Tuesday, December 25, 2007

More overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) are opting to stay in the country to start their own business or seek employment instead of going abroad again,

By PIA LEE BRAGO
The Philippine Star
More overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) are opting to stay in the country to start their own business or seek employment instead of going abroad again, according to Commission on Filipino Overseas chairman Dante Ang.

Ang explained that the increasing number of OFWs who want to stay in the country presents a new trend of reverse migration in the Philippines.

He said returning Filipinos either want to raise their families, put up their own business, practice their profession or retire here.

According to Ang, Filipino students, businessmen, permanent residents and foreign citizens were returning to the Philippines because "they see a new Philippines full of promise and potential."

"The stories are anecdotal, the statistics are now well organized and case histories are impressionistic but one gets a sense of a reverse migration, a new longing for home, a new sense of belonging, a new beginning, not for greener pastures elsewhere but for new opportunities and challenges in the home country," Ang said.

Most returning OFWs come home especially during the holiday season to check on their investments, the progress of the construction of their houses, look at possible business opportunities they can start and the progress of their children in school.

He noted that the Overseas Employment Program has grown to 8.2 million Filipino overseas by the end of 2006.

Out of the 8.2 million, about 3.8 million are documented Filipinos, 3.5 million are permanent residents/immigrants, while 875,000 are undocumented.

He said OFWs have remitted an average $10 billion annually in the last seven years, which have contributed to the country’s dollar reserves, helping the government address its economic problems.

Noli lauds overseas employment support system

Vice President Noli "Kabayan" de Castro lauded the overseas employment industry which has expanded to meet most needs of Filipinos wanting to work abroad.

At a forum commemorating International Migrants Day Tuesday, de Castro echoed Commission on Filipinos Overseas Chairman Dante Ang when he said the overseas employment industry has grown from "merely a stopgap measure" to solve the unemployment problem in the early seventies.

"The CFO bears witness to the excellence of Filipinos overseas who have brought honor to our country and who continue to drive the Philippine economy forward through remittances, technology and skills transfer, and invaluable contributions to their host countries," Ang said.

He added that both the Department of Labor and Employment and the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration were looking for ways to expand the reintegration program for returning overseas Filipino workers.

Meanwhile, OWWA came under fire as two members of think tanks based in Washington DC, USA submitted a paper dissecting the agency’s structure.

Dovelyn Agunias of the Migration Policy Institute and Neil Ruiz of the Brookings Institution said they made OWWA the topic of their study because of the rising importance of temporary migration.

"The Philippines is a treasure trove when it comes to migration policy," Agunias said, adding that "this is by no means a performance evaluation of OWWA."

Ruiz added "OWWA is a useful template" for how governments should manage temporary migration.

However, the two stated in their paper that OWWA has its shortcomings, foremost among them the fact that there are only three OFW representatives on the 12 member OWWA Board of Trustees.

He said this should be more in view of the fact that there are OFWs in over 190 countries worldwide.

Furthermore, he said, "they (the members of the BOT) are all appointed by the President and all board meetings are off the record." He explained that OWWA could do with a lot more transparency.

OWWA Director Vivian Tornea said in defense that the three OFW representatives could in effect be expanded to five since the one labor representative and the other management representative were also from the OFW sector. She failed to mention that the management representative was a recruiter and the labor representative represented organized labor and not OFW labor.

She said most of the complaints of OWWA were unfounded and mentioned that the BOT had just approved a lowering of the dollar base rate on which most OWWA fees were pegged.

OFW families savings go to junk cars, new homes

Recent central bank data doesn’t bode too well for those selling cars and houses to families of overseas Filipino workers. Majority of OFW families are either deep in debt to lenders for the overseas stint or they prefer to save money.

Whatever is in between the latter two major spending, as cited in the recent consumer expectations survey of the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas, are spent on food and education.

Just ask 44-year-old Clarita Quisel, a housewife and fish vendor here.
Her husband, who’s now in Qatar, had just finished repaying some P65,000 in debt prior to his overseas trip last year.

Despite that, she says it’s still an uphill climb to save P20 a week or nearly a dollar within 14 days.

“We’re still hard up," Quisel told the OFW Journalism Consortium and sweeps her hand to their one-bedroom house on a 70-square meter lot.

With the strengthening of the peso against the American greenback, Quisel says she augments the P9,000 (US$219.50 at $1=P41) monthly remittance her husband sends every month.

Much of that takes care of our daily needs as well as for the children’s schooling, she explains. All three of their six children are in school.

Scratch out Quisel among either the 1.4 percent of OFW households who said they would buy a car or the 1.1 percent who said buying a house is a spending priority.

These figures represent a poll of 2,526 Filipino households in Metro Manila and 2,561 outside of NCR polled by the BSP for the fourth-quarter consumer expectations survey.

The survey got responses from 2,445 households in Metro Manila and 2,524 from the provinces, out of the targeted 5,087 respondents.

With a 96.8-percent (2,445 households) and 98.5-percent (2,524 households) questionnaire retrieval rate from the NCR and the provinces, respectively, the survey methodologically represents all Filipino households.

Some 469 of the total number of respondents to this first nationwide consumer survey are OFW households, says Winecito Tan of the BSP’s Department of Economic Statistics.

And most of these households are saving than spending.

Indebted

Majority of the total 469 households, according to the survey, are still focused on repaying debts they incurred prior to working abroad.

Only 17.5 percent of the total that have dependents working abroad allot remittances for saving while paying loans.

The numbers also point that most OFW households who save money are outside the NCR.

This development surrounding the number of OFW families who save is while these households allocate remittances for daily sustenance in the household, for schooling, medical expenses, and repaying debts incurred prior to migration such as placement fees, membership payments, among others.

The year-end consumer survey figures for OFW households show that almost all OFW households (97.3 percent) use remittances for food and other household needs. While some 61.2 percent of these same households use remittances for education, 29.3 percent of OFW families use the monies for medical expenses.

Repaying debts incurred to facilitate the overseas migration of the household member is what some 34.0 percent of OFW households do.

“Good thing we have written off that debt," Quiles said. “That (repayment) affected our family’s spending."

“What I have is some P3,000 in Kawayanan (referring to the Kawayanan Bayanihan Multipurpose Cooperative in Malinta village here)," she said adding that that comes from her own savings selling fish from Laguna Lake.

There are some “lapses" to the weekly habit, she admits, especially when there are urgent expenses at home.

But Quisel goes back at the Kawayanan’s weekly Sunday queue once again to make another deposit.

“Somehow, I have learned the habit of saving," she says, “and I have learned to set aside some amounts from the daily expenses for my next deposit."

She also learned one new thing with Kawayanan: “If you want to save, you have to work harder."

Boom

Data from property brokers like CB Richard Ellis emphasize the notion that unlike the pre-Asia financial crisis levels, OFWs are pushing market demand.

In their presentation during the Asian International Real Estate Expo and Conference in December, CBRE said that foreign investors and local and foreign end-users like OFWs and overseas Filipinos are the drivers of the current property boom experienced by the country.

Notably, as the percentage of OFW families that save reached at least 17 percent of the surveyed households, only 5.9 percent of these use their incomes for investment.

The figure was 5.2 percent for OFW families in Metro Manila, and 6.6 percent for provincial-based counterparts.

If matched with the BSP survey, these OFWs may be part of the high- and middle- income groups polled.

But they are the minority in the survey.

Majority of the respondents (59 percent) of the consumer survey were in the “low-income group," or those families who earn less than P10,000 monthly.

Nearly 36 percent of the total 4,952 respondent households were in the middle-income group (P10,000 to P29,999 monthly) while five percent or 254 households belonged to the high-income group (over-P30,000 monthly).

It is only this latter household group who showed optimism that will run up to the next 12 months.

The results from the consumer survey for OFW households contrast what previous studies from Economics students of the University of the Philippines point to: the conclusion is that OFW families have a hard time saving.

A study by Ramon Jose Idang and Cheddie Yap, titled “Determinants of the Saving Behavior of Filipino Households," finds that as more Filipino families increase the number of members going abroad and their remittances, “the need for relatives back home to increase their savings lessens".

“As the number of overseas Filipino workers increases, income tends to decline," the authors contend in their 2002 study that looked at data from the Family Income and Expenditures Survey. - Jeremaiah Opiniano, OFW Journalism Consortium

OFW money remains driver of growth in ’08

Sun.Star: The continued inflow of dollar remittances from overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) and growth in tourism, real estate development and the business process outsourcing (BPO) industry will continue to drive the Philippine economy next year.

Economist Antonio Agcaoili Jr., Asia United Bank senior vice president for treasury group, gave this assessment of the Philippine economy in an economic briefing conducted by the bank recently.

He also expects mining biofuels and government spending to boost the economy by 2008.

In his report, Agcaoili projected a 15-percent growth rate in OFW remittances in 2008 and 2009.

He said remittances from OFWs will sustain the growth of the economy. He noted that many migrant workers are now high-level professionals, composed mainly of seafarers and caregivers earning bigger salaries as compared to when most of OFWs worked as domestic helpers.

Seafarers, for instance, are now receiving an average monthly salary of $3,000 (about P120,000) to $4,000 (P160,000).

Agcaoili said given the “right economic and political conditions," remittances from the OFW market will reach $16.80 billion by 2008 and $19.32 billion by 2009.

He said OFW spending is mainly on consumer goods, such as appliances. A bulk of the remittances is invested in real estate, particularly in housing units, which spur more development in real estate development.

“One-third or around $4.2 billion of OFW remittances went to real estate in 2006," said Agcaoili.

Big ticket projects of developers like Ayala Land, Mega-world Corp., Robinsons Land, and SM Prime Holdings Inc. are indicative of a burgeoning real estate sector, he said.

The real estate industry has also benefited from the rapid entry of more BPO companies opting to relocate in the country, with the sector offering leasable office spaces.

“Office vacancy in Ortigas and Makati today is at four percent," Agcaoili said, adding that the figure is a far cry from the 50-percent office vacancy it experienced in 1997.

