Friday, February 29, 2008

CNMI judge rejects Pinoy plea to drop human smuggling charge

SUSUPE, Saipan – A Superior Court judge in the US Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) denied the motion of a Filipino contract worker to dismiss the charge of smuggling of 11 foreigners from Saipan to Guam in June 2007.

Edwin F. Blanilla, a contract worker from the Philippines, was charged for attempting to bring 11 Chinese from the CNMI into Guam, also a US territory, on a boat on June 27, 2007.

The CNMI is less than an hour away from Guam by plane.

Blanilla was the pilot of the boat that was supposed to drop the 11 individuals off to Guam. In exchange for dropping the foreigners off, Blanilla would receive the boat as payment.

According to court documents, Blanilla planned to sell the boat then return to the Philippines.

But Blanilla and the 11 foreigners were rescued by the US Coast Guard when their vessel got stranded in the waters approximately 20 miles north of Guam on June 27, 2007.

The 12 individuals, including Blanilla, were questioned and charged after authorities learned they didn’t have lawful documents to travel to Guam.

A deportation case was filed against nine of the 11 foreigners but the government later dismissed the case. Some of them voluntarily left the CNMI while others secured a temporary permit to work on Saipan, the capital of the CNMI.

Blanilla and two other individuals from China who were also supposed to be dropped off to Guam were “charged for smuggling persons and for inducing and encouraging aliens to depart the CNMI with the purpose of entering the United States with the knowledge that such entry is in violation of the law."

Blanilla submitted a motion to dismiss the case against him and the matter was heard on Feb. 13, 2008.

He argued that everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and so there can be no such thing as unlawful departure from the CNMI. He said any restriction on this right to leave the CNMI violated his right to travel.

CNMI Superior Court Associate Judge Ramona V. Manglona, in denying Blanilla’s motion, agreed with the government’s argument that all the defendants were permitted to travel from the CNMI to any location that would accept them within the bounds of laws applicable to everyone.

But, she added, “the statute in question is restrictive only in that it regulates the manner in which the right to travel may be exercised by requiring that it can be accomplished lawfully. It is a time, place and manner restriction and is not an outright ban on travel."

Blanilla also argued that “the statute is invalid and unenforceable on the basis that it is preempted by the supremacy clause of the United States Constitution; it requires the court to adjudicate matters of federal law that are beyond the court’s jurisdiction and the statute is unconstitutionally vague and fails to provide defendant fair notice of what acts constitute a violation of the law."

Judge Manglona said none of these challenges convince the court that the statute is invalid on its face or as applied to the defendant.

She said the defendant’s “reliance upon authorities interpreting the doctrine of implied preemption of state laws under the commerce clause is inappropriate given the role of Congress in granting the CNMI jurisdiction over local immigration and its responsibility for creating both regimes."

“The purpose of the CNMI statute is to prevent the commonwealth from becoming a stepping stone for unlawful immigration into Guam and other US jurisdictions and an attractive base for persons who profit from human traffic, thereby protecting the lawful residents of the commonwealth from the deleterious effects of these undesirable activities," the judge added.

The CNMI, although a US territory, does not require foreign workers to obtain a US visa before entry for work or travel purposes. Other US territories like Guam require a US visa. - Haidee V. Eugenio, GMANews.TV

Stranded Filipinos in Jeddah sent for processing to deportation center

After a long wait, the remaining stranded OFWs who lived in tents at the Philippine consulate grounds in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia for three weeks have finally been taken to the deportation area for processing of their exit papers.

There were about 70 Filipinos who ran away from their employers on various reasons, including reduced or non-payment of their salaries, poor working conditions, physical and verbal harm, and substitution of contract terms.

They were boarded on a bus at past 9 a.m. Wednesday, according to Eric Jocson, one of the stranded Filipinos who have agreed to leave the kingdom through legal means.

Earlier, the run away Filipinos refused to give their real identity and the names of their employers on fear of being returned to their ‘abusive’ employers, or facing trump up charges.

Jocson said there were a few of his colleagues who were left behind because they came late for the bus. But consulate officials assured they would all be sent to the deportation area for processing.

“I think this is what they have discussed during their meeting last night which lasted until 1 in the morning. I saw almost all the officials involved in our repatriation came last night. Then they told us to get ready because the bus will come to get us," Jocson said.

Other consulate officials said two or three of the stranded Filipinos remained their employer already coordinated with the embassy and would be issued exit visas.

Before setting up camps at the consulate grounds three weeks ago, the Filipinos stayed under a bridge in Jeddah, waiting for immigration police to pick them up for deportation.

Reports said many of them have fallen victims to agents who promised them ‘backdoor exit" in exchange for huge sums of money.

Expatriate workers in Saudi Arabia are required to have “no Objection Certificates" before they can secure exit visas to be able to leave the kingdom.

More than 40 of stranded Filipinos in Jeddah had been sent home. - Ronaldo Concha, GMANews.TV

OFW group backs Japanese activists' call for US troop withdrawal

Amid allegations of rape and abuse of women by US servicemen in Okinawa, a group of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) based in the Middle East echoed the calls of Japanese activists for the immediate pull out of US bases which they claimed has brought “mayhem" in the east-Asian country.

Migrante Middle East (Migrante-ME) sought the exit of US troops stationed in Japan after a report that a 21-year-old Filipino was raped by an American soldier in Okinawa, just two days after her departure from the Philippines.

“We strongly condemn in the strongest possible terms this atrocious act committed by US military servicemen, who after the crimes have been committed, can simply and freely leave Japan without paying the crimes they have committed against the victims," John Leonard Monterona, Migrante-ME regional coordinator, said on Thursday.

Prior to the incident involving the Filipina, a 14-year-old Japanese schoolgirl was allegedly raped by 38-year-old Marine staff sergeant Tyrone Luther Hadnott in a parked car.

The soldier has denied the accusation but has admitted to forcibly kissing the girl. He has not been charged.

“We are in solidarity and supporting the calls of Japanese citizens and activists in their legitimate demand address to the Bush administration to immediately pull out its military bases and troops which has been staying in Japan for quite sometime and bringing mayhem to the Japanese citizens in their own homeland," Monterona said.

No to US troops in RP

Aside from the permanent pull out of the US military facilities in Japan , Migrante-ME also called for the withdrawal of visiting US troops in the Philippines who are participating in the 2008 RP-US Balikatan exercises.

Balikatan 2008, a Philippine-US bilateral military humanitarian assistance and training exercise, kicked off on February 3 and will last until March. It is the 24th annual event of its kind held under the auspices of the Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT) and Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA).

Monterona raised fears that the growing presence of American forces in Japan and the Philippines would make them more vulnerable to possible attacks by other Asian countries like North Korea which has long been deemed as an enemy of the US.

“The Bush administration, in line with its policy on ‘War on Terror’ strategically positioned its military bases and troops in Japan and nearby countries like the Philippines so that it can easily attack North Korea as its long time foe in Asia Pacific, which makes Japan and Philippines vulnerable to North Korea attack once a war between US and North Korea have occurred," Monterona explained.

Migrante-ME earlier condemned the statement of US embassy's FBI Legal Attaché Stephen Cutler that OFWs can be used to curb global terrorism.

Culter explained in a lecture on global terrorism last week that the more than eight million OFWs across the globe, some in countries believed to be ridden with terrorists, directly relay understanding of cultures to their family members.

While Migrante-ME agrees that Filipinos can easily relate with other nationalities around the world, Monterona said that “is not a reason why the Arroyo administration or any post-Arroyo government should heed this call using OFWs as a means to fight terrorism [in] whatever way."

Migrante-ME also slammed the continued recruitment of individuals through Blackwater Worldwide, a private company that provides Advanced Training, Logistics/Mobility, Technology/Innovation, and Human/Material resources for the US government’s post conflict and post disaster stabilization efforts.

According to the group, the company recruits “mercenaries" used by the US for its ‘war on terror’ in Iraq and Afghanistan.

To trumpet their concerns against the US military presence in Japan and the Philippines, Monterona is calling on everyone to join the interfaith prayer rally dubbed as ‘Manindigan para sa Katotohanan, Katarungan at Pagbabago’ on Friday on Ayala Avenue in Makati City. - Mark J. Ubalde, GMANews.TV

Sabah court extends Pinoy's jail term

MANILA, Philippines - Even before he could serve a 45-day jailterm, a Filipino’s stay in jail has been extended by one month for threatening to harm his wife once he gets out of prison.

Borneo Post reported in its online edition Friday that Kokman Samad (a.k.a. Mohamad Hairy Mus) pleaded guilty to the offense before magistrate Intan Nurul Farena Zainal Abidin.

The magistrate ordered him to serve his sentence effective from his date of arrest last Feb. 20.

Initial investigation showed Kokman, 28, threatened to beat and hurt his wife, Harlinah Lahuse, by pouring acid on her face once he is released from the Kepayan jail in Kota Kinabalu.

Prison officer Atip (a.k.a. Latip Nukrih), who was guarding 171 prisoners of Block H, I and J at the prison, filed a complaint after he heard Kokman, a prisoner of Block J, utter the threatening words.

Atip and his colleague advised the accused not to carry out the threat. However, he was determined to do so. This prompted him to charge Kokman under Section 506 of the Penal Code, which carries seven years jail term upon conviction.

Meanwhile, the magistrate's court fined two local men and a Filipino woman for possessing illegal gambling equipment.

Azmi Sali, 26, Masa Derin, 42, and Filipina Teresita Reconalga, 50, committed the offense last Dec. 19 at Kampung Telipok 8 in Menggatal.

All the accused pleaded guilty before magistrate Intan Nurul Farena and were each fined RM600, in default, two months' jail for possessing Wah Hui gambling equipment. - GMANews.TV

Thursday, February 28, 2008

'katas ng Saudi' building rises Pampanga

When financial whiz Miguel C. Bolos quit Saudi Arabia for good in 2005, he began setting the groundwork to help returning overseas workers like him a way to successfully reintegrate into the country.

Today, Bolos, or Mike as he is more popularly known, has put up a four-story commercial building in the heart of Guagua town in Pampanga and began to look for businesses interested in setting up a shop inside his new business center.

But he wanted these businesses to be owned by former overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) like him, or at least, by OFW families.

Mike is not new to helping OFWs. He was at the forefront of the campaign for the enactment of the Overseas Absentee Voting law which was signed into law in 2003, and other welfare issues concerning his fellow OFWs in Riyadh.

