Friday, February 27, 2009

Displaced OFWs from Mindanao get P2.7M gift from Arroyo

MANILA, Philippines - President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo handed out a total of 33 checks worth P2.7-million to displaced overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) in Mindanao as a way to help them rebuild their lives as entrepreneurs.

Of the 33, two checks worth P313,500 went to displaced OFWs from Lanao del Norte under the Tulong Panghanapbuhay sa Ating mga Disadvantaged Workers (Tupad) project, Malacañang said in a statement.

During Arroyo’s Thursday visit to Cagayan de Oro, she handed out another check amounting to P573,000 to jobless residents from Lanao del Norte under the government’s Integrated Services for Livelihood Assistance for Marginalized Fisherfolk.

The remaining 30 checks worth P50,000 each were distributed to OFWs from Davao, Northern Mindanao and the Caraga region. Ten OFWs were selected from the three regions.

Aside from the livelihood package, Arroyo also handed out a number of PGMA Scholarship Program vouchers to retrain displaced OFWs in Mindanao.

The President also took time to observe the skills demonstrations in welding, scaffolding and heavy equipment operation. About 15,000 job items awaited the more than 2,000 jobseekers who trooped to the one-day event, Malacañang added.

Labor Secretary Marianito Roque said that 5,400 OFWs had returned home since October 2008 as casualties of the global economic crisis.

Most of the workers were laid off from Taiwan and the Middle East. But Roque said that the mass layoffs affecting OFWs appeared to have slowed down in January and February.

Roque noted that four months after the first batch of OFWs returned home as some factories closed shop due to the US-led economic crisis, the firings have stopped.

Taiwan, one of the hardest-hit in export dependent countries in Asia and which fired the bulk of some 5,404 retrenched OFWs, has not been terminating workers for quite some time now.

South Korea, another export-dependent country, had only sent home less than a hundred OFWs in recent weeks. Roque said this was because the Philippine government responded early and found new jobs for 2,000 OFWs laid off in Korea.

The Philippine government has earmarked P1-billion to help the victims of the global economic crisis get back on their feet.

The Labor department is the lead agency in carrying out the standby fund for all Filipino migrants displaced by the economic crisis.

The first component of the program is the support fund financed by the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration and other government lending institutions for laid off OFWs to help them start up their own businesses or finance further studies and training.

Aside from the assistance fund, Arroyo said they would tap the laid off OFWs to become trainers of the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA). - Mark Joseph Ubalde, GMANews.TV

UK to limit issuance of student visas for Pinoys

MANILA, Philippines - The UK Border Agency International Group (Ukbaig) has announced that it will be limiting the number of National Vocational Qualifications (NVQs) student visa applications that will be accepted at the British Embassy in Manila.

NVQs are vocational awards in England and Wales that are achieved through assessment and training wherein the practical qualifications are based on one’s capacity to do a job. It also has five levels which focus from the basic work activities to senior management.

In a memo, the Ukabaig said that instructions have already been given to their commercial partner, VFS Global who operates the Manila Visa Application Center, to put the restrictions into immediate effect.

“Our reason for doing so is the overwhelming increase in the number of applications that we have received over the past year," it said.

Apparently, the volume of applications rose to 47,000 in 2008 – a 22 percent increase from the previous year.

And in order to ensure that all applicants are “fairly dealt with," it said that they had to make some temporary adjustments to their intake arrangements which are subject for constant review.

In addition, the British Embassy has reportedly agreed to increase the number of staff in Manila for this year but said it will still take time for the staff to arrive.

However, the Ukbaig was quick to say that this “operational decision" in no way reflects the VFS’ ability to cope with applications.

Ukbaig’s announcement coincided with a warning by the Philippine Embassy in London against a group illegally recruiting Filipinos to apply for student visas.

The embassy on Thursday said a number of Filipinos who fell for the group’s wiles ended up being jobless in London recently. - Kimberly Jane T. Tan, GMANews.TV

Senators seek probe on OFWs' extortion at NAIA

MANILA, Philippines - Two senators asked for an investigation into the alleged extortion by several officials on aspiring overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA).

In separate resolutions, Senators Manuel Villar Jr and Jose "Jinggoy" Estrada sought an inquiry into the alleged corrupt practices of several officials from the NAIA, Bureau of Immigration and National Bureau of Investigation personnel in the area.

Citing reports reaching his office, Villar said at least 500 OFWs failed to leave for the Middle East since January after failing to shell out “grease money" for the said officials.

Some properly documented Dubai and Kuwait-bound workers were allegedly stopped by airport authorities to board their planes, Villar said, even though they have been “thoroughly processed."

“And that, even after verifying the documents and securing boarding passes, the NBI and BI agents at the airport departure gates stop OFWs on suspicion of being undocumented workers," read Villar’s resolution.

The senator said that between 20 and 30 OFWs are being barred from leaving the country every day “for unjust reason."

For his part, Estrada, who chairs the Senate labor, employment and human resource committee, said that an immediate investigation of the matter is imperative to weed out any hindrance to OFWs in giving their families a better life.

"The extortion perpetrated by these government personnel to those who have provided lifeblood to the economy that the Filipino depends upon for life is reason enough that should not be countenance and therefore should be looked upon with great scrutiny and vigilance," he said. - Mark Joseph Ubalde, GMANews.TV

Palace tells DFA to look into consul's death in Canada

MANILA, Philippines - Malacañang has ordered the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) to conduct a thorough investigation into the death of a consul in Canada.

In a radio interview Friday, Press Secretary Cerge Remonde said the Palace still has no information on the circumstances surrounding the death of Consul Eloy Luis Bello, 38.

"Para maka-follow up agad [We have to follow this up], we direct the DFA to look into that immediately and find out what really happened," Remonde said in an interview on dzXL radio.

Bello, 38, was found lifeless after police forced their way to his flat in Canada. No additional details were provided, including whether foul play was involved.

Sources from the DFA earlier said Bello could have died from heart attack or died in his sleep after he went home early from work the previous day.

Once the autopsy is completed by authorities there, Bello’s remains would be flown to Manila. He served for two years as a foreign service worker in Vienna in Austria prior to his stint in Canada. - GMANews.TV

M. Lhullier, Moneygram alliance allows remittances to be received in dollar

MANILA, Philippines - M. Lhullier Financial Services Inc. and US-based Moneygram International Inc. entered into a partnership that will allow Filipinos working abroad and their beneficiaries to send and receive remittances in dollars on a 24-hour basis.

The agreement, signed on Thursday in Manila, will allow individuals to “hold the greenback for speculation, in hopes that it would go up," said Michael Lhuiller, vice president of M. Lhuilier Financial Services Inc.

The service is in demand, he added.

Under the partnership, Minneapolis-headquartered MoneyGram would facilitate the transfer of dollar remittances to all 1,200 M. Lhuiller pawnshops throughout the Philippines. The launch is set for April 2009.

John Hempsey, CEO of MoneyGram International, said they have competitive remittance rates for OFWs.

MoneyGram, with its 176,000 locations worldwide, only charges $14 for every $1,500 sent from Malaysia while they charge only $9.99 for every $500 sent from the US, Hempsey explained.

“We offer competitive pricing and exchange rates for the Philippines and with this strategic alliance; we can now reach out to a wider customer base across the country," Nick Cunnew, senior regional director, Asia Pacific and South Asia.

Remittances from overseas Filipino workers reached $16.3 billion in 2008, 13.7 percent higher than in 2007.

Remittance growth may slow down to 6 percent this year, with most of major economies going into recession, the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas said.

Despite the economic slowdown that has caused the lay-offs of more than 5,000 Filipino workers, Cunnew believes that remittances would continue to flow into the country. - GMANews.TV

RP consul found dead in Canada apartment

MANILA, Philippines — A Filipino foreign service official was found dead inside his apartment room in Ottawa, Canada, sources from the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said.

Consul Eloy Luis Bello, 38, was found lifeless after police forced their way to his flat. No additional details were provided.

DFA insiders said that autopsy is being conducted by Canadian authorities to find out if foul play was involved in Bello’s death.

Foreign Affairs acting spokesperson Eduardo Malaya was surprised about the news when GMANews.TV interviewed him on the phone on Thursday and said he would still confirm the details.

Meanwhile, the same DFA sources said that Bello could have died from heart attack or died in his sleep after he went home early from work the previous day.

Once the autopsy is completed, Bello’s remains would be flown to Manila. He served for two years as a foreign service worker in Vienna in Austria prior to his stint in Canada.

