Monday, June 30, 2008

Want to help typhoon victims? Consulate tells how

(UPDATED: 5:38 pm) CHICAGO, Illinois – The Philippine Consulate General in the Midwest based in Illinois on Wednesday announced where donations could be sent in behalf of the victims of typhoon "Frank" (Fengshen).

According to the consulate, the guidelines on donations are based on President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’s directive to Philippine foreign service posts to open disaster relief accounts for the typhoon victims.

(1) Cash or check donations can be deposited in the following bank accounts:

NDCC ACCOUNT:

PESO Account
Bank: DBP Camp Aguinaldo Branch
Camp Aguinaldo, Quezon City, Philippines
Acct. Name: NDCC Donated Fund
Acct. No.: 0-00149-435-3
Swift Code: DBPHPHMM Acct. No.: 36002016
Type: Current Account

PNRC ACCOUNTS:

PESO Account
(1) Bank: Metrobank, Port Area Branch
Anda Circle, Port Area, Manila
Acct. Name: The Philippine National Red Cross
Acct. No.: 151-3-041-63122-8-MBTC
Type of Acct.: Savings

(2) Bank: Bank of the Philippine Islands
Port Area Branch, Port Area, Manila
Acct. Name: The Philippine National Red Cross
Acct. No.: 4991-0010-99
Type of Acct.: Current

DOLLAR Account
(1) Bank: Metrobank, Port Area Branch
Anda Circle, Port Area, Manila
Acct. Name: The Philippine National Red Cross
Acct. No.: 151-2-151-00218-2
Swift Code: MBTC PH MM

(2) Bank: Bank of the Philippine Islands
United Nations Branch, Ermita, Manila
Acct. Name: The Philippine National Red Cross
Acct. No.: 8114-0030-94
Type of Account: Savings
Swift Code: BOPIPHMM

Note: For donations to be properly acknowledged by PNRC, kindly fax the bank transaction slips to (632) 525-5654 or (632) 404-0979 with the donor’s name, address, and contact nos.

OTHER FORMS OF DONATIONS:
(2) SMS and G-Cash (Globe) or Smart donations to PNRC can be sent/texted as follows:
FOR SMS:
Text: RED AMOUNTto 2899 (Globe) or 4483 (SMART)

FOR G-CASH:
Text: DONATE Amount4-digit M-PINREDCROSS TO 2882

(3) Please note that all original papers/documents on donations must be forwarded to this address:

THE PHILIPPINE NATIONAL RED CROSS
C/O SEC. GEN. CORAZON ALMA DE LEON
National Headquarters
Bonifacio Drive, Port Area
Manila 2803, Philippines

(4) Medicines and/or medical and humanitarian missions may be referred to the Office of:

DR. VIRGINIA ALA Other Contacts:

Chief, Bureau of International Health Cooperation Dr. Carmencita Banato
Department of Health +639178455481
Attention: Ms. Noni Balbino
Chief, Technical Division
Tel No. (632) 781-2843 Dr. Arnel Rivera
Fax No. (632) 781-8843 +639283946756

(5) All other queries, including but not limited to, donations of rehabilitation equipment, donation of relief goods, may be directed to the office of:

For NDCC: For PNRC:

Maj. Gen. GLENN J. RABONZA, Administrator NDCC Mr. BENJIE DELFIN
Attn: Engr. FLORENTINO SISON Head, Operations Center
Deputy Chief, Operations Division, NDCC Disaster Management Center
Tel. No. (632) 912-5979, 912-2665 Philippine National Red Cross

Fax No.: (632) 911-1873, 911-1406, 912-5668, 912-0984 Direct Line: (632) 527-0865
Telefax: (632) 524-5787

Info on Typhoon Frank: NDCC updates can be accessed via www.ndcc.gov.ph.

For other queries about donations to the victims of Typhoon Frank in the Philippines, please contact Consul Orontes V. Castro in the Consulate at (312) 332-6458 ext. 15 or write at 30 N. Michigan Ave. Suite 2100, Chicago, IL 60602

Tel:(312) 332-6458, Fax: (312) 332-3657, e-mail: chicagopcg@sbcglobal.net or website address: www.chicagopcg.com
- GMANews.TV

Over half a million Pinoys sent abroad from Jan-May

MANILA, Philippines - Owing to the global preference for Filipino labor, more than half a million overseas Filipino workers were deployed in more than 190 countries in the first five months of 2008, the Labor department said.

This, as it noted that global OFW remittances have reached $5.4 billion (more than P240.89 billion) in the first four months of 2008.

In a press statement posted on the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) website on Friday, Labor Sec. Marianito Roque said this is more than 12 percent higher than the deployment figures during the same period last year.

Roque cited the latest preliminary report of the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) that some 516,466 documented OFWs have been globally deployed from January to May this year, boosted by an 8.6 percent increment in new hires from 142,618 in the same period last year, to 154,841 from January to May this year.

"The 516,466 OFWs deployed from January to May 2008 represents a substantial growth of 12.4 percent (+57,052), from the total 459,414 OFWs deployed in the same period in 2007," Roque said.

Roque noted that the number of OFWs deployed during the first five months of the year alone, now represents some 51.6 percent, or more than half, of the total goal to deploy one million documented OFWs worldwide in 2008.

He added the continued growth and strength of global OFW deployment reflects the distinct global preference for Filipino workers.

In the statement, Roque said the strength of global OFW deployment significantly figures in the substantial rise in global OFW remittances, which are projected to approach or surpass $15 billion.

Roque cited the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas' (BSP) report saying the growth in the number of deployed OFWs reinforced remittance flows, alongside the "upbeat prospects" in the global market for sustained OFW opportunities.

The BSP report mentioned that the number of OFWs globally deployed grew by 14 percent from 350,520 in the same period last year to 399,638 during the first four months this year.

BSP also noted that the prospects for global OFW deployment remain upbeat due to the Philippines' efficient deployment system, reinforced by the country's continuing bilateral cooperation for OFW employment opportunities with emerging markets like Canada and other host countries.

The BSP report added the Philippines had also been cited as the "Best Practice Country" by the Human Resources Development Service of Korea (HRD Korea) due to the efficiency of the OFW deployment system and the process improvements. - GMANews.TV

5 Pinoy workers rescued from Albanian employer

MANILA, Philippines - Five Filipino overseas workers (OFW) were rescued by the Philippine Embassy in Rome from their alleged abusive employer in Albania.

The OFWs were deployed last December to work in a restaurant at a gas station in Patos City, the center of the oil industry in Albania, which is about about 250 kilometers south of Tirana, the country's capital.

According to the embassy, the workers claimed that their employer abused them verbally, made them work day and night without day off, and restricted them from roaming outside their accommodation premises.

The embassy acted on the plight of the OFWs after the father of one of the workers appealed for help from the Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs.

Philippe J. Lhuillier, Philippine Ambassador to Italy, Albania, and San Marino said that after verifying their plight, he sent Assistance-to-Nationals officer Antonio Villar and Labor Attaché Manuel Roldan to Albania to facilitate the workers' repatriation.

The diplomatic office was able to secure the release of the workers after negotiating with the employer and finalizing an agreement at the Albanian Labor Ministry, the embassy said in a statement.

The workers arrived at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport in Pasay City last June 8 via Cathay Pacific flight no. CX907 at 9:55 a.m. - Veronica C. Silva, GMANews.TV

Death linked to Muslim veil sparks debate on immigrants in Canada

TORONTO - The brother of a Canadian teenager who was slain in what friends described as a family dispute over a Muslim head scarf was charged with murder, becoming the second family member accused in her death, police said Friday.

Aqsa Parvez, 16, of Pakistani origin, was strangled in December at her Mississauga, Ontario, home.

Waqas Parvez, 27, who had faced obstruction allegations in his sister's death, was charged Thursday with first-degree murder.

Their father Muhammad Parvez, 57, was charged with first-degree murder earlier this month. He had been a suspect since shortly after her death.

Police would not disclose details of any new evidence that prompted the Friday's charges or what impact they would have on the case against the father. But spokeswoman Samantha Nulle said investigators were checking if other people had been involved in the death.

Police have refused to confirm the killing was over the scarf, and Muhammed Parvez's lawyer, Joseph Ciraco, has said that more than just cultural issues played a role. He did not return calls for comment Friday.

But friends said her death came during a family feud over her refusal to wear the traditional Muslim veil. And the killing sparked debate in Canada about the conflict within immigrant families over traditional values and desires to fit into a new culture.

Parvez's friends from her high school said the ever-cheerful girl faced an increasingly difficult home life. They said that Parvez would come to school wearing track pants and the scarf, but would change into close-fitting jeans and remove the scarf at school. They said her parents caught on and began following her to school to make sure she was abiding by their rules.

Classmate Joel Brown, 17, has said that the girl grew afraid of her parents and began showing up to school with bruises.

Sameer Zuberi, the Canadian spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said that following her death, imams at mosques across the country reflected on the issues presented in the media surrounding her death.

"It forced the Islamic community to look at itself in terms of what children face and what parents here in Canada face," he said. - AP

Gov't dismisses 8 cases against illegal recruiters

MANILA, Philippines - At least eight of the 30 cases filed against suspected illegal recruiters were dismissed after complainants failed to show interest in pursuing the matter, the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) said.

Data provided by the agency’s Operation and Surveillance Division showed that the cases had a total amount of P4.57 million involving 74 accused persons.

After complainants executed affidavits of desistance—indicating that they were no longer interested in pursuing the case—courts cleared the following individuals

- Ligaya Rivas Chong, Sherly Pulido De Asis, Randy Moreno Carbonella, Lysander Bugnot Aldea, Dolores Moreno, Toni Dela Cruz, Jennifer Jaguilon of Vacation Travel Inc and Summit Marketing;

- Estrellita Valera, Ruth Pentojo and Juvita Ali of Aces V Manpower Corporation;

- Lolita B. Trinidad, Terencia Tagsa Acelo, Marlyn M. Sta. Ana, Ronilio L. Argawanon, Vilma A. Blancaflor, Laila F. Eduria, Mercedita F. Gemino, Irma A. Arevalo, Reynaldo B. Rodriguez, Leo Castario Senorio of JSIA International Manpower Services;

- Norolain A. Batabor, Melanie Dumagay, Marissa Ramos Queza of Marcon Int'l Manpower Philippines Services, Inc.;

- Eugene Fetalino Montano, Hasna Fernandez Guiapar, Sherine Lim Mariano, Rowena Fernandez Ecat of Lead Miles/Fast Wealth Travel Consultancy;

and Ma. Arleth B. Buenconsejo, Ruth Gaye Mirasol Chua, Rose Estacio, and Cristeta Magurali Castillo.

