Wednesday, March 26, 2008

RP seeks clemency for 3 Pinoy convicts in Palau

The Philippine embassy is seeking executive clemency for three Filipino convicts in Palau, requesting President Tommy Remengsau Jr to do an “act of mercy."

Online news site Marianas Variety reported Saturday that the embassy sought clemency for Jose Eller Daguinot, Jose Frias, and Virgilio Esteban.

Philippine Charge d’ Affaires J. Anthony Reyes said the embassy appealed to Remengsau to release the three, and allow them to go home.

Reyes said that the three had almost served their jail sentence.

Daguinot and Esteban are both serving jail terms for illegal drugs, while Frias is in prison for murder.

Reyes said that the granting of executive clemency for the Filipino convicts would strengthen the spirit of goodwill between Palau and the Philippines, adding that Manila would appreciate the “act of mercy" from the Palau government. - GMANews.TV

Recruiters seek ways to avert 'deployment crisis'

MANILA, Philippines - Leaders of overseas job recruitment agencies have scheduled a meeting with acting Labor Secretary Marianito Roque within the week to avert a possible “deployment crisis" following the suspension of licenses of local recruitment agencies with pending cases.

Recruitment consultant Manny Geslani said on Tuesday that representatives of the Federated Association of Manpower Exporters (FAME) were among those discussing the problem with Roque, who concurrently serves as administrator of the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration.

“They (FAME leaders) will make a courtesy call on Secretary Roque this week (to congratulate him) for his new position and they will discuss the matter of the renewal of licenses of the recruitment agencies with pending cases," Geslani told GMANews.TV on Tuesday.

FAME is an umbrella association composed of 12 country organizations with a membership of about 700 licensed agencies sending Filipino workers overseas, according to Geslani.

He said Roque was already aware of the issue and has promised to look into the problem.

“FAME has high respects for Sec. Roque because they know him as a leader who listens to problems as head of OWWA," Geslani said.

Last week, Roque replaced former Labor Sec. Arturo Brion who was appointed to the Supreme Court.

Earlier, Geslani warned that more than 10,000 Filipino workers are barred from leaving the country for overseas jobs after the DoLE suspended the operations of many local recruitment agencies with pending cases.

The recruiters blamed the new regulation on renewal of licenses imposed by Brion, directing the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) that agencies with pending cases should not be forwarded to his office for license renewal.

"Secretary Brion returned around 50 folders to the POEA with instructions that no license should be forwarded to his office if the agency has a pending case," Geslani said.

According to him, the 50 agencies involved are responsible for the deployment of more than 10,000 overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) a month and with the suspension of their license, they could not send workers abroad.

While the POEA permitted the processing of job orders, recruitment companies are not allowed to deploy new job orders since the licenses of the agencies are deemed to have expired and operations like recruitment, placement and processing of new applicants are prohibited.

The recruitment agencies warned that non-renewal of their licenses could result in crisis in deployment if not addressed immediately.

The POEA previously allowed renewal of license upon full compliance to all requirements imposed on recruitment agencies.

Agencies with four or less cases pending are recommended for approval as provided under the POEA guidelines.

But early this year, Brion ordered the centralization of decision making process in the labor department and reverted to his office the signing of new or renewal of licenses.

The local agencies are appealing to Roque to set aside the policy set by Brion which, they said, was totally against the rules of POEA and was an arbitrary act without any legal or moral basis against the recruitment industry. - Fidel Jimenez, GMANews.TV

Okinawa cops assure thorough probe of OFW's rape case vs US soldier

MANILA, Philippines - The father of the Filipina allegedly raped by a US serviceman in Okinawa last month appealed for public understanding and every one not to prejudge his daughter.

This came after it was revealed that “Hazel"(the alias the victim’s father gave his eldest daughter) apparently went out with the American soldier in the wee hours before the sexual assault happened.

GMA News reporter Lei Alviz quoted Japanese police reports stating that the Filipina was invited to eat out by a 20-something US serviceman at around 2 a.m. of February 18, the day the alleged rape incident took place in a hotel.

“Only when my daughter went to the comfort room did she feel that her pants were soaked in blood," the victim’s father told GMA News in Filipino.

The report said that a worried members of the hotel staff took her to the hospital when they saw her bleeding profusely.

GMA News quoted Japanese police as saying that Hazel was confined in a hospital for a week after the incident.

The 21-year-old first-time overseas Filipino worker (OFW) was said to have been raped just three days after departing from Manila to Okinawa on February 15.

Hazel positively identified the suspect in a police line up, the report added, citing police accounts. The US serviceman has denied the allegations and maintained that the Filipina consented to have sex with him.

The victim reiterated her intent to file charges against the US serviceman.

Meanwhile, QTV 11’s News on Q reported that Hazel’s father went to the Okinawa police station on Monday with Philippine embassy and consulate officials and was assured by Japanese authorities that they will carefully look into the case.

Trauma

The GMA News report also mentioned that a reliable source claimed that the Filipina victim suffers from “rape victim syndrome."

Quoting the unnamed source, GMA News reported that Hazel had difficulty sleeping and was always afraid during the first week of her stay in the center for abused women where she currently resides.

Based on a GMANews.TV research, Rape Trauma Syndrome (not rape victim syndrome), is an anxiety disorder similar to post-traumatic stress disorder where the victim experiences persistent flashback of the trauma, feeling of detachment, and increased irritability and outburst of anger.

Okinawa cops assure thorough probe of OFW's rape case vs US soldier

MANILA, Philippines - The father of the Filipina allegedly raped by a US serviceman in Okinawa last month appealed for public understanding and every one not to prejudge his daughter.

This came after it was revealed that “Hazel"(the alias the victim’s father gave his eldest daughter) apparently went out with the American soldier in the wee hours before the sexual assault happened.

GMA News reporter Lei Alviz quoted Japanese police reports stating that the Filipina was invited to eat out by a 20-something US serviceman at around 2 a.m. of February 18, the day the alleged rape incident took place in a hotel.

“Only when my daughter went to the comfort room did she feel that her pants were soaked in blood," the victim’s father told GMA News in Filipino.

The report said that a worried members of the hotel staff took her to the hospital when they saw her bleeding profusely.

GMA News quoted Japanese police as saying that Hazel was confined in a hospital for a week after the incident.

The 21-year-old first-time overseas Filipino worker (OFW) was said to have been raped just three days after departing from Manila to Okinawa on February 15.

Hazel positively identified the suspect in a police line up, the report added, citing police accounts. The US serviceman has denied the allegations and maintained that the Filipina consented to have sex with him.

The victim reiterated her intent to file charges against the US serviceman.

Meanwhile, QTV 11’s News on Q reported that Hazel’s father went to the Okinawa police station on Monday with Philippine embassy and consulate officials and was assured by Japanese authorities that they will carefully look into the case.

Trauma

The GMA News report also mentioned that a reliable source claimed that the Filipina victim suffers from “rape victim syndrome."

Quoting the unnamed source, GMA News reported that Hazel had difficulty sleeping and was always afraid during the first week of her stay in the center for abused women where she currently resides.

Based on a GMANews.TV research, Rape Trauma Syndrome (not rape victim syndrome), is an anxiety disorder similar to post-traumatic stress disorder where the victim experiences persistent flashback of the trauma, feeling of detachment, and increased irritability and outburst of anger.

Quezon bishop named head of priests' school in Rome

MANILA, Philippines - A Catholic bishop from Quezon province has been designated as new spiritual director of Pontificio Collegio Filippino (PCF), the college of Filipino diocesan priests in Rome.

Monsignor Wilfredo Andrey is the 12th PCF spiritual director since 1961, after chairman and Cebu Archbishop Ricardo Cardinal Vidal installed him in simple rites last Feb. 28.

The Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines said Andrey was born in 1956 to Apolonio and Enriqueta Epino Andrey, and ordained a priest on Aug. 6, 1981 by Bishop (now Cardinal) Jose T. Sanchez.

He specialized in Sacred Scriptures in the Pontifical Biblical Institute from 1987 to 1991, the CBCP said.

Andrey worked on the cause for the beatification and canonization of Bishop Alfredo Ma. A. Obviar. He was last assigned as ISPF Director of St. Alphonsus Regional Seminary.

PCF is a community that provides a special type of ongoing priestly formation significantly influenced by a proximity to the Pope and the cultural diversity that only Rome provides.

Resident priests are often invited to celebrate the Eucharist in Filipino migrant centers in Rome and its environs during weekends.

Church officials said this offers the priests a perfect opportunity to minister to Filipino migrant workers and to initiate the building of Christian communities among them. - GMANews.TV

Japan allows Pinay, daughter to stay with Kurdish man

MANILA, Philippines – Japan’s Ministry of Justice on Tuesday reversed a deportation order that would have separated a Filipino woman and her seven-year-old daughter from her Kurdish husband who have overstayed their visa in that country.

The Mainichi Daily News reported in its online edition that 32-year-old Taskin, a Kurdish man with Turkish citizenship, his Filipino wife Beltran, 41, and their daughter, Zilan, would soon have their special residence permits.

The family that resides in Kawaguchi, Saitama Prefecture is on provisional release status.

The justice ministry’s order overturned its earlier decision that upheld a 2004 ruling by the Tokyo Regional Immigration Bureau deporting Taskin to Turkey and Beltran and Zilan to the Philippines.

The report said the decision came after Tokyo’s High Court suggested a settlement in view of the family’s appeal after the district court rejected a petition to reverse the justice ministry’s deportation order.

The Tokyo District Court turned down in March last year the family's appeal to nullify the deportation order. In November, the Tokyo High Court proposed a settlement of the case.

Taskin and Beltran met in 1998 when their visas had already expired. They got married after Zilan was born, the report said.

"After the high court proposed a settlement, we determined that this would be the best way to grant them special residence permission from a humanitarian perspective," the report quoted Justice Minister Kunio Hatoyama as saying in a press conference following a Cabinet meeting on Tuesday.

Taskin said in appealing the immigration bureau’s deportation order that he could be persecuted if he returns to Turkey because he had refused to serve in the military.