In the case of the country’s BPO industry, he said the sector is likely to grow 97 percent in the next three years.

Agcaoili said he expects BPO revenues to grow threefold to $12.1 billion in 2010 from $3.4 billion from the 2006 end level. - Sun.Star

Recruitment sector pushes creation of workers bank

A manpower export industry leader has called on Congress to pass the bill creating an Overseas Filipino Workers Bank to assist "modern heroes" to set-up livelihood projects and small business enterprises after their stint overseas.

Jackson Gan, vice-president of the Federated Association of Manpower Exporters, said the bank operations should be able to help all OFWs as they finished their contracts and decide to stay for good in the country.

FAME is an association of manpower agencies with 600 members.

Funds can be sourced from the P 8.6 billion trust fund where membership fees from OFWs are held in trust by Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) Board.

"OWWA projects for OFWs have been far and few for the past years and many workers have been complaining that requirements for livelihood loans and placement fee assistance are too stringent and most of them do not have the collateral imposed by the OWWA fund assistance department," Gan said.

Gan thanked OWWA Administrator Marianito Roque for lowering to P42 to 1 dollar the computation for the OWWA membership fee or P 1050 starting this week.

Gan said that the lower fee will be able to help the more than 100,000 re-hires or balikbayan workers who are on vacation for the holidays.

He rejected the proposal of lawmakers for a refund of the fee to the workers.

"They do not realize that it is highly improbable to return the over-payment to the more than one million workers deployed this year. Many are re-hires who only return to the country every two years," he said - GMANews.TV

POEA stiff with violators of Mid-East deployment ban

The Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) is now closely monitoring recruitment agencies in the country to pin down those who are violating the existing deployment ban imposed in Iraq, Afghanistan, Nigeria and Lebanon.

In a memorandum signed by Labor Secretary Arturo Brion sent to POEA administrator Rosalinda Baldoz, administrator Marianito Roque of Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (Owwa) and Labor Undersecretary Luzvimnda Padilla, Brion directed the three officials to ensure that no recruitment firm will be spared from this new order if proven guilty for violating the deployment ban.

“The POEA should take, both criminal and administrative, against recruitment agencies violating our ban," the order stated.

“Upon prima facie evidence of the violation, the erring recruitment agency should immediately be suspended," Brion said

He said they have decided to re-impose a total ban in the deployment of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) to Iraq, Afghanistan, Nigeria and Lebanon amid clamor from recruitment companies to lift the ban.

Brion explained that he discussed the matter with the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) where he patterned his instruction.

“Pursuant to the advice of the DFA, reiterated, we asked for its re-examination, there shall be a total ban in the deployment of all workers in Iraq, Afghanistan, Nigeria and Lebanon.

Last month, the Department of Labor and Employment (Dole) issued a ruling partially listing the ban, however, it was recalled by Brion on still unknown reason.

Filipino communities in Saudi Arabia as well as the workers in Iraq have been asking the government to lift the ban.

Aside from Saudi Arabia and Lebanon, representatives of various worker groups in Iraq were pushing for the lifting of the ban in Iraq to enable majority of them that haven’t been home for seven years to go home and spent Christmas here.

Despite the ban, many companies were still able to send to Iraq, OFWs who are holder of tourist visa from Dubai. - Sun-Star

New RP consul general in Jeddah assumes post

Ending three weeks of uncertainty, the new head of the Philippine consulate in Jeddah in Saudi Arabia arrived over the weekend to assume his post.

Online news site Arab News reported Monday that Consul General Ezzedin Tago arrived in Jeddah from Manila Saturday morning and got a welcome party from consulate staff.

He asked for full support from the staff and community, assuring that he was open to discussing with them issues and activities concerning the community.

Tago also asked members of the community to always avoid unnecessarily getting into trouble by abiding with the laws and respecting the customs of the host country.

"Whatever activity by organizations that are helpful to the community and not contrary to the host government’s laws are assured of our support," he said in a brief interview during the welcome party held early in the night at the Ramada Hotel.

Also, he assured the consulate staff and the Filipino community he will maintain the good things his predecessor Pendosina Lomondot did.

"I recognize and acknowledge Consul General Lomondot for a good job he has done and I hope to build on his accomplishment and achievement," he said.

Leading the welcomers were Consul Jose Jacob, Labor Attachés Bulyok Nilong and Adam Musa, Haj Attaché Sulaiman Mutya, head of the Assistance to Nationals Unit Vicky Salian, Welfare Officer Romeo Pablo, and other section heads.

After the brief ceremonies, Tago and the officials proceeded to the consulate to join a gift-giving program organized by the consulate staff for residents of the shelter for distressed Filipino women workers.

Tago was one of the first high school graduates of the Philippine School in Jeddah (PSJ), the first Philippine embassy school organized when his father, Dauday Tago, was an official of the consulate.

The school, now known as the International Philippine School in Jeddah (IPSJ), became the biggest Filipino overseas school with more than 1,200 students until it broke up into several schools several years ago.

After earning a degree in political science in the University of California, he entered the foreign service and served in different capacities.

From 1999 to 2003, he was 3rd secretary and later 2nd secretary at the Philippine Embassy in Riyadh.

From 2003 to 2005, he served as 2nd secretary in Jakarta; and from 2004-2005, he was detailed briefly in Baghdad, Iraq, during the hostage crisis of Filipino driver Angelo dela Cruz and accountant Robert Tarongoy.

Tago said he considered his posting to Iraq "one of my most memorable and challenging tasks." - GMANews.TV

Dividend from labor migration mulled

Can you monetize a child’s separation for more than a year from her mother working overseas? Such question has not only kept both mother and child sleepless at night but economists like Alvin Ang burning the midnight oil.

With most of the eight million Filipinos overseas linked to their country one way or another, Ang said it’s time to face up to the socio-economic cost of such profitable arrangement.

But for an economy that will not see diminished reliance on remittance inflows and overseas migration outflows in the coming years, Ang is searching for a formula where migration yields visible economic returns.

We’re looking at the “net of net" –a dividend, said Ang, a professor at the University of Santo Tomas.

That “net of net" is what Ang calls the “diasporic dividend" of the socio-economic costs of international migration to the country.

This type of dividend, Ang explains to the OFW Journalism Consortium, will relate remittances with exports and imports.

It is a calculation of the power of remittances beyond picking up the slack from weaker conditions in the country’s trade and foreign direct investments.

This line of thought comes from what Ang said was the shift of the country’s place in global trade.

“Before, the Philippine economy became globalized because of trade," Ang said. “Now, it is migration. It is people."

His assertion is supported by the results of a survey by the US-based thinktank A.T. Kearney and the Foreign Policy journal.

Four years of that globalization survey cemented he calls the Philippines’s showcase –its workers– in the global economic arena.

The Philippines is being recognized for the “value of its workers," and not because of its products and investment prowess, Ang said.

Dividend

Ang's search for a dividend from the migration phenomenon was brought about by the results of the 2007 Globalization Index: the Philippines dropped to 38th overall, from being 31st in the 2006 index.

That index’s Philippine ratings on trade, foreign direct investment, and remittances and personal transfers only affirm the “divergence" the Philippine economy felt, Ang observes.

Since the 2004 Globalization Index, the Philippines has ranked first in the sub-category “remittances and personal transfers" in 2004 and 2006, and second in the same sub-category in 2005 and 2007.

The Index had studied 12 variables grouped into four major categories: economic integration (where the Philippines placed 41st), personal contact (14th), technology (61st), and political engagement (49th). “Remittances and personal transfers" fall under personal contact.

In the same 2007 Index, the Philippines ranked 24th in trade and 63rd in foreign direct investments –the lowest Philippine rankings in these sub-categories in the last four years of the Globalization Index.

What Ang finds “interesting," citing Philippine economic data on exports, imports, and the current account (where remittance inflows are recorded), is that remittances only make up 15 percent of the combined total of exports and imports.

Dependency

What the Philippine results of the Globalization Index also revealed was that the “value of people" was recognized the most.

The Globalization Index computed the rankings on “remittances and personal transfers" based on the total volume of remittance inflows and other transfers, with data based on the International Monetary Fund’s Balance of Payments. The total of these two inflows were then divided to countries’ total gross domestic product (GDP).

The 2007 Index saw one of ten countries that are new entrants into the survey, Jordan, ranking first with a 24.19 percent remittances-to-GDP ratio. The Philippines’s ratio is 14.52 percent for second place, while Ghana, another new entrant into the Index, is third with a 14.45 percent.

So in terms of percentage to GDP, even with today’s improving value of the Philippine peso, the dollar value of remittances to the dollar value of GDP remains high, Ang says.

“And so is our dependency to remittances," he adds.

Looking at the Index’s data on remittances vis-à-vis GDP, Ang noticed that the ratios for the world’s top two remittance-receiving countries, India (3.32 percent, for 32nd place) and Mexico (2.90 percent, for 35th place), are not that high.

This means, Ang explains, that these countries “still rely internally-generated economic production" –unlike remittance-driven Philippines.

The sustainability of such a situation for the Philippines is the next question, Ang says, if the country experiences a drop in workers’ deployment and remittances receipts.

Demography

The concept “diasporic dividend" is also in the writings of University of East London visiting fellow Dr. Ken Ife, an African national.

His paper titled “The Diaspora Dividend" outlined the potentials investments by the African diaspora in Europe, Middle East, and North America in the continent’s small-and-medium enterprises (SMEs).

Ife calls the diaspora Africans “sleeping giants (coming from) a land of immense economic, social and political opportunities".

Some six million of them in the US, for example, have contributed US$1.1 trillion to the economy of the United States, while remitting only US$45 billion to African homelands.

Ife’s line of thinking is what Ang hopes as the Philippine “diasporic dividend": overseas workers return to the country as producers “who can sell products to the rest of the world." This is even if the Philippines, says the economist, has yet to feel that “net of net" benefit from her army of citizens in 193 countries.

Some economists, like Dr. Bernardo Villegas of the University of Asia and the Pacific, attribute what they call a “demographic dividend" to the contributions of overseas-based Filipino population in terms of remittances and some savings and investments.

