Thursday, July 31, 2008

HK to suspend maid levy for 2 years, domestics might lose jobs

HONG KONG - The Hong Kong government acted Wednesday to suspend monthly fees some residents must pay to employ maids, a controversial move that critics fear could cost many domestic workers their jobs.

The new measure, which goes into effect Friday and lasts until August 2010, would exempt employers who hire or renew contracts with foreign maids from paying a HK$400 (US$51) monthly fee for two years, Secretary for Labor and Welfare Matthew Cheung said.

The suspension was proposed by Hong Kong leader Donald Tsang to help relieve inflation and passed Wednesday by his Cabinet.

However, it has drawn criticism because it will not apply to employers who already have maids. Opponents fear foreign maids could lose jobs as employers fire them and hire new ones to take advantage of the waiver. Hundreds of foreign maids protested Sunday over the suspension.

"We are still upset and very angry with the decision of the government," said Eni Lestari, a spokeswoman for an Asian migrant worker group.

"The measure is just opening a channel for employers to threaten our job security."

A number of foreign maids have reportedly lost their jobs before the suspension begins.

There are about 250,000 maids in Hong Kong, with a minimum monthly wage of HK$3,580 (US$459). - AP

Gov't fails to account for $2.6B OFW remittance

MANILA, Philippines - Money sent home last year by Filipinos working abroad was nearly one-fifth more than the official figures reported by the government, according to a study by a London-based organization.

Instead of receiving $14.45 billion, the Philippines actually got some $17 billion in remittances last year, the research unit of the London-based Economist Magazine said in its July 2008 report.

This indicated that the difference—estimated at $2.6 billion—was sent via unofficial channels, a figure that is five times more than the $500 million estimated by the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP).

Besides friends and relatives of overseas workers, unofficial channels also refer to door-to-door services, which also deliver shipments from abroad—usually consumer goods sent home by Filipinos abroad.

Earlier, the central bank predicted that remittances for this year would reach $16.4 billion.

According to the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU), the Philippines is the fourth-largest recipient of remittances after India, China, and Mexico, which received $27 billion, $25.7 billion, and $25 billion respectively from their citizens working in foreign countries.

Commissioned by Western Union, the EIU report also confirmed that most of the funds were not invested but spent on consumer goods such as refrigerators and cars.

Bulk of remittances in Bangladesh, Brazil, Mexico, Nicaragua, and El Salvador were spent on food and clothing, the report said. - GMANews.TV

Group hits Italy's tough immigration rules that could affect Pinoys

MANILA, Philippines - The Council of Europe, the region’s top human rights watchdog, criticized Italy’s new immigration rules, which could affect thousands of Filipinos illegally staying in the country.

In a statement released on Tuesday, Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights Thomas Hammarberg, said that Italy’s new immigration measures “lack human rights and humanitarian principles and may spur further xenophobia."

The Associated Press (AP) reported last week that as a response to street crimes that were often being blamed by Italians on foreigners, the country’s parliament passed a bill that toughens rules on illegal immigration.

The report said the measure that was approved with a wide margin from the Senate included “increasing jail sentences by a third for offenders who are also illegal immigrants and expelling any foreigner who has been sentenced to more than two years in prison."

The report also said that the measure makes it a crime to rent an apartment to illegal immigrants.

Hammarberg criticized the decision to criminalize the entry and irregular stay of migrants.
“These measures may make it more difficult for refugees to ask for asylum and is likely to result in a further social stigmatisation and marginalisation of all migrants - including Roma," he said.

There were 128,080 Filipinos living in Italy in 2006, of which 20,000 are illegal residents or workers; 84,972 are legal temporary workers; and 23,108 are permanent residents, according to the UN International Research and Training Institute for the Advancement of Women.

The UN body said that based on the 2005 data from Caritas di Rome, 61 percent of Filipinos living in Italy were women who mostly worked in the service sector. It said that in cities like Rome and Milan, 70 percent of Filipino migrants were female. - GMANews.TV

Pinoys among 55 nabbed at gay gathering in KSA

MANILA, Philippines — Filipinos were among 55 people arrested at a gay party at a farm in Qatif in eastern Saudi Arabia, an online news site reported on Thursday.

Arab News ( reported that Labor Attaché David Des Dicang, head of the Philippine Embassy’s Eastern Region office, is working with police to help the detained Filipinos.

"I know that some Filipinos have been arrested in that area and we are trying to help them," he told Arab News, but declined to give further comment.

A report on Al-Arabiya TV said two young men were allegedly found wearing women's makeup and dancing on stage in what has been described as a gay party.

It said the detainees were handcuffed when arrested.

Police said drugs and alcohol were found at the farm and that many of those arrested were Filipinos and Pakistanis.

Pakistan embassy community welfare attaché Waqar Ahmed said he had no knowledge about any arrest so far.

Most gatherings that could result in mixed crowds are forbidden in Saudi Arabia, although authorities generally look the other way.

The authorities, however, are unforgiving when they have information about parties that involve alcohol and homosexuality. - GMANews.TV

US army begins probe on Pinay rape case in Okinawa

The southern Japanese prefecture is home to about 20,000 US soldiers and has since been in hot water for previous rape scandals including that of a 14-year-old Japanese school girl who was forced to have sex with a 38-year-old Marine staff sergeant. The red marks indicate the US camps on Okinawa (photo: Wikipedia)MANILA, Philippines - The US military is investigating the American soldier who allegedly raped a 22-year-old Filipino worker in Japan's southern island of Okinawa.

Army spokeswoman Amanda Kraus told the Associated Press (AP) that an army-appointed investigator began the military equivalent of a pretrial probe on Monday into the allegations against a 25-year-old specialist assigned to Kadena Air Base on Okinawa.

According to Kraus, the soldier is reportedly restricted to the base but is not facing formal charges on any of the allegations.

In May, Japanese prosecutors in Okinawa dismissed charges against the soldier after finding insufficient evidence. Army investigators have pursued the case since.

The next step in the military legal process is a preliminary hearing by an independent officer, Kraus said.

The army has 120 days to decide whether to formally press all or part of the charges and hold a court martial, or dismiss the case entirely, she added.

"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.

Offenses against Japanese females involving U.S. troops have sparked anger in Japan over the U.S. military and its 50,000-strong presence, most of them on the southern island.

In May, a U.S. court martial found a 38-year-old Marine, initially accused of raping a 14-year-old Japanese girl February in Okinawa, guilty of a lesser charge of abusive sexual conduct and sentenced him to four years in prison.

A U.S. military tribunal in Iwakuni, southwestern Japan, sentenced four Marines to prison for gang-assaulting a 20-year-old woman in the city of Hiroshima in October, in separate rulings earlier this year. - AP, with reports from GMANews.TV

DOLE: Deployment ban to Jordan partially lifted

MANILA, Philippines - Household workers who have previous employment contracts in Jordan may return to the Middle East country after the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) partially lifted the deployment ban there.

The labor department in a statement said that Household Service Workers (HSW) who are returning to work with the same employer in Jordan will be exempted from DOLE's previous ban.

"This is provided that the salary of the returning HSWs shall in no way be lower than the prescribed monthly pay for Filipino household service workers of US$400," the department order said.

Labor Secretary Marianito Roque has recently issued department order No. 93-08 series of 2008 that grants partial exemption to the returning HSW in Jordan.

Roque also instructed the Philippine Overseas and Employment Agency (POEA) and the Philippine Labor Office in Jordan
(POLO) to resume the processing of employment documents of qualified returning HSWs.

The POEA and POLO-Jordan were also told to disseminate the information and to monitor the terms and conditions of the employment of the returning HSWs to the same Jordanian employer.

The labor department has set a monthly salary cap of US$400 to HSWs to ensure that only legitimate and capable employers can avail the services of Filipino HSWs.

This move of the labor department was aimed of providing added securities and eventually eliminates the abuses and exploitation of HSWs in the said Middle-East country. - GMANews.TV

Countries with existing OFW Deployment Ban

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

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

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

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

The Department of Labor and Employment however, partially lifted the OFW deployment ban in this country in July 2008.

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

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

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

Pinoy diplomat elected chairman of nonaligned members committee

MANILA, Philippines — The Philippines will play an important role in the ministerial meeting of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) later this month with the election of a Filipino diplomat as chair of one of the preparatory committees.

A statement from the Philippine Mission to the United Nations said Ambassador Leslie Gatan will head the Economic and Social Committee (Ecosoc) of the senior officials meeting.

Philippine permanent representative to the UN Hilario Davide Jr. reported to Foreign Affairs Secretary Alberto Romulo that Gatan was "elected by acclamation."

The Ecosoc will prepare for the 15th NAM Ministerial Conference in Tehran, Iran.

Davide said Gatan, as chairman, will steer the meetings of the Ecosoc Committee to thresh out pending issues that were not resolved by NAM members in New York. These include human rights, economic cooperation and other social and economic concerns.

"The most important initiative of the Philippine Delegation to Tehran is seeking the approval of the NAM Ministers of the offer of the Philippines to host in Manila a Special NAM Ministerial Meeting on Interfaith Dialogue and Cooperation for Peace," Davide said.

The Philippines, which is pushing for an interfaith initiative in the United Nations, will propose in Tehran that the meeting be held on May 26 to 28, 2009.

Davide said the NAM 14th Summit in Havana in September has already approved in principle the offer of the Philippines to host this meeting.

Leading the Philippine delegation to the NAM Senior Officials Meeting on July 27-28 will be Assistant Secretary Evan Garcia of the Office of United Nations and Other International Organizations (UNIO) of the Department of Foreign Affairs.

On the other hand, leading the Philippine delegation to the Ministerial Conference on July 29 to 30 will be Foreign Affairs Undersecretary for Special Concerns Rafael Seguis.

The triennial ministerial meeting consolidates the positions of the 118 member-countries on almost all issues being considered by the United Nations and the other organs of the UN such as the General Assembly, the Security Council and the Ecosoc. - GMANews.TV

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Woman arrested in Manila for gypping 2 would-be OFWs

MANILA, Philippines — A 32-year-old woman was arrested on Monday for allegedly gypping two would-be overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) of over P132,500 for non-existent jobs abroad, police said on Tuesday.