"If we were deported, it would be difficult for us to live together because of religious and other reasons," the report quoted Taskin. - GMANews.TV

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

RP asks Japan not to cremate remains of slain Filipina, baby

By Cynthia Balana
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 10:35pm (Mla time) 03/24/2008


MANILA, Philippines -- The family of a Filipina who was killed -- together with her seven-month-old son -- by her Japanese husband in Tokyo has asked the Philippine government not to allow the cremation of their remains.

“The Philippine embassy in Japan requested the stay of cremation of the remains as per wishes of the victims’ family,” Assistant Secretary Claro Cristobal, spokesperson of the Department of Foreign Affairs said on Monday.

The Philippine consulate in Tokyo has confirmed the murder of Crisanta Mahusay Lopez and her baby Naomasa by her Japanese husband in Japan last week.

Cristobal said based on autopsy reports and forensic evidence gathered at the family residence where the crimes were committed, Crisanta died from severe bleeding from multiple knife wounds while Naomasa died from strangulation, in the morning of March 17, not March 18, as earlier confessed by suspect Masayoshi Nagano, who is in the custody of the police.

Top US lawyers, FilAms in work visa fraud

LOS ANGELES — A pair of prominent immigration lawyers – Daniel E. Korenberg and Steven James Rodriguez – were sentenced for fraudulent employment visa applications, a Department of Justice spokesman here recently announced.

A third lawyer, also a partner at Korenberg, Abramowitz & Feldun (KAF), Philip Abramowitz, 54, of Agoura Hills, is scheduled to be sentenced on Monday, March 24. He pleaded guilty to two counts of visa fraud and one count of conspiracy to commit visa fraud.

Many Filipinos work for the law firm, which has offices in Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Diego and Las Vegas. A former official of the Philippine Consulate in LA allegedly managed the downtown San Diego office of the firm.

Korenberg, 58, of Encino, a partner and founder of KAF, was sentenced to 24 months in federal prison to be followed by three years of supervised release with a condition that he serve an additional six months on home detention with electronic monitoring. Korenberg was also ordered to pay a fine of $750,000.

Korenberg, a card-carrying member of the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA), pleaded guilty last fall to two counts of visa fraud and one count of conspiracy to commit visa fraud. KAF, which is now known as ASK Law Group, is based in the San Fernando Valley community of Sherman Oaks.

A second attorney, Steven James Rodriguez, 41, of Thousand Oaks, a senior associate at KAF, was sentenced to three years probation with the condition that he serve six months of home detention with electronic monitoring and perform 200 hours of community service. Rodriguez pleaded guilty last fall to one count of making false statements to the United States, namely, the Immigration and Naturalization Service.

Both Korenberg and Rodriguez were sentenced by United States District Judge Percy Anderson. A Department of Justice press release quotes Robert Schoch, special agent in charge for the ICE office of investigations in Los Angeles, saying that, “the fact that the defendants in this case earned their living practicing immigration law makes the charges particularly disturbing," following the two lawyers’ indictment last year.

Abramowitz, a familiar figure among Filipinos here, has vowed to defend himself. The State Bar of California has listed Abramowitz as “not eligible to practice law" as of July 25, 2007 as related to case number 06-C-15537; and again as of September 28, 2007 as related to case number 07-Q-13768.

State bar records indicate that Abramowitz tendered his resignation from the Bar “with charges" on Sept. 28, 2007.

Court papers filed in the case detail how KAF hired foreign nationals without work authorization for a variety of support positions, including paralegal jobs. The defendants then allegedly applied for fraudulent work visas for those employees and paid them “off the books" in cash until the visas were approved. To support the visa petitions, Korenberg and others created documents making false claims about the aliens’ work experience and offers of employment.

Korenberg and others made false statements to the US government in connection with immigration and labor petitions filed on behalf of KAF employees. Rodriguez and others made false statements to the US government in connection with immigration petitions filed on behalf of KAF clients.

Korenberg and Rodriguez were charged in a 33-count indictment handed down in February 2007 following an investigation by US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), the US Department of Labor - Office of Inspector General, and the California Employment Development Department. According to the indictment, beginning in 2000 and continuing through at least February 2003, the defendants filed fraudulent employment-based visa petitions on behalf of foreign nationals seeking temporary work authorization or permanent residency in the United States.

At least 19 of the aliens who benefited from the visa fraud scheme were KAF employees.

“These sentences are stern reminders about the consequences awaiting those who conspire to compromise the integrity of our nation’s legal immigration system," said a spokesperson for the ICE Office of Investigations in Los Angeles. “Disturbingly, the defendants in this case used their expertise in immigration law not for the greater good, but to undermine the system and enrich themselves.

In addition to the law firm, the probe targeted two Los Angeles-area employment agencies, Job Seekers International and Employ Masters International. The investigation revealed that the employment agencies identified employers, both real and fictitious, to attest that the aliens
seeking the work visas were being recruited for highly skilled jobs that, in most instances, did not exist.

Philippine News sources attest that the two agencies are either fully-owned, co-owned or managed Filipino citizens. Employ Masters International held office at 3600 Wilshire Blvd., the same address as the Philippine Consulate. The agency’s number has been disconnected.

The Philippine Consulate is aware an investigation on a former official is under way, but is declining to make a statement “pending proper investigation." “We can’t comment for now because we are still waiting. He is not yet charged," a source told PN.

In 2005, the three owners of Job Seekers International and Employ Masters International and one of their employees pleaded guilty to visa fraud and conspiracy charges. Those four defendants are awaiting sentencing.

The other defendants charged in the case are:

(1) Heidi Poepping, 45, of Moorpark, a paralegal at KAF, pleaded guilty last year to conspiracy to commit visa fraud and is scheduled to be sentenced on April 21;

(2) Arturo Valencia, 56, of Walnut, the owner of Job Seekers International, pleaded guilty two years ago to one count of visa fraud and one count of conspiracy and is scheduled to be sentenced on May 12;

(3) Maria Theresa Resurreccion, 40, of Anaheim, an employee of Job Seekers International, pleaded guilty to one count of visa fraud and one count of conspiracy and is scheduled to be sentenced on May 5;

(4) Arnel Dizon, 36, of Corona, a co-owner of Employ Masters International, pleaded guilty to one count of visa fraud and one count of conspiracy and is scheduled to be sentenced on April 28; and

5) Marlyn Rodriguez Dizon (Arnel’s wife), 44, of Los Angeles, a co-owner of Employ Masters International, pleaded guilty in May 2005 to one count of visa fraud and one count of conspiracy and is scheduled to be sentenced on April 14.

Valencia, Resurreccion and the Dizons are Filipinos. - Philippine News

Pinoy ordered to leave CNMI for human smuggling attempt

SUSUPE, Saipan – A Filipino contract worker in Saipan who piloted a boat attempting to smuggle 11 Chinese nationals to Guam in June 2007 has been ordered to depart the US Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) immediately upon receipt of his repatriation ticket.

Saipan, the capital of the CNMI, is less than an hour away from Guam by plane.

Edwin Fariola Blanilla, 45, pleaded guilty to one count of smuggling a person from the CNMI to the US for commercial advantage or financial gain.

CNMI Superior Court Associate Judge Ramona V. Manglona accepted Blanilla's plea.

The judge sentenced him to five years in prison, all suspended except for eight months and 20 days.

Following the plea agreement, the judge gave Blanilla credit for the time he had already served from June 29, 2007 through March 19, 2008.

The defendant was released from the CNMI Department of Corrections on Wednesday.

He was placed on five years of unsupervised probation and required to pay a $100 court assessment fee within 30 days.

The judge ordered the defendant to depart the CNMI immediately upon receipt of his repatriation airline ticket.

The defendant will not be allowed to return to the CNMI.

Blanilla was supposed to drop off 11 Chinese nationals in the waters near Guam on June 27, 2007 so they could enter the territory.

In exchange for piloting the boat, he was to receive the boat as payment which he planned to sell before returning to the Philippines.

However, the boat got stranded 20 nautical miles northwest of Guam.

According to court papers, it was Blanilla who called authorities for help when the boat got stranded.

The 12 individuals, including Blanilla, were questioned and charged after authorities learned they didn’t have passports in their possession, nor did they have any type of visa authorizing them to enter Guam.

Unlike the CNMI, Guam requires foreign nationals to secure a US visa for entry. - Haidee V. Eugenio, GMANews.TV

Pinay determined to press rape charge vs US Army man in Okinawa

MANILA, Philippines - The Filipina who had complained of having been raped in a hotel in Japan reiterated her intent to file charges against the US serviceman who forced her into having sex last month.

The father of ‘Hazel’ (the alias the victim’s father gave his eldest daughter) told GMA News correspondent Lei Alviz that his daughter is determined to push with the case despite being traumatized by the incident.

“Nagpapasalamat nga ako eh malakas ang loob niya ngayon (I’m grateful she now has the courage)," he said.

The 21-year-old first-time overseas Filipino worker (OFW) was said to have been raped just two days after departing from Manila to Okinawa on February 15.

GMA News quoted Japanese police saying that Hazel was confined in a hospital for a week after the incident.

Worried nurses and doctors attending to the Filipina reported the incident to police officials after the victim bled profusely following the incident, according to the report.

Japanese authorities also told GMA News that the US serviceman claimed that Hazel consented to the sexual intercourse. The American is still in the custody of the US army in Japan.

“Ipaglalaban niya talaga 'yung ginawa sa kanya (my daughter will really fight for what happened to her)," Hazel’s father said.

The Filipina is currently sheltered in a center for abused women in Japan.

Hazel’s father, through the assistance of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Philippine consulate officials, personally visited his daughter in Japan. He said that the family has been very worried over the plight of his daughter in Okinawa.

The southern Japanese prefecture is home to about 20,000 US soldiers and has since been in hot water for previous rape scandals including that of a 14-year-old Japanese school girl who was forced to have sex with 38-year-old Marine staff sergeant Tyrone Luther Hadnott in a parked car.

Charges were never pressed as the girl and her family refused to be involved in the case.

In an answer to the growing hostility against the American servicemen, the US Army restricted the movement of the soldiers by imposing a curfew on all military personnel, including civilian employees, as part of a two-week ''period of reflection,'' to enforce discipline core values among the US military.

The restrictions however have been eased on the Army’s daytime travel off bases earlier this month.

