Tuesday, September 30, 2008

OFW remittances: A tool for dev't or a sign of underdevelopment?

The Arroyo administration will host the Second Global Forum on Migration and Development this October. Bulatlat interviewed Jose Enrique Africa, research head of IBON Foundation, regarding overseas Filipino workers’ remittances and Philippine development.

Bulatlat: The BSP said that the Philippines is the 4th biggest remittance receiver in the world. How do the Filipino people benefit from this?

Africa: The Philippines is the largest among the most migrant- and remittance-dependent countries in the world. That so many millions of Filipinos are forced to go abroad and that the country is so dependent on remittances actually underscore the great failure of the government to build a solid domestic economy.

Of course, remittances are a tremendous help for OFWs and their families and remittances are a vital source of stable foreign exchange. But these should not be used to divert from the more important point of why the domestic economy remains so backward and why Filipinos are forced to go abroad in the first place.

The reason the economy remains so underdeveloped and jobs so scarce despite the globally unrivalled importance of overseas work and remittances is because these are not part of the solution but rather symptoms of the problem.

The problem is that domestic agriculture and industry are not being built, that foreign and domestic elites are the one benefiting from the country’s resources and labor, and that there is such severe economic and political inequality in the country.

Bulatlat: The Arroyo government said that the increase in remittances is due to increasing demand for labor of countries with aging population. Is this true?

Africa: It is true that many populations abroad are aging and so there is a relative increase in their need for new entrants into their workforces and even for nurses and caregivers to care for the aged.

But the more basic and principal reason that remittances are increasing is that more and more Filipinos are forced to go abroad and are desperate enough to work harder for less pay than others. And this is primarily because there are no decent opportunities in the country.

If Filipinos could find decent jobs in our country, they will stay and be near their families no matter how old foreign populations are.

Bulatlat: The Arroyo government noted an increasing number of highly-skilled professionals working abroad. Can you consider this development?

Africa: This is not true. Even if there are more higher-skilled professionals going abroad now, the number of low-skilled workers going abroad has also been increasing.

Total annual deployments of new hires increased from 1992 to 2006. From 1992-2001, the share of professional and technical workers generally rose from 27.7 percent at the start to 37.7 percent at the end of the period; conversely, the share of production workers fell from 36.5 to 22.0 percent.

The share of service workers was more or less stable. However, after 2001, the share of professional and technical workers started dropping and fell steeply to 13.4 percent in 2006.

On the other hand, the share of production workers rose significantly to 33.6 percent and that of service workers to 46.8 percent – where these two categories together account for over eight of ten deployments of newly-hired OFWs.

In the 1992-2006 period, over two-thirds of newly-hired OFWs were classified as service workers (37.7 percent) or production workers (30.7 percent) while over a quarter were classified as professional and technical workers (26.8 percent).

Nearly all of the “service workers" are accounted for by domestic helpers and other household workers, maids or cleaners in commercial establishments, cooks, waiters, bartenders, caregivers and caretakers; domestic helpers, in particular, account for over two-thirds of this skills classification.

“Production workers" are mainly in construction-related jobs with some factory-based work. “Professional and technical workers" are mainly health professionals and engineers although a substantial portion of these jobs are actually musicians, singers and dancers; musicians, singers and dancers accounted for nearly a fifth of “professional and technical workers" in 2006.

In any case, whether or not migrants are higher skilled or not is beside the point because we should not celebrate Filipinos being forced abroad, whether they are highly-skilled or not.

Bulatlat: The Arroyo government said that taxes paid, including those paid by OFWs, are used to finance infrastructure and to create employment.

Africa: First of all, the largest part of the national budget goes to debt service and to corruption. The single largest budget item taking up around 30 percent are interest payments on foreign and domestic debt. At the same time, some 20 percent of the national budget is lost to corruption, amounting to over US$2B annually – as had been estimated by the World Bank, United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and even a former speaker of the House of Representatives.

Secondly, that kind of reasoning also means that we can say that taxes are used to finance human rights violators through spending on the military which has been implicated in thousands of human rights violations.

Thirdly, if the government is really so concerned about generating employment then it should overhaul its economic policies much more than spend on likely graft- and corruption-ridden infrastructure projects.

Bulatlat: The Arroyo government said that OFW remittances are used by their families for their basic needs thus creating demand on goods and services. The Arroyo government further claims that this also translates into more jobs.

Africa: It is tragic that so many families have to depend on family members separating from them and going abroad just to support their basic needs. The so-called multiplier effect on the domestic economy is minimal however precisely because the economy is so backward to begin with.

The overwhelming bulk of goods purchased by families are actually imported because there is no substantial domestic manufacturing sector that can produce those goods. Factories have actually been closing down for lack of government support and because of reckless trade liberalization.

If the government wants to create jobs it should put a genuine policy of national industrialization in place because otherwise OFW demand for goods will not go to creating opportunities for local factories. As it is, the manufacturing sector has already lost 125,000 jobs from a year ago with only 2.9 million jobs in July 2008 from 3.1 million last year.

Bulatlat: The Arroyo government said remittances increase supply of foreign exchange. How does this benefit Filipinos?

Africa: The biggest beneficiaries from the foreign exchange supplied by OFWs are foreign creditors who get paid, transnational corporations (TNCs) who repatriate their profits, big foreign financial speculators, and TNCs in export enclaves. These account for the overwhelmingly largest portion of foreign payments that the country makes.

While it can be said that peasants also benefit because they use imported fertilizer, the deeper question is why they have to rely on imported fertilizer to begin with. While it can be said that workers also benefit because they cannot but consume imported products, the truth is that they do not really have that much income to spend.

Bulatlat: The government said remittances are harnessed for investments in human resource capital through education and health care for beneficiaries. The BSP said beneficiaries could go to private schools and hospitals instead of government-owned schools and hospitals. Please react to this.

Africa: The most basic point is that Filipinos have a right to decent public health and education services and should not have to buy these from privatized or profit-oriented institutions. Health and education should be available to all and not depend on whether or not a family can afford these.

The government is abdicating its responsibility and passing the burden on to OFWs. And it can also be asked who in the end will benefit most from these so-called “investments in human capital". If these Filipinos are likewise forced to go abroad then it is foreigners and foreign economies that will be the greatest beneficiaries.

Bulatlat: Remittances also go to physical capital investments through acquisition of real property including land purchases and home construction, said the BSP. Is this true?

Africa: Because Filipinos are so poor the largest part of OFW remittances goes to immediate and urgent consumption. And even if there are many OFWs able to buy real estate these are personal investments and not really investments in the productive capacity of the economy.

Bulatlat: Are remittances also used as capital? Do OFW beneficiaries also invest in business ventures such as in small and micro enterprises?

Africa: Small and micro enterprises do not just need capital, although this is certainly urgent, but also a supportive trade and investment environment. They should not just be provided with capital but also be allowed to grow under a protected trade regime and within a supportive investment environment. Thus, even if some part of OFW remittances are diverted to them, at the expense of families’ immediate consumption, they will still not prosper if there are no radical economic reforms.

Bulatlat: Do remittances create savings?

Africa: There will never be enough OFW savings to compensate for potential capital lost due to stunted domestic industry and agriculture, and for the hostile domestic economic environment for Filipinos due to reckless trade and investment liberalization.

Bulatlat: Can remittances be a tool for development?

Africa: Remittances can only be tool for development within the context of strategic and far-reaching policies of true agrarian reform and national industrialization. In the absence of these, the “remittances as a tool for development" mantra will just be hype to cover up the government’s severe economic failures. - Bulalat

Asian countries eye professional, skilled OFWs

MANILA, Philippines - Many countries in the Asian region are experiencing economic growth that results to more infrastructure and industrial projects. To accomplish the said projects, wealthy Asian countries need the services and expertise of foreign workers and overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) are more often than not, the top choice.

More overseas jobs are waiting for professional and skilled OFWs as they are in-demand in Asia, Rosalinda Baldoz, former administrator of the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) said, "This was despite competition posed by other labor-sending countries and restriction on labor and nationalization policies of some host countries."

Baldoz said Taiwan and South Korea remained as top destinations for Filipino factory workers. With the new hiring program for OFWs in Taiwan, there are also emerging markets for IT professionals and health care workers.

South Korea on the other hand is in need of skilled OFWs for their construction and shipbuilding industry. Job prospects are also bright for OFWs in Asian countries such as Brunei, Singapore, and Malaysia.

The hospitality industry of Singapore is in need of competent staff. There are job vacancies for hotel managers, supervisors, croupiers, dealers, chambermaids, and waiters/waitresses. The construction industry of Singapore also need to hire architects, engineers and draftsmen.

On the other hand, demand for Information Technology (IT) professionals are increasing in the cities of Penang, Johore, and Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia. Skilled foreign workers are also needed to work in the construction, shipbuilding and ship repair companies in Johore. There are also job openings for casino workers and entertainers are need in Genting Highlands Hotels and Resorts located in Johore.

Lots of jobs are also waiting for skilled and professional OFWs in Brunei. Industries that are in need of foreign workers are construction, oil and gas and hotel and restaurants.

Baldoz said she was confident Asian countries would provide opportunities and special preference to OFWs to fill their manpower requirement sectors. She said that the Philippine Overseas Labor Offices in these countries continued to exert effort to make employment opportunities available to OFWs. - OFW Guide

RP to renegotiate OFW deployment deal with SoKor

MANILA, Philippines - Representatives from the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) are set to go to South Korea to renegotiate a deal for the deployment of overseas Filipino workers (OFW) there.

POEA administrator Jennifer Manalili said the representatives would leave the country within this week or next week to renegotiate a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with their counterparts in Seoul.

“Our MOU with them (South Korea) is set to expire so we are sending a team there," Manalili said in an interview with reporters on Monday.

According to Manalili, the talks with the South Korean government would also include the possible deployment of Filipino hotel service workers and information technology workers.

“Our quota for this year is 11,000 and we weren’t able to fill it up," Manalili said.

Manalili said the POEA was informed that South Korea needed overseas workers for its hotels and banks.