Demographers such as those in the Commission on Population define the demographic dividend as country’s opportunity to achieve faster economic growth when fertility rates are down, the labor force increases than the pool of dependents, and many workers are gainfully employed.

However, PopCom’s recently-released primer of the Fourth State of the Philippine Population Report said that while international labor migration should have brought the country closer to this demographic dividend, the Philippines remains to have high unemployment rates, a low value of the difference between domestic savings and investments, high number of dependents, and limited number of jobs.

Dream

The country can achieve that demographic dividend, the PopCom report says, through internal means: reducing population growth rates, increasing domestic job generation, directing people’s savings to investments, and improving the quality of the labor force.

But while overseas migration has yet to bring about a Philippine demographic dividend, Ang says the country’s policymakers should now find a way to achieve a diasporic dividend.

His equation for this is return migration as an instrument to buoy domestic trade and investment, and the country packaging products both for Filipinos abroad and the markets within the countries where these Filipinos are.

This is a way, he says, the country can capitalize on globalization, and make trade –not just migration– the engine that will sustain the Philippine economy.

Thus, demography can possibly work for the Philippines given the global spread of the Filipino diaspora, says Ang.

“We can possibly conquer the world," Ang said. “But the question is, what can Filipinos produce now that can be sold to the rest of the world?" - Jeremaiah M. Opiniano, OFW Journalism Consortium

Model OFWs: Doing ordinary things in extraordinary situations

Seventeen overseas Filipino workers’ families have been selected models for doing ordinary things in extraordinarily odd situations.

Each of the 2007 model OFWs was able to provide for their children, keep family bonds unbroken and render outstanding community services despite great divides of time and space.

Families of two seafarers and a household service worker were proclaimed on December 6, 2007 as national winners among the 17 regional title holders of the Model OFW Family of the Year Award (MOFYA).

The MOFYA is an annual event of the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) to honor migrant workers and their families who have demonstrated financial stability, steady and enduring family ties, and outstanding community service.

The three MOFYA national winners represent each of the countries major island groups –Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao.

The annual awards, which began in 2005, “is OWWA’s way of instituting and emphasizing the importance of a complete family as an aspect of a success in life of OFWs," OWWA Administrator Marinito Roque said.

Selection Criteria

Nominees for the MOFYA were families with either a land-based or sea-based OFW who meet the following criteria: head of family or main provider for the family; supports the education of a child/ family member/s; known as a solid and stable family in the community; and financial stability.

The specific selection criteria for the 2007 awards are:

• Functional OFW Family
• Constancy of communication
• Sharing of responsibilities among OFW Family members
• Emotional accessibility
• Psycho-social maturity of the children
• Involvement of children in civic activities
• Civic/community involvement of OFW
• Advocacies
• Membership to civic Filipino organizations
• Successful community projects
• Special commendations
• Success in child/children’s or family member/s’ education
• Children or family member/s’ completed or continuing education
• Children or family member/s employes
• Special commendation of children/family member/s
• Success in managing family finances
• Successful business enterprise/s
• Savings and investments

2007 National award winners

Oscar Abeleda de Jesus (Luzon)

Oscar Abeleda de Jesus from Romblon, a seafarer for 21 years, is MOFYA national winner for Luzon. He and wife Novelyn have been blessed with three children.

Away from home during the crucial growing-up years of his three sons, Oscar managed to maintain communication with his family through letters – six to eight times a month.

He was able to instill in the minds of his children the value of education and the wise spending of hard-earned money.

A staunch advocate of reforestation and clean and green projects, Oscar had initiated the planting of more than 100,000 mangrove trees along the seashore of Looc.

Eugenio B. Atuel (Visayas)

MOFYA national awardee for the Visayas Eugenio B. Atuel, also a seafarer, is commonly known to kin and friends as a family-centered, industrious, and service-oriented person. He and wife Corazon have been blessed with seven children.

Based in Bohol in Central Visayas, the Atuels set aside 10 percent of their annual income for various outreach projects. The family also help poor but deserving students.

Virginita “Maizarah" Lagunsay (Mindanao)

Virginita “Maizarah" Lagunsay, MOFYA national awardee for Mindanao is from Digos, Davao del Sur.

Maizarah, was married to the late Amado, who was also OFW. The couple has been blessed with four children who are all degree holders.

Maizarah is involved in several socio-civic projects. She is president of the Indigent Women Association of Brgy. Aplaya in Digos. She also holds prominent positions. For her, community service is a personal crusade.

Regional winners

Region 1 - Ilocos Region

Romeo “Vito" V. Fortuna (Vigan City)

Fortuna, 62, has been a seafarer for 25 years, and married to an elementary school teacher Perla. They are blessed with seven children, all college graduates.

His monthly allotments as ship radio officer were not only used for his children’s needs but also for acquiring properties such as a 3-storey building and warehouse, and a one-door apartment in Sampaloc, Manila.

As radio officer, he was able to save the lives of 21 Korean seamen whose ship sank in 1985 and another 26 fishermen at sea in 1987.

Region 2 - Cagayan Valley

Ronald P. Guzman, MD (Tuguegarao City)

Doctor Guzman worked in Nigeria for two years where his competence as a doctor was enhanced further. He is married to Dr. Wilma R. Guzman. They are blessed with four children.

He established a hospital in Tuguegarao – the Holy Infant Hospital using his earning from overseas employment. He also owns the Medical Colleges for Northern Philippines and the International School for Asia and the Pacific.

Region 3 - Central Luzon

Evangelina L. Sandel (Bulacan)

Sandel finished a degree in Veterinary Medicine. She and husband Willy are blessed with two children both are graduating students.

The couple practiced their professions in California, USA. After 10 years, they went back to the Philippines and started a furniture business that has expanded to more than 20 warehouses nationwide.

Region IV-A - Southern Tagalog

Felix Blanco Ormasa (Batangas City)

Orsama has been a seafarer since 1970. He and wife Cynthia are blessed with four children. He is holding the position of master with Inter-Orient Maritime Enterprises.

While abroad, Felix made sure he knew what was happening to his family, and made the decisions. He calls his family every day. During vacations, he made sure he would have time for his children and friends.

He is active in civic and religious organizations such as the Volunteers in Prison Service, livelihood training, and other such activities.

Region V - Bicol Region

Victorino R. Callada (Daet, Camarines Norte)

Callada, 55, has been a seafarer since 1979. He and wife Belen are blessed with four children.

He maintains close ties with his family through voice tapes and later, through the Internet. His family is active in church activities. Two of his children are now gainfully employed. The other two are still studying.

The Callada family owns a 17-room hostel, named Hebris Penthaus managed by the family.

Region VI - Western Visayas

Sonie A. Aortillano (Lemery, Iloilo)

Aortillano, 54, is married to Reynante and is blessed with six daughters, who are considered as models of obedience, discipline and respect for parents.

Sonie’s husband took care of the children while she was abroad. The family had to make do with the meager income they earn. The six children graduated elementary education with top honors.

Sonie came back home after six years abroad and assumed her duties as barangay health worker and gives lectures as part of her church and community duties.

Region VIII – Eastern visayas

Joselito P. Bertulfo (Isabel, Leyte)

Bertulfo, a seafarer, is married to Deborah and is blessed with five children.

He comes home every 42 days to spend time with his family. He made sure that the children’s welfare and basic needs were well provided for.

He invests his savings in real property and farmlands.

His wife has been elected as board member of the 4th district of Leyte. She used to be vice mayor of Isabel and held other positions in the municipality.

Region IX - Zamboanga Peninsula

Orlando P. Paber (Guiwan, Zamboanga City)

Paber is a medical doctor and worked in Dammam, Saudi Arabia, from 1979 to 1988. He and wife Maria Lorna are blessed with five children.

The Paber family is known to be a loving, close-knit and a spiritual family. Leading by example, the Paber couple immersed their children in a life of simplicity, humility and service. As medical practitioners, they put the welfare of patients above all. To them, the practice of their profession is not an enterprise but service to others.

Region X – Northern Mindanao

Reynaldo E. Dela Cruz (Linamon, Lanao del Norte)

Dela Cruz, a seafarer since 1982, began as Mess Boy. He rose from the ranks as an Able Bodied Seaman to Chief Mate. He is married to Beverly and blessed with three children.

He constantly communicated with his family, at least monthly. He taught his children the importance education. During vacations, the family watches movies, go on picnics, and attend masses together. He also extends his financial blessings to members of extended family.

Beverly, his wife, is an accomplished member of the Apostleship of the Sea in Iligan City.

Region XII - SOCCSKSARGEN Region (formerly Central Mindanao)

Filipina Eugenio-Caballero (General Santos City)

She worked as nursing aide at the Jeddah National Hospital (1982 -89) and became a factory worker in South Korea in 1992. She is married to her late husband Hermenihildo. They were blessed with 10 children.

Since 2001, she has been a widow, but­ managed to keep her big family together. While abroad, her earnings were used for the education of her children.

With the support of her family, she headed the opening and construction of Minanga-Asinan Road, which helped alleviate of socio-economic conditions of the residents of the area.

CAR – Cordillera Autonomous Region

Eliza Dakiwas (Sallapadan, Abra)

She was very reluctant to leave her family behind, but poverty forced her to work as domestic helper in Hong Kong for several years. Her late husband, Bonifacio, assumed the responsibility as father and mother to their three children.

Dakiwas regularly received voice tapes, letters and telegrams from her family, and these things helped lessen her homesickness. When her husband died, her situation became doubly difficult, but she was able to overcome all the difficulties.

ARMM – Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao

Michael Rasul Abubakar (Jolo, Sulu)

Michael, an engineer, was an OFW for 25 years in Saudi Arabia. He and wife Dr. Onnong have been blessed with five children. The couple has an adopted daughter.

While in Saudi, he constantly communicated with his family. His vacations were spent for family bonding through outing and sharing of experiences.

His earning was not enough to live a comfortable life, so he decided to put up a construction company in Jolo, Sulu, using his experiences abroad. He now owns the First Sulu Estate Subdivision in Patickul.