He is survived by his parents former Ambassador Eloy Bello III and Maria Consuelo. - Mark Ubalde, GMANews.TV

RP consul found dead in Canada apartment

MANILA, Philippines — A Filipino foreign service official was found dead inside his apartment room in Ottawa, Canada, sources from the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said.

Consul Eloy Luis Bello, 38, was found lifeless after police forced their way to his flat. No additional details were provided.

DFA insiders said that autopsy is being conducted by Canadian authorities to find out if foul play was involved in Bello’s death.

Foreign Affairs acting spokesperson Eduardo Malaya was surprised about the news when GMANews.TV interviewed him on the phone on Thursday and said he would still confirm the details.

Meanwhile, the same DFA sources said that Bello could have died from heart attack or died in his sleep after he went home early from work the previous day.

Once the autopsy is completed, Bello’s remains would be flown to Manila. He served for two years as a foreign service worker in Vienna in Austria prior to his stint in Canada.

He is survived by his parents former Ambassador Eloy Bello III and Maria Consuelo. - Mark Ubalde, GMANews.TV

Kin seek justice for Pinay in HK 'suicide'

MANILA, Philippines — Relatives of an overseas Filipino worker (OFW) who reportedly committed suicide in Hong Kong have asked Philippine authorities to investigate her death.

Online news site Visayan Daily Star (www.visayandailystar.com) reported Teddy Tarossa, 63, wants to know the cause of death of his daughter Ma. Elena.

The remains of Ma. Elena, 27, arrived in Valladolid town in Negros Occidental last Tuesday.

Her cousin Rey Limin said the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) claimed Ma. Elena died while in the custody of her recruitment agency last Feb. 10.

Limin said Ma. Elena, the third of four siblings, had been working in Hong Kong since June 2008.

But Ma. Elena’s father said their family does not believe she killed herself because of the conflicting statements given by her recruitment agency.

He said the agency initially told them that Ma. Elena, who is single, was found lifeless in her room.

But he said it later claimed she fell from the rooftop of the shelter while hanging some laundry.

Also, the elder Tarossa said he believes his daughter was mauled because of a wound on her head.

He said the wound was more likely caused by a blow with a blunt object than from a fall from a high building. He voiced suspicion the report that she committed suicide was a ploy to hide the truth behind her death.

He added Ma. Elena’s death was so sudden because she had not told them about any problem or threat to her life before the incident.

Limin said the family is planning to seek the help of the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) to shed light on the case through an autopsy.

NBI Bacolod chief Mamerto Cortez said they are ready to assist Tarossa’s family after they have made the necessary arrangements for the post-mortem examination. - GMANews.TV

CBCP to fete migrants in La Union on Migrants' Sunday

MANILA, Philippines — The Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) will fete overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) in a nationwide celebration of Migrants Sunday in La Union province.

An article on the CBCP Web site (www.cbcpnews.com) said the celebration this Sunday will be held at Christ the King College High School in San Fernando, La Union.

“We want to create a greater awareness for the celebration of migrant Sunday because many people do not understand the reason behind the celebration," CBCP Episcopal Commission for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and itinerant People (ECMI) executive secretary Fr. Edwin Corros said.

Corros said they expect around 1,500 families of OFWs to participate in the affair.

He said the theme for this year's Migrant Sunday, which the Catholic Church observes on the first Sunday of Lent, is “The Sacrifices of the Filipino Migrants mirror the journey of St. Paul."

Corros said the CBCP decided to mark the occasion outside Metro Manila to make people aware about the significance of the event.

“Sometimes also our priests are not familiar what it is all about. So we try to go out of Manila. We do a lot of catechesis, information dissemination," he added.

He noted the out-of-town celebration has been going on since five years ago.

The first diocese to sponsor the national migrant celebration was the Archdiocese of Lipa, followed by the Archdiocese of Pampanga.

Corros said they pick out dioceses that have the greatest concentration of migrants among its faithful.

“We are also trying to follow the trend where the bulk of migrant workers are coming from. La Union may not be the largest but we look at [the place] as center for Northern Luzon," he said.

The La Union celebration will feature talks on migration and cultural presentations from the children of OFWs.

Corros will give a situationer on overseas migration while local government officials invited to grace the event will give their solidarity messages.

CBCP-ECMI Chairman Bishop Precioso Cantillas and La Union Bishop Artemio Rillera will lead a mass marking the occasion.

Meanwhile, the Diocese of Bayombong will also hold a diocesan activity at St. Mark Parish, Cabarroguis, in Quirino province to mark the event.

Some 500 participants from migrant families and government agencies are expected to join the event.

Other dioceses holding Migrant Sunday celebrations include Luzon dioceses of Alaminos, Ilagan, Bangued, Antipolo, Imus, Kalookan, Novaliches, and Archdioceses of San Fernando, Pampanga, Lipa and Manila.

In the Visayas, the Dioceses of Maasin, Tagbilaran, Bacolod, San Carlos, Kalibo, Kabankalan, Dumaguete, and Archdioceses of Palo, Cebu, Jaro and Capiz will organize activities to highlight the event.

In Mindanao, all dioceses in the provinces of Davao will also celebrate the occasion.

The CBCP cited figures in 2007 that there are about 8.72 million Filipinos overseas, 4.13 million of whom are OFWs.

A 2007 study also revealed an average of 2,950 OFWs departing daily for overseas jobs, 50% of them women.

In 2007, OFWs have remitted $13.44 billion that helped keep the economy afloat. - GMANews.TV

Self-defense seminar held for OFWs in Israel

MANILA, Philippines — Overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) attended a seminar on self-defense in Israel recently, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said Thursday.

An article on the DFA Web site (www.dfa.gov.ph) said Philippine Ambassador Petronila Garcia also attended the seminar facilitated by arnis instructors in Israel.

Jon Escudero, arnis master instructor (guro); Neta Shermister and arnis practitioners in Israel taught the indigenous Filipino martial art to participants.

The training included single stick techniques (solo baston), double stick techniques (doble baston), stick and knife or dagger techniques (espada y daga) and knife techniques (daga).

Escudero stressed the importance of learning the fundamentals of self defense to escape and evade life-threatening situations.

But he also emphasized that practitioners should also develop a sense of responsibility and self-restraint in using martial arts skills in everyday life. - GMANews.TV

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

DOLE sends team to SKorea to ‘preempt’ OFW displacement

MANILA, Philippines - The Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) has sent a three-member team to South Korea to help overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) facing retrenchment there to find other employment.

DOLE Secretary Marianito Roque said the team has instructions to prepare OFWs before they actually lose their jobs by offering them other work opportunities.

An article on the DOLE Web site said the team includes personnel from the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA), Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA), and the National Reintegration Center for OFWs (NRCO).

Roque cited DOLE Administrative Order No. 42 that says the team would coordinate with the Philippine Overseas Labor Office (POLO) in Seoul in identifying firms in Korea that have OFWs who are likely to lose their jobs due to global financial crisis' impact.

The team would immediately meet with vulnerable OFWs in the identified firms to do skills profiling, job matching and referrals.

Roque said job matching will include onsite jobs, or local employment in the Philippines where their skills are needed.

OFWs who are in need of skills upgrading and retooling, on the other hand, would be given scholarship training vouchers from the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA).

Roque said the TESDA vouchers would enable the OFW-beneficiaries to avail of the training immediately upon their return to the Philippines, thus enhancing their employability locally and overseas.

Also, the three-member DOLE team will provide livelihood orientation to OFWs who may no longer want to work in Korea and instead set up their own business enterprises in the Philippines.

Roque said the team would assist said OFWs in organizing themselves for livelihood projects and also in preparing their business proposals.

Meanwhile, Roque said another DOLE team will be sent to Korea to negotiate for the renewal of the country's participation in the Korean Employment Permit System (EPS).

The last memorandum of understanding (MOU) on the EPS forged in 2006 between the DOLE and the Korean Labor Ministry expired last year.

Roque said the team would meet and discuss with South Korean Ministry of Labor specifically the conclusion of a new EPS MOU that would provide for the recruitment and deployment of OFWs to this country in the next two years.

He said that despite the raging global crisis that had displaced 74 OFWs in Korea, the Philippines is keen on renewing its participation in the Korean EPS as this country continues to prefer for Filipino workers. - GMANews.TV

Mentally ill OFW in Jeddah returns home at last

JEDDAH, Saudi Arabia - After waiting for one whole year, a mentally ill overseas Filipino worker (OFW) in Jeddah has finally returned to the Philippines.

Monira Badam Mama, a Filipino domestic helper from Talayan, Maguindanao, went home on a flight via Gulf Air on Monday night and was set to arrive at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport in Manila on Tuesday afternoon with welfare officer Romualdo Exmundo.