Police said the suspect, Annie Lou Palo, of 2 Orillano St., Lower Bicutan, Taguig City, was cornered during an operation at Room 302 of Tiaoqui Building in Plaza Sta. Cruz, Manila.

Senior Police Officer 3 Ricardo G, Magbanua, of the Manila police’s Mayor’s Special Action Team (MSAT), said the arrest stemmed from complaints filed by Sheryl Sante, 30, of Bigatan village in Tanza, Cavite and Leonardo Cabanela Jr, 27, a seaman from Bagong Silang in Cutod, Angeles City.

Sante alleged that she and her husband paid P60,000 cash to the suspect as placement and processing fees while Cabanela claimed that he was duped of P72,500.

The two sought the help of MSAT personnel led by Abet Villanueva.

Sante claimed that her husband, Dexter, was recruited by the suspect as a fisherman. They paid P67,000 to the HJL Management Services on November 25, 2007 but only the amount of P37,000 was placed on a receipt.

Since Dexter left, he contacted his wife only once and failed to send her allotment. Sheryl failed to contact her husband, prompting her to seek help of retired police Supt. Franklin Gacutan, MCAT director.

A police report showed that the suspect has no permit for recruiting, manning and crewing of personnel abroad.

Authorities conducted an operation at the office of the suspect and arrested her on Monday afternoon.

Another complainant, Cabanela, filed a complaint against the suspect and claimed that he was recruited as seaman of the HJL Management Services with office at Room 302 Tiaoqui Building, Plaza Sta. Cruz, Manila.

On May 20, 2008, he paid P70,000 to the suspect who promised him that he would be deployed for employment in Malaysia.

The suspect failed to deploy him for employment and he went frequently to the office to follow-up his employment.

On July 28, 2008, Cabanela went to the office to follow-up his employment and found out that the suspect was being arrested at the time. He then filed also a complaint against the suspect.

The complainants even presented official receipts and a certification from Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA). The suspect was inquested for illegal recruitment.

On the other hand, the Manila City Hall represented by Benigno Bagabaldo of the Bureau of Permit also filed charges for operating business without permit against the suspect. - GMANews.TV

NBI corners 2 Fil-Ams, American man in online fraud

MANILA, Philippines — Two Filipino-Americans and their American cohort who have allegedly been victimizing people selling laptops via shopping website were arrested in an entrapment operation by the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) last Sunday.

The NBI on Tuesday identified the suspects as Filipino-Americans Virgil Anthony Pineda and Reynaldo Lumbo and their American colleague as Robert Andrew Hornick. Estafa (fraud) charges were being readied against the three suspects.

Regional Director Ric Diaz, chief of staff of the NBI’s Office of the Deputy Director for Intelligence Services, said the arrests stemmed from complaints filed separately by Emmanuel Dris, Paulo Madamba, and Ken Koga.

“This group has been purchasing laptops, iPods, cellular phones and other high-tech gadgets via, then they would meet the sellers and pay them with falsified checks," he added.

An investigation conducted by the bureau’s Anti-Terrorism Division (ATD) showed that sometime last June, Dris, who is into buy-and-sell, tried to sell his Toshiba laptop worth P40,000 via on-line buy-and-sell site.

Dris said Hornick’s group contacted him to express interest in buying the laptop and a meeting was set at the Promenade Starbucks in Greenhills, San Juan. It was there that Dris met the three suspects, who claimed that they were “working" at the US Embassy.

The suspects agreed to buy the laptop for P40,000 and they paid a Dris manager’s check amounting to P40,000 and took his laptop. When Dris tried to encash the manager’s check at the Banco de Oro (BDO) on Pedro Gil Street, Manila, he was informed that the account was already closed.

Dris tried to call up the suspects through their respective prepaid cellular phones but he could not contact them.

In another complainant, Madamba claimed that a certain Virgil Ignacio contacted him and expressed his interest to buy his Macbook Pro 17-inch via

Madamba said in his sworn statement that the suspects claimed to be US military personnel. He agreed to sell his laptop and was paid a manager’s check, which also later bounced when he tried to encash it.

Koga, the third victim, told the NBI that Hornick and his cohorts offered to buy his Macbook Pro and paid him a P101,000 manager's check. As in the caseof Dris and Madamba, the check Koga got bounced and that the trio could not be contacted.

As found by some of the victims later, at least 15 other people have fallen prey to the gang using the same trickery.

To track down the suspects, a brother of Dris, whose name was being kept confidential, posted in that he was selling a laptop. Quite expectedly, the suspects contacted Dris’ brother and a meeting was set at Greenhills last Sunday.

Unknown to the suspects, NBI agents were part of the planned entrapment operation. When the exchange was made, with Hornick issuing another bouncing checkfor the laptop, the agents announced the arrest.
Ric Diaz said his team was verifying claims by the suspects that they were US soldiers who have just resigned from an assignment in Afghanistan.

“We already sent a letter to the US Legal Attaché inquiring about the status of the Hornick and Pineda, who were said to have served as US military personnel in Afghanistan. We are also verifying the information with the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI)," said Diaz, who noted that the suspects even tried to resist arrest. - GMANews.TV

Illegal immigrants in the US have the 'right to remain silent' - lawyer

MANILA, Philippines - An American immigration lawyer reminded undocumented foreigners in the US that they are not required to divulge any information regarding their nationality should US immigration authorities arrest or detain them.

According to Atty Robert Reeves, founder of a law firm that specializes in immigration and deportation, illegal immigrants still have the right “to remain silent" regarding their place of birth or nationality.

Reeves made the statement amid the recent crackdown of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) on undocumented immigrants in several states in the US including California.

ICE is the US Department of Homeland Security's primary investigative arm. It identifies, investigates, and dismantles vulnerabilities in the country's border, transportation and economic sectors, and infrastructure.

Based on data from the US Census Bureau, in 2006 there were more than 36 million Asians living in California, which is about 12.3 percent of the state’s entire population.

The biggest number of Filipinos outside the Philippines can be found in Daly City, California.

“Remember, everything a person says can be used against them in deportation proceedings. A detainee should never lie to an ICE agent and must never make false claims of U.S. citizenship or lawful permanent resident status," said Reeves in his Web site.

The US-based lawyer further said detainees have the right to refuse signing statements or documents that could be used to deny them a court hearing or worse, expedite their deportation.

Like all arrested individuals in the US, Reeves said undocumented immigrants have the right to a phone call and to speak to a lawyer before giving statements to authorities.

Detained immigrants are usually taken to a temporary processing station where he or she may be fingerprinted and interviewed. After the processing of the detainee, he or she is given the “A number," which is an alien registration number.

“It is very important to memorize this number and if possible, the name of the ICE agent in charge of processing the detainee and the location of the processing station," Reeves said.

He added that it is important for the detainee to call an immigration lawyer who can “request status of the case or in some situations can negotiate the release of the detainee with or without bond."

“Family members can also learn the location of their loved one if they have the full name and 'A number' ready. If a detainee is given legal documents, it is important to always keep those documents with him or her. These documents will be very important to an immigration lawyer," Reeves further said. - MJU, GMANews.TV

No Pinoy reported hurt in moderate LA quake - DFA

MANILA, Philippines - No Filipino was initially reported injured in a magnitude-5.4 earthquake that shook Los Angeles, California before dawn Wednesday (Manila time).

But Department of Foreign Affairs spokesman Claro Cristobal said Manila has instructed its consulate in LA to coordinate with Filipino-American communities in the area.

"Sa kasalukuyan walang nauulat na naapektuhan sa ating kababayang Pilipino sa lugar na yan (As of 9 a.m., we have received no report of any Filipino affected by the quake)," Cristobal said in an interview on dzBB radio, citing initial reports from the Philippine consulate general there.

"Mabuti ang balita na wala pang nire-report na casualty ang kababayan natin (It is good news that as of this time we have not received reports of Filipino casualties)," he added.

He said the DFA ordered the Philippine consulate there to be in constant touch with Filipino-American organizations in the LA area for reports on Filipinos' condition there.

There were no initial reports of serious damage or injuries from the magnitude-5.4 quake. - GMANews.TV

Pinoys in Marianas told not to lose hope on ‘green card’

SAN JOSE, Saipan – A visiting Florida-based human rights advocate has said that Filipinos and other foreign workers in the US Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) should not lose hope on having granted “green card" or a lawful permanent residency.

A law signed by President George W. Bush in May puts CNMI immigration under federal control as early as June 2009.

Those critical of the law, led by CNMI Governor Benigno R. Fitial, say a change in foreign workers’ immigration status or a grant of green card is impossible under a federal system.

The CNMI, a 14-island US territory in the Western Pacific, is home to some 19,000 documented foreign workers mostly Filipinos and Chinese.

Human rights advocate Wendy Doromal, a former teacher on the island of Rota, said she believes the granting of green cards to long-term foreign workers will happen before 2014 or the end of the transition period.

“If you really think about it, they (CNMI government) always say there will be zero guest workers by 2014. Of course, because they won’t be thought of as guest workers anymore because they’ll be green card holders…That’s my belief," Doromal told GMANews.TV in an interview Tuesday night after a meeting with a small group of nonresident workers.

Fitial, who is married to a Filipina from Nueva Ecija, is planning to sue the US government for putting the islands’ immigration under federal control, citing economic disaster and the deportation of all foreign workers whom the islands depend on mostly for private sector jobs.

But the Fitial administration is opposed to granting green cards to foreign workers.

Most foreign workers in the CNMI earn a minimum wage of $4.05 an hour. Due to economic uncertainties, their work hours have been reduced by as much as eight hours a week and many employers now deduct from their workers’ paychecks up to $100 a month for housing.

Doromal said “every long-term guest worker should be afforded social and political rights and should be provided a pathway to (US) citizenship."

