Thursday, May 29, 2008

Many OFWs ignore reports of harsh working conditions abroad

MANILA, Philippines - One out of every two overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) last year ignored reports of harsh working conditions abroad but still chose to work in the Middle East.

According to a report released by the National Statistics office (NSO) at the weekend, almost half or 46.8% of overseas workers in April-September 2007 were hired in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, United Arab Emirates, Lebanon and other Middle East countries.

This is only 1% higher than the 45.8% of OFWs that worked in the Middle East during the same period the previous year.

Saudi Arabia was reported to still host the most number of Filipino workers, accounting for 19.8%.

In an interview with BusinessWorld, Jeremiah M. Opiniano of The OFW Journalism Consortium, a nongovernment organization that advocates overseas workers welfare, Wednesday said that people still flock to the Middle East to seek greener pasture. - BusinessWorld

RP optimistic on Vecina sentence commutation

MANILA, Philippines - Vice President Noli de Castro on Thursday expressed optimism that Filipino worker May Vecina's death sentence may be commuted following an appeal from the Spanish government.

In a radio interview, De Castro said based on communication with Spanish officials, the Emir of Kuwait has agreed to commute Vecina's sentence. He, however, noted that the Philippine government has not received confirmation on the sentence commutation from the Kuwaiti government.

De Castro said the development stemmed from an informal request made by the King of Spain during a recent visit to Kuwait.

"Na-involve ang Spain sa pakikipagusap din. Pumunta ang King of Spain sa Kuwait para makiramay. Nabanggit niya... at inaprubahan ng Emir (Spain got involved in the efforts to save Vecina. The King of Spain went to Kuwait to condole with the emir over the death of former Kuwaiti Emir Sheikh Abdullah al-Sabah. He mentioned the matter to Kuwaiti Emir Sabah IV Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al Sabah, who approved the request)," De Castro said in an interview on dzXL radio.

Citing information he obtained from Foreign Affairs Sec. Alberto Romulo, De Castro said Vecina's sentence may be commuted, though there is no official announcement yet.

He said Romulo received a call on the matter from the Spanish Foreign Minister Wednesday night.

"Ang report baka ma-commute uli. Wala pang confirmation (The report is that the sentence will likely be commuted, but there is no official confirmation yet)," De Castro said.

De Castro noted that an official announcement may not be due until February next year, when Kuwait marks its national day.

With this development, De Castro appealed for prayers for Vecina and her family. "I-follow up natin ng dasal (Let's just follow this up with our prayers)," he said.

Earlier this month, De Castro made a pitch for Vecina when he visited Kuwait to relay the Philippines' condolences for the death of its former emir.

The Kuwaiti Supreme Court had upheld Vecina's death penalty for killing her employer's youngest son in January 2007.

During his visit, De Castro said, he was "granted 10 precious minutes with the highest Kuwaiti official regarding relevant issues that included the fate of Vecina." - GMANews.TV

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Filipino receptionist beats up hospital visitor

MANILA, Philippines - A Filipino receptionist who got fed up with an irate visitor at a private hospital in Saudi Arabia displayed her karate skills, online news site Arab News reported Sunday.

The report cited sketchy details indicating the receptionist and the visitor had a confrontation after the Filipino could no longer stand the visitor's complaining.

Police broke up the "fight" and brought the two to the local police station, where the two "made amends."

The report did not name the Filipino involved in the incident. - GMANews.TV

Pinoys among 50 foreign workers nabbed in Saudi

MANILA, Philippines - Filipinos were among some 50 foreigners rounded up in late-night operations conducted Tuesday by officials of the passport department in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.

Online news site Arab News reported Wednesday that the raids were conducted against violators of residence and labor regulations in two working class neighborhoods in Jeddah.

Immigration officials carried out the operations in the Nuzlah and Faisaliah districts after midnight as most violators worked at night for fear of detection during daytime.

The report said those arrested included those who forged iqamas (residence permits), health cards and other official documents.

It said officials arrested Filipino, Syrian and Chadian nationals who were living in the Kingdom legally but were employing or sheltering illegal residents.

Housemaids that had run away from their sponsors were among those arrested, the report added.

Jeddah officials raided illegally run car workshops, electronic repair shops, CD copying shops, beauty salons and tailoring houses. Ethiopian women peddlers of medicated oils and incenses were also arrested, the report said.

Also arrested were illegally-staying laborers hiding in some old buildings, some of whom were found hiding under beds and inside shelves.

Some women were seen pleading for mercy from the officials saying that they were not committing a crime but earning the money to feed their children back home, the report said. - GMANews.TV

OFW raped, videotaped in Saudi Arabia - senator

MANILA, Philippines - A Filipina worker in Saudi Arabia was held hostage, raped and videotaped by her employer and his friends, a Philippine legislator revealed Tuesday.

In a statement from Sen. Loren Legarda’s office, the Filipina woman reportedly managed to give her husband a call to inform him of the incident.

According to the information given to Legarda, the Filipina was raped by her employer and four of his friends. One even videotaped the act.

Legarda’s office refused to name the Filipina but said the victim was an Ifugao from the Quirino province.

The Filipina's relatives asked assistance from the Philippine Ambassador to Saudi Arabia Antonio Villamor in a letter dated May 21, but Legarda said that the ambassador has yet to give a reply.

"The OFW is virtually living like prisoner in her employer's house in Qatif in Saudi Arabia's Eastern Province, quoting a report from militant workers group Migrante International," read the statement sent to GMANews.TV.

Another Filipina, 43-year-old Fatima Maulana, was earlier reported to have been raped and killed in Kuwait earlier this month.

A domestic helper who has worked in Kuwait since 2002, Maulana was murdered last May 9 after a police report indicated that she failed to return to her employer’s house after taking a day off on May 6. Her decomposing body was found ten days later.

According to Medion, a Kuwaiti national named Mohammed Yassin Al-Mutairi, believed to be involved in Maulana’s case, was arrested.

In a resolution, Legarda urged the Senate Committee on labor, employment to conduct a full probe of both cases.

"Despite being unsung heroes, our OFWs have, ironically, not received the due protection they need from the government to secure their safety and welfare in countries where they work," she said in the resolution. -Mark Joseph Ubalde, GMANews.TV

Pinoys among 50 foreign workers nabbed in Saudi

MANILA, Philippines - Filipinos were among some 50 foreigners rounded up in late-night operations conducted Tuesday by officials of the passport department in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.

Online news site Arab News reported Wednesday that the raids were conducted against violators of residence and labor regulations in two working class neighborhoods in Jeddah.

Immigration officials carried out the operations in the Nuzlah and Faisaliah districts after midnight as most violators worked at night for fear of detection during daytime.

The report said those arrested included those who forged iqamas (residence permits), health cards and other official documents.

It said officials arrested Filipino, Syrian and Chadian nationals who were living in the Kingdom legally but were employing or sheltering illegal residents.

Housemaids that had run away from their sponsors were among those arrested, the report added.

Jeddah officials raided illegally run car workshops, electronic repair shops, CD copying shops, beauty salons and tailoring houses. Ethiopian women peddlers of medicated oils and incenses were also arrested, the report said.

Also arrested were illegally-staying laborers hiding in some old buildings, some of whom were found hiding under beds and inside shelves.

Some women were seen pleading for mercy from the officials saying that they were not committing a crime but earning the money to feed their children back home, the report said. - GMANews.TV

Comelec reminds OFWs in UAE to file applications for voter registration

MANILA, Philippines - This early, the Commission on Elections (Comelec) reminded Filipinos in Dubai to file their applications for registration as voters and get their certification as overseas absentee voters.

Online news site Khaleej Times reported Wednesday that the Comelec issued the reminder through the Philippine Consulate General in Dubai.

It said Filipino workers can get file their applications for registration and get their certification as overseas absentee voters From Dec. 1 this year to Aug. 31 next year.

Qualified to register as overseas absentee voters are Filipinos residing in the United Arab Emirates, who are not disqualified by law and are at least 18 years of age at the time of the Philippine national elections on May 10, 2010.

The Comelec said any question can be directed to the nearest Philippine diplomatic post in the emirates or may be referred to the websites of the Department of Foreign Affairs and the Commission on Elections. - GMANews.TV

4,770 Filipinos jailed in 63 countries - Villar

MANILA, Philippines - From the mountains in the Andes chain to the harsh deserts of Sudan, Filipinos are everywhere, some even languishing in jail.

Senate President Manny Villar revealed on Wednesday that there are 4,770 jailed Filipinos in 63 countries as of June 2007.

The Senate leader said the figure was included in a 465-page report to Congress submitted by the Department of Foreign Affairs.

Of the said figure, Villar said 954 were women.

"But the number of women detainees could be higher as some embassies and consulates did not indicate the gender of Filipino nationals in prisons in their area of jurisdiction," Villar said.

The report furnished by the Department of Foreign Affairs estimated that of the 7,945,751 overseas Filipinos as of June 2007, some 444,000 were undocumented.

Villar renewed his call to increase in the assistance funds to overseas Filipinos in distress.

He already filed a bill appropriating P1 billion Assistance to Nationals (ATN) fund that will be used for legal assistance, repatriation, livelihood programs and health assistance to overseas Filipino workers (OFWs).

"From high up in Andes, where seven Filipinas were in jail in Peru for drug-running, to balmy Micronesia, which had six Pinoys behind bars; to as north as Denmark and to the tip of South Africa, which had one Filipino each in their penal systems; from cosmopolitan Milan to the deserts of Sudan, in whatever altitude, time zone or climate, there is a Filipino in a jail there," the senator said.

The Philippine embassy in Kuala Lumpur reported that the most number of Filipino detainees is found in Malaysia with 1,600.

In Tokyo, the plight of 604 OFWs in jail or facing cases in various courts were monitored but did not state how many of them were women. Kuwait merely reported 128 detainees without giving a breakdown of their gender.

"In fact, the number of Filipinos in foreign jails could be bigger than the 4,770 reported in the latest semi-annual census, as some posts were vague in their reports, like the one from Riyadh which merely stated that it conducted 120 jail visitations in the first six months of last year," Villar said.

Next to Malaysia, Japan has 734 jailed Filipinos (130 of whom are in the Osaka area); Qatar, 554; US, 406; Abu Dhabi, 198; Saudi Arabia (Jeddah only) 161; and Hong Kong, 127.