In an email to GMANews.TV, Valera said they where just framed, immediately released, and cleared by the court.

According to the POEA report, Valera and Pentojo of Aces V Manpower were allegedly promising employment for Malaysia as general workers.

They were apprehended last February 28, in an entrapment operation after receiving marked money.

“Some people just want to make money and gain popularity by using us. This country deserves real public servants," Valera said in her email.

In a phone interview, Atty. John Reo Bautista, head of POEA’s Operations and Surveillance, denied Valera’s accusation and emphasized that the case against Aces V Manpower was dismissed because the complainants have executed affidavits of desistance.

“The Fiscal Office dismissed the case because the complaints withdrew the case," Bautista said.

When asked why complainants executed affidavits of desistance, Baustista said that the plaintiffs may have gotten their money back after securing arrangements with their recruiters.

Other cases were either awaiting court resolution, pending trial, filed in court, and awaiting preliminary investigation at the Department of Justice. - GMANews.TV

Women OFWs many but remit less than men

Male OFWs sent home bigger slices of bacon in past six years


Women OFWs many but remit less than men


by JEREMAIAH M. OPINIANO
www.ofwjournalism.net


KUALA LUMPUR, MALAYSIA–FOR 12 years, Rita’s family in the Philippines was fed through two shoe-box sized containers at her feet.

The rectangular matte-black boxes, scuffed with use, contain Rita’s tools of the trade: nail clippers, nippers, two-inch tall bottles of silver, gold, and red nail
polishes, blush-on brushes and mascara.

For more than a decade, Rita relied on her being a manicurist and pedicurist, enabling her to send money to her family in Bansalan, Davao del Sur.
Rita is one of millions of female laborers and unskilled workers who remain the leading number of OFWs in the annual Survey on Overseas Filipinos (SOF) of the

National Statistics Office.
But their meager salaries abroad have not made them the top remitters compared to their counterpart male low-skilled workers.
While not revealing how much she sends monthly, Rita says she earns an average 100 ringgits (a minimum of P1,365.40 at current exchange rates) a day.
Notably, that is still below the RM150 daily cost of living allowance that the Malaysian Trades Union Congress (MTUC) said the government provided to public sector employees last year.

Malaysia, where Rita is, hosts some 244,967 Filipinos there, according to newly released stock estimates of the government-run Commission on Filipinos Overseas.
Of this number, the CFO estimates nearly half are undocumented; the rest have declared Malaysia their permanent home (26,002) while the remaining are temporary migrants with legal travel and working documents.

The CFO data, sadly, is not gender-disaggregated.

The SOF, however, is. In 2006, it affirmed there were more women OFWs: 764,000 versus 751,000 men working and living outside the Philippines.
That year, they poured into the Philippines an estimated P102 billion in cash and in-kind remittances

Cash remittances refer to those sent from host countries, as well as money that OFWs brought home.

That estimated total cash and in-kind remittances was higher than the PhP85.1 billion total in the 2005 SOF.

For cash remittances, the 2006 SOF saw OFWs remitting nearly P76 billion from April to September that year.

But while there are more women OFWs, male migrant workers sent more during that period: nearly P51 billion as against the P26 billion by women.
Analysts expect remittances from women to drop as there was a decrease in the deployment of Filipino domestic helpers last year.

Tooled

WHILE laborers and unskilled workers were the most number of OFWs from the 2001 to the 2006 editions of the SOF, two occupational groups of male workers have been the leading remitters.

From 2001 to 2005, male "plant and machine operators and assemblers" have been the top remitters –from nearly P8 billion in 2001 to just above P10 billion after five years.

Two years ago, male "trades and related workers" grabbed the top spot by remitting some P13 billion.

The NSO survey aims to know remittance amounts and channels by OFWs by age, sex, country of work, and region of origin in the Philippines.

Female laborers and unskilled workers alone make up the largest OFW group by type of occupation and gender.
Of the estimated 1.515 million OFWs in the 2006 SOF survey, a third of them are laborers and unskilled workers —including some 313,000-plus females. There were some 268,000 female laborers and unskilled workers in the 2003 SOF.

OFWs categorized as "trade and related workers,” are those who “apply their specific knowledge and/or skills in the field of mining, construction, form metal, set machine tools, or make fit, maintain, or repair machinery, equipment or tools produce or process food stuff, textile or wooden, metal and other articles”.
“Plant and machine operators and assemblers" are workers who “operate and monitor industrial machinery and equipment on the spot or by remote control, drive and operate trains, motor vehicles and mobile machinery and equipment, or assemble products from component parts”.

Laborers and unskilled workers are made up of those workers "who perform simple tasks which mainly require the use of hand-held tools and often some physical effort”.

Rita is under this category.

For 12 years, Rita has provided manicure and pedicure services to Filipino, Malaysian and foreign customers at a shoe store inside Kota Raya mall. Her “office space” is a half-square-meter floor filled to the ceiling with boxes of shoes that she also sells.

She shares the space with a Malaysian with a dining table for two customers.
She and women and unskilled OFWs like her have the lowest six-month average cash remittance sent, according to the SOF.

The average monthly remittance by female laborers and unskilled workers was pegged by the SOF at P36,000.

The 2001 to 2006 SOF results showed laborers and unskilled workers, trade and related workers, and plant and machine operators and assemblers always outnumbered professionals in terms of actual worker count and remittance volumes.

OFW Journalism Consortium

For comments, email ofwjournalism@gmail.com and editor@ofwjournalism.net

Pinoys top foreigners in 16 countries

by MADELAINE JOY A. GARCIA
www.ofwjournalism.net


MANILA–FILIPINOS are slowly conquering various countries through sheer numbers.
A recently-released report by the World Bank identified Filipinos as among the top 10foreigners in 16 big and small countries in Asia-Pacific, Europe, and North America.
The WB’s Migration and Remittances Factbook 2008 cited Filipinos lead the number of foreigners in Australia, Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, Canada, Cyprus, Italy, Japan, Republic of Korea, Malaysia, the Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Oman, Palau, Saudi Arabia, the Solomon Islands, and the US.

Five of these countries are members of the bloc Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).

The World Bank report bared data on the estimated number of migrants –or what it calls “immigrants”– based on the 2005 United Nations Population Division report.
The tiny island of Palau, some 800 kilometers east of the Philippines, hosts the most number of Filipinos among 3,036 foreigners. This diving haven is home to some 20,000 people.

Data from the state-run Commission on Filipinos Overseas (CFO) show there are 4,495 Filipinos in Palau. Twenty-one of them are considered permanent residents while some 4,434 are temporary migrant workers. CFO estimates the rest are undocumented.
Manila to Koror, Palau’s capital, is 90 minutes apart. It takes half that time if flying to or from the southern Philippine province of Davao.

Meanwhile, Filipinos are the second biggest foreigner group in Malaysia, Brunei, and the United States, according to the World Bank report and CFO estimates.

The US, the Philippines’s top source country of remittances, has some 38.4 million foreigners, says the WB.

Filipinos are behind US neighbor Mexico as the biggest foreigner group, as CFO estimates that there are now 3.4 million Filipinos in that continent.

The WB report showed that of Malaysia’s 1.6 million foreigners, over a hundred thousand are Filipinos (100,233). The CFO June 2007 data confirms this.
Brunei, for its part, has some 124,193 foreigners; CFO estimates some 22,939 are Filipinos.

Filipinos form the third-biggest number of foreigners in Korea (50,165 of a total 551,193 foreigners) and the Marshall Islands.

The Marshall Islands, located in the western Pacific Ocean, have a thousand Filipinos as the third biggest foreigner group out of its estimated number of 1,667 foreigners: 2.7 percent of its total 65,000 people.
Solomon Islands has some 3,279 foreigners out of some 489,000 people. CFO estimates there are 758 Filipinos there.

Filipinos are also the fourth-biggest group in Italy, which has roughly 2.5 million foreigners. Some 119,083 Filipinos are estimated to be in Italy, says CFO.

Saudi Arabia, the workplace of an estimated 1,016,820 Filipinos according to CFO data, shows that Filipinos are the fifth biggest immigrant group.
The Muslim nation of some 24 million has some 6.36 million immigrants.


Filipinos form also the fifth-largest immigrant group in Japan; the country having some 2.05 million foreigners, according to the World Bank report. There are an estimated 313,291 Filipinos in Japan, CFO data reveals.
Cyprus is estimated to have some 116,137 immigrants and Filipinos are ranked sixth. CFO data show that there are 12,406 Filipinos in Cyprus.

Filipinos are also the sixth-biggest in Oman, which has some 627,571. CFO estimates there are some 33,000 Filipinos.

Filipinos are the seventh-biggest foreigner group in Canada (total of 6,105,722 foreigners) and Iceland (23,097 foreigners). In these countries, CFO estimates there are 789,943 and 1,400 Filipinos in Canada and Iceland, respectively.
The eighth-biggest group of foreigners in Australia’s 4.1 million and Cambodia’s 303,871 immigrant population are Filipinos, which are estimated to number to 232,447 and 1,572, respectively.

OFW Journalism Consortium

For comments, email ofwjournalism@gmail.com and editor@ofwjournalism.net

Gov’t hikes funding for OFW-related agencies

by RUBEN JEFFREY A. ASUNCION
www.ofwjournalism.net


QUEZON CITY–TWO government agencies expected to help overseas Filipino workers received increases in funding for this year, budget records showed.

The 2008 General Appropriations Act bared that assistance projects for OFWs by the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) and the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) got the increments the agencies proposed in last year’s budget hearings.
The labor department got a P33.3-million increase in allocated funds for its “Social Protection Program,” where the budget item “Workers Protection and Welfare Service to Overseas Filipino Workers” falls under.