Carmelita Dimzon, newly installed chief of the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration, earlier said OWWA was in talks with South Korea for the deployment of hotel workers and IT personnel.

Dimzon also said South Korea needed English-speaking staff to work as frontline employees for its banks and hotels in Incheon. “They are opening the Incheon Metropolitan City for Filipino workers," she said.

In 2004, the Philippines and South Korea entered into a government-to-government recruitment of workers through the Employment Permit System (EPS) to correct the exorbitant mobilization costs that were being charged by private recruitment companies and their partner brokers in South Korea.

As of May 2008, a total of 20,476 Filipino workers were deployed to South Korea.

Korea currently implements EPS with countries that include Vietnam, Thailand, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Mongolia, Cambodia, Uzbekistan, and Pakistan.

The EPA is the only means by which South Korean employers could legally hire overseas workers.

The POEA is the only government organization authorized to implement the EPS in the Philippines. - GMANews.TV

Filipino dies off Somalia, remains still with pirates

MANILA, Philippines - Pirates have refused to turn over to the Philippine government the remains of a Filipino seaman who died during a hijacking incident off Somalia last month.

Esteban Conejos Jr, undersecretary for Migrant Workers Affairs of the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA), said that according to the Somali pirates, they would only release the remains of Jason Sumagat once other crew members of the Malaysian ship MT Bunga Melati are freed.

“We have been trying to request that the body be brought back but the pirates have insisted that it has to stay. They said it will be released at the same time with the Filipinos," Conejos said, adding that the information was coursed through the ship’s manning agency, which is the one directly negotiating with the hijackers.

Sumagat’s body is stored in the ship’s freezer, according to Conejos.

The DFA said Sumagat died in an “accident" when pirates took control of the vessel last August 21.

The DFA continues to coordinate with MISC Berhad, the owner of the Malaysian ship to repatriate the sailor’s remains as well as secure the safe release of the other Filipino crew members.

Pirates are still holding 72 Filipino seamen and several other foreign crewmen on board five foreign vessels that were seized by pirates in separate hijacking incidents off the Gulf of Aden since July.

Japanese ship Stella Maris and its 20 all-Filipino crew were released last Saturday after a $2-million ransom was reportedly paid.

The following day, one of the two Malaysian vessels, the MT Bunga Melati 5, and its 36 Malaysian and five Filipino crew members were also released by pirates.

Two weeks earlier, nine Filipinos and four foreign crewmen on board the BBC Trinidad, a German-owned container vessel, were also freed.

Apart from the MT Bunga Melati 2, other vessels still being held by the pirates are: the MT Irene, a Japanese-owned tanker with 16 Filipinos and four other foreign nationals; the MT Stolt Valor, a Hong Kong chemical tanker with two Filipinos and 31 other nationals; the MV Centauri, a Greek-owned tanker with a 26 all-Filipino crew; and the MV Capt. Stephanos, a Bahamas-flagged ship with 17 Filipinos and two other nationals.

The Philippines supply one-third of the world’s shipping manpower with about 270,000 Filipino seaman employed by foreign maritime agencies, making them the most vulnerable and prone to pirate attacks.

Manila does not directly negotiate with the hostage-takers but continues to coordinate with the transitional government of Somalia and the shipping firms to work for the immediate and safe release of the hostages. Somalia has no central government.

The Philippine government had already tied up with local manning agents in Manila to come up with a recommendation on how to prevent the further abduction of Filipino sailors.

The International Maritime Bureau has called on the United Nations to take action to secure the waters and stop the piracy menace in the Gulf of Aden.

Despite the presence of US-led coalition forces patrolling the area, pirate attacks continue in the Gulf of Aden, one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes. - GMANews.TV

Filvets leader supports 'one-time, big-time' pension for veterans

MANILA, Philippines - Filipino World War II veterans should be content with the "one- time big-time" compensation being offered under a bill recently passed at the US House of Representatives, according to a leader of a veterans' group based in the Philippines.

“The Filner bill is better than nothing," Sandiganbayan retired justice Manuel Pamaran, vice president of the Veterans Federation of the Philippines (VFP), told GMANews.TV in a recent interview.

Critics say US Rep. Bob Filner's H.R. 6897 or the Filipino Veterans Equity Act of 2008, is a “watered down" version of US Senator Daniel Akaka’s S. 1315.

H.R. 6897 would only provide Filipino veterans in the US a one-time compensation of $15,000 (about P695,000), and $9,000 (about P416,000) for those living in the Philippines.

S. 1315 or the Veterans’ Benefits Enhancement Act of 2007 offers a more comprehensive benefits package to Filipino veterans, which includes providing married Filipino veterans living in the Philippines with annual pension of $4,500, (about P210,000) and $3,600 (about P168,000) for single veterans.

The surviving spouse of a Filipino veteran would also be entitled to a yearly pension of $2,400 (about P112,000) under the bill. The bill would also increase the disability compensation rate and burial benefits for Filipino veterans living in the Philippines from 50 to 100 percent, equivalent to that being enjoyed by veterans living in the US.

But according to Pamaraan, “We have no recourse but to accept it. We are the only ally that has been forgotten."

H.R. 6897 now goes to the Senate, where senators either could pass the House version or meet in a conference committee to work out differences. Last week, Akaka sought a conference between representatives of the Senate and the House to negotiate a final version of the measure.

If the two chambers fails to pass the bill's final version before US Congress adjourns in time for the presidential elections, advocates of the Filipino veterans’ equity bill would have to start their campaign from square one.

Francisco San Miguel, VFP secretary-general earlier criticized the legislation, saying that under the bill American veterans would receive far more benefits than their Filipino counterparts, including a monthly pension, as well as house and car modifications for wheel-chair bound former soldiers.

“Ang hinihiling lang namin ay equal treatment pero ang ginagawa nila ay unequal treatment (We’re only asking for equal treatment but what they are doing is totally unfair)," San Miguel said.

Only 18 Filvets listed

Pamaran, who served alongside American soldiers during WWII as a former private first class, said that even if the US Congress approves the measure's final version, Filipino veterans would still face a problem on identifying the recipients of the pension.

According to him, there are only 18 Filipino war veterans officially listed in the US-State of Missouri who are entitled to the benefits.

He said that some Filipinos who were part of the guerrilla movement in the Philippines failed to be included in the list and are thus ineligible for any US pension.

“There are only 18 listed Filipino war veterans. Six are in the Philippines, while 12 are in the US," he said.

The more than 18,000 surviving WWII Filipino veterans whose average age is 80, have been waiting for the last 62 years for the US government to correct the Recession Acts’ “injustice," and provide them compensation equitable to that of their American counterparts.

San Miguel, who also served in WWII when he was just 14, claimed that US lawmakers rushed the bill's passage because of the approaching US presidential elections.

“Ngayon itong ginagawa nila ay pampalubag-loob dahil ang hinihiling ng mga beterano ay matatagalan (They are only doing this to appease the veterans since what they are asking would take a longer time to enact)," he said in an earlier interview.


While Pamaran refused to say whether or not the Senate would back the House-approved bill, he said the upcoming US elections could have influenced the decisions of lawmakers.

“It’s anybody’s political interest," he said. “If there were more Filipino [voters] they could have pushed for the Senate bill."

Pamaran quelled speculations that the Philippine government had been lax in lobbying for the Senate version of the veterans bill.

He said the government did its best, adding that he was among the Philippine delegate who went to Washington earlier this year to personally convince US senators to support the cause of Filipino veterans. - MARK JOSEPH H. UBALDE, GMANews.TV

Group offers up to $1K reward for missing Pinoy on Saipan Island

SUSUPE, Saipan - A non-profit community-based group in the US territory of the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) is offering cash reward of up to $1,000 to anyone who can lead authorities to the whereabouts of a Filipino worker who was reported missing since July 29.

Jim Arenovski, president of the NMI Crime Stoppers on Monday told GMANews.TV that his group would use its resources to help locate 47-year-old Alex Matubis, who had been working on Saipan Island as a draftsman and surveyor for almost 23 years.

Crime Stoppers uses a 24-hour tip line for informants who are not required to identify themselves or give any personal information. Calls cannot be traced. Tip lines do not have caller IDs.

People can also pass information anonymously via a secure online information form.

“They can call 234-7272 or visit our Web site, to provide us with information. We offer up to $1,000 reward depending on the provided information that will lead us to his (Matubis’) whereabouts," said Arenovski.

According to Irene Tantiado, a labor rights activist in the CNMI, and president of the United Workers Movement NMI, police still face a blank wall on the Matubis case.

“Ngayong confirmed na may cash reward na, we hope magkaroon na ng strong lead para malaman kung nasaan na si Alex (Now that it has been confirmed that there is cash reward, we hope there’s going to be a strong lead to Alex’s whereabouts)," said Tantiado.

Tantiado has been helping Matubis’s wife, Malou, in getting information about the case.

Since she flew to Saipan on September 7, Matubis’ wife has not yet received reliable information on the whereabouts of her husband of 15 years.

"My husband is a good person. He has not done anything wrong. He’s been working hard for his family and we hope to see him alive," said Malou, as she appealed for those who might know Matubis to come forward.

Malou last saw her husband last June 28, before he returned to Saipan after a 45-day vacation in the Philippines.

The blue pickup truck that Matubis had been driving until the day of his disappearance was found by authorities 18 days later on Aug. 16.

Tantiado said members of the Filipino community on Saipan were willing to raise funds to help Matubis’ family especially his daughters — a 16-year-old nursing student and a 14-year-old high school student — who live in San Pedro town in Laguna province.

One of the groups is the Marianas Association of Filipino Engineers and Architects (MAFEA), which handed $389 to Malou during the group’s induction ceremony last Saturday. Matubis is a member of MAFEA.

The disappearance of Matubis remains a puzzle to the Filipino community in the CNMI. An estimated 10,000 Filipinos work and reside in the territory. Those who know Matubis describe him as a kind and religious man. - HAIDEE V. EUGENIO, GMANews.TV

5 Pinoys freed by Somali pirates to be repatriated soon - DFA

MANILA, Philippines - The five Filipino seafarers who were freed by their Somali captors are well and will soon go back home.