Mama is one of the many distressed OFWs who have sought refuge at the shelter for distressed workers inside the Philippine Consulate General in Jeddah.

Because of her condition, she can’t even remember the name of her four-year-old son and to what countries she has previously worked.

According to the records of the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA), Mama was brought to the Philippine Consulate in Jeddah on February 18, 2008.

OWWA volunteer Jennebel Cuaresma said that Mama was already mentally unstable when they admitted her to the shelter, officially called the Filipino Workers Resource Center (FWRC).

Exmundo said they couldn’t repatriate Mama right away because they had a hard time finding out who her employer was and which manpower agency deployed her.

It was only after the domestic helper got a little better when OWWA officials were finally able to get the name of her agency. They reportedly tried to coordinate with the agency but it would not answer their calls, after which they found out that the establishment had been suspended.

They also checked Mama’s documents at the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration and proved that she entered Saudi Arabia legally.

Ther recruitment firm that deployed Mama reportedly sent an airplane ticket for the OFW’s repatriation but Exmundo refused to take it

He said that a higher OWWA official in Manila told him to only take the ticket if the agency would give information about Mama’s employer where she worked for three months.

“Sa kabila ng nangyari ay pasalamat pa rin ako at nakipag cooperate din sa bandang huli ang employer ni [Mama]. Ibinigay nya sa amin ang mga importanteng dokumento na hinihingi sa amin ng immigration kaya nakahinga ako don," he said.

[Despite everything that happened, I am thankful that Mama’s former employer cooperated with us. He/she also gave us all the important documents that the immigration was asking for, that’s why I was able to breathe a sigh of relief.]

Anang Ismael, one of the runaways in the center, said it was really sad to think that OFWs like Mama arrive in the Kingdom normal but come home in a mentally unstable state.

“Si Monira ay biktima ng isang sirkumstansya kaya sya ay dinapuan ng ganyang karamdaman. Hindi naging maganda ang kanyang sinapit dito sa gitnang silangan dahil lamang sa hangaring matulungan at mabigyan ng kinabukasan ang kanyang pamilya," added Exmundo.

[Mama was a victim of circumstance. In the desire to help her family, she experienced something unpleasant in the Middle East.]

Mama is to be brought to the main OWWA office in Manila upon arrival at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport and her family will be tracked down.

She will then be brought to hospital for further treatment.

Exmundo thanked everyone who helped repatriate Mama, especially Saudi Arabia’s immigration and the doctors who previously tended to the distressed OFW.

The OWWA has already sent home three mentally ill OFWs since November 2008. - with Kimberly Jane T. Tan, GMANews.TV

118 Pinoys in N Marianas tagged as ‘overstayers’

SAN ANTONIO, Saipan – Over 40 percent or 118 of the 293 “overstayers" in the US Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands are Filipinos, according to the latest list released by the CNMI Department of Labor.

“Overstayers" are those who have overstayed the permission granted to them upon their entry into the CNMI for employment purposes.

“Persons in an overstayer status are required to depart the commonwealth immediately," the department said.

The CNMI is currently home to some 10,000 overseas Filipino workers and Filipino-Americans.

The rest of the overstayers are from China, Korea, Thailand, Bangladesh and other Asian countries.

Labor said persons who depart the CNMI voluntarily are eligible to return, but once an overstayer is deported, he is no longer eligible to return to the islands.

Foreigners whose names may have been erroneously added to the list are asked to report to the CNMI Labor on or before Feb. 23 to correct their records.

A private lawyer, however, called on foreign workers whose names appeared on Labor’s overstayers list to contact his law firm immediately to learn more about their legal rights.

Robert Myers has been handling labor cases, and is representing foreign workers in a class suit against the CNMI government for not enforcing laws and regulations against employers and bonding companies that failed to pay these workers their wages and labor awards.

The US territory of the CNMI is a 14-island chain whose capital of Saipan is about three hours away from Manila. - GMANews.TV

RP 'sexy' dancers accuse employer of labor abuse

GARAPAN, Saipan – Ten Filipina dancers in the US island of Saipan filed a lawsuit against their former employers for unfair labor practices including false imprisonment, forced work during days off, non-payment of overtime compensation, and unauthorized salary deductions.

The complainants were previous employees of the now defunct Club Jama, which used to be one of the most popular strip clubs in Saipan.

It is legal in Saipan for women to dance naked in front of customers, but prostitution is against the law.

On December 2007, Saipan police and Department of Labor investigators raided an apartment where six Club Jama dancers said they were being falsely imprisoned.

Club Jama co-owner Ernest J. Strange denied the allegation, but his club never reopened since the day of the raid.

As of Monday, Strange and his wife Thelma have not been charged in court.

The overseas Filipino workers asked the US District Court for Northern Mariana Islands to order Club Jama and the Strange couple to give them an award of expectation, incidental, consequential and compensatory damages in an amount to be proven at trial, and prejudgment interest, among other things.

The complainants are Aileen C. Alanan, Gerlie Albuna, April G. Alfonso, Jenny Solomon, Aiza Y. Garcia, Doricel Lemorinas, Mary Grace Manguiob, Raquel A. Ramos, Reah Carascal Rodriguez, and Merarcy P. Templado.

The plaintiffs, through counsel Colin M. Thompson, said as part of their duties as dancers for Club Jama, they were made to encourage customers to order and consume “ladies drinks."

However, if they did not meet their quota of ladies drink, their former employers would force them to work on their days off until they made quota.

“At times, plaintiffs were confined to their barracks. When plaintiffs had free time, the plaintiffs' free time was severely restricted," the lawyer for the OFWs said.

Saipan, the capital of the US Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, is only about three hours away from Manila on a direct flight. - GMANews.TV

Free education for kids of laid-off OFWs pushed

MANILA, Philippines - Despite efforts of the Overseas Workers’ Welfare Administration (OWWA) at giving out loans to deserving laid-off overseas Filipino workers, a lawmaker is urging the government to give scholarships to their children.

Deputy Majority Leader Jesus Crispin Remulla asked the OWWA to look into the possibility of giving free education to the children of retrenched OFWs.

Remulla said that most Filipinos go out of the country for work to provide and sustain the education of their children.

"How can these children now go to school if they don’t even have money for transportation, allowance and for books because their parents, who are working abroad, were laid-off?" Remulla said.

The Cavite lawmaker requested the OWWA to give “preferential attention" to the educational needs of the displaced workers’ children “instead of their program for scholarship grants available only to the first 1,000 applicants."

He also proposed that the OWWA put up an assistance desk in the airport to assist the retrenched OFWs.

But Carmelina Velasquez, OWWA director, told GMANews.TV that the welfare agency had been assisting children of OFWs with scholarships regardless if their parents were laid-off or not.

Velasquez said that all active members could avail of the scholarships for their children, who still need to pass a qualifying examination.

More than 5,400 Filipinos have been laid off various countries as economies began to feel the impact of the global economic storm.

A bulk of the displaced workers came from export-dependent destination countries like Taiwan, Macau (China), and even some Middle East countries like the United Arab Emirates.

President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo had earlier announced the allotment of a P1-billion livelihood fund to help the victims of the global economic crisis get back on their feet.

Heeding her call, OWWA had already given out loans ranging from P30,000 to P50,000 to 50 deserving OFWs who were casualties of the global economic crisis. - Mark Joseph Ubalde, GMANews.TV

Govt holds free business seminar for jobless OFWs

MANILA, Philippines - The Philippine government is conducting free one-day seminars that would help displaced overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) create businesses that would fit their skills.

On February 25, the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), together with the Philippine Trade Training Center (PTTC), will conduct a seminar at the PTTC building located at Sen. Gil Puyat cor. Roxas Boulevard in Pasay City especially for OFWs.

Besides discussing entrepreneurship, the program will assist participants in establishing their own businesses and access loans to support their operations.

Topics to be discussed during the event will cover franchising, distributorship, dealership, and pig raising; and skills training on commercial baking like pan de sal, ensaymada, pan de coco including no bake cakes.

Participants will also be able to attend the training sessions regarding meat processing such as siomai, hamburger, and siopao production, candle making, and the production of soap and similar items such as detergent powder, dishwashing liquid, and fabric softener.

The first-come, first-serve activity was undertaken under the trade department’s Comprehensive Livelihood and Emergency Employment Program (Cleep). - GMANews.TV

Pinoy workers stranded in UAE leave for RP

MANILA, Philippines - Twenty-one of some 61 Filipino masons and carpenters stranded in the United Arab Emirates have flown home after their South Korean employer paid their due wages and shouldered their travel expenses.