Caraga Region

Roderico B. Cane (Butuan City)

Cane worked as shift supervisor at the Nestle in Jeddah, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia from 1992 to 1995. He is married to Elizabeth.

In 1995 he went home for good and “invented" the Joy Table Sauce, which is now reckoned with by some multi-national companies in the country that manufacture catsup.

In 2005, he was adjudged by the Caraga Business Council as the “Best Performing SME of the Year."


Prizes

The MOFYA national awardees each received prizes from OWWA’s corporate partners: Toyota Avanza, Nokia 5070 and trophies from Globe Telecom, cash prizes and plaques from Western Union, AIG “Money Tree" Investment Package from PhilAmlife, free airline tickets to any destination in the Philippines from Cebu Pacific and gift checks from Banco De Oro.

Past winners

The MOFYA was conceptualized in 2003, but the first awards was held only on 11 November 2005. Seventeen regional awardees were chosen all over the country. The national winners were: NCR Regional Winner OFW Rogelio Eleazar San Andres, Region Winner OFW VI awardee Jesus Vagilidad Cepeda and RWO IX awardee Anicia Abrera Alvarez.

In the second staging of MOFYA, aside from the usual 17 regional awardees, the national winners were increased to three, representing the major island groups of Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao.

The national winners for MOFYA 2006 are OFW Myrna Sevilla-Punay of Region IV-A for Luzon, OFW Melchor Jarena Caayon of Region VI for Visayas and OFW Kagim Halim Jajurie of Region IX for Mindanao. - Luis Gorgonio, GMANews.TV

OFWs in Israel ask for reduction in $12 OEC fee

Filipino workers in Israel are seeking a reduction in the processing fee for overseas employment contract for which they are charged $12 abroad, which is far higher than the P100 collected by the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration for OECs processed in Manila.

The Filipino community in Israel said that if the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration can reduce the conversion rate of the $25 membership dues collected from departing OFWs from P51 to P42 following the steady appreciation of the peso, then it should also use the lower change rate on the OECs.

The Filipino workers said the Philippine Overseas Labor Office under the POEA has been collecting $12, or P612 at an exchange rate of $51:1.

Returning overseas Filipino workers or Balik-Manggagawa, are required to secure an overseas employment certificate (OEC) at the POEA Balik-Manggagawa processing division, regional centers and satellite offices and some POLOs to enable them to leave the country again and avail of the same privileges such as exemption from travel tax and airport terminal fee.

Based on records of some 1.012 million contracts were processed in 2007 covering January 1 to December 9, 2007.

This means that on the daily basis, a total of 2,951 contracts or OECs are being processed by the POEA. - Marie Neri, GMANews.TV

Five overseas job applicants lost a total of P1.1 million to a woman who promised to secure visas for them from the Italian embassy in Manila.

The Department of Foreign Affairs assured relatives of second mate officer Loreto N. Quiles Jr that his disappearance from the Japanese chemical tanker Golden Nori hijacked off the coast of Somalia on Oct. 28 is being investigated.

Foreign Affairs Undersecretary for Migrant Workers Affairs Esteban Conejos Jr said Quiles was declared missing when the multinational forces led by the US navy boarded the hijacked vessel on December 12.

“Investigation on the circumstances of his disappearance is ongoing. DFA has asked the manning agency for an official report," Conejos said.

Quiles was one of the nine Filipinos among the 23-man crew of Golden Nori that was taken by pirates off the coast of Somalia. The pirates released the crew on Dec. 3 but only eight of the nine Filipinos arrived at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport last Saturday.

Redentor Anaya, vice president for operations of Seacreast Maritime Management that recruited the seafarers, said they were still clueless on the whereabouts of Quiles.

Initial reports said Quiles was one of the crew who jumped overboard when the Somalian pirates boarded the ship on October 28. The crew were released on December 3 and sailed for nine days from Somalia.

The Filipino seamen were earlier scheduled to return to the country on December 18. The DFA did not explain the cause of delay in repatriation.

Those who arrived at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport Terminal 1 on Saturday afternoon were:

• Restituto Bulilan, captain;

• Melchor Cayabyab, chief mate;

• Raymundo Panaligan, junior third mate;

• Mario Ocenar, chief engineer;

• Adelino Amparo, first engineer;

• Carlito Lotoc, second engineer;

• Laureano Villanueva, buson; and

• Ismael Perez, chief cook

A sister of Quiles earlier asked for help in finding his brother.

“Please help us find the truth in this, please help as know his whereabouts," said Laarni Quiles-Escoto in an e-mail to GMANews.TV.

“We have been worried since we learned about this last Dec 13 from the staff of Seacrest," she said.

“Please help us, we hope that there is no cover up on this," said Laarni from Bacoor, Cavite. - GMANews.TV

5 job applicants to Italy lose P1.1-M to recruiter

Five overseas job applicants lost a total of P1.1 million to a woman who promised to secure visas for them from the Italian embassy in Manila.

Salome “Babes" Jacobe allegedly boasted of her strong connections at the embassy and the Ninoy Aquino International Airport in convincing the job applicants to give their money to her.

She collected P220,000 each from Daisy Miguel Rockville Subd. in Mapitic, Pampanga; Rolando Rabano of Tiaong, Quezon; Harry Corpus of Kamuning, Quezon City; Tomneth dela Cruz of Rosario, Pasig City and Nadia Ico of Bayambang, Pangasinan.

Agents of the National Bureau of Investigation arrested Jacobe in an entrapment at the airport on Dec 12.

The victims said a certain Denwel Dulog introduced them to Jacobe who promised them that she could procure Italian visa for them within a short period.

They were told to buy their Manila-Bangkok-Italy round trip place ticket for departure on Oct. 19. Their passports were given to them, with a stamped Italian visa.

Jacobe even accompanied them to the airport. However, a reservations officer at the NAIA counter noticed something unusual in the job applicants’ passports, prompting the airline personnel to seek help from the NBI detailed at the airport.

NBI agents found out that the Italian visas were fake.

Days later, Jacobe kept on promising the jobseekers that they would still be able to leave either on Nov 3 or 4. After they were not able to leave on that date, Jacobe asked for an additional P25,000 from each of them, purportedly for the release of their passports by the NBI at the NAIA.

Not content with that, Jacobe asked for another P50,000, supposedly as escort fee for the immigration officer at the airport and another P50,000 from each of the victims for a new round-trip ticket for Milan, Italy that they would get on their departure date on Dec. 12.

Little did Jacobe know that the victims had already sought the help of the NBI when they agreed to turn over the money to her on the same day of their departure.

When they met at the airport on Dec. 12, Jacobe even made excuses for the delay in the delivery of their passports, claiming that the person she had asked to send the passport figured in an accident.

Miguel was asked to wait until the afternoon. Jacobe kept on assuring the victims that they could leave.

As planned, Miguel handed the marked bills to the suspect. The NBI operatives then subsequently arrested her in the act of receiving the money.

She is facing charges of estafa through falsification of public documents. - GMANews.TV

Fixed peso-dollar rate for OFWs endorsed

The Trade Union Congress of the Philippines (TUCP) has welcomed the plan of the state-run Development Bank of the Philippines (DBP) to offer overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) a fixed peso-dollar exchange rate.

This will soften the negative impact of the local currency's rise on the buying power.

Under the plan, OFWs may voluntarily subscribe to a program, under which they would agree to send home through DBP's remittance network a fixed amount of dollars every month for at least one year.

In return, the DBP would pledge to convert the dollars into pesos based on a pre-agreed exchange rate.

"We laud this initiative. This will not only protect OFWs and their families from further currency risks going forward, but also heighten competition in the remittance trade, which is crucially important in driving down excessive money transfer charges," TUCP spokesperson Alex Aguilar said.

TUCP has been pushing both the DBP and the Land Bank of the Philippines (LBP), which is also government-owned, to expand their remittance networks abroad and offer cheaper and faster money transfer services to OFWs.

Aguilar said the state-run banks should spare no effort in capturing a bigger share of the remittance trade.

"This is one way for the government to help force down burdensome remittance charges, which are partly due to excessive market control by a handful of private banks," Aguilar pointed out.

He said the remittance market is dominated by six local private entities -- the Bank of the Philippine Islands, Metropolitan Bank and Trust Co., Philippine National Bank, Banco de Oro Universal Bank, United Coconut Planters Bank and Rizal Commercial Banking Corp.

Each of these banks capture about US$ 1-billion worth of remittance inflows every year, Aguilar said.

The DBP expects to corner US$ 115-million worth of remittances this year after opening new satellite offices in Hong Kong, Macau and Milan. The bank also plans to put up additional remittance centers in California, Nevada, New Jersey and Texas.

The LBP, for its part, expects to grab up to US$ 1.05-billion worth of remittances this year, up 23 percent compared to the US$ 850 million that it captured in 2006.

OFWs sent home a record US$ 11.87 billion in the 10 months to October this year, up 15 percent from the amount they remitted in the same period last year.

The peso has gained nearly 27 percent against the dollar since 2004, when the local currency averaged 56 to a greenback, implying that households relying on remittances have lost as much buying power over the same period. The peso closed Friday at 41.21 to a dollar.

Good news for overseas Filipino workers

On orders of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) Board of Trustees chaired by Labor and Employment Secretary Arturo D. Brion has officially adjusted the 25 dollars per-contract membership fee collected from overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) to P42 per US dollar effective Dec. 18, 2007.

In a report to the President, Brion said that per Resolution No. 38 signed Dec. 17, 2007, the Board reached a consensus that the peso-dollar exchange developments require such adjustments in the rate of exchange of membership fees paid from Jan. 1, 2007 to Dec. 18, 2007.

"The excess payments made to OWWA this year prior to the implementation of this order, based on a P51-1 dollar exchange rate shall be credited to the name of the member OFW," Brion told the President.

"It means that a Credit Memorandum shall be issued in their names that entitles them to an extended OWWA membership coverage for a period of three months beyond the two years or the 24 months entitlement to OWWA programs and services," he added.