At the same time, Mike bemoaned his hometown Guagua’s lack of development, which was surprising in light of the fact that it counted among its residents more than the usual OFW beneficiaries.

"It felt to me like Guagua was left behind by the times. Most of the modern conveniences can be found in neighboring towns like San Fernando, while my hometown remained the same. And the funny thing about this was the people of Guagua have a lot more spending power compared to others since most have family members working abroad and were sending remittances regularly," Mike said.

Upon retirement, Mike had bought a small spa within shouting distance of the Mall of Asia and he used his earnings from the spa, his savings, and a loan from BPI Family Savings Bank, to set up the One Crowne Plaza building in the heart of Guagua (http://onecrowneplaza.wetpaint.com/).

It was originally meant to be a three-story development, which later rose up to four storeys.

To attract other businesses to set up shop in his building, Mike also invested in his own 7-Eleven franchise, hoping that the familiar logo would act as a magnet to other businessmen.


"My decision to acquire a 7-Eleven franchise was a deliberate move to further push my personal economic advocacy agenda. With a world-class brand now seen in the center of town, other entrepreneurs will be inspired and will recognize the economic potential of the town that has a population of 120,000 relatively young individuals with high disposable income," he said.

Surprisingly, Mike’s 7-Eleven proved to have a positive effect, not just on the buying public, but on neighboring establishments, which began to renovate their facades to keep up with his modern building.

Even better, the local government of Guagua established a public utility vehicle (PUV) terminal a few meters away from the storefront to service commuters traveling between Guagua and the neighboring provinces.

The 51-year old Saudi veteran presents his building as a model of how other OFWs can be entrepreneurs.

The building is already half-full, and when "it reaches a certain stage of stability and profitability, I will make it available for interested overseas Filipinos to buy in from a minimum of one share at P5,000 up to a maximum of ten shares at P50,000 per person," he said.


"The reason for the maximum number of shares one can buy is to maximize the number of overseas Filipinos who can participate and to spread out the benefits as much as possible. To make it even more palatable, a program will be made available for the purchase of any share that any investor finds a need to dispose of at any time for whatever reasons, thereby making the investment as good as money in the bank that can be readily withdrawn if needed," Bolos said.

Bolos said "our government officials can now see for themselves how the same can be done with government-owned or controlled corporations or assets."

He is definitely out to prove that the OFW is more than just a money factory for relatives.- ABS-CBN News

More US Pinoys at risk of fatal heart diseases

By RODNEY J. JALECO
ABS-CBN North America News Bureau

WASHINGTON D.C. - A triple threat of poor diet, a mostly sedentary lifestyle and high number of the uninsured or underinsured are putting many Filipinos here at risk of fatal heart diseases – an incidence higher for those living in America than those in the Philippines.

"Hindi naman sila matataba but they still suffer strokes," observed Dr. Edith Bautista-Quint, a private practitioner based in Alexandria, Virginia.

"Mataas ang cholesterol, mataas ang blood pressure. It can also be hereditary but that can be controlled," she added. She places the blame squarely on the Pinoy’s penchant for rich, fatty food, coupled with the lack of exercise.

Dr. Bautista-Quint and other Fil-Am doctors joined a free medical mission in Gaithersburg, Maryland last weekend, volunteering one day’s to help not only Fil-Ams but other minorities as well. The mission was organized by the Philippine Medical Association, Migrant Heritage Commission and the Lion’s Club of greater Washington area.


Dr. Zenaida Marcelo of Springfield, Virginia conducts hearing examination on Latino patient who availed of free the free medical mission in Gaithersburg, Maryland.
"Sa huling medical mission ginawa namin, lumalabas na high blood pressure is the most common problem," she said of the Fil-Ams whom she diagnosed.

"Alam mo diet natin, maalat, ang baboy gusto pa natin yung taba," she explained.

Dr. Josephine Weeks worked in New York and D.C. hospitals before opening a private practice along Wisconsin Ave. in Washington D.C. last year. She specializes in pain management, but said in the course of examining Fil-Am patients, many exhibit a common condition which is high blood pressure, high cholesterol levels and other factors that combined, breeds heart disease.

And the condition, long associated with men, is growing among Fil-Am women. "Sa ating kapatiran ng mga babae marami yung bagong diagnosed na matataas ang blood pressure," Dr. Weeks averred.

Many of them, she added, did not know they had it until they saw a doctor for other ailments. She said that in many Fil-Am women she examined, their condition was enough to merit immediate medical intervention.

Dr. Melen McBride of the Stanford School of Medicine in California lamented the lack of comprehensive studies on Fil-Am health in America, despite being the 2nd largest Asian group in the U.S.

But she cited independent studies in Hawaii that showed Filipinos 55-64 years old had a 61% higher death rate from coronary diseases than a similar age group of Filipinos living in the Philippines; and another in California that showed Filipinos had higher prevalence of hypertension compared to average Americans (60% vs 47%).

In a 2006 report, the CDC’s Office of Minority Health listed heart diseases and strokes as the 2nd and 3rd top killers of Asians in America.

But an earlier CDC study showed that heart diseases is the top killer of Filipinos in the U.S., comprising nearly 32% of all deaths.

Lawyer Arnedo Valera of the Migrant Heritage Commission said the problem is aggravated by the large number of uninsured and underinsured Filipinos. He underscored the importance of free health missions to reach out to them, and ensure they receive early detection and treatment of possible heart diseases.


Filipino volunteers from the Philippine Medical Association, Migrant Heritage Commission and Lion's Club of the greater Washington area hold day-long free clinic at the St. Rose de Lima Church community center in Maryland that drew not only Fil-Am patients but also those from other minorities in the area
"Bukod sa libreng check-up, naka-connect ‘yan sa mga volunteer doctors natin para may continuous treatment," he said, pointing to the free medical mission held that day at the St. Rose de Lima Church community center in Maryland.

"Sa kabuuan ng US medical system, napaka-grabe ng healthcare crisis. For our part, we’re doing our small contribution na naka-focus kami sa Filipino migrants," he explained.

Valera estimated that 65% of Fil-Ams and Filipinos in the U.S. are uninsured and underinsured. This aggravates the health problem, he said, because many are reluctant to seek early medical diagnosis and help.

Dr. Bautista-Quint noted that Filipinos are hard workers, performing tasks sometimes beyond what was expected of them. Going home exhausted, they prefer spending the evening in front of the TV or talking to friends, rather than doing exercise.

Dr. Weeks says there are even more misconceptions among Filipinos about exercise. "Sabihin na natin na ang mga kababayan natin trabaho ng trabaho pero that is not the exercise na kailangan, the kind that can have cardio-vascular benefit or aid metabolism," she explained.

The bottom line, they said, is for Filipinos to take better care of their health. "They want to work to make a living, make money for their families but sometimes they don’t think what would happen if they get sick. They won’t be able to work. What happens to their families then?" asked Dr. Bautista-Quint.

Text back your reaction to this article using your Globe, Touch Mobile, Smart, Talk n' Text, Sun

DOLE sets up Canada Desk for OFW deployment

The Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) has set up a Canadian Desk tasked to handle queries and coordinate with concerned agencies on matters relating to the deployment of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) to Canada.


Labor and Employment Secretary Arturo Brion issued Administrative Order No. 53, series of 2008, providing for the setting up of the Canadian Desk at the Office of the DOLE Secretary in Intramuros, Manila. Director Salome Mendoza of the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) was designated to head the desk.


Brion said the Canadian Desk would be the Secretary’s arm in coordinating with the Canadian provinces of Saskatchewan, British Columbia, and Manitoba in activities relating to the deployment of OFWs to these provinces as provided for in the labor agreements entered into by the DOLE and the governments of the three Canadian provinces. The POEA, as mandated by law, will continue to handle the actual deployment activities.


He added that the Desk would also attend to queries from workers seeking employment in Canada.


Brion signed the agreements with the provincial governments of Saskatchewan and British Columbia in December 2007 and January this year, respectively. He also signed a similar agreement with Premier Gary Doer of Manitoba during the latter’s recent visit in Manila.


He is expected to sign another labor agreement with the Canadian province of Alberta by March of this year. Other Canadian provinces have expressed interest in entering into a labor agreement with the Philippines.


According to Brion, the purpose of the agreements is to strengthen areas of cooperation in the fields of labor, employment, and human deployment and development between the Philippines and the respective Canadian provinces.


The agreements, he said, specifically provide for an ethical, orderly, and expeditious recruitment and deployment of OFWs to Canada, non-collection of placement fees, and for the provinces to encourage employers to support human resource development efforts for OFWs as well as the reintegration of returning OFWs to the Philippines.


He stressed that the OFWs’ rights and welfare will also be protected in accordance with Philippine laws and regulations and those prevailing in the Canadian provinces.


"The forging of agreements with the Canadian provinces is a milestone in the national efforts to ensure decent working conditions and the continuous training and successful reintegration of OFWs," he said, adding "the government is managing migration in such a way that the interests of OFWs in Canada will be well protected."


Canada’s interest for OFWs underscores its recognition of the Filipinos’ capability to help address its skills shortages. Alberta, for instance, has a booming oil and gas industry and is projected to be requiring around 400,000 workers in the next two years.


British Columbia, on the other hand, will be in need of hospitality and construction workers as it gears itself to host the 2010 Winter Olympics. It wants to attract 30,000 contract and permanent migrant workers with specific skills per year. ABS-CBN News

Solons OK bill amending law for overseas absentee voters

By JULIE JAVELLANA-SANTOS
abs-cbnNEWS.com

House Bill 2036 amending the Overseas Absentee Voting Act of 2003 (Republic Act 9189) has passed the committee level and will soon be taken up before the House of Representatives plenary.

The bill was passed in a joint hearing of House committees co-chaired by Makati Rep. Teodoro Locsin Jr. (Suffrage and Electoral Reforms) and Cebu Rep. Antonio Cuenco (Foreign Affairs).

Locsin stipulated, however, that authors of HB 3209, a related bill that will scrap the required affidavit of intention to return which is a requirement for immigrants to be able to vote, have to defend their position at the plenary.

The approved bill was a consolidation of HB 2046 filed by Locsin and Cuenco and of HB 3209 filed by Akbayan Rep. Risa Hontiveros, Zamboanga City Rep. Maria Isabelle Climaco, Valenzuela City Rep. Rex Gatchalian and Cagayan de Oro Rep. Rufus Rodriguez.