Restrictions remain on off-base activity at night for military personnel, but not for civilians. New restrictions on off-base drinking have been added for the troops, the Marines said in a statement.

The US placed Okinawa under its direct military rule shortly after World War II and confiscated Okinawan people’s land for construction of huge strategic bases in main island of the southern Japanese prefecture and nearby Iejima Island, centering on the Kadena airfield. - Mark J. Ubalde, GMANews.TV

Six Pinays in Malaysia arrested in anti-vice raid

MANILA, Philippines - Six Filipino women were among 58 foreigners arrested Sunday in an anti-vice raid on two karaoke outlets in Taman Sentosa, Johor Baru in Malaysia, a Malaysian online news site reported Monday.

The Daily Star the women, in skimpy attire, were aged between 19 and 33, and are believed to be involved in illegal activities. No other details of the incident were available.

Police also rounded up nearly 100 men for documentation during the raids early Sunday.

Acting on a tip-off, a team led by Johor anti-vice, gaming and secret society division deputy chief Deputy Supt Tan Hiap Seng raided a karaoke nightclub after midnight.

The raid netted 35 Thai women and an Indonesian.

State CID chief Senior Asst Comm Amer Awal said they suspected immoral activity because some of the rooms have mattresses in them.

He said another team led by Supt Maszely Minhad from Bukit Aman raided a nearby nightclub and detained 14 Thai women, six Filipinos and two Indonesians.

He said there were secret passages leading to various hideouts at both premises. - GMANews.TV

RP to help retrenched Filipinos in Namibia

MANILA, Philippines – The government will help the Filipino workers retrenched by a Malaysian-owned textile company in Namibia, acting Labor Secretary Marianito Roque assured on Monday.

Roque, who concurrently serves as administrator of the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration, said members of his staff had confirmed 178 Filipinos terminated by Ramatex Textiles Namibia, not 250 as earlier reported.

“Nag-utos na tayo na makipag-coordinate sa pinakamalapit na embassy sa Namibia..the Philippines doesn’t have embassy there.. para malaman natin ang tulong na kailangan nila," said Roque. “Hindi sila pababayaan ng gobyerno natin," he assured.

“Our initial information so far is that, Ramatex was banned by POEA (Philippine Overseas Employment Administration) last year because of some violations. And so far 178 Filipinos, not 250, were confirmed working in Ramatex," he said. The retrenched workers were recruited in 2006, according to Roque.

However, Philippine Ambassador to South Africa Virgilio A. Reyes Jr, reported to the Department of Foreign Affairs that “there will be 250 Filipino nationals working in Namibia who will eventually be repatriated to the Philippines due to sudden notice of closure by their employer, Flamingo Garments/ Tamatex textile company."

Reyes said the permanent secretary of the Namibian Ministry of Labor has assured support for the workers and that they would not be repatriated, particularly the 20 Filipinos who filed a complaint last year before the Namibian labor court against Ramatex, until the case is decided.

Most of the workers have refused the company's offer to be repatriated between March 15 and 18 without getting their severance pay.

Ramatex Textile Namibia informed the embassy in Pretoria through a letter about the company’s closure on March 6, stating "there is no magic solution to guarantee future success to the business operation."

The textile manufacturing plant, employed more than 3,000 workers, 12 percent of whom were Asians, mostly Filipinos and Chinese.

Roque said Ramatex employed up to 1,000 Filipinos in 2002 but the number dwindled due to labor problems and the closure of its subsidiaries in the southern African country.

Ambassador Reyes said 20 Filipinos accused Ramatex last year of illegal termination, non-payment of accrued leave of absence and tax refund.

He said he led a diplomatic and consular mission to Namibia on Feb 13 and 14 to meet with Ramatex management officers and the complaints to thresh out the problems and find a possible amicable solution.

The OFWs said that while Namibian labor law grants 24 days vacation leave per year, their contract only gave them seven days.

Reyes also reported to the DFA that he met with lawyers hired by the OFWs after an additional 160 Filipino workers joined the 40 complainants to file for their claims on preferred exit packages prior to their return to the Philippines.

He said the Namibian Labor Commissioner has directed the company to discharge its legal obligations to all local employees and foreigners alike.

Reyes said that an additional 40 Filipinos occupying management positions in the company requested assistance for their repatriation, since they are not included among the complainants and have accepted the company's offer of exit package of one month pay, current leave pay and repatriation ticket.

The company management, according to Reyes, seemed to be reluctant to give further concessions.

A majority of the Filipino workers have opted to remain in the meantime in Namibia and joined Namibian Food and Allied Workers Union (NFAU) which is representing the 3,000 Namibian workers in negotiating their severance pay under Namibian labor law.

Reyes said the Embassy would continue monitoring the case and is in constant coordination with the leaders of the Filipino group, the lawyers and concerned Namibian authorities.

Ramatex also operates in several Asian countries, as well as in South Africa and Mauritius. - Fidel Jimenez, GMANews.TV

Filipinos still 3rd largest remitters in the world - WB

MANILA, Philippines - The Philippines remains the third largest recipient of remittances in the world, next to India and Mexico, according to a World Bank report.

In its latest Migration and Remittances Factbook 2008, the Washington-headquartered lender said the top four recipients of migrant remittances in 2007 were India ($27 billion), Mexico ($25 billion), the Philippines ($17 billion); and France ($12.5 billion).

"The United States was also the top immigration country in 2005, with 38.4 million immigrants, followed by Russian Federation (12.1 million), and Germany (10.1 million)," the World Bank said.

Among low-income countries, India had the highest immigration volume (5.7 million), followed by Pakistan (3.3 million).

The report provides snapshots of statistics on migration, recorded remittance flows, and skilled emigration for 194 countries and 13 regional and income groups.

For 2007, recorded remittances flows worldwide are estimated at $318 billion, of which $240 billion went to developing countries. These flows do not include informal channels, which would significantly enlarge the volume of remittances if they were recorded.

In many developing countries, remittances provide a life line for the poor," said Dilip Ratha, senior economist, and author of the factbook with Zhimei Xu. “They are often an essential source of foreign exchange and a stabilizing force for the economy in turbulent times."

Rich countries are the main source of remittances. The United States is by far the largest, with $42 billion in recorded outward flows in 2006.

Saudi Arabia ranks as the second largest, followed by Switzerland and Germany. - Cheryl Arcibal, GMANews.TV

Palau agrees to free RP vessel, crew held in Feb

KOROR, Palau –The Palau government has entered into a settlement agreement with the owner of the Philippine-based fishing carrier that was apprehended by authorities last month, Palau Vice President Elias Camsek Chin said on Monday.

The settlement agreement will be signed between the Attorney General’s Office (AGO) of Palau and the lawyer for the Pescarico vessel, Chin said.

Under the agreement, the owner would pay $15,000 to the Palau government and, in return, no charges would be filed against the detained crew members.

The fishermen who are under the custody of Palau’s Division of Marine Law Enforcement (DMLE) would also be released, still under the conditions stipulated in the agreement.

The DMLE has been holding in its custody five Filipino and five Indonesian crew members since the Pescarico vessel was apprehended last February 21.

Chin said he has already informed Philippine Ambassador Ramoncito Marino about the decision reached by the Ministry of Justice on the case.

Marino, for his part, thanked the Palau government for expediting the case.

Marino has denied that the fishing vessel engaged in illegal fishing in Palau waters.

He has claimed that the vessel was transporting fish from a fishing aggregate device in Indonesia and was returning to General Santos City in the Philippines when it rendezvoused with its mother ship, took in 1,000 liters of fuel and took aboard four crew members who needed to return to General Santos.

Marino said it was impossible for Pescarico to have received fish from the mother ship.

He added that the Pescarico was making a friendly passage through the Palau exclusive economic zone onward to General Santos City when the patrol vessel H.I. Remeliik intercepted the former and ordered it to proceed to Koror. - Joan L. Dairo, GMANews.TV

Filipino mall worker drowns in Palau waters

KOROR, Palau – A 26-year-old Filipino drowned here Sunday after a still unidentified person allegedly pushed him into the waters under the Japan-Palau Friendship Bridge (Koror side).

Rodel Marco, who works at the WCTC Shopping Center, died while he was being saved by Willie Watanabe, a Palauan. Watanabe also drowned and died.

Police reports indicated that Marco and Watanabe were spending time with their families and friends under the Japan-Palau Friendship Bridge (Koror side) when the incident happened at around 5 p.m.

Unnamed sources claimed Marco was playfully pushed into the water by another person and that Watanabe went in to try and save him. Marco, according to his companions, had been saying that he did not know how to swim.

Police said both cases are still under investigation.

Patrol division officers, together with Koror state rangers, retrieved the bodies of Marco and Watanabe and brought them to the Belau National Hospital.

The Philippine embassy here extended its condolences to the family of the victims.

Vice Consul and Second Secretary J. Anthony Reyes said the embassy will help in the repatriation of Marco’s remains to the Philippines. - Joan L. Dairo, GMANews.TV

Monday, March 24, 2008

Migration forum slated in Manila this October

The Philippines’ best practices with regard to migration will be highlighted when the United Nations holds the 2nd Global Forum on Migration and Development, a global consultative process that will address the multidimensional aspects, opportunities and challenges related to international migration and its inter-linkages with development open to all 192 UN member states.

The 2nd GFMD is scheduled for October in Manila and in preparation for this, the Philippines presented last March 10, the themes that will be discussed in the three roundtable sessions at the Manila meeting.

The Department of Foreign Affairs said the central theme of the Philippine GFMD is "Protecting and Empowering Migrants for Development." It reflects a growing understanding that the developmental benefits of migration are contingent upon the degree to which migrants are protected and empowered by both home and host countries.

In a statement, the DFA added that the country will showcase its migration process, from pre-deployment to on-site protection of migrants to migrant return and reintegration.

"It will advance the view that the protection of migrants is a shared responsibility of labor-sending and labor-receiving countries. It will also emphasize the fact that the first line of defense in the protection of migrant workers starts right at home even before they leave for work," the DFA Undersecretary for Migrant Worker Affairs Esteban Conejos Jr. said.

