are to be repatriated—by the host countries or due to economic and political turmoil—where could our OFWs work, or be welcomed as the competitive equivalent of their counterparts?
Even our professionals—licensed registered nurses as the prime example — cannot practice their profession in most of the country-destinations for work or permanent residency. At the other end of the labor spectrum, our skilled trade workers are prohibited from pursuing their occupations unless they meet the competency assessment of the specific regulatory authorities of the trade.
In Canada, tradespeople must usually be registered or must meet the provincial and territorial trade certification under the Red Seal program “established to create national standards for certain trades that are common to most jurisdictions. Trades approved for Red Seal status are called “designated Red Seal trades.” The Red Seal program and the designation of trades as Red Seal is the responsibility of the Canadian Council of Directors of Apprenticeship (CCDA).”

There are immediate stopgap solutions, but for a long-term strategy that will benefit not just OFWs but the Philippines as well, bringing our education system at par with that of the receiving country and a renewed and sustained cooperation between government and business is required.

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