By area, the North and South America had 416 detainees; Asia Pacific, 2,782; Europe, 126; and Middle East and Africa, 1446.

Villar said while most were in jail for violating immigration laws, the rest were charged with or sentenced "to most of the crimes catalogued in the penal code."

"In India, a ship captain was caught smuggling oil; in Thailand, for faking credit cards; in China, a Filipina was caught while working as a drug mule. There is one country in which almost all of the Filipinas were in jail for alleged adultery. And believe it or not, one Pinay was charged for sending out a malicious text message," he said.

The senator added that the undocumented OFWs are candidates for legal problems and "their tribe will grow as more Filipino flee poverty at home and the possibility of jail will not deter them."

Villar said a great deal of the cases stemmed from cultural reasons.

"There is also reason to believe that many cases involving women OFWs were in the nature of harassment suits or reprisal for cases of employer abuse that these women filed, as a legal tactic to pressure them into dropping the cases," Villar said. - Fidel Jimenez, GMANews.TV

(Update) DFA to confirm if Pinoys were in hijacked ship in Somalia

MANILA, Philippines - The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) on Tuesday afternoon said it is still verifying reports that a Filipino crew were on board a hijacked freighter off the coast of Somalia.

DFA spokesperson Claro Cristobal told GMANews.TV in a telephone interview that they are still confirming the presence of the Filipinos in the ship.

The Associated Press reported that pirates hijacked a Dutch-owned freighter crewed by four Russians and five Filipinos.

Spokesman Lars Walder of Reider Shipping BV said that his company has contact with the hijackers and "as far as we know none of the crew has been injured or worse."

The ship, the MV Amiya Scan, sails under a Panamanian flag. It departed Kenya on May 19 on its way to Romania and was reported hijacked Monday night.

Its cargo was a decommissioned oil platform.

Walder said his company, based in the far northern town of Winschoten, Netherlands, would not comment on the pirates' demands out of concern for the safety of the crew. - with a report from AP, Mark Joseph Ubalde, GMANews.TV

Friday, May 23, 2008

HRW slams Saudi ruling over abused Indonesian maid

DUBAI (AFP) -- A rights group has voiced outrage at a Saudi court for failing to punish the employers of an Indonesian housemaid who abused her so much she had to have her toes and fingers amputated.
New York-based Human Rights Watch called for an appeals court to "impose stiff penalties on the employers, including imprisonment, and payment of significant financial compensation" to the woman, Nour Miyati.
HRW said on Wednesday that Miyati, who was awarded just 670 dollars in compensation by a Riyadh court, told the organisation her "employers beat her daily and that she had to work long hours without rest or pay.
"They withheld her passport, knocked out a tooth and caused damage to one of her eyes. The abuse escalated after she tried to escape; her employers locked her in the workplace and denied her adequate food."
HRW said Miyati was eventually treated at a Riyadh hospital in March 2005 for "gangrene, malnourishment and other injuries" and that delays in treatment resulted in her losing her toes and fingers.
Initially, all charges against Miyati's male employer were dropped, HRW said, while the female employer confessed to the abuse and was sentenced to 35 lashes.
However, it said that on Monday a Riyadh judge handed down a second verdict, "ignoring compelling physical evidence and finding the female employer not guilty of abuse."
"This outrageous ruling sends a dangerous message to Saudi employers that they can beat domestic workers with impunity, and that victims have little hope of justice," said Nisha Varia, a senior researcher at HRW.
"Instead of instilling confidence among migrant workers that they can seek redress through the Saudi justice system, this decision shows that even a case involving egregious abuse, ample evidence, and intense public scrutiny has not been given fair treatment."
The rights group estimates that there are around 1.5 million domestic workers from Indonesia, Sri Lanka, the Philippines and other countries in the conservative Muslim kingdom. It says workers are routinely underpaid, overworked, confined to the workplace or subjected to verbal, physical and sexual abuse.
And those who complain often face countercharges, such as theft, adultery or fornication in cases of rape, or witchcraft.
In what it called a "perversion of justice," HRW said Miyati was convicted in 2005 of falsely accusing her employers and sentenced to 79 lashes. That ruling was overturned in 2006.
"Nour Miyati showed her faith in the system and courageously decided to continue with her case despite the long wait and counter-accusations," it said.
"The meagre compensation of 2,500 riyals is a slap in the face... showing that a foreign domestic worker's life and limb is not valued on the equal basis of a Saudi."

OFWs told to reveal UAE contract substitution

The maximum penalty for contract-substitution is the revocation of the agency’s business license for overseas recruitment (photo: Wikipedia) MANILA, Philippines - Filipino domestic workers in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) are warned not to cover up for any sponsor who may have committed contract substitution.

The Philippine Embassy in Abu Dhabi released this warning after discovering the modus operandi where sponsors have separate arrangements with Filipino domestic helpers through their Manila-based manpower agency.

According to a report from online news site Khaleej Times reported Wednesday that overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) are made to sign a labor contract with the government-approved $400 monthly salary but are secretly offered a lower salary.

Labor Attache Nasser Munder told the Khaleej Times that Filipino workers must immediately report such incidents to the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) to sanction the manpower agency involved.

The maximum penalty for contract-substitution is the revocation of the agency’s business license for overseas recruitment.

UAE’s Ministry of Labour (MoL) earlier warned OFWs that job contracts signed outside the emirate would not be recognized by the government there.

The Ministry also warned foreign workers that companies in the UAE are not allowed to have their employers work overtime for more than two hours a day.

Any excess period for which the employee works shall be treated as overtime and would mean that the worker would be entitled to the wage stipulated for his/her normal working hours, plus an additional 25 percent of his/her wage.

Based on the Philippine Overseas Employment Agency's data, there are more than 81,000 Filipinos working in the UAE in 2005. - Mark Joseph Ubalde, GMANews.tv

Japanese man to face 30 years for Pinay's death

MANILA, Philippines - The Japanese man suspected of killing a Filipina worker and chopping her body parts in Japan may face up to 30 years in prison for the crime of murder.

Hiroshi Nozaki, 48, has been formally charged by Japanese prosecutors on Wednesday for the death of Honiefaith Ratilla Kamiosawa, 22, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said.

In a text message to GMANews.TV on Thursday, DFA spokesperson Claro Cristobal said Nozaki may get a maximum penalty of 30 years in prison if convicted for the crime.

On April 6, Nozaki was arrested by Japanese police at the Kawaguchi, Saitama Prefecture when he was about to commit suicide by slashing his wrists.

According to reports, Nozaki was a roommate of Kamiosawa, who worked as a nightclub hostess in Roppongi, a Japanese district known for its nightclubs and bars. They shared an apartment with the victim’s two cousins.

Japanese police are trying to determine whether Nozaki killed Kamiosawa over rent disputes.

Nozaki and Kamiosawa were acquainted sometime last year, when the Japanese visited the Filipina in a nightclub in Tokyo's Taito-ku district.

When Kamiosawa moved to another nightclub in Roppongi last December, she agreed to live with Nozaki by sharing the rent for the apartment.

The victim, her two cousins and Nozaki agreed to equally share more than 200,000 yen in monthly rent. However, Nozaki recently began to refuse to contribute his share, triggering a dispute between him and Kamiosawa, according to the sources.

Online site Japan Probe said that prior to her disappearance, witnesses overheard Nozaki saying he would kill Kamiosawa after an argument ensued between them.

Nozaki went missing after one of the cousins returned home and encountered him carrying a body part, the police said. The woman then reported the incident to the police.

In an apparent attempt to hide the crime, the Japanese suspect, Hiroshi Nozaki, allegedly washed Kamiosawa’s body parts in a laundry machine before stashing it in a suitcase.

Television network Asahi reported that the 48-year-old suspect “elaborately" washed the body parts of the 22-year-old Filipina to make it difficult to trace the victim’s cause of death.

The report also claimed that blood was found in Kamiosawa’s mutilated body parts while blood was also detected in the washing machine.

Kamiosawa's chopped head was finally discovered on April 11 in a canal near the victim’s apartment.

Earlier reports said that Nozaki was arrested in 2000 and later sentenced to three years and six months for mutilating and abandoning the body of another Filipina.

Quoting the Sports Nippon tabloid, wire reports said that Nozaki killed the first Filipina in 1999. He then burned and flushed the body parts of the 27-year-old Filipina victim in a toilet.

Police believed Kamiosawa could have been killed in the 26th- floor unit of the high-rise condominium in the Odaiba waterfront district between 5:30 pm and 8:45 pm on April 3.

The Tokyo District Court charged Nozaki for murder on Wednesday with the first court hearing expected in July.

"First court hearing on the case is expected within two months and trial is to take at least a year," Cristobal said. - Mark Joseph Ubalde, GMANews.TV

US Republican lawmakers give overwhelming support to Filvets' bill

US Rep. Lynn Woolsey (3rd L) of the RP-US Friendship Caucus joins San Francisco Consul and WWII veterans after expressing her support for the Filipino veterans bill in the US Congress File photo: GMANews.TVMANILA, Philippines - The required number of American legislators to pass the much awaited Filipino Veterans Equity Act in the US Congress has been achieved, according to Philippine House Speaker Prospero Nograles.

In a text message on Thursday, Nograles said that he was informed by a Philippine official based in the US that there are 74 Republican legislators supporting the bill.

"As of this PM (the) total count of Republican supporters of the bill has reached 74 which is way beyond 60 required number," Nograles citing the information given to him.

According to Nograles, US Rep. Bob Filner (D-San Diego, CA), chair of the US House Veterans Affairs Committee, will convince Speaker Nancy Pelosi to calendar the bill for plenary approval.

"Cong Filner is expected to convince Speaker Pelosi to bring already to the floor the bill for voting. At the earliest it could be tomorrow already," Nograles added.

Nograles said he is confident that US legislators will approve the bill that have been long waited by Filipino veterans who fought side by side with US soldiers during the war.

S. 1316 provides for a flat rate of $3,600 annual non-service disability pension for single Filipino veterans living in the Philippines; $4,500 annually for married veterans; and $2,400 annually for surviving spouses.

While H.R. 760 permits non-U.S. citizen Filipino veterans of World War II residing outside of the United States to be eligible for a pension and death pension paid at a flat rate annually at $8,400 if married, $6,000 if not married and $3,600 for low-income widow.