The Labor Chief further said that the concerned OWWA members will be notified immediately in writing and the Credit Memorandum shall be issued accordingly.

The Board convened last Dec. 17 amid some protests on the alleged overcharged because of the fees based on an exchange rate of P51 to the dollar.

In resolving the issue, the Board cited previous issuances pertaining to the collection of OWWA contribution fees, the latest of which was the Memorandum of Instruction (MOI) No. 018 issued on Dec. 4, 2001 by then OWWA Administrator Wilhelm Soriano.

Section IV of the MOI provides that "the amount of contribution shall be 25 US dollars per contract per person and payments maybe made in US dollars of its peso equivalent. For peso payments, the exchange rate shall be the conversion rate applicable at the date of payment, as determined and pursuant to a previous agreement with the sea-based and land-based sectors, embodied in the OWWA MOI No. 104, series of 1991. On-site payments maybe made in US dollars or the local equivalent currency based on the prevailing exchange rate thereat."

Brion said that the Board agreed that the reference exchange rate for peso payment at the beginning of each month shall be the average dollar/peso exchange rate of the immediately preceding month as determined by the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas.

He further said that on-site payments may be made in the local currency of the worksite country and the reference exchange rate at the beginning of each month shall also be the average local currency/dollar exchange rate of the immediately preceding month.

"Unless there are exchange constraints previously brought to the attention of and recognized as an exception by the OWWA Administrator, collection in the currency shall be receipted to the paying OFW and remitted to OWWA Manila in the local currency," Brion said.

Arabic translation required on passports of Libya-bound Pinoys

The government on Saturday advised overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) bound for Libya to adhere to that country's newly imposed regulation requiring their passports to carry the appropriate Arabic translation.

In a report to Labor and Employment Secretary Arturo D. Brion, the Philippine Overseas Labor Office (POLO) in Tripoli, Libya said that non-adherence by OFWs to the new policy would severely affect their entry or re-entry to Libya, resulting in deportation.

Labor Attache Nasser S. Mustafa, who heads the POLO in Libya, warned that after the new policy was implemented by the Libyan government, three OFWs returning to Tripoli after vacation were not allowed to re-enter the country, and were deported back to the Philippines.

Mustafa said the three OFWs were not allowed to re-enter Libya because the first page of their passports, which gives the personal circumstances of the bearer, had not been translated from English to Arabic language.

He indicated that other foreign nationals entering Libya without the required translations in their passports had also been deported back to their countries of origin, while those leaving Libya are not allowed to board their planes.

Mustafa said the new rule has been issued by the Great Libyan Arab Jamahiriya General People's Committee for Transport and Telecommunication (Civil Aviation Authority) effective November 11, 2007, and covers all foreign and local nationals coming in and going out of Libya. Exempted are members of the diplomatic corps, senior government officials, and VIP-guests of Libya.

"Considering that the Libyan airport authorities have been strictly enforcing the policy, it is important that all concerned, particularly OFWs, should be aware of the guidelines in order to preclude adverse consequences," he said.

He added that Libya-bound OFWs should have the required translation done by the proper issuing authority of the country of origin, or any legal translation offices accredited to the country of origin, which are in both instances the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA), or the Office of Muslim Affairs (OMA).

"The translation should be imprinted/stamped in a page of the passport and not as a separate document, and the page should show the seal of the proper issuing authority," Mustafa said.

Recruitment sector happy with adjustment of OWWA fees

The recruitment sector and overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) are happy with the Christmas gift given by the Overseas Workers' Welfare Administration (OWWA), which is to officially adjust the per-contract membership fee collected from OFWs to P42 per US dollar.

Jackson Gan, vice-president of the Federated Association of Manpower Exporters (FAME), thanked OWWA Administrator Marianito Roque for lowering to P42 the computation for the OWWA membership fee or P1050 starting this week.

"This is a very good Christmas gift to our OFWs. The lower fee will be able to help more than 100,000 rehires or balikbayan workers who are on vacation here for the holidays," he said.

On orders of Pressident Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, the OWWA Board of Trustees chaired by Labor Secretary Arturo Brion has officially adjusted the computation for its membership fee effective December 18, 2007.

Rosalinda Baldoz, administrator of the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA), earlier disclosed that the OWWA's computation will be adjusted starting January 1, 2008.

Meanwhile, Gan urged Congress to pass the bill creating a Workers Bank to assist OFWs set-up livelihood projects and small business enterprises after their stint overseas.

He said the Workers Bank operations should be able to help all OFWs as they finished their contracts and decide to stay for good in the country. Funds can be sourced from the P 8.6-billion trust fund where membership fees from OFWs are held in trust by the OWWA Board.

"OWWA projects for OFWs have been far and few for the past years and many workers have been complaining that requirements for livelihood loans and placement fee assistance are too stringent and most of them do not have the collateral imposed by the OWWA fund assistance department," Gan stressed.

In another development, the industry leader repulsed two members of the House of Representatives for strongly advocating the refund of the fee to the workers.

"They do not realize that it is highly improbable to return the over-payment to the more than one-million workers deployed this year, majority are re-hires who only return to the country every two years. The OWWA will be hard pressed to look into their records and trace the worker just to return the money," he pointed out.

Gan also called on the Department of Finance and the Central Bank to lower remittance fees and alleviate the workers plight from the lower dollar value against the peso.

Global OFW deployment breaches 1M mark

The Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) on Sunday reported that the global deployment of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) has breached the one-million mark as of December 9, while global OFW remittances totaled a record US$ 11.9 (about P490.3 billion) during the first 10 months of the year.

Labor and Employment Secretary Arturo D. Brion said that total global OFW deployment reached 1,012,954 in more than 190 host destinations worldwide from January 1 to December 9, surpassing the annual one-million OFW deployment goal by 1.3 percent (+12,954).

The Labor Secretary, amidst the growth in deployment, also expressed confidence that at the current growth rate, global OFW remittances will continue to approach, if not reach, US$ 14 billion for the first time in history by year end 2007.

Brion said that this year's global deployment of OFWs had been boosted by a 5.2 percent growth (+23,619) in the numbers of rehired OFWs in the land-based sector from 453,643 in the same period in 2006 to 477,262 in the same period this year.

He said the growth in the rehired segment resulted in a positive global gain of 1.1 percent (+8,241) in total land-based OFW deployment to 766,340 from January 1 to December 9 this year, from 758,099 in the same period last year.

Brion said that on top of the 766,340 land-based OFWs globally deployed, a total of 246,614 overseas Filipino seafarers have also been deployed this year.

He added that, "the deployment of overseas Filipino seafarers is strongly complemented by the total number of contracts processed per worker by the DOLE's Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA), which surged by 8.5 percent (+28,787) from 337,140 in the same period last year to 365,927 this year."

Meanwhile, Brion cited a report of the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) that the US$ 11.9 billion remitted by the OFWs from January to October 2007, represents an increase of 15.2 percent relative to the US$ 10.2 billion remittances recorded in the same period in 2006.

The BSP observed that growth in remittances was consistent with recovery in deployment, citing preliminary POEA figures that total OFW deployment numbers in October climbed by 3.9 percent to 88,058 --- the fourth consecutive month that the figure was higher compared to the same months last year.

Brion further noted that the increase in remittance inflows is attributable to greater access by OFWs to remittance centers and their tie-ups with foreign financial institutions, which are facilitated by the BSP for the benefit of the country's modern day heroes and their families back home.

According to the BSP, the globally enhanced financial services in banks and non-bank channels provided encouragement to OFWs particularly in the United States, the United Kingdom, Italy, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Canada, Singapore, Japan, and Hong Kong, which are the major sources of remittances throughout the year.

19 OFWs saved from death since January 2006

A total of 19 overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) have been saved from execution through the efforts of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and the representation of other government officials since Jan. 2006.

In a report to Malacanang, the Office of the Undersecretary for Migrant Workers Affairs (OUMWA) of the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said it has monitored 52 death penalty cases involving OFWs.

Of the 52 cases, 19 were “commuted through the efforts of the President, the Vice President and the Department (DFA) conducting high-level negotiations with the host governments.”

The latest to be saved from the hangman’s noose was Marilou Ranario whose death sentence was commuted by the Emir of Kuwait early this month following the personal intercession of the President.

The 19 commuted death penalty cases comprise 37 percent of the total OFWs on death row abroad.

Of the 19, seven have been repatriated to the Philippines since last February. Six of the seven were convicted of murder in the Middle East before they were sent home, while the seventh -- Jun Jailani -- was convicted of drug trafficking in Kuala Lumpur.

The seven OFWs now back in the country are Damaso Atienza (Riyadh) and Reynaldo San Pedro (Jeddah), both of whom were released in Feb. 2007; Sarah Dematera (Riyadh), May 2007; Jailani (KL) and Melvin Obejera (Jeddah), Aug. 2007; and Ronilo Arandia (Jeddah) and Fermie Salarza (Cairo), Nov. 2007.

Of the 12 OFWs formerly on death row but whose sentences have since been commuted, three were convicted of multiple murders; eight were convicted of murder, while one was convicted of drug trafficking, also in Kuala Lumpur.

The convicted OFWs and their commuted sentences are as follows:

• Marilou Ranario (Kuwait murder), life imprisonment.

• Guen Aguilar (Singapore murder), 10 years imprisonment.

• Victoriano Alfonso (Jeddah multiple murder), eight years imprisonment plus 1,000 lashes;

• Andy Baginda (Sabah KL drug trafficking), life imprisonment.

• Wilson Basilio (Jeddah multiple murder), eight years imprisonment plus 1,000 lashes.

• Ma. Fe Cruzado (Kuwait murder), 20-30 years imprisonment.

• Efren Dimaun (Jeddah multiple murder), eight years imprisonment plus 1,000 lashes.

• Aristocles Escalante (Jeddah murder), five years imprisonment after payment of blood money.

• Joel Sinamban (Jeddah murder), eight years imprisonment plus 1,000 lashes.

• Zenaida Taulbee (Washington DC murder), 157-198 (13-16.5 years) months imprisonment.