The program was given P383.3 million this year, up nearly ten percent from its P350 million budget last year.

In addition, the labor department’s “Emergency Repatriation Program,” an item absent from its budget last year, was given P50 million. Another P50 million was allocated for the one-year-old National Reintegration Center for OFWs.

The center was formed during then-Labor Secretary Arturo Brion’s watch. It is expected to provide economic and psycho-social reintegration services to returning OFWs and to OFW families.

Another attached agency, the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration also received increases in its budget. The POEA’s “Workers Welfare Assistance and Overseas Placement Services” line item received a budget of P39.5 million. This was nearly two-percent higher than its P38.8-million allocation last year.

A similar increase has also been made in the POEA’s line item “Adjudication Services” with P28.5 million for this year, compared with P27.6 million for last year.

But while these Manila-centric units got majority of the labor department’s total P6.3-billion pie, DOLE’s offices in the regions got a measly share for “workers’ amelioration and welfare services”.

In addition, these regions, where most prospective and former OFWs and OFW families live, saw budget for these services reduced by nearly P3 million to P36.6 million from the P38.2-million budget allocation last year.

In contrast, the labor department’s allocation for personal services (PS) continued to see year-on-year increases as against, for one, maintenance and other operating expenses (MOOE).

For the item “Workers Protection and Welfare Service to Overseas Filipino Workers,” for example, around P207.6 million for personal services was allocated for this year.
This amount is nearly double than the P168.2 million allotted for maintenance and operating costs for this year.

Last year, the program received P202.7 million for PS while its MOOE was allocated only P145.3 million.

Over-all, the labor department’s budget this year increased by 28.24 percent to P6.271 billion from nearly P5 billion in 2007. POEA’s budget, which is part of the total budget, also increased to P238.9 million this year, from P231.6 million in 2007.
POEA’s budget is merely 20 percent of the total collection of the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration, if OWWA was able to collect the $25 from 3,000 OFWs leaving every day.

Since it is a government-owned and controlled corporation, the OWWA is excluded from the annual GAA and relies mainly on the membership fees being paid by departing OFWs, and not from taxpayers’ money. The US$25 contributions are for the provision of welfare and economic services to OFWs.

Assuming the a million OFWs left last year, OWWA’s coffer would be around a billion pesos at an average exchange rate of US$1=P42. That amount would just be 17 percent of the labor department’s budget.

OWWA’s Board of Trustees provides the annual budgets, which must be requested to them.

In 2006, says a Commission on Audit report, OWWA spent some PhP910.715 million while earning P2.062 billion.

Another agency tasked with the welfare of overseas Filipinos is the Department of Foreign Affairs, which also received an increased budget.

The DFA’s provision on the “Implementation of RA 8042” was increased by 170 percent to P236.7 million this year from only P87.7 million in 2007.

Being funded under this category are the Legal Assistance Fund for the litigation cases of OFWs and the Assistance-to-Nationals Fund. The latter is the department’s funds for the repatriation of OFWs.

The over-all budget of the department for 2008 is at P10.2 billion, up by P2.8 billion from the allocated 2007 budget of P7.4 billion.

Meanwhile, funds being allocated for the maintenance expenses of “Implementation of RA 8042’ are higher than for personal services, both for the years 2007 and 2008.
For this year, around P223.69 million were set-aside for MOOE while P13.03 million were allotted for PS. Meanwhile for the previous year, P77.99 million were allocated for MOOE while only around P9.7 million were allotted for PS.

The government has allocated a total of P 1.066 trillion for the 2008 national budget.

However, the 2008 General Appropriations Act also showed that a government agency tasked with assisting Filipino immigrants overseas received lesser funds for the same purpose for 2008 as compared to the previous year.

The Commission on Filipinos Overseas received only around P26 million for its “Development Coordination and Implementation of the Welfare Programs for Filipinos Overseas,” down from the P27.2 million the commission got in 2007.

For 2008, the program’s funds for its personal services were allocated at around P14.4 million, higher than the P10.6 million budget allocated for its maintenance expenses. In 2007, PS got P14.89 million while MOOE received only around P10.19 million.
The CFO’s over-all budget for 2008 was P38.3 million, down by P2 million from the P40 million it received for the previous year. The commission is attached under the Office of the President.
Despite these increases in government’s cachet of funds mainly for welfare of OFWs, Senate President Manny Villar proposes a law to set aside P1 billion for welfare and legal assistance to distressed OFWs.

Ellene Sana of nonprofit Center for Migrant Advocacy, however, told the OFW Journalism Consortium money is not the solution to such cases.
The Philippine government already has a system of assisting distressed OFWs, Sana said.

What hinders that meaningful environment of providing assistance unto OFWs is the implementation of “a comprehensive set of laws protecting overseas workers.”
“Implementation in reality remains wanting,” she added

OFW Journalism Consortium

For comments, email ofwjournalism@gmail.com and editor@ofwjournalism.net

Pinoy band builds watering hole in Hanoi

by JEREMAIAH M. OPINIANO
www.ofwjournalism.net


HANOI, VIETNAM–TRUE to their band’s name, four Filipinos here are carving Melia Hanoi hotel’s watering hole for fellow OFWs craving for a taste of home.
They call themselves the D’Sensations, now on their second month here in a years-long tour of gigs across Asia.

Hanging out here helps us get over loneliness for being away from our families in the Philippines, Cresliejoy Abiang tells the OFW Journalism Consortium.
Abiang, who said she works at a textile firm here as a technician, is a regular at the hotel’s Latino Bar where the D’Sensations play.

That night, Abiang and some of her Filipino co-workers tap their feet as the D’Sensation band belted out Gloria Estefan’s Conga.
This is where we really hang out, Abiang said as some customers took the floor to sway as D’Sensation’s lead singer Liza asked everybody to “feel the fire of desire.”
“Simple unwinding here helps us, especially when we feel we worked too hard this week,” Abiang said.

Abiang’s officemate Gina brought her two children, who vacationed in Hanoi for a month and were going back to their home in Bataan the next day.
“I keep in touch with them. I send them money,” Gina said.
This motive of overseas Filipino workers like Gina and the Abiang siblings is the reason why they work too hard.

Too hard that the 200 OFWs here can’t meet as a community, complains Philippine Ambassador Laura del Rosario.
Del Rosario was referring to Philippine holidays like the Independence Day on June 12 but which the embassy here celebrated June 8.
“They say they’d rather rest.”
Rest they need, as D’Sensation band reflects.

After the third of six sets of a total 48 songs for the night, the members who came from Bataan and Davao, grab the nearest bottle or glass of drink each can get their hands on.
Still, everybody here is easy to entertain, says Liza.
Indeed, it is since Hanoi has been considered Vietnam’s cultural center aside from serving as its capital.

As a hub for universities, Hanoi, 1,751 kilometers northwest of Manila, is perfect for Filipinos here who are mostly high-level professionals and executives in leading international and Vietnamese companies, restaurants, hotels, food industry, and special infrastructure projects.

Hard
“THANKS for the beer,” D’Sensation lead guitarist Jun salutes a group of six Filipinos who bought him a bottle.
Jun said that since they began doing gigs here, they were amazed by the spirit of hard work among Vietnamese.

Hence, they also prove Filipinos are equally hard-working.
For instance, their band begins their first set at 8:30 p.m. every day until their last set of eight songs end, or half-past midnight.

Jun says at least five of their regular customers are Filipinos.
“That’s why sometimes we play Filipino songs or Latina music with Filipino melodies,” he explains.
Indeed, on their fourth set, where they played “Manila Girl” by Put3ska, customers leapt on their feet.

Hence, the Thai-owned bar has been tagged a watering hole for Filipinos. It also helped that its manager and Cresliejoy’s brother Jay Abiang, is a Filipino.
“Hanoi is visibly progressing, so Filipinos work harder here,” he said.
Rising remittances from an estimated 1,300 OFWs in Vietnam (including those in Ho Chi Minh City) indicate their hard work.

From January to October 2007, more than US$0.667 million were sent back home, above the $0.471-million figure in the same ten-month period the previous year.
Deployment of newly-hired and re-hired OFWs to Vietnam also reached a record in 2006 with 1,348 workers, according to Philippine Overseas Employment Administration data.
The Commission on Filipinos Overseas reports two Filipinos are permanent residents of Vietnam.
Some 14 overseas performing artists were sent to Vietnam in 2006, POEA data reveals, making the communist country the ninth leading destination country of OPAs that year.
Some of these OPAs, Jun says, are performing in Vietnamese and foreign restaurants in downtown Hanoi.

Some Filipinos have also married Vietnamese nationals and have set up businesses there, while a few are unskilled workers and minors.
One rare time that the Filipino community in Hanoi became visible was during the November 2006 summit of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec) when President Macapagal-Arroyo was in Melia Hanoi herself on a side event.

“Let's try emulating that discipline Vietnam displayed,” Arroyo told the Filipinos there led by members of the group Pinoys sa Hanoi.
That discipline is mirrored by Jay’s fingers dancing on the frets of his electric guitar.

Hard work and discipline are what OPAs like him and the D’Sensation band members make labor migration a sensational success for the Philippines.