Online news site Khaleej Times reported a labor arbiter at the Ministry of Labor gave the company 15 days to pay all outstanding dues as well as the air tickets.

The report said the remaining Filipino workers are expected to leave for the Philippines once the company accomplishes the needed paperwork.

Also, the report said a general contractor, Bolim, has offered new jobs to at least 14 workers.

Meanwhile, a final batch of three workers working for a private company at Business Bay Crossing and other projects also left for Manila last Friday.

But one of the three who were left out when their co-workers departed from Dubai in two batches, said the payment for their air tickets was deducted from their last pay.

"We do not have enough cash to go to our provinces from Manila. We were also asked to pay penalties for our overstay. The company's public relations officer paid the fines but did not provide us with any cash for our bus fare from Manila to our home town," he said.

Jocelyn Hapal, head of the Overseas Operations Coordinating Service heading the Mobile Re-integration Task Force from Manila, said the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration and the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration will request their manpower recruitment agency in Manila, Orient Placement Agency, to assist the workers to facilitate their homeward trip. - GMANews.TV

Pinoy charged in UAE for raping Pinay maid

MANILA, Philippines - A 33-year-old Filipino now faces trial in the United Arab Emirates for allegedly raping a Filipino household helper in September last year.

Online news site Khaleej Times reported the man's case was brought before the Criminal Court of First Instance on Sunday.

Court records showed the man, who the report did not name, allegedly lured the maid to his apartment in International City and raped her on September 21 last year.

The woman said that on that day, she called the defendant to pick her up from her workplace at Arabian Ranches.

She said she had wanted him to drop her at the airport to receive her sister whose flight was to arrive at 9:30 p.m.

But the man stopped at a gas petrol station on Emirates Road and offered her a drink. After taking the drink, the woman said she felt dizzy and unable to move.

On the way, he told her that there was still time and he wanted to go to his place to have dinner, and they went to his apartment.

After dinner, the man laid on his bed and took off his shirt. When the woman tried to leave, she found the door locked. The man then switched off the lights and raped her.

They then went to the airport and picked up the woman's sister but she was too afraid to tell anyone about what happened.

But on the following day, she went to the police station with her sister and lodged a complaint. The next hearing is scheduled for March 3. - GMANews.TV

50 laid OFWs receive loans, begin new lives

MANILA, Philippines - offA total of 50 laid off overseas Filipino workers had a new lease on life as they were awarded loans by the Overseas Workers’ Welfare Administration (OWWA).

OWWA chief Carmelita Dimzon told GMANews.TV on Monday that the loans ranged from P30,000 to P50,000.

All of the 50 OFWs had been working in Taiwan before the US-led economic crisis forced the export-dependent country to slowdown and lay-off migrant workers.

“We gave them the loans on condition that they would set up a business and become entrepreneurs," Dimzon said in an interview.

The loans would be paid within 24-months with a five percent annual interest.

Labor Secretary Marianito Roque was quoted in reports as saying that 5,400 OFWs had returned home since October 2008 as casualties of the global economic crisis.

Most of the workers were laid off from Taiwan and the Middle East.

Recruitment consultant Emmanuel Geslani warned that Dubai, one of the top Filipino destinations in the United Arab Emirates, might be the next hot spot for massive lay-offs of migrant workers.

Geslani said that a $582-billion construction project was suspended in the emirate following the economic crunch.

The Philippine government has readied P7-billion to create emergency gaps for all Filipino workers who might lose their jobs. Roque said in reports that the fund would be able to sustain employment opportunities for Filipinos for two years.

Roque noted that four months after the first batch of OFWs returned home as some factories closed shop due to the US-led economic crisis, the firings have stopped.

Taiwan, one of the hardest-hit in export dependent countries in Asia and which fired the bulk of some 5,404 retrenched OFWs, has not been terminating workers for quite some time now.

“They can’t fire anymore," Roque told GMA News, “Otherwise, they would lose their foreign labor quota."

South Korea, another export-dependent country, had only sent home less than a hundred OFWs in recent weeks. Roque said this was because the Philippine government responded early and found new jobs for 2,000 OFWs laid off in Korea.

Of the total number of retrenched workers, 4,140 came from Taiwan; 180 from Canada; 81 from Australia; and 74 from Korea. - GMANews.TV

Documented OFWs in China jailed for not having residence permits

MANILA, Philippines - Filipinos intending to work in China not only have to secure a valid work permit but also a residence visa to avoid imprisonment, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) warned.

Citing reports from its Philippine consular office in Shanghai, the DFA said that "Filipino nationals" are being detained by law enforcement authorities in China on the charge of illegal residence in China.

GMANews.TV tried calling DFA spokeserson Bayani Mangibin for additional information but was unable to get a response as of posting time.

The DFA meanwhile told aspiring overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) to remind their Chinese employers to facilitate the procurement of a residence permit for them.

As stated under Article 16 of the Regulation on the Implementation of Law of the People's Republic of China:

"Chapter III - Residence - Article - Aliens who hold the visas marked with "D", "Z" and "X" must, within 10 days of entry, go through the procedures for obtaining the residence permit for aliens or temporary residence permit for aliens.

"The term of validity of the aforesaid residence permit shall be the time limit of the authorized stay in China of the permit holder. The residence permit for aliens shall be issued to those who will stay in China for a period of more than one year.

"The temporary residence permit for aliens shall be issued to those who will stay in China for a period of less than one year. Aliens who hold visas marked with "F", "L", "G" and "C" may stay in China within the time limit as their visas indicate, without the necessity to obtain residence permits." - GMANews.TV

Check travel agencies when exiting, Pinoys at UAE-Oman border told

MANILA, Philippines- Filipinos planning to exit through the border of United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Oman should double-check their travel agency, Philippine labor officials in the UAE advised.

Online news site Khaleej Times also reported a Philippine team is now investigating at least three "fixer" telephone numbers.

"Filipinos should avoid them at all cost," said Labor Attaché Jeffrey Cortazar, head of the Philippine Overseas Labor Office (POLO) help desk mission from Manila.

Cortazar said these three suspected "fixer" telephone numbers are 04-2739555, 050-4209378, 050-4397547.

He said the Philippine team can be contacted in Al Buraimi on hotline 00968-96903452.

In issuing the advice to double-check the travel agent, Cortazar said this mean the difference between a few days and several months in waiting for a visa.

He issued the advice after a three-week investigation and fact-finding mission at the Al-Buraimi border.

According to him, the team found only one travel agency, Moonway Travel, to be doing well with the Filipino visa change seekers out of the 31 travel agencies in the UAE.

The firm stationed a Filipino coordinator on UAE-Oman border to oversee the Filipinos, who are placed in very comfortable accommodation good at four individuals per chalet, he said.

"It has provided the fastest service in visa approval and has its own tourist buses from Dubai with daily trips," he added.

The Philippine team inspected accommodations of the Filipinos billeted in the hotels and chalets on the border, and interviewed individuals.

It learned there are 31 travel agencies in Dubai facilitating the exits of the Filipinos, 90 percent of whom are waiting for fresh tourist visas and only 10 percent waiting for employment visas.

Cortazar said the team learned some of the agencies had their licenses revoked by UAE authorities for involvement in the visa runs, yet continued to facilitate visa processing by having alliances with legitimate travel agencies.

"We recommend Filipinos to transact business with Moonwalk Travel Agency and to check other travel agencies with the authorities, who may have approached them for their services, to find out their status," Cortazar said. - GMANews.TV

Saturday, February 21, 2009

More jobs for OFWs expected with planned RP-Australia pact

MANILA, Philippines — Labor Secretary Marianito Roque on Saturday said the Philippines could look forward to sending some 30,000 Filipino workers to southern Australia every year with an agreement soon to be signed.

Roque said the Philippine government, through the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE), is set to sign an agreement with Southern Australia after the Holy Week.

“We will be signing an agreement with Southern Australia to allow the entry of Filipino workers. This is what we called Adelite, mostly in mining, transport equipment operators and all other skills involving the mining community," Roque said on Vice President Noli De Castro’s weekly radio program “Para sayo Bayan."

Roque said Southern Australia wants to get Filipino workers only.

“In Southern Australia, they will get 30,000 Filipino workers (every year). All of these will be with working visas for the next ten years. So, in the next ten years, we would be able to send 300,000 Filipino workers. Australia is a continent and their economy is continuous," he said.

Roque said such development would bode well for the country amid fears of mass layoffs that could affect overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) amid a global recession.