The DFA added that the 2nd meeting of the GFMD affords the Philippines a unique opportunity to demonstrate the government’s extensive policy and institutional protection mechanisms for our migrant workers, which are regarded as model practices in the global community. ABSCBN News

Two Pinoys wins seat in Italian political party

Two Filipino legislators and two other immigrants won as the newest members of a prominent political party in an election recently held in Tuscany, Italy.

Filipinos Divina Capalad and Wilfredo Punzalan were elected as members of the Partito Democratico of Tuscany. Capalad will represent Florence and Punzalan will represent Firenze.

"We are overjoyed to have been included as foreign citizens and we can ensure that we will be able to contribute to more meaningful results toward progress," Capalad said.

Meanwhile Lina Callupe, a Peruvian, also from Firenze, and Romanian Elisabetta Nae, who represents Toscana, also grabbed posts in the party.

Though the new party members are not still eligible to run in the next elections, they consider winning posts in the organization as an opportunity to be treated the same as the natives in Italy.

One of the party’s agenda is the junking of the Bossi Fini law which makes life difficult for immigrants in Italy.

Bossi Fini law enforces serious penal sanctions to any foreigners who have had no reason to stay in the country. It implements the arrest of such foreigners and would be sent to six months to a year in jail.ABSCBN News

Two Pinoys wins seat in Italian political party

Two Filipino legislators and two other immigrants won as the newest members of a prominent political party in an election recently held in Tuscany, Italy.

Filipinos Divina Capalad and Wilfredo Punzalan were elected as members of the Partito Democratico of Tuscany. Capalad will represent Florence and Punzalan will represent Firenze.

"We are overjoyed to have been included as foreign citizens and we can ensure that we will be able to contribute to more meaningful results toward progress," Capalad said.

Meanwhile Lina Callupe, a Peruvian, also from Firenze, and Romanian Elisabetta Nae, who represents Toscana, also grabbed posts in the party.

Though the new party members are not still eligible to run in the next elections, they consider winning posts in the organization as an opportunity to be treated the same as the natives in Italy.

One of the party’s agenda is the junking of the Bossi Fini law which makes life difficult for immigrants in Italy.

Bossi Fini law enforces serious penal sanctions to any foreigners who have had no reason to stay in the country. It implements the arrest of such foreigners and would be sent to six months to a year in jail.ABSCBN News

Group raises $21K for cancer-stricken Pinoy

A migrant advocacy group based in New Zealand announced that it has already raised more than $21,000 to help a Filipino migrant worker diagnosed with cancer.

Roderick Catuday originally went to Oakland, New Zealand on a quest for citizenship there. Unfortunately, a few months after his application for a permanent residency, it was discovered that he had acute myeloid leukaemia.

Doctors in New Zealand who checked up Catuday said the patient has only a few months to live if the cancer remains untreated.

Dr. Simpson, a consultant haematologist at North Shore Hospital, thought an email from him to immigration authorities might help speed the process - but it backfired.

When Immigration received news of Mr Catuday's illness, his work permit application was suspended and his wife Emelita, 41, an accountant, was given only a one-year work permit.

"I feel totally let down by New Zealand, and really am at a loss," said Mr Catuday, 42, a father of three children aged between 12 and 15. "We have given up everything in the Philippines and felt so upbeat about becoming Kiwis, and then this happened and now we don't know what to do."

Only people who are in New Zealand on at least a two-year work permit, or New Zealand and Australian citizens and residents, qualify for public health funding, meaning Catuday would have to pay about $150,000 for his chemotherapy.

His wife wrote to Health Minister David Cunliffe asking for help.

The minister said he was not able to offer any assistance, but suggested they go to Auckland City Hospital, where the chemotherapy will be performed, to arrange for staggered payment to help ease their burden.

"We are broke, so even staggered payment won't help," said Mr Catuday, who said his family were solely dependent on his wife's income of about $450 a week after he had to stop work because of the illness.

Catuday’s doctor said his only crime was "bad luck".

If his cancer had struck a month or two later he would have had his two-year work permit approved and gained full access to public funding.


Agnes Granada, coordinator of the Migrant Action Trust, said that as of March 16 the cash and checks donated for Catuday’s chemotherapy have reached a total of $21, 675.


"More contributions are forthcoming and some friends are organizing fund raise activity," Granada said an email to media organizations and other networks of the group.


In a separate email, Granada said it would be easy to raise the $150,000 needed for the treatment of Catuday.

"It’s not costly to raise the amount he requires if 5,000 migrants contribute $30 each," ABSCBN News

Kuwait school for Filipinos to close

Some 400 students of a Philippine school in Kuwait will be displaced after the Ministry of Education of the country cancelled the learning institution’s permit to operate.

ABS-CBN News Middle East correspondent Maxxy Santiago reported that Kuwaiti education officials have given the students and faculty of the New Kuwait Philippines International School (NKPIS) until March 31 to operate.

The Kuwaiti officials revoked NKPIS license because the government will use the land where the school is situated.

As this developed, NKPIS administration has sought the help of the Philippine embassy officials to intervene in the matter.

Talal Al-Jeri, NKPIS owner, clarified that the cancellation of the school’s license is not due to the problem in the curriculum but only due to the issue of property where the campus is located.

In a meeting with NKPIS, Ambassador Ricardo Endaya said he will communicate the dire problem of the students once the school stops operating.

"We will be writing for another reconsideration to allow Filipino students to continue with their studies," Endaya told NKPIS officials.

Meanwhile, Dr. Jesusa Cristina Puno, NKPIS principal, assured the students’ parents and guardians that the school administration is doing everything to let the school to continue to operate.

"I want to let them know that we are doing everything we can. I believe they (students) have not problem whatsoever studying in our school," Puno said in Tagalog.
ABSCBN News

Pinay, 7-month-old child killed in Tokyo - DFA

MANILA, Philippines – A Japanese national killed his 33-year-old Filipino wife and their seven-month-old baby last week, Philippine Consul General in Tokyo Sulpicio Confiado has reported to the Department of Foreign Affairs.

Claro Cristobal, DFA spokesman, relayed the news on Saturday about the double murders committed on March 18 in Tokyo.

Cristobal said Higashi Kurume, 43 years old, surrendered to the police on Thursday and confessed to the crime.

“He confessed that he killed his wife and child because he was worried about an outstanding loan and that he intended but could not kill himself also," Cristobal said.

The case is being investigated by the Japanese police. The remains of the mother and her child are set for autopsy.

Cristobal said the Philippine embassy in Tokyo is closely monitoring developments on the case and will extend assistance to victims' family. – GMANews.TV

Govt, seamen, manning firms sign MOA on arbitration system

MANILA, Philippines - The government has signed an agreement with seamen’s groups and manning agencies on a labor arbitration system and on voluntary arbitration (VA) in settling labor disputes.

Acting labor secretary Marianito Roque signed a memorandum of agreement (MOA) with representatives of manning agencies' associations and seamen's unions for the Maritime Industry Labor Arbitration Council (MILA).

"The move came at the heel of a growing consensus among maritime industry stakeholders on the need to pursue a dedicated effort to advocate the use of VA as a mode of settling labor disputes in the maritime sector," said a statement posted on the labor department website Saturday.

Former labor secretary Arturo Brion also signed the MOA as witness at the Associated Marine Officers and Seamen's Union (AMOSUP) Tuesday in Intramuros, Manila.

Roque said the MILA, an initiative of Brion, provides for the development of a VA system.

He said that all the parties also consider the need to develop expertise in maritime usages and practices in the VA system to give force to arbitration clauses in the collective bargaining agreements entered into by various seafarer's unions and standard contracts of Filipino seafarers.

He also said that stakeholders agreed that MILA be made a tripartite body consisting of Executive Director of the National Conciliation and Mediation Board (NCMB) as Ex-officio Chair and one member each from the manning and seafarer sectors.

Council members will have a term of three years from the date of their designation. NCMB will serve as the council's secretariat in the interim.

Aside from promoting VA in the maritime industry, the council and the secretariat will formulate policies, programs, standards, qualifications, and manuals of procedures pertaining to MILA operations.

They will also screen, accredit, admit, and train voluntary arbitrators.

Initially, however, the social partners will each submit a list of five nominees to the pool of maritime industry labor arbitrators, Roque said.

Signatories of the MOA from the manning agencies included Rodolfo Estampador of the Conference of Maritime Manning Association, Sammuel Lim of the Filipino Association for Mariners Employment, Jose Albar Kato of the International Maritime Association of the Philippines, Eduardo Manese of the Philippine-Japan Manning Consultative Council, Vicente Miranda of the Philippine Association of Manning Agencies and Ship Managers, Inc., Roy Alampay of the Filipino Ship Owners Association and Felicito Dalaguete of the Philippine Association of Maritime Institution.

Those from the seamen's unions were Gregorio Oca of the Associated Marine Officers Seamen's Union of the Philippines, Romeo Occena of the International Seamen's Mutual Labor Association, Manuel Collado of the Mariners and Allied Transport Employees Union, German Pascua Jr of the Philippine Seamen's Union and Nelson Ramirez of the United Filipino Seafarers.

Leoncio Sempio of the Marine Engine Officers Association of the Philippines and Jaime Aquino of the Philippine Maritime Voluntary Arbitrators Association also signed the MOA. - GMANews.TV

Recruitment firms encourage retired OFWs to go into rice production

MANILA, Philippines - The Department of Labor and Employment should redirect its reintegration program for returning Overseas Filipino Workers to rice production to ease the impact of the impending supply shortage.

This was the suggestion made by the Federated Association of Manpower Exporters (FAME) in the wake of a looming shortage of the country's staple food.

"Encouraging returning OFWs who opt to settle in the provinces to go into rice production is better than helping them set up sari-sari stores, " FAME vice president Jackson Gan said.

Gan noted that the DoLE’s National Reintegration Center for OFWs could tap the help of the Agriculture department in setting up rice farming seminars for retired OFWs.

The NRCO is currently involved in providing returning migrants technical assistance for self-employment or entrepreneurship, access to credit/microfinance, counseling on business or savings mobilization schemes, and psychosocial counseling.

According to Gan, also the president of the Philippine Coconut Exporters Association, acting Labor Secretary Marianito Roque could request the Agriculture department to tap into the P1.5 billion fund released by MalacaƱang to help OFWs who wish to venture to rice production.