“Every long-term guest worker should be given a green card," she said.

Doromal, along with her daughter Nani, is currently in the CNMI meeting with and interviewing thousands of foreign workers and their families about their conditions and hopes for the new law applying federal immigration in the CNMI.

The information she will gather will be presented to federal officials, including the US Department of Homeland Security along with members of the US Congress, for consideration in the drafting of the regulations governing the “federalization" law, now Public Law 110-229.

Doromal said every nonresident worker who is a parent of a US citizen should also be given a green card.

“I think that for any guest worker program to be effective, just and democratic, it has to provide a pathway to citizenship. And to me, anything less is one notch below slavery and because you’re an indentured servant and you’re disenfranchised, you’re always an underclass without political rights and I think it’s especially evil that underclass makes up the majority of the adult population," said Doromal, whose husband is from Iloilo in the Philippines.

In 2000, two key US senators introduced legislation with a provision granting green cards to foreign workers in the CNMI that unanimously passed the Senate.

“That’s the (original) federalization bill. The (CNMI) government hired Jack Abramoff to kill it," Doromal said.

Abramoff, a former Washington, DC-based lobbyist, is now in jail for defrauding American Indian tribes and corruption of public officials, and for fraudulent dealings with SunCruz Casinos.

Doromal is also critical of the CNMI labor system, saying it considers labor cases settled when an administrative order has been issued.

“To me, it’s not settled until that order is followed. If there’s unpaid wages and if they’re not in the hands of persons owed those wages, that case is unsettled. The CNMI labor system is dysfunctional because they’ve never really enforced their judgments, administrative orders. I don’t think that will happen under the federal system that’s why I support a federal system," she said.

The CNMI Department of Labor has been able to close thousands of labor cases dating as far back as 10 years ago under the Fitial administration.

But there is at least $1.6 million in unpaid wages owed to guest workers based on initial information gathered by the Federal Labor Ombudsman’s Office.

Foreign worker groups in the CNMI are not only focused on the immigration status of long-term guest workers, but also on the status of parents of US citizen children, a system of speedy processing for guest workers who qualify for H-1 and H-2 visas, the application of the US asylum laws to the CNMI, and a just federal guest worker program.

Irene Tantiado, president of the Coalition of United Workers (NMI), also called on her fellow nonresident workers not to lose hope about having a better immigration status.

“It may not happen next year but eventually, it will happen. The bigger question is, ‘how would you be able to stay in the CNMI to see that happen?’" said Tantiado, an accountant from Cebu.

Jerry Custodio, from Tacloban and president of the Human Dignity Movement, said many long-time Filipinos and other Asian workers have been forced to go back home when their yearly contract was not renewed.

Death threats

In a related news, Tantiado said she has been receiving death threats because of her foreign worker rights’ advocacy.

The latest was on Monday night when Tantiado received a call from an individual whom she thought was a leader of a workers’ group she was supposed to meet. She was led to a secluded area and when she thought she was being set up, she sped away and reported the incident to the police.

“The police said it still does not constitute death threat... And the caller also dropped the names of other Filipino leaders like Bonifacio Sagana and Jerry Custodio," she said. - GMANews.TV

Villar urges Arroyo to ‘make up’ for SONA snub of OFWs

MANILA, Philippines — Senate President Manuel Villar on Wednesday urged President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo to make up for her “oversight" in not mentioning the sacrifices of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) in her State of the Nation Address (SONA) last Monday.

In a press statement on Wednesday, Villar said while he concedes that “not all issues and not all sectors" could be accommodated in the speech, the oversight was sad considering “the sacrifices of OFWs."

“It was a speech peppered with ‘thank yous’ but not one went to those who are eking out a living abroad and the families they’ve left behind who are living the pain of forced separation," he said.

“It seems that the SONA was only meant for those living within the country’s boundaries. It didn’t reach across the seas where there are 7.9 million Filipinos who pay their citizenship dues in the form of foreign exchange remittances to the homeland," Villar said.

Not counting the money sent home via informal channels, Filipinos abroad remitted $14.5 billion through banks last year, according to the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (B SP). This year, OFW remittances in the first five months had increased 14.7 percent year-on-year to $6.8 billion.

“What they plowed back to the economy - P652 billion- is something you can’t miss on the financial radar but one that the president’s teleprompter sadly didn’t catch," Villar said

To make up for the oversight, Villar said the government should propose programs in the 2009 national budget that would promote OFW welfare.

“One good starting point is to increase the repatriation fund for OFWs in distress to P1 billion," Villar said, adding a fund for the creation of an OFW Hospital should also be made available.

Villar earlier revealed that 4,770 Filipinos- 954 women - were languishing in jails in 63 countries and territories as of June 2007.

“The package of pro-OFW measures should send the message to every OFW out there that they are not forgotten by the government," he said. - GMANews.TV

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Govt 'bankrupts' aspiring OFWs - Migrante report

ANGIE DE LARA, Migrant Watch
MANILA, Philippines - Overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) are being dried out before they can start to work abroad.

According to Migrante International, 76 signatures are needed for 76 documents before they can get their passport. These include Community Tax Certificate (CTC), barangay clearance, birth certificate, National Bureau of Investigation and police Clearance, among others.

Each document costs from P50 to P100 ($1.13 to $2.26 at an exchange rate of $1=P44.23) or more. An OFW shells out around P17,665 ($399 at an exchange rate of $1=P44.23) in government fees alone before being able to leave for abroad. The following table shows the breakdown.

Migrante International said that 3,400 Filipinos are leaving the country every day to work abroad. From these OFWs, the government earns more than P60 million ($1,356,545) a day or P2.92 billion ($66,018,539) per year.

Filipinos hoping to work abroad will also have to pay additional charges for recruitment agencies.

Profit from remittances

The Philippine government also charges a 15 percent documentary stamp tax from every remittance transaction of OFWs.

With the unprecedented oil price hikes and increases in prices of basic commodities, there has been a surge in OFW remittances.

OFW remittances reached US$6.8 billion from January 2008 to May 2008. It is projected to surpass last year’s total remittances of US$14.45 billion to US15.65 billion this year.

John Leonard Monterona of Migrante Middle East said that the Arroyo administration, the banks, money transfer and telecommunications companies are earning a lot out of OFW remittances due to the fees they collect from transactions.

“The total yearly remittance is bread-and-butter for the Arroyo administration," said Monterona.

Data from the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) show that overseas Filipinos remitted $14.45 billion through the banking system last year. “That amounts to more than US$30 million in remittances daily," said Monterona. In documentary stamps alone, this amounts to $2.1675 billion collected by the Arroyo government.

Monterona added that in 2006, OFW remittances are more than double the total allotment for the government’s external debt service, five times more than foreign direct investments (FDI), 22 times higher than the total Overseas Development Aid (ODA) and even more than half of the gross international reserves.

He said that like previous administrations, the Arroyo regime is making OFW remittances a guarantee for more loans from international banks and financial institutions.

Migrante International said that despite the revenues earned by the Philippine government from the sweat of OFWs, Filipino workers remain neglected. - Bulatlat

Group: Arroyo's SONA mum on OFWs' welfare

MANILA, Philippines - Militant overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) based in Hong Kong questioned President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo on Monday for keeping mum on measures to promote their welfare in her State of the Nation Address (SONA).

Bagong Alyansang Makabayan Hong Kong (Bayan-HK) said poverty has become so rampant that the economic and political crises are even felt abroad.

"(Government) keeps on exacting from the earning of OFWs through various government fees. It even takes money from what we send to our families through the documentary stamp fee in every remittance," said Norman Uy Carnay, Bayan-HK country information officer, said in a statement on the Kilusan website.

Carnay said that Filipino migrants are enraged with the refusal of the Arroyo government to heed the people's demands to remove the value-added tax on oil and the scrapping of oil deregulation.

Also, he said government remains silent on issues affecting OFWs in the host country.

In her 57-minute speech, Arroyo praised the efforts of OFWs who send money back home to ease the economic woes not only of their families in particular but also of the country in general.

"I care for our OFWs for their skills, integrity, and untiring labor, who send home their pay as the only way to touch loved ones so far away," said Mrs Arroyo in her eighth SONA on Monday.

"Nagpupugay ako ngayon sa kanilang mga pangkaraniwang Filipino (I laud them, ordinary Filipinos)," she added.

After praising the OFWs, Mrs Arroyo received the 10th applause during her speech.

The group's information officer mentioned the lack of reaction of the Philippine government to the HK$100 wage increase for foreign domestic helpers in HK that migrant groups have called "too small" as well as the suspension of the levy that migrants believed would lead to massive termination of current FDHs.

"Other consulates have already expressed disappointment over the levy decision but the Philippine Consulate General has remained silent. It just shows how the GMA government mortally fears rocking the labour migration boat that is the only one supporting the country's economy," Carnay said.

Carnay added that the rice problem, the incessant increase in prices of oil and oil-dependent commodities and the Value Added Tax are the major concerns of OFW families that impact Filipinos abroad.

"These are the everyday needs of our families that stretch our budget to the limits. These expenses are on top of what we have to shoulder on education and health that should have been basic services that this government has never delivered," he added.

"As breadwinners of our families, we cannot escape from the tragedy after tragedy that GMA's policies and inaction to burning issues bring. Every month, we are full of worries as to how we can still shoulder the increasing needs of our families," he said. - GMANews.TV

RP consulate in UAE accepts passport requests on weekends

MANILA, Philippines — Philippine officials in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) will now accommodate weekend applications for machine-readable passports from Filipino workers in Dubai and Northern Emirates.

A report by online news site Khaleej Times on Tuesday quoted Consul General Benito Valeriano as saying the extended service will benefit Filipino workers who cannot go there on working days.

"Companies with a large number of Filipino workers could put in a similar request. The Philippine Consulate is trying to reach out to the large number of overseas Filipino workers in the emirates needing the new passport," Valeriano said.

Dry Docks earlier requested the time adjustment in behalf of its hundreds of Filipino workers. Last Saturday, at least 80 workers of the company visited the consulate on board two buses to apply for new passports.