The committees were initially convened for the consideration of measures seeking to amend RA 9189, which Locsin wanted to make sure would improve the turnout of overseas absentee voters.

Turnout for the initial implementation of the Overseas Absentee Voting Act during the national elections in May 2004 registered a high of 65 percent. Numbers, however, fell to 16.21 percent during the May 2007 senatorial election.

"It is in this context and in the light of the need for amendments that this bill is put forward so that by the next national electoral exercise, more of our brothers and sisters abroad can exercise their universal right of suffrage," Hontiveros, Gatchalian, Climaco and Rodriguez said in a joint statement when they filed HB 3209.

US soldier detained for raping Pinay in Japan

(Updated) The US military based in Japan has detained a soldier who allegedly raped a Filipino woman in Okinawa earlier this month.

According to Kyodo News on Wednesday, the Prefectural police plans to seek an arrest warrant on the still unnamed US serviceman after the Filipina claimed that she was raped.

Reports said the Filipina was assaulted around middle of February in a hotel in Japan’s southern prefecture where about 20,000 US troops are stationed.

The alleged sexual assault is the latest incident in Okinawa involving US troops after a 38-year-old Marine staff sergeant Tyrone Luther Hadnott was arrested last week for allegedly raping a 14-year-old Japanese schoolgirl.

Philippine Foreign Affairs spokesman Claro Cristobal told GMANews.TV that he has already coordinated with embassy officials in Japan regarding the incident.

"I have already coordinated with our embassy in Tokyo which, in turn, has already asked the honorary consul general in Okinawa to look into the matter," said Cristobal in a phone interview on Thursday evening.

Cristobal added that an update from the Philippine Embassy in Tokyo will be available by Friday.

Following the recent string of complaints and protests from Japan, the US military imposed a curfew on all US troops including their families based in Okinawa.

“We take such incidents and allegations very seriously. To prevent further occurrences, I have ordered additional training for all Marines regarding expectations of behavior and conduct," said Marine Lt. Gen. Richard Zilmer in a statement last week.

Zilmer, the top US commander in Okinawa, ordered all members of the military and their families to stay in their bases or off-base residences until further notice.

“It is my sincere hope that the Japanese people understand this alleged behavior is counter to the core values that Marines live by and I truly hope this incident does not overshadow the US-Japan relationship that we value so much," he added. - Mark J. Ubalde, GMANews.TV

Roxas to DFA: Beware of 'sanitized' version of rape of Pinay in Japan

Senator Manuel Roxas II called on the Department of Foreign Affairs on Friday to make sure that information provided by the US government on the reported rape incident involving a US serviceman and a Filipina in Okinawa, Japan are not “sanitized."

Information obtained from the US government, which may be overzealously shielding one of its soldiers from the reach of justice, must be double checked, the senator said.

“We have seen that happen here, and our DFA should be able to discern whether we’re being offered a sanitized version of events," said Roxas, pertaining to the case involving Lance Corporal Daniel Smith and a woman named “Nicole" who complained of having been raped on Nov. 1, 2005 in Olongapo City.

Japanese Kyodo news agency reported on Thursday that a "US Army member (had been) held for allegedly assaulting a Philippine woman." The soldier was not identified.

DFA spokesman Claro Cristobal said the Philippine embassy in Tokyo has confirmed that a Filipino woman has complained of having been raped by a US serviceman in Okinawa.
"Ensure protection of and assistance to the reported Filipina victim, and see that speedy justice is served," Roxas urged.

Cristobal said Consul General to Tokyo Sulpicio Confiado informed the DFA that an official will be dispatched to Okinawa to assist the Philippine honorary consulate in Naha extend full consular assistance and other needed support to the Filipina.

He noted that the Philippine government encountered serious controversy over the custody of Smith, who was eventually convicted of the rape case by the Makati regional trial court.

"If legal difficulties arose in a rape committed in Philippine soil, we should learn our lesson and be better prepared in protecting our own national in a foreign country, in a foreign court, under foreign laws," Roxas stressed.

Reports from Japan said the latest rape incident was committed in Okinawa sometime in the middle of February, and that the city's police were seeking an arrest warrant for the US soldier who allegedly committed the crime.

Reports said the Filipina was assaulted around middle of February in a hotel in Japan’s southern prefecture where about 20,000 US troops are stationed.

The alleged sexual assault is the latest incident in Okinawa involving US troops after a 38-year-old Marine staff sergeant Tyrone Luther Hadnott was arrested last week for allegedly raping a 14-year-old Japanese schoolgirl.

Following the recent string of complaints and protests from Japan, the US military imposed a curfew on all US troops including their families based in Okinawa.

“We take such incidents and allegations very seriously. To prevent further occurrences, I have ordered additional training for all Marines regarding expectations of behavior and conduct," said Marine Lt. Gen. Richard Zilmer in a statement last week.

Zilmer, the top US commander in Okinawa, ordered all members of the military and their families to stay in their bases or off-base residences until further notice.

“It is my sincere hope that the Japanese people understand this alleged behavior is counter to the core values that Marines live by and I truly hope this incident does not overshadow the US-Japan relationship that we value so much," he added. – GMANews.TV

Pinay raped in Japan to file case vs US soldier

The Filipina who complained of having been raped by a US serviceman in Okinawa has decided to file a case in appropriate Japan court, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said Wednesday.

DFA spokesman Claro Cristobal said that consul general to Tokyo Sulficio Confiado reported that the Filipino victim has already accepted the embassy’s offer of assistance and protection for the duration of the investigation and judicial proceedings.

Cristobal said that the victim is now in the protective custody of the Okinawa Police.

Earlier reports said that the US soldier assaulted the Filipina around middle of February in a hotel in Japan’s southern prefecture where about 20,000 US troops are stationed.

The alleged sexual assault, the latest incident in Okinawa involving US troops, has drawn a string of complaints and protests in Japan, forcing the US military to impose a curfew on all American soldiers in the military prefecture. - GMANews.TV

Audit of P100-M legal fund for OFWs sought

The House committee on overseas workers affairs on Wednesday asked the Department of Foreign Affairs to submit a detailed report on the utilization of the P100-million legal assistance fund for migrant workers provided under a 1995 law.

Rep. Roman Romulo, vice chairman of the committee, said an audit of the fund was necessary to justify a proposal under House Bill No. 701, authored by Valenzuela Rep. Rex Gatchalian, providing the DFA with P30 million legal assistance fund every year for distressed Filipino workers abroad.

Jose Cabrera, DFA representative in a public hearing on pending bills involving migrant workers, said he was not certain that the P100 million legal assistance fund provided under Republic Act No. 8042, or the Migrant Workers and Overseas Filipinos Act of 1995, had been disbursed.

RA 8042 identified the sources of the P100-million fund as follows: P50 million from the President’s contingency fund, P30 million from the Presidential Social Fund; and, P20 million from the Welfare Fund for Overseas Workers (membership dues paid by OFWs to the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration).

The law restricted the use of the fund to the provision of legal services to migrant workers and overseas Filipinos in distress.

“The expenditures to be charged against the fund shall include the fees for the foreign lawyers to be hired by the Legal Assistance for Migrant Workers Affairs to represent migrant workers facing charges abroad, bail bonds to secure the temporary release of workers under detention, court fees and charges and other litigation expenses," the law prescribed.

Cabrera told congressmen that the P100-million fund has not been fully provided. In 2005, he said, the legal assistance fund amounted to only P15 million. The following year, only P17 million was provided and another P15 million in 2007.

“For this year, the DFA asked Congress to allocate P30 million for LAF. Our information, although we don’t’ have the official notice yet from the Department of Budget, the LAF was increased to P60 million," Cabrera said.

Some committee members wondered why the DFA has not used up the P100-million fund considering the growing number of Filipinos facing legal problems abroad.

Based on a report Cabrera submitted to the committee, the DFA used only P7. 036-million out of the P15-million allocation in 2005 for legal assistance to 66 OFWs.

In 2006, DFA disbursed P12.1 million to help 148 Filipinos out of the P17 million allocation. Last year, the DFA used P12.3 million out of P15 million in helping 86 distressed Filipinos.

Cabrera explained that the legal assistance fund is used primarily for Filipinos facing criminal cases, especially when there is no volunteer lawyer available, or the Filipino has no capacity to hire his own lawyer.

Besides, he said the DFA has been looking for practical resolution of cases especially on labor matters. “In UAE, for example, the services of a lawyer cost like $2,000 if it is a labor case (involving) claims of $1,000 or less. That is not worth paying for a lawyer with more than what the worker can get in return. This is one way of evaluating a case," he explained.

Gatchalian said distressed Filipinos overseas could possibly not be aware of the availability of the legal assistance fund to help them in their legal battles.

“I guess we need more legal workers, especially in countries where there’s big number of OFWs with legal problems. Even if you ask the POLOs (Philippine Overseas Labor Officers) there are hundreds and hundreds (of OFWs) whose cases are waiting to be heard, seeking legal advice," said Gatchalian.

Nueva Ecija Rep. Carlos Padilla recommended that the bill on additional legal assistance fund be converted into a resolution, and that a technical working group be tasked to study the definition of a migrant Filipino worker.

He asked if an overseas job applicant who has fallen victim to illegal recruitment could be considered a migrant worker who could be entitled to legal assistance from government. “These people will surely need legal assistance, too," Padilla pointed out. - Fidel Jimenez, GMANews.TV

House panel takes up more protection for OFWs

Members of the House committee on overseas workers affairs agreed on Wednesday to consolidate five bills seeking to amend Republic Act No. 8042, or the 1995 Migrant Workers and Overseas Filipinos Act, with a view of providing further protection to Filipinos working abroad.

The proposals include having a legal attaché office in the Middle East countries to provide legal assistance to distressed Filipinos embroiled in legal battles under House Bill No. 628, and institutionalizing a selection process for additional members to the governing boards of the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration and the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration under HB 699.

HBs 700 and 769 both propose higher standard of protection for migrant workers and their families while HB 701 provides for replenishment to the legal assistance fund for OFWs in distress situations.

Under HB 769, South Cotabato Rep. Arthur Pinggoy wants recruitment agencies to put up a performance bond of P100,000 for the deployment of OFWs. The bill also extends at least P50,000 loan to families of OFWs through the Migrant Workers Loan Guarantee Fund.