President Arroyo has recently approved an additional P1.5 billion fund for the Department of Agriculture to mitigate the shortage in rice supply that has reached a critical stage in the face of price increases in Vietnam and Thailand.

The DA earlier admitted that the country’s rice reserve is expected to last for less than two months as world prices increase to 25 percent more compared to last month. - GMANews.TV

Deployment crisis seen on freeze of 50 agencies

MANILA, Philippines - More than 10,000 Filipino workers are barred from leaving the country for overseas jobs after the Department of Labor and Employment (DoLE) suspended the operations of many local recruitment agencies.

Recruitment consultant Manny Geslani said the recruitment groups blamed the new regulation on renewal of licenses imposed by then Labor Secretary Arturo Brion, which directed the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) that agencies with pending cases should not be forwarded to his office for license renewal.

"Secretary Brion returned around 50 folders to the POEA with instructions that no license should be forwarded to his office if the agency has a pending case," Geslani said.

Brion was appointed Associate Justice of the Supreme Court before the country breaks for the Holy Week.

According to Geslani, the 50 agencies are responsible for the deployment of more than 10,000 overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) a month and because of the problem on license they cannot operate.

While the POEA permitted the processing of job orders, recruitment companies are not allowed to deploy new job orders since the licenses of the agencies are deemed to have expired and operations like recruitment, placement and processing of new applicants are prohibited.

The recruitment agencies warned that non-renewal of the licenses could result to crisis in deployment if not addressed immediately.

The POEA previously allows renewal of license upon the full compliance of all requirements by the agencies.

Agencies with four or less cases pending are recommended for approval as provided under the POEA guidelines.

But early this year, Brion ordered the centralization of decision making process in the labor department and reverted to his office the signing of new or renewal of licenses.

Meantime, local agencies are appealing to Acting Labor Chief Marianito Roque, Jr and concurrent OWWA Administrator to set aside the rule of Brion as this is totally against the rules of POEA and is an arbitrary act without any legal or moral basis against the recruitment industry.

The agencies also scored Brion for issuing the household service workers rules in 2006 but implemented on March 15, 2007. The ruling raises the minimum salary of domestic helpers from $200 to $400.

This move resulted in the closure and declaration of bankruptcy of over 100 recruitment agencies deploying domestic helpers to the Middle East, Geslani added. - GMANews.TV

Govt urged to send team to Namibia to help terminated OFWs

MANILA, Philippines - A group of overseas Filipino workers based in the Middle East is urging the Arroyo administration to send representatives to Namibia to help the 250 OFWs who have been terminated from work.

The Filipinos had worked for Ramatex Textile Namibia, southern Africa’s largest textile manufacturing industry located in the outskirts of Windhoek.

The firm was shut down early this month over claims of losses of up to N$500 million (P2.6 billion).

Earlier, the Filipinos vowed to reject any assistance for repatriation until they get their claims from their employer.

John Leonard Monterona, Middle East regional coordinator for Migrante International, said in a statement that the Arroyo administration should ensure the OFWs would get the protection they deserve.

“There is no Philippine Embassy in Namibia, but this should not be made an excuse of not sending official government representatives to the southern African country to look after the retrenched OFWs," Monterona said.

He added that there is enough money to finance government officials’ travel to Namibia.

“OFWs and their families will be more than happy to know that the US$25.00 membership contribution to the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (now reaching to US$10 billion) would really be spent for their protection," Monterona said. - Fidel Jimenez, GMANews.TV

POEA reminds departing OFWs about new rule on OEC

MANILA, Philippines - Overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) going back to their jobs abroad are reminded to present their exit clearance or overseas employment certificates (OEC) directly to the airline counters, terminal fee counters and the Bureau of Immigration counters.

Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) Administrator Rosalinda Baldoz said the new policy aims to "streamline the process in the deployment of OFWs."

The new process, according to Baldoz, is expected to benefit thousands of OFWs leaving the country after the short vacation for the Holy Week.

Baldoz also said that beginning Monday, POEA’s Labor Assistance Counters (LACs) will only be assisting OFWs with documentation problems, issuing OECs to OFWs leaving within 24 hours, and dissemination of information and education materials.

"The implementation of the new procedure coincides with the start of the peak season when thousands of OFWs are expected to return to their job sites after attending the graduation of their family members, and observing Holy Week in the country," Baldoz said.

Before, departing OFWs are required to present their exit clearance or OEC to the POEA LAC counter to be allowed to leave the country. - GMANews.TV

California court convicts Pinoy for knifing wife to death

SAN FRANCISCO — Nursing home worker William Corpuz, 34, of the Portola District was found guilty of slashing his wife’s throat and sentenced to second-degree murder which carries a term of 16 years to life.

San Francisco Superior Court Judge Jerome Benson reduced the initial conviction of first-degree murder of 26 years to life as there was not enough deliberation on the part of Corpuz before committing the murder in September 2004.

Corpuz using a fishing knife to kill Marisa, his wife of eight years. They have two children.William is said to have a short temper and a history of beating up his wife. He was on probation in September 2003 for choking his wife and then slamming her head face-first into the headboard of their bed. In attempt to seek help, he enrolled into a 52-week domestic abuse program, but committed the murder before the program was even completed.

“This is a strong message that women need to be safe and come forward. He was given 52 weeks to change his behavior, and there is no excuse," said Beverly Upton of San Francisco Domestic Violence Consortium, Partners Ending Domestic Abuse. Women activists wearing purple pins on their shirts and blouses filled the courtroom. After the sentencing, they spoke about bringing justice to Marisa, her family, and all other battered women across the nation.

“We are here to represent the Filipino community seeking to send a message for both women and men, that women should no longer be afraid to seek help and that men should not grow up hurting women," declared Marily Mondejar, president of the Filipina Women’s Network. - Philippine News

Top US lawyers, FilAms in work visa fraud

LOS ANGELES — A pair of prominent immigration lawyers – Daniel E. Korenberg and Steven James Rodriguez – were sentenced for fraudulent employment visa applications, a Department of Justice spokesman here recently announced.

A third lawyer, also a partner at Korenberg, Abramowitz & Feldun (KAF), Philip Abramowitz, 54, of Agoura Hills, is scheduled to be sentenced on Monday, March 24. He pleaded guilty to two counts of visa fraud and one count of conspiracy to commit visa fraud.

Many Filipinos work for the law firm, which has offices in Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Diego and Las Vegas. A former official of the Philippine Consulate in LA allegedly managed the downtown San Diego office of the firm.

Korenberg, 58, of Encino, a partner and founder of KAF, was sentenced to 24 months in federal prison to be followed by three years of supervised release with a condition that he serve an additional six months on home detention with electronic monitoring. Korenberg was also ordered to pay a fine of $750,000.

Korenberg, a card-carrying member of the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA), pleaded guilty last fall to two counts of visa fraud and one count of conspiracy to commit visa fraud. KAF, which is now known as ASK Law Group, is based in the San Fernando Valley community of Sherman Oaks.

A second attorney, Steven James Rodriguez, 41, of Thousand Oaks, a senior associate at KAF, was sentenced to three years probation with the condition that he serve six months of home detention with electronic monitoring and perform 200 hours of community service. Rodriguez pleaded guilty last fall to one count of making false statements to the United States, namely, the Immigration and Naturalization Service.

Both Korenberg and Rodriguez were sentenced by United States District Judge Percy Anderson. A Department of Justice press release quotes Robert Schoch, special agent in charge for the ICE office of investigations in Los Angeles, saying that, “the fact that the defendants in this case earned their living practicing immigration law makes the charges particularly disturbing," following the two lawyers’ indictment last year.

Abramowitz, a familiar figure among Filipinos here, has vowed to defend himself. The State Bar of California has listed Abramowitz as “not eligible to practice law" as of July 25, 2007 as related to case number 06-C-15537; and again as of September 28, 2007 as related to case number 07-Q-13768.

State bar records indicate that Abramowitz tendered his resignation from the Bar “with charges" on Sept. 28, 2007.

Court papers filed in the case detail how KAF hired foreign nationals without work authorization for a variety of support positions, including paralegal jobs. The defendants then allegedly applied for fraudulent work visas for those employees and paid them “off the books" in cash until the visas were approved. To support the visa petitions, Korenberg and others created documents making false claims about the aliens’ work experience and offers of employment.

Korenberg and others made false statements to the US government in connection with immigration and labor petitions filed on behalf of KAF employees. Rodriguez and others made false statements to the US government in connection with immigration petitions filed on behalf of KAF clients.

Korenberg and Rodriguez were charged in a 33-count indictment handed down in February 2007 following an investigation by US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), the US Department of Labor - Office of Inspector General, and the California Employment Development Department. According to the indictment, beginning in 2000 and continuing through at least February 2003, the defendants filed fraudulent employment-based visa petitions on behalf of foreign nationals seeking temporary work authorization or permanent residency in the United States.

At least 19 of the aliens who benefited from the visa fraud scheme were KAF employees.

“These sentences are stern reminders about the consequences awaiting those who conspire to compromise the integrity of our nation’s legal immigration system," said a spokesperson for the ICE Office of Investigations in Los Angeles. “Disturbingly, the defendants in this case used their expertise in immigration law not for the greater good, but to undermine the system and enrich themselves.

In addition to the law firm, the probe targeted two Los Angeles-area employment agencies, Job Seekers International and Employ Masters International. The investigation revealed that the employment agencies identified employers, both real and fictitious, to attest that the aliens
seeking the work visas were being recruited for highly skilled jobs that, in most instances, did not exist.

Philippine News sources attest that the two agencies are either fully-owned, co-owned or managed Filipino citizens. Employ Masters International held office at 3600 Wilshire Blvd., the same address as the Philippine Consulate. The agency’s number has been disconnected.

The Philippine Consulate is aware an investigation on a former official is under way, but is declining to make a statement “pending proper investigation." “We can’t comment for now because we are still waiting. He is not yet charged," a source told PN.

In 2005, the three owners of Job Seekers International and Employ Masters International and one of their employees pleaded guilty to visa fraud and conspiracy charges. Those four defendants are awaiting sentencing.