• Rolando Villamin (Doha murder), 10 year imprisonment after payment of blood money; and

• Norito Abono (Riyadh murder), five years imprisonment plus 500 lashes after payment of blood money.

NBI nabs woman who duped 5 victims aspiring to go ...

Agents of the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) arrested a woman for allegedly duping five complainants of a total of P1.1 million after promising them she could facilitate their visa from the Italian Embassy due to her "strong connection" with the embassy and airport personnel during an operation at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) in Pasay City.

Head Agent Angelito Magno, chief of the NBI-Special Action Unit, identified the suspect as Salome "Babes" Jacobe. She is facing charges of estafa through falsification of public document.

The arrest stemmed from the complaints of Daisy Miguel, of Block 5, Lot 19, Rockville Subdivision, Malpitic, Pampanga; Rolando Rabano, of Barangay Paiisa, Tiaong, Quezon; Harry Corpus, of Scout Fuentabella, of 186 Kamuning, Quezon City; Tomneth dela Cruz, of 23 Jennes Avenue, Rosario, Pasig City and Nadia Ico, of 84 Sapang, Bayambang, Pangasinan.

Investigation showed that the suspect was nabbed during an entrapment last December 12 at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) in Pasay City.

In their complaint, the victims claimed that they were introduced to the suspect by one Denwel Dulog.

The suspect said she has strong connections with the Italian Embassy and airport personnel. Believing her, each of them gave the suspect the amount of P220,000 or the total amount of P1,100,000 with their passports and pictures as evidenced by the acknowledgement receipt issued by Jacobe.

The suspect asked the victims to buy round-trip ticket bound from Manila-Bangkok-Italy and with a departure date on October 19, 2007.

A week after the meeting, the suspect delivered to them their passports with their Italian visa stamped on it.

On the day of their supposed departure, the suspect accompanied them to the NAIA. At the Airline Counter, a reservations officer noticed something unusual on their passports which prompted the airport personnel to get assistance of the NBI detailed at the airport.

At the NBI-NAIA Division office, the NBI probers informed the victims that the Italian visas were all fake.

Days later, the suspect again informed the victims that they were scheduled to depart on November 3 or 4, 2007 but the promise did not materialize.

The suspect demanded additional P25,000 from each of them purportedly for the release of their passports by NBI-NAIAD.

The suspect again called them up and demanded P50,000 allegedly to be given to an immigration officer in the airport as escort fee and P50,000 for a new round trip ticket for Milan, Italy to be given on day of their departure on Dec. 12.

They agreed to give money to the suspect on the same day, December 12. The NBI set up an entrapment at 10 a.m. of December 12.

The suspect even made excuses for the delay in the delivery of the passports, saying that the one who was about to deliver the passports figured in an accident.

Miguel was asked to wait until the afternoon. The suspect assured her that they could leave. As planned, Miguel handed the marked bills to the suspect. The NBI operatives then subsequently arrested Jacobe.

Friday, December 21, 2007

US, Japan, Norway top remittance

by JEREMAIAH M. OPINIANO
www.ofwjournalism.net


MANILA (OFW Journalism Consortium)—DATA per country from the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas showed that the United States, Japan, and Norway are the top three remittance points for Filipino seafarers and the manning agencies that remit 80 percent of seafarers’ salaries to Filipino families.

From January to September this year, Filipino seafarers remitted $933.461 million through ports and remittance centers in the United States. Meanwhile, seafarers’ remittances coming from Japan reached $140.338 million, while those coming from Norway reached $119.338 million.

Other major remittance points for the country’s 274,497 seafarers in ocean-plying vessels are Germany with $91.672 million; the United Kingdom with $75.124 million; Greece with US$57.392 million; Singapore with US$54.659 million; Cyprus with $26.769 million; The Netherlands with $26.883 million; and Hong Kong with US$19.007 million.

From January-to-September this year, some US$1.669 billion in seafarers’ remittances were recorded, higher than the US$1.419 billion recorded during the same period in 2006.

If the per-country data are compared year-on-year, seafarers’ remittances coming from Norway rose by $55.119 million. The next three countries with the biggest rise of seafarers’ remittances are Germany ($52.618 million), the US ($51.450 million), and Japan ($22.751 million) (see Table 1).

Among the remittance points and origins of seafarers, Hong Kong had the largest remittance drop during the year-on-year period with $5.092 million.
Last year, of the US$12.761 billion in total remittances, some US$1.949 billion came from seafarers, Bangko Sentral data showed.

Usually, foreign principals and Philippine-based manning agencies hiring Filipino seafarers remit 80 percent of their monthly salaries to the seafarers’ families, says the 2005 study of the Asian Development Bank on remittances by overseas Filipino workers.

The remaining 20 percent of the seafarer’s pay, as well as overtime pay, is received on board and the Filipino seafarer usually brings this money home upon return to the Philippines when their seven-to-nine-month contracts end, the ADB study added.
But Sr. Aida Vertudez, staff of the Apostleship of the Sea (AOS) in Manila, said some Filipino seafarers also remit money when they stop over in international ports.

Some seafarers’ centers in these international ports, for example run by the Christian churches such as those by AOS and the Mission to Seafarers, facilitate and assist seafarers when they wish to send remittances to their origin countries, Vertudez told the OFW Journalism Consortium.

The standard employment contract (SEC) for seafarers that the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) provides that a Filipino seafarers is paid his or her monthly wage not later than 15 days of the succeeding month from the date the contract commences, until the date of arrival at point of hire.
If a seafarer is paid on-board or in foreign ports, the money is subject to the currency control regulations at the port abroad, and to the official rate of exchange prevailing at the time of payment.

And every payday, when a seafarer makes a mandatory allotment of 80 percent of the total salary to his or her family in the Philippines, the foreign principal or manning agency remits the money (already in Philippine pesos) to the designated Philippine bank of the seafarer.

POEA’s 2006 data showed that Filipino seafarers worked in fleets whose flags of registry (FOCs) are owned by Panama, Bahamas, Liberia, Marshall Islands, Singapore, United Kingdom, Malta, Norway, Cyprus, and The Netherlands. The top five vessels of work by Filipino seafarers are passenger vessels, bulk carriers, container ships, tankers, and oil / product tankers.

Nearly half of the deployed seafarers in 2006 (49.76 percent) are ratings; as to their positions, the top five positions of work for seafarers are: able seaman (32,483), oiler (20,205), ordinary seaman (17,422), bosun (7,882), and second mate (7,859).

On the average, able seafarers and oilers earn US$1,500 monthly; bosuns earn US$1,700; chief cooks earn US$1,600; and third and second engineer officers earn US$2,350 and US$2,500 monthly, respectively.

Money source from Pinoys

by JEREMAIAH M. OPINIANO
www.ofwjournalism.net



MANILA (OFW Journalism Consortium)—DESPITE decreasing wage levels, ban on deployment, and nationalization of labor markets, four Middle East destination countries of Filipino temporary contract workers posted the biggest year-on-year increases of remittances, based on data by the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas from 190 countries and territories.

The January-to-September 2007 data from the BSP showed that the United Arab Emirates tops Middle East countries in terms of year-on-year increases in remittances sent to the Philippines.

Nine-month period data showed that Filipinos sent a total $427.525 million to the Philippines from the UAE. This figure is nearly 50-percent (49.57%) higher than the $285.84 million in remittances that Filipinos sent from UAE from January to September last year.

The increase came mostly from land-based temporary migrant workers. These workers sent home $0.418 billion from January to September this year. In the same period last year, land-based workers sent home $278.36 million.
While 2007 country-by-country deployment figures from the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration are not yet available, there were 38,523 temporary contract workers –including 11,766 domestic helpers– deployed to the UAE.
The BSP usually releases aggregated data on remittances, which includes data on money flowing from identified destination countries.

The BSP also has remittance data in some 190 countries where there are Filipinos.
The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, which deployed some 89,783 workers last year, also realized a year-on-year increase in remittances with a nine-month total of $895.65 million; higher than the January-to-September 2006 figure by some $111.26 million.

Land-based workers there sent home nearly a billion dollars ($894.84 million) during the first nine months, compared to $0.784 billion during the same period last year.
However, existing Saudi banking regulations see some remittances originating from that country pass through banks in the United States before these are sent to Philippine-based recipients. The Bangko Sentral records some of these Saudi Arabia-originated remittances as coming from the US.

Filipinos from Kuwait, the second-biggest destination country of domestic helpers according to 2006 POEA data, sent home $141.32 million during the nine-month period. This is more than the 2006 year-on-year figure of $81.84 million.

Land-based workers in Kuwait, including domestic helpers newly-deployed and who have been working there, sent home $139.77 million during this year’s first nine months (an increase of $58.5 million from the previous year’s figure).

But even if there were lesser numbers of deployed contract workers to Bahrain (5,151) than to Qatar (27,814) in 2006, year-on-year remittances coming from Bahrain were higher by $57.402 million, as compared to Qatar, which is higher by $34.912 million.

Nine-month remittance figures from Bahrain showed that Filipinos there sent home a total of $103.425 million, whereas those from Qatar sent home $116.519 million.

Dusk

WHILE POEA data shows that Hong Kong is the top destination country for domestic helpers in 2006 —with 19,532 deployed there, the BSP figures showed a noticeable decrease in remittances from land-based Filipino workers in the former British colony.

Among East Asian destination countries, Hong Kong-originated remittances in the nine-month period ending September 2007 hit $263.992 million. In the same period last year, the number was $302.72 million. Land-based workers from Hong Kong remitted less in 2007 ($244.98 million) than in the previous year ($278.63 million).

In all destination countries, Hong Kong had the highest remittance drop: $38.733 million.

The next destination country with the highest remittance drop is Ireland, where 2006 government stock estimates show there are 11,500 Filipinos there (including 10,800 temporary migrant workers), and where some 291 workers were deployed last year.

During the year’s first nine months, Filipinos in Ireland remitted $9.86 million, lower than the year-on-year figure of $30.30 million (or by some $20.44 million).

