Wednesday, April 23, 2014

US visa-free policy for Pinoys a hoax, PHL embassy in Washington says April 23, 2014 7:55am

A supposed online news report claiming the United States has announced a "no-visa" policy for Filipinos is just a hoax, Philippine officials there said.

In a statement posted on its website Wednesday PHL time, the Philippine embassy in Washington D.C. said there is no truth to such reports.

"The Embassy of the Republic of the Philippines would like to inform the public that there is no truth to what appears to be an online news report that the United States has announced a ‘no visa’ policy for Filipinos. The Embassy has been in touch with the US Department of State, which has denied making such an announcement," it said.

The Embassy added the online article being circulated in social media is "a satirical piece that should not be taken seriously."

It referred to an article on the Adobo Chronicles, which claimed the US State Department announced a "life-changing new policy for Filipinos."

"Visas will no longer be required to travel to the United States. The policy to take the Philippines off the list of countries whose citizens are required to obtain visas for travel to the U.S. is effective immediately," the Adobo Chronicles article said.

The article added the supposed new policy came after a recent survey showing that an "overwhelming majority of Filipinos have a favorable view of the United States," where the Philippines ranked first in a global survey on the image of the United States worldwide.

Also, it claimed US Secretary of State John Kerry said the State Department "made this monumental decision as a way to reward the Filipinos for making the U.S. really look good in the survey."

It added the “no visa” policy comes just in time for the visit to the Philippines by US President Barack Obama next week.

However, a look at the Adobo Chronicles' profile indicated the site is "the best source of unbelievable news."

Still, it did not stop some netizens from posting the article on their social media accounts. Joel Locsin/KG, GMA News

Boston belongs to my heart

On a bright spring morning with the lingering hint of winter still in the air, Patriots Day would dawn bright and very early in Boston. It is a day of celebration in a city that reminds me of an old European burgh with winding streets snaking around its center.

The marathon would kick off in the early chill and it would end near Copley Square just as the baseball game in Fenway Park a few hundred meters away would get going.

It is the only time in a season when a baseball game gets going at 11 a.m. They really hold fast to those old-school traditions in Beantown.

The mayhem of a year ago has turned Patriots Day into something else. I want to blot out the memory of what happened, but it is not easy.

I love Boston not because I am a sports fan who avidly follows the ups and downs of the Red Sox, but because of what the city means to me. I fell in love with the place the first time I went there with my wife and daughter. We walked around Faneuil Hall and up on cobblestone streets which took us past the replica Cheers bar whose reruns I watch to this day.

I’ve gone back — alone — to Fenway mostly in different seasons, in all sorts of days and all kinds of weather. I remember sitting on the third base side a few rows watching a game on a warm summer afternoon.

The intimacy of that ballpark embraced me. It was the first time I watched David Ortiz, the only remnant of that band of idiots who won the first World Series title for the Red Sox in 86 years in the fall of 2004.

After the ballgame, I chatted up with another Fenway pilgrim who made his own annual trip from California to watch the Sox.

I remember another day, a rainy, cold morning going to the souvenir shops outside Fenway during one college hunting trip. I stood in the light drizzle and it felt just perfect.

The scudding clouds unleashed tiny droplets which raked the streets and pelted the old stadium built the same year the Titanic sank in 1912. I bought some oversized T-shirts that still hang in my closet. I wear them pretty much every day.

There was another cool, fall day at the end of the season when I watched a night game in Fenway by myself and then showed up the next day for Game No. 162, the one which ended the season.

There was a late autumn night when I arrived from Maine at North Station where the Boston Celtics would play. I checked into a hotel to rest.

I hiked to a seafood place and had steamed lobster. The rolls were hot with the butter melting in my mouth. The lobster always tasted better in Boston than in any other city where I’ve had them.

The city was always special for me. Some of my best times are on the train rides to and from Boston. I would get off at Back Bay station and walk past Copley Square near the finish line on Boylston Street where the marathon would end.

One year on, I feel a twinge of nervousness wondering what would happen next. Will someone try again?

On another spring morning on Patriot and Marathon day, I wish I was back in Boston. I long for the red beans and andouille sausage of New Orleans, another one of my favorite cities, but Boston belongs to the heart. — The FilAm

PNoy, Obama urged to discuss anti-human trafficking efforts during Manila meet

An international human rights organization on Tuesday urged President Benigno Aquino III and United States President Barack Obama to discuss how both countries can bolster their anti-human trafficking efforts when they meet in Manila on April 28 and 29.

The International Justice Mission (IJM) said in a statement that Aquino and Obama should use their meeting next week to reinforce the Philippines’ and United States’ joint commitment to eradicate human trafficking.

“We hope that next week’s visit is an opportunity to reaffirm the joint commitment of both nations in fighting this form of modern-day slavery,” IJM Manila Field Office Director Samson Inocencio said.

IJM has been involved in the campaign against human trafficking in the country, particularly focusing on halting the sex trafficking of minors.

Obama’s visit to the Philippines next week has been widely seen as part of Washington’s effort to further strengthen ties with its long-time ally in the Asia Pacific region.

Defense and security cooperation, trade and people-to-people exchange are high on the agenda of talks between Obama and Aquino, Philippine Ambassador to the US Jose Cuisia earlier said .

The organization’s call comes at the heels of the release of a statement by the Blas F. Ople Policy Center Center urging the two leaders to include anti-trafficking provisions in the Agreement on Enhanced Defense Cooperation. The pact will pave the way for the increased rotational presence of American troops in the Philippines.  

“IJM believes that criminal accountability and punishment is crucial for deterring and ending the crime of trafficking,” Inocencio said.