Pasig Rep. Roman Romulo, vice chairman of the committee, said a technical working group would combine the proposals in one bill.

Ellene Sana, executive director of the non-governmental organization Center for Migrant Advocacy, lauded Valenzuela Rep. Rex Gatchalian for his concerns for the welfare of OFWs through his sponsorship of HBs 699, 700 and 701.

Sana and Erwin Puhawan of the Kanlungan Center Foundation particularly pushed for HB 699 as they underscored the need for a transparent selection process in the appointment of a representative of the OFW sector to the POEA and OWWA boards.

In the course of the discussions, congressmen expressed surprise that even the OFW representative to the OWWA, Eduardo Bellido, was not aware how he was chosen by President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo to the board.

Bellido said OWWA board has 12 members: seven from government, and five from the private sector. The five private representatives come from the recruitment, civic, land –based OFWs, women, and labor sectors.

Sana and Puhawan urged the congressmen to provide a clear guideline or criteria on the OFW nominees to be submitted to the President to represent migrant workers in the board.

Sana cited cases where previous representatives of OFWs in the board was not a even a migrant worker. “Another case is the (OFW) representative in the board is still working abroad. For that reason, she fails to attend the board meeting in Manila," she said.

Puhawan observed that a majority of board members come from government. He suggested a reverse, where migrant workers dominate the board membership.

Gatchalian said while he is not questioning the power and wisdom of the President to appoint members of the board, he fully supports the position taken by the NGO leaders.

“Who else knows best with regard to the issue of OFWs, but the OFW itself," Gatchalian pointed out.

He said his proposal does not mean increasing the number of the POEA and OWWA board members but to modify the selection process to make sure that only qualified people represent the migrant sector in the policy-making body. – Fidel Jimenez, GMANews.TV

Filipina jailed 2 yrs for stealing $300k from HK employer

A court in Hong Kong has slapped the maximum two-year prison sentence against a Filipina domestic helper who forged her former employer’s signature to steal a total of $302,000 (more than Php1.5 million) from him in a span of 14 months.

Ria-Cecilia R. Caguioa, 30, pleaded guilty to 18 counts of theft on Feb. 27 before Eastern court magistrate Garry Tallentire.

Tallentire sentenced her to a 12-month imprisonment on all the charges, but ruled that charges 2 and 3 will run consecutively to all other charges, 4 to 19, for a total of 24 months.

A separate charge of forgery against Caguioa was withdrawn.

According to the charge sheet, on various dates between August 2006 and October last year Caguioa stole a “chose in action" or simply, checks in the HSBC account of her employer, Raymond Chow, a civil servant.

She first denied the offenses when she was arrested, but later entered a guilty plea.

The court heard that twice a month from August to October in 2006, Caguioa successfully deposited checks drawn against her employer’s account amounting to $10,000 and $11,000 to her Bank of Communications account.

In December of the same year, she deposited a total of $40,000 in three separate transactions. Caguioa more than doubled the December transaction from January to April last year by depositing a whopping $85,000.

The amounts increased to $28,000 and $29,000 between August and October. Her last transaction was her biggest at $30,000 on Oct. 25, 2007.

All amounts were withdrawn from her account as soon as the check was cleared.

Caguioa’s employer only found out about these in November when he noticed three suspicious transactions in his HSBC account in the past few months. His inquiry led to a confirmation by HSBC that a total of 31 checks with forged signatures had been drawn from his account with amount totaling to $367,000.

These have been paid into Caguioa’s account between August 2006 and October 2007. But upon legal advice, Caguioa was only charged with theft of $302,000.

Tallentire said in court that Caguioa’s acts were not done out of a momentary temptation or greed, but were malicious and vicious. - Smiley D. Julve, GMANews.TV

Philhealth thumbs down proposed hospital for OFWs

The head of the Philippine Health Insurance Corp. rejected on Wednesday proposals in the Senate to put up a hospital exclusively for overseas Filipino workers and their dependents.

Lorna O. Fajardo, acting Philhealth president and chief executive officer, said at a joint public hearing of the Senate committees on health and labor that it would be more sensible to use the money intended for the proposed hospital to augment existing medical facilities run by the government.

“Another hospital that cannot be fully equipped will just add up to the number of ill-equipped hospitals, “ Fajardo pointed out.

Besides, she stressed that the needs of OFWs and members of their families are no different from those of ordinary Filipinos, and that they should not be accommodated separately.

Fajardo said there are around 700,000 OFWs enrolled in Philhealth, each contributing P900 membership fee before going to their destination countries.

While Fajardo acknowledges that there are certain peculiarities in the OFWS’ cases, she said Philhealth does not support putting up a separate hospital exclusively for migrant workers.

Senate President Protempore Jinggoy Estrada filed in July Senate Bill 421, or the Migrant Workers Hospital Act of 2007, to ensure availability, accessibility of comprehensive health-care services to all migrant workers and their dependents.

Senate President Manuel Villar Jr. and Sen. Lito Lapid also filed separate bills for the construction of an OFW medical facility.

Vilar's bill appropriates P5 million as government's contribution for the initial operations and maintenance of the "OFW Medical Center." It also provides that the government would "contribute the necessary land, building equipment and facilities" to the hospital.

Estrada, who chairs the Senate labor committee, asked resource persons invited to the public hearing on Wednesday if putting up a 50-bed hospital for OFWs would be a better option than accrediting existing medical facilities to cater to migrant workers’ health needs.

The OFW hospital is proposed to be supervised by the Overseas Workers Welfare administration (OWWA) and will initially serve OFWs who have paid their dues and their legal dependents.

It was intended to complement the existing package of services under the Medical Care Program (Philhealth) so as to include preventive, promotive, diagnostic, curative and rehabilitative programs.

“We can’t take for granted the indispensable role played by our modern heroes. Aside from their skills and experiences, an important capital that they have possessed is their health," Estrada said in justifying the proposal.

In the course of the discussions, Estrada said having an OFW hospital would no longer be necessary if existing government hospitals would be willing to attend to the health needs of OFWs and their dependents.

The proposed hospital, he said, could be built using funds from OFWs’ contributions through OWWA. “We can even establish the hospital in the compound of the Veterans Medical Memorial Center," Estrada said.

“I know the place very well, having stayed there for two years," he jested, referring to his detention there in 2001 until he was allowed to post bail in 2003 as a co-accused of his father in a plunder case.

For her part, Sen. Pia Cayetano, who chairs the health and demography committee, said the proposed hospital could serve as a “processing center" to check on health needs of OFWs for referral to other Philhealth-accredited hospitals.

But Cayetano said she has strong reservations against putting up a new hospital for OFWs, considering that most OFWs are not based in Manila where the medical facility is proposed to be built.

Rhodora Abaro of the Center for Migrant Advocacy said about 50 percent of OFWs and their relatives come from Calabarzon (Cavite-Laguna-Batangas-Rizal-Quezon), the National Capital Region (Metro Manila), and Central Luzon, while the rest are spread in the Visayas and Mindanao.

She suggested that the intended beneficiaries be properly consulted on the proposal, noting that it would be their money that would be used to build and operate the facility.

“It’s the OFWs’ money, they should be consulted about it," Abaro said in an interview with GMANews.TV.

While the benefits of the proposed OFW hospital can only be availed of by documented workers, Estrada suggested that undocumented OFWs should also be entitled to its services.

“Like documented OFWS, these undocumented workers also send money to the country," he said.

Estrada said that he would organize a technical working group to look into the prospect of addressing the needs of undocumented OFWs. - Mark J. Ubalde, GMANews.TV

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Protection of Trafficked Children

Bata, Bata, Karapata’y Ipaunawa:
PACT calls for the IACAT’s immediate adoption of the Philippines Guidelines for the Protection of Trafficked Children
________________________________________

“Trafficked children are victims of human rights violations and should not be treated as offenders. Formally adopting the Philippine Guidelines for the Protection of Trafficked Children will help in upholding and protecting each trafficked child’s right to full respect and exercise of his/her survival, protection, development and participation.”

This was the call of Philippines Against Child Trafficking (PACT), a national network with over 500 member individuals and organizations committed to protect children against trafficking, in a forum held at Newdesk Café in Quezon City with the theme, “Bata, Bata, Karapata’y Ipaunawa.”

PACT said that the document aims to serve as guide to broaden the understanding of service providers such as social workers, law enforcers, NGOs and the State, to better understand the rights of trafficked children and take the necessary measures to protect them.

According to ECPAT Philippines President and children’s NGO representative to the Inter-Agency Council Against Trafficking (IACAT) Ms. Amihan Abueva, “adopting the Guidelines is important to ensure the ‘best interest’ of the child.”

Abueva added that the Philippine Guidelines will also be the basis for more effective networking and coordination of concerned agencies in identifying the immediate, as well as the long-term solutions for problems experienced by children victimized by trafficking.

The final draft of the said Guidelines is currently with the IACAT for last reading, comments and formal adoption.

-30-


Philippines Against Child Trafficking (PACT)
Rm. 316-317 3/F Philippine Social Science Center
Commonwealth Ave., Diliman, Quezon City, Philippines
Tel. (632) 929-0347, Fax: (632) 929-0347
Email: philippinecampaign@gmail.com
Website: www.pact.org.ph

Pinoys worried US recession may cut jobs in RP - study

A United States economic recession will bring about a deluge of concerns among Filipinos, foremost of which are job cuts, political instability, inflation, civil conflict, higher interest rates and strikes, the latest study by polling firm Nielsen Company showed.

The latest Consumer Confidence Concerns and Spending Survey of Nielsen Company showed that the Filipinos' top concern with a US economic slowdown is unemployment, with 70 percent of respondents listing this as an answer, political instability (50 percent), inflation (43 percent), civil conflicts and rising interest rates (both 22 percent).

“We have seen so much of them (unemployment, political instability, and civil conflicts and strikes) in the past. They worry people apparently," Benedicto Cid Jr., Nielsen managing director said.

The survey results revealed that the Filipino concerns almost mirrored the regional average in the Asia Pacific.

The poll showed that the Top 5 most worrisome for people living in the Asia Pacific following a possible downturn of the US economy are inflation (56 percent), unemployment (56 percent), political instability (28 percent), rising interest rates (26 percent), and falling property rices (17 percent).