He said, however, that the number of OFWs leaving the country to work abroad far outweighs the number of those who lost their jobs so far.

He said those laid off from Taiwan numbered more than 4,000 but some of them have found other jobs.

In United Kingdom, at least 17 Filipinos, all linemen, lost their jobs but 116 visas for OFWs were approved recently.

Roque noted that while the UK has not hired Filipino nurses in the last three years, jobs for nurses there are again opening slowly as the government apparently cannot tighten its belt on health services. “Slowly, but continues," he said.

In Korea, he said only 97 of the expected 38,000 OFWs who will lose their jobs have so far returned to the country.

“The host countries needs Filipino workers because they are hardworking, productive and they are the ones making the moves to retain them (OFWs)," he said.

He further said that while Saudi Arabia asked for 2,000 workers last year, the Philippine government has so far sent only 600 workers.

“The requirement to us is 2,000 workers, but we have only sent 600 just for last year. We still have a balance of 1,400 and they are not even asking for experienced workers as long as they are Muslim. So, our Muslim brothers in Mindanao has the opportunity," he said. - GMANews.TV

5 Pinays in Riyadh sold as sex slaves - Migrante

MANILA, Philippines — Five Filipinas who are victims of white slavery in the Saudi Arabian capital, Riyadh, are in need of urgent help from the Philippine government, a migrant group said on Thursday.

Migrante-Middle East identified the victims, but GMANews.TV is withholding their names to protect their honor.

John Leonard Monterona, Migrante-ME regional coordinator, said the victims have sought the help of Migrante-Riyadh to bail them out of their deplorable situations.

He said Migrante-Riyadh has already sent a letter to Labor Attaché Resty Dela Fuente , head of the Philippine Overseas Labor Office (POLO) in Riyadh, to look into the case and extend immediate assistance to the distressed women.

“They need immediate assistance. Some of the victims are not well and haven't been brought to the hospital for proper medical care," Monterona said.

The five were among the 30 Filipina domestic helpers recruited by an agency named C.Y. DUBAI/Al Fais Agency under employer Abu Aggaf for local hire, Migrante said.

The source said the workers were hired to work with other employers not as domestic helpers doing household chores but as sex slaves.

A press statement by Migrante said the victims complained of being sexually abused by their employer.

"Further, the victims complained that in some instances they were beaten with bruises all over their body and without their monthly salary if their employer returned them back to … [the employer], as the other party is not satisfied with their performances," Migrante quoted a source as saying.

The victims were reportedly forbidden from using their cell phones.

Monterona called on embassy officials to act swiftly and provide the necessary assistance to the victims and prosecute the accused abusive employer without delay. - D’Jay Lazaro, GMANews.TV

Distressed OFWs in Jeddah get surprise gifts from birthday celebrator

JEDDAH, Saudi Arabia – Distressed OFWs currently staying inside the Philippine Consulate General in Jeddah got a pleasant surprise recently when a concerned Filipina celebrated her birthday with them, it was learned on Saturday.

Welfare officer Romeo Pablo of the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) said the woman asked to celebrate her birthday with the distressed OFWs to share with them food and other personal gifts.

"As far as I remember it was the first time an overseas Filipino worker celebrated her birthday party with the less fortunate OFWs. Her style is different, not all people will celebrate a birthday like she did," Pablo said.

The celebrator, who requested not to be named, brought a variety of food and assorted goods, medicines and sacks of rice to more than 50 distressed OFWs staying in the OWWA’s Filipino Workers Resource Center inside the consulate’s compound.

Pablo said the celebrator also organized some parlor games, during which she gave cash prizes to the winners and she personally served food to the wards.

"Everybody was really happy with what she did. We are happy that there are people like her who are doing this to lift us in high spirits" said Jennebel, one of the distressed.

The celebrator told GMANews.TV that she is very happy when she shares her blessings and feel a sense of fulfillment when she can make people happy.

"Instead of throwing lavish party I decided to share my blessings to my less fortunate kababayan so I asked my friends to buy anything for the distressed instead of buying gifts for me. I asked the caterer to prepare a variety of food and we went to the consulate and celebrated my birthday," she said.

"For me sharing our blessings is one of the important things to do. God has been good to me and I want to share his kindness with others" she said. - GMANews.TV

'Labor export thrust not good for Pinoy nurses'

MANILA, Philippines — A group of migrant workers in New Zealand urged the Philippine government on Saturday to scale down its promotion of Filipino nurses as export products, saying such policy is backfiring against Pinoys.

Amie Dural, spokesperson Migrante Aotearoa New Zealand, said the export policy is not only to blame for the crisis gripping the Philippine health system but also leading nurse-importing countries to impose stricter standards on Filipino nurses.

"We cannot blame the nurse-importing countries like New Zealand, Canada, Britain and others for imposing stricter standards on Filipino nurses. No less than the Philippine government’s promotion of nurses as export products is to blame for the perception of New Zealand and other countries that the quality of Filipino nurses has deteriorated because of the proliferation of nursing schools in the Philippines," said Dural.

She blamed the government's desperate bid for more dollar-earning Filipinos. "It is deplorable that the CHED and Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) continue to sell-out health professionals for overseas jobs by urging nursing schools to “device ways on how to produce an even more competent set of graduates."
“In fact New Zealand authorities find it easier to get fresh nursing graduates from Kenya registered, than someone from the Philippines," said Dural, quoting a statement by David Wills, director of the Nurses Society, in the New Zealand Herald last February 17.

According to Wills, Filipino nurses who cannot obtain registration in New Zealand asked the Nurses Society to help them find jobs elsewhere but overseas nursing authorities have also stopped registering Filipino nurses in light of concerns over nursing qualifications from the Philippines.

Nurse-importing countries have reportedly started doubting the quality of Filipino nurses because of the very big number of graduates being churned out by Philippine school each year, aggravated by the cheating scandal surrounding the Nurse Licensure Exam of 2006.

Last year, a total of 67,220 nursing graduates passed the licensure exam, join the ranks of about 400,000 unemployed or underemployed nurses.

Migrante Aotearoa New Zealand said apart from imposing stringent screening and training of new nurses, the Philippine government should also focus its attention in solving the problem faced by the local health system.

“It’s time to focus on growing needs at home, diminishing options abroad," the group said in a statement.

It cited topnotcher Jovie Ann Alawas Decoyna of the licensure exam given last November for declaring her preference to work in a hospital in her own city and hometown as against seeking work abroad.

The Commission on Higher Education (Ched) plans to extend the present four-year nursing curriculum to five years purportedly to intensify training and help Filipino nurses hurdle the now stricter standards being observed by New Zealand and others.

Dural said the CHED, POEA and other government agencies that “promote labor export policy and commercialization of education to fit the demands of the global market certainly cannot be trusted to improve the Philippine health situation as they continue to market Filipino nurses as commodities."

For health workers and all the sick Filipinos awaiting their services, the biggest challenge is the chronic failure of the Philippine government to prioritize health in terms of budget for public health services and ensure adequate compensation for doctors and nurses in order to stop the alarming medical exodus, Dural explained.

In 2005, the Private Hospitals Association of the Philippines (PHAP) reported that the continued exodus of doctors and nurses seeking better-paying jobs abroad has forced the closure of some 1,000 private hospitals across the Philippines .

Contrary to its constitutional mandate to promote and protect the health of the Filipino people, it is the height of malpractice that the Philippine government continues to neglect public health by pushing the exodus of nurses and doctors just so it could gain more dollar remittances, Dural said. - GMANews.TV

Recruiters also seek tuition hike freeze

MANILA, Philippines - The labor recruitment sector has joined calls for a moratorium on tuition increases to protect children of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) affected by the economic crunch.

Loreto B. Soriano, executive director of the Federated Association of Manpower Exports, said raising tuition is insensitive to the plight of OFWs.

"We keep sending OFWs to be able to pay for their children’s education but all the schools want is to profit from their hardship," said Mr. Soriano in a statement.

He added schools should offer more technical and vocational courses to improve worker skills.

The Commission on Higher Education (CHED) has asked colleges and universities to reconsider increasing tuition amid reports 258 schools have said they will raise fees for the incoming school year.

Meanwhile. Mr. Soriano said CHED should close under-performing institutions and limit the number of nursing schools.

"Foreign chambers of commerce in the Philippines have complained of jobs-skills mismatches which result in the poor recruitment of employable graduates," Mr. Soriano said. - BusinessWorld

37 distressed Pinoy maids, seafarers return home

MANILA, Philippines - A total of 37 overseas Filipino workers (OFW) have ended their ordeals overseas as they returned to the Philippines on Thursday.