"They are reported to be in good health," Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) spokesperson Claro Cristobal on Monday told GMANews.TV in a text message.

"The DFA is now coordinating with the ship owner on the repatriation of the Filipino seafarers," added Cristobal.

The Filipinos were among the 41 crew members of Malaysian tanker M/V Bunga Melati 5 that was released by the pirates after the vessel was hijacked last August 25.

The DFA identified the freed Filipino seamen as: Eduardo Lasprillas, Aldrin Palomo, Manuel America Jr; Rhageb Salabao, and Ulyseise Maguslog.

Among the Filipinos abducted was Jason Sumagat, who died during the hijacking incident of another Malaysian ship, MT Bunga Melati.

About eight ships with Filipino seafarers have been hijacked near Somali waters and the Gulf of Aden in the past three months. One of the vessels had been released earlier, along with nine Filipino crew members, apparently after ransom was paid by its owner.

The five other ships with Filipino crew that are still being held by pirates are:

* MV Stella Maris, a Japanese-owned bulk carrier with a 20 all-Filipino crew, seized July 20;

* MT Bunga Melati Dua, a Malaysian chemical tanker, manned by10 Filipinos and 29 Malaysians, seized August 19. One of the ten Filipinos died accidentally when the ship was hijacked;

* MT Irene, a Japanese-owned tanker with 16 Filipinos and four other foreign nationals, seized August 21;

* MT Stolt Valor, a Hong Kong chemical tanker with two Filipinos and 31 other nationals, seized on Sept. 15 and

* MV Centauri, a Greek-owned tanker with a 26 all-Filipino crew, seized on September 17.

The DFA and the International Maritime Bureau had earlier reported that nine Filipino crew of the BBC Trinidad, a German-owned container vessel hijacked off Somalia on August 21, were all released along with four other foreign nationals and their ship.

One of the nine Filipino seafarers, Chief mate Antonio Calubiran told GMANews.TV in an earlier interview that his group were often terrorized by their abductors during their 23-day stay in Somalia.

"They only fed us fish, sometimes goat meat. We had to share the small portions among ourselves," he said.

Capt. Tomas Awiszut, a representative of ship owner Beluga Shipping, admitted that the company paid a ransom of about $1 million for the safe release of the ship and its crew.

“For the ship owner, paying ransom was the only way," Awiszut said. - MARK JOSEPH H. UBALDE, GMANews.TV

5 Pinoys freed by Somali pirates to be repatriated soon - DFA

MANILA, Philippines - The five Filipino seafarers who were freed by their Somali captors are well and will soon go back home.

"They are reported to be in good health," Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) spokesperson Claro Cristobal on Monday told GMANews.TV in a text message.

"The DFA is now coordinating with the ship owner on the repatriation of the Filipino seafarers," added Cristobal.

The Filipinos were among the 41 crew members of Malaysian tanker M/V Bunga Melati 5 that was released by the pirates after the vessel was hijacked last August 25.

The DFA identified the freed Filipino seamen as: Eduardo Lasprillas, Aldrin Palomo, Manuel America Jr; Rhageb Salabao, and Ulyseise Maguslog.

Among the Filipinos abducted was Jason Sumagat, who died during the hijacking incident of another Malaysian ship, MT Bunga Melati.

About eight ships with Filipino seafarers have been hijacked near Somali waters and the Gulf of Aden in the past three months. One of the vessels had been released earlier, along with nine Filipino crew members, apparently after ransom was paid by its owner.

The five other ships with Filipino crew that are still being held by pirates are:

* MV Stella Maris, a Japanese-owned bulk carrier with a 20 all-Filipino crew, seized July 20;

* MT Bunga Melati Dua, a Malaysian chemical tanker, manned by10 Filipinos and 29 Malaysians, seized August 19. One of the ten Filipinos died accidentally when the ship was hijacked;

* MT Irene, a Japanese-owned tanker with 16 Filipinos and four other foreign nationals, seized August 21;

* MT Stolt Valor, a Hong Kong chemical tanker with two Filipinos and 31 other nationals, seized on Sept. 15 and

* MV Centauri, a Greek-owned tanker with a 26 all-Filipino crew, seized on September 17.

The DFA and the International Maritime Bureau had earlier reported that nine Filipino crew of the BBC Trinidad, a German-owned container vessel hijacked off Somalia on August 21, were all released along with four other foreign nationals and their ship.

One of the nine Filipino seafarers, Chief mate Antonio Calubiran told GMANews.TV in an earlier interview that his group were often terrorized by their abductors during their 23-day stay in Somalia.

"They only fed us fish, sometimes goat meat. We had to share the small portions among ourselves," he said.

Capt. Tomas Awiszut, a representative of ship owner Beluga Shipping, admitted that the company paid a ransom of about $1 million for the safe release of the ship and its crew.

“For the ship owner, paying ransom was the only way," Awiszut said. - MARK JOSEPH H. UBALDE, GMANews.TV

Monday, September 29, 2008

Free legal assistance offered to overseas Pinoys

The Initiatives for Dialogue and Empowerment through Alternative Legal Services, Inc (IDEALS), a non-stock, non-profit, non-government organization is providing free legal assistance to overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) under its Migrants' Defense Program.

IDEALS is a partner of the Hague Process on Refugees and Migration, a member of the Club of the Hague.

For inquiries call: (+632) 436-5470 or e-mail ideals05@yahoo.com

Gov’t asks UAE’s ‘leniency’ on stranded Filipinos

MANILA, Philippines – The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) on Friday said it would ask the government of the United Arab Emirates not to drive away the thousands of overseas Filipino workers stranded along UAE’s border with Oman.

DFA acting secretary Esteban Conejos Jr said they would first coordinate with UAE officials before deciding whether or not to bring the workers home, adding that repatriation was currently not yet an option.

“(The decision to repatriate the OFWs) will depend on how the UAE government responds to our request for leniency," Conejos told GMANews.TV in an interview.

He also assured that a team from the Philippine Embassy in Dubai would meet with the stranded OFWs at the border to check their condition.

Conejos said that the new policy on the issuance of visas in UAE had been implemented on July 29.

The new regulation, which directs previous visit visa holders to reapply as tourists, led to the rejection of thousands of visa applications from the Filipinos.

“The Filipinos had been warned since March (about the new rule)," said Conejos, but added the Philippine government would nevertheless still try to work things out with the UAE government.

There had been varying reports on the number of stranded Filipinos outside the UAE, but roughly 6,000 Filipinos had been affected by the change in visa policies, the DFA said.

In one part of the Oman border, some 1,000 OFWs were forced to hole up in a number of hotels, according to Conejos.

Since Tuesday, a four-man consulate team from the embassy in Muscat has been dispatched to Al Buraimi, along the Oman-UAE border to help the Filipinos, according to Conejos.

He said teams from the Philippine Embassy in Abu Dhabi, and the Philippine Consulate General in Dubai were also on their way to the area. Representatives from the two offices will also be making "high-level representation" with UAE authorities on behalf of the stranded Filipinos.

Meanwhile, teams from the Philippine Embassy in Tehran will be dispatched to Kish Island in Iran’s province of Hormozgān.

A free trade zone, Kish is being used as a steppingstone for foreigners — including Filipinos — seeking jobs in the UAE and other Gulf states because visitors are not required to obtain visas before entry. - Mark Ubalde and Mark Merueñas, GMANews.TV

Govt urged to curb deployment of OFWs to the Middle East

MANILA, Philippines — Government should seriously regulate and control the deployment of workers in the Middle East to prevent the continued increase in the numbers of reported stranded Filipinos, an alliance of overseas Filipino workers said on Saturday.

Migrante-Middle East urged the Department of Foreign Affairs and the Department of Labor and Employment to take action as it reported that there are now 2,700 Filipinos stranded along the Oman-United Arab Emirates(UAE) border and 5,000 more in the Iran-UAE border.

The figures are in addition to the thousands of runaway Filipino workers that are government shelters or staying with friends in various countries in the Middle East.

Many of the stranded OFWs were on a short-term non-renewable visit visa presumably to visit relative OFWs in the UAE but whose main purpose is to look for a job. The lack of jobs in the Philippines forced many Filipinos to look for work abroad.

"Many OFs (overseas Filipinos) were forced to leave the United Arab Emirates when the host government implemented a new visit visa law that requires them to apply for a tourist visa instead," said Nhel Morona, Migrante-UAE secretary-general.

The group said the new law requires one to get a Visit Entry permit that allows its holder to enter the UAE once within two months, as of the date of its issue, and stay for a period of 30 days from the date of entry.

John Leonard Monterona, Migrante-ME regional coordinator, explained that the visit visa procedure is the easiest way an aspiring OFW could go to any open countries in the Middle East such as UAE, Qatar, and Bahrain without going through the normal process of OFW deployment via local recruitment agencies that are charging huge amount like placement fees aside from the fees and charges collected by the government.

Monterona said "stranded OFWs live in very poor conditions. Most them were crammed in a single room and hardly eating three square meals a day."

He said the government should come up with concrete actions to save the distressed workers.

DFA acting Secretary Esteban Conejos Jr on Saturday said Philippine officials in the UAE and Oman have been directed to plead with the government of the two countries for lenience in dealing with the stranded workers.

Conejos said they would first coordinate with UAE officials before deciding whether or not to bring the workers home, adding that repatriation was currently not yet an option.

“(The decision to repatriate the OFWs) will depend on how the UAE government responds to our request for leniency," Conejos told GMANews.TV in an interview.

He also assured that a team from the Philippine Embassy in Dubai would meet with the stranded OFWs at the border to check their condition.

Conejos explained that the new policy on the issuance of visas in UAE had been implemented on July 29.

The new regulation, which directs previous visit visa holders to reapply as tourists, led to the rejection of thousands of visa applications from the Filipinos.