There were about 500 Filipinos included in the online poll, which has a margin of error of about 4 percent. The study was held from October 24, 2007 to November 7, 2007, before the Manila Pen siege on November 29 last year, and the revelations by Engr. Rodolfo Lozada on alleged corruption surrounding the national broadband network contract with ZTE Corp.

The Filipino respondents belonged to upper and middle class and have an age range of 18 and up. The poll sought to measure their expectations for the year 2008 based on their past experiences and their outlook.

The study also showed that the Philippines was one of the biggest gainers in consumer optimism with a score of 108, up by 5 points compared to the 103 score it had in the 1st half of 2007.

Among 48 countries included in the global poll, the Philippines ranked 12th, tying with Ireland.
The Philippines had a score of 65 percent, up 6 percent from the last study.

The main reason for the Filipinos' confidence was the better job prospects that they had in the second half of 2007.

“Filipinos are increasingly optimistic about job prospects. The Philippines has the largest increase in rating job prospects as excellent/good in Asia Pacific," the study added. - Cheryl Arcibal, GMANews.TV

RP jobless rate up 50% sans overseas employment - TUCP

The number of jobless Filipinos would have soared by almost 50 percent in 2007 if not for the overseas employment of a large segment of the national labor force, according to the Trade Union Congress of the Philippines (TUCP).

In a statement, TUCP spokesperson Alex Aguilar said had the government completely stopped sending workers overseas, the country’s unemployment rate would have surged by as high as 9.3 percent last year.

Records from the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) showed that a total of 1,073,402 Filipino workers were deployed abroad in 2007, which was roughly the same number as the 1,062,567 who left for overseas jobs in 2006.

“Assuming those who left to work abroad stayed home instead, and assuming further that they did not find any gainful employment here, then the ranks of wholly unemployed Filipinos would have ballooned to 3,335,102," Aguilar said.

Based on the results of the latest Labor Force Survey, a total of 2,261,700 Filipinos, or 6.3 percent of the country’s 35.9-million labor force, were entirely unemployed as of October 2007.

“Adding the 1,073,402 who were deployed overseas to the ranks of the jobless would have increased to 3,335,102 the total number of completely unemployed Filipinos, or around 9.3 percent of the labor force," Aguilar said.

“While many of the Filipinos who left for overseas jobs last year could have qualified for full or part-time employment here, they surely would have displaced other labor force participants who were otherwise gainfully engaged," Aguilar added.

The last labor force survey also showed that of the 33,638,300 Filipinos that were considered “employed" as of October, some 18.1 percent or 6,088,532 were actually “underemployed," or eagerly looking for additional work to support themselves and their families.

Citing these figures, Aguilar said there is need for the government to “take the lead in creating new jobs." He proposed a national employment plan that would compel every agency and state-owned firm to carry out more labor-intensive projects.

“Let us ensure labor-intensiveness in each public project and in every private sector endeavor. Let us compel each agency to set achievable employment targets. Then let us assign an inter-agency panel to monitor performance in terms of job creation," Aguilar said. - GMANews.TV

'Sentosa' nurses lose illegal recruitment case at DoJ

The Filipino health workers recruited to New York by Sentosa suffered a third blow in their long drawn legal battle against their recruitment agency in the Philippines and its counterpart in the US after the Department of Justice (DoJ) junked on Monday their complaint for illegal recruitment.

Senior state prosecutor Doris S. Alejo said in a seven-page decision that the department found no substantive alterations in the employment contracts the nurses signed before their deployment that would support their allegations against officials of the Sentosa Recruitment Agency in the Philippines and the Sentosa Care LLC of New York City.

Thirteen Filipino nurses accused Sentosa officials Bent Philipson, Francis Luyun, and Oliva Serduar in June 2006 for violating the Labor Code for furnishing and publishing false notice or information or document related to their employment as well as substituting or altering employment contracts initially approved and verified by the Labor department.

The nurses previously lost similar cases filed with the Philippine Overseas Employment Agency (POEA) and the National Labor Relations Commission (NLRC), both under the Department of Labor and Employment.

Ironically, New York's education and health departments have come come up with findings supportive of the Filipino nurses' argument that they did not abandon their wards when they quit and that they did not endanger the lives of residents of Avalon Gardens.

In September last year, the POEA dismissed for lack of merit the nurses’ illegal recruitment case and, last January, the NLRC threw out a similar case involving illegal dismissal, nonpayment and underpayment of salaries and other money claims.

The DoJ ruling said the nurses’ complaint “may warrant an action which is civil in nature, but definitely not a criminal action."

Ten 10 Filipino nurses belonging to the so-called ‘Sentosa 27’ still face criminal and civil charges before a New York district for allegedly endangering the lives of their patients when they resigned en masse in April 2006 in protest over unjust working conditions and labor malpractices in a New York health care center.

The 10 were part of a group of 26 Filipino nurses and a physical therapist (Sentosa 27) who claimed that their local recruiter, Sentosa Recruitment Agency (SRA), was guilty of violating human trafficking laws, and involuntary servitude.

Following their walkout from the pediatric ventilation unit of Avalon Gardens Rehabilitation and Health Care Center in April 2006, Sentosa's New York agency slapped them with criminal charges for allegedly endangering the lives of the terminally ill children they were looking after.

Facing trial are Elmer Jacinto, Juliet Anilao, Harriet Avila, Mark dela Cruz, Claudine Gamiao, Jennifer Lampa, Rizza Maulion, James Millena, Ma. Theresa Ramos, and Ranier Sichon, and their lawyer, Felix Vinluan.

Trial was supposed to have started last January 28 but the Suffolk district court reset it to April 28.

Earlier this month, Senate minority leader Aquilino Pimentel Jr urged the government to extend legal assistance to the Filipino nurses.

The government extended $25,000 in legal assistance to the ‘Sentosa 27’ last November. The Department of Foreign Affairs acknowledged that the amount was “not too much" to help the Filipinos’ legal battle, but it was just what the agency could afford to shell out.

Foreign Affairs Undersecretary for Migrant Workers Affairs Esteban Conejos Jr said Filipinos on death row in various countries are given priority in the agency’s legal fund. - Mark J. Ubalde, GMANews.TV

Manila provides skills training for aspiring OFWs

The Manila city government will hold skills training programs for residents interested in applying for overseas jobs in view of the opening of more labor markets for Filipinos, particularly in Canada and Australia.

On Tuesday, Mayor Alfredo S. Lim already handed out training-for-work scholarship certificates to 116 beneficiaries of the Livelihood at Iskolarsyip para sa Manilenyo (LIM), a joint project of the city government and the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (Tesda).

The mayor said the skills training program was intended to help his constituents take advantage of the opening up of the international market for skilled Filipino workers.

Early this month, Lim discussed with Premier Gary Doer of Manitoba province in Canada, and earlier with the Australian premier, about job opportunities in their respective areas, and the preference of employers to Filipino workers for being hardworking and kind.

“This is the kind of workers that they want to bring to their countries and we are going to train them right here in the city of Manila," Lim said during the awarding rites for the scholarship program.

The Department of Labor and Employment has signed labor agreements with the Canadian provinces of Saskatchewan, British Columbia and Manitoba for the deployment of Filipino workers. The province of Alberta is working out a similar agreement for the recruitment of Filipino workers.

With more than one million new job openings expected by 2020 and only 650,000 young people in the school system, British Columbia will be looking for 350,000 skilled workers from outside the province over the next 12 years.

Manitoba needs truck drivers, welders, machinists, boilermakers, sheet metal workers, glaziers, pipe fitters, plasterers, drywall installers, carpenters, cabinetmakers, bricklayers and stone masons. The Philippine Overseas Employment Administration said there are about 10,000 job openings available to Filipinos in the province.

POEA Administrator Rosalinda Baldoz earlier said close to two million jobs would be open to Filipinos in Canada in the next 10 years.

The initial batch of beneficiaries of the training program in Manila includes out-of-school youth, disadvantaged women, heads of the family and needy adults, and in-school youth. The training programs include skills on massage therapy, consumer electronics, and commercial cooking.

The Manila Manpower Development Center and the City College of Manila – Livelihood Program Satellite Training Centers will conduct the skills training.

Each beneficiary received a voucher representing the training cost: P1,500 for massage therapy; P6,000 for consumer electronics; and P3,500 for commercial cooking.

There will also be courses on beauty care, spa therapy, dressmaking, photo silk screen and signage, food and beverage service, basic computer, computer technician, automotive services, and refrigeration and aircon repair.

Interested applicants may enroll at any of the six satellite offices in the city, City College of Manila, and Manila Department of Social Welfare. - GMANews.TV »

House panels endorse amendment to overseas absentee voting law

Two House committees endorsed for plenary debates on Tuesday a bill amending the 2003 overseas absentee voting law to extend to seven years the requirement for Filipino immigrants to execute an affidavit of intent to return to the Philippines before regaining their right to vote while abroad.

The committees on suffrage and electoral reforms and on foreign affairs dismissed a proposal removing the requirement altogether, and in stead, adopted through House Bill 2036 another provision that extends the three-year period to issue an Affidavit of Intent to Return imposed in the Overseas Absentee Voting Act of 2003 (Republic Act No. 9189) to seven years.

HB 2036 consolidated HB 2046 filed by Makati Rep Teodoro Locsin Jr and Cebu Rep Antonio Cuenco and HB 3209 authored by Akbayan partylist Rep Risa Hontiveros, Zamboanga City Rep Maria Isabelle Climaco, Valenzuela City Rep Rex Gatchalian, and Cagayan de Oro Rep Rufus Rodriguez.

HB 3209 seeks the deletion of the intent to return requirement, noting that the provision has discouraged many Filipinos overseas from participating in Philippine elections.

According to lawyer Byron Bucar, Hontiveros’ legislative officer, authors of HB 3209 will still pursue the deletion of Section 5(d) of RA 9189 which requires a registrant to execute an Affidavit of Intent to Return in order to vote for president, vice president, senators and party-list representatives in the Philippines.

Failure to return in the proscribed period forfeits the registrant’s chance to vote.

“Repealing the disqualifications in the overseas voting law will hopefully encourage more Filipinos abroad to register and vote," Bucar, who represented Hontiveros at the committee hearing, told GMANews.TV Tuesday evening.