Valeriano urged all OFWs in the emirates to apply for a new passport as early as possible and not wait for the expiry date.

He said it takes time for the new passport to arrive as it is being printed at the Department of Foreign Affairs in Manila.

Applicants must appear in person at the consulate with their passport-sized photographs in blue background unlike the old green passport, which has the passport holder's picture in white background. - GMANews.TV

Groups asks US to end military, political aid to Arroyo

MANILA, Philippines — Scoring President Arroyo's State of the Nation Address (SONA) as a pack of lies, militant groups based in the United States called on American taxpayers to demand the end of US military and political aid to the Arroyo government.

In a statement, the Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan-USA) said it is time to end "another year of lies, deception and treason" from a government that continues to fail the Filipino people.

"The answer for Filipinos in the US is clear: the struggle to remove Arroyo, as the President of the Philippines by impeachment, resignation, or ouster is a just and necessary struggle, but we must hold no illusion that it is the only means to end the Filipino people's suffering," the group said in a statement on the Kilusan website Monday afternoon.

According to the US-based group, Mrs Arroyo's ouster is the first step to "pressuring" for a new type of government, one that truly imbibes pro-poor and pro-worker ideals particularly to the plight of Filipino workers who migrate to other countries to look for jobs that are otherwise not available in the country.

"This will take a new and improved type of 'People Power.' to save the Philippines from suffering the fate of the sunken MV Princess of the Stars, we must start first and foremost with unseating Arroyo from her seat of power," the group added.

It called for an end to government corruption, a rollback of rice and oil prices, abolition of rice cartels, the removal of US troops from the Philippines, an end to human trafficking, and scrapping of the overseas remittance tax.

According to the group, the Arroyo government's boasts of so-called economic growth and progress for the Filipino people are belied with the sights in the streets and countryside.

It said the streets of Manila and other cities in the Philippines will tell the story of long lines to buy the basic staple food of rice from the National Food Authority, long power outages and brownouts due to skyrocketing energy rates, and squatter children picking garbage to find food.

Also, it said it will tell the story of long lines at the Overseas Worker Welfare Administration (OWWA) and the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) for visa processing for those looking for work abroad. Behind government corridors backhanded deals will be made, and corrupt politicians will count the money they have plundered from public funds.

"The countryside will tell stories of civil war, US and Philippine militarization, human rights violations, hunger and forced displacement. These sights, not the speech of President Arroyo, paint the true state of the Philippine nation," it said.

On the other hand, it said Filipinos in the US suffer from human rights violations that occur without any intervention from Philippine consular officers representing the Arroyo government in the US.

Even Filipino World War II Veterans, who have been fighting for their equity for over six decades now, have little to thank the Arroyo administration for, as the regime used the issue only as a token ruse to cover up its intention to beg for more US military aid as the main reason for its recent trip to the United States.

"The Arroyo government has never advocated or intervened on behalf of the interests of the Filipino veterans, who continue to suffer from a historical wrongdoing of the US government, nor has the Arroyo government advocated or intervened on behalf of the interests of Filipino immigrants suffering from a broken and exploitative US immigration system," it said.

Yet, it said the Arroyo clique wasted no time in collecting the billions of US dollar remittances from Filipino workers in the US to sustain the failing economy and contribute in giving a "semblance" of economic growth that Arroyo shamelessly takes the individual credit for.

"Now she is even taxing us for each dollar we remit! This is to produce another plunderable fund for election season and bribery fund to win loyalty from politicians," it said. - GMANews.TV

Aspirants for top OWWA post urged to show program of action

MANILA, Philippines — Aspirants for the top position at the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) were asked on Tuesday to lay down their planned “program of action" so that overseas Filipinos could decide intelligently who to endorse.

Rashid Fabricante, a migrant workers’ rights advocate in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, made the request as Filipino expatriates appeared undecided over who to support.

Nominations started since President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo gave erstwhile OWWA administrator Marianito Roque a permanent appointment as labor secretary early this month.

OFW e-groups have, meanwhile, launched their own campaign against the possible appointment of former Surigao Rep. Prospero “Butch" Pichay as the new OWWA administrator.

Pichay, an administration bet during the May 2007 polls was not able to make it to senate after losing the senatorial race.

According to the Center for Migrant Advocacy and the Philippine Migrant Rights Watch they want someone from their own ranks to handle OWWA and its billions of dollars in OWWA membership fees which they fear may be used for the 2010 elections.

One of the aspirants is Muhamad Ali Carlito Astillero, a Riyadh-based medical doctor who was nominated by the OFW Congress, an umbrella group in the Saudi capital.

Mike Bolos, a former OFW and now an entrepreneur, was nominated by migrants rights advocates but he withdrew his name last week when Astillero entered the fray. Bolos cited the need for the overseas Filipino community to act as one as his reason for pulling out.

But another choice, lawyer Angelo “Jijil" Jimenez, a labor official who has reportedly impressed many overseas Filipinos and labor recruiters alike, is leading the race for signatures in the online petition site

As of Tuesday morning, 2, 179 Filipinos at home and abroad have signed up for Jimenez as against 1,039 for Astillero.

OFWs watching the race have expressed surprise considering the wider publicity Astillero had gotten so far and the endorsement of more than 50 community organizations in Riyadh last weekend.

In view of the two-way race, Fabricante of the Pinoy-Abroad-Forum and e-Lagda-Riyadh said it is but right for the two aspirants to show to Filipino expatriates what is in store for them.

Jimenez had a ready answer to Fabricante’s challenge. His three-point program calls for: 1. strengthening og the OWWA welfare-delivery core capabilities, 2. making overseas employment a safer option, and 3. making overseas employment a more successful option. For details of the program, click here.

A copy of a petition to be sent through e-mail to President Arroyo also indicated that labor recruitment groups are supporting former Jimenez, who was once named OWWA deputy administrator.

“In his selfless devotion to public service, Atty. Jijil has proven his worth as our country's Labor Attaché in Japan and the Middle East, wherein he was able to orchestrate even the most impossible solutions in his most silent and humble way – addressing the many problems of our distressed OFWs in the Japan and the Middle East (particularly in Kuwait and Iraq)," the petition said.

“To the many who has met and know him, wherever he was assigned to (be it in Japan, Kuwait and Iraq), he was revered to as the "Hero of the Modern-Day Heroes" - although he keeps on denying the same, humility being his solid character. Incorruptible in many ways, he is known to all industry sectors, be it private, government, civil-society and even OFWs – as a man with impeccable integrity loyalty and love to country and its people and dedication to all call of duty," the petition further added.

So the people may know

In an e-mail to Astillero’s campaigners, Fabricante said Astillero needs to present his “original specific program of actions" so the global Filipinos will have a fair chance to know what stuff he is made of.

"The global overseas Pinoys are sensitive if not intelligent voters and knows their rights and obligations to their country and their families lest their apprehension and criticisms of the very agency in custody of the more than 10 billion pesos in welfare fund, whose mandate, aside from serving the OFWs and promoting their rights and welfares, should be looked upon many years from now into something evolving, responsive to the real needs of the OFWs, wherever they are now," said Fabricante’s e-mail.

Earlier, senior OFW rights advocates Edna Aquino and Daphne Ceniza suggested that OFWs come up with a selection criteria, including, qualifications, track performance, and expertise in business, finance and management as basis for deciding who to endorse. - GMANews.TV

Friday, July 25, 2008

Group urges RP govt to monitor abuses on Sabah deportees

Group urges RP govt to monitor abuses on Sabah deportees
MANILA, Philippines - Amid the weekly deportation of an average of 300 undocumented Filipinos from Sabah in Malaysia, a women’s rights group urged lawmakers to ensure that the deportees are not subjected to abuse or maltreatment.

Party-list group Gabriela said that the Philippine government must exhaust all efforts to prevent any loss of lives arising from Malaysia’s crackdown on undocumented immigrants.

“We should not wait for the abuses to reach epic proportions or for a repeat of the 2002 crackdown on undocumented Filipinos in Malaysia, where 12 children died and dozens of women were raped in detention camps, before we make our move," Gabriela party-list Rep. Luzviminda Ilagan said in a statement.

She also urged her fellow legislators in the Lower House to take up immediate measures to protect undocumented Filipinos, most especially women and children, who face the risk of being detained and abused in Malaysian jails.

Last Saturday, another batch of 300 Filipino deportees were ferried back to Zamboanga City from Sandakan in Malaysia.

According to Philippine Ambassador to Malaysia Victoriano Lecaros, two other deportation centers were set up in Pawa and Mengatal in Sabah where Filipinos are temporarily detained. From there, the Filipino deportees were transported by bus to Sandakan where they board a ferry ride to Zamboanga City. (Click image on the right side to enlarge)

Ilagan, who hailed from Mindanao, added that “Malaysia has the reputation as among the world’s top ten worst places for refugees to stay."

"There were complaints from the deported Filipinos that they were held in poorly maintained jails, not given enough food, and not provided proper health care. A woman deportee even gave birth inside a Malaysian jail. Even if she were an undocumented migrant, she should have received medical attention," Ilagan said.

According to the recently published study by the US Committee for Refugees and Immigrants (USCRI), a non-governmental group, Malaysia ranks among the top five violators of refugee human rights.

Merrill Smith, USCRI director of international planning and analysis was quoted in reports as saying that Malaysia forcibly sent refugees from Myanmar to Thailand, where "some of them were sold into slavery -- men to fishing boats and women to brothels."

Aside from Malaysia, the USCRI named China, India, Thailand, Bangladesh, Iraq, Kenya, Russia, Sudan and Europe as the ten worst places for refugees in 2007.

As for the Filipinos already deported to the country, Ilagan said that providing them with temporary shelter and transportation allowance is not enough.

“The government should provide the deportees with proper housing and livelihood for them not to be tempted to leave the country again in search of a decent life," she said.

Earlier, Ilagan said many of those deported to Zamboanga City on Saturday had suffered inhumane treatment in Malaysia.