“The Filipinos had been warned since March (about the new rule)," said Conejos, but added the Philippine government would nevertheless still try to work things out with the UAE government.

There had been varying reports on the number of stranded Filipinos outside the UAE, but roughly 6,000 Filipinos had been affected by the change in visa policies, the DFA said.

In one part of the Oman border, some 1,000 OFWs were forced to hole up in a number of hotels, according to Conejos.

Since Tuesday, a four-man consulate team from the embassy in Muscat has been dispatched to Al Buraimi, along the Oman-UAE border to help the Filipinos, according to Conejos. - GMANews.TV

Group slams alleged govt inaction on OFW cases

MANILA, Philippines- A militant group on Saturday accused the Arroyo administration of also being guilty of violating the rights of overseas Filipino workers (OFW) for not doing anything to solve the increasing cases of OFW abuse.

Citing a study from the New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW), Migrante International said that even studies reaffirm their claims that the Arroyo administration is as guilty as the abusive employers who cause suffering to Filipino migrant workers.

"We have long been accusing the Philippine government as standing idly by as cases upon cases of our abused compatriots pile up in their midst," said Migrante chairperson Connie Bragas-Regalado.

HRW on September 23 said many cases of migrant worker abuse never go to trial "as workers are unable to contact their embassies, are unfamiliar with the legal system, or have been threatened with spurious counter-charges of theft, witchcraft, or adultery."

"Our kababayans who leave their abusive employers are left to fend for themselves. This wanton neglect is as condemnable, if not criminal, as the abuses by the Saudi employers themselves," said Regalado.

The New York-based group said migrants who had become victims are sometimes imprisoned, punished by cruel lashings, or in some cases, end up in death row.

"This is the kind of migration that Arroyo wants to propagate as the model for development: billions of remittance money in exchange for the huge social cost to Filipino migrants," said the group leader.

According to Migrante, they have recorded 29 OFWs on death row and 50 OFWs who died under mysterious circumstances.- Kimberly Jane Tan, GMANews.TV

Saudi court upholds 3 Pinoys' death sentence

MANILA, Philippines - Saudi Arabia’s Court of Appeals has upheld the death sentence imposed by a general court in Jeddah on three Filipinos involved in what has become known as the Jeddah ‘chop-chop’ killings two years ago, Migrante International said on Saturday.

Migrante said the appellate court released its decision on Sept. 15 affirming the conviction of Edison Gonzales, his brother Rolando, and Eduardo Arcilla.

The court also affirmed the conviction of four others accused of helping cover up the crime: Victoriano Alfonso, Efren Francisco Dumaun, Omar Basilio, and Joel Sinamban.

Migrante said the appellate court increased the penalty against the four accomplices from eight years to 10 years imprisonment and from 1,000 lashes to 1,200 lashes.

Migrante did not mention the source of the information for security reasons. Saudi Arabia’s courts seldom make a public announcement of their verdicts pending disclosure of such to the parties involved.

The accused, who are all languishing at a high-security prison in Jeddah, were accused of killing fellow Filipinos Reno Lumbang, Jeremias Bucod, and Dante Rivero in April 2006.

As reported earlier by the Arab News (www.arabnews.com), citing court records showed by the Philippine Consulate, the killings resulted from a fierce rivalry between Edison Gonzales and Reno Lumbang over gambling operations in Jeddah.

The crime has been tagged as the worst crime ever committed by and against Filipinos in Saudi Arabia.

According to the report, Lumbang and his driver Bucod were killed by the Gonzales brothers and Arcilla in the heat of an argument that arose while they were playing cards in someone's house.
Lumbang and his companions later also killed Dante Rivero to silence a potential witness.

The murder of the three surfaced when police found body parts scattered in garbage bins around the city. Acting on a tip, Jeddah police rounded up more than 80 Filipinos for questioning and ended up charging seven in the triple murder case.

Police reduced the charges against Alfonso, Dumaun, Basilio, and Sinamban after they reportedly admitted their role only in disposing the chopped body parts. Police were able to recover some of the body parts through the help of the four.

DNA samples recovered from the body parts later positively matched the samples taken from the relatives of the victims.

All seven accused are appealing against their sentences, which are actually automatically reviewed by the Court of Cassation.

Migrante has asked the government to provide adequate legal assistance to the seven to ensure that their rights are protected .- GMANews.TV

4,000 Filipinos await visas in Kish - report

MANILA, Philippines - Some 4,000 Filipinos are among more than 5,000 visa changers stranded on Kish Island in Iran since a new visa law in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) went into effect.

Online news site Khaleej Times reported that Filipinos prefer to go to Kish for visa change as Kish offers an affordable, easier and cheaper exit from the UAE.

Reza Ardalan, head of the Extension Office, Residence Permit Office in Kish, said before the implementation of the new UAE visa law, his office used to process an average of 70 applications for extension of their stay in Kish everyday.

"After this, specifically just before the start of Ramadan, the number of stranded visa changers has doubled to 150 daily," he said.

Before the new visa law, he said the Indians used to top the list. Now, he said they are second to Filipinos, followed by Arabs such as Moroccans, Egyptians, Ethiopians and others.

Most of the stranded Filipinos are male. Every month, at least five children come to apply for extension, he added.

Kish Island has 50 hotels catering to visitors, he said, but only 10 of them are affordable for visa changers. The rest are three-, four- and five-star hotels.

He said the problem is not with Iran, but with the immigration in the UAE, which grants multiple entry visas to as many as 70 to 80 per cent of visa changers daily.

He said people whose applications are on multiple entry have to wait 14 days to a month in Kish. They can stay on Kish without visa for 14 days, and can seek an extension of their stay for one month to three months at Dh80 per extension.

"All stranded visa changers are staying in hotels. Our law forbids tourists and foreigners from sleeping in private homes. If they are caught doing this, the police will arrest and jail them before deportation," he said.

He said less than five per cent of those stranded escape their obligation by requesting their passport from the hotel purportedly for extension of stay, but silently book their tickets upon receipt of their visa and leave. - GMANews.TV

RP to host 2nd Global Forum on Migration

MANILA, Philippines - The Philippines will host this Thursday the second Global Forum on Migration and Development to tackle issues concerning the welfare and empowerment of migrants.

A Malacañang statement said the Philippines was the unanimous choice of the 125 member states of the International Office of Migration (IOM) and 16 observer states.

The overall theme of GFMD Manila 2008 is "Protecting and Empowering Migrants for Development."

President Arroyo invited IOM director general William Lacey Swing Friday to attend the forum.

The GFMD is an annual international conference on migration and development issues, following the High Level Dialogue on Migration organized by the United Nations (UN) in New York in September 2006.

The first GFMD was held in Brussels, Belgium on July 9-11, 2007. It featured back-to-back sessions by civil society groups (Civil Society Day) and the governmental groups (Governmental Days).

Participants tackled three themes, including Human capital development and labor mobility; Remittances and other diaspora resources; and Enhancing institutional and policy coherence and promoting partnerships.

IOM works to help ensure the orderly and humane management of migration, promote international cooperation on migration issues, assist in the search for practical solutions to migration problems and to provide humanitarian assistance to migrants in need, including refugees and internally displaced people. - GMANews.TV

DFA urged to form group to help stranded OFWs in MidEast

MANILA, Philippines - Senate President Manuel Villar Jr has urged the Foreign Affairs department to form an emergency multi-sectoral group to assist the more than 7,000 Filipinos stranded in Middle East.

In a statement, Villar said the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA), the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA), and the Philippine Association of Service Exporters, Inc. should work with the DFA in forming concrete measures to help the stranded OFWs.

"Government must show firm resolve in ending this crisis. Assistance to our more than 7000 stranded kababayans must be immediately extended," Villar said.

According to Villar, there are 2,7000 Filipinos stranded along the Oman-United Arab Emirates (UAE) border and 5,000 more in the Iran-UAE border.

At the same time, Villar also urged the Philippine embassy in Oman to do their best to appeal to the Oman sultanate to help resolve the crisis.

"In the meantime, we expect the embassy officials to help distressed Filipinos there facilitate their visas and papers," Villar added.

Villar noted that many Filipinos were forced to leave UAE after it implemented on July 29 a new visit visa law that requires previous visa holders to reapply as tourists, resulting in the rejection of thousands of visa applications from Filipinos.

The visit visa procedure has become the easiest way for Filipinos who want to work in the Middle East, doing away with the costly and difficult process of the normal OFW deployment, he said.

Villar added that the Assistance to Nationals Fund of DFA and other OFW funds administered by OWWA must be released soonest “for immediate evacuation, safekeeping, repatriation or simply to purchase basic necessities for the distressed migrant workers.” - Aie Balagtas See, GMANews.TV

24 Filipinos detained in Trinidad and Tobago

MANILA, Philippines - Some 24 Filipinos are now detained at a maximum security prison in Trinidad and Tobago after being arrested for working without permits, according to an online news site Sunday.

A report in Caribbean Net News said that law enforcement agents swooped down on the workers in Roxborough in Tobago and picked up 36 persons, including a 30-year-old civil engineer.

Also arrested were 11 Chinese and one Guyanese national. All of them, including the Filipinos, were brought to mainland Trinidad and detained at the maximum security prison at Golden Grove.

Philippine Honorary Consul in Trinidad and Tobago, Dr. Marie Arvani, visited the Filipinos and said they were well-treated, but they complained about the meals.

The report said the Filipinos and Chinese arrived at Crown Point Airport in Tobago with a one-way ticket and were promised return passage by their employers.

It said Arvani is to meet with officials of the Ministry of National Security on the matter. - GMANews.TV

Recruiters back review of Iraq deployment ban

MANILA, Philippines - Recruitment groups have thrown their support behind the decision of the Department of Labor and Employment (DoLE) to review the deployment ban in Iraq.

Emmanuel Geslani, recruitment consultant, said recruitment industries particularly those deploying overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) in the Middle East had been drumming up for the lifting of the ban that the government imposed in 2004 following the abduction of truck driver Angelo de la Cruz in Iraq.