Noticeable also is the drop in remittances from land-based Filipino workers and immigrants in Japan. Money from these workers amounted to $324.42 million as against the $326.28 million sent from Japan in the same period last year.

Remittances from land-based Filipinos from Japan were lower year-on-year by $24.61 million, but money sent by seafarers during the period hit $140.34 million (or higher by $22.75 million year-on-year).

Since the implementation of Japan’s new immigration rules two years ago, the deployment of Filipinos there, mostly female overseas performing artists, has hit 6,672. Five years ago, the Philippines sent more than 70,000 workers to Japan.
Total remittances from Singapore ($274.26 million) and Taiwan ($137.28 million) increased by $58.71 million and $23.72 respectively, year-on-year —thanks to both countries’ Filipino land-based workers.

Singapore is a beehive of domestic helpers and some engineers and information technology workers. Taiwan, on the other hand, is the top destination country of Filipino caregivers from 2003 to 2006, according to POEA data.

Dawn

MEANWHILE, not even a halt to hiring foreign nurses stopped Filipinos in the UK to remit more this year ($524.62 million) than last year ($375.28 million).

The United Kingdom is an example of a destination country for Filipinos where there are large numbers of temporary contract workers and permanent residents. Of the estimated total 165,564 Filipinos in the UK, 93,358 were temporary contract workers and 62,606 were immigrants.

The United States, for its part, still remains the largest country source of remittances for overseas Filipinos. Some $5.27 billion were sent during the first nine months of the year from the US, compared to the $4.85 billion during the same period in 2006.

Even as some remittances coming from Saudi Arabia pass through American banks, that continent’s estimated 2,443,269 Filipino permanent residents carry remittance volumes going to the Philippines.

Filipinos from Canada, for their part, sent home $375.6 million thus far this year compared to the $283.47 million from January-to-September 2006. That country is home to some 396,054 permanent residents and some 38,886 temporary migrants.
Studies such as those by University of the Philippines economist Edita Tan and the Asian Development Bank have shown that temporary contract workers remit regularly than permanent residents since the dependents of temporary migrants are in the Philippines.

From January to September this year, the Philippines has received some $10.48 billion in total remittances (with $8.81 billion coming from land-based workers and $1.67 billion from seafarers).
Government’s 2006 estimates show there are 8,233,172 Filipinos in some 193 countries.

Rising number of young Pinays

by JEREMAIAH M. OPINIANO
www.ofwjournalism.net


(Editor’s note: The real identities of women in this story are kept confidential as they requested)

QUEZON CITY (OFW Journalism Consortium)–TWENTY-year-old Rita pointed to the words stretched on her tight-fitting mid-rib t-shirt as the reason she’s marrying 66-year-old Endo: “Sweet Love,” it says on her chest.
“Love? Who is she kidding?” whispered one of the women at the seminar on inter-racial marriages sponsored by a Catholic group where Rita, a former garments factory worker, spoke.

However, some who share similar state of affairs or maybe feel the same way as Rita nodded.

After a break, Rita saunters over to a group of women and admits “love” is the farthest reason for accepting the proposal of Endo, who is 46 years older than her.

“I don’t really love him. I want to work there (in Japan) and help my family here,” Rita says almost in a whisper. That revelation brought her words of sympathy, quick hugs, and light squeezing of hands.
She is not alone.

Rita and other Filipina brides-to-be admit that marrying foreigners is the easiest ticket for possible overseas work and settlement overseas, as well as income for the families they would leave behind.

Based on government data, Rita is adding to the rising number of Filipino women marrying Asian nationals nearly thrice their age.

The number of Filipino women marrying spouses of various nationalities is rising as of late, says Director Minda Valencia of the Commission on Filipinos Overseas. The commission’s 18-year data showed there are now 309,745 Filipino spouses who have married foreign partners, and some 92 percent of them are women.

Valencia says she can’t count the lectures she has given to women like Rita, as required by her job in government.

Her agency’s data shows more women marrying nationals of East Asian countries like Japan, Taiwan, and South Korea are becoming younger and less educated than their foreign spouses.

Valencia forecasts this trend would continue in the next three years.

Sweets

THERE is an “international marriage market,” Valencia, CFO’s Golda Myra Roma and demographer Nimfa Ogena said in a paper released last September.
And this market “appears to further expand (this) decade,” the authors said citing government’s recent years’ figures as basis for that view.

The authors point to record highs (see Table 1) in the history of the government agency’s handling of permanent residents: 24,904 spouses registered in 2006 and 21,100 in the year 2005.

The year 2006 also had historic record-high numbers for spouses going to the United States (10,190), Japan (8,601), Canada (988), and the United Kingdom (619). The increase for Japan alone is 2,279 spouses from 2005 figures (6,322).

The rising number of Filipino women going to countries such as Taiwan, Japan, and Korea are “significant” and even reveal an Asian marriage migration trend that’s also on the rise, Valencia, Roma and Ogena wrote in their paper on marriage migration to the said countries.

The authors also noted the gaps in age, educational attainment, and work status between the Filipino and the Taiwanese, Korean, and Japanese spouses. These gaps were culled despite the CFO data citing that many Filipino women have found foreign spouses of similar characteristics.

Based on 1995 to 2004 data, the odds are high for Filipino women marrying Japanese and Koreans decades older than they are. Meanwhile, educational similarities among
Filipino and Taiwanese, Korea, and Japanese spouses are “declining”.

In Taiwan, the odds of the Taiwanese spouse being less educated than the Filipina (called as “marrying up”) were nearly cut into half of the 4,862 registered Filipino women from 1995 to 2004. But for spouses who went to Japan and Korea, there is a rise of Filipino women who are less educated than the foreign spouses (called “marrying down”).

Valencia says that most of those going to Japan and Korea are high school graduates and undergraduates.

Motives

BEFORE, they were called mail-order brides, because of relationships and arrangements brokered through the traditional postal system.
Today, Filipino women are meeting their future foreign spouses through mobile phones, the number referred to by a friend of a friend, Internet-based chatting, and the facilitation of a relative overseas.

According to Valencia, everything goes back to motivations: of the Filipina for marrying a foreigner and the latter for marrying Filipino women.
Former entertainer Sharon, 26, asserts it was “love” that moved her to marry 44-year-old taxi driver Hiroki.

Still, Sharon, a hotel and restaurant management graduate of a central-Philippine college, says she also wants to earn money her own way: going back to the nightclub in Hiroshima where, she said, she and Hiroki met.
Sharon married the Japanese at a civil marriage here, and will mark her third trip to Japan given her marriage.

She claims Hiroki has approved of her plans.
For her part, 21-year-old Elizabeth was introduced by her cousin working in Seoul, South Korea to a 37-year-old Korean cab driver.
She says the Korean went to their hometown of Nasugbu, Batangas. On the 11th day of his stay, Elizabeth and the Korean got married.

She says she entered into matrimony despite having been told by her husband that she cannot work in Korea and that she’ll have to go along with his family.
“I am amenable to that,” Elizabeth says.

Valencia, Roma, and Ogena deemed the decision of these women were of their own volition.

The authors said Filipino women choosing to marry foreigners capitalize on opportunities for overseas migration that they believe “could dramatically change their lives.”

The marriage situations of Filipino women such as Rita’s, the three authors contend, reveal “desperate moves of women who would rather risk settling in a foreign land (which they know little about), than cope with a future life in poverty and/or solitude or loneliness which comes with a social stigma for being labeled as ‘non-marriageable’”.

Even if she only had days-long acquaintanceship with Endo, Rita hopes to beat the odds of living in a foreign country and being a Japanese wife.

Odds

ONE odd to beat is language. Rita says she doesn’t know Nihonggo while Endo can’t speak Filipino. Both go by with sign language to emphasize some common English words or phrases to understand each other.

While Endo has been to the country, Rita’s trip to Japan would be her first overseas sortie. She admits she has yet to find out how things would go between her and Endo.
She says that would be the easiest part because she has learned from mistakes of a previous relationship to a Filipino when they were both 16.
“I can learn to love Endo,” Rita says.

Her first step to that was participating in a discussion-forum by the St. Mary Euphrasia Foundation-Center for Overseas Workers, a project of the Roman Catholic institution Religious of the Good Shepherd.

In partnership with the CFO, the foundation requires Rita, Sharon, Elizabeth and other Filipino women marrying or has married foreigners to undertake these seminars that included tips on “surviving” the marriage.

One how-to is getting the marriage registered in the nearest municipal office in Japan. Another is divorce.

Pat Posadas, a counselor, told Rita and the women their husbands can do so just by making the wife sign a document that would be submitted to the nearest municipal office.

As of the year 2005, Japanese government data showed that 3,931 of the 10,242 Filipino women have divorced with their Japanese partners.
It’s another story when the marriage is to Koreans, says social worker Jhane Lery Noche.

“If you marry a Korean, you are marrying his entire family. You (Filipina) are the hope of his family,” Noche said.

Noche and Posadas glosses over the differences that can come out from the age differences between these nationalities and their Filipina wives. They admit they can’t do anything about it.

“It is the decision of the Filipina to marry this foreigner. The migration is marriage-related, but is in the guise of earning a living,” Noche said.

‘Low and slow’ count of OFWs with HIV

by JOYCE ANNE B. ROBIÑO
www.ofwjournalism.net


MANILA (OFW Journalism Consortium)—THE rising number of overseas Filipino workers with the human immunodeficiency virus hasn’t rattled government and UN executives who assert the country will still meet one of the targets of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

The HIV incidence among returning OFWs, and among the general Filipino populace, is “low and slow,” Dr. Roderick Poblete of the United Nations Population Fund said.
Poblete spoke to the OFW Journalism Consortium days after the World AIDS Day commemoration on December 1, as eight years are left before the 2015 deadline for governments to make true their promises to eradicate debilitating conditions of the poor. One of these is HIV, which causes the acquired immunodeficiency syndrome.

The observation from Poblete came after latest figures (end-October) from the health department’s HIV/Aids Registry show that nearly half or 1,042 of the 2,997 Filipinos recorded to have HIV worked abroad previously.
The figures didn’t say in which countries these Filipinos worked temporarily. Neither did it say if the Filipinos acquired the fatal virus from their work overseas.