Both versions will restore full veterans’ status to Filipino veterans of World War II which had been taken away under the Rescission Acts of 1946. This ends a long-standing injustice and fulfills the U.S.’s promises to those who served during World War II.

The staff of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) suggested to the supporters of the Filipino Veterans Equity Act of 2007, that the House can invoke "suspension of rules" if they can get at least 60 Republican Congressmen to support the bill during a vote on the House floor.

Eric Lachica, executive director of the Arlington, Virginia-based American Coalition for Filipino Veterans (ACFV), said the said number of Republican votes are needed to ""reach the crucial number of 290 or 2/3 votes of the 435 [members of Congress] to win the floor vote."

Under the 'suspension of rules,' the bill is 'debatable for 40 minutes, one half of the time in favor of the proposition and one-half in opposition.'

The bill is passed 'only by affirmative vote of two-thirds of the Members voting, a quorum being present, this procedure is usually used for expedited consideration of relatively noncontroversial public measures.' -Fidel Jimenez, GMANews.TV

Pinoy hospital resident comes home from Jeddah

Arnold Calbayar (right) talks to Robert Constantino from the Philippine National Bank in Jeddah (Ronaldo Concha)MANILA, Philippines - When Arnold Espiritu Calbayar underwent an operation in 2006 to extricate the tumor inside his head, he became paralyzed from the waist down.

For more than a year, the Filipino worker remained bed-ridden inside a Jeddah hospital, missing his loved ones in the town of Castillejos in Zambales.

While some employers may opt to abandon their employees to avoid shouldering the medical expenses, Calbayar's boss stuck with him in his time of need.

Instead of terminating Calbayar’s contract, Al Ahlia Restaurant Co provided the Filipino a high-tech wheelchair worth 10,000 Riyals and walking tools worth 3,000 Riyals.

On top of that, the company shouldered Calbayar’s hospital bills that went up for 250,000 Riyals.

"Mr. Arnold Calbayar is a dear employee to us," Asst. Human Resource Manager Khaled Al- Serwy said, "Although he only works for us for one-and-a-half year, he showed an excellent performance in his work.

"People like him deserve to be treated well. If ever he will be able to come back to us later after his medication in the Philippines, he is very much welcome to come back to us. Filipinos are good in Service and Hospitality which is excellent for our customer," he added.

Now more than a year after the operation, the wheel-chair-bound Filipino has finally taken the flight back home on Wednesday.

Calbayar was given SR 42,349 as a monetary benefit from the Philippine National Bank and the Al Ahlia Restaurant Co, where he worked since 2005.

"I’m very thankful that the company never left me despite my condition," Calbayar told GMANews.TV in Filipino.

Although he was about to return home, Calbayar said the company kept on giving his monthly salary until December 2007.

"God will take care of their goodness," a tearful Calbayar said.

In 2006, Calbayar went to see a doctor after complaining about a persistent headache. He was told to undergo an operation after a tumor was found in his head.

Unfortunately, Calbayar became paralyzed from the waist-down after the operation.

For their generosity, Calbayar extended his gratitude to the Philippine Consulate especially to Consul General Ezzedin Tago, Mrs Victoria Salian, Mrs Elsa Masa, Labor Attache Adam Musa and OWWA officer Romeo Pablo, who have assisted him for more than a year in the hospital.

Calbayar is also grateful to his employers, Adel Mounib and Al- Serwy for helping him come home. - Ronaldo Concha, GMANews.TV

DFA: Legal row won't stop machine-readable passports program

MANILA, Philippines - An ongoing legal row will not stop the government from implementing its program to make and issue machine-readable passports, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said Thursday.

In a statement on its website, the DFA reaffirmed the validity, security and integrity of the machine-readable passports (MRP) now being issued to Filipino nationals.

"All of the DFA's actions with respect to the MRP and the e-Passport project are supported by and consistent with pertinent laws, the facts on record, and by official Opinions of the Department of Justice, the Department of Finance and the Department of Trade and Industry," it said.

The DFA noted former project company BCA Corp. had questioned the termination of its build-operate-transfer agreement on the machine-readable passports before a Pasig court.

But the case was elevated to the Supreme Court after the Pasig court issued an injunction. The high court restrained BCA and the trial court from conducting further proceedings in the case.

"The right to implement the MRP Project which BCA claims is therefore sub judice," the DFA said.

In the meantime, the department is set to address the immediate need of Filipinos everywhere for secure travel documents that comply with international standards. The DFA began issuing Machine Readable Passports in 2007 and worked towards the implementation of the e-Passport project with the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas.

"Even with the significant enhancement of security features in the Machine Readable Passports issued by the DFA, there has been no price increase for the public from the previous manually-scripted green passports. The regular price for a Machine Readable Passport remains P500, the same as the old green passport," it noted.

The DFA also said that since it began issuing machine-readable passports and worked towards the implementation of the e-Passport project, more than a million Filipinos have received their new passports.

It said these Filipinos are no longer segregated at airports or otherwise discriminated against because of inferior travel documents.

"As a result of the DFA's Machine Readable Passports, our kababayans now have greater travel security, confidence and convenience all over the world," it said.

Besides, it said the passports are "produced in full accord with the Government Procurement Reform Act and other relevant statutes and regulations, and are more secure, globally accepted and compliant with standards of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO)." -GMANews.TV

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Dole: Canada-bound Pinoy caregivers should read fine print in contract

MANILA, Philippines - Labor officials on Tuesday cautioned Canada-bound Filipino caregivers to read the fine print in their contracts first and make sure their employers meet the requirements.

In a statement, labor secretary Marianito Roque said the overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) should ensure the prospective employers comply particularly with the requirement to shoulder their medical coverage and two-way transportation.

Roque said employers and agencies wanting to hire Filipino caregivers are also prohibited from collecting recruitment fees.

Other requirements include that the caregiver could be terminated only for just cause, and that in case of work-related death, the employer is also responsible for the repatriation of remains of the worker.

Roque cited reports from Filipino Labor Attache in Toronto Frank Luna who noted agencies targeting Filipino caregivers already abroad fleeced their victims by as much as $7,000 in placement fees.

These are in addition to transport and other processing costs for care giving jobs in Canada, he said.

The Labor secretary said the agencies prefer offshore workers to avoid strict processing rules in Manila, but added only fake employers and unscrupulous agencies are scared of the rules.

Roque also noted that Luna received queries from employers and agencies in Canada inquiring on conditions in the employment of Filipino caregivers.

He said the reform package on the employment and deployment of Filipino household service workers (HSW) promulgated by the DOLE in late 2006 provided for the conditions to be complied with by foreign employers wanting to hire Filipino caregivers.

He said the policy reforms reflect the requirements of Service Canada from employers contracting for the services of foreign temporary workers under the expanded labor market opinion (ELMO) in two Canadian provinces of British Columbia and Alberta.

Under the ELMO program, Canadian employers shall cover all recruitment costs including transportation of foreign caregivers to and from Canada.

Employers are also being required to pay for medical coverage until the caregiver is eligible for provincial health insurance coverage.

Roque said these requirements should warn OFWs and workers against individuals and agencies offering them caregiving jobs in Canada but without necessarily complying with the requirements.

He issued the warning in particular to OFWs who are outside of the Philippines seeking caregiving jobs in Canada.

Also, he said that in view of the acute shortage in healthcare services in Canada, only bonafide employers in this country can readily accept Philippine conditions on the employment and deployment of Filipino caregivers. -GMANews.TV

Villas housing more than one family illegal in Dubai - report

The Dubai Municipality ordered the crackdown on villas housing more than one family to prevent unhygienic practices and traffic bottlenecks (photo: Wikipedia) MANILA, Philippines - Dubai authorities have launched a crackdown on villas that offer shelter to more than one family, online news site Khaleej times reported Tuesday.

Families of expatriate workers, including Filipinos, often resort to living with other families inside a house to cut on the cost of lodging in the oil-rich state.

The Dubai Municipality’s Building Inspection Department has warned residents of villas with more than one family that their water and electricity supply would be cut off immediately.

According to the report, the practice has become a lucrative business for many landlords in Dubai as well as original tenants who decided to partition the villas into one-bedroom units and open it up for rent.

The Municipality had earlier issued a ban on bachelors and single women sharing the same villas.

Omar Mohammed Abdul Rahman, Head of the Building Inspection Section said the move was made to address the health, safety and hygiene problems caused by cramped living quarters.

Rahman added that with several families living under a single house, the area becomes cramped with cars which would result to “major traffic disturbances." -GMANews.TV

31 of 64 overstayers in US-territory are Filipinos

Leaders of Filipino groups on Saipan listen to CNMI officials explain in an open forum the impact on foreign workers of the new CNMI labor reform law. File photo: Haidee V. EugenioSAN ANTONIO, Saipan – Almost half or 31 of the 64 listed ‘overstayers’ in the US Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) are Filipinos, based on a list published by the CNMI Department of Labor on Monday.

The CNMI is currently home to some 19,000 documented foreign workers mostly Filipinos, and the rest are from other Asian countries that include China and Bangladesh.

CNMI Labor said the 64 foreign nationals on the list “have overstayed the permission granted to them upon their entry into the CNMI," according to records maintained by the government with respect to permits expiring or administrative actions taken during the first quarter of 2008.

“Persons in an overstayer status are required to depart the Commonwealth immediately," CNMI Labor said.

But Human Dignity Movement president Jerry Custodio, from Tacloban, said they are trying to verify the accuracy of the list because one Filipino worker – as of Tuesday – claimed a legal status to remain in the CNMI.

Foreign workers whose names could have been erroneously put on the list of illegal foreigners are asked to report to CNMI Labor before May 30, 2008 for verification.

Florida-based human rights advocate Wendy Doromal, who has been a strong supporter of foreign workers in the CNMI, asked whether CNMI Labor located the last employers of record of these so-called overstayers.

“I am assuming when the DOL states, ‘Persons in an overstayer status are required to depart the Commonwealth immediately’ that the department has located the last employer of record to purchase the ticket for each ‘overstayer’. I have not seen any word on who will be repatriating these alleged ‘overstayers’," she said.