“The legalization of our workers in that country will give them high salaries, proper protection and welfare measures like war risk insurance and bigger death benefits," Geslani said.

Labor Secretary Marianito Roque in a separate interview admitted that since the deployment ban, the number of OFWs entering the war-torn country continue to increase.

Roque said that based on reports they received the number has now climbed to 15,000.

He said his office is asking the Department of Foreign Affairs to re-assess the situation in Iraq in order for him to determine if he should lift the ban or not.

According to Roque, the reports of the Middle East Preparedness Team indicated that the incidence of violence in Iraq is already dwindling and this is why they requested for the DFA re-assessment. - GMANews.TV

Friday, September 26, 2008

Filipinos working abroad spawn spoiled children

MANILA, Philippines - Filipinos working abroad—and the huge amounts of money they send home every month—have spawned a generation of “spoiled kids," a sociology professor said.

“OFW migration might be creating a generation of instant gratification and spoiled children," Dr. Ma. Cynthia Rose Bautista, a sociology professor at the University of the Philippines, said during a Makati City forum.

In her presentation at the Philippine Institute for Development Studies (PIDS) on Tuesday, Bautista said that parents usually splurge their kids with material luxuries—such as cellphones—to make up for their absence in the family.

Parents also often gauge their children’s good academic performance as a positive effect of their migration, Bautista added.

“If they look at the academics they would hardly see any negative effects," said Bautista, citing a recent study indicating that migrant children perform better in school.

“But deep inside here is a person who is trying to look for a sense of self," she said.

Bautista’s assertions are supported by Dr. Fabio Baggio of the Scalabrini Migration Center, a fellow participant at the forum entitled “Managing the Development Impact of International Migration."

Although cellphones could bridge the distance between OFWs and their kids, it also introduces a culture of dependency as children become more materialistic and less helpful in the household. - GMANews.TV

AIDS test for returning OFWs discriminatory

MANILA, Philippines - An official of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) on Wednesday opposed a proposal to require returning overseas Filipino workers to undergo screening for HIV and AIDS.

Father Savino Bernardi, Manila director of the CBCP’s Apostleship of the Sea (AOS), said the proposal by Pilar Juliana “Pia" Cayetano was discriminatory.

“There is a stigma attached to this for returning OFWs. Why would they be discriminated upon? Statistics do not support that they are the majority of AIDS carriers," Bernardi said in an interview with GMANews.TV.

“If that is the argument, why not make the test obligatory to all Filipinos?" he said. “And you can start with the congressmen."

‘Huge chunk’

In her proposal, Cayetano said that returning OFWs need to be asked about their sexual behavior while working abroad as she claimed that a “huge chunk of (HIV) cases come from OFWs" and “there is no strong program" to address the problem.

“There is ...sensitivity involved here (because) sexuality is not openly discussed in the Philippines. But in the case of a deadly disease like AIDS, answers to questions will remain confidential and there would be consultation," said Cayetano, who concurrently chairs the Senate Committee on Health and Demography.

Last May, the Department of Health’s National Epidemiology Center reported 35 HIV cases. Twenty percent of the cases were OFWs, mostly males. All OFWs who had AIDS acquired the disease through sexual intercourse.

Cayetano claimed that overseas fathers who lack knowledge on safe reproductive health are the ones who usually transmit the disease to their families.

“In as much as we support the sanctity of the marriage, sometimes it is the husband who brings a third party into the marriage. And the wife is told not to use contraceptives." Cayetano said.

“I am not trying to promote doubts in their minds but it is the reality," she added.

While opposing mandatory screening, Fr. Bernardi said the HIV/AIDS (human immunodeficiency virus/acquired immunodeficiency syndrome) cases in the country should not be downplayed.

He cited a 2006 data gathered by the Action for Health Initiatives Inc., which showed that 2,566 Filipinos are living with HIV and AIDS in the Philippines.

“Out of this number, 891 or 35 percent are OFWs," he said.

Based on the statistics, 34 percent of those affected with the disease were seafarers, 18 percent were domestic helpers, 9 percent were employees, 7 percent were entertainers while 6 percent were health workers.

“Maybe we only know a tip of the iceberg," he said, echoing Cayetano’s analysis that the conservative culture in the Philippines makes Filipinos reluctant to disclose their sexuality and sexual behavior.

He said this could create problems in the future as carriers of the deadly disease remain undetected.

Prevention is best

Bernardi, however, stressed that prevention of the killer disease by means of education is still the best solution to the emerging problem.

He said if Filipinos remain steadfast in their commitment to abstinence and fidelity, HIV and AIDS would be eradicated.

“There is no better way than that. I will challenge anyone who would say there is a better system," he said.

He said prevention has always been imbedded in the teachings of the Catholic Church and other religions. - GMANews.TV

Saudi Arabia hit for failure to protect rights of RP maids, other domestics

MANILA, Philippines - A New York-based international human rights organization has criticized Saudi Arabia “for backsliding on human rights," which allegedly resulted in the suffering of thousands of female overseas domestic workers from “injustices in courts."

Human Rights Watch (HRW) claimed that many of these 1.5-million strong workers who mostly come from the Philippines, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, and Ethiopia have suffered abuse from their employers.

However, hundreds of “severe" cases yearly involving employers who withhold salaries of workers for years, physically and sexually attack domestics, or keep them in “virtual slavery" are not being tried in court, according to HRW.

“Many cases never go to trial, as workers are unable to contact their embassies, are unfamiliar with the legal system, or have been threatened with spurious counter-charges of theft, witchcraft, or adultery," said the organization in an article it uploaded on its Web site last September 23, titled Separating Image from Substance in Saudi Arabia written by Clarisa Bencomo and Christoph Wilcke.

“In such cases, some domestic workers have been punished with imprisonment or lashings despite being victims themselves," HRW added.

Gaps in Saudi labor laws

According to the group, gaps in Saudi labor laws and restrictive immigration policies have made it easy for employers to exploit female foreign domestics.

HRW said that yearly, thousands of complaints about the inhumane conditions of migrant workers in the hands of their employers are being received by embassies and Saudi authorities.

These complaints include taking the workers’ passports, withholding their wages, depriving them of sufficient food, locking them in the house around the clock, and demanding them to work for 16 hours daily with no days off.

However, the organization said “these conditions are considered the norm and do not generally lead to court trials."

Even in “rare" cases where employers are tried for serious crimes, convictions are seldom, if not nil, according to HRW. “(C)ourts have not normally been able to convict the offender or give fair restitution to the worker."

It cited an “egregious" case in 2008, wherein a Saudi court reportedly dropped charges against an employer of an Indonesian woman. This despite the employer’s confession and extensive forensic evidence that the worker was abused.

No written penal code

Saudi Arabia’s criminal justice system urgently needs accountability and transparency, according to HRW. The organization said that because the Kingdom has no written penal code, both foreigners and its citizens are often being arrested arbitrarily.

“In perhaps the only country in the world without a written penal code, nationals and foreigners alike routinely face arrest, interrogation, and punishments of imprisonment and flogging for vague offenses such as “disobedience to the ruler" or "insulting Islam," said HRW.

Of the more than 60 criminal cases it investigated, HRW found out that “ordinary criminal defendants, including children, usually did not have access to legal counsel or other means of preparing for their defense."

“Many only learned of their trial dates from their prison guards the night before. Statements extracted under torture were stamped with the defendant’s fingerprint, meaning they could not be challenged in court," HRW said.

“Judges gave defendants only little time to speak, and often prohibited cross-examination of prosecution witnesses or the presentation of defense witnesses. Court documents record judges sentencing defendants while simultaneously expressing doubt as to their guilt," it added.

Rare criticism

HRW said that despite worsening human rights violations in Saudi Arabia, foreign governments “have done next to nothing to achieve redress of these realities."

It observed that “criticism is (getting) more and more rare" as foreign governments “pushed for new business deals in a kingdom flush with revenue from consecutive years of record oil prices."

“While the US, Britain and France publicly welcome Saudi claims of commitment to reform, they rarely publicly criticize the pace or substance of the government’s efforts," according to the organization.

“Gone are the days of Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s ballyhooed speech at the American University in Cairo in June 2005, when she protested the jailing of three prominent Saudi Arabian reform advocates…More common of late, however, are comments like that of British official Kim Howells, who publicly embraced the “shared values" of the British and Saudi governments during King ‘Abdallah’s state visit to London in October 2007," said HRW.

“France’s President Nicolas Sarkozy and Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel, too, rolled out the red carpet for the Saudi king and kept mum about human rights abuses in the kingdom," it added.

HRW said that while the US considers Saudi Arabia in the “worst offender category for trafficking in persons and denying religious freedom," it “nonetheless fails to impose the sanctions legally prescribed for such offenders."

What should be done?

It urged the US, Britain, and France to help ordinary Saudis realize their human rights by offering public support to mechanisms that would increase accountability and transparency.

“Foreign governments should be pushing the Saudi government to move quickly on a written penal code that, among other things, protects the exercise of human rights."

HRW said these governments could offer technical assistance in developing a Saudi judiciary trained in modern principles of criminal law.

The assistance must include measures to strengthen the office of the inspector of the Saudi judiciary and the appeals court judges to ensure that lower court proceedings comply with the law.

“That means stopping trials or overturning verdicts where fundamental due process has been violated," said HRW.

The organization also urged foreign governments to help in building strong mechanisms for a more transparent Saudi criminal justice system.

HRW said this could be done through the creation of professional associations for criminal defense lawyers and the creation of free legal aid programs for all juvenile, poor, and capital defendants. - ARCS, GMANews.TV

Govt, groups find ways to combat exploitation of migrant women

MANILA, Philippines - About 500 representatives from government agencies and international and local non-government organizations on Thursday participated in a two-day conference in Pasay City to promote the rights of migrant women.

Myrna T. Yao, chairperson of the National Commission on the Role of Filipino Women, said one of the goals of the event is to find ways on how countries could be compelled to protect the rights of migrant women who are often victims of exploitation.