The year 2007 saw the OFW figure in the HIV/Aids Registry reaching the 1,000-mark: the cumulative number reached 991 last April. It hit above a thousand a month later.
But even as 2007 has some 87 recorded cases thus far, this year’s HIV and migration count will not likely surpass the record number of 130 cases in the year 2006.
Poblete downplays the number of cases. He says the figure is small if compared to the eight million Filipinos working temporarily or permanently abroad.
With US$13 billion in remittances, the numbers are “relatively small” as the country can still afford to care for those who are infected and affected by HIV, Poblete claims.

The only catch is that Filipinos’ global presence makes the country deal “with a global epidemic,” adds Poblete, who manages the Joint UN Programme on HIV and Migration for the Philippines, which his office coordinates.
Health experts have noted that OFW infections come from different parts of the world, which now has some 33.2 million people living with HIV.

The MDGs, inspired by the United Nations at the turn of this millennium that sets out development goals by individual countries, has “Combat HIV and Aids, Malaria, and other diseases” as among the goals.

Targets
HALFWAY into the 15-year span of the MDGs, a country report claims the Philippines continuously kept within the goal of keeping the HIV/Aids incidence to below one percent of the total population.

Still, the National Economic and Development Authority, which released the report last October, expressed worries over the “increasing number of newly-reported HIV cases”.

The agency is referring to the year 2006 where the country’s HIV Registry recorded the highest number of HIV cases in a year with 309, and also among OFWs with 130.
“Six Filipinos were detected with HIV every week. One in three cases was an OFW, mostly seafarers and domestic workers who reportedly had unprotected sexual contact,” the NEDA MDG report wrote.

The year 2006 cases, NEDA’s report suggests, that the infection “has spread, not reversed”.

Yet the NEDA report says the probability to attain this MDG target for HIV is “high,” even if there seems to be an “underreporting” of the HIV count in the Philippines.

If the latest HIV/Aids registry count will be considered, some HIV analysts think the Philippine figure should be multiplied by five times to reach over-11,000 cases.
Still, the multiplied figure will remain below one percent of the Philippine population, estimated to be currently at 88 million, NEDA’s MDG report said.

Even if one percent of the over-8 million Filipinos abroad (or some 80,000 OFWs) contracts the disease before the 2015 MDG timeline, the Philippine figure will still be less than one percent of the total Filipino population, Poblete explains.

Tasks

LIKE Poblete, Maria Lourdes Marin of the nonprofit Action for Health Initiatives (Achieve) agrees the HIV count in the Philippines to include OFWs “might not even get to the point where it will develop into an epidemic.”

“It seems that we don’t have a problem reaching that goal for 2015,” adds Marin, Achieve executive director.

Marin, whose group is the only nonprofit focused on HIV and migration, notes that some policies make it easy to detect HIV/Aids cases among OFWs as a group.
She explains this is due to the current requirement that Filipinos undergo mandatory testing during their stay overseas for work. A Filipino discovered carrying the precursor to Aids is sent back to the sending country.

Despite the easy detection, Marin classifies OFWs as a “vulnerable,” ”—not “high-risk”— group compared to commercial sex workers or males having sex with males.
It is their work conditions, not their sexual behavior, that makes OFWs vulnerable, Marin explains.

Both Poblete and Marin say the country should remain vigilant despite the “low and slow” HIV count among overseas workers.

Now is the best time to provide interventions –while the country is still on the lead with the MDG target and “is capable of managing the situation,” Poblete said.
According to him, OFW remittance could be tapped to augment “adequate HIV information, which includes migration, human rights, gender sensitivity and sexuality”.

While non-government organizations and foundations are slowly targeting overseas workers in their education programs, the Philippines is now receiving some grants by international and multilateral organizations to implement multifarious interventions related to HIV and migration

Still, Poblete said these programs should be constantly evaluated on effectiveness in addressing HIV prevalence among OFWs.
It may be “too early to tell,” Poblete says, of what will happen to the country’s target for Goal 6 as regards HIV prevalence.

“[But] even if the numbers are low and slow, we seem not to be in line in halting and reversing the spread modality,” says Poblete.
Another area that Poblete said should be looked into is the resource implications of a rising HIV incidence among OFWs.

“There will be an effect in the cost of care and support interventions, since more will be [hypothetically] infected, causing an increase in resource requirements for care, which could have been spent in increasing the coverage for prevention programs.”

State insurance no security blanket for OFWs

by JEREMAIAH M. OPINIANO
www.ofwjournalism.net


MANILA (OFW Journalism Consortium)—DESPITE increasing risks in host countries and disasters in the Philippines, Filipinos abroad still feel safer that remittances stay in their pockets rather than put these in health and non-life insurance, a social security specialist bared in his report on social protection.

“Ironically, it is the remittances sent by overseas migrants that serve as social insurance for recipient households, shielding them from environmental risks,” Dr. Eduardo Gonzalez wrote for the 2007 global report of Montevideo, Uruguay-based nonprofit group Social Watch.

Gonzalez, who is also professor at the University of the Philippines’s Asian Centre, said these “shocks” include lack of access to health insurance, and damages to properties brought by natural disasters like typhoons.

Citing a study by Filipino-American Dean Yang and Korean Hwa Jung Choi on OFW remittances and the use of these during rainy seasons, Gonzalez wrote that changes in incomes of Filipino migrant workers’ households “lead to changes in remittances in the opposite direction,” and this runs consistent with migrant remitters’ “insurance motivation”.

That is, roughly 60 percent of declines in income in disaster-stricken areas are replaced by remittance inflows from overseas. That money coming in serves as insurance in the face of aggregate shocks to local areas.
These shocks make it more difficult to access credit or inter-household assistance networks that normally help households cope with risk, according to Gonzalez.
The Philippines, being an archipelago, is “already geographically at risk” in providing social security to citizens since typhoons and earthquakes frequent the country.

The last typhoon, tropical storm “Lando,” claimed 14 lives and injured eleven, with damages to infrastructure and agriculture hitting an estimated P148.75 million, according to National Disaster Coordinating Council data.
Overseas, aside from typhoons, Filipinos also work in high-risk countries such as Iraq and Lebanon.

While the Philippine government has an array of social security programs, Gonzalez said coverage remains “incomplete”.

Surely

GONZALEZ cites there are three government measures that “indicate some form of insurance coverage for OFWs”.

These are the expanded program of the Philippine Health Insurance Corp. (PhilHealth), the Social Security Systems’s voluntary social security coverage, and the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA). Of the three, the OWWA deals directly with OFWs who pay US$25 to avail of services.
The OWWA website writes that agency, as of 2006, has 2,982,013 members and has spent some P3.036 billion over an 11-year period (1995 to 2005).

Gonzalez cited a Commission on Audit report that shows OWWA spends over three times more for its personnel and operations every year compared to the social benefits it gives out to overseas Filipinos.

A report by Filipino-Americans Dovelyn Agunias and Niel Ruiz for the Washington-headquartered Migration Policy Institute (see story “Analysts cite OWWA fetters in protecting OFWs”) that OWWA has tilted the balance more towards achieving fund security than providing services to beneficiaries.

Since OWWA has been collecting this amount for over 25 years, its sum should be substantial.

“Yet, its welfare assistance has been too little and too selective, leaving most overseas workers virtually unprotected while abroad and when they eventually come back,” according to Gonzalez’s report titled “Political Will is the Key to Social Protection”.

On the other hand, SSS has a tax-exempt savings and pension plan for OFWs called the OFW Flexi Fund. But even if this Flexi Fund can provide retirement, death and disability benefits to availees, only some 16,000 OFWs have availed of the Flexi Fund.

The SSS, the country’s largest social security fund for private workers, claims to have 515,762 OFWs as members.

PhilHealth, meanwhile, has an Overseas Workers Program that provides almost the same medical and hospitalization benefits to OFWs like what the agency provides to local workers.

Out of some 2,419,682 paid health claims, PhilHealth’s 2006 data show that OFWs as a paying sector only account for 0.02 percent or an estimated 48,000 paid claims of the total.

PhilHealth has an estimated 16.26 million members or 68.4 million beneficiaries, including indigents.

According to Gonzalez, “the program for indigents seems to be well-funded, receiving 2.5 percent of the expected government revenues from taxes on ‘sin products’ (alcohol and tobacco) for the next five years and 10 percent of the local government share in the expanded value-added tax.”

Securely

SOCIAL Watch considers social security “as resulting from policies geared to employment and to reducing inequality, and can be defended as necessary for governance and the very survival of a system that would lack popular support without it.”

Simply put, it means public officials and elected leaders should fiercely lead in addressing poverty and the issues confronting the poor, the most insecure segment of the population.

The group’s compilation of reports, titled “In Dignity and Rights: Making the Universal Right to Social Security a Reality” wrote ”social security is one of the internationally recognized human rights, and therefore is not only advisable but also a legal obligation.”

As Gonzalez explains, the Philippines is not wanting in social security programs nor did these began just last night.

These programs that Gonzalez noted “have existed for decades… are categorized into social insurance, pensions and other forms of long-term savings, social safety nets, welfare and social payments, and labor market interventions.”
He criticizes these programs’ coverage as “incomplete and delivery is diffused.”
“Financing remains uncertain and is vulnerable to corruption,” Gonzalez added.
Likewise, as Gonzalez emphasized in his paper, that the poor subsidizes the rich, especially in terms of health insurance, because of skewed policies. He cited PhilHealth as example.

“The reality for the vast majority of poor people is that social services are unavailable, or are skewed towards the needs of the rich, or are dauntingly expensive – and this drives up social inequality.”
Gonzalez throws the ball on government’s hand, repeating the oft-quoted advice that political will is the key to reforming social security.

He notes that while Filipinos in 193 countries are providing the safety cushion on the country’s economy, they should be given their due, even on the matter of social security.

“The will to reform is key to making social protection work —and to do this, the government must feel the heat,” Gonzalez said.
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