OFW Journalism Consortium

For comments, email ofwjournalism@gmail.com and editor@ofwjournalism.net

Ambitious zero-illegal recruitment bid

by JEREMAIAH M. OPINIANO
www.ofwjournalism.net


MANDALUYONG CITY–A BID to stomp out illegal recruitment in La Union province within a year got off on a slow start, with the nonprofit group leading this ambitious project bracing itself for “booby traps” along the way.
Marge Madiguid of Kanlungan Centre Foundation Inc. said there was no formal launch yet for its “zero illegal recruitment campaign,” planned to start this June.
The campaign won for Kanlungan a P0.92-million grant in May from the World Bank-sponsored contest called “Panibagong Paraan”.
Madiguid told the OFW Journalism Consortium that while there’s no formal launch for the project, they have met and discussed the campaign with local government and nongovernment groups and agencies.
She’s hoping that all committees they plan to organize for the campaign would be formed before July.
But the slow start is the least of Kanlungan’s problems as Madiguid said a lot of hurdles await the project.
The biggest hurdle, she said, is the alleged links between recruiters and executives of the local government, which is one of Kanlungan’s partner in the project.
La Union, some 235 kilometers north of Manila, hit the headlines in 2006 when former Agoo assistant provincial prosecutor Catalino Pepi was reportedly sentenced to life imprisonment for illegally recruiting factory workers bound for South Korea.
The conviction decision of the Regional Trial Court in Agoo read that Pepi connived with a Manila recruitment agency, and even used his office, to collect placement fees ranging between P40,000 to P150,000 from each applicant.
Another news report cited the arrest of provincial board member Pablo Olarte after three people filed a case against the former mayor of Agoo, La Union, for not being sent overseas.
A 2006 POEA release cited Olarte as proprietor of Sabloak Philippines, a consultancy firm offering paid services for jobseekers wanting to meet immigration requirements for Canada.
Madiguid, however, defended Olarte, describing the government officials as a “victim, too.”
She added that Olarte, the former mayor of Agoo, is a pro bono lawyer for three illegally-recruited provincemates.
That explains his attachment to recruitment regulations, Madiguid said.
Olarte apparently lobbied for the provincial ordinance requiring recruiters to apply for license from the provincial government before practicing their trade.
Still, she thinks the project will “test his sincerity”.

Union
LA UNION has the largest number of recorded illegal recruitment cases for the Ilocos region, according to government data.
Kanlungan Centre, a 20-year-old counseling center for domestic workers, has provided service to more than 300 IR cases in La Union over an 11-year period.
This meant on the average, the Quezon City-headquartered group’s satellite office in La Union, handled 27 cases a year.
Deployment data from the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) in 2006 showed that La Union was the birthplace of some 9,677 land-based and 1,717 sea-based temporary contract workers.
On the other hand, 1988-2005 data of registered emigrants from the Commission on Filipinos Overseas revealed some 15,343 permanent residents abroad came from La Union.
According to Madiguid, some 30 recruitment agencies are active in the province.
POEA’s directory of licensed agencies shows that La Union has a homegrown recruitment agency, Beldevere Manpower, and nine Metro Manila-headquartered licensed recruitment agencies that have branch offices in the province.
Ten of these are in San Fernando City: 2000 Miles Placement Agency; Active Works Inc.; Aim High International Placement Corp. (two branches); Greenworld Placement Services; Humania International Inc.; Interworld Placement Center; and, St. Georges Recruitment International (two branches).
Another recruitment agency, AD’s Overseas Placement Agency, has a branch office in the municipality of Bauang.
Beldevere Manpower (www.beldeveremanpower.net), for its part, even has extension offices in Manila and in London, United Kingdom.
The La Union provincial government website showed that Beldevere and three Metro Manila-based recruiters placed job orders in 12 countries through the provincial government’s Public Employment Services Office (PESO).
The PESO hosts job fairs for local and overseas jobs.
In a State of the Province Address, Governor Pablo Ortega reported that in 2006, the PESOs tapped 250 firms, recruitment agencies, and government offices for local and overseas jobs.
Out of 3,589 applicants for local and overseas placement, some 1,713 were employed, Ortega reported.
However, the website of the Labor department’s Bureau of Local Employment noted that a dozen of the 21 PESOs in La Union are “non-operational”.
Four of the nine areas of Kanlungan-La Union’s project sites, namely Bagulin, Naguilian, Santol, and Sudipen, have non-operational PESOs.
“They do not screen the companies involved in their job fairs,” said Madiguid.
She cited an IR case that Kanlungan handled wherein the potential OFW learned about an overseas job opening through the PESO.
OFW Journalism Consortium

For comments, email ofwjournalism@gmail.com and editor@ofwjournalism.net

Group banks on social enterprise

by JEREMAIAH M. OPINIANO
www.ofwjournalism.net


MANILA–IT would take nearly a thousand kilometers, millions of pesos, and a year for peace to be sown in Lanao del Norte.
That is the hope of Unlad Kabayan Migrant Services Foundation, a socio-civic group banking on a project to spur “social enterprises” in Kolambogan municipality.
Social enterprise is an old concept yet to seep into the fabric of violence-riddled Philippine society.
According to the West Oxfordshire District Council of England, a social enterprise is a “local community acting together to provide services needed by the local population, particularly where the service cannot be provided through the market economy”.
Simply put, social enterprises are geared more to plow profits back to the community through a business run nearly by the community.
That is what Unlad Kabayan’s project is aiming for in the municipality of Kolambogan in Lanao del Norte, some 790 kilometers south of the Philippines’s capital.
The project called “New Lives for Old: Peace, Growth, and Good Governance through Social Enterprises” was one of 33 chosen during this year’s World Bank-sponsored Panibagong Paraan contest.
Unlad Kabayan won a grant of P1 million for the project that involves working with government officials and a cooperative in the municipality.
Bernice Roldan explains Unlad Kabayan would have to work with Kolambogan Mayor Bertrand Lumaque and the Lanao Comrades Multipurpose Cooperative so that three pilot enterprises in the farming and coastal municipality start off within a year.
Roldan said Lumaque committed nearly P2.2 million while Unlad Kabayan promised to set aside P0.9 million for the project.
With the grant via the World Bank contest, these enterprises would be started with P3.079 million ($69,977.30 at US$1=P44), merely ten percent of what the municipality received as internal revenue allotment (IRA) in 2006.
Roldan told the OFW Journalism Consortium that Unlad Kabayan will start up an integrated bio-resource farming enterprise, a coco-coir processing facility, and setting up of recycled container gardens at some residents’ backyards.
The first two enterprises are among the enterprises that Unlad Kabayan had set up in other provinces, such as Bohol, Bukidnon, Surigao del Norte, and Davao Oriental, as well as in Davao City.
The container gardening business, meanwhile, was a request by local residents, Roldan said.

Pieced peace
UNLAD’S Roldan, without citing actual figures, said “many residents went overseas” citing the peace and order situation, aside from lack of gainful income, as reasons for leaving Kolambogan.
Kolambogan is one of 22 municipalities in this province tagged as the gateway to the four cities of the Mindanao island group.
According to its website, Kolambogan was a small barrio inhabited by native Maranaos and Christians before American migrant settlers began harvesting timber.
Currently, the fourth class municipality of the second-class province of Lanao del Norte has vast agricultural lands which are mainly planted to coconut.
The website, however, cited that nearly 14,000 residents are poor and some 3,683 households “are not gainfully employed”.
The municipality’s 24,180 total people form five percent of the total population of Lanao del Norte at 473,062, according to recent government census.
According to its latest report, a total of 17,269 OFWs were recorded by the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration in 2006 as coming from Lanao del Norte.
Government data that year also showed Lanao del Norte, located in central Mindanao, has 7,103 temporary contract workers (5,621 land-based and 1,482 sea-based).
Some 3,282 of registered overseas permanent residents from 1988 to 2005 also cited the province as their home town.
While some residents have joined the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), even some OFW families have their own domestic problems that escalated into a public safety issue, such as the shooting incident between a returned seafarer and his wife, Roldan added.
“The disturbed peace and order coupled with labor disputes in Kolambogan’s biggest industrial firm was a major setback in its population growth,” its website [www.kolambogan.gov.ph] said.
News reports cited a dozen people were kidnapped by bandits mid-June this year, overshadowed only by the kidnapping in Sulu of television journalist Ces Drilon and two cameramen.
More than the money and the dream enterprises to be set up, Roldan said the project proponents will confront peace and order issues, as well as visible poverty, in Kolambogan.
Recently, a shuttered timber company displaced more than 2,000 workers while typhoons of recent years hit half of the population’s farmlands.
Kolambogan farmers earn P1,500 monthly while fisherfolk earn less, at least P1,200 monthly.
Kolambogan’s IRA reached some P25.636 million in 2003 to a high of P30.237 million in 2006. The website said “limited resources” plague the municipality.

Migrant investment
A PORTION of Unlad Kabayan’s Panibagong Paraan grant will be used to survey households of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) in Kolambogan.
Roldan said such survey is required since the project also hopes to mobilize investments from overseas Filipinos and from local savings.
Unlad’s project targets to benefit 38 overseas Filipino workers and OFW families as well as a hundred farmers, 85 local workers, and 37 micro-entrepreneurs.
The project hopes to create a migrant and community investment fund that will fund some of the town’s social services for women, youth, and even OFW families.
Project proponents, according to Roldan, would also conduct business advisory services to set up the three target social enterprises within a year.
Kolambogan’s website lists down some 45 “investible programs” for local and outside interested parties to consider –from school buildings to agriculture and fisheries projects.
Another outcome of the Panibagong Paraan project, Roldan said, is the setting up of an OFW desk in the LGU.
Roldan added that Unlad would try to access soft loans from a one-year, P10 million credit facility that the Development Bank of the Philippines entrusted to Unlad Kabayan for the whole of Lanao del Norte.
This Mindanao-targeted loan facility that Unlad Kabayan will manage as a business assistance center was turned over weeks before Panibagong Paraan.
Some 110 of these beneficiaries are women, Unlad Kabayan’s Panibagong Paraan project brief wrote.
But DBP president Reynaldo David said the bank’s microfinance and non-microfinance wholesale partners, including Unlad Kabayan, should offer easy terms to micro-entrepreneurs.
“Or else, [DBP] will not deal with them the following year,” David told reporters.
This is why some incomes from Panibagong Paraan project will go to an migrant and community investment fund, Roldan explained.
The 12-year-old Unlad Kabayan is applying its migrant savings and alternative investment (MSAI) approach that it began among migrant workers in Hong Kong.
According to the group’s press materials, two strategies make up MSAI: social entrepreneurship and enterprise development services, and business incubation.
The Panibagong Paraan grant is the third successful award that Unlad Kabayan secured this year after its major fund source, coming from Netherlands-based donor Interchurch Organization for Development Cooperation, dried up.
OFW Journalism Consortium

For comments, email ofwjournalism@gmail.com and editor@ofwjournalism.net
Study says high school drop-outs
not children of OFWs


by LUIS CARLO S. LIBERATO
www.ofwjournalism.net


MANILA–DISTANCE not only makes the heart grow fonder; it has also kept most children of women overseas Filipino workers from dropping out of school.