“Applying a gender lens to migration patterns can contribute to identifying ways to enhance the positive aspects of migration and mitigate the negative effects, as well as promote gender equality in both sending and receiving countries," she said in a statement.

“Since women are vulnerable to human rights abuses, countries must implement safeguards to protect and promote the rights of women migrants," added Yao, deputy minister of the International Conference on Gender, Migration and Development, which will be until Friday at the city’s Hotel Sofitel Philippines Plaza.

Yao said that through the conference, participants are expected to “share their perspectives and experiences, and build partnerships and networks for…women’s rights."

The event is supported by the United Nations Development Fund for Women, International Labor Organization (ILO), United Nations Children’s Fund, Migrant Forum in Asia, Women and Gender Institute of Miriam College, and Lola Grande Foundation for Women and Children, Inc.

Female migrant workers

There are about 191 million migrant workers worldwide. The American Civil Liberties Union cited a report that about 100 million women, mostly from less-developed countries, leave their homes yearly. Most of them work as overseas domestic helpers to support their families back home.

The United States Department estimates that there are 600,000 to 800,000 people who are being trafficked yearly across international borders. It said 80 percent of these victims are women and girls.

Data from the National Statistics Office showed that the number of documented female overseas workers in the Philippines jumped by 42.2 percent to 539,000 in 2004 from 379,000 in 1995.

On the average, there were 463,400 documented Filipinas who worked abroad yearly from 1995 to 2004. Most of them were deployed to Hong Kong, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, Taiwan, and Japan.

According to Human Rights Watch, a New York-based international organization, the feminization of labor migration is most pronounced in Asia where about 800,000 women workers migrate yearly. HRW said female labor migration “is most marked" in the Philippines, Indonesia, and Sri Lanka.

The organization said most female migrant workers — who are unable to look for decent jobs in their home countries and are lured by higher wages abroad — are employed in “dirty, difficult, and dangerous jobs," such as maids in private homes. - ARCS, GMANews.TV

6 nabbed for cheating OFWs, clients in foreign exchange centers

MANILA, Philippines — Six men allegedly involved in "short-changing" overseas Filipino workers and other clients of foreign exchange shops in Ermita district were arrested by police on Thursday.

Sr. Supt. Pablo Francisco Balagtas, chief of the Manila Police District’s Mobile Force (DMF), identified the arrested suspects as 54-year old Billy Akmad and his sons Odan, 22, and Randy, 23, along with Lauro Santiago, 18;Joseph Gomez, 23; and Rogie Unay, 22.

In a report to Balagtas, DMF DMF Intelligence and Investigation Section chief Senior Police Officer 4 Benjamin Abad said the suspects were rounded up from different money changers along Mabini St., corner Sta. Monica St. in Ermita.

Abad said Balagtas ordered the crackdown amid complaints of rampant short-changing in certain foreign exchange centers.

Last August 7, a Filipino-Dutch identified as Jasmin Cruz-Van Schaik complained that she was shortchanged by 180,000 pesos at Len Money Changer along A. Mabini St. in Malate District.

A suspect identified as Anabelle Santos, 38, Len Money Changer teller was arrested during follow-up operation.

After the incident was reported by media, several other OFWs came out in the open and sent letters to the Philippine National Police (PNP) headquarters to report that they, too, experienced the same fate in several money changers in Manila.

Abad said appropriate charges are now being readied against the suspects. GMANews.TV

RP vice president seeks safety for seamen

MANILA, Philippines - The Philippine vice president called Thursday for added safeguards for Filipino seamen following a sharp increase in the number of attacks by Somali pirates on foreign ships.

Records from the office of Vice President Noli de Castro show that 117 Filipino crewmen have been seized by Somali pirates in 11 attacks since April.

The pirates have released some Filipino hostages unharmed but are still holding 96 and have not released the body of one who had been killed in still undisclosed circumstances. There were 20 Filipinos seized in one incident in 2006 and 10 in two attacks last year.

The Philippines is one of the largest suppliers of crewmen in the international shipping industry.

Foreign Undersecretary Esteban Conejos said he had no immediate figures to compare the number of Filipinos with seamen from other countries still held by Somali pirates.

In a statement Thursday, de Castro said Filipino seamen should have the option to continue with a voyage through "danger zones" such as the Gulf of Aden or disembark at the nearest safe port.

He suggested that vessels sail in a convoy with military vessel from the unified forces to assure safe passage, especially through the Gulf of Aden.

He also is pushing for higher hazard pay and improved insurance coverage for Filipino seamen "considering that most of the time, they are exposed to danger."

De Castro, President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo's adviser on overseas Filipino workers, said he is also considering proposals from some shipowners for the Philippine government to discuss in the United Nations the "worsening problem" of piracy in the Gulf.

De Castro, however, opposed the boarding of soldiers on commercial vessels to defend them against pirate attacks, saying that engaging pirates in gunbattles will only increase the danger to the lives of the seamen. - AP

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Administrator. Dimzon is also OWWA's first woman administrator.

Last 18 September 2008, OWWA entered a new era when Carmelita Dimzon was sworn in by Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) Secretary Roque as OWWA's tenth Administrator. Dimzon is also OWWA's first woman administrator.

Dimzon, a native of Pampanga, graduated magna cum laude in 1968 with a degree in Bachelor of Arts major in English and minor in Philospophy at the University of Santo Tomas. She proceeded to earn her Masters in Public Administration in 1980 and her Doctorate degree in the same field in 2003, at the University of the Philippines.

Administrator Dimzon addressing the OWWA family last 22 September 2008.
Prior to joining OWWA, Administrator Dimzon served as deputy administrator of the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) where she worked for the past twenty-six (26) years. Earlier, she first joined the DOLE family as a senior management officer of the Institute of Labor and Manpower Science in 1979.

The appointment of Administrator Dimzon also saw another long-time career official of the DOLE rising from the ranks to assume the position of OWWA Chief Executive,following the footsteps of incumbent DOLE Secretary Marianito Roque.

Administrator Dimzon and Secretary Roque with the OWWA Managers and Directors.
As OWWA Administrator, Dimzon committed to be "judicious and transparent" in her duties, especially in managing the OWWA fund. She promised to limit the investment of the fund to programs and projects that will benefit the welfare of the millions of OFWs who are OWWA members and their families.

Administrator Dimzon also guaranteed the continuation of the projects and programs initiated by Secretary Roque when the latter was still the OWWA Administrator

Director Valenciano turning over to Administrator Dimzon OWWA's colors symbolizing the change in leadership.
In her first meeting with OWWA employees last 22 September 2008, Administrator Dimzon asked for the support of all OWWA officials and personnel during her term as the head of OWWA to which the latter responded positively.

In Dimzon, OWWA found another leader who is not only qualified and tried and tested to handle the operations of the agency, but also a person who knows the history of our Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) and cares for them genuinely.

Filipina finds niche food market in Pinoy nurses in Wales


SWANSEA, Wales -- For many Filipinos scattered around the world, nothing compares to a sumptuous meal of adobo, kaldereta or sinigang. Pinoy food always brings back memories of home.

For 36-year-old Beth Boorman, it was an opportunity she did not miss. She has found a niche market in Swansea by tapping the Pinoy taste buds. It was her own need to find Filipino food ingredients and local food for her household requirements that paved the way for the opening of her own store in Swansea more than nine years ago, with the assistance of her Welsh husband.

Boorman’s store, which is housed in her garage, is the only Filipino store in town.

She fondly recalled how she started selling just six items of Pinoy goods. Then, her friends also started to flood her house with requests for more.

“Pag may meeting kami, may gathering kaming Pinay, dinadala ko lang ang sasakyan ko. Nakasupot lang yan. Dati, namimili lang ako sa Earl’s Court (London). Nalaman ko na pwede rin pala akong mapa-deliver dito. So na-convert ko na lang ang garage ko. Tapos nagbabahay-bahay ako. Kung di sila makaantay, pupunta na lang sila dito. Minsan, kahit nasa PIlipinas ako, may text akong nare-receive na gustong magpa-deliver ng bigas. Kaya dapat talaga, planado yung vacation ko,” she explained.

From a small number of items to a full-swing business, Boorman now also cooks and caters food for Pinoy parties in Swansea.

“Kung walang customer, wala ako. Kaya kailangan mo silang bigyan ng halaga. Kasi walang negosyo kung walang mga customer na Pinoy. Buti nga dumami ang mga Pinoy nurses dito sa UK,” she said, explaining the relationship she has built with Filipino nurses in Swansea.

When the UK Home Office recruited Filipino nurses to work in UK hospitals in early 2001, Boorman’s clientele grew ten-fold.

“Nung dumating kami dito, that was 2001, wala kaming kilala. Si Beth nagpunta sa accommodation. Nag–offer siya sa amin na pwede kaming pautangin, tapos bayaran namin after a month. Kasi nung bago kami, wala kaming pera. Kaya malaki ang tulong niya sa amin. Kahit kakikita pa lang niya, pinapautang niya. Maski yung second batch hanggang fourth batch, pinautang rin niya yun,” said Felma Arriola, a Filipino nurse in Swansea who has become Boorman’s loyal customer and friend.

Thirteen years ago, her fate was uncertain in the Philippines. It was a difficult life fending for herself and her big family. But she said it was during this precarious period in her life when she discovered her business inclination. While she enjoyed helping her mother sell vegetables and repacked charcoal in the market in her home province in Northern Philippines, she also made money that put her through school.

When she married a Welsh man, she started a new life and a business in Wales.

Boorman calls herself a small-time, persevering businesswoman in the quaint town of Swansea. She is humbled that her business has helped not only her family back in the Philippines but many Filipinos in Swansea.

“Naka pagpundar ako ng properties sa Pilipinas na di ko namamalayan. May apat na lote, nakapagpatayo ng bahay doon. Nakapag-aral ako ng kapatid ko at pamangkin at natulungan ko pa ang iba kong kapatid. Sa pag ne-negosyo naman, kailangan mo ng tiyaga para kumita ka. May pera dito sa UK, kailangan mong humanap ng paraan kung paano ka kikita sa magandang paraan,” she said.