CNMI Labor said the creation of an “overstayers" list is part of the new procedures to easily identify overstaying alien workers in the CNMI.

Each quarter, a Labor staff member who has been specially trained in overstayer work will examine the records with respect to all permits that expired during the calendar year, and put the names of overstayers on the list.

The list will be published twice, once in each of two successive weeks, to give persons on the list an opportunity to appear at Labor and correct if any error has been made.

Last year, CNMI Labor published a list of “overstayers," but a large percentage of them were subsequently found “legal" workers after corrections in their records were made. At the time, Filipinos and other foreign workers came forward to show documentation proving that they have legal status to remain in the CNMI.

The US territory of the CNMI is a 14-island chain that is currently home to about 10,000 documented Filipino workers. The CNMI’s capital of Saipan is about three hours away from Manila. -GMANews.TV

Aussie embassy cannot assure quick visa application after June 1

MANILA, Philippines - After June 1, the Australian government can no longer guarantee swift decisions for visa applications for the upcoming World Youth Day this July.

In a statement on its website, the Australian Embassy reminded delegates to the World Youth Day to apply for a visa, a requirement for entering Australia.

"The Australian Government cannot guarantee applications lodged after 1 June 2008 will be decided in time for applicants to travel to Australia," it said.

World Youth Day 2008 will be held July 15 to 20 in Sydney, Australia. It is said to be the largest international youth event this year.

It will also mark the first visit of Pope Benedict XVI to Australia, with various events planned for visiting pilgrims.

"All international WYD participants will need a visa to enter Australia for the event," Australia said.

The Australian government earlier agreed that visas for WYD pilgrims will be free of government charges, and will allow a standard stay of three months with multiple entry to Australia.

WYD visa will be either an Electronic Travel Authority (ETA) or Tourist visa depending on the pilgrim's passport.

"In order to be eligible for a visa free of Australian Government charges you will need to be registered for WYD and have your registration supported by your local bishop. The WYD individual registration process will provide you with a comprehensive information pack, including visa application information for entry to Australia," it told pilgrims.

But Australia also reminded pilgrims that to be eligible for a visa free of Australian government charges, there are requirements to be met, including:

* Evidence that you have registered for WYD; and
* A letter of endorsement from your local bishop.

It also said the granting of a visa for WYD is not automatic, and that each application will be assessed on its own merits against the criteria for grant. Registered pilgrims who do not meet these criteria will not be granted a visa.

"Pilgrims who are not registered with WYD are not eligible for a visa free of Australian Government charges but are welcome to apply for a visa through normal processes," it added.

Although there is no visa application fee for a visa application to attend World Youth Day, a service fee will be charged by the Australian Visa Application Centre, it added.

It said additional charges apply for courier services. Payment by credit cards is not accepted.

"If you wish to lodge an application in person at the Embassy you will need to make an appointment through the PIASI Call Center. Please note that due to the high demand for appointments it may be a few weeks before an appointment can be scheduled. You can lodge your application at the VIA Center, however, at any time during business hours without an appointment, it said. -GMANews.TV

Jinggoy seeks measures vs trafficking of Pinoys in Singapore

MANILA, Philippines - Senate President Pro Tempore Jose "Jinggoy" Ejercito Estrada on Wednesday urged the government to intensify its campaign against illegal recruiters involved in trafficking of Filipino women particularly those bound for Singapore.

This, after Estrada received a report from the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) indicating an increase of human trafficking to Singapore from 125 cases in 2006 to 212 cases in 2007.

In a statement, Estrada, who chairs the Senate labor committee, lamented that the worsening poverty in the country has forced unemployed workers to seek employment abroad and become victims of human trafficking syndicates.

"Poverty is worsening in the country and more unemployed workers are taking the risk to get work in other countries," Estrada said. "And international syndicates have been preying on desperate workers who are trying to get employment abroad."

Estrada, who is also concurrent chairman of the Joint Congressional Oversight Committee on Labor and Employment, said the Philippine Embassy in Singapore had recently reported that Filipino women victimized by human-trafficking gangs have increased by 70 percent last year compared to the 2006 figures.

Citing the DFA report, Estrada said there were only 59 cases of Filipino human trafficking in 2005.

It added that 57 or 27 percent of the 212 Filipino women victims of human trafficking admitted to have engaged in prostitution.

"Kapit na sa patalim ang karamihan sa ating mga kababayan na walang trabaho, kaya marami naman ang nabibiktima ng mga sindikato ng illegal recruiters (Our countrymen are becoming desperate that's why they fall victims to these syndicates)," Estrada said.

Estrada said the administration should immediately implement countermeasures to protect overseas Filipino workers from human trafficking syndicates and also create more jobs in the country.

"The government should generate more jobs in the country to stop workers from seeking employment abroad," he said.

Earlier, Philippine Ambassador to Singapore Belen Fule-Anota reminded Filipino workers bound for Singapore to "ensure that there is a contract duly verified by the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) before packing their bags."

"They should not allow themselves to be deceived by the sweet tongue and false promises made by sex and labor traffickers because once they reach Singapore, they become more vulnerable to intimidation, deception, and exploitation," Fule-Anota added. - Fidel Jimenez, GMANews.TV

Pinoy gays in LA: Same-sex marriage OK, but...

LANCE CARDOZO DWYER, Philippine News

The iconic rainbow or gay flag has been a symbol of tolerance and diversity especially for the LGBT community (photo: wikipedia)SAN FRANCISCO — For Elaine Kamlley, a 25-year-old queer Filipina, the same-sex marriage ruling in the US was exciting news, but was just one victory towards a greater goal of equality.

"As much as I feel we should have the right to marry I do believe the queer community has more important agendas to work towards," she said.

Kamlley cited violence towards LGBT (lesbian-gay-bisexual-transgender) community and a high suicide rate for LGBT youth as some of the issues were deemed more pressing than same-sex marriage.

"I do feel like it’s going to help normalize queer relationships in terms of legitimizing us as parents and couples in general. But I don’t think it will happen for a long time. I still think it’ll be a controversial issue for 10-20 years but it’s a jumping off point," said Kamlley.

May 15, 2008 has gone down as a monumental day in American history, as the California Supreme Court voted 4-3 to allow same-sex couples in the state to marry.

The ramifications of this decision will be vast, but as San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom reminds us, "At the end of the day, this is about real lives."

As he took the podium, Newsom raised his arms in the air and said "What a day for San Francisco! What a day for California! What a day for the United States!"

A couple standing outside San Franciso City Hall held up a sign saying “Shelly and Ellen, Together 34 years, Married in SF."

They are one couple of the estimated thousands in California whose lives would be impacted by the Supreme Court decision. In an impromptu press conference held shortly after the ruling was announced, Newsom entered the City Hall Rotunda room to cheers of “Gavin! Gavin!" coming from hundreds of excited political supporters and San Francisco residents who gathered to hear what the mayor had to say about the groundbreaking legal change he had helped influence more than four years ago.

In the end, though the California Supreme Court has spoken, the people of California may get one more chance to make their voice heard on this issue in November.

Darel Ayap, 26, represents a group of people slightly more excited about the ruling than Kamlley, though the impact for her is different as a Filipina transgender woman.

Prior to the ruling, transgender women who wanted to get married to a male had to have gender reassignment surgery and change their sex on their birth certificate. As what is considered in the community as “non-op" or “pre-op," meaning she has not had gender reassignment surgery, Ayap can now get married under California law even without ever changing her gender on her birth certificate.

"Getting the operation is not an option for me, and since my partner is male we now have an option of getting married, it’s exciting," said Ayap.

As people like Kamlley and Ayap were celebrating, the opposition wasted no time in forming their response. Various organizations across the state, including many conservative Christian churches, hit the streets and gathered a reported one million signatures supporting a proposition to be placed on the November election that would amend the state constitution to ban gay marriage.

If the majority of voters support the proposition, the California Supreme Court decision would be nullified.

The possibility of having a right taken away would not be an unfamiliar disappointment to many gay couples in San Francisco. In February of 2004, Newsom had authorized San Francisco City Hall to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, only to have the nearly 4000 licenses issued nullified six months later by the California Supreme Court.

Donovan Ramos, 22, hopes that the conservative right will rethink its efforts, and is optimistic about what will happen in November.

"Now that we have the State Supreme Court supporting gay marriages, it will be an easier fight when voting comes around in November because it is an issue worth fighting for,". he said.
-GMANews.TV

(Update) Only 600 Pinoys get Australian visas for World Youth Day

MANILA, Philippines - With only one week to go before the May 30th deadline, only 600Catholic youths will get their Australian visas to go to Sydney for the World Youth Day (WYD) this July.

The Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) said in a statement Wednesday that this may lead to a relatively low turnout.

It said the granted visas already include those granted to 56 delegates representing the Episcopal Commission on Youth (ECY) of the CBCP.

"The statistics provided by the Embassy is considerably low, considering that the deadline is fast approaching," said Fr. Conegundo Garganta, executive secretary of the CBCP-Episcopal Commission for the Youth.

While visa application for WYD pilgrims is free of charge, the low figure was attributed primarily to the financial requirement the entire WYD registration entails.

Garganta said an individual pilgrim vying to fly to Sydney, Australia this July to be part of the 23rd WYD needs at least US $1,800 to cover his expenses during the event.

He said the estimate would not even cover the pilgrim's allowance for contingencies.

In this estimate, Garganta said at least US $1,400 will be spent for the air fare alone while at least US $369 will cover the registration fee, accommodation, meals, transportation and taxes.

"It has always been a problem for WYD pilgrim applicants complying with the financial requirements of the processing. Financial matters are undoubtedly a major concern for them to fulfill even before applying for their visas," he said.

But he said the Australian Embassy will surely receive and grant additional visa applications as the deadline nears.

For its part, the Embassy had just announced that it cannot guarantee visa applications made after May 31. -GMANews.TV

2 Pinoys face UAE court for woman's death in botched liposuction

MANILA, Philippines - Two Filipino health workers in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) are facing trial for their participation in an unsuccessful liposuction which caused the death of an Emirati woman.

Online news site Gulf News identified Wednesday the identity of the Filipino workers only with the initials of their names.

"R.M.", 38-year-old Filipino healthcare technician, and 33-year-old Filipina nurse, "N.C." were both charged with unlawfully practicing medicine, said the report.