In 2012 alone, the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) recorded 1,376 victims of human trafficking in the Philippines. An additional 645 victims were recorded in the first half of 2013.

The country has retained its Tier 2 ranking in the US' 2013 Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report due to its failure to make a significant dent against human trafficking.

According to the report, the Philippines did not make "significant progress in addressing the underlying weaknesses in its judicial systems" in relation to holding traffickers accountable despite “significant efforts” made by groups and officials to fight human trafficking.

The TIP report monitors the compliance of countries in relation to standards in fighting human trafficking.

Inocencio said that with stricter enforcement of the law, the Philippines can dramatically decrease the incidence of human trafficking, as evidenced by the result of Project Lantern, an anti-sex trafficking project in Metro Cebu.

The initiative, which began in November 2005, has resulted in 79 percent reduction in the availability of minors for sex, Inocencio said.

“Project Lantern has shown that when laws are enforced and the justice system works, children and other victims are protected,” he added. —Xianne Arcangel/KBK, GMA News

Govt urged to brief Middle East-bound OFWs about MERS-CoV

A non-government organization has urged the government to include the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) coronavirus in the topics discussed during pre-departure orientation seminars for overseas Filipino workers, particularly those bound for the Middle East.

In a statement Monday, the Blas F. Ople Policy Center said the Department of Health and the Department of Labor and Employment should coordinate with recruitment and travel industries for the inclusion of the MERS-CoV in pre-departure orientation seminars (PDOS).

“It would be prudent to include information about MERS-CoV in their pre-departure seminars as a mandatory topic,” said Susan Ople, the policy center's head.

“The government can brief all licensed recruitment agency owners and PDOS providers specializing in the Middle East market about MERS-CoV so that such information can be incorporated in the mandatory pre-departure briefings for OFWs,” she added.

Ople noted that some 3,000 to 4,000 Filipinos leave the country every day, most of them bound for the Middle East, where the virus is believed to have originated from.

Ople said these briefings could be made to prioritize OFWs working in the medical industry as many Filipinos in the Middle East are employed as nurses.

Since there is no cure yet for the virus, Ople said spreading information is the best preventive measure against it.

Citing the World Health Organization (WHO), the Blas Ople Center said there have been 243 infected patients and 93 fatalities due to the virus since March 2012.

Last Saturday, a male Filipino nurse from the Middle East who was initially diagnosed to be infected with MERS-CoV was declared negative for the virus after tests. — Andrei Medina/KBK, GMA News

Fil-Am elected mayor of Bellflower, California

A Filipino-American has been elected mayor of Bellflower City in Los Angeles County in Southern California.

Sonny Santa Ines was unanimously elected by fellow city council members on Monday night, according to a report on Los Angeles Wave.

The 60-year-old former financial and administrative officer was elected to the city council in 2011. His term in the council will expire in 2015.

According to the website of Bellflower City, San Ines was born in the Philippines where he graduated magna cum laude from the Philippine School of Business Administration (BS Accounting).

Among his past appointments are commissioner, Bellflower Planning Commission; member, Bellflower Town Center Design Review Committee; member, Bellflower Unified School District Citizens' Task Force; and member, Bellflower High School Site Council.

The Los Angeles Wave report said Santa Ines' father also held a city council position in the Philippines, but did not elaborate.

“I was raised on public service,” Santa Ines said in the report. — KBK/JL, GMA News

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Saudi Arabia's king replaces health minister amid MERS virus fears

RIYADH - Saudi Arabian King Abdullah removed Health Minister Abdullah al-Rabeeah from his post on Monday as the kingdom grapples with a worrying surge of new cases of the SARS-like Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS).

His duties will be taken over by Labour Minister Adel Fakieh, who keeps his current post, state television reported. The television channel cited the king's royal decree in its report but gave no reason for the switch.

Rabeeah, who on Sunday told a televised news conference there was no medical reason to impose stricter preventative measures against the spread of MERS, has been made an adviser to the Royal Court, the decree said.

Saudi Arabia has reported 244 cases of MERS since the disease was identified in 2012, of which 79 have been fatal. The

spread of new infections slowed during the winter, but there has been a sudden increase in cases this month.

The 49 confirmed infections announced over the past week, mostly in the port city of Jeddah, represent an increase of 25 percent in the total number of confirmed cases since the outbreak began.

The authorities have at times struggled to counter swirling rumors on social media that they have not been transparent about how far the disease has spread and how effective are the preventative measures taken in hospitals.

Last week the cabinet told Saudi news outlets to report only those cases that had been officially confirmed in laboratory tests by the Health Ministry.

On Sunday, Rabeeah said he thought the sudden spurt of new cases in Jeddah might have a seasonal cause, given there was also an uptick in infections about a year ago, but added that he had "no idea" why that might be.   Reuters

Malaysian police hint at early release of Pinay, Chinese snatched in Sabah

A Malaysian police official has hinted at the early release of a Filipina resort worker and a Chinese tourist who were abducted from a floating resort in Sabah last April 2.

Malaysian police Inspector General Tan Sri Khalid Abu Bakar said they expect to make a "closure" on the case "soon," Malaysia's The Star Online reported Monday.

While he did not elaborate, he was quoted in the report as saying that steps are being taken to secure the release of Marcelita Dayawan, 40, and Chinese tourist Gao Huayun, 29.

“Our priority is their safety. Anything we say could pose a threat to their safety,” he said.

Both women are safe, he added. The two were seized by seven armed men believed to be from the Abu Sayyaf, a loosely organized band of bandits in southern Philippines notorious for bombings and kidnappings.

Khalid also said they have strengthened communication with their counterparts in the Philippines. — Joel Locsin/KBK, GMA News

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