Automaker kicks off car plan tour for Pinoys abroad

abs-cbnNEWS.com | 09/24/2008 1:37 AM

A mall tour promoting a car remittance program catering to families of overseas Filipinos will kick off September 25 in key commercial centers in Metro Manila.

Honda Cars Philippines, Inc on Tuesday said its "Honda CAREmittance" program mall tour display will be shown at the Upper Ground Floor, Building A of SM Megamall.

“Honda CAREmittance Program eliminates distance barriers and offers ease of application in our fast-paced times. Through this pioneer program, Filipinos overseas can buy a Honda vehicle even while they are away,” Honda said.

Designed for Filipino overseas, the CAREremittance display will also feature the all new Honda Jazz and the CR-V vehicles.

Under the program, Filipinos abroad can conveniently purchase a brand new Honda vehicle for their families in the Philippines through online application.

By filling out CAREmittance Application form from the www.hondaphil.com link, interested buyers may acquire his or her ideal Honda vehicle either through cash or financing payment terms.

For financing applications, applicants would have to submit online an accomplished application form, together with Employment Certificate, Income Tax Return and Remittance Receipt.

Once approved, applicants may send payments through BPI or RCBC remittance centers located in key cities around the globe.

Upon receipt of application, Honda keeps in constant touch with both the applicant and the beneficiary for status updates and even sends applicant photos of the beneficiary receiving the brand new car.

Honda also offers special package for successful CAREmittance applicants in recognition of the significant contributions of overseas Filipinos.

The package includes free three-year LTO [Land Transportation Office] registration and premium items, including tint, seat cover and others.

OFWs urged to prepare for fallout from US financial crisis


Overseas Filipinos are urged to be prepared for the effects of the global financial crisis and have access to safe and sound financial instruments where they can invest their hard-earned money.

“We better prepare. For now, it’s the US that is feeling the brunt. What if it spills over to other countries where there are Filipinos?” said Prof. Jeremiah Opiniano, executive director of the Institute of Migration and Development Issues.

Opiniano spoke in a conference on Managing the Development Impact of International Migration organized by the Philippine Institute for Development Studies (PIDS) Tuesday in Makati City.

”I am not an economist, but I guess there is a rule called the law of diminishing returns. So if one goes up, it will surely go down,” Opiniano said.

During his trip to a European country he noticed that some Filipinos have already felt the financial crunch. A train ticket, which used to cost 120 euros before, is now 160 euros.

“What more of the basic commodities?” he said. “As to how this would affect the migrants? Well, we better try to encourage them to handle their money well.

He issued a challenge to change the mindset of Filipinos, not just those overseas, to maximize whatever resources that they have.

Effects not yet determined

Meanwhile, Dr. Aniceto Orbeta Jr., senior PIDS research fellow also gave his thoughts on the impact of the financial crisis to overseas Filipinos.

“Di pa malalaman ‘yon (We can’t yet tell at this point)…very difficult. May crisis before, but migrants were not affected,” Orbeta said, pertaining to the previous crisis brought about by the war in Iraq.

“Pero sabi nga nila na, baka tip of the iceberg pa lang daw ito at di pa natin malalaman ang extent,” he said.

He explained that the crisis could also be taken as a way for some Filipinos, who are looking for a safe place to put their money, to transfer it to the Philippines.

Financial literacy

Remittances of overseas Filipinos have been seen to keep the economy stay afloat.

In 2007, remittances grew 13.2 percent to reach US$14.5 billion. The Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas said the robust inflows resulted from continued demand for OFWs and improved delivery of financial services.

Deputy Director Rosebel Guerrero of the Department of Economic Statistics of the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas said OFW remittances in January to July 2008 reached US$9.61 billion.

Dr. Ma. Piedad Geron a microfinance consultant, urged financial institutions to offer “safe and sound financial instruments” for overseas Filipinos.

“Financial literacy is an issue of the day not because of what's happening worldwide in terms of the crisis but also because a lot of the families of OFWs would want to know where to put their money in,” Geron said.

She added that these financial instruments should also be made available not only from commercial banks since these institutions are far from where the families of OFWs.

“Financial instruments should be developed at the grassroots or financial institutions in the countryside,” she added.

Don't force entrepreneurship on OFWs--experts

by MARIA ALETA NIEVA, abs-cbnNEWS.com | 09/24/2008 12:06 PM

Not all overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) can become overnight entrepreneurs upon their return to the Philippines, according to a corporate foundation executive.

“There is this thinking that all returning OFWs can come back and suddenly become entrepreneurs, and so therefore, we should encourage them to put their money in a business when they return,” said Guillermo Luz, executive vice president of the Ayala Foundation-USA (AF-USA).

Luz delivered a paper on “Alternatives for Making the Most Out of Remittances: The Ayala Foundation Case” at a conference on Managing the Development Impact of International Migration held Tuesday in Makati City.

“This is the one where I always wave a big flag of caution,” he said, adding that only a “very few of them (OFWs)" were entrepreneurs before coming home.

He explained that there is the danger of former OFWs losing all their hard earned money, and they might even regret coming back.

“There are a lot of people who feel that we should go into all these entrepreneurial trainings and packages, but I'm really not sure if that' the way to go,” he said.

Microfinance consultant Dr. Maria Piedad Geron agreed with Luz that not everyone can become entrepreneurs.

“A lot of government programs have failed because in most cases, government has been forcing people to become entrepreneurs when, in fact, some do not even have the ability,” Geron.

Invest in entrepreneurship training instead

Although business activities are not for everyone, Geron said it would still be good to come up with projects aimed at helping nongovernment organizations train OFWs for entrepreneurship.

“The OFWs need not be the entrepreneurs themselves, but they can provide assistance and support their own communities through the donations they have provided to those NGOs engaged in building capacities of the real entrepreneurs,” she said.

The issue of entrepreneurship came up when Luz discussed where remittances go and how they are spent.

Aside from entrepreneurial activities, Luz said remittances go to consumption, investment and philanthropy.

“Remittances are important part of our economy,” he said, citing US records in 2005 that the Philippines ranked No. 10 in terms of country of origin with 1.45 million number of Filipino migrants in the US.

“Data show that the bulk of remittances which comes in goes into consumption here in the Philippines,” Luz said.

Some portion of the money sent home by overseas Filipinos go into investments.

For example, he said people are investing in homes. Property developers are now going out of the country to launch their projects and sell them to Filipinos abroad.

“But investment beyond that is another matter. There is not much investment activity by overseas Filipinos going on," he said. "The biggest I think would be people going into the housing market."

Invest in philanthropy

In the case of the Ayala Foundation in the US, the firm is encouraging remittances in philantropy.

“It's not a very large segment yet. It has all the potentials. There are other sectors that take care of the other three items and very few tap into the philanthropic side,” he said.

AF-USA is a is a public charity organized in late 2000. It aims to become the bridge between the Filipinos in the US and the Philippines by creating opportunities that facilitate meaningful contributions to Philippine social development initiatives.

In terms of number, there were 1.6 million Filipino migrants in the US in 2006 or 4.4 percent of all migrants in the US.

These Filipinos are considered the second largest migrant group after Mexico and ahead of the Chinese, Indian and Vietnamese. A total of 45.6 percent of Filipinos reside in California and the rest are in Hawaii, New York, Illinois and New Jersey.

“The vision is just empowering communities who want to be able to help in development. Our goal is to be able to provide them this opportunity to reestablish the link, and of course we need to generate funds for the projects to pursue developmental projects in the Philippines,” he said.

The foundation’s goals are to provide US-based Filipinos the opportunity to help and re-establish their links with the Philippines, and to generate funds and other resources in the US for social development projects in the Philippines.

US crunch should not yet alarm OFWs – MBC exec

MANILA, Philippines - The continuing downturn in the US economy affecting global credit should not yet alarm overseas Filipino workers (OFW) and the government, according to a member of the influential Makati Business Club (MBC).

MBC’s Guillermo Luz, executive vice president of the Ayala Foundation, Inc, said there was no reason yet for the government to use remittance from OFWs to shield the Philippine economy from the impact of the recession in the US.

“The impact is quite minimal in the Philippines so remittance or no remittance there is nothing to shield us from anything," Luz told GMANews.TV in an interview on Tuesday.

Luz downplayed the perception of watchdog Freedom from Debt Coalition (FDC), which earlier said that OFW remittances “are being threatened" by the recession.

“The global threat is yet to be known," Luz said. “It's in a stage where it's a little to early to tell but it's no excuse not to study it now."

The FDC said OFW remittances “are being threatened" by the continuing downturn in the US economy because most Filipino migrants work in countries that are largely affected by what has been described as the worst financial crisis in decades.

Luz said any negative effects of the US recession to the local financial system would have to be felt first in the OFW remittances, the lifeblood of the Philippine economy.

Still at double-digit levels

But according to Luz, remittances from OFWs have so far remained at double-digit levels amid a growing number of Filipinos leaving for work abroad.

Remittances from Filipinos abroad surged 30 percent in June to US$1.5 billion — the highest monthly inflow since 1989.

The June figure brought the six-month remittance level to US$8.2 billion, up 17.2 percent from the same period a year ago. Central bank Gov. Amando Tetangco Jr said the sustained rise in the number of Filipinos seeking employment overseas contributed to the robust figures.

Some 8 million Filipinos — or nearly 10 percent of the population of about 90 million — work overseas. Last year, they sent home US$14.45 billion.

Preliminary data from the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration showed that the number of workers leaving for jobs overseas in the first half of the year rose 33.5 percent to 640,401.

Although Filipinos in the US might experience a ballooning of consumer goods and services brought about by the economic crunch, Luz said this did not necessarily mean that OFWs would compromise their obligations at home.

'Leaner life'

According to Luz, the Filipinos' selfless nature will ensure that their relatives in the Philippines won't not be affected by any financial difficulty in the US.

“Sometimes they would send the same amount but would live a leaner life," he said.
The business leader even said a glimpse of hope could be seen by the Philippines from the current financial crisis in the US.