The other defendants charged in the case are:

(1) Heidi Poepping, 45, of Moorpark, a paralegal at KAF, pleaded guilty last year to conspiracy to commit visa fraud and is scheduled to be sentenced on April 21;

(2) Arturo Valencia, 56, of Walnut, the owner of Job Seekers International, pleaded guilty two years ago to one count of visa fraud and one count of conspiracy and is scheduled to be sentenced on May 12;

(3) Maria Theresa Resurreccion, 40, of Anaheim, an employee of Job Seekers International, pleaded guilty to one count of visa fraud and one count of conspiracy and is scheduled to be sentenced on May 5;

(4) Arnel Dizon, 36, of Corona, a co-owner of Employ Masters International, pleaded guilty to one count of visa fraud and one count of conspiracy and is scheduled to be sentenced on April 28; and

5) Marlyn Rodriguez Dizon (Arnel’s wife), 44, of Los Angeles, a co-owner of Employ Masters International, pleaded guilty in May 2005 to one count of visa fraud and one count of conspiracy and is scheduled to be sentenced on April 14.

Valencia, Resurreccion and the Dizons are Filipinos. - Philippine News

Pinoy ordered to leave CNMI for human smuggling attempt

SUSUPE, Saipan – A Filipino contract worker in Saipan who piloted a boat attempting to smuggle 11 Chinese nationals to Guam in June 2007 has been ordered to depart the US Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) immediately upon receipt of his repatriation ticket.

Saipan, the capital of the CNMI, is less than an hour away from Guam by plane.

Edwin Fariola Blanilla, 45, pleaded guilty to one count of smuggling a person from the CNMI to the US for commercial advantage or financial gain.

CNMI Superior Court Associate Judge Ramona V. Manglona accepted Blanilla's plea.

The judge sentenced him to five years in prison, all suspended except for eight months and 20 days.

Following the plea agreement, the judge gave Blanilla credit for the time he had already served from June 29, 2007 through March 19, 2008.

The defendant was released from the CNMI Department of Corrections on Wednesday.

He was placed on five years of unsupervised probation and required to pay a $100 court assessment fee within 30 days.

The judge ordered the defendant to depart the CNMI immediately upon receipt of his repatriation airline ticket.

The defendant will not be allowed to return to the CNMI.

Blanilla was supposed to drop off 11 Chinese nationals in the waters near Guam on June 27, 2007 so they could enter the territory.

In exchange for piloting the boat, he was to receive the boat as payment which he planned to sell before returning to the Philippines.

However, the boat got stranded 20 nautical miles northwest of Guam.

According to court papers, it was Blanilla who called authorities for help when the boat got stranded.

The 12 individuals, including Blanilla, were questioned and charged after authorities learned they didn’t have passports in their possession, nor did they have any type of visa authorizing them to enter Guam.

Unlike the CNMI, Guam requires foreign nationals to secure a US visa for entry. - Haidee V. Eugenio, GMANews.TV

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

80% of new nurses want to work abroad - PNA

MANILA, Philippines – The head of the country’s biggest nursing organization has estimated that roughly 80 percent of the latest batch of more than 28,000 new nurses in the country intends to work abroad.

“That is just my assumption (about 80 percent). It was based on the people that I have talked to pero wala talagang study ‘yan, but I think that’s a safe estimate," said Dr. Leah Samaco-Paquiz, president of the Philippine Nurses Association.

Economic reasons, such as the lack or absence of better job opportunities in the country and the low salary rates have been cited as primary factors for migration, Paquiz said.

They want to learn more (while) they are young. They consider working abroad an adventure," Paquiz said.

The unstable political situation in the country also somehow encourages Filipino nurses to leave the country and try their luck somewhere else.

Citing a proposal to require new nurses to render service first in the Philippines before they can be allowed to work abroad, Paquiz appealed to the new licensed nurses to serve their “kababayans" first to gain the necessary experience before working overseas.

“Hindi naman natin sila mapipigil na mag-abroad at wala ring batas na dapat dito muna sila magtrabaho. Pero sana magsilbi muna sila sa mga kakabayan nila para makakuha din sila ng experience," she explained.

Paquiz added that while there is no shortage of nurses in the Philippines, this doesn’t mean that there is no cause for alarm.

“Marami tayong nurses pero ang nawawala sa atin mga good, experienced and top caliber nurses na puwedeng mag-head ng mga faculty, kasi sila ‘yung kinukuha sa abroad," she noted.

The PNA president also advised those who are dead set to work abroad “not to forget the place where they come from." – Fidel Jimenez, GMANews.TV

Travelers warned vs carrying live bullets

MANILA, Philippines - Filipinos traveling to Singapore are warned anew against bringing live bullets or items made from prohibited, illegal or controlled materials commonly used as amulets and talismans.

The Department of Foreign Affairs issued the advisory after receiving a report from the Philippine embassy in Singapore that a Filipino traveler was apprehended for having two live bullets during transit at Changi International Airport.

The Filipino was given a notice of warning and his passport data were recorded by Singapore airport authorities.

“The traveling public is advised to strictly adhere to the travel restrictions imposed by the Singapore and other governments in this regard," the DFA advisory said. - GMANews.TV

OWWA sets aside P50-M to train marine officers

MANILA, Philippines - To catch up with the growing global demand for marine officers, the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration has set aside P50 million for skills training and upgrading of Filipino seafarers.

Mechanics of the program is still being ironed out, including partner agencies for its implementation, according to OWWA administrator Marianito Roque, who had been concurrently designated as acting secretary of labor.

“We want to give assurance to our global employers that we have competent officers and that we are addressing this shortage of officers," Roque told reporters at the sidelines of the signing of the memorandum of agreement with industry leaders and the Department of Labor and Employment (DoLE)-Establishing a Maritime Industry Arbitration System.

Based on a recent study, the shipping industry has a shortage of 10,000 marine and deck officers.

Roque said the government wants to keep the country’s status in the global maritime industry as top supplier of competent seafarers and officers because of threats from other countries supplying seamen, such as China, Vietnam and Cambodia.

The program is aiming to attract graduating high school students, graduates of other engineering courses and seafarers across the country to upgrade their skills for better employment prospects.

"We are assessing the situation kaya ang ating tinitingnan sa program na ito ay iyong the next five years. Gusto nating ipakita na ngayon ang focus naman natin ay ang ating seafarers," Roque said.

A “study now, pay later" plan is being considered for the program, according to OWWA deputy administrator Noriel Devanadera.

An interested student may initially avail of up to P30,000 loan under the program to finance his studies.

“We have no full details yet but we are planning to tie up with shipping companies so that our students will be employed immediately upon completion of the program so we could be able to recover our investment," Devanadera explained.

The P50-million allotment comes in the heels of allegations of mishandling the OWWA trust fund that has been estimated at $10 billion, generated from the $25 contributions of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) for every two-year contract.

A committee of the House of Representatives is conducting an audit of the OWWA funds. - GMANews.TV

2 RP peacekeepers wounded in Kosovo

MANILA, Philippines - Two Filipino peacekeepers deployed by the United Nations to Kosovo were injured in the violence that broke out in the volatile northern city of Mitrovica, the Philippine Mission to the United Nations reported on Tuesday.

The two are Philippine National Police officers and were among dozens of persons wounded in the riots early morning Monday shortly after UN and NATO peacekeepers stormed a UN court seized last week by Kosovo-Serbs.

Ambassador Hilario G. Davide, Jr., Philippine permanent representative to the UN, reported to the Department of Foreign Affairs that the Philippine Mission is closely monitoring the situation in Kosovo and is in touch with Senior Supt. Dencio Duldulao, commander of the 40-member PNP Peacekeeping Contingent, and Supt. Romeo Pillonar, the senior PNP officer in Mitrovica.

Davide said the two injured officers, who are assigned to the Prisoner Escort Unit (PEU) of the Specialized Police Unit -under the UN Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK), were part of a three-vehicle convoy transporting detainees when they were blocked and attacked by an undetermined number of Serbs along St. Peter Street near the North Mitrovica police station at around 7 a.m. on Monday.

The two officers were dragged out of their vehicle by an undetermined number of Kosovo Serbs after they refused to release the detainees they were transporting. Reports said the mob was able to free 10 of the detainees.

The two officers, who sustained bruises and other injuries, were brought to a UN hospital where they were reported to be in stable condition.

A number of UN peacekeepers were injured when Serbs fought off with gunfire, grenades and stones UNMIK and NATO peacekeepers who stormed the UN court that was taken over last Friday by Serbs protesting the unilateral declaration of Kosovo's independence by the Kosovo Albanian majority.

Davide said that although 18 of the 40 PNP officers in Kosovo were sent to Mitrovica to augment UN police officers there, no Filipino was involved in the actual takeover of the UN court.

The Associated Press reported that hundreds of furious Serb protesters attacked international forces outside a UN courthouse in Kosovo, sparking an hours-long battle Monday with rocks, hand grenades and live ammunition.

At least 63 UN and NATO forces and 70 protesters were injured in the clashes in the divided northern town of Kosovska Mitrovica - the worst violence Kosovo has seen since it declared independence from Serbia a month ago.

UN police had stormed the courthouse just before dawn to arrest dozens of Serbs who had occupied it since Friday to protest against Kosovo's statehood.

As the UN police exited the building with the arrested demonstrators, they were met by a throng
of protesters who pelted them with rocks, Molotov cocktails and hand grenades.

Some demonstrators fired guns at the international forces.

The international forces - Polish, Ukrainian and Bulgarian members of the UN police mission and NATO troops backing them up - responded with tear gas, stun grenades and gunshots.

Witnesses said the protesters attacked three UN vehicles, pulling out and freeing about 20 of the 53 protesters arrested in the courthouse. – GMANews.TV, with reports from AP

Gov't bank offers high-yield deposit product to OFWs in HK

MANILA, Philippines - Land Bank of the Philippines will launch in Hong Kong on March 30 a new deposit instrument specifically catering to overseas Filipino workers and their relatives.

The new product called Long Term Negotiable Certificates of Deposit, or LTNCD, will form part of a package of benefits for OFWs that President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo when she speaks before the Filipino community at the Grand Hyatt Hotel in Hong Kong.