Thirty-one of the 37 Filipino workers who came back home were domestic helpers who complained of abuse from their employers in Saudi Arabia.

Helen Sarasaen told GMA News that she worked for ten months as a domestic helper in the Saudi Arabian capital city, Riyadh, but not once did she receive pay or food for her service.

“Mahirap mag-abroad, sana mabigyan kami ng trabaho, sana mabigyan ng pagkakataon, mahirap talaga doon," she said in a report aired over Q’s Balitanghali.

[It’s really hard to work abroad. I hope we would be given jobs, I hope we would still be given a chance, it’s really difficult to work there.]

Domestic helper Judith Camporedondo suffered the same fate as she was not paid by her employer either, prompting her to run away and decide not to work abroad anymore.

“Nagpunta 'dun para maghanap ng pera ganun pa rin, mahirap talaga mag-abroad, kung katulong ka lang, maltratuhin ka pa, tatlong oras lang tulog mo," she told GMA News.

[I went there to earn money but nothing changed, it’s really hard to work abroad, if you’re just a helper, you’ll be abuses, you’ll get to sleep for only three hours.]

The other OFWs who returned home were identified as Betty Bengson, Shiela Adalin, Marife Anillo, Gloria A. Delos Santos, Esperanza Mejia, Shirly Punzalan, Raquilyn T. Canoy, Nenalyn Deseo, Lina Johnny, Aurelia Macalalad, Cristeta Abratique Pelagio, Paquita Canlas Baldera, Josephine Obera, Ma. Teresa Granada.

Cherie May Palinguba, Loreta Monares Genosas, Marilez Dalagon, Anglyn Diaz Gardose, Shahad Cabaluna, Sammra S. Dagadas, Norma Saligan Madaliday, Ofelia Urbanuzo, Mariyan Abdulla, Emraiza Abiar, Noria Salik Akmad, Olga Elnar, Juvaina A. Aron, Shermina Najaalun, and Ruth Maranoc Escopete.

Senator Manuel Villar reportedly paid for the repatriation of the 31 women.

In addition, six of the nine stranded Filipino seafarers in Nigeria have also returned to the Philippines on Thursday.

The nine seafarers were part of the 18-man crew on board M/T Meredith that was hijacked by pirates on January 21 at the Bonny Terminal in Nigeria. The ship is owned by Corinthian Maritime SA, Golden Carrier Shipping and Maritime Management Synergy SA.

“Nagsidatingan yung mga pirata, pinagmamaso 'yung pintuan, dahil sarado tapos pinapasabog 'yung iba makapasok lang sila. Sa pagkakataong iyon walang nasaktan sa amin kasi nakatago kami," Rogelion Andalit told GMA News.

[The pirates arrived, they destroyed the doors that were closed but not one of us got hurt because we were hiding.]

The other five seamen were identified as Raymon de Domingo, Gloriand Sales, Michael Domingo, Alfredo Ferrer, and Jebb Alonte. The Filipino crewmen were reportedly contracted by local manning agency Seagem Maritime Int’l.

Six more distressed OFWs are set to return to the Philippines from Riyadh next week, while three more Filipino seamen (Novelito Trapsi, Elmer Cruz, and George Parreño) remain in Nigeria. - Kimberly Jane T. Tan, GMANews.TV

Filipino to be punished for entering Brunei without passport

MANILA, Philippines - A 25-year-old Filipino man will be fined $500 (more than P24,000) or be jailed for one month after he pleaded guilty to failing to show his passport upon entering Brunei, the Bandar Seri Begawan Magistrate Court has said.

According to the Borneo Bulletin, defendant Rolly Robles Ambal failed to show his passport to the Kula Lurah Immigration Control Post when he entered the Brunei on January 3 from Sarawak, Malaysia.

Under Brunei laws, entering without a passport is considered an offense under section 3 (1) of the Passports Act, Chapter 146 and is punishable under section 12 (2) of the same act that institutes a fine of $5,000 or more than P240,000 and imprisonment of three years. - Kimberly Jane T. Tan, GMANews.TV

DFA warns Filipinos vs traveling to West Bank, Gaza Strip

MANILA, Philippines - Citing security concerns, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) cautioned Filipinos Friday against traveling to the West Bank and the Gaza strip.

The DFA said the current ceasefire in the Gaza Strip remains fragile, as hostilities between Israeli forces and Hamas continue with rocket fires and airstrikes.

"Filipinos who travel to the West Bank and the Gaza Strip despite this Travel Warning do so at their own risk. Without a Philippine Embassy or official representation inside the territory, the Philippine Government will be unable to assist its nationals inside Gaza should violence escalate," it said.

It warned of the unpredictable occurrence of rocket and mortar launches, gunfire and other military activities, which it said make travels to those areas dangerous. - GMANews.TV

Thursday, February 19, 2009

US officials coming to RP to spell out details of Filvets benefits

CHICAGO — Officials of the United States Department of Veterans Affairs (DVA) are going to the Philippines to spell out the details of how Filipino veterans can get their benefits, it was learned Tuesday.

Phil Budahn, spokesman of the Office of Public Information of the US DVA office in Washington, D.C., told this reporter in a phone interview that “the details of the mechanics on how a Filipino veteran can get the benefits will be announced by VA officers, who will be traveling to the Philippines."

Budahn said details of the trip are still being finalized and will be announced soon.

When asked if the VA has already a list of the recipients, he declined to answer.

Budahn made the announcement on the day that President Barack Obama signed the $787-billion Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 that includes the grant of long-awaited benefits for Filipino World War II veterans. President Obama signed the bill in Denver, Colorado.

Meanwhile, Rep. Bob Filner (California-Democrat), chairman of the US House Veterans’ Affairs Committee, released Tuesday a press statement sent to President Obama, saying, “Twelve years ago, I joined Filipino veterans in protest in front of the White House and demanded equitable treatment. Together, we pleaded with America’s leaders to acknowledge the contributions of these veterans, recognize the injustice visited upon them, and act to correct this injustice. Unfortunately, the historical record remained blotted and Filipino veterans were not granted the rights they had earned and deserve."

Kristal DeKleer, spokesperson of Representative Filner, also quoted Filner as saying, “Today, I am thrilled that the 111th Congress has resolutely acted to acknowledge the Filipino veterans for their steadfast contributions to the successful outcome of World War II.

“H.R. 1, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, corrects this long-standing inequity, recognizes their noble service, and provides a one-time payment of $15,000 to Filipino veterans who are American citizens and $9,000 to veterans who are Philippine citizens.

“This compensation is intended to assist them in their later years and provide the dignity and honor that they earned as heroic veterans of the United States.

“This victory, however, comes with a note of sadness. While approximately 300,000 Filipinos fought under the American flag during World War II, less than 18,000 are alive today to celebrate this vindication," Filner was quoted as saying.

He added, “Just two months ago, the Filipino veteran community lost one of their most tireless advocates, Joaquin Tejada. I know that his dedication to this cause was vital and I am certain that his smile continues to shine brightly. I salute these fallen heroes.

“As we celebrate this momentous occasion, I call on all Americans to join me in remembering and honoring the Filipino veterans who fought for our freedom."

Filner recalled that it was 63 years ago that President Truman signed the Rescission Acts, which denied the Filipino veterans of World War II equal status as American veterans, stripping them of equal recognition, compensation, and benefits.

He said, “These Filipino soldiers, who swore an oath of allegiance to the United States, fought side-by-side with American soldiers under the American flag. Despite the gallant efforts of the Filipino soldiers during the war, Congress still passed the Rescission Acts, which denied these veterans their rightfully earned respect, benefits, and honor."

Out of the 18,000 Filipino veterans mentioned by Filner, 12,000 of them are believed living in the Philippines. They are going to receive the non-service-connected one-time pension of $9,000. The rest of the 6,000 are living in the United States, who will get $15,000 lump sum pay.

In 2007, the United States DVA estimated that there were about 30,000 eligible Filipino World War II veterans living in the Philippines who were entitled to receive benefits by the year 2008. This number would be reduced to about 24,000 by 2012.

These were the figures furnished by the US VA to the US Congressional Budget Office (CBO) two years ago when the US Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs were entertaining the idea of granting the Philippine-based veterans annual pension under Senate Bill 1315.

Because the Senate measure did not consider granting benefits to Filipino veterans living in the United States, the CBO estimate did not mention the estimated number of Filipino veterans living in the United States.

The 18,000 estimate of Chairman Filner was the same figure cited by Sen. Daniel K. Inouye (Hawaii-Dem.), chairman of the US Senate Appropriations Committee, who defended the inclusion of benefits for Filipino veterans in The Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 also known as the Stimulus bill.