Delete provision

Meanwhile, the Center for Migrants Advocacy, a non-governmental organization working for the welfare and interests of migrant workers, welcomed the adoption of the bill but expressed preference for the eventual deletion of the requirement.

Lawyer Henry Rojas, CMA legal counsel, said in a position paper submitted to the House panel that deliberated on the bill that the repeal of Section 5 (d) “allow Filipino citizens who have acquired permanent resident/immigrant status in another country to vote under RA 9189 without restrictions."

Rojas cited a Supreme Court ruling in the case Nicolas-Lewis, et al. v. Comelec (497 SCRA 649) which said that that dual citizens can vote under the Overseas Absentee Voting (OAV) law without the residence requirement.

This was one of the major reasons behind the very low turnout of registrants, which was at 504,000 out of more than eight million Filipinos overseas, for the 204 and 2007 elections.

The voter turn out was also very low at roughly 20 percent of the 504,000 registered OAVs in the May 2007 elections.

“If dual citizens can vote sans the residence requirement, why should the restriction on voting be applied to Filipino citizens who did not acquire foreign citizenship?" Rojas asked.

The lawyer also considered as 'impractical' the requirement of resuming actual physical residence in the Philippines not later than seven years upon approval of registration as an overseas voter.

“What does 'resumption of actual physical residence in the Philippines' mean? Will six months residence in the Philippines suffice?" he asked.

Meanwhile Bucar said that Commission on Elections commissioner Nicodemo Ferrer and former commissioner Florentino Tuazon were in full support of the repeal of Section 5(d) during the committee hearing on Tuesday.

He also reported that Locsin seemed to be open to the cancellation of Section 5(d) but opted to retain the disqualification anyway.

Bucar said that there could have been “more voices" defending the repeal of the disqualifications if all of HB 3209’s authors were there to air their positions.

According to Bucar, only Gatchalian was present in the joint public hearing by the House committees on suffrage and electoral reforms and on foreign affairs committee because the other lawmakers had to attend other hearings. - Mark J. Ubalde,

House panels endorse amendment to overseas absentee voting law

Two House committees endorsed for plenary debates on Tuesday a bill amending the 2003 overseas absentee voting law to extend to seven years the requirement for Filipino immigrants to execute an affidavit of intent to return to the Philippines before regaining their right to vote while abroad.

The committees on suffrage and electoral reforms and on foreign affairs dismissed a proposal removing the requirement altogether, and in stead, adopted through House Bill 2036 another provision that extends the three-year period to issue an Affidavit of Intent to Return imposed in the Overseas Absentee Voting Act of 2003 (Republic Act No. 9189) to seven years.

HB 2036 consolidated HB 2046 filed by Makati Rep Teodoro Locsin Jr and Cebu Rep Antonio Cuenco and HB 3209 authored by Akbayan partylist Rep Risa Hontiveros, Zamboanga City Rep Maria Isabelle Climaco, Valenzuela City Rep Rex Gatchalian, and Cagayan de Oro Rep Rufus Rodriguez.

HB 3209 seeks the deletion of the intent to return requirement, noting that the provision has discouraged many Filipinos overseas from participating in Philippine elections.

According to lawyer Byron Bucar, Hontiveros’ legislative officer, authors of HB 3209 will still pursue the deletion of Section 5(d) of RA 9189 which requires a registrant to execute an Affidavit of Intent to Return in order to vote for president, vice president, senators and party-list representatives in the Philippines.

Failure to return in the proscribed period forfeits the registrant’s chance to vote.

“Repealing the disqualifications in the overseas voting law will hopefully encourage more Filipinos abroad to register and vote," Bucar, who represented Hontiveros at the committee hearing, told GMANews.TV Tuesday evening.

Delete provision

Meanwhile, the Center for Migrants Advocacy, a non-governmental organization working for the welfare and interests of migrant workers, welcomed the adoption of the bill but expressed preference for the eventual deletion of the requirement.

Lawyer Henry Rojas, CMA legal counsel, said in a position paper submitted to the House panel that deliberated on the bill that the repeal of Section 5 (d) “allow Filipino citizens who have acquired permanent resident/immigrant status in another country to vote under RA 9189 without restrictions."

Rojas cited a Supreme Court ruling in the case Nicolas-Lewis, et al. v. Comelec (497 SCRA 649) which said that that dual citizens can vote under the Overseas Absentee Voting (OAV) law without the residence requirement.

This was one of the major reasons behind the very low turnout of registrants, which was at 504,000 out of more than eight million Filipinos overseas, for the 204 and 2007 elections.

The voter turn out was also very low at roughly 20 percent of the 504,000 registered OAVs in the May 2007 elections.

“If dual citizens can vote sans the residence requirement, why should the restriction on voting be applied to Filipino citizens who did not acquire foreign citizenship?" Rojas asked.

The lawyer also considered as 'impractical' the requirement of resuming actual physical residence in the Philippines not later than seven years upon approval of registration as an overseas voter.

“What does 'resumption of actual physical residence in the Philippines' mean? Will six months residence in the Philippines suffice?" he asked.

Meanwhile Bucar said that Commission on Elections commissioner Nicodemo Ferrer and former commissioner Florentino Tuazon were in full support of the repeal of Section 5(d) during the committee hearing on Tuesday.

He also reported that Locsin seemed to be open to the cancellation of Section 5(d) but opted to retain the disqualification anyway.

Bucar said that there could have been “more voices" defending the repeal of the disqualifications if all of HB 3209’s authors were there to air their positions.

According to Bucar, only Gatchalian was present in the joint public hearing by the House committees on suffrage and electoral reforms and on foreign affairs committee because the other lawmakers had to attend other hearings. - Mark J. Ubalde,

Lawyer predicts dismissal of NY case vs RP nurses

The Filipino-American lawyer representing the Filipino nurses facing trial in a New York district court has expressed optimism that the charges leveled against the health workers would be dismissed.

Salvador Tuy, a volunteer lawyer for 10 of the 26 nurses and a physical therapist from the Philippines known as ‘Sentosa 27,’ based his optimism on the interest that the state of New York has shown on the case following the findings of the federal health department and the NY state health department that the Filipinos did not endanger the lives of patients in a home care center when they quit in April 2006.

He cited that a criminal charge requires proof beyond reasonable doubt and that this would be impossible if both the federal and state departments of health say that the nurses did not endanger the lives of their patients.

According to him, the prosecution wanted to make it appear that the nurses’ act of resigning together was intended to cripple the operations of Avalon Gardens Rehabilitation that put at risk the lives of patients.

Trial of the nurses was supposed to begin last January 28, but it had been reset to April 28 at the Suffolk district court in Long Island, NY.

The nurses resigned en masse and walked out of the Avalon Gardens Rehabilitation and Health Care Center, a facility with patients dependent on ventilator life support units. They complained of unjust working conditions and labor malpractices by their NY employer.

Sentosa Recruitment Agency, the local extension of a US-based placement agency, hired the nurses.

The Philippine Department of Justice dismissed for lack of merit the case of illegal recruitment 13 of the ‘Sentosa 27’ filed against the local recruitment agency and its principal in the US.

The Philippine Overseas Employment Administration and the National Labor Relations Commission, both under the Department of Labor and Employment, dismissed the cases the nurses filed against the recruitment agency.

In the upcoming trial, Tuy said the defense would focus on the fact that when the nurses tendered their resignation, they were not on duty, except for Theresa Ramos who had completed her shift and whose reliever had arrived when she resigned.

Tuy added that none of the nurses were working as regular registered nurse and that their tasks were limited and should be supervised by RNs.

In addition, he said while the Filipino nurses were tasked to monitor the patients, the ventilator units attached to them were handled by other medical workers who were not among those who quit.

Tuy said the Filipino nurses are confident of winning the case, especially the criminal aspect.

Tuy said the nurses lost their cases in the Philippines with the POEA, NLRC and DoJ because they were not present during the proceedings to refute the arguments of Sentosa.

Earlier, Senate minority leader Aquilino Pimentel Jr urged the government to extend legal assistance Filipino nurses after the trial for the criminal complaint against the nurses has been reset from Jan. 28 to April in New York.

The civil aspect of the suit will be tried separately.

Facing trial are Elmer Jacinto, Juliet Anilao, Harriet Avila, Mark dela Cruz, Claudine Gamiao, Jennifer Lampa, Rizza Maulion, James Millena, Ma. Theresa Ramos, and Ranier Sichon, and their lawyer Felix Vinluan.

They were indicted on March 22, 2007 even after the state's education department cleared them in September 2006 of any wrongdoing.

Jacinto is a 2004 medical board topnotcher who had switched to nursing. - Fidel Jimenez, GMANews.TV

Monday, February 25, 2008

276 foreign maids not paid salaries in 2007

A FOREIGN domestic maid in Singapore was not paid since she started work
with her employer more than seven years ago.

In all, she was owed salary arrears amounting to $19,398, which was
eventually paid to her after intervention by the Ministry of Manpower (MOM).

She was one of 276 foreign maids here who were not paid by their employers
last year. The ministry managed to recover more than $270,000 in unpaid
salaries for these maids and convicted three employers for committing the
offence.

The latest employer to be convicted was Zubaidah Bte Sanluan, who was fined
$4,500 in Court on Feb 11 for failing to pay the salary of her domestic
help, and for making a false declaration to the Controller of Work Permits.

Zubaidah will also be barred from employing another maid.

Investigations by MOM in April 2007 revealed that Zubaidah's maid had not
been paid her monthly salary since she started work in January 2001.
Zubaidah also falsely declared that she had paid her salary when renewing
her Work Permit in January 2007.

MOM intervened and collected $19,398 in salary arrears for the maid.

In another recent case, Ravichandran s/o Ghandhi Raju was fined $2,500 on
Jan 8 for failing to pay his maid for 14 months, amounting to $2,204.

Last Oct 31, Yeo Boey Hiang was fined $2,500 for failing to pay the
salaries of her maid, totalling $6,340.

Mr Aw Kum Cheong, Divisional Director, of Foreign Manpower Management
Division, at MOM, said: 'All employers of foreign workers, including FDWs
are required under the Work Permit conditions to pay salaries to their
workers on time. We would also like to remind employers that they should
not withhold the salaries of their workers on the pretext of safekeeping
their salaries. The Ministry will prosecute errant employers.'