Filipino Muslims who were deported said they had been forced to work illegally in Sabah because the Philippine government failed to provide them livelihood opportunities back home. - Fidel Jimenez, with a report from Mark Joseph Ubalde, GMANews.TV

5 Pinoy kids, 3 babies to be deported from Kuwait

MANILA, Philippines - Eight children - including three babies - of undocumented Filipino workers in Kuwait will be deported on Friday.

In a report from QTV’s Balitanghali on Thursday, four of the Filipino children will be accompanied by officials from the Philippine embassy because their parents are still taking care of their immigration papers.

Meanwhile, the three babies and the remaining child will be accompanied by their mothers. - GMANews.TV

Recruiter charged for duping 2 Pinays into Sabah prostitution

MANILA, Philippines - Two Filipino women who were promised employment as waitresses in Malaysia but were later forced into prostitution lodged a complaint against their recruiter on Wednesday.

Candy Almodovar Anonuevo, 21, and Mary Rose Bato, 21, both residents of Sta Rosa in Laguna filed a complaint against their Malaysia-based recruiter.

A police report said Melody Barrinuevo Morales, 20, lured the two to work in a restaurant in Malaysia. But upon their arrival in Sabah’s capital city of Kota Kinabalu, they were forced to work as prostitutes.

After enduring almost three months of sex labor, the two escaped on July 16 and returned to the Philippines.

The Laguna police said it will file appropriate charges against Morales who currently resides in Kota Kinabalu.

Citing data from the 2006 US Department of State Human Rights Report, online advocacy site said that about 300,000 to 400,000 Filipino women are trafficked to countries like Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Bahrain, Hong Kong, Singapore, Japan, South Africa, North America, and Europe.

The report said that many Filipino men and women voluntarily migrate to work abroad but were later coerced into exploitative conditions.

Philippine Labor officials have advised aspiring overseas Filipino workers to always check with the Philippine Overseas Employment Agency regarding job vacancies abroad.

Earlier this month, the Ing Makababaing Aksyon Foundation exposed that the Diosdado Macapagal Airport in Pampanga is used daily to bring young women to Sandakan, in Sabah to become unwitting prostitutes.

On July 6, about 10 Filipino women were repatriated back to Manila after being coerced into prostitution by their recruiters in Malaysia. - GMANews.TV

4,000 deportees risk caning, return to Sabah

This was the startling discovery of Malaysia ’s immigration authority after more han 4,000 undocumented immigrants who were deported in the past returned to Sabah between 2004 and 2008 at the risk of being caned.

Datuk Baharon Talib, director of the Sabah Immigration Department, recently told online news site The Star that some 4,326 illegal immigrants went back to work in the Malaysian state’s plantations, timber mills, and restaurants right after they were expelled from the territory, which is being claimed by the Philippines.

"Some have been deported up to seven times and we have found them back here based on our statistics," Baharon said in the interview.

The report said various sectors in Malaysia had been asking the government to impose caning as punishment on local employers hiring undocumented workers.

These employers are now only being punished through fines and charges for not paying levies, according to Baharon.

Caning is Malaysia ’s second highest form of corporal punishment next only to death sentence. Its laws mandate that a convicted person endure beating of up to 24 strokes.

The crackdown on illegal migrants in Malaysia has started in 2002, with the searches extending from construction sites in Kuala Lumpur to Sabah 's oil palm plantations.

The mass deportation is part of the Malaysian Bureau of Immigration’s plan to rid the nation of about 2,000 Filipinos who had been imprisoned for illegally working in Malaysia .

Last March, the Paris-based International Federation for Human Rights urged the Malaysian government to end caning as a form of punishment against illegal immigrants because it is prohibited under international human rights law.

According to the group, about five million illegal foreign workers from countries like Indonesia, India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Philippines, and Nepal may be subjected to cane whipping.

Malaysia's Bar Council, which represents 12,000 lawyers, echoed the group’s concern and called for a ban on caning against illegal immigrants.

Philippine party-list Representative Luzviminda Ilagan earlier condemned the harsh treatment of Filipino deportees and said that "Malaysia has the reputation as among the world’s top ten worst places for refugees to stay."

A recently published study by the non-government US Committee for Refugees and Immigrants (USCRI), says Malaysia ranks among the top five violators of human rights of refugees.

Merrill Smith, USCRI director of international planning and analysis, was quoted in reports as saying that Malaysia forcibly sent refugees from Myanmar to Thailand , where "some of them were sold into slavery -- men to fishing boats and women to brothels."

Aside from Malaysia, the USCRI in 2007 named China, India, Thailand, Bangladesh, Iraq, Kenya, Russia, Sudan, and Europe as the 10 worst places for refugees. - Mark Joseph Ubalde, GMANews.TV

Migrante condemns Palace refusal to scrap OFW remittance charges

MANILA, Philippines - Overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) are just "milking cows" to President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo because she refuses to remove charges on remittances from abroad. She should therefore avoid using the plight of OFWs as part of her State of the Nation Address (SONA) on Monday.

That's how Migrante International described the Arroyo administration's treatment of OFWs in a statement issued on Thursday.

Migrante, a militant alliance of OFW groups worldwide, want the charges scrapped to give OFWs and their families relief from skyrocketing prices of good and services, according to Migrante chairperson Connie Bragas-Regalado.

"While government through remittance taxes and big business, specifically banks, telephone carriers and other financial institutions are enjoying huge profits, OFWs are tightening their belts even more just to ensure that the average $200 that they send to their families can bring enough food to the tables,” Regalado said.

OFW remittances through banks reached another new record high of $1.4 billion in May, according to the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas.

Migrante estimates banks earn $1 billion monthly from charges on the remittances of 10 million OFWs.

That's based on a Migrante study that sets service charges at $15 to $22 for every remittance of $200.

The charges has not only kept the economy afloat, but they have given the government extra revenue through taxes imposed on remittances, such as the 0.15% documentary stamp tax for every transaction.

So for every $1 billion remitted monthly, the government is able to collect an average of $1.5 million, or P62 million. This is apart from all the other fees that government charges even before the a worker leaves the country.

But according to deputy presidential spokesperson Lorelei Fajardo, the government can't easily scrap the charges because they contribute greatly to the economy.

Migrante said it would join the People’s SONA to demand the scrapping of remittance charges and to support the workers’ demand for P125 wage increase, the removal of VAT on oil, and the junking of the oil deregulation law.

Migrante said their chapters in different countries will also launch their own protests on July 28, the date of Arroyo’s SONA. D'JAY LAZARO, GMANews.TV

Norwegian shipping firms need 30T Pinoy workers

CLARK FREE PORT, Philippines - About 500 Norwegian shipping companies are looking for more than 30,000 Filipino mess boys, steward cooks and welders.

This was learned from the officials of the Norwegian Marine Services Training Institute Corporation (NMSTIC) who have forged an agreement with Clark Development Corporation (CDC) for their training facility inside the Freeport.

A memorandum of agreement (MOA) was signed last Wednesday between CDC and NMSTIC officials.

CDC president Liberato Laus represented the state-owned firm while Maria Rune represented the NMSTIC during the MOA signing at the CDC corporate headquarters.

The signing, according to Laus, is a joint initiative of the two firms to provide jobs and opportunities for Central Luzon residents to meet the growing manpower demands of international maritime industry.

Rune said NMSTIC has tentatively opened its training school at the Clark Polytechnic University here for mess boys, and cooks and specialized welding program on May 9.

In the agreement, NMSTIC will provide state-of-the-art training facilities in kitchen and culinary operations, other simulations in chamber operations, air-conditioned classrooms, multi-media training, speech laboratory and dormitories.

NMSTIC vice president Erling Rune said training for mess boys would usually run for 22 days while training for cooks and welder runs for one month.

Erling said NMSTIC only charges P1,500 as tuition. The fee is inclusive of food, room accommodation, and materials to be used during the training.

He said the cooks and mess boys are on a high demand in the shipping industry in Norway and nearby European countries.

He also said that training will facilitate employment to successful candidates after the completion of their training. NMSTIC is working closely with Norwegian Seafarer agencies such as Solvan Manpower Agency, Barber Smith Wilhensen manning Inc., and CF Sharp Mideast Shipping CTI.

According to Erling, NMSTIC employs a world-class international faculty, chef consultants and instructors to the training programs who will mostly come from Norway, Sweden, the US, India, Scotland and other European countries. - Sun.Star Pampanga

Fil-Am accused of fraud, grand theft in California told to pay up or go to jail

CHICAGO, Illinois – A Filipino-American community leader charged with fraud and embezzlement in California was given another chance to come up with the $48,000 restitution if he wants to avoid prison time.

Ben Menor was given the “conditional offer" by Judge Ray Cunningham of the Sta. Clara, California Superior Court, at the scheduled sentencing on Thursday in San Jose, Deputy District Attorney Stephen Lowney said in an e-mail to this reporter.

“Sentencing was continued until September 18, 2008," Lowney added.

When reached for comment, Menor said in an e-mail, “Thank you for your interest in this matter. I have forwarded your request to my attorneys."

Fernando M. Estrada, a resident of San Jose, California, who witnessed the sentencing, said “Mr. Menor appeared smiling after the judge issued the order."

Menor had earlier pleaded “no-contest" to Count 1, a felony – filing false financial statements – that could land him three years in jail or three years probation.

Menor, 57, was ordered to pay restitution on the two remaining two counts - $32,500 (assisted living program) and $16,000 (NaFFAA conference). He was ordered to pay back over half of this amount prior to his sentencing.

He pleaded no contest to the charge that he overstated by 24,000 hours the amount of time he and his agency worked under contract with the city to run the Northside Community Center, a senior housing and community center on North Sixth Street in San Jose. A no contest plea has the same legal effect as a guilty plea, Lowney explained.

The two grand theft felony charges against Menor were dismissed after he agreed to pay restitution totaling $48,000 to the city. He would have faced a maximum of four years, four months in prison if he were convicted on all charges.