It is very likely that only those whose names are kept in the Military Records Center in Missouri and the US Veterans Affairs office are the only ones who can file a claim for the lump sum payment.

They must have “served in a variety of units, some of whom came under the direct control of the United States Armed Forces" from July 26, 1941 until the end of the World War II in 1946. - GMANews.TV

6 Pinoys stranded in Nigeria back in Manila Thursday

02/18/2009 | 03:40 PM

MANILA, Philippines - Vice President Noli De Castro on Wednesday said six of the nine Filipino seafarers reportedly stranded in Lagos, Nigeria, will arrive in Manila Thursday.

The announcement came after De Castro - who is also adviser on Overseas Filipino Workers - had ordered the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) and the local manning agency that contracted the seamen to bring home the group immediately.

The Filipinos were part of the 18-man crew of M/T Meredith, and who were said to have escaped from an attack by armed pirates on January 21 at Bonny Terminal in Nigeria.

“The families of the seafarers informed our office that their loved ones have already been transferred from a supply boat (EVA 2) to a tugboat (Gallant) and now on their way to Lomé Port in Ghana, West Africa. They reported that 3 of them were not able to join the group that will be repatriated as they were the ones left to man M/T Meredith. We confirmed this with Seagem and with the Philippine embassy in Abuja, Nigeria," De Castro said.

He said the six who are returning home on Flight GF154 are Rogelio Andales, Raymon de Domingo, Gloriand Sales, Michael Domingo, Alfredo Ferrer and Jebb Alonte. The three who were left behind are Novelito Trapsi, Elmer Cruz and George Parreño.

Manning agency Seagem Maritime Int’l contracted the Filipino crewmen, who manned a ship reportedly owned by Corinthian Maritime SA, Golden Carrier Shipping and Maritime Management Synergy SA.

“Seagem, through Capt. Jun Tuason, explained that their agency immediately acted upon our request. The three seafarers who remained in Nigeria will be included in the next batch to be repatriated. While OWWA Chief Carmelita Dimzon said that assistance to the group will be given upon their arrival in Manila," VP De Castro said. - GMANews.TV

RP officials twit militant migrant group over benefit fund row

MANILA, Philippines — A government troubleshooting team sent to the United Arab Emirates lashed out at a militant migrant group for its signature drive questioning a benefit fund for laid-off workers.

Online news site Khaleej Times (www.khaleejtimes.com) reported that Labor Attaché Jeffrey Cortazar questioned Migrante Middle East's claims of alleged misappropriations of the fund.

"Do your homework. Do some pencil pushing instead of maligning government efforts without any basis at all," said Cortazar, head of the labor department's help desk mission in Buraimi.

He noted Migrante had been critical of everything the government is doing, but refuses to acknowledge the fact that the OFW funds doubled within a year under Labor Secretary Marianito Roque.

Cortazar said the fund had doubled from P5 billion (Dh500 million) to P10 billion (Dh1 billion).

"I am sure Migrante knows that. Only it chooses to be silent about what is positive and good," he said.

Earlier, Migrante Middle East regional coordinator John Leonard Monterona released a lobby letter for Philippine legislators and leaders of churches and other groups.

He also initiated a signature campaign to supposedly protect a P1-billion Expatriate Livelihood Fund, which he said was appropriated without consulting the overseas Filipino workers.

Bai Umera Dianalan Lucman, member of the Board of Trustees of the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration, stressed that disbursement of OWWA funds can only be done if the 12-member Board of Trustees, of which she is a member, approves it.

"The board is a composite team of the officials from the Department of Budget and Management, Department of Foreign Affairs, Philippine Overseas Employment Administration and representatives from the land-based and sea-based overseas Filipino workers," she said.

She added that P200 million (Dh20 million) was packaged for distressed workers in September 2008.

"This came in the form of livelihood programs, and to avail of this fund, the applicant should present a certificate that they were displaced," she said.

She said the remaining P800 million (Dh80 million) will be released through the Development Bank of the Philippines – Land Bank of the Philippines for those who have been retrenched.

Cortazar said the packaged program for the retrenched workers is in three major phases, the second and third of which were repackaged OWWA programs.

"A cut-off date was October 15, 2008. Only those OFWs retrenched after October 15 can avail themselves of the programs, which allocated P10,000 (Dh1,000) for the training and start-up capital of every retrenched Filipino worker," he said. - GMANews.TV

US benefits for Filvets is 'better than nothing'

Time might be running out for the 20,000 remaining Filipino World War II veterans who are already in their 80s.


MANILA, Philippines - With time running out on the remaining Filipino World War II veterans, claimants to the lump sum benefits should be thankful for receiving something rather than nothing.

Sandiganbayan retired Justice Manuel Pamaran, vice president of the Veterans Federation of the Philippines (VFP), said time was of the essence for the surviving war veterans whose average age is 80.

"The veterans are fast dying," Pamaran told GMANews.TV on Wednesday. "See, it’s better than nothing."

US President Barack Obama signed into law on Wednesday (Manila time) the $787-billion stimulus package.

The US Embassy in Manila broke the good news to the war veterans that the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 was included in the signed bill.

"The US Department of Veterans Affairs Manila Regional Office will also be conducting extensive outreach, within and outside of Manila, to the many Filipino WW II veterans throughout the Philippines to ensure all those entitled receive the benefits they deserve as soon as possible," the statement read.

Pamaran earlier said that naysayers who continued to cast a gloom over the "delayed" Filipino veterans’ benefits should just reserve their ill-feelings against the US legislation.

"Everybody should stop saying they are dissatisfied because things could turn and Obama could change his mind," he said.

But Pamaran is optimistic that the benefits for Filipino veterans will push through since the bill was pushed by US Democrats, who are allies of Obama. Before his election as president, Obama vouched his support for the Filvets’ cause.

The benefits provide a tax-free, one-time $9,000 (roughly P430,000) nonservice connected compensation for veterans who are not US citizens and $15,000 (roughly P717,000) for veterans who are US citizens.

Not everyone can get benefits

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

According to him, when Missouri made the list of Filipinos who served in WWII in the late 1940s, about 230,000 signed up.

"Now barely 20,000 survived," he said.

Some Filipinos who were part of the guerrilla movement in the Philippines also failed to be included in the list and are thus ineligible for any US pension, Pamaran added.

"There are only 18,000 listed Filipino war veterans. Six thousands are in the US, while 12,000 are in the Philippines," he said.

The more than 35,000 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 equal to that of their American counterparts.

Until the US government begins giving out the delayed benefits, Dioscoro Valmasen, a war veteran in the Philippines, is trying to stay alive to enjoy it.

"I slipped my disc when I was bowling one day," Valmasen told GMA News, “They told me to take care of my health since I might not live long enough to enjoy the benefits." - GMANews.TV

Blacklisting of Taiwanese broker, recruiter sought for abusing OFWs

MANILA, Philippines — Migrants group today urged the Manila Economic and Cultural Office (MECO) to blacklist Sage International, a Taiwanese broker for intimidating, exploiting and overcharging OFWs of Jia Chiarng Company. The employer and Philippine agency should likewise be banned for the same offenses.

The Asia Pacific Mission for Migrants (APMM) at the same time called on MECO not to accept the proposal of Taiwan's Council of Labor Affairs (CLA) of a new contract between brokers and migrant workers that would make the former the only legal and labor representatives of the latter among others. Many of these brokers are like Sage International and all of them represent the interests of employers and not the migrant workers.

APMM said four OFWs — Revilla de Jesus, Michelle Hernaez, Leticia Manalo and Evangeline Ayoc of Jia Chiarng Company — sought refuge at a shelter after they were threatened by the broker to have police arrest them for allegedly issuing a death threat to one of Sage's staff .

The four earlier filed a complaint against Jia Chiarng Company in the Legal Aid Foundation (LAF) for underpayment of their basic and overtime pay.

APMM said this was the latest attempt by the broker to force the workers to abandon their complaint against their employer for underpayment of their basic and overtime pay.

It urged MECO to provide the OFWs the necessary legal assistance for this latest move by the broker.

In line with its “one-China policy," the Philippines does not maintain an embassy in Taiwan. In lieu of an embassy is the MECO.

The group said that when Sage International forced 51 OFWs to sign an agreement that they would be paid on a piece rate, six of them who refused to do so were locked inside a dirty and unlighted room until the 45 others assented to their new conditions of work. Before that they said that they were shouted at and the broker slammed papers in the desk of an office, the workers told Migrante-Taiwan .