MOM says it is an offence under the Employment of Foreign Manpower Act
(EFMA) for employers not to pay their FDWs within seven days of their
salary period. If found guilty, the employer can be fined up to $5,000, or
jailed up to six months, or both.

Errant employers will also be barred from employing another FDW.

The Ministry urges FDWs who are not paid their salaries to seek assistance
early by contacting its hotline at 1800 339 5505.

CFO opens nominations for outstanding overseas Pinoys

The Commission on Filipinos Overseas (CFO) has opened the search for the 2008 Presidential Awards for Filipino Individuals and Organizations Overseas (PAFIOO).

Conducted every two years, the PAFIOO aims to recognize exceptional individuals and organizations abroad for their outstanding contribution to Philippine progress and development.

Since its inception in 1991 through Executive Order 498, the awards has so far conferred honors to 283 overseas-based individuals and organizations from 37 countries.

Starting January 2, 2008, the CFO has been accepting endorsements from Philippine embassies and consulates for nominations to the awards.

Awarding ceremonies will be done in Malacañang in December, which has been declared as Overseas Filipinos Month.

The PAFIOO has four categories: The Lingkod sa Kapwa Pilipino, Banaag, Kaanib ng Bayan, and Pamana ng Pilipino.

Lingkod sa Kapwa Filipino (Linkapil) is conferred on Filipino associations or individuals for their significant contribution to reconstruction, progress and development in the Philippines.

Banaag Award is bestowed on Filipino individuals or associations for their contributions that have significantly benefited a sector or community in the Philippines, or advanced the cause of overseas Filipino communities.

Kaanib ng Bayan Award is awarded to foreign individuals or organizations for their significant contribution to Philippine reconstruction, progress and development that have significantly benefited a sector or community, or advanced the cause of overseas Filipino communities.

Pamana ng Pilipino Award is given to Filipinos overseas for exemplifying the talent and industry of the Filipino, bringing the country honor and recognition through excellence and distinction in the pursuit of their work or profession.

Rules for nomination

Any individual or organization, whether Filipino or foreigner, based in the Philippines or abroad, may submit nominations.

Nominations originating from abroad may be submitted to the Awards Committee in each Philippine embassy or consulate with jurisdiction in their area. Nominations from the Philippines may be sent to the CFO headquarters in Manila.

Previous nominees who were not recipients of the PAFIOO may be nominated again under the same or another category.

An individual or organization may not be nominated in more than one category at any one time.

The Secretariat reserves the right to change the category in which the individual or organization was initially nominated.

In cases where a nominee and the organization of which the nominee is a member are both nominated for the same award category, primacy of the organization will be upheld.

Only one award can be given to any person for the same deeds or set of activities. The awards may be given posthumously.

Nomination requirements and forms as well as evaluation criteria could be downloaded from the CFO website.

Completed nomination and endorsement forms with supporting documents should be forwarded on or before May 30, 2008 to the CFO at Citigold Center, 1345, Pres. Quirino Avenue cor. South Superhighway, Manila, 1007 Philippines. Said documents may also be sent through facsimile (632) 561-8332 or through e-mail at info@cfo.gov.ph. - GMANews.TV

OFWs launch petition for Arroyo's resignation

An alliance of migrant workers groups based in the Middle East has launched a signature campaign for the immediate resignation of President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo over what its leaders consider as ‘mountain of crimes’ under her administration.

Migrante-ME initiated the petition, citing widespread corruption and bribery, gross human rights violations, election fraud, artificial economic development, and the neglect of migrant workers as reasons for Arroyo’s moral bankruptcy.

“With her mountain of crimes against the Filipino people, GMA – and her lackeys in Malacañang and Philippine posts abroad– must step down. Else, the Filipino people and the migrant workers will be the ones to show her government the way out," the group said in the petition.

Migrante-ME said that corruption has reached the top positions in government.

“The multi-million dollar expose on the National Broadband Network [NBN] deal involving GMA and her husband has shown that corruption in the government continues to brew up to the top executive office," said Migrante-ME in a statement.

Arroyo’s husband, Jose Miguel Arroyo, is in hot water after whistleblower Rodolfo Noel Lozada Jr testified at the Senate the first gentleman’s involvement in the allegedly anomalous Zhong Xing Telecommunication Equipment (ZTE) Corp contract for the NBN project.

The ZTE contract involves $329.48 million. It was canceled last September following the expose of businessman Jose "Joey" de Venecia III that resigned Commission on Elections chairman Benjamin Abalos brokered the deal, with the blessings of the President's husband.

Migrante-ME also noted the alleged bribery of Malacañang on government officials as revealed by Pampanga Governor Fr. Ed Panlilio at the height of the second impeachment process last year against the President.

The group also blasted the government’s inaction on the worsening extrajudicial killings among militant leaders and vocal critics of government.

Migrante explained that “of the more than 886 cases of extrajudicial killings and more than 170 cases of enforced disappearances, not a single conviction has been made."

“Worse, majority of the cases have not even managed to get into courts because of the government’s failure to investigate on the cases. With the counterinsurgency program Oplan Bantay Laya II and the Human Security Act of 2007 in place, human rights violations will remain unabated and will even get worse," the group added.

President Arroyo’s legitimacy was also questioned by Migrante-ME because of the unsatisfactory resolution of the alleged wiretapped conversations between Mrs. Arroyo and then Comelec commissioner Virgilio Garcillano about manipulating the results of the 2004 elections.

“While the 'Hello, Garci' scandal has not yet been satisfactorily resolved, electoral fraud, especially of the administration camp, has again smeared the elections in order to ensure an administration majority in the Philippine Congress to quash future moves for GMA’s impeachment," the petition further said.

Artificial development, neglect of OFWs

Aside from the political controversies hounding the Arroyo administration, the militant group also said the government failed to alleviate the economy and address the concerns of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs).

Migrante-ME cited the Arroyo administration’s inability to provide jobs despite the claim of a vibrant economy manifested by the stronger Philippine peso against the dollar.

“With lots of embellishments, the GMA government has touted the so-called recovery of the economy as shown, according to them, by the continued strengthening of the Philippine peso," said the group.

“However, such a 'development' remains an illusion to majority of the people as prices (continue to) soar, wages remain depressed and job scarcity is still widespread," it added.

Meanwhile, the implementation of the new policy on direct-hiring, the neglect of stranded Filipinos in Jeddah and the ineptitude of government officials concerned with OFW affairs in the Middle East, have not escaped the group’s scrutiny.

“Many Filipino migrant workers die, suffer from abuses, incarcerated or have been given the death penalty," the group claimed.

“While forever branding Filipino migrant workers as heroes, migrant workers are always hard pressed to get government officials abroad to assist them in their situation," the group cited.

The petition was signed by John L.C. Monterona, Migrante-ME regional coordinator; Mario Ben, Kapatiran sa Gitnang Silangan-Migrante-Riyadh secretary general; Andrew M. Ociones, Migrante-Kingdom of Saudi Arabia chairman; and, Roberto Pajarito, Migrante-Jeddah chairman.

Nhel Morona, Migrante-United Arab Emirates, secretary general; Jhon De Jesus Migrante-Qatar coordinator; and Gil Lebria, Migrante-Kuwait secretary general, have also signed the petition. - Mark J. Ubalde, GMANews.TV

191 OFWs still stranded in Jeddah - group

BY AUBREY SC MAKILAN, Bulatlat

A Saudi-based Filipino migrant group said that there are still 191 overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) stranded in Jeddah alone, including 103 OFWs who originally camped out under a bridge in Jeddah since December 2007.

The Philippine Consulate in Jeddah earlier reported that a total of 922 OFWs who were stranded in Saudi Arabia with no contracts and jobs have already been deported back to the Philippines.

But according to Migrante-Saudi Arabia chairperson Andrew Ociones, at least 103 stranded OFWs who camped out under Al Khandara Flyover in Jeddah are still in the Kingdom. Ociones said that only 23 women were confirmed repatriated, but the 80 women who were sent to the deportation facilities on February 10 still remain stranded. He added that of the 24 men who submitted themselves to 'due process' and were picked up at the Consulate, he said one was confirmed returned to his employer, 13 were transferred to the Deportation Facility in Riyadh and 10 were still inside Building 2 of the Deportation Facilities in Jeddah.

Handcuffed and still stranded

The migrant group expressed fears for the safety and well-being of 13 of the 24 men who signed the 'legal deportation' procedure initiated by Consul General Ezzedin Tago and were transferred to a Deportation facility in Riyadh in handcuffs.

Ociones was able to talk to James Malasig, one of the 13 transported to Riyadh. Malasig asked for assistance because they did not know where they would be taken and they were even handcuffed.]

"Wala naman ito sa usapan noon" (This was not among the things we talked about then), Ociones relayed Malasig’s statement referring to the terms they agreed upon with Tago before they accepted the 'due process.'

Ociones said the 13 OFWs were placed at an 8 x 15-meter room in the Riyadh Deportation Facility. Along with no less than 100 people of other nationalities, Ociones said the 13 OFWs could not sit or stretch their tired bodies.

In a telephone conversation with Ociones on Feb. 18, one of the 13 transferred to Riyadh identified only as Jim reportedly said, "Kasuklam-suklam ang kalagayan namin dito, sir, kaya please tulungan n’yo kami" (Our situation here is despicable, sir, so please help us).

"Hindi kami makaupo man lang, sir, tayuan kami dito.Di pa rin kami kumakain" (We cannot even sit here, sir, we have no choice but to stand), Jim told Ociones. “Hindi ito ang pinangako sa amin ng Consulate noong pinapipirma kami sa 'due process'" (This was not what was promised to us when we were made to sign the “due process" agreement.

Coffin inside the Consulate

To show their dismay regarding their plight, stranded OFWs displayed a mock coffin, painted black bearing their call, "The future of our families lies in this coffin. Send us Home, Not in Jail!" inside the Philippine Consulate in Jeddah on Feb. 19.

"The coffin symbolizes the dangers we are facing now," said Carlos Rebutar, spokesperson for the stranded Filipinos. "It also symbolizes the death of our family and loved ones as we languish here losing our remaining hope of being repatriated."

The symbolic action was the stranded OFWs’ response to Tago's 'legal deportation process' they described as “futile."

Migrante-Saudi Arabia also expressed concern over the deteriorating health condition of the stranded OFWs.

In the same telephone conversation with Ociones, Jim reported that one of their companions, identified as Noel Farrales, is already very weak and might collapse anytime due to the heat inside the deportation cell.