In an interview with Gulf News, Chief Prosecutor Mohammad Ali Saeed Khalaf said that the 27-year-old Emirati woman was operated on by "unskilled and unspecialized people."

According to Khalaf, shortly after the surgery begun, the anesthesia doctor left the hospital for "a personal matter" followed shortly by the plastic surgeon.

The surgeon allegedly said the operation had "tired" him.

Dubai's Public Prosecution charged a 61-year-old British plastic surgeon and a 55-year-old Egyptian anesthesia doctor with professional misconduct, negligence and malpractice when they let less-skilled individuals to conduct the operation on the woman.

The report said that the doctors asked a Pakistani nurse to wake up the woman who was still under anesthesia. Medical reports cited this as the cause for the patient to stop breathing. -GMANews.TV

OFW group backs bishop's call for family ministry

MANILA, Philippines - A militant overseas Filipino worker’s (OFW) group on Thursday threw its support behind a Catholic bishop's call for family ministries catering to the needs of OFWs and their families.

Migrante-Middle East regional coordinator John Leonard Monterona said they welcome church-led social mechanisms for pastoral care and empowerment for OFWs.

"We are thankful to (Cotabato) Archbishop (Orlando) Quevedo, who in his capacity us our beloved archbishop and as a concerned citizen like us, has outlined his response to the issue of OFW family disintegration, realizing the social costs of forced migration. Overseas migration has led to the break-up of some families," Monterona said in a statement on the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines website.

Quevedo had recommended to the Vatican the setting up of a family ministry in every local church that "cares and serves," "forms and empowers."

The bishop sought to start a ministry that builds and works for solidarity among members of migrant families and with other families.

Monterona cited an unpublished research by Migrante-ME in 2006 showing that half of OFW families end up being broken due to long separation.

"So it is fair to say that forced, we say forced because most of our kababayans leave the country because of poverty and lack of livelihood opportunities, back there in the Philippines, migration is an evil force that breaks up Filipino families and devalues the importance of close family ties among members of an OFW family," said Monterona.

Monterona said he believes in the capacity of his fellow OFWs to be “ambassadors" of the Word of God, by working us missionaries among fellow OFW.

"OFWs could perfectly act as disciples of Jesus Christ and do so not only as preachers but also as liberators of oppressed migrant workers who usually are victims maltreatment, unfair labor practices, sexual harassment, nonpayment of salaries and all forms of exploitation," Monterona added.

He cited the case of seven OFWs who were deported from Kuwait because they joined a protest action against their employers at the Al-Jassim Trucking Company for giving them low hazard pay.

The seven OFWs (drivers driving trucks carrying different supplies for different camps and utilities in war-torn Iraq) had joined the picket of some 400 workers of different nationalities.

Instead of pay increase, the Kuwaiti police arrested and deported them.

Monterona also asked Quevedo to look deeply into the government's “labor export policy."

"Our bishops must squarely confront the Arroyo administration on its numerous 'sins' committed against the 'church' or oppressed believers including OFWs and their families," he said. - GMANews.TV

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Kuwaiti Emir to look into Vecina's case - Palace

MANILA, Philippines - President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo on Saturday reiterated the government's commitment to save overseas Filipino worker May Vecina, who faces the death penalty in Kuwait, following the recent visit there by vice president Manuel "Noli" de Castro Jr.

A Malacañang statement said Mrs Arroyo recalled her assurance last April 2 that her administration was already holding talks with the government of Kuwait to save Vecina, 28.

"As much as we can, we will extend legal and consular assistance to our OFWs who are in trouble," she said.

Earlier, the Kuwaiti Supreme Court upheld Vecina's death penalty for killing her employer's youngest son in January 2007.

De Castro had brought to Kuwait the Philippine government's condolences over the death of former Kuwaiti Emir Sheikh Abdullah al-Sabah.

But de Castro also said he "gained the attention of Kuwaiti Emir Sabah IV Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al Sabah on the case of May Vecina while he was in the Middle East country to pay his respects in behalf of the Philippines to former Kuwaiti Emir Sheikh Abdullah al-Sabah who died recently."

De Castro said he was "granted 10 precious minutes with the highest Kuwaiti official regarding relevant issues that included the fate of Vecina."

"We will see what we can do," the Palace statement quoted the Emir as reportedly telling De Castro.

De Castro led last Thursday the Philippine mission to "bring the letter of condolences sent by the Philippine government to the family of the deceased emir."

With De Castro were Foreign Affairs Undersecretary for Migrant Workers Affairs Esteban Conejos Jr., Ambassador Ricardo Endaya and De Castro's chief of staff Jesse Andres. - GMANews.TV

OFWs not allowed to re-enter CNMI without exit notice

SAN ANTONIO, Saipan - Filipino workers and other foreign laborers in the US Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) are now required to notify the local Department of Labor about their vacation.

The new policy is required among all guest workers, including those who have work permits in their possession.

Members of the guest worker community, however, lashed at CNMI Labor for not making enough information campaign about the new policy before implementing it on Monday.

Irene Tantiado, president of the Coalition of United Workers (NMI), told GMANews.TV that vacationing guest workers will comply with the emergency regulation “but because of the seriousness of the consequence for non-compliance, I hope they can make proper public announcement."

Tantiado said she received information that a Filipino nurse was not allowed to enter Saipan because the nurse failed to notify Labor about her exit.

Filipino workers who went on vacation before the CNMI Department of Labor implemented the policy are also worried that Continental Micronesia or Northwest Airlines will not allow them to board the plane from the Philippines to reenter Saipan.

Saipan, the capital of the CNMI, is about three hours from Manila. The CNMI is home to about 10,000 documented Filipino workers.

The exit notice form can be downloaded from the CNMI Department of Labor's Web site at www.marianaslabor.net.

After filling up the form, the worker can e-mail, fax or hand carry it to Labor.

The labor department said the monitoring of the number of workers exiting and entering the CNMI complies with the measure recently signed by US President George Bush putting CNMI immigration under federal control.

Days after the immigration measure was signed into law, the CNMI Department of Labor issued the emergency regulations capping the number of foreign workers in the CNMI at 22,417 and requiring guest workers to notify the department prior to exiting the CNMI for vacation purposes.

The cap means that the CNMI government - which opposes federal control of the local immigration - will not allow an increase in the total number of foreign workers who are present in the CNMI effective immediately.

CNMI Labor said guest workers who fail to file a required exit form before departing the CNMI might be precluded from entering the islands. Haidee V. Eugenio, GMANews.TV

Families of OFWs need support of Church - bishop

MANILA, Philippines - A senior Catholic bishop pushed over the weekend for more relevant ministries to families of migrant workers in a bid to prevent their breakup.

Cotabato Archbishop and Federation of Asian Bishops Conferences secretary general Orlando Quevedo also pushed for more regular meetings at the Vatican level to address migrants' concerns.

"The pastoral response I wish to present may be summarized in the following way: In the light of the universal mission of the Church to announce the Gospel of Jesus, relevant family ministry should be set up in every local church with the task of building communion and solidarity among members of families, among families and local churches. Such ministry should have a perspective of the Reign of God," Quevedo said in a recommendation to the Pontifical Council for Migrants and Travelers dated May 15 but posted on his Web log Saturday night.

"It should respond to the needs of families in special situations, such as the families of migrants and itinerant peoples," he added.

The Pontifical Council was held at the Vatican earlier this week.

Quevedo, in his recommendation, said migrant workers and itinerant peoples constitute a global "diocese" or even a number of global "dioceses."

He recommended as well that those responsible in regional and continental Episcopal assemblies come together every two or three years under the leadership of the Pontifical Council.

Such meetings will be for discussing in depth two or three burning issues affecting migrant workers, itinerant peoples and their families, he said.

Quevedo pointed out that while migrant workers are aware they will leave behind their families, "all these they have decided to go through for the sake of a better future for their families."

"As migrants leave for work the temporary break-up of the family of migrants and itinerant peoples becomes actual. In the duration of their work contract, the separation of the members of the family will be keenly felt, even for those who have worked for several years away from their families with brief periods of vacation. Intermittent reunions will not completely assuage the loneliness of being separated from their families," he said.

"Moreover in the experience of many families, a permanent breakup is not only possible. It can be real, as when the migrant or itinerant worker falls into other relationships either casually with many persons or permanently with one person. These relationships can ruin the relationship that the migrant worker has with the family that is left behind," he added.

As such, Quevedo said family ministries have to be shaped to address such concerns.

On the other hand, he said it is equally important that the church at the migrant worker's host country also give similar ministry of care and service.

"Concretely, this means the active presence and ministry of chaplains and pastoral workers to whom migrant workers and itinerant peoples can refer their problems and find a listening ear and caring hand. Letters of introduction would also help. It is important for pastoral workers to know a little bit of the cultures of migrants and itinerant workers and be able to speak to speak to them in a language they understand," he said.

"My suggestion is for pastoral care and activities to go beyond worship, socialization and fellowship and into ongoing formation and empowerment for integral evangelization," he added. - GMANews.TV

No Pinoy casualty in Nigeria fuel blast - DFA

Countries with existing OFW Deployment Ban

The Department of Foreign Affairs has ordered the stoppage of sending overseas Filipino workers to the following countries due to hostilities and conflicts:

*Afghanistan
A total ban on the deployment of Filipino workers in Afghanistan took effect only in 2007.

*Iraq
OFWs were prohibited from going to Iraq in 2004 after a series of suicide bomb attacks and abduction of foreigners followed the US-led war.

*Jordan
Reports of widespread abuse to Filipino workers prompted the government to ban deployment here on Jan 2008.

*Lebanon
Following the Israel-Lebanon conflict, Filipino workers were not allowed to enter this conflict-ridden country on June 2007.

*Nigeria
Deployment ban in this country was implemented on Dec. 2007.

Several OFWs have protested the imposition of the deployment ban on these countries. Reports claim that some workers resort to illegal papers to enter these conflict areas.
- GMANews.TVMANILA, Philippines - There were no Filipino casualties in the fuel pipeline blast in Nigeria's main city, Lagos, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said Monday.

DFA spokesperson Claro Cristobal told GMANews.TV in a text message that Philippine Ambassador to Nigeria Masaranga Umpa reported no Filipino injured or dead in the blast last May 15 which killed 100 people.