“We are pleased to be of help to our OFWs, especially since we know that they are among those most affected by the continuing currency appreciation. We are also encouraging them to participate in the government’s savings mobilization program," said LBP president and chief executive officer Gilda E. Pico.

The LTNCD is a peso-denominated certificate that will be issued in P20,000 denominations in 5 ½- and 10-year tenors. It is covered by PDIC insurance up to P250,000 per depositor, and is exempt from withholding tax if investors will opt to hold on to the instrument up to its maturity.

The instrument carries a higher yield compared to other existing saving and time deposit products. The final interest rates of the LBP LTNCD, however, will depend on the prevailing market rates at the time of issuance.

The product will be available to OFWs and their relatives for a three-week period starting next week. The LTNCDs can be purchased at all branches of Land Bank, Hong Kong Shanghai Bangking Co. and accredited selling agents.

Investors will be required to present proof of overseas employment such as the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration membership card, employment contract and pre-departure orientation seminar (PDOS) certificates to avail of the LTNCD.

OFW relatives interested in investing will be required to present proof of relationship with the OFW such as marriage contract and birth certificate.

Land Bank first introduced the LTNCD to Filipino business leaders in Dubai last January, coinciding with the launch of its OFW cash card, during President Arroyo’s visit there. - GMANews.TV

New ‘federalization’ bill brings hope to longtime Filipino workers in CNMI

CAPITOL HILL, Saipan – A group of nonresident workers in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI), mostly from the Philippines, hopes a new bill in the US Senate seeking to apply federal immigration laws to the CNMI will be passed this time.

Jerry Custodio, president of the Human Dignity Movement, told GMANews.TV on Monday that once enacted, the new omnibus bill, S. 2739, is still a “more fair and more just" law for guest workers than the current CNMI immigration system.

The CNMI, a US territory about three hours away from Manila, is home to about 19,000 foreign workers mostly from the Philippines.

US Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) introduced S. 2739 on March 10.

This is the latest effort by some members of the US Congress to extend US immigration laws to the CNMI. Similar efforts in the past failed in the Republican-controlled US Congress.

When Democrats took control of Congress in January 2007, they made CNMI federalization a priority, citing continuous reports of slave labor and prostitution in the CNMI and limited rights for guest workers. Human trafficking cases are also still being reported.

But the CNMI government insists that the labor situation has improved, and is opposed to any immigration federalization bills.

Among the labor violations committed by employers in the CNMI include delayed or non-payment of wages and overtime, unauthorized deductions, barracks lockdown, and in some worse cases, forced prostitution.

Even though the new bill does not grant permanent residency status to eligible longtime guest workers in the CNMI, it requires the secretary of the US Department of the Interior to submit to US Congress within two years after S. 2739’s enactment a report with recommendations on how to grant the guest workers a more permanent status.

A permanent residency status allows eligible longtime guest workers and their immediate family to freely travel, work and study in the US and its territories, including Guam.

S. 2739 or the “Consolidated Natural Resources Act of 2008" has a provision on CNMI immigration that mirrors the old S.2483, which would have also federalized the islands’ immigration system.

“We are still all for federalization. We are hopeful that once it is enacted, the US government would give us a more permanent status. True, the bill says there would be no guest workers by 2014 but there would still be federal guest workers," he said.

Under the bill, the CNMI’s guest worker program will be phased out by Dec. 31, 2014.

Custodio said “about 30 percent" of the estimated 5,000 members of the Human Dignity Movement have already gone back home.

“It’s now survival of the fittest here. After working here for over 10 years, workers could be sent home just like that because they are beholden to their yearly contract. They don’t have political and social rights," he added.

S. 2739 also requires the Interior secretary, in consultation with the secretary of Homeland Security, and the governor of the CNMI, to report to US Congress not later than two years after the date of the bill’s enactment the number of aliens residing in the islands, a description of their legal status, and the current and future requirements of the CNMI economy for an alien workforce.

The complete text of S.2739 is now available on the website of the US Senate.

Like its predecessor S.2483, or “the National Forests, Parks, Public Land, and Reclamation Project Authorization Act of 2007," the new omnibus bill is a collection of approximately 50 individual bills under the jurisdiction of the Committee on Energy and Natural Resources.

Title VII of S.2739 would extend immigration law and create a federally run guest worker program in the CNMI (Subtitle A).

It would also give the CNMI a delegate in the House (Subtitle B) with limited voting powers.

The CNMI is currently the only US possession that does not have a delegate in US Congress.

The CNMI government is opposed to bills federalizing the islands’ immigration system, saying the local government does a better job in running its guest worker program.

S. 2739 also provides for a unified visa-waiver program for Guam and the CNMI based on the existing Guam-only visa waiver program, which was authorized by Congress in 1986.

The new visa waiver program would authorize tourists entering either Guam or the CNMI under the program to stay in either location, or any combination of both locations for a maximum 45 days.

This extends the current Guam-only visa waiver program, which provides only for a 15-day period of stay.

The provision would also exempt Guam and the CNMI from national caps for the number of H-2 temporary worker visas that could be issued for work in either location.

Officials expect this to help Guam and the CNMI meet the construction demands associated with the planned military buildup in the region.

S. 2739 is in the first stage of the legislative process, where the bill is considered in a committee and may undergo significant changes in markup sessions. A majority of bills, however, never make it out of committee, as is the case of the derailed S.2483. - Haidee V. Eugenio, GMANews.TV

Monday, March 17, 2008

POEA suspends agency collecting placement fees from recruits to Canada

MANILA, Philippines - The Philippine Overseas Employment Administration has suspended the license of a local recruitment agency and initiated charges against its counterpart in Canada for collecting placement fees from applicants for jobs in Canada.

September Star Inc. and JFG Career Agency were found to have collected as much as US$8,000 (P332,000) from Filipinos who applied for jobs with A&W restaurant chain in Canada.

POEA Administrator Rosalinda Baldoz said JFG Career Agency, the counterpart of September Star Inc in Canada, was cited for default in its contractual obligations to the Filipino workers, and for gross violation of laws, rules and regulations on overseas employment.

Tyson J. Kefebre, owner of four branches of A&W restaurants in Canada who hired 16 Filipinos through September Star, filed the complaint to the POEA against the recruitment agencies after learning from his Filipino staff that they each paid $1, 500 (P62,000) and were compelled to sign promissory notes that they would pay additional US$4, 500 (P187,000) to September Star in scheduled installments.

Kefebre’s complaint said one of the Filipino workers paid JFG Career Agency US$2,000 for the release of her travel documents.

The Canadian agency also asked the worker to sign another employment contract with “very onerous terms" that were contrary to the terms of the contract approved by the Canadian government.

Police authorities in Alberta, Canada had sued JFG Career Agency for extortion and violation of Fair Trading Act.

According to Baldoz, the Canadian agency also collected excessive placement fees from Filipino workers recruited from the United Arab Emirates.

Collection of recruitment fees from employees is a criminal offense in Canada that carries a minimum fine of $100,000 or imprisonment, or both.

After the Department of Labor and Employment signed labor agreements with the provincial governments of Saskatchewan, British Columbia, Manitoba and Alberta, the POEA issued a memorandum circular prohibiting licensed agencies from collecting recruitment or placement fees from job applicants bound to the Canadian provinces. – GMANews.TV

Families of distressed OFWs in Jeddah also suffer

Poor appetite, lack of sleep, deteriorating health and internal family issues are just some of the effects on families of stranded overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) in Jeddah.

Without enough sleep and with puffy eyes, wives and relatives of stranded overseas Filipino workers faced the press on March 12 and asked the help of Migrante International on their loved ones’ problems in Jeddah.

Fenny, wife of OFW Juan Dagampat, told Bulatlat she is now taking anti-hypertensive medicine. “Parang laging mataas ang dugo ko siguro dahil depressed" she said. “Apektado talaga kami kakaisip sa kanila" (My blood pressure seems to be always high because I am depressed. We are really affected as we constantly worry about them.)

Another wife, Jenny could hardly speak as she cried hard while talking about husband OFW Marlon Ambil. “Isang beses lang kain nila…tinapay lang…kapiranggot… Nagkasipon pa siya" (They eat just once a day…only bread…just a small piece… Worse, he developed a cold), said Jenny, who was having a hard time talking while sobbing.

At midnight of March 12, Jenny was still awake after receiving text messages from her husband saying that he was among the 31 male OFWs being transferred to the Riyadh deportation facility.

What made the wives more worried was the condition the OFWs were in when they were transferred to Riyadh ¾ their feet and hands were cuffed.

“Dadalhin sila sa Riyadh, ‘di nila alam gagawin sa kanila. Baka kung anong gawin sa kanila tapos magdahilan na lang ‘yung pulis" (They would be brought to Riyadh and they don’t know what would be done to them. The Saudi police might do something bad to them and just cover it up.), said the wives who are almost at the point of paranoia.

The wives added that because of their situation in Jeddah, their husbands could not send enough money for their monthly expenses. Jenny asks for her sisters’ financial assistance. In Fenny’s case, she is “baon na sa utang" (already buried in debt), mostly due to bills like house rental.

Moreover, the wives added they are having difficulty explaining to their children what has been happening to their father.

“Sasabihin namin sa mga bata uuwi na sila..next week..tapos sa susunod na linggo ulit..’di naman natutuloy" lamented Fenny. “Sinungaling na nga daw ako" (We tell the children that their father will be back next week, then the next. They already think I am lying to them.)

Despite all the problems that come their way, their only wish is for their stranded loved ones to be reunited with them soon.

“Basta makauwi na lang sana sila" (We just hope they could come home), Jenny said. - Bulatlat

Brion to ink MOU with Fil-Canadian builders

Labor Secretary Arturo Brion is set to sign a memorandum of understanding with the Filipino-Canadian Construction Society (FCCS) for the improvement of training skills of the trainers in TESDA for the construction sector.

Amado Mercado, president of FCCS said the MOU to be sign next month would help the Philippine government in addressing the skills requirement of Filipino workers that are hoping to land a job in Canada.

The FCCS is composed of Filipino builders, contractors, electricians, plumbers, estimators and project managers based in Vancouver.