Thus cites economist Alvin Ang of the University of Santo Tomas in his recently released study titled “Determining the Social Costs of Overseas Filipino Workers’ Remittances: A Check through Education Indicators”.

Amid the tide of a nationwide rise of drop-outs and the slump of kids’ school participation and cohort survival, Ang rides against the commonly-held belief that distant parenting strategy doesn’t work.

He asserts a contrarian belief that this strategy keeps OFW children in high school.
The results for children of OFWs are even more encouraging, says Ang of the UST Social Research Center, if women are the ones abroad.

Women’s migration pushes children to stay in school, Ang told the OFW Journalism Consortium.

Using mathematical formulas in Economics called “regressions,” Ang’s study showed that international migration positively affects education indicators such as drop-outs, school participation, and cohort survival.

The effect is also regardless of gender, his computations revealed.
Drop out rates lessen in number, while school participation and cohort survival rates rise. It’s just that in all three indicators, women get more positive results, Ang said.

Ang admitted getting surprised with the results, knowing first-hand the social costs associated with parental absence: he was away from his family for a long time in Japan on a study grant.

Contrast also Ang’s findings with data from the Department of Education: secondary education drop-out rates nationwide rose as of school year 2005-2006.

Drop-out rates for both elementary and secondary levels, according to the government education agency, went up by above seven percent and nearly 13% in school year 2005-2006, from 6.98% and 7.99%, respectively, in school year 2004-2005.

High cost of education coupled by lingering poverty has been cited by pundits as reasons for these increases.

Ang’s study cited the reasons for those who didn’t drop out.

Numbers
IN Ang’s study, which was presented at the Sixth National Social Science Congress last May, overseas migration of parents increases cohort survival rates and school participation rates.

His data on cohort survival and school participation looked at children belonging to the 10-14 and 15-19 years-old age groups, across Philippine regions, as well as the number of male and female OFWs coming from the annual Survey on Overseas Filipinos.

As for drop out rates, the age bracket of his data covers 13 to 16 years old.

He chose these age brackets because a recent paper by another economist, Rosemarie Edillon of the Asia-Pacific Policy Center, wrote that high school children of OFWs “are worst off in terms of time and money.”

This was where Ang hurled what he called “interesting conjectures.”
“The absence of the female migrant is a strong incentive to remain in school…[indicating] that OFW children are studying hard despite the absence of mothers (and) thereby dispelling that they are worst off.”

He added that “absent mothers increase the chance of children completing (high school).”

But if the mother is here in the Philippines, all the more that “children want her attention,” says Ang.

He posited that children adjust to a situation of parental absence while children with no OFW parents prefer the “traditional family set-up” where both parents are present.

Still, money is part of the story: Ang’s data were on the number of OFWs, not on remittances.

While his study doesn’t mean discouraging results for male OFWs who also bankroll children’s education, Ang noted women OFWs make the difference.

“The absence of mothers is already the worst case scenario for a (Filipino) family tradition where the father is the breadwinner, so children really must study hard.”
Of course, he says “it is but proper (for the children) to study hard, returning the sacrifice and finishing (school) on time.”

Honors
TWO children of OFWs the OFW Journalism Consortium talked to prove Ang’s point.
Shara Mae Lirag is a candidate for honor roll in government-run Bagumbong High School while Elaine Eusebio, likewise, in privately-run Manila Cathedral School.
Books are piled across the Lirag household dining table where 14-year-old Shara Mae was set to start her two-hour daily study regimen.
The house is quiet, like there’s an unwritten rule for the Lirag brood of four girls to mimic a monastery.

“If I don’t want to be disturbed, I also don’t want to disturb others [my three sisters] while they’re studying,” she says.

The two-week-old message from her mother Erma in the United Arab Emirates is still stored in her mobile phone. Shara’s mother wants her to gun for an academic scholarship.

Reference to that message rattled her and begs off to go back to studying.
Her father Constancio, 48, says seeing their children get college degrees is their only wish.

He says wife Erma sends P5,000 every month for the school needs of Shara and her sister Hanna Nicole.

“That’s a big help since they’re both in public school,” Mr. Lirag said adding the money goes to class projects and school supplies.

Mr. Lirag said he helps augment the family income with his earning as a passenger jeepney driver plying the Taft Avenue route.

I’m just a high school graduate, Mr. Lirag said. They could be more than that, he added waving his hand towards daughter Shara lost in her book.

A competitive class environment, meanwhile, is what also drives Ms. Eusebio, an incoming sophomore at Manila Cathedral School.

She says she doesn’t want to frustrate his father Hector, who works in a car painting company in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

Still, she also considers studying hard self-motivated.

“The academic honor was a fruit of all my sacrifices.”

Her father, whom she hasn’t seen for a year, remits at least P15,000 monthly.
“The money is primarily for Elaine’s studies, and only a few from those amounts are spent for other purposes,” said Marites Eusebio, Elaine’s mother.

Ang said that children of OFWs like Lirag and Eusebio are also pressured to avoid getting into the drop-out roll.

Previous studies, including some surveys, had pointed to the fact that children of OFW parents are academic achievers or have met school requirements.


OFW Journalism Consortium

For comments, contact Luis Carlo Liberato at 0926-7298015 or via lcs_liberato@yahoo.com.ph

Thursday, June 19, 2008

RP firm's boss to be jailed for $100-M US health plan fraud

CHICAGO, Illinois – The American chief executive officer of a Philippine-registered company was sentenced to five years for duping a US government agency of almost $100-million in phony health claims.

Thomas Arthur Lutz, 41, president and CEO of Health Visions Corporation (HVC) based in Olongapo City will start doing time on March 18, 2009.

Assistant US Attorney Peter M. Jarosz of the Western District of Wisconsin in Madison, said Lutz's sentence was deferred until 2009 to give him time to liquidate the assets of HVC so that he and the firm could pay for the $99-million restitution.

Lutz, whose wife is a Filipina, was sentenced for mail fraud by Chief Judge Barbara B. Crabb, also from the US District Court of Western District of Wisconsin.

Last April 24, Crabb ordered HVC to liquidate all of its assets and pay $99,915,131 in restitution, $500,000 fine, and forfeit $910,910.60.

The corporation was placed on probation and was given ten months to liquidate its assets.

HVC was also ordered to enter into a consent decree in which all its officers, directors, and employees agree to a permanent exclusion as providers of TRICARE and other government programs.

The corporation pleaded guilty to the fraud charge on May 25, 2007. The Court sealed the plea agreement to allow Health Visions to begin the liquidation of its assets.

Lutz pleaded guilty on Dec. 11, 2006 to Count 33 in relation to his participation in a conspiracy with Health Visions and a physician in the Philippines to double bill TRICARE and get kickbacks from the inflated payments to Health Visions. He also agreed to assist the government in its investigation.

On July 15, 2005, a federal grand jury in Madison returned a 75-count superseding indictment against Health Visions and Lutz.

The indictment charged the corporation and Lutz with defrauding the TRICARE Program.

TRICARE, formerly known as CHAMPUS or the Civilian Health and Medical Program of the Uniformed Services, is the US Department of Defense's worldwide health care program for its military personnel, including those who retired from the service and their dependents.

The charges against the corporation and Lutz stemmed from their alleged plan of defrauding the TRICARE program from October 1998 to August 2004 by entering into an agreement with a medical provider in the Philippines, in exchange for kickbacks.

At the request of Lutz, the provider paid 50 percent of the bills for medical services rendered to TRICARE patients. It was Health Visions that referred the patients to the health provider in the Philippines.

Also, before submitting the bills for payment by the United States government, the court found out that Health Visions and Lutz inflated the bills of other providers by at least one hundred percent.

The defendants also created a sham insurance program to circumvent TRICARE's requirement that beneficiaries pay a deductible and cost share. They were also accused of submitting fictitious and fraudulent TRICARE claims that beneficiaries had been hospitalized rendered services to the military.

Erick C. Peterson, US Attorney for the Western District of Wisconsin, said in a press statement that, "This conviction furthers our goal to protect the TRICARE program. Our veterans deserve quality health care, and our nation deserves a program free from fraud. We will continue to vigorously investigate these cases."

Part of the scheme involved Health Visions directing WPS to send payments for all the
TRICARE claims to a lockbox account in the name of HVC at Bank of America (BA) in Columbia, Missouri.

When the account reached $1 million, Lutz's brother directed the bank in Missouri to wire transfer the funds in increments from HVC's account at BA to another Health Visions account at United Cocoa (sic) Planters Bank in Manila.

Between 1998 and 2004, WPS paid over $163 million in total TRICARE claims submitted by HVC. Of this amount, $144.6 million came from third-party billing by HVC and $18.7 million was from direct billing from HVC-owned hospitals.

Jarosz said at least five hospitals, one of them in Iloilo province, in the Philippines, were involved in the scam. A similar scam is being investigated in other countries such as Mexico, Panama and Costa Rica.

JOSEPH G. LARIOSA, GMANews.TV
Pinoy scientist battles world's top killer disease

Filipino scientist Dr. Cymbeline Tancongco Culiat Photo courtesy of Nell One Therapeutics Inc.MANILA, Philippines - In 2005, cardiovascular diseases that include heart attacks and strokes killed about 17.5 million people. This is 30 percent of global deaths, according to the World Health Organization, and the numbers aren't dwindling.

But if all things go well, a Filipino scientist may triumph over the world’s top killer.

Dr Cymbeline Tancongco Culiat is seeing to it that the trend ends soon so that people around the world suffering from these diseases will be given the chance to lead normal lives.

Her groundbreaking research into molecular genetics can potentially change the face of medicine. Dr Tancongco Culiat is the lead researcher of NellOne Therapeutics Inc., a regenerative medicine company launched this month. The firm seeks to develop treatment and restoration of muscles damaged by heart attacks.

“The promise of restoring both normal tissue mass and function comes from leveraging a critical natural cell growth and maturation pathway," said Dr Tancongco Culiat in an article for Battelle Ventures, one of the companies funding the research.

“It’s not just cell regrowth that is important, but also the way cells are organized to support organ function."

It is a daunting task—there is currently no medicine that can do what Dr Tancongco Culiat seeks to achieve.