The road construction equipment was working in Ijegun village on the distant outskirts of Lagos when it pierced the pipe and fuel began spewing into the surrounding neighborhood on Thursday, Red Cross disaster coordinator Suleman Maikubi said.

Moments later, an explosion billowed oily plumes of flame and soot high into the air, witnesses said.

Pupils in crowded secondary school rushed from their classrooms in panic as blazing fuel flowed toward the compound. Children were squeezed against the schoolyard walls during the stampede out the exit gate and some of the youngsters were killed, villagers said.

"Many children have died. In fact you cannot even count them. Some of them were choked by the smoke, others crushed by the concrete fence of the school while some were suffocated in an attempt to rush out," said one witness, Aderemi Salau.

"At least, I helped to carry 10 dead bodies," the man added, bursting into tears.

Dozens of child-size sandals lay scattered in the sandy courtyard.

Maikubi said it was still unclear how many children were among the roughly 100 people killed. Around 20 people were injured and taken to a hospital, he said.

Hundreds of onlookers gaped at the fire, which could be seen from miles away, as firefighters sent water jetting into the conflagration.

Pipeline fires are common in Nigeria. More than 400 people died in two similar pipeline explosions in Lagos in 2006 and at least 40 died in December.

Authorities frequently blame the disasters on criminal gangs that tap into pipelines to siphon fuel for sale. After the gangs move on, people crowd in to scavenge for fuel and a spark can set leaked fuel ablaze. -with reports from AP, Mark Joseph Ubalde, GMANews.TV

Pinay's death in HK not of cult's doing, says sister

The body of Vicenta Flores was found floating off the waters of Tung Chung on Lantau Island in Hong Kong wearing only pajamas Dennis Y.C. Wong, Wikipedia MANILA, Philippines - The sister of Filipina domestic helper Vicenta 'Vicky' Flores whose mysterious death early last month sparked off a series of protests, is calling on the police to investigate further the missing links in the case, instead of hinting at some vague cult links.

Irene F. Reguis, herself a former domestic helper in Hong Kong, said that what the police should find an explanation for was how Vicky's body was found in Tung Chung on Apr. 11, or four days after she had reportedly fled her employer's house in Discovery Bay (DB).

In particular, Reguis wants to know who could have driven her sister to Tung Chung, which can be reached only by going through the Discovery Bay tunnel or walking though a mountainous terrain. She is also puzzled as to why the body was still found in Tung Chung waters when Vicky was last seen in a distressed state at a nearby pier on Apr.7.

"Tatlong araw nang patay, bakit nandoon pa rin ang bangkay (She's been dead for three days, why was the body still there)?", she said.

Reguis said she could not believe a recent suggestion by the police that her sister could have joined a cult because of a slip of paper with Latin writings which was supposedly found among her possessions.

"Hindi ako naniniwala doon. Nagbabasa siya ng Bible, at sa Catholic church lang nagsisimba (That's unbelievable. She reads the bible and only goes to a Catholic church)," defended Reguis.

What should also be looked into, according to her, is why Vicky was described by several witnesses as looking distressed on the night she disappeared.

"Bakit siya natatakot? Sino'ng kinatatakutan niya? Iyon ang dapat imbestigahang mabuti (Why was she scared? Who was she afraid of? That's what should be investigated thoroughly)," she said.

Reguis, helped by several migrants support group and concerned DB residents, has already asked the Coroner's Court to conduct an inquest. However, a date has yet to be set for the hearing.

At the time of her death, Vicky had worked for her Malaysian employer and his Hong Kong-born wife for 12 years.

One of their neighbors, also a domestic helper, told police that she saw Vicky running out of her employers' house barefoot and wearing only pajamas at about 8pm of Apr. 7 as her employers returned home.

Another neighbor also reported seeing Vicky on the same night, looking scared. The witness said she did ask Flores what had happened, but got no answer.

The next sighting was reported by another witness who said that while she was on Bus S56 on the way to the airport, Flores had tried to board at Tung Chung Pier at about 11:15 pm on Apr.7 but was told by the bus driver to alight because she did not pay the fare. The deceased reportedly was barefoot and looked desperate.

The next known fact was that Flores's body was floating off Tung Chung pier at about 6:35 am on Apr. 11. -Daisy C.L. Mandap, The Sun

Italy to extend medical help to Pinoy kids with TB

MANILA, Philippines -An Italian foundation and the Italian ministry of finance have launched a project to extend medical assistance to some 1,500 Filipino children suffering from tuberculosis (TB).

The Foreign Affairs Department said Philippine Ambassador to Italy Philippe Lhuillier was the guest of honor and speaker at the launching of the L'Otto Per Amore (The Fight for Love).

In a statement Friday night, the DFA said the joint project was launched May 8, and includes the Fondazione Raphael Onlus and the Guardia di Finanzia (the Military Corps of the Italian Ministry of Finance).

"The project aims to extend medical assistance to around 1,500 Tuberculosis (TB)-afflicted Filipino children living in Payatas, Quezon City," it said.

Lhuillier cited statistics indicating TB is the sixth greatest cause of morbidity and mortality in the Philippines.

He said the Philippines is ranked ninth in the world to have the highest rate of TB.

Also, he expressed heartfelt appreciation to the organizers for doing their share to address the problem. He also shared that the fight against TB has been on top of the agenda of both public and private sectors in the Philippines.

General Emilio Antonio Jacoboni represented the Guardia di Finanzia.

Representing the Fondazione Raphael Onlus was its president, Reverend Father Giovanni d'Ercole.

To raise the needed funds, a variety program featuring noted Italian singers and performers Franco Califano, Luisa Corna, Tiberio Timperi and Anna Tatangelo, was held at the Auditorium Massimo in Rome, during the launching of the project.

A "donate-through text" drive also kicked off during the event. -GMANews.TV

Hiring Filipinos for UAE too costly, group claims

Employers from all emirates of the UAE are forced to lay off highly-skilled but costly Filipino workers or go into sub-contracting (photo: Wikipedia) MANILA, Philippines - Filipino entrepreneurs in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) are forced to go into sub-contracting as a trade-off to the rising cost of hiring highly-skilled workers from the Philippines, a business leader said.

Online news site Khaleej Times reported that air-fare costs, labor guarantees, immigration fees and other incidental expenses like transportation and lodging has prevented other employers from getting highly-skilled Filipino workers.

"Four years ago, hiring skillful workers required only around Dh10,000 and even less," Jose Tuano, Chairman of Philippine Business Council in Abu Dhabi told the Khaleej Times in an interview.

According to Tuano, a sponsor would usually spend between Dh 12,000 to Dh 15,000 for a highly-skilled Filipino worker’s plane ticket and other labor fees to the small oil-rich state.

Recruitment agencies earlier explained that overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) bound to Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, and Qatar are paying as much as $650 for a direct flight ticket while booking of seats take from one to three months.

Due to the rising cost of getting qualified Filipino employees, Tuano admitted: “At one point, I had to even terminate the services of four Filipinos and decided to go into sub-contracting.

Small businessmen from Abu Dhabi, said Tuano, were particularly burdened by last year’s health insurance requirement for migrant workers which costs between Dh5,000 to Dh,10,000.

Tuano added that other employers from different states in the UAE feel the effects of the rising labor cost.

Transportation and lodging woes

The Business Council chair also said the high cost of securing the workers’ accommodation and transportation have severely affected the small-scale entrepreneurs.

"Here in Abu Dhabi there are no public buses, only taxis. So companies are compelled to provide service buses to ensure employees reach on time," Tuano said.

Last week, Federated Association of Manpower Exporters (FAME) President Eduardo T. Mahiya said the lack of flights prevents OFWs from reaching their jobsites on time and at the same time having difficulty to visit their families during holidays particularly Christmas.

During the public hearing at the House committee on overseas workers affairs chaired by Rep. Manuel ‘Way Kurat’ Zamora, Jr. on Wednesday, Mahiya said the problem of lack of flights to the Middle East is seriously affecting our country’s ability to supply the rapidly increasing market for our skilled workers.

He said recruitment companies have been complaining for the past year since 2007 of lack of seats and airline flights. They are afraid that the Philippines will lose to other countries deploying to the Middle East simply because they cannot book flights to meet contractual obligations.

“Flights to the Middle East are limited due to air rights. Furthermore the local carrier Philippine Airlines does not use their entitlements and instead are selling these to other foreign airlines under ‘code sharing’ arrangements thus reducing the available capacity,’ he explained.

The online news report said that Filipino entrepreneurs in the UAE are into interior contracting, trading, export/import, cargo, packing and shipping, logistics, manpower recruitment, and real estate, in addition to the traditional business categories of restaurant, tailoring and embroidery, and personal care (salon). - Mark Joseph Ubalde, GMANews.TV

Pinay in HK pleads guilty for illegal money-lending scheme

MANILA, Philippines - A long-time Filipino domestic helper and an insurance agent in Hong Kong have both pleaded guilty to lending money to fellow workers at an exorbitant interest rate of 180 percent.

Marlene M. Rosete, 36, and Wong Si Man, 52, both entered their guilty pleas before Principal Magistrate Garry Tallentire at the Eastern Court on May 9.

Eighteen charges of lending money at an excessive interest rate were originally filed against the two defendants but six were withdrawn after prosecution offered no evidence to support them, including one where the money lent was allegedly for a whopping interest rate of 252.63 percent.

Rosete, who had worked as a domestic helper in HK for over eight years, pleaded guilty to seven counts of lending money at a 180 percent interest rate, three times the legal limit of 60 percent per annum.

Wong, who worked for an insurance company that sold an endowment policy for foreign domestic helpers, admitted four counts of the same charge.

The two, who are both out on bail, are due to be sentenced on June 6 pending background and community service order reports.

The court was told that the two defendants did not know each other. However, they were jointly charged after one of the Filipinas who borrowed money from Rosete was told via SMS that she should meet up with a "new handler" for her loan, who turned up to be Wong.

Rosete was arrested at about 6pm on Sept. 26 last year at the corner of Li Yuen street and Des Voeux Road in Central after being stopped by police who noted her "acting suspiciously."

A search of her bag yielded 10 Philippine passports and employment contracts, along with several loan agreements, proofs of address and copies of HK ID cards. When questioned, Rosete said she kept the documents as security for loans, the interest rate for which was 15% per month or 180% a year.