Menor, said to be a native of Hawaii of Filipino ancestry, was the executive director of the Filipino American Senior Opportunities Development Council (Fil-Am SODC), a nonprofit group that operates a 92- unit senior housing and community center in San Jose. The same center is being used by Filipinos, Sikhs and Indo-Americans and was considered a model of multicultural cooperation and partnership when it was inaugurated in 2003.

When he was arraigned on Nov. 16, 2006, Menor pleaded innocence on an indictment returned by the Santa Clara County Grand Jury. The indictment charges Ben Menor of 3056 Knights Bridge Rd., San Jose with one felony count of false statement of operations and two felony counts of grand theft/embezzlement. Menor self-surrendered on November 15, 2006 and was released on $30,000 bail.

For years, the center received grants through the City of San Jose Parks, Recreation, and Neighborhood Services Department (PRNS). Count one of the indictment alleges Menor, as part of the grant process, submitted to PRNS a fraudulently exaggerated report of his organization’s service hours.

Count two of the indictment alleges that Menor embezzled thousands of dollars from the center between May 16, 2003 and June 25, 2004 when he paid a center employee with center funds to provide full time in-home elder care to his own parents who were living in Menor’s home.

Count three alleges that Menor embezzled thousands of dollars from organizations, which granted funds to the center to fund services to elderly Filipino-Americans. Menor used over $14,000 of these funds to pay expenses related to a conference he hosted. Menor was chair of the Fifth National Federation of Filipino American Association National Empowerment Conference in San Jose in 2002.

In the civil case, the City of San Jose City asked the Superior Court of California in Santa Clara County, monetary damage of at least “$219,414, plus interest" from Menor and “100 other Does" and asked them to pay “treble damages," “civil penalties of up to $10,000 for each false claim," “legally recoverable interest," “punitive and exemplary damages," “damages for time and money properly expended in pursuit of the converted property," other costs, including “attorney’s fees."

Included in this amount is the $30,000 SBC grant that was to be donated to the Fil-Am SODC but was instead used in 2002 national and First Global Convention of the National

Group scores Palace ‘cover-up’ on Sabah crackdown

MANILA, Philippines — Migrante International on Friday accused Malacaňang of a “cover-up" on the crackdown against undocumented Filipinos in Sabah, Malaysia.

The group rejected Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita's claim on Thursday that the Philippine and Malaysian governments had laid down ground rules for the "orderly" repatriation of Filipinos living or working in Malaysia.

"News stories have been rife with numerous accounts of human rights violations. And all (the) government can say is that they have laid down the groundwork? What hogwash!" said Connie Bragas-Regalado, chairperson of Migrante International in a statement on Friday.

"How typical of this inutile and dense government to announce that they are still 'laying down the groundwork' even as the rights of our kababayans have already been violated," she added.

Regalado also refused to accept Ermita’s assertion that the Philippines, in dealing with the issue, must be careful as it needs to consider its relations with Malaysia.

"This government has always prioritized its relations with other countries over its citizens, and always at the expense of its 'New Heroes (mga Bagong Bayani)'," she said, referring to the government’s term for overseas Filipino workers (OFWs).

Reports said that an average of 150 to 200 Filipino men, women, and children found to be illegally staying in Sabah have been deported weekly on a regular basis since 2002. Many have gone back to Sabah since then, unmindful of what could befall them once discovered.

Migrante said a fact-finding mission it conducted had documented horrific experiences suffered by Filipino deportees from Sabah in 2002 and 2005. Attack dogs were used to round up Filipinos, communities were burned to flush them out and houses were chain sawed. Many were raped and tortured, it said.

With Malaysia's recent refusal to grant permanent residency status for Filipino undocumented workers, the group feared a repeat of the 2002 and 2005 "nightmares" and demanded the statement from the Arroyo regime on how they intend to deal with the impending massive crackdown and deportation of an estimated 500,000 undocumented Filipinos in Sabah.

"Arroyo's inaction will definitely serve as another failing mark in the coming state of the nation address," Regalado said. "A big fat Zero or a Completely Failed grade is what millions of OFWs will give her on July 28." - GMANews.TV

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Pinoys among many US immigrants suffering from TB

CHICAGO - Tuberculosis cases continue to fall in the United States, but some immigrants have disturbingly high rates of the disease, according to a study released Tuesday that called for more aggressive action.

TB rates were highest among residents from lower Africa and parts of Southeast Asia. Most drug-resistant TB cases also were from foreign-born residents, according to researchers at the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention.

The researchers called for wider testing, including efforts to seek out latent cases of TB from long-term immigrant residents in certain populations.

Rates of at least 250 TB cases per 100,000 were found among people from African countries such as Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia and from Southeast Asian nations including Vietnam, Cambodia and the Philippines.

By comparison, the overall rate of TB in the U.S. is fewer than 5 per 100,000.

The study is based on data from 2001-06. The findings are being published in Wednesday's Journal of the American Medical Association.

Dr. Henry Blumberg of Emory University's medical school, said the research shows "that it's in the interest of the United States to try to enhance global TB efforts."

Drug-resistant TB was found in 20 percent of recent immigrants from Vietnam and 10 percent of foreign-born residents overall, compared with a little more than 4 percent of U.S.-born residents.

Public health officials worry that drug-resistant TB could become a worldwide scourge because of global travel and immigration. The issue made headlines last year when an Atlanta attorney with drug-resistant TB flew to several countries. Tests later showed he did not infect anyone on those flights.

U.S. law requires TB screening for people who want to immigrate to the United States, said the CDC's Dr. Kevin Cain, the study's lead author.

Another step that would help curb the rise of tuberculosis, he said, would be to find and treat latent TB infections. He said the study helps identify which foreign-born groups would be most appropriate for such an effort.

While most TB cases come from recent arrivals, a significant number involve people who have lived in the United States for at least 20 years, the authors said. Most of these likely resulted from latent infections acquired years earlier abroad, they wrote.

Latent, non-contagious infections mean germs are present but the body is able to fight off symptoms. Latent infections can morph into active disease, causing contagious illness, at any time, particularly as people age and their immune systems weaken.

Latent infections are detected with skin tests and treated with nine months of antibiotics. Foreign-born U.S. residents aren't routinely tested for latent TB. And with more than 37 million foreign-born people living in the United States, giving all of them skin tests "would be daunting to say the least," Cain said. - AP

OFW's child abused by grandma in critical condition

MANILA, Philippines — A seven-year-old daughter of an overseas Filipino worker (OFW) in Hong Kong is in critical condition after her short-tempered grandmother beat her up.

According to a report from dzBB radio on Wednesday, Susan Librim, 50, a resident of ACM Subdivision in Imus town, Cavite is being investigated by police for allegedly maltreating her granddaughter.

Police investigators from the women and children's protection desk said the girl sustained burns from an electric iron, and bruises from being hammered on the fingers and toes. She also had scratches in her genitals, allegedly due to pinching by her grandmother.

"Medyo hindi maganda 'yong vital signs niya. Mabilis masyado ang heartbeat at ngayon ay nilalagnat siya, mukhang may sepsis na siya dahil matagal na 'yong sugat sa katawan (Her vital signs are not good. Her heartbeat is very fast and she has fever, it looks like she has sepsis due to the wounds in her body)," a doctor who attended the victim told GMA News.

According to the report, the victim's aunt became worried when she noticed the bruises on her niece's body.

"Tinanong ko kung ano ang ginawa sa kanya (victim), sabi niya pinukpok daw siya tapos pinalantsa 'yong legs niya (I asked her what happened to her, she said she was hammered and her legs were burned by hot iron)," said the victim's aunt in an interview.

The aunt, who immediately reported the incident to the police, brought the victim to the Rosario Maternity and Emergency Medical Clinic. The girl is now under the care of the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD).

In her the defense, the grandmother said she just lost her temper and didn't mean to hurt her granddaughter.

""Aminado ako na nasaktan ko ‘yung bata kasi parang punong-puno na po ako e. 'Yung lahat ng problema sa akin iniiwan (I admit I hurt my granddaughter. I just got fed up. All the problems were left to me)," the grandmother said.

The report said the victim would be transferred to another hospital in Manila to receive further treatment. The police said charges of violation of Republic Act 7610 or the Special Protection of Children Against Abuse, Exploitation and Discrimination Act will be filed against the grandmother.

The law was enacted in 1992 amid reports of growing incidents of child abuse in the country.

Last year alone, the DSWD recorded 6,933 cases of child abuse. More than two-thirds of the victims were girls. - with reports from Amita Legaspi, GMANews.TV

Losing senatorial bet being eyed for top OWWA post - Migrante

MANILA, Philippines — The largest alliance of Filipino migrants’ groups worldwide expressed apprehension on Wednesday over the possible appointment of losing administration senatorial bet Prospero “Butch" Pichay as head of the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA).

Pitchay is reportedly being eyed to fill the post to be vacated by Marianito Roque, who is now secretary of labor and employment.

Connie Bragas-Regalado, chairperson of Migrante International, said President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo should “plant Pichay somewhere else" and put someone who has no political baggage at the OWWA’s helm.

Pichay, a former representative of Surigao del Sur province, lost in the 2007 senatorial race despite spending the most during the campaign period.

He was considered a hawk among Arroyo’s allies in the House of Representatives.
Bragas-Regalado said Arroyo should put in the OWWA someone who has a track record of helping overseas Filipino workers (OFWs).

“We have seen the billions of OWWA funds raided by pirates within the Arroyo regime…," she said in a press statement.

Regalado recalled that in 2003, her group exposed to the public the illegal transfer of P3.5 billion in OFW funds at the OWWA to the PhilHealth Corporation. Thru Executive Order 182, signed by President Arroyo on February 14, 2003, the transfer was formalized, she said.

However, Regalado maintained that the transfer was “politically motivated, and was intended for the purpose of financing the presidential ambitions of Gloria Macapagal Arroyo at migrant workers’ expense."