“Current approaches, such as those based on stem cells, have shown the potential to restore tissue mass, but with only limited recovery of function," said acting NellOne CEO and Battelle Vantures General Partner Tracy Warren in the same article.

Heart attacks are usually recurrent, so if Dr Tancongco Culiat succeeds in her new undertaking, the product of her research will be the first medicine in the market that can do the most improvement to damaged heart tissues.

The potential is massive, and major institutions have invested an initial $1.5 million to fund Dr Tancongco Culiat’s work. NellOne Therapeutics, Inc. is a joint venture of Battelle Ventures, the University of Tennessee, and Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) which is under the United States Department of Energy.

JOANNA CAMILLE SISANTE, GMANews.TV

Australia eyes more Pinoy workers, RP consulate says

How to Spot an Illegal Recruiter

The following are signs that a job applicant is being recruited illegally:


If a recruiter offers long-term work but does not apply the candidate for a 457 Visa, then it may be an indication that the work is not legitimate or that the employment arrangements are not in order;


If a recruiter offers long-term work but applies the applicant for a Short-Stay Business Visa (also called the "456 Visa"), then it may be an indication that the work is not legitimate or that the employment arrangements are not in order.

•
If a recruiter offers long-term work but applies the job applicant only for tourist visa, then it is a definite indication that the work arrangement is not legitimate.


If a recruiter makes the applicant pay for Australian administrative fees and/or air travel to Australia, then the recruiter is violating Australian laws require a company to shoulder all costs of fees and the worker's air travel to Australia. The worker must not pay for his air travel to Australia.

- Philippine Consulate in Sydney, map from Wikipedia
MANILA, Philippines - Australia needs more Filipino workers, according to the Philippine Consulate in Sydney.

"An apparent skills shortage is driving Australian companies to hire skilled workers from other countries, and the Philippines is seen as a source country for needed workers," a consulate report said on Tuesday.

But the consulate also warned Filipino job seekers against illegal recruiters, after it had received reports that some individuals had started posing as recruiters when Australia announced last January that it had 120,000 job openings for foreigners.

"Filipinos being recruited for Australia must be aware of the type of visa that their recruiter is applying for them. The type of visa commonly issued to Filipinos hired for work in Australia is the 457 Visa," the consulate said.

Australian companies that want to recruit skilled workers should get permission from the Australian Government, according to the consulate.

It said the government issues to these companies "temporary business long stay visa," which is also known as the Standard Business Sponsorship Subclass 457 visa provided to foreigners who are employed by Australian firms.

These authorized companies can either directly hire Filipino workers or recruit them through manpower agencies accredited by the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration.

“A Filipino who is recruited for Australian employment is matched to an Australian company that has been issued a 457 Visa. The Filipino worker receives the 457 Visa through the Australian Embassy in Manila," the consulate said.

The 457 visa allows a foreign worker temporary stay in Australia from six months to four years. This visa does not give permanent, residency, or migration status to a foreign worker.

“Illegally-hired foreign workers in Australia are exposed to abuses, hazards, and risks. If they are caught, they are deported and blacklisted from future re-entry into Australia," consulate said.

Meanwhile, a 456 visa allows entry for business meetings, conferences, or training-related visits for up to three months. Short-term work of up to six weeks is only permitted in limited circumstances.

The consulate also warned Filipino applicants against recruiters offering long-term work, but only secures tourist visa for a worker, which is an indication that the work arrangement is not legitimate.

“Illegal recruiters often apply a victim for a tourist or short stay business visa, and instruct the latter to change his visa status to 3 long stay or even a permanent residency in Australia, However, such status changes are not usually allowed," it said.

Recruiters violate Australian laws if they make the applicant shoulder administrative fees, including travel expenses to Australia, according to the consulate.

“Any Filipino, who was recruited to work in Australia under a 457 Business Visa program and was compelled to pay processing fees or air travel to Australia by their recruiter or employer, may lodge a complaint with the Department of Immigration and Citizenship (DIAC) through its email address: nsw.457Jntegrity@fmmi.gov.au," the consulate said.

For now, Australia does not allow the recruitment of domestic maids and farm workers from overseas. “Any manpower agency that claims to be recruiting maids and farm workers for Australia is deceiving applicants," the consulate said. - GMANews.TV

Okinawa rape victim’s mom hits DFA for sleeping on the case

MANILA, Philippines - The mother of the Filipina who was allegedly raped by a US serviceman in Okinawa expressed dismay over the government's lack of support on her daughter's plight.

‘Nanay Nellie’ claimed in a GMA News report Thursday that the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) has not followed up on the case after the charges against the US soldier have been dropped due to lack of evidence last May 16.

This was the first time that Nanay Nellie has spoken in public after seeking the help of Gabriela, a women’s rights activist group.

For her daughter's 22nd birthday on June 5, “Hazel’s" mother paid a visit to the office of Gabriela, to help trumpet her family's call for justice.

In its defense, DFA Office of Migrant Workers Affairs’ executive director Crescente Relacion said that the department has not slept on the case.

According to him, DFA’s lawyers in Okinawa have already submitted necessary documents to the US military to conduct court martial proceedings.

Reports claimed that an official from the Naha district prosecutor's office said there was no sufficient evidence to pin down the US soldier for the rape charge.

Hazel, a 22-year-old cultural dancer and first-time overseas worker, was allegedly raped in Okinawa just two days after her arrival there from the Philippines last February.

According to an aunt, she was still able to talk to her niece at around 4 p.m. on Feb 17, a few hours before her ordeal with the American serviceman.

Japanese police reports said that Hazel was invited to dinner by a 20-something US serviceman at around 2 a.m. of February 18, the day the alleged rape incident took place in a hotel. Hazel woke up several hours later, bleeding.

Meanwhile, Gabriela is urging President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo to ask US President George Bush for an apology over the incident during her 10-day visit to Washington DC later this week.

Although she can already return to the Philippines, Nellie said her daughter remains in Japan to pursue the case against the soldier. - GMANews.TV

EU lawmakers back new rules on expelling illegal immigrants

STRASBOURG, France - The European Parliament on Wednesday approved new rules for expelling illegal immigrants from the bloc, overcoming opposition from left-leaning lawmakers and ignoring protests from human rights activists.

The move comes amid a tide of anti-immigrant feeling across the wealthy bloc, with Italy blaming foreigners for a spike in violent crime and France grappling with tensions in the immigrant-heavy suburbs ringing urban centers.

As economic hard times loom in many EU countries, governments are coming under increased pressure to act tough on immigration.

Under the new guidelines, already approved by EU governments, illegals can be held in specialized detention centers for up to 18 months before being expelled. EU countries must provide detained migrants basic rights, including access to free legal advice, and unaccompanied children or families with kids should be held only as a last resort.

Once found by authorities, immigrants first will be given the opportunity to leave voluntarily for up to 30 days. If there is a flight risk or they do not comply, they can be put in custody for up to six months while their deportation is being processed.

A 12-month extension is possible in specific cases, such as when illegal immigrants do not cooperate with authorities or when their identity must be verified with their home country. A re-entry ban of up to five years may be imposed on expelled immigrants who do not cooperate or are deemed a threat.

Up to now, there has been no common EU policy on expelling illegal immigrants, and detention periods have varied from 32 days in France to indefinite custody in Britain, the Netherlands and five other countries. The EU estimates there could be up to 8 million illegal immigrants in the 27-nation bloc.

Some Latin American countries have voiced concern that the new rules will lead to a flood of illegal workers returning home; the fears are partly rooted in the fact that their economies depend heavily on remittances from citizens working in Europe. But EU officials said the law itself will not lead to more deportations.

The agreement, approved 369-197 with 106 abstentions, took more than two years to draft, and EU nations will have two years to implement it. The new rules — part of efforts to create a common EU asylum and immigration policy by 2010 — will not automatically apply in Britain and Ireland because they have negotiated opt-outs as non-members of the EU's borderless Schengen zone.

Socialists and Greens were against the law, arguing the maximum allowed detention period was too long and a re-entry ban not justified. But they were outvoted by conservative and liberal groups, which hailed the new rules as an improvement.

"By introducing minimum safeguards we limit possible excessive behavior by governments," said Dutch Liberal Democrat Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert.

She pointed out that in a number of countries illegal immigrants await deportation in regular jails alongside convicted criminals, which will no longer be allowed under the new rules.

"An illegal immigrant, if he has a clean record, is not a criminal. We do insist on separate detention centers," she said.

But Amnesty International condemned the deal, saying it does not guarantee the return of migrants in safety and dignity.

"An excessive period of detention of up to 1,5 years as well as an EU-wide re-entry ban for those forcibly returned risk lowering existing standards in the member states and set an extremely bad example to other regions in the world," the human rights watchdog said. It also deplored what it said was a lack of guarantees for children.

However, French Immigration Minister Brice rejected that criticism, saying that standards will not be lowered in his country and the 32-day custody period — the lowest in Europe — will not be changed.

The Immigration Ministry estimates that there are 200,000 to 400,000 illegal aliens in France, population 63 million.

Spain, another country grappling with clandestine immigrants, said it was considering raising the maximum custody from the current 40 days to 60 — still far below the maximum allowed period. - AP

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Thai Government Urged to Repeal New Migrant Labor Law

By SAW YAN NAINGTuesday, June 17, 2008

Thai and Burmese rights groups are to appeal to Thailand’s government to scrap a controversial new labor law that rewards informers who provide information leading to the apprehension of illegal migrant workers.
The law, which took force in March, also requires employers to deduct from the monthly salaries of migrant workers a sum of money to cover repatriation charges if they are deported.

The legislation came in for strong criticism at a three-day meeting in Bangkok of about 20 representatives of Thai and Burmese rights groups. The meeting ended on Tuesday after representatives agreed to call on the Thai government to repeal the law.

Employers are also addressed by the legislation, which provides for prison sentences of up to two years for illegally employing migrant workers. Migrants found to be working illegally face up to five years’ imprisonment.

Informers who provide the authorities with information leading to the apprehension of illegal migrants are promised a reward equivalent to 20 percent of the value of a captured worker’s seized possessions.