The Filipinas whose passports were found in Rosete's possession told the police that they had borrowed $2,000 each from someone who called herself Ruby or Marlene, who told them to repay $2,300 within one month. She also told them to surrender their passports, employment contracts and proof of address as security.

The illicit transactions were carried out at or near MTR stations.

Nine days after Rosete's arrest, R.A., one of those who had borrowed money from her, received a text message saying she must contact a Miss Chan, said to be the "new handler for Ruby's case."

R.A., on instruction by the police, arranged to meet "Miss Chan" at the Sham Shui Po MTR station on Oct. 21 last year. Wong was arrested after being spotted sending SMS to R.A.

A search of Wong's handbag revealed two Philippine passports, including the one belonging to R.A. and another to W.A., who also had an outstanding loan with Rosete. The phone used to send SMS to R.A. was also found and seized.

When questioned, Wong denied lending the money to the two, and said the passports were given to her by someone who offered to give her $100 for every passport returned to the holder.

But during a search of her house, police found six more Philippine passports and other documents relating to loans.

The owners of these passports later told the police that they also borrowed money from either Rosete or Wong at the same rate of interest.

In mitigation, Rosete's lawyer asked for leniency, saying she was just forced to do the illegal act by her employer and this employer's sister, who financed the illicit transaction.

The two are said to be on the run.

"She already suffered when she lost her job (because of the case) after nine years of working here," said the defense lawyer. "She will never be able to return here."

Wong's lawyer also pleaded for leniency, saying his client needed extra money because she was providing solely for her daughter who is studying in the United States. Wong was said to have met the Filipinas to whom she lent money in the course of her work as an insurance agent.

Both defense lawyers asked for either a fine or suspended sentence, saying the offence did not involve violence or intimidation, and were not "a syndicated form of loan sharking."

They also pointed out that the money involved was not much. -GMANews.TV

Warning vs illegal matchmaking in Korea reaches Malacañang

MANILA, Philippines - The warning issued by the Philippines Embassy in South Korea against illegal match-making agencies has reached Malacañang.

The warning - which was forwarded on May 15 from Seoul - had Philippine Ambassador to South Korea Luis Cruz reminding Filipinos about agencies “that act as a front for mail-order brides."

Cruz reiterated his warning “amidst reports that the South Korean government is also set to crack down on interracial matchmaking agencies that violate local laws and use deceptive advertising."

The warning said: “The Philippine Embassy reminds the public of Philippine Republic Act 6955, or the Anti-Mail-Order Bride Law, which makes it illegal for any ‘person, natural or juridical, association, club or any other entity’ to ‘establish or carry on a business which has for its purpose the matching of Filipino women for marriage to foreign nationals either on a mail-order basis or through personal introduction.’

“The law also makes it illegal for anyone ‘to advertise, publish, print or distribute or cause the advertisement, publication, printing or distribution of any brochure, flier, or any propaganda material calculated to promote the prohibited acts’ earlier mentioned."

The Embassy advised Filipinos that RA 6955 has since been updated, and now applies even to mail-order bride schemes using "mails or websites in the Internet."

“While matchmaking agencies are considered legal in South Korea, Korean law requires these agencies to be registered and to be aware of issues concerning interracial marriages and ethics," Cruz said.

Cruz revealed that “many Filipinos enter South Korea through marriages arranged through these matchmakers."

“Many are lured by promises of work or a better life," said Cruz, adding that as of January 31 this year, some 5,000 Filipinos have gotten married to South Koreans – “some of whom met through matchmaking agencies." - GMANews.TV

Friday, May 16, 2008

OFW remittances 'highest ever recorded' in March

MANILA, Philippines- Despite an ongoing crunch in the United States economy, remittances from Filipinos overseas grew to a new record high in March 2008, the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas said Thursday.

In a statement, the central bank said earnings sent home by OFs coursed through banks climbed 9.4 percent year-on-year to $1.4 billion in March 2008, the highest monthly level recorded thus far.

The March 2008 inflows brought the first quarter level of remittances to $4.0 billion, higher by 13.2 percent than the year-ago level of $3.5 billion.

The BSP said bulk of the remittances that flowed into the country in March came from the United States, Saudi Arabia, the United Kingdom, Italy, the United Arab Emirates, Canada, Japan, Singapore, and Hong Kong.

"Remittances during the first three months of 2008 reflected the rising number of Filipino workers abroad, the shifts in skill composition as well as the growing efficiency of banks and other financial institutions as remittance channels," the BSP said.

Citing preliminary data from the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration, the central bank said the number of Filipino workers abroad rose 13.6 percent in the first quarter to 263,129 from 231,647 a year ago.

Classified by type of worker, the number of land-based workers grew by 11.7 percent during the three-month period to 200,398 while the number of sea-based workers rose by 20.1 percent to 62,731.

The BSP said OF remittances were also strengthened by additional tie-ups established by domestic banks and other local remittance companies with foreign financial institutions to promote a faster and more efficient delivery of remittances of overseas workers to their beneficiaries. - GMANews.TV

24 Filipino fishermen in Sabah prison since April

The fishermen were on board their fishing vessel F/V Princess Mayanne when they were apprehended off the coast of Kudat, Sabah (photo: Wikipedia)MANILA, Philippines - The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) on Thursday confirmed that 24 Filipino fishermen were arrested by authorities in Sabah, Malaysia last month for illegal fishing.

In a press statement, DFA said the fishermen were on board their fishing vessel F/V Princess Mayanne when they were apprehended off the coast of Kudat, Sabah for allegedly encroaching into and illegally fishing in Malaysian territorial waters in April.

Without saying the exact date of the arrest, the DFA said the hearing on the case is scheduled on June 4. The DFA said the Philippine Embassy in Kuala Lumpur will send an official to Kota Kinabalu, Sabah to attend the hearing on the case.

The DFA said the RP embassy in Kuala Lumpur is coordinating with the Malaysian authorities for the expeditious action on the case so the arrested Filipino fishermen can rejoin their respective families in the Philippines.

Officials also said they have assured Janet Policarpio, the vessel’s owner, that representations have been made with local Malaysian authorities for the recovery of the vessel. - Amita Legaspi, GMANews.TV

Pinoy detained in Brunei, faces lashing for wearing bullet

MANILA, Philippines - While a flying bullet could most likely land you in a hospital bed, wearing a live one around your neck would mean sound lashing and imprisonment in Brunei.

An unnamed Filipino was arrested and detained in Brunei Darussalam last week for wearing an amulet that was made from a bullet, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said Thursday.

The Filipino traveler was reported to be on transit through Bandar Seri Begawan, the country's capital, enroute to Saudi Arabia when he was arrested last May 8.

"Possession of bullets and other ammunitions is punishable with imprisonment for a term of not less than five years and not more than fifteen years, and lashes with not fewer than 3 strokes and not more than 12 strokes," said the DFA in a statement.

Filipinos traveling to Brunei are advised not to carry amulets or charms made from bullets, as possession of such is a serious offense and in violation of the Arms and Explosives Act of that country.

Meanwhile, the Philippine Embassy in Singapore said that another Filipina worker was apprehended last May 4 for possession of a live bullet.

Singapore Airport Police issued a warning to the Filipino woman upon her arrival at the Changi Airport Terminal earlier this month.

Unauthorized possession of ammunition is an offense under Singapore law. -Mark Joseph Ubalde, GMANews.TV

Group asks how 5,000 OFWs got into Lebanon

Philippines - Despite the existing deployment ban to Lebanon, a Middle East-based migrant workers group is asking how 5,000 additional Filipinos could have entered the war-torn country.

A statement earlier this week said that after the 2006 Israel-Lebanon conflict, about 5,000 Filipino workers have “returned" to Lebanon despite the deployment ban issued by the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA).

"Like in Iraq, despite deployment ban imposed by the Arroyo administration, we are wondering why there are still a considerable numbers of OFWs that have been sent to work as domestic helpers in Lebanon where a civil war is now escalating," said Migrante Middle East regional coordinator John Leonard Monterona.

According to the statement issued by Joseph Assad, honorary consul of Lebanon to the Philippines and Abdul Kader Al Jadid, president of the Filipino-Lebanese Friendship Association, Hezbollah gunmen seized control of several West Beirut neighborhoods from Sunni foes loyal to the US-backed government on Friday as sectarian clashes reminiscent of Lebanon's bloody 15-year civil war raged in the capital.

About 25,000 Filipino domestic helpers in Lebanon were advised by Philippine officials there to remain inside their homes, keep off the streets and follow their employers to safer grounds when needed.

"It has been reported that violence has been escalating in Lebanon due to infighting of two warring Muslim factions, the Shiite and Sunni groups, such hostilities in Lebanon certainly put the lives of fellow OFWs in Lebanon at great risks," Monterona added.

The group's regional coordinator also noted that during the 2006 Israel-Lebanon conflict most Lebanese employers just left their domestic helpers or locked them inside the house.

"That time Lebanese are swiftly fleeing and securing only themselves and members of their families leaving behind our fellow OFWs at their employer’s houses, thus putting OFWs lives at great risks at a time when heavy bombs are pouring like rain," he explained.

Aside from Lebanon, the DFA has implemented a total deployment ban on Iraq, Jordan, Afghanistan, Nigeria. -Mark Joseph Ubalde, GMANews.TV

Countries with existing OFW Deployment Ban

The Department of Foreign Affairs has ordered the stoppage of sending overseas Filipino workers to the following countries due to hostilities and conflicts:

*Afghanistan
A total ban on the deployment of Filipino workers in Afghanistan took effect only in 2007.

*Iraq
OFWs were prohibited from going to Iraq in 2004 after a series of suicide bomb attacks and abduction of foreigners followed the US-led war.

*Jordan
Reports of widespread abuse to Filipino workers prompted the government to ban deployment here on Jan 2008.

*Lebanon
Following the Israel-Lebanon conflict, Filipino workers were not allowed to enter this conflict-ridden country on June 2007.

*Nigeria
Deployment ban in this country was implemented on Dec. 2007.