Three months prior to the President’s signing of EO 182, then PhilHealth President and now Health Secretary Francisco Duque wrote a memorandum to President Arroyo saying that “the proposed transfer will have a significant bearing on the 2004 elections."

Arroyo subsequently distributed PhilHealth cards to communities nationwide in what her critics said was “in furtherance of her re-election." - GMANews.TV

OFW group urges govt to send consular team to Sabah

MANILA, Philippines — The Federation of Overseas Filipino Workers in Zamboanga Peninsula urged the government on Wednesday to immediately send a consular team to Sabah in Malaysia to monitor the mass deportation of Filipinos there.

A report over radio dzXL quoted the group’s president, James Hassan, as saying consular officers are needed to assist Filipinos who do not have passports and other necessary travel and identifications documents.

A number of Filipinos in Sabah have appealed to Philippine authorities to help them return to the country as some of them have been detained for months because they do not have passports.

Philippine Foreign Undersecretary Esteban Conejos earlier said there are at least 200,000 undocumented Filipino workers in Malaysia.

Last month, Malaysian Deputy Prime Minister Najib Razak announced a massive drive to deport foreigners without travel or identification documents from the eastern Malaysian state, where at least 130,000 illegals are reported to be staying.

Since the announcement, thousands of Filipino migrants have been deported, with some male deportees complaining that they were caned during the 30-hour boat ride to Zamboanga.

Last Saturday, another batch of 300 Filipino deportees were ferried back to Zamboanga City from Sandakan in Malaysia. According to Philippine Ambassador to Malaysia Victoriano Lecaros, two other deportation centers were set up in Pawa and Mengatal in Sabah where Filipinos are temporarily detained. From there, the Filipino deportees were transported by bus to Sandakan where they board a ferry ride to Zamboanga City.

On Tuesday, the Philippines-Malaysia Working Group on Migrant Workers issued a statement ensuring the humane treatment of Filipino deportees, among others. - Johanna Camille Sisante, with a report from Mark Joseph Ubalde GMANews.TV

Pinoys in Riyadh want doctor to head OWWA

MANILA, Philippines — Filipino workers in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, have started a campaign to make a pathologist the next head of the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA).

Online news site Arab News ( reported Wednesday that Filipinos in Riyadh want Dr. Muhammad Ali Carlito Astillero to fill the post vacated by now Labor Secretary Marianito Roque.

"Yes Madam President, it is high time that someone from among the OFW community leaders be appointed to the post of OWWA Administrator; one who understands by heart the every day problems faced by our overseas workers inside and outside their jobsites, and during and after the tenure of their work contracts; one who has been in the field, and has seen and attended to many OFW cases that were brought to his attention as a trusted community leader," said Francis Oca of the OFW Congress in a letter posted online.

The OFW Congress in Riyadh, an umbrella group of different Filipino groups in Saudi Arabia, is spearheading the petition to have Astillero appointed OWWA chief.

It launched an online petition for Astillero at As of Wednesday morning, the site had 288 "signatures."

The group will meet on Friday to kick off their campaign worldwide and gather signatures from the officers of different community organizations.

Astillero, who hails from Western Mindanao, has worked over the past years as laboratory director at Al-Mishari Hospital I Riyadh for the past 21 years.He worked in Iran, Libya and Saudi Arabia for the last 32 years.

He had been an active community leader and fund campaigner for Filipino calamity victims in the Saudi capital. Among the organizations he headed is the Organization of the Knights of Rizal (OKOR) in the Middle East and Africa, of which he was a past “commander."

He received various awards, including the Special Presidential Award 1996 - Banaag at Sikat, the San Lorenzo Ruiz Award for Outstanding OFW (1994), the Bagong Bayani Award (1992), and the Most Outstanding Filipino in Saudi Arabia (1990). - GMANews.TV

Some OFWs on death row

Idan Tejano and Marjana Sakilan: Their cases are being heard in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. The public aspect of the cases are being tried in the Jeddah Grand Court and the private aspects are being promulgated by the Supreme Judicial Cases.

Rodelio Lanuza: The public aspect of his case is pending at the Dammam Grand Court .

Edison Gonzales, Eduardo Arcilla, and Rolando Gonzales: They were part of the en masse arrest of 72 Filipino workers in April 2006. Their cases are being reviewed by the Tameez Court in Saudi Arabia .

Nelson Diana: He is detained, and his case is being heard by the Malaysian High Court. -GMANews.TV

DFA denies Pinay's death sentence upheld in Kuwait

Idan Tejano and Marjana Sakilan: Their cases are being heard in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. The public aspect of the cases are being tried in the Jeddah Grand Court and the private aspects are being promulgated by the Supreme Judicial Cases.

Rodelio Lanuza: The public aspect of his case is pending at the Dammam Grand Court .

Edison Gonzales, Eduardo Arcilla, and Rolando Gonzales: They were part of the en masse arrest of 72 Filipino workers in April 2006. Their cases are being reviewed by the Tameez Court in Saudi Arabia .

Nelson Diana: He is detained, and his case is being heard by the Malaysian High Court. -GMANews.TVMANILA, Philippines - The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) on Wednesday denied reports that a court in Kuwait upheld the death sentence of a Filipino housemaid convicted for murdering her employer's daughter.

Esteban Conejos Jr, DFA undersecretary for migrant workers’ affairs, told GMANews.TV in a text message that the death sentence of Jakatia Mandon Pawa is still on appeal.

GMANews.TV quoted a report from Kuwait-based newspaper Arab Times that Kuwaiti Court of Appeals Judge Mohammed Bu Slaib upheld the guilty verdict of a lower court on Pawa.

Pawa, who is from Zamboanga del Norte, was accused of stabbing to death her employer's 21-year-old daughter.

News reports from Kuwait said that the incident happened while the victim was sleeping at dawn of May 14, 2007 in the Al Qurain district, south of Kuwait City.

Reports said that after the alleged attack, Pawa jumped from the second floor of her employer's house and got seriously injured. She was admitted at the intensive care unit of a hospital, and stayed there for several days.

"God knows I didn't do anything," Pawa said in Filipino in an exclusive interview with GMA News earlier this month.

Pawa, however, refused to talk further in fear that it might jeopardize the embassy's moves to appeal for her case.

While defense lawyers demanded that she be examined by psychiatrists to determine her mental health, the court reportedly turned down the request.

Pawa is among the many Filipinos facing the death sentence in the oil-rich country.

In December 2007, Filipino maid Marilou Ranario was also sentenced to death for killing her employer, but the Emir of Kuwait Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah commuted the sentence to life after President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo visited the country where more than 73,000 Filipinos work, mostly as housemaids.

In April this year, the Kuwaiti Supreme Court upheld the death sentence against May Vecina for killing the seven-year old son of her Kuwaiti employer and attempting to kill the victim's elder sister and brother. But the emir on July 8 also commuted Vecina's death conviction to life. - Mark Joseph Ubalde, GMANews.TV

DFA: 20 Pinoys hostaged anew in Somali waters

About 20 Filipino seafarers were held hostage in another hijacking incident in the Gulf of Aden off the coast of Somalia on Sunday. Last May, a Dutch-owned ship with five Filipinos on board was hijacked in the same location. Photo from Wikipedia(Updated 3:59 p.m.) MANILA, Philippines - A Japanese-owned bulk carrier with 20 Filipino seafarers on board was seized by pirates off the coast of Somalia last Sunday, the Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said.

In a text message to GMANews.TV, Esteban Conejos Jr, DFA undersecretary for migrant workers' affairs, said the ship's owner, who is in contact with the pirates, reported that the crew of the hijacked MV Stella Maris were safe. As of posting time, the ship was sailing toward the northeast tip of Somalia.

"I was assured that contact has been established between the crew and the owner of the ship, which is a Japanese company. (This was also) according to the captain who is a Filipino. All the 20 Filipinos are safe and sound," Conejos said.

Conejos was informed that the pirates got on the the ship while it was sailing in the Gulf of Aden. The vessel was said to be carrying lead and zinc.

Conejos reiterated that the Philippine government ruled out paying a ransom to free the Filipino hostages.

"I stressed to the local manning agent that it is the policy of government never to negotiate with pirates. We look towards the local manning agents and the ship owner and the host country because they have the responsibility to ensure the safety and the earliest release of the crew," he said.

On May 25, about five Filipino seafarers were also held hostage after their ship, MV Amiya Scan, was hijacked by pirates on May 25 in the Gulf of Aden.

The vessel and its passengers were released by pirates 30 days later. The Filipino crew arrived in the Philippines last July 1. - GMANews.TV

Court junks deportation case vs Pinay tourist in Marianas

MANILA, Philippines - A court in the US territory of the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands dismissed the case filed against a Filipina who was earlier accused of overstaying in the CNMI, the Marianas Variety reported on Wednesday.

The report said CNMI Superior Court Associate Judge David A. Wiseman granted the motion to dismiss the case against Dolores De Guzman after she complied with the requirements legalizing her stay in the Marianas.

The Variety said CNMI immigration investigator Abram C. Togawa discovered in November 2006 that De Guzman stayed in the CNMI for six years and five months even after her “long term tourist" entry permit had expired in 2001.

Togawa reportedly told the court that De Guzman, a citizen of the Republic of the Philippines, neither had a pending labor application for employment status nor a temporary work authorization, which made her a deportable alien.

Another report by Saipan Tribune on Wednesday said that last April 24, De Guzman entered into a settlement agreement with CNMI’s Assistant Attorney General Kevin Lynch.

The Variety said De Guzman agreed to pay permit fees and $175 for alien registration.

She was also ordered to submit an application for an Immediate Relative (IR) entry permit. Under CNMI laws, an applicant could be granted an IR status if he or she is under the age of 21, whether natural or adopted, a spouse, or a parent of a US citizen in the CNMI.

De Guzman was issued an IR entry permit that will last until 2009, according to the news reports. - Kimberly Jane T. Tan, GMANews.TV

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Asian females in Canada: Highly educated but less employed

MANILA, Philippines - If you are a female immigrant, and come from Asia or another non-Western region, chances are you will face difficulties in finding work in Canada even if you have already stayed there for five years, and have a university degree.