If US companies are forced to cut down on labor costs due to the financial crisis they could outsource it, Luz said.

“And outsourcing of labor is always a good business to the Philippines," he added.
Financial analyst Boyet Ayes said in an earlier report that dollar-earning OFWs were even benefiting from the weakening peso brought about by the US economic slump.

From the exchange rate of P40.33 - $1 last February 27, the peso weakened to P47.20-$1 on September 16. That means a $100 bill last February was equivalent to P4, 033 as against P4, 720 on Sept. 16, or an increase of almost P700.

Ayes, however, said the peso was expected to recover against the dollar in December once the Christmas season begins and the dollar remittances of overseas Filipinos peak.

Meanwhile, according to Dr Fernando Aldaba, Economics chairperson of the Ateneo de Manila University, it is high time for OFWs to invest their money wisely in tailor-fit businesses as well as bonds to cushion the effects of any financial crisis.

"They could go into franchising since it's ready-made. But they have to choose the business wisely," Aldaba said. - GMANews.TV

Govt, manning agencies to address abduction of Pinoy seamen

MANILA, Philippines - The government has called local manning agencies for a meeting to address the worsening problem on the continued abduction of Filipino seafarers near Somalia.

“I have called the manning agencies and we are meeting at the Associated Marine Officers’ and Seamen’s Union of the Philippines office in Intramuros to assess the situation and discuss possible measures how to avoid such incident," said Marianito Roque, secretary of the Department of Labor and Employment.

Palace officials on Monday said concerned government agencies were carefully studying the possibility of a deployment ban amid the hijacking of another Greek ship near Somalia that was boarded by 17 Filipino seafarers.

A total of eight ships with Filipino crew members have been hijacked in African waters since July this year. At least 97 Filipino seamen have been abducted in the Horn of Africa since July 2008.

Asked if he thinks that imposing the ban would be a good move to prevent the abduction of Filipino seamen, Roque said “Wala naman tayong deployment sa Somalia. So how can we impose the deployment ban (We don’t have a deployment ban in Somalia. So how can we impose the deployment ban)?"

The Filipino seafarers abducted last Sunday remain unharmed and safe, according to Roque, adding that the principal owners of the vessel are negotiating for the safe release of all the crew members of the ship MV Capt. Stephanos. - GMANews.TV

Govt advises Pinoys vs boarding ships crossing Somali waters

MANILA, Philippines - The Philippine government has advised its citizens against boarding ships that will pass through Somali waters, where 97 Filipino seafarers have been abducted since July 2008.

Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita said the government issued the advisory while it was carefully studying whether it would ban Filipino seafarers from boarding ships crossing Somali waters.

"All we can say is give out an advisory to be sure that whenever they travel from one place to another, they will not take a merchant or a commercial vessel passing through Somalian waters. That's the most we can do for the moment," Ermita told reporters on Tuesday in an interview after the Optional Protocol to the United Nations Convention Against Torture workshop at the Traders' Hotel in Manila.

Senator Manuel Roxas II on Monday called for the creation of a Philippine crisis team that would be stationed in Somalia to provide help to Filipino seamen who might become victims of piracy there.

Roxas said the crisis team should coordinate with the Somalia government in providing protection to the ships that cross piracy-prone routes. - GMANews.TV

Many ‘foreign’ Pinoys not acquiring dual citizenship, govt agency says

MANILA, Philippines - Not many Filipinos abroad are availing of dual citizenship being offered under a five-year-old law, according to an official of the Commission on Overseas Filipinos (CFO).

Golda Roma, acting deputy executive director of the CFO, said most Filipinos who have become foreign citizens have not renewed their Philippine citizenship.

“We have a gap in our data because Filipinos who have acquired foreign citizenship are not required to register as Filipino citizens," Roma told GMANews.TV in an interview on Tuesday.

Republic Act No. 9225 or the Citizenship Retention and Re-acquisition Act was passed in August 2003. But the Philippine government only started processing applications for dual citizenship in April 2004 after the Office of the President designated the Bureau of Immigration as the lead implementing agency of the law.

A dual citizen is given the right to hold Philippine passport, vote in Philippine elections, and own real properties in the Philippines. They are also allowed to visit the country and stay in the Philippines for as long as they want.

There are millions of Filipinos who have acquired foreign citizenship. But the Immigration bureau reported last month that only a total of 51,280 applications for dual citizenship had been approved by the government.

The bureau said that of the total approved applications, 34,000 were filed in Philippine consulates abroad, while 17,280 were processed in Manila. Most applicants were Filipino-Americans, followed by Filipino-Canadians, and Filipino-Australians.

Roma refused to give a categorical explanation on why many Filipinos abroad did not renew their Philippine citizenship. “Probably they haven't seen the benefits of re-acquiring a Filipino citizenship or they simply have no time for it and think the process is too arduous."

Guillermo Luz, vice president of the Ayala Foundation Inc, echoed Roma’s views, and urged the government to look into the issue of dual citizenship.

Citing data from the 2006 US Census, Luz said Filipinos had become the second largest minority group in the US with a total of 1.6 million citizens, second only to Mexico.

He said the Philippine government must find out the sentiments of Filipinos overseas about the issue. - Mark Joseph H. Ubalde, GMANews.TV

RP officials to bail out stranded Pinoys in Oman

MANILA, Philippines - Philippine Embassy officials in Muscat, Oman met with some 1,000 Filipinos stranded at the Al-Buraimi border in Oman Tuesday in a bid to repatriate them.

Online news site Khaleej Times reported Wednesday that the 1,000 Filipinos were stranded at the Buraimi Hotel.

Philippine Consul General Lamberto Monsanto and labor attaché Romeo Yang in Muscat led the team, which conducted interviews and verifications on the statuses of the stranded Filipinos.

Aminah Marduen, coordinator of the Philippine embassy on the border, said the number of stranded Filipinos is much higher than those who had come out in the open.

But Marduen admitted the number was not accurate as many were hiding because of absence of visa or non-possession of their passports.

"Circumstances mentioned by stranded Filipinos vary in degree with the hotels asking them to deposit their passports at the time of checking in," she said.

Sylvia, 29, a nursery supervisor assistant in a school in Dubai, said the driver of the public relations company processing her papers came to the Al Buraimi border the other day to hand in the original employment visa to her.

But to her disappointment, the official at the Al Ain Immigration border checkpoint told her that the visa was not yet in the system.

"I was advised by the PR to stay in my hotel in Al Buraimi and to try again this afternoon. Employment visa is issued in one week at the most, or a maximum of two to three weeks," she said.

A newly-hired Filipino, Jocelyn, talked of being duped by her agent processing her papers.

"I was taken in just two days before the expiry of my visit visa. My employer told me to exit and get a new visit visa while the company was still filing for my employment pass. I engaged the services of someone, who claimed to be the business development officer of a company. After 16 days of being stranded here, I called him up to cancel it. I will ask another agent to do it for me," she said.

She said cash is very much needed at the border, claiming that stranded Filipinos are asked to pay Dh150 for one week extension of visa at the border, and Dh100 per day after it expires.

In her case, her visa in Oman was to end Sept. 24.

"If I don't get my visit visa from UAE by that time, it means I need so much money to extend my stay here at the border," she added.

While the Philippine embassy team is verifying the number of stranded Filipinos at the border, Philippine Ambassador to Oman Acmad Omar is meeting with Ministry of Foreign Affairs officials in Muscat.

Yang said Omar will make proper recommendations to the Department of Foreign Affairs in Manila for a coordinated effort with the Philippine Embassy in Abu Dhabi.

Meanwhile, Philippine Ambassador to UAE Libran Cabactulan held a coordination meeting in the embassy in Abu Dhabi to prepare a coordinated effort to resolve the problem. - GMANews.TV

US House OKs legislation rewarding Filipino vets

WASHINGTON - The U.S. House of Representatives passed legislation Tuesday to reward more than 18,000 Filipinos belatedly for their service with U.S. forces in the Philippines during World War II.

Amounts involved fall far short of what they and tens of thousands of their Filipino brothers-in-arms were promised for their service. Filipinos made a major contribution to the U.S. defense of its colony and its recovery from Imperial Japanese forces as the United States military machine moved back toward Japan.

As passed, the "Filipino Veterans Equity Act of 2008," which passed 382-23, would make one-time payments of $15,000 to Filipinos who are U.S. citizens and $9,000 to non-U.S. Filipino veterans. The Senate passed a bill on veterans' affairs in April that provided pensions for many of the surviving veterans but has not acted on the House-passed legislation.

That legislation now goes to the Senate, where senators either could pass the House version or meet in a conference committee work out differences.

Ben de Guzman, a spokesman for the National Alliance for Filipino Veterans Equity, said only 18,115 veterans remain. He said roughly two-thirds still live in the Philippines.

After President Franklin D. Roosevelt conscripted Filipino men and boys into the U.S. Army Forces in the Far East on July 26, 1941, they were promised full benefits as veterans of the U.S. Army. After hostilities ceased, however, Congress reversed the promise in the Rescissions Acts of 1946.

Veterans who began receiving benefits before passage of the Rescissions Acts continued to receive them. The duty of the other veterans, many of whom fought in the Philippine jungles in U.S. uniforms and were forced on the Bataan Death March with their American comrades, was deemed not to have been active duty.

De Guzman said while he is pleased that both the Senate and the House finally have passed bills to rectify the situation, questions remain.

"Not the least of it is the amount" for each old soldier, he said. The veterans themselves, he said, "are surprisingly of one voice on this. Traditionally if you ask 11 vets what they think, you get 11 different answers." They are united in thinking the congressional action is lacking, he said.

They would seem to have a champion in the chairman of the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee, Democratic Sen. Daniel Akaka, a World War II veteran from Hawaii.

His spokesman, Jesse Broder Van Dyke, said Akaka was meeting with senators about the veterans. Akaka sponsored the bill that passed the Senate with the pensions intact.

"He just wants to give them the recognition they reserve while they're still alive," Broder Van Dyke said. - AP
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