The male OFWs inside the Deportation Facility in Jeddah have also complained of cough and fever through a text message sent to Ociones by one identified only as A.E.

"Nandito po ako s deportation. Ako c a.e. S gusali n # 1 ay 66 kming pinoy. Mrmi s amin my ubo, s gabi, 2 o tatlo my fever. Vgay help consulate.. Qlang. "Meron, vgay cla gamot pero qlang. 2box n expectont capsule. N involve n kmi sa away, laban ibang lahi. Cge bye bye n me pulis." (I am here in the deportation area. I am A.E. In building # 1 we are 66 Filiipinos all in all. Two or three have fevers. The Consulate gave help. Not enough. They gave medicine but it’s not enough. Two boxes of expectorant capsule. We got involved in a fight with people of other races. Bye-bye, there are cops now.)

The stranded men camped out within the Consulate premises were also reportedly experiencing the same problems of cough and fever and have complained of lack of medical assistance.

More stranded

Aside from 103, Ociones said 88 other Filipinos are still camping out within the premises of the Consulate.

“And as we frequently say, this is just the tip of the iceberg," said Ociones, adding that the number does not include the 16 drivers from a transport company in Dammam who complained the employer slashed their salary by 50 percent through contract substitution and 8 other OFWs who went to the Consulate last week but opted to find work after a few days of waiting.

“Still, there are a lot more others (probably hundreds, even thousands) doing odd jobs, getting paid lower and scrimping their hard-earned money to feed their families while waiting for the right opportunity to get back home," he said.

While the safety and welfare of the stranded OFWS are at stake with the overdue “legal deportation process," Migrante-Saudi pressed for a diplomatic solution for their immediate repatriation. - Bulatlat

Saudi probes men nabbed for flirting with women

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia - Saudi Arabia began interrogating 57 men Saturday who were arrested for flirting with women in front of a shopping mall in the holy city of Mecca, a local newspaper reported.

The country's religious police arrested the men Thursday night for behavior that also allegedly included dancing to pop music blaring from their cars and wearing improper clothing, reported the Okaz newspaper, which is deemed close to the government.

Saturday's newspaper report did not say what kind of outfits the young men were wearing, but T-shirts emblazoned with drawings or English writing are often an invitation for harassment by the religious police. Islamic radicals also consider pop music a corrupting force.

The Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice runs the fearsome religious police, which is charged with enforcing Saudi Arabia's strict Islamic lifestyle. Its members patrol public places to make sure women are covered and not wearing make up, the sexes don't mingle, shops close five times a day for Muslim prayers and men go to the mosque and worship.

The police, informally known as the muttawa (literally ''enforcer''), don't wear uniforms, but are recognizable by their long beards and their robes, shorter than the ones normally worn by Saudi men. They also shun the black cord that sits atop the headdress worn by most Saudi men.

Women in Saudi Arabia are required to wear a long, enveloping black cloak called an abaya and cover their hair with a headscarf.

The newspaper report said the men who were arrested Thursday could be released if they could prove they did not flirt with any women. Otherwise, they will be transferred to court and stand trial, the paper added. - AP

2 US motel owners jailed for exploiting Pinoys

ABERDEEN, South Dakota - Two Oacoma motel owners convicted of forcing several Filipino immigrants into servitude and peonage were sentenced Friday evening (Saturday in Manila).

US District Judge Charles Kornmann sentenced Robert John Farrell to 4 years and 2 months in federal prison and his wife, Angelita Magat Farrell, to 36 years.

A federal jury in November found the couple guilty on 18 charges including conspiracy to commit peonage, four counts of peonage, document servitude, visa fraud and two counts of false statements.

Prosecutors say the Farrells made the immigrants work as many as 160 hours a week while being paid virtually nothing. - AP

'OFWs can also fight terror'

Aside from keeping the country’s economy afloat, overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) may also contribute in the fight against terrorism, said a Manila-based US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) officer on Saturday.

According to Stephen Cutler, the US Embassy’s FBI Legal Attaché, OFWs are capable of establishing “people to people understanding" and in effect, destroy hate, which he said is the root of terrorism.

“The OFWs allow the Philippines a unique window to the world. They help bridge the gap between people [in different countries] and improve trade," said Culter in a lecture on Global Terrorism at the Philippine College of Criminology.

Culter explained that the more than 8 million OFWs all over the globe, some in countries believed to be ridden with terrorists, directly relay understanding of cultures to their family members.

“[The government] needs to tap into that network that is unrivaled in other countries," Culter said. - Mark Ubalde, GMANews.TV

5 Pinoy seamen accused of stealing barrels of oil

Five Filipino seamen were arraigned before a court in Ghana for allegedly stealing 73,900 barrels of crude oil worth $7 million.

News site Ghanian Chronicle reported over the weekend that the crude oil belonged to the Saltpond Offshore Producing Company Limited.

Arraigned were engineers Epifacino Moran Jio, Iloefonso Pagay Pama; Felix Borre Climaco; and captains Leonardo Planes Abrinica and Danilo Bagasol Bueno.

The five worked for Saltpond. Epifacino remains at large.

The court presided over by Justice Ofori-Atta adjourned the case on the request of an attorney general who was served with a habeas corpus order.

Musah Ahmed, counsel for the accused, filed the habeas corpus writ against the attorney general to compel him to produce four of the accused Filipinos.

The court has not yet taken the plea of the accused who were charged with stealing. They were arrested last February 6 in Lagos, Nigeria, and were brought to Ghana.

Initial investigation showed the crude oil was loaded on a vessel commanded by Jio, which left Ghana.

The barrels of oil have yet to be retrieved.

The Court has adjourned hearing for the case until February 26. - GMANews.TV

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Migrant groups welcome suspension of direct hiring memo

Migrants groups welcomed the suspension on Thursday of a memorandum that regulated direct hiring of Filipinos by foreign employers for overseas deployment.

The Manila-based Center for Migrant Advocacy (CMA) said that the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration's (POEA) move suspending Memorandum Circular 4 is welcomed as overseas Filipino workers would stand to lose with the policy in place.

"The suspension of MC 4 is partly a fruit of an open dialog initiated by migrants and labor groups with POEA recently and the concerted efforts of OFWs in opposing the guidelines," said CMA's executive director Ellene Sana in an interview with GMANews.TV.

"In a dialog with POEA officials on February 7, migrants groups pointed out that MC 4 had been hatched and implemented without the benefit of genuine consultations with OFWs and other stakeholders," Sana said.

She added that RA 8042, Section 2, states that NGOs are partners of the State in the protection of OFWs and in the promotion of their welfare, the State shall cooperate with them in a spirit of trust and mutual respect.

According to her, MC 4 is a flawed policy that resulted from an omission of a crucial part in the process of coming up with a guideline that has far-reaching implications on OFWs and all stakeholders.

We hope that MC 4 failure could serve as a reminder to policymakers that genuine consultation is a vital part in the formulation policies in a democracy, Sana said.

Another Manila-based migrants group was also pleased upon hearing that the memo on direct hiring has been suspended.

"We are happy that the POEA has suspended MC 4 because continued imposition of the policy could lead to more abuse against OFWs, especially the skilled workers, household helpers and all those doing menial jobs," said Fe Nicodemus of the Kapisanan ng mga Kamag-anak at Kapamilya ng mga Migranteng Mangagawang Pilipino, Inc.(Kakammpi).

Kakammpi is directly connected with communities of families of low-end OFWs.

As a people's organization, Kakammpi deals with communities of OFWs and their families. Migrants communities in our areas here in Manila, have expressed opposition to MC 4.

"The main fear of those who are planning to work abroad was the performance and repatriation bonds that POEA demanded from foreign employers because they said they will eventually shoulder the cost ($ 8,000)," Nicodemus said.

According to her, MC 4 is an ill-defined policy resulting from a lack of serious study on the intricacies of overseas employment. The policy was formulated without the benefit of consultations.

But the militant Migrante-Middle East chapter wanted no less than total withdrawal of the memorandum on direct hiring, as well as the POEA guidelines in the recruitment of land-based workers and in the deployment of household service workers.

“OFWs demand is clear and that is total scrapping, not just suspension of its implementation. Anytime, they can easily re-impose it once OFWs’ indignation against MC-04 has subsided. But we will be on guard," Migrante’s John L.C. Monterona said.

“The likes of Secretary Brion and POEA Administrator Baldoz can’t anymore be trusted like their boss(es) in Malacanang who are used to make lies and promises of genuine programs that will ensure the protection of OFWs rights and advance of their welfare," he added. - Luis Gorgonio, GMANews.TV

POEA mulls exempting OFW execs from paying bonds

Overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) who are holding top level position may find themselves exempted from paying the bond under the new direct hiring policy.

The possibility of extending the exemptions to OFWs with executive posts was discussed Monday night in a meeting by the governing board of the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA), according to POEA Administrator Rosalinda Baldoz.

We are now reviewing if it would be possible to include the professionals not to be covered by [payment of] the bond," Baldoz said, adding that professionals directly hired by reputable corporations are considered having the best protection.

"Therefore, they should not be included in the new policy," Baldoz said.

"The board believes that the protection [for professional OFWs] is over and above what we require because their employers are already familiar with their expertise, so there is no need to include them," Baldoz explained.

Baldoz, however, stressed that nothing is final yet, saying that all aspects of these new proposal to exempt the professionals from paying the US$5,000 repatriation bond and US$3,000 performance bond are still being reviewed.

The paying of the repatriation and performance bonds is stated in the POEA memorandum Circular 04 or the direct hiring policy.

"We are reviewing it now, but we are looking at less regulations for the professionals and we are also determining what system will apply to them," Baldoz said.

Records of the POEA indicated that in 2007, majority of those that were deployed are professional workers in particular, nurses, teachers, engineers, hotel managers as well as doctors.

Last week, Labor Secretary Arturo Brion ordered the suspension of the direct hiring policy after recruitment and migrant workers group called for its scrapping, citing the policy as anti-OFWs.

In an interview with reporters, Brion said the board had decided to implement MC-04 on a selective scheme while exempting countries like Hong Kong, Italy, Geneva since these countries are already implementing over and above the needed protection for OFWs.

Meantime, Baldoz said the POEA is set to hold a public consultation to further determine if there is a need to include other countries in the exemptions. - GMANews.TV
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