According to a July 18, 2008 study by Statistics Canada, only 65.5 percent of university-educated Asian immigrants aged 25 to 54 found jobs in Canada from 2002 to 2007.

The figure was low compared with 77.8 percent of immigrant professionals from the United States under the same age bracket who from the same period found employment in Canada.

The Asian professionals' Canadian-born counterparts were the most employed, with a rating of 90.7 percent, the study showed.

“Employment rates for these immigrants varied according to where they received their university degree, with those educated in Western countries generally having higher rates than those educated elsewhere," the study noted.

Meanwhile, job hunting for degree-holder immigrants from other non-Western regions such as Africa and Latin America proved to be a lot more difficult.

The same study showed that only about half or 50.9 percent of African immigrant professionals found jobs in Canada from 2002 to 2007, while only more than half or 59.7 percent of Latin Americans were employed during the same period.

Highly educated, but less employed

Statistics Canada said that while there were more immigrants with university degrees than Canadian-born citizens, the latter got better employment opportunities than their counterparts.

It said that in 2007, 37 percent or 1.2 million immigrants with “core working" age of 24 to 54 had a university degree, but only 22 percent of their Canadian-born counterparts were university-educated.

The study observed “significant gaps" in employment rates between immigrants that got their degrees from foreign institutions and Canadian-born professionals.

“In 2007, for example, there were 108,000 immigrants who received a degree in Asia and had landed in Canada before 1997; their employment rate was 7.1 percentage points lower than their Canadian-born counterparts."

It said that the difference “was even more pronounced" among those who immigrated between 2002 to 2007, more than half of whom, or 320,000 had a university degree. (See table)

Asian, female, jobless

The study also noted that most highly educated professionals who came to Canada from 2002 to 2007 were composed of Asian immigrants.

“Over half had received their highest degree in Asia, followed distantly by Europe, Canada, Africa, Latin America, and the United States," the study said.

Of these immigrants from 2002 to 2007, nearly half were Asian women who found it hard to find work in Canada.

“However, their participation in the labor force was significantly lower, particularly for those born or educated in Asia," the study noted.

Other factors

Past studies also pointed out other factors than made it difficult for non-Western immigrants to fully participate in the Canadian labor market.

These, according to Statistics Canada, included difficulties in foreign credential recognition, language barriers, comparability of educational attainment, lack of Canadian work experience and knowledge of the Canadian labor market.

The gap in employment rates between degree-holder immigrants and their Canadian-born counterparts “narrowed the longer an immigrant had been in Canada," according to the study.

Statistics Canada said British Columbia with high proportion of Asian immigrants “had the highest share of immigrants with a degree from Asia."

Quebec had the highest proportion of immigrants who got their university degrees from Canada, while immigrants with Asian or Canadian degrees were “most common" in Ontario.

Statistics Canada or Statistique Canada in French is a bureau under the Canadian federal government. It is commissioned to produce statistics on Canada's population, resources, economy, society, and culture.

Often called StatCan or StatsCan, the bureau had been considered the world's best statistical organization by the Public Policy Forum, The Economist, and other groups.

Filipinos in Canada

There are about 400,000 Filipinos in Canada who are mostly living in urbanized areas, based on data gathered by Wikipedia.

It said that Filipino-Canadians were the third largest Asian-Canadian group in the country after Indians and Chinese.

From 2001 to 2006 the number of Filipinos in Canada grew by 33 percent to 410,695 from 308,575. About 20,500 Filipinos migrated to Canada yearly during the said period.

Based on Canada’s 2006 Census, most Filipinos were living in Ontario (203,215); British Columbia (94,250); Alberta (54,305); Manitoba (39,205); and Quebec (25,680). - text and graphics by AR SABANGAN, GMANews.TV

Scrapping of remittance fees could be studied - Palace

MANILA, Philippines - Malacañang may look into the possibility of scrapping remittance fees being paid by overseas Filipino workers (OFW) amid the fuel and food crises faced by the country.

Lorelei Fajardo, deputy presidential spokesperson, said government economic managers could mull over Migrante International's proposal to either give up the fees or lower the rate of OFW remittance being received by the government.

"That could be studied. But for the meantime, the government is doing its best to mitigate the impact of the challenges that our country is facing now in all sectors of the society especially the poorest of the poor," she said.

She acknowledged that OFW contributions helped the government in cushioning the impact of the global surge in the prices of basic commodities.

Migrante International-Middle East Chapter earlier called for the scrapping of the remittance fees to enable the families of OFWs to cope with the economic crisis.

OFWs are charged a 15-percent documentary stamp tax, which is deducted by the government from all remittances coursed through legal channels.

OFW remittance in the first five months of 2008 reached $6.8 billion, up 14.7 percent from last year, according to the Philippine central bank.

There were 533,945 OFWs deployed during the said period, or 40 percent more than those deployed in the first five months of 2007, based on government records.

The central bank expects that remittances coursed through banks will reach $15.7 billion by the end of 2008 or 9 percent higher than in 1997.

Most of the eight million Filipinos abroad work as domestic helpers, entertainers, nurses, caregivers, engineers, and ship crew members.

A large portion of OFW remittance come from Saudi Arabia, US, United Kingdom, Canada, United Arab Emirates, Italy, Japan, Hong Kong, and Singapore. - GMANews.TV

Pinoy deportees feel alienated, hope to return to Sabah

MANILA, Philippines - More than 300 Filipinos who were ferried back to Zamboanga City are seeking government assistance to bring them back to Sabah while struggling to adapt to life in the Philippines.

GMA News’ Claire Delfin reported Monday that the recent batch of deported Filipinos from Malaysia feel like strangers in Mindanao after spending most of their lives in the Malaysian state in northern Borneo.

The report added that most of the deportees were separated from their relatives. There were also several children who cannot speak a single word in Filipino.

“I would always cry very late at night worrying about my loved ones," said Norsiah Osman, whose two young children were left in Sabah while her husband is detained in a Malaysian prison.

Osman, who is also six months pregnant, told GMA News in the interview that she would return to Sabah if the opportunity came her way.

Meanwhile, Salim Halil, a Borneo resident since 1973, echoed Osman’s concerns because his children were also left behind in Sabah during Malaysia’s crackdown on illegal immigrants.

“I’m thinking about how to return there and get my kids," Halil said.

The deportees, mostly Muslims, arrived by boat in Zamboanga City on Saturday and were staying in refugee shelters under the care of social workers.

The Filipinos were mostly natives of Tawi-Tawi and Sulu provinces who illegally crossed the border to Sabah to find work in construction sites and plantations.

Esteban Conejos Jr, DFA undersecretary for migrant workers’ affairs explained in an earlier report that the Filipinos often find no reason to secure a passport or visa in Sabah after settling there for years.

"They go back to Sabah because our ties [there] is so strong. They don’t understand why they need a Philippine passport and a visa to enter Sabah," Conejos said.

Malaysia began a crackdown on up to 500,000 illegal foreign workers since 2005 and police and immigration authorities and volunteer squads have been conducting searches that extended from construction sites in Kuala Lumpur to oil palm plantations in Sabah.

Kuala Lumpur had previously given amnesty that allowed illegal immigrants to leave the country with a promise they could return as legal workers once they received proper documents.

The government's tough action has enjoyed popular support in Malaysia, where illegal workers, who had numbered more than a million in a country of 24 million people, have been blamed for crime and other social ills.

The Philippine Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) in Zamboanga is urging Malacañang to conduct bilateral talks with Malaysia to ease the concern of Filipino deportees from Sabah.

“There must be a government to government negotiation concerning the problem of deportees," said Zenaida Arevalo, DSWD director in Western Mindanao.

The DSWD is reportedly coordinating with authorities in contacting the closest Filipino relatives of the deportees. The department is also launching a livelihood program to prevent the deported Filipinos from returning to Sabah. - GMANews.TV

CBCP: New Pinoy nuncio to Haiti faces 'tough' challenges

MANILA, Philippines - Newly consecrated Filipino archbishop Bernardito Auza will face tough challenges in his new mission as apostolic nuncio to Haiti, the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines said Tuesday.

A statement on the CBCP website said Auza, 49, would have to work amid "never-ending conflict and even bloodshed" as Haitians are longing for economic and political stability.

"There a people wait to be helped in their efforts of material and spiritual progress ... (His work will be) not a small one," said papal nuncio to the Philippines Edward Joseph Adams.

Adams made the remarks in his sermon during Auza's thanksgiving Mass at the Manila Cathedral Monday. Excerpts of his homily were posted on the CBCP website Tuesday.

Haiti is one of the poorest countries on earth with about 56 percent of its 8.2 million populations live in extreme poverty.

Also, Adams said Haiti is deeply in need and its economy virtually bled dry. He said violence is everywhere there.

The papal nuncio added that at one time, around 85% of the eight million or so Haitians were Catholics. Today, they make up less than 50% of the population, he said.

Sadly, he added, many of them only have a hazy understanding of the teachings of the Church, especially those unable to afford a good education.

Adams said the situation in Haiti represents a major challenge for the Catholic Church and needs to be countered with the help of priests, religious and lay pastoral workers.

Auza will celebrate Mass with Haiti's Catholic bishops on September 9 but he will officially assume his post as Papal nuncio on August 15.

He admitted he has to face urgent concerns in his new assignment, saying "There are many issues, I'm sure."

Pope Benedict XVI appointed Auza as Nuncio to Haiti last May 8 but it was only last July 3 when he was ordained to the episcopacy by Vatican's Secretary of State Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone at the Basilica of St. Peter in Rome.

Auza is the fourth Filipino to be appointed to such a high diplomatic position in the Catholic Church.

The first to be named apostolic nuncio is Archbishop Oswaldo Padilla, now in Korea. The second is Archbishop Adolfo Yllana currently in Pakistan. The third is Padilla's younger brother, Archbishop Francisco Padilla, now in Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands. - GMANews.TV
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