Several OFWs have protested the imposition of the deployment ban on these countries. Reports claim that some workers resort to illegal papers to enter these conflict areas.
- GMANews.TV

'Seniors' can apply for UAE's work permit for free - report

MANILA, Philippines - Workers who are 60 years old and above can avail of temporary work permits in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) without paying the Dh5,000 'exception fees', online news site Khaleej Times reported Thursday.

Khalil Khoury, Director of the Work Permit Department at the Ministry of Labour (MoL) told the Khaleej Times on Wednesday that the rule applies for experts or professionals who can come to the UAE to work on temporary work permits for three months.

The permit is only renewable once.

"After that, the expert can leave the country (even for a night) and come back again on a new temporary work permit," Khoury said.

The work permit is issued in the UAE to ensure that employers pay their employees on time, provide accomodation, give periodical health insurance (90 days) as well as air tickets to leave the country after the contract ends.

"The fee for this permit is Dh500, and the same amount is to be paid for renewing the work permit for another three-month period. This gives the firms a chance to hire experts or workers on casual basis, and at the same time, protects the rights of workers as well," Khoury added. -GMANews.TV

Body of killed Pinoy on Saipan back in RP

SAN VICENTE, Saipan – The body of a Filipino contract worker who was killed in a hit-and-run accident on Saipan Island last May 4 was repatriated to the Philippines Thursday morning, but nobody has so far been arrested in connection with his death.

Grande Nonan, 41, suffered head trauma and extensive lacerations in his upper and lower body when he was hit by a sport utility vehicle past 3 a.m. on May 4.

Filipino workers who held a vigil in support of a new law signed by President Bush putting the CNMI immigration under federal control also called for justice for Nonan.

“Justice for Grandy Nonan" read one of the red banners held by the guest workers.

Police have yet to arrest a suspect in the case.

A group called Crime Stoppers is offering a reward of up to $1,000 to anyone with information leading to the arrest of a suspect.

The last of a 10-night Rosary and Holy Mass were held on Wednesday night for Nonan by the Teregeyo family members who became his friends and employer for 12 years.

The Teregeyos brought Nonan’s remains to the Saipan international airport Thursday morning for repatriation to the Philippines.

CNMI resident Marianne Teregeyo told GMANews.TV that Nonan was a “family friend," adding that it was “sad to see a good friend return home that way."

“There are times when I ask Grande to scare his assailant, and then there are times when I say ‘God will take care of it’," Teregeyo wrote in her blog.

Nonan was also described as a jack-of-all-trades, having helped everyone in the Teregeyo family and the extended family with household chores, including bush cutting.

“The driver was a coward and a great sinner, just leaving Grande to die. I hope he or she [is] caught. I pray that Grande would whisper to his or her assailant's ears and haunt them so that they can surrender," Teregeyo said in an earlier blog.

On May 9, the Teregeyo family also sold hot lunches to help raise funds for the repatriation of Nonan’s body.

According to a female witness, Nonan was walking uphill using the eastbound shoulder of a road when a sport utility vehicle ran off the highway, hitting Nonan.

The witness, who was walking several feet behind Nonan, was saved from being hit by the speeding vehicle because she was able to dart toward a fence line. The vehicle fled from the scene after hitting Nonan.

Nonan is the third traffic fatality so far this year in the CNMI, where there are about 10,000 documented contract workers from the Philippines. - Haidee Eugenio, GMANews.TV

Filcom leader in LA faces 3 years for felony

LOS ANGELES — A community leader faces possible jail term after pleading no contest this week to a felony charge of filing a false financial statement in an alleged misuse of more than $200,000 of city funds at a multi-cultural senior center in San Jose.

Ben Menor, 57, former head of Northside Community Center, entered the plea before Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge Ray Cunningham. He is scheduled to be sentenced on July 24, and faces three years in jail or three years probation.

Two grand theft felony charges against Menor were dismissed after he agreed to pay restitution totaling $51,000 to the city. He had faced a maximum of four years, four months in prison if he were convicted on all charges.

A 'no contest' is a plea in criminal trials where the defendant neither admits nor disputes a charge, serving as an alternative to a pleading of guilty or not guilty. While it is not technically a guilty plea, it has the same immediate effect as a guilty plea, and is often offered as a part of a plea bargain – in which a prosecutor and a defendant arrange to settle the case against the defendant.

Menor pleaded no contest to the charge that he overstated by 24,000 hours the amount of time he and his agency worked under contract with the city to run the Northside Community Center, a senior housing and community center on North Sixth Street in San Jose.

Menor was arraigned in November 16, 2006 in the same county court on one felony count of violating the California Corporation Code Section 6812 (False Statement of Operations) and two felony counts of violating the California Penal Code 487 (Grand Theft/Embezzlement).

Menor is a well-respected personality on the West Coast’s Filipino community. He helped build and run the 92-unit senior housing and community center, which was used by Filipinos, Sikhs and Indo-Americans and was considered a model of multi-cultural cooperation and partnership when it opened in 2003.

Menor’s non-profit organization, the Filipino-American Senior Opportunities Development Council, was under contract with the city to operate the center. He was the executive director.

In 2004, however, some members of Menor’s board accused him of internal wrongdoings; they sought police intervention and charged Menor with fiscal mismanagement. Those accusations led to a city audit, which concluded Menor misused $219,000 in publicly-funded grants.

Early in 2006 the city took over operation of the center, and later the same year, he was indicted on one count of false statements and two counts of grand theft. The grand theft charges indictment involved Menor’s alleged use of $30,000 of city funds to pay for home care for his elderly parents.

Another count involved use of restricted funds for a conference he organized for the National Federation of Filipino American Associations (NaFFAA) in August 2002.

Menor was a former official of NaFFAA, a nationally-recognized nonprofit organization and the largest Filipino advocacy group in the U.S. Following his plea, Menor showed relief than guilt.

"I’m just feeling tremendous relief," San Jose’s Mercury News quoted him, adding he had nothing "to say anymore because we’re still in the final stages" of the legal resolution to the case."

His lawyer also declined comment. -GMANews.TV

RP exec warns vs mail-order brides in S. Korea

MANILA, Philippines - A Philippine Embassy official to South Korea on Thursday renewed his warning to Filipinos who look for Korean partners through match-making or mail-order bride.

In a press statement, Philippine Ambassador to South Korea Luis T. Cruz reiterated his precaution amidst reports that the government of South Korean is set to crack down on interracial matchmaking agencies that violate local laws and use deceptive advertising.

The Embassy official reminded the public of Philippine Republic Act 6955 or the Anti-Mail-Order Bride Law, which makes it illegal for a "person, natural or juridical, association, club or any other entity" to "establish or carry on a business which has for its purpose the matching of Filipino women for marriage to foreign nationals either on a mail-order basis or through personal introduction."

The law also makes it illegal for anyone "to advertise, publish, print or distribute or cause the advertisement, publication, printing or distribution of any brochure, flier, or any propaganda material calculated to promote the prohibited acts" earlier mentioned. Further amendments included its applicability to mail-order bride schemes using "mails or websites in the Internet."

While matchmaking agencies are considered legal in South Korea, Korean law requires these agencies to be registered and to be aware of issues concerning interracial marriages and ethics, according to the statement.

Cruz notes that many Filipinos enter South Korea through marriages arranged through these matchmakers. Many are lured by promises of work or a better life.

As of January 31, 2008, approximately 5,000 Filipinos married to South Koreans reside in the peninsula, some of whom met through matchmaking agencies. -Fidel Jimenez, GMANews.TV

RP exec warns vs mail-order brides in S. Korea

MANILA, Philippines - A Philippine Embassy official to South Korea on Thursday renewed his warning to Filipinos who look for Korean partners through match-making or mail-order bride.

In a press statement, Philippine Ambassador to South Korea Luis T. Cruz reiterated his precaution amidst reports that the government of South Korean is set to crack down on interracial matchmaking agencies that violate local laws and use deceptive advertising.

The Embassy official reminded the public of Philippine Republic Act 6955 or the Anti-Mail-Order Bride Law, which makes it illegal for a "person, natural or juridical, association, club or any other entity" to "establish or carry on a business which has for its purpose the matching of Filipino women for marriage to foreign nationals either on a mail-order basis or through personal introduction."

The law also makes it illegal for anyone "to advertise, publish, print or distribute or cause the advertisement, publication, printing or distribution of any brochure, flier, or any propaganda material calculated to promote the prohibited acts" earlier mentioned. Further amendments included its applicability to mail-order bride schemes using "mails or websites in the Internet."

While matchmaking agencies are considered legal in South Korea, Korean law requires these agencies to be registered and to be aware of issues concerning interracial marriages and ethics, according to the statement.

Cruz notes that many Filipinos enter South Korea through marriages arranged through these matchmakers. Many are lured by promises of work or a better life.

As of January 31, 2008, approximately 5,000 Filipinos married to South Koreans reside in the peninsula, some of whom met through matchmaking agencies. -Fidel Jimenez, GMANews.TV

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

OFWs in Lebanon told to stay indoors amid war

MANILA, Philippines - About 25,000 Filipino domestic helpers in Lebanon were advised by Philippine officials there to remain inside their homes, keep off the streets and follow their employers to safer grounds when needed.

Joseph Assad, honorary consul of Lebanon to the Philippines and Abdul Kader Al Jadid, president of the Filipino-Lebanese Friendship Association issued the advisory after assessing the situation in Beirut, the country’s capital.

According to the statement issued by the two officials, Hezbollah gunmen seized control of several West Beirut neighborhoods from Sunni foes loyal to the US-backed government on Friday as sectarian clashes reminiscent of Lebanon's bloody 15-year civil war raged in the capital.

At least 11 people were killed and over 20 were hurt in three days of street battles and gunfights in Beirut, according to the same statement.

“Our Filipinos are safe in the households and as long as they follow instructions from their employers, OFWs [overseas Filipino workers] will not be exposed to harm or accidental shootings between warring groups," Assad said.

The current fighting in Lebanon is reminiscent of the 15-year civil war that stretched from 1975 to 1990 where about 150,000 were killed while leaving parts of the city severely damaged.

In 2006, about 7,000 OFWs were evacuated during the Israel-Lebanon conflict where constant air raids and bombings ensued in the country's capital.

The Lebanese consul said that political factions in Beirut are trying to forge a dialogue between the Shiite and Sunni groups to prevent further violence and gun battles.
- Mark Joseph Ubalde, GMANews.TV
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