Mercado flew into Manila recently to discuss with Brion the contents of the MOU that will be signed next month in Alberta, Canada, as well as an agreement that Brion will ink with the province of Alberta.

The association would provide training for construction trainers from TESDA free of charge and all expenses paid for the group. The trainer will return to the Philippines and pass on to others the acquired construction techniques and skills.

Canada will need at least 1.9 million foreign workers in the next five to 10 years and they are looking at the Philippines to supply these demands, Administrator Rosalinda Baldoz of the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) said.

Canada needs engineers, plumbers, welders, meat cutters, butcher, nurses, caregivers, as well as hotel staff.

Data from the POEA indicated that in 2007, about 9,000 Filipinos were deployed to Canada and the number could swell to 30,000 in 2012, when the Canadians will host the Winter Olympics.

FCCS has collaborated with the Multicultural Helping House Society to identify skilled immigrants needing mentorship, job leads and to provide apprenticeship to those who are interested in developing expertise in construction trades.

Last month, Brion forged an MOU with the province of Manitoba for the possible deployment of Filipino workers there. - GMANews.TV

Canada’s high demand for workers makes illegal recruiters active - consultant

MANILA, Philippines - Expect illegal recruiters to be more active in the provinces to look for victims by offering them quick departures and easy payment schemes for Canada employment.

The warning was issued Sunday by recruitment consultant Emmanuel Geslani. He advised job applicants to be very cautious with people posing as recruiters of workers for Canada.

Geslani also urged authorities, particularly the local government units, to intensify their campaign against illegal recruiters in their localities.

The Human Resources and Social Development of Canada reported that 1.9 million new jobs will be created over the next 10 years (2006-2015) particularly in the western provinces of Canada such as Alberta, British Columbia, Saskatchewan and Manitoba.

The high demand was spurred by Canada’s robust economy. The country is offering good job opportunities for skilled workers and professionals from the Philippines. Workers are entitled to permanent and temporary migration programs.

He said jobseekers to Canada should deal only with recruiters accredited by the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA).

Geslani explained that entry in Canada can only be done with a direct employer who will furnish the documents like a work permit or immigrant visa to a qualified applicant or through POEA-licensed private recruitment agencies that have approved job orders for registered employers/principals in Canada for skilled workers and professionals in various industries.

Job seekers should be aware that Canadian laws stipulate that Canadian employers should cover all recruitment costs related to the hiring of the foreign workers, Geslani said.

The POEA recently suspended a local recruitment agency September Star and Canadian JFG Career Agency for charging exorbitant placement fees for employees deployed by September Star to A &W restaurant chain in Canada.

The list of the accredited recruitment agencies for Canada can be found at the Web site of the POEA under www.poea.gov.ph.- GMANews.TV

New ‘federalization’ bill brings hope to longtime Filipino workers in CNMI

CAPITOL HILL, Saipan – A group of nonresident workers in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI), mostly from the Philippines, hopes a new bill in the US Senate seeking to apply federal immigration laws to the CNMI will be passed this time.

Jerry Custodio, president of the Human Dignity Movement, told GMANews.TV on Monday that once enacted, the new omnibus bill, S. 2739, is still a “more fair and more just" law for guest workers than the current CNMI immigration system.

The CNMI, a US territory about three hours away from Manila, is home to about 19,000 foreign workers mostly from the Philippines.

US Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) introduced S. 2739 on March 10.

This is the latest effort by some members of the US Congress to extend US immigration laws to the CNMI. Similar efforts in the past failed in the Republican-controlled US Congress.

When Democrats took control of Congress in January 2007, they made CNMI federalization a priority, citing continuous reports of slave labor and prostitution in the CNMI and limited rights for guest workers. Human trafficking cases are also still being reported.

But the CNMI government insists that the labor situation has improved, and is opposed to any immigration federalization bills.

Among the labor violations committed by employers in the CNMI include delayed or non-payment of wages and overtime, unauthorized deductions, barracks lockdown, and in some worse cases, forced prostitution.

Even though the new bill does not grant permanent residency status to eligible longtime guest workers in the CNMI, it requires the secretary of the US Department of the Interior to submit to US Congress within two years after S. 2739’s enactment a report with recommendations on how to grant the guest workers a more permanent status.

A permanent residency status allows eligible longtime guest workers and their immediate family to freely travel, work and study in the US and its territories, including Guam.

S. 2739 or the “Consolidated Natural Resources Act of 2008" has a provision on CNMI immigration that mirrors the old S.2483, which would have also federalized the islands’ immigration system.

“We are still all for federalization. We are hopeful that once it is enacted, the US government would give us a more permanent status. True, the bill says there would be no guest workers by 2014 but there would still be federal guest workers," he said.

Under the bill, the CNMI’s guest worker program will be phased out by Dec. 31, 2014.

Custodio said “about 30 percent" of the estimated 5,000 members of the Human Dignity Movement have already gone back home.

“It’s now survival of the fittest here. After working here for over 10 years, workers could be sent home just like that because they are beholden to their yearly contract. They don’t have political and social rights," he added.

S. 2739 also requires the Interior secretary, in consultation with the secretary of Homeland Security, and the governor of the CNMI, to report to US Congress not later than two years after the date of the bill’s enactment the number of aliens residing in the islands, a description of their legal status, and the current and future requirements of the CNMI economy for an alien workforce.

The complete text of S.2739 is now available on the website of the US Senate.

Like its predecessor S.2483, or “the National Forests, Parks, Public Land, and Reclamation Project Authorization Act of 2007," the new omnibus bill is a collection of approximately 50 individual bills under the jurisdiction of the Committee on Energy and Natural Resources.

Title VII of S.2739 would extend immigration law and create a federally run guest worker program in the CNMI (Subtitle A).

It would also give the CNMI a delegate in the House (Subtitle B) with limited voting powers.

The CNMI is currently the only US possession that does not have a delegate in US Congress.

The CNMI government is opposed to bills federalizing the islands’ immigration system, saying the local government does a better job in running its guest worker program.

S. 2739 also provides for a unified visa-waiver program for Guam and the CNMI based on the existing Guam-only visa waiver program, which was authorized by Congress in 1986.

The new visa waiver program would authorize tourists entering either Guam or the CNMI under the program to stay in either location, or any combination of both locations for a maximum 45 days.

This extends the current Guam-only visa waiver program, which provides only for a 15-day period of stay.

The provision would also exempt Guam and the CNMI from national caps for the number of H-2 temporary worker visas that could be issued for work in either location.

Officials expect this to help Guam and the CNMI meet the construction demands associated with the planned military buildup in the region.

S. 2739 is in the first stage of the legislative process, where the bill is considered in a committee and may undergo significant changes in markup sessions. A majority of bills, however, never make it out of committee, as is the case of the derailed S.2483. - Haidee V. Eugenio, GMANews.TV

RP, Singapore telecom firms bring OFWs close to home

MANILA, Philippines - Globe and SingTel bring OFWs in Singapore closer to their loved ones Globe brings two overseas Filipinos working in Singapore closer to their loved ones in the Philippines, allowing them to see and talk to each other no matter how far apart they are.

Globe and SingTel united Susana Ibarra of Manila with her daughters-in-law and grandchildren during a videoconference set up recently by the two telecom companies.

Susana, who has been working in Singapore for 20 years now, saw the twin babies Rhiane and Rhaine for the first time. The two grandchildren were with their sister Raisa, brothers Russel and Ryle, and their mother Rose.

Another daughter-in-law, Jasmine, with her two kids Jamhela and Roja Dane also got to talk to Susana. The teary-eyed Susana, who comes home to the Philippines once a year, was glad to see and hear her grandchildren.

Luisito Mariano of Laguna, the drummer of the band Dress Down Friday, was also given a chance to see and talk to his girlfriend Thelma Boholano. Louie, as Thelma calls him, will be performing in a bar in Singapore for six months.

Louie, already on his third month in Singapore, and Thelma keep their bond strong through subscriptions to SingTel’s Kababayan SIM & Globe’s IDD service. The couple has been together for seven months now.

Thelma was surprised when she was informed that a videoconference was set up that will allow them to see and hear one another. Thelma, with her sister Theresa, and Louie got a chance to talk face-to-face bridging the distance between them.

Susana and Louie were winners in SingTel’s promo for OFWs. Together with Globe, these provided a means for the two Filipinos to communicate with their loved ones back home for free as an added prize.

Globe bridges the distance between families and loved ones abroad through its easy, relevant and affordable international calling, texting, reloading and GCASH services. Through strong partnerships with top telecom companies worldwide like SingTel, Globe is also able to help the growing number of Overseas Filipinos stay in touch with their relatives back home.

For more information on Globe’s services abroad, visit www.globekababayan.com.ph

-- GMANews.TV

4 RP seamen in Japan ship collision repatriated Tuesday

MANILA, Philippines - Four of the five Filipino seamen rescued from a three-ship collision on March 5 off Akashi Strait in Kobe, Japan are due to arrive in Manila on Tuesday afternoon.

Philillpine Consul General in Osaka Ma. Lourdes Ramiro-Lopez reported to the Department of Foreign Affairs on Monday that the fifth seafarer, 2nd deck officer Jorico E. Mariano, will remain in Japan to complete providing information to authorities investigating the collision of their cargo vessel, MV Gold Leader with two other ships.

Those who will be arriving via Philippine Airlines flight PR 407 at around 1:30 p.m. on Tuesday are Messman Wilson M. Cura , chief officer Cristavio M Villamor Jr, 2nd engineer Wolfrando Q Israel Jr and bosun Yolando R Generales.

Two of the nine-Filipino crew of MV Gold Leader -- Ricardo Jaynario Salvador, Jr. and Rodryan Adio Bracamonte -- are still missing.

The accident caused the death of Able Seaman Alexander Mercader, 33, of Tagbilaran City, Bohol, and Captain Tomasniri D. Demandaco Jr., 51, of Toledo City, Cebu. Their remains were repatriated to Manila last Thursday and flown immediately to Cebu and Bohol.

Gold Leader sank after the collision with a Japan-registered vessel and a tanker about 2.5 kilometers (1.5 miles) southeast of the Akashi bridge in the Akashi Strait. Gold Leader was carrying steel products, the Japanese coast guard said. - GMANews.TV
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