Jackie Pollock, a founding member of the Chiang Mai-based Migrant Assistance Program, MAP Foundation, told The Irrawaddy on Tuesday, “The system of informing will create more divisions both between migrants and Thai communities, and xenophobia.”

She said the law would also create divisions within migrant communities, since legal and illegal migrants worked alongside each other.

Moe Swe, head of the Mae Sot-based Yaung Chi Oo Workers Association, said he expected the new law would result in an increased crackdown on migrant workers.

Htoo Chit, director of the Grassroots Human Rights Education, said migrant workers were already having to cope with hardship—“This law will only make things worse.”
He said the legislation would make it difficult for refugees from cyclone Nargis to remain in Thailand.

The Bangkok meeting was also attended by representatives of the Mekong Migration Network, the Thai Action Committee for Democracy in Burma and Action Network for Migrants, along with representatives of migrant workers in Laos and Cambodia.

The Action Network for Migrants (Thailand) and the Mekong Migration Network have also issued a joint letter of appeal to the Thai government on behalf of cyclone victims seeking refuge in Thailand.

Refugees would only come to Thailand if they had no other means of survival in Burma, the letter said.

The appeal, addressed to the Thai ministries of the interior, labor and social development and human security, also called on the Thai authorities to allow Burmese migrants to return home to visit families who were affected by the cyclone, without losing their right to return to Thailand.

In late 2006, five southern provinces of Thailand, including Phuket, Surat Thani, Ranong, Rayong and Phang Nga, passed local regulations that ban public assembly of more than five migrant workers and banning migrants from owning mobile phones, automobiles and motorcycles. The migrants also have to observe a curfew preventing them from leaving their homes between 8 p.m. and 6 a.m.

In 2008, Thai employers requested 1.2 million migrant workers. However, there are currently only 529,447 registered migrants in Thailand, a figure which is likely to decrease this month when 394,443 of the workers are asked to re-register, according to a statement of Mekong Migration Network released on June 4.

Around 2 million migrants are estimated to be working illegally in Thailand,
Most of the migrant workers in Thailand—legal and illegal—are Burmese, employed in factories, commercial farms, the food industry and in the domestic sector, according to Thailand-based labor groups.

Alien Working Act a breach of human rights, say critics

The Alien Working Act, which came into force on Feb 22, is prejudiced, unconstitutional and a breach of human rights, activists said yesterday.


Laddawan Tamafu, a coordinator of the Mekong Migration Network, said the law focused on national security and the economic benefits for business operators. It was passed without any public hearing.


She warned the act would fan divisions. Rewards are offered for the arrest of unlicensed migrant workers and officials can conduct a search without obtaining a court warrant, which she saw as unconstitutional and a violation of human rights.


The act is aimed at capping the alien worker quotas through the issuance of work permits. Employers are required by law to deduct money from alien labourers' wages for the extradition fund.


''Most alien workers get paid less than the minimum wage. The fund contribution would take a heavy toll on them,'' Ms Laddawan said.


Peng Luemsiaw, a coordinator of the Aids Access Foundation and a Cambodian, said: ''We are not criminals. We only want a job, a better life and money to take care of our family. The law prescribes harsh punishment _ five years in prison for working without a licence.''


Under the act, unlicensed migrant workers face a maximum of five years' imprisonment or a 100,000 baht fine, or both. A migrant worker who fails to carry a work permit could be fined up to 10,000 baht.


Surapong Kongchantuk, of the Lawyers' Council of Thailand, pointed out that while unlicensed alien workers face harsh prison terms, the employers had been spared.


For example, employers hiring unlicensed workers are exempt from criminal charges. However, employers will be fined 10,000-100,000 baht for every unlicensed worker.


He said the act allowed labour ministry officials to arrest, fine and extradite alien workers, which he said should be the work of the Immigration Bureau.


He said the levy imposed on employers of alien workers and collected for work permits would be for communal benefit. PENCHAN CHAROENSUTHIPAN

Misdiagnosed Filipina nurse gets $7.8-M from Chicago hospital

CHICAGO, Illinois– Rosemary Mittenthal, a 68-year-old Filipina nurse in Chicago, Illinois, had complained of having “right shoulder pain" and “left knee pain" in mid-March of 2005. But emergency doctors at the Swedish Covenant Hospital had discharged her as having “gouty arthritis."

Because the emergency staff, led by Dr. Paul Newskow, failed to promptly diagnose and treat Rosemary's septic arthritis the Filipina nurse suffered “conscious pain, suffering and permanent disability and injury, which continues to the present day."

It turned out that Rosemary had meningitis that was left undiagnosed for three days, according to her lawyer, Mark McNabola.

On June 4, the Swedish Covenant agreed to pay Rosemary $7.8 million to settle her negligence lawsuit.

Painful ordeal

When Rosemary was rushed to the emergency room “for pain management," the “orthopedic surgeon felt this was not consistent with osteoarthritis and alternative medications were given," according to records from the Cook County Circuit Court in Chicago.

Despite taking her prescriptions, Rosemary's pain progressed until Easter Sunday and had gotten so bad that the she required assistance to get in and out of bed.

The following morning, Rosemary was in such extraordinary pain that her husband, Robert, called 9-1-1. Rosemary was taken to the Swedish Covenant Hospital on March 29, 2005.

She was later diagnosed with “septic joint with meningitis and sepsis," and “complex non-traumatic brain and spinal cord injury."

Since her condition was left undiagnosed for a long time, Rosemary became “dependent for all aspects of self-care and mobility (eating, grooming, bathing, dressing, and toileting, as well as all transfers)," “dependent at the wheel-chair level and had moderate to severe deficits for social interaction, problem-solving, comprehensive and expression."

She now “requires 24-hour assistance for all care."

Rosemary was an active community leader several years ago. She ran but lost for the presidency of the Filipino American Council of Greater Chicago (FACC), a community umbrella group in Chicagoland area. - GMANews.TV

Nearly 300 arrested in immigration raids at poultry plants

IRVING, Texas - More than 290 people have been arrested in immigration and identity theft raids at Pilgrim's Pride poultry plants in five states.

US Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials say Wednesday's raids were part of a long-term investigation. The Texas-based company says it cooperated fully and faces no charges.

More than 100 people were arrested on immigration violations in Chattanooga, Tenn., and Moorefield, W.Va.

Forty-five people were arrested in Mount Pleasant, Texas, on charges of false use of Social Security numbers.

More than 25 people face administrative charges of immigration violations in Live Oak, Fla. They will also face identity theft or document fraud charges.

More than 20 were arrested in Batesville, Ark., on federal warrants for alleged document fraud or identity theft. - AP

Socialists, Greens nix draft EU rules for expelling illegal immigrants

STRASBOURG, France - Socialists and Greens are leading the opposition in the European Parliament to a new set of common rules for expelling illegal immigrants from the EU, calling for a lower detention period and changes to a proposed re-entry ban.

The draft guidelines say illegals in the 27 member countries can be held in specialized detention centers — not jails — for no more than 18 months before being expelled. They grant them basic rights including access to free legal advice, food and shelter, and prohibit the expulsion or detention of unaccompanied children.

A cliffhanger vote is expected in the European Parliament on Wednesday. While conservative lawmakers and the Liberal Democrats back the draft rules, center-left groups and the Greens say the proposed detention period is too long. - AP

RP a haven for human smugglers due to old law

Lack of immigration personnel makes thousands of departing passengers wait in line at the pre-departure area of the Ninoy Aquino International Airport. GMANews.TVMANILA, Philippines - The Philippines has remained a haven for human smugglers because of an obsolete law that fails to curb the illegal entry of foreigners into the country, according to Bureau of Immigration Commissioner Marcelo Libanan.

In a recent interview with radio dzBB, Libanan said the Philippine Immigration Act is too old and inadequate to address the growing incidence of human smuggling in the country.

The law, also known as Commonwealth Act No. 613, was signed by US President Franklin D. Roosevelt on September 3, 1940.

There is nothing in the law that specifically punishes individuals who commit human smuggling, according to the commissioner.

“Ang ating batas ay napakakulang na… ginawa pa po ito noong 1940. Napakaluma na, kaya maraming loopholes…walang definition na nagpi-penalize specifically sa human smuggling", he said.

(Our law is very inadequate… it was enacted in 1940. It’s too old, that’s why it has many loopholes…it has no definition that penalizes human smuggling)

Human smugglers are usually not punished adequately, or are not punished at all.

“Violation of immigration law or violation of the Philippine Passport Act lang…at ang penalty ay usually two years imprisonment…Hindi sila nasasaktan ng husto dahil pag nahuli natin, ini-airport-to-airportlang natin, kaysa naman ikukulong at pakainin pa natin, tapos ide-deport pa rin," said Libanan.

(They are charged with violating the immigration law or the Philippine Passport Act, with a corresponding penalty of only two years of imprisonment. They’re not being punished that much because when authorities catch them they’re just sent back home from airport to airport. We do that instead of putting them in jail and feed them, when they would nevertheless be deported later on)

He said the bureau also lacked agents to go after human smugglers. The agency has only about 70 immigration agents. Thirty five of them are assigned at the bureau’s intelligence division, while the others work at the agency's law enforcement unit.

The bureau also doesn’t have regional offices, and also cannot issue visas abroad because it lacks immigration attachés, according to Libanan. Thus, the task has been assigned to the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA).

“Sila ang nag-i-issue dahil wala kaming capability. Pero, nakakapag-issue kami dito sa ating bansa. (The DFA issues visas because we don’t have the capability. But the bureau can issue visa here in the Philippines)," he said.

He said the bureau only has about 1,000 employees who have to keep an eye on the 3.5 million foreign tourists in the country. He said the number could reach 5 million if other foreigners with resident status would be included in the bureau’s list.

The US Department of State defines human smuggling as “the facilitation, transportation, attempted transportation or illegal entry of a person(s) across an international border, in violation of one or more countries laws, either clandestinely or through deception, such as the use of fraudulent documents."

“Often, human smuggling is conducted in order to obtain a financial or other material benefit for the smuggler, although financial gain or material benefit are not necessarily elements of the crime," the department says.

It says human smuggling is characterized by the following: the person being smuggled is generally cooperating; there is no actual or implied coercion; persons are free to leave or change jobs; smuggling always crosses an international border; and person must only be in country or attempting entry illegally.

There are at least four bills pending at the Philippine House of Representatives that seek to enact a new immigration measure, which include instituting a change in the structure of the Immigration bureau.

These are House Bills 1877, 1954, 2408, and 2409. The first two measures were filed respectively by representatives Pedro Romualdo of Camiguin and Jesus Crispin Remulla of Cavite, while the last two were both filed by Rep. Marc Douglas IV Cagas of Davao Del Sur.

The first two bills propose the creation of a Commission on Immigration and Naturalization, replacing the existing Bureau of Immigration.

The commission would be responsible for the administration and enforcement of immigration, alien registration, citizenship and naturalization laws and such other laws concerning the entry and admission into and departure from the Philippines of all persons.

Meanwhile, HB 2408 seeks to reorganize and strengthen the capability of the Bureau of Immigration by expanding and streamlining its bureaucracy, creating additional immigration offices and intelligence units and upgrading its manpower skills and benefits.

HB 2049, on the other hand, proposes to increase the number of immigration officers. - ARCS, GMANews.TV

Getting US visas becoming easier for Chinese citizens

BEIJING - Chinese tour groups headed to the U.S. on Tuesday under a new agreement that the American travel industry hopes will bring in billions of dollars.

An initial group of more than 200 tourists was flying from the cities of Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou for a 12-day visit that will take them to destinations including New York, Washington and Los Angeles. The trips cost about $4,000 each.

Chinese with visas have long been permitted to travel to the U.S. but the agreement signed last December considerably eased the way by conferring China's "approved destination status" on the country.

That allowed Chinese travel agencies to market package tours to American destinations and permitting U.S. destinations to advertise directly to the Chinese public.

"This is my first visit the United States. We're going to visit Washington, New York, Philadelphia and Hawaii," said a 22-year-old college student who gave her name as Miss Yang. "I'm very happy and excited," she said before rushing off to check in for her flight at Beijing's Capital Airport.

Yang said participants had been told they would not be allowed to leave the group at any time during the trip, perhaps reflecting lingering concerns over illegal immigration. U.S. visas are getting easier for Chinese citizens to obtain, with only about 20 percent having their requests rejected, although many still find the process daunting.

Chinese travelers flush with cash from the country's booming economy are highly sought after by the tourism industry, both for their huge numbers and their free-spending ways: Chinese travelers on average spend upward of $6,000 per visit to the U.S. — more than residents of any other nation — according to U.S. Commerce Department calculations.

The U.S. tends to rank at the top of desired foreign destinations, alongside France and Australia, and even without the new agreement, the Commerce Department had predicted the number of Chinese visitors would rise to 579,000 by 2011. Travel industry observers say the number could rise far beyond that.

The only snag to hit arrangements has been the soaring cost of fuel that prompted two airlines to request one-year postponements in the launching of new services to China.

The change affects planned United Airlines service between San Francisco to Guangzhou and US Airways flights between Philadelphia and Beijing.

Access to routes between the U.S. and China is highly competitive because air service between the two countries is restricted by bilateral agreements. - AP

OFW: Exploited abroad, missed at home

SOPHIA ANN TORRES, Philippine Human Rights Reporting Project

Members of Migrante International dramatize the plight of jailed and stranded OFWs during a press conference in Quezon City Tuesday. Charlie MagnoMANILA, Philippines - The role of more than eight million Filipino migrant workers often takes center stage when their remittances hit a record high: they reached $14.4 billion in 2007.

Despite being called the country's "new heroes," they are subjected to various forms of abuses, exploitation and discrimination. Wide attention is generated when a hapless Filipino worker is sentenced to death in a distant land.

Thousands of Filipinos sympathized with and mourned for domestic helper Flor Contemplacion when she was hanged in Singapore in 1995 after being found guilty of killing a fellow Filipino worker and her Singaporean ward. Her death moved the government to pass the Migrant Workers Act which seeks to protect the rights and welfare of Filipino workers abroad.

International pressure led to the Philippines abandoning the death penalty here, but the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) is currently monitoring 29 cases of Filipinos facing execution overseas -- 11 in Malaysia, nine in Saudi Arabia, four in China, three in Kuwait, one in Brunei and another in the United States.

Whereas Filipinos are facing death in Malaysia for drug crimes, most face the ultimate crime for murder in countries in the Gulf where abuse against migrant workers and domestic helpers in particular is rife.

The nearest to face capital punishment is 29-year-old May Vecina who was convicted to die by hanging in Kuwait after being found guilty of killing her 7-year-old ward in 2007.

According to DFA undersecretary for migrant workers affairs Esteban Conejos Jr., Vecina was convicted of killing her employer's youngest son Salem Sulaiman Al-Otaib in January 6 last year. She also allegedly attempted to kill his 13-year-old brother Abdulla by slitting his throat and stabbing his 17-year-old sister Hajer.

Her death sentence became final on January 2008 and only needs to be signed by the Kuwait Emir, Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al Sabah to take effect.

Despite two letters of appeal from President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, the Kuwaiti Emir has not so far responded. That said, the DFA remains cautiously optimistic about Vecina's fate according to Conejos. As well as appealing directly to the Emir, the government is also said to be seeking high level interventions through the European Union and other influential groups to encourage the Kuwaiti leader to commute the sentence.

At her trial, Vecina alleged she suffered physical and mental abuse from her employer which led her to lose her mind.

Capital cases in the Middle East and elsewhere however only represent the tip of a massive problem which faces migrant workers overseas that cause some to commit crimes. Mostly however Filipinos overseas live and work peacefully despite their sometimes facing abusive, exploitative and sometimes inhumane practices and conditions.

The Philippines is hosting this year the second UN Global Forum on Migration and Development on October 28-31 when the government intends to lead international discussions around the need to respect and protect the rights and interests of migrant workers.

In the presence of UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon and delegates from a majority of the 192 member states, the Philippines will press hard for greater respect to be given by host countries to guest workers.

According to Undersecretary Conejos, the government will have a bilateral meeting with representatives from Arab states. While no binding agreements are envisioned, the meeting will be particularly important, he says, "given the most problematic issues regarding migrant workers happen there."

But while large international forums and bilateral meetings are welcome, much more needs to be done at the practical level in terms of implementing change.

Unfortunately, most of the 36 countries that have so far ratified the UN Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families are those nations which send out guest workers in large numbers.

The treaty was adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1990 and came into force in July 2003, yet no single western country has ratified it nor have any of the Gulf States.

According to Conejos, the countries yet to sign up to it argue there is no need to do so as their own laws afford sufficient protection.

"Many receiving countries do not want to ratify the treaty as it imposes certain obligations that equally provide for the protection of the rights of workers both for legally and illegally staying," he said.

Former chairperson of the Commission of Human Rights Purificacion Quisumbing believes that unless a group of developed countries change their position and ratify, the rights of migrant workers will not improve.

She maintains the UN committee implementing the treaty has not functioned since 2003 because there is no panel member from a hosting -- developed -- country.

"We need reciprocity on this aspect," says Quisumbing. "If these countries really recognize the value of Filipino migrant workers then they should ratify and ensure the protection of our citizens."

Statistics from the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) show that the Middle East hosts nearly 60 per cent of the total Filipino migrant working population. The region is also home to most of the reported cases of physical and sexual abuse, exploitation and inhumane treatment.

According to POEA, the top four destinations for Filipino workers in 2005-2006 were Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait and Qatar.

These migrant workers are commonly deployed as domestic help, factory and construction workers.

UN statistics show there are now 192 million global migrants -- 8.2 million coming from the Philippines.

The nation's strong sea-faring tradition and the English language capability of many means much of the global merchant navy is made up of Filipino crew. And this has led to many facing terror on the high seas at the hands of pirates and hijackers.

The DFA reports no fewer than 31 cases of highly dangerous emergency situations since January 2006 that have involved a total of 9,500 Filipino workers.

Not all incidents are at sea, and Filipinos have been banned from working in places like Iraq after a spate of kidnappings and killings. The country also recently buried a former teacher who was working in the spa of Kabul’s leading hotel when it was overrun by a Taliban suicide mission.

But yet the economy, very limited good employment opportunities at home and the poor state of the welfare support system means the country remains very heavily dependent upon remittances.


Prince Constantijn (center) observes two businessmen exchange ideas before the start of the general membership meeting at the Manila Pen Mark UbaldeIn the short to medium term it helps to keep the country afloat as it is increasingly battered by energy and food crises, but in the longer term it does nothing to build real skills and capacity locally.

In his recent visit to the Philippines, Prince Constantjin of the Netherlands who chairs The Hague Process on Refugees and Migration admitted that the west had to help developing countries address the issue of "brain drain" and social disruption caused by a continuing exodus of professional and skilled workers. The Philippines currently faces a shortage of skills in a whole range of areas -- not just nursing, dentistry or teaching.

As governments try to link migration with development during their meeting in Manila this October, they must also try to put a face on the deep cuts to societies that constantly lose talent that is necessary to facilitate sustainable growth at home.

The government here meantime needs to look beyond the positive impact of remittances and gauge the social impact of having millions of children growing up without mothers, public hospitals running out of doctors and nurses and remote schools in the barrios losing teachers. - Philippine Human Rights Reporting Project

(Sophia Ann Torres is a Filipino journalist based in the Philippines covering foreign affairs issues for the past six years. She focuses on stories mainly on human rights issues particularly the plight of more than 8 million Filipino migrant workers abroad.)

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

ADVISORY TO ALL OFWs ON "PANGKABUHAYAN PACKAGE"

Please be informed that text messages are being sent by a certain Ms. Jo-Ann Castilllo to innocent OFWs informing them that they have won a Pangkabuhayan Package for OFWs.
Ms. Castillo, who is said to be connected with CF Philippines with office address at Tower I, Room 803, 3264 RCBC Plaza, Makati City, informs the would-be OFW victim that he/she can claim the package at her office. Ms. Castillo’s contact number is 0919-6565968.

We wish to inform the public that OWWA is not, in one way or the other, connected to the "Pangkabuhayan Package for OFWs", nor has any knowledge in Ms. Castillo’s offerings or activities.



THE OWWA MANAGEMENT
17 January 2008
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