APMM disclosed that the broker's partner placement agency in the Philippines, named Golden Green, overcharged the workers of placement and even broker's fees.

The OFWs told Migrante Taiwan that they were made to pay between P70,000 (US$1480) – P130,000 (US$2747) in placement fees while at the same time they were made to remit between P33,000 (US$697) – P65,000 (US$1374) to Golden Green for broker's fees. The workers added that a Golden Green staff was the one who remitted this to Sage International through Elite Express Cargo in its Paraňaque branch in the Philippines.

"There are enough grounds for MECO to blacklist both Sage International and Golden Green as overcharging under Philippine law is equivalent to illegal recruitment which is a criminal offense. But may we ask why Sage and Golden Green are able to send OFWs to Taiwan up to now? the group said.


APMM said MECO should not accept the legality of a new proposed contract by the CLA because these would give Taiwanese brokers more powers who have a long record of abusing and threatening migrant workers on behalf of employers, it would also increase the payment of fees exacted from OFWs which are already taken cared of by the monthly service fees migrant workers pay to them.

"The de facto Philippine Embassy in Taiwan should not make lame excuses that it respects the policies and laws of host governments and/or that the latter is not a member of the ILO to legitimize the sell-out of Filipino migrant workers rights under the new proposed contract," APMM said. - GMANews.TV

OAV registration has yet to start in Macau, group complains

MANILA, Philippines — Filipinos in Macau and Hongkong on Wednesday deplored the Commission on Elections’s failure to send a registration unit to Macau and the continued non-functioning of most units in Hong Kong to enable them to register for Overseas Absentee Voting (OAV).

Buhay Bangcawayan, secretary-general of Gabriela Women’s Party (GWP) Hong Kong, said OAV registration has yet to start in Macau because no funding was provided by the Comelec for the shipment of the required machines from HK.

“To make matters worse, only two units of the registration machine in HK were operational for two weeks since registration started in February 1," she said.

Bangcawayan expressed apprehension that many OFWs will not be able to exercise their right to vote next year if the the Comeec and Philippine Embassy officials do not put their acts together. She said the registration has already been delayed by two months.

The OAV registration, which ends on August 31, 2009, was supposed to start Dec. 1, 2008 but this was postponed for Feb 1, 2009 due to problems with some computer systems.

Bangcawayan said that despite the recent repair of another nine digital cameras in Hong Kong, most of the units used before remain non-functional.

If the scarcity of machines as well as the dismal information drive on OAV registration continues, tens of thousands of Filipinos in Macau and HK shall “again find themselves voiceless during election time," she said.

“Spin doctors of the DFA have announced in a press release of the Comelec on February 11 that all is well and smooth for the OAV registration. But the situation in Macau and HK indicate otherwise. In addition to this, up to now, there is no budget for the OAV in the different posts around the world," she said.

Bangcawayan believed that the lackluster effort of the government to push through with the OAV is due to the proven experience in the past that overseas votes are usually for the opposition.

“Migrant workers are very much aware of the neglect and irresponsibility of the administration to our rights and wellbeing. The most recent moves to ban direct hiring and increase fees for passport and authentication and verification of contracts are just some of the concrete policies of the government that make our situation worse," she said.

The group demanded for sufficient resources to be provided to the OAV registration that will only run until August 31. Bangcawayan demanded, in particular, that registration machines be sent immediately to Macau and for the registration system in Hong Kong to improve.

"What this government is only good at is collecting fees from OFWs and depriving us of services. The fundamental right to vote of OFWs must not be made to suffer due to incompetence and irresponsibility of this administration," she concluded. - D’Jay Lazaro, GMANews.TV

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Injured OFW from Saudi Arabia returns home

MANILA, Philippines - An overseas Filipino worker (OFW) who was injured while working in Saudi Arabia has returned to the Philippines.

QTV's Balitanghali reported on Tuesday that Filipino worker Arnold Vicena came to the Kingdom in 2007 to work as driver but was forced to stop after he met an accident in April 2008.

His truck reportedly burst in flames when it hit a loose electric cable along a street, burning his skin and amputating his left leg and fingers on the left hand.

After he got well enough to travel, his employer sent him home, saying he cannot work in such a condition anymore.

A recent case study of work-related injuries in Saudi Arabia conducted by migrant group OFW-SOS and Patnubay.com, a Web site for OFWs, indicated that drivers, construction workers, and field engineers are the workers most prone to injuries. - Kimberly Jane T. Tan, GMANews.TV

OFW seeks help in locating daughter in Canada

MANILA, Philippines - An overseas Filipino worker (OFW) in Saudi Arabia is asking the public to help look for his daughter whom he hasn’t seen for more than 13 years now.

In an e-mail sent to GMA 7, Armando Casas Soliman of Sampaloc, Manila said that he hasn’t seen his daughter, Joanna Marie Resureccion, since 1995.

“Nagbakasakali ako sa inyo na matulungan n'yo ako. Kahit po sana mailathala sa balita ang hangad kong makita ang anak ko," he said in the e-mail.

(I was hoping that you would be able to help, if you could just come out with a news item about my wish to see my daughter again.)

Soliman said the last address of his daughter, who is now about 22 years old, was at M9V 4V9 Rexdale, Ontario, Canada.

For any information, Soliman could be reached at telephone number +966503024575 or e-mail at armansoliman@yahoo.com. - Kimberly Jane T. Tan, GMANews.TV

No amnesty in KSA for overstaying Pinoys, says consulate

JEDDAH, Saudi Arabia – Attention, all stranded or distressed Filipinos in Saudi Arabia who wish to go back to the Philippines: Don’t take the so-called “Jeddah backdoor exit" because it no longer exists and the host government currently has no amnesty offer for overstayers.

This warning comes from the Philippine Consulate General in Jeddah, which expressed alarm that the number of Filipinos congregating under an overpass in Jeddah in hopes of being deported is again reportedly increasing.

"The rumors are baseless and untrue and it was just being spread by unscrupulous individuals who would like to take advantage of innocent and distressed overstaying Filipino expatriates, who in their eagerness to go back to the Philippines in any way whatsoever including the so called backdoor which is actually nonexistent are ready to part with their hard-earned money," Consul General Ezzedin Tago said in a press statement.

Tago also asked leaders of responsible Filipino community groups all over the kingdom to warn their members against being taken in by syndicates who entice stranded or distressed overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) to go to Jeddah.

Jeddah’s Khandara overpass has become a magnet for expatriate workers seeking to return to their countries because immigration authorities often round them up and deport them at the Saudi government’s expense.

Expatriate workers who have either ran afoul with Saudi laws or who escaped from their employers also flock to the overpass.

Tago, however, said the Saudi Ministry of Foreign Affairs has noticed such practice and is bent on plugging the loophole.

He also warned Filipino Muslims on Umrah visit who plan to overstay to think twice.

“Overstaying is a violation of the Kingdom’s immigration rules on entry and residency. Those who have absconded from their sponsors have also violated Saudi laws. If overstaying expatriates will be caught by the authorities, they will be apprehended, detained, processed accordingly and, eventually, deported," he said.

For runaway workers who intend to take advantage of the usual amnesty for umrah overstayers, Tago said it’s no longer that easy. He said they can only be allowed to leave the kingdom and be deported if their personal and also their employers obligation have been settled and their biometrics have been taken, thus their sponsor/employer will allow them to exit.

He said those who pass through the Khandara overpass will suffer temporarily from detention in a deportation facility where conditions are not favorable and could take weeks or months depending on circumstances of their situation and the readiness and willingness of their employer/sponsor to cooperate.

Tago further warned them not to deal with people not connected with the consulate or who use fictitious name and claiming to be another nationality or claiming to be a hajj or umrah visa holder to cover up one's being an absconding worker can make the process any shorter and easier.

He said it could further worsen the situation and extend the process, particularly, the detention due to the need for police authorities to conduct an investigation on the real identity and circumstances of a possible deportee.

He said this practice exposes those individuals to investigations, resulting in prolonged detention while the authorities ascertain their true identities.

"I advise our overstaying kabayans in the Western Region under the consulate’s jurisdiction to seek the direct assistance of the consulate or the Philippine Overseas Labor Office, which shall be glad to lend a hand as you undergo the legal process of deportation," Tago said.

To avoid aggravating one’s problems, he also remind stranded OFWs and overstayers alike to cooperate by revealing their true identity and the circumstances of their overstay in the Kingdom, presenting their passport and/or iqama; and sharing their employer’s/sponsor’s circumstances and contact particulars so that their legal deportation could possibly be expedited. - GMANews.TV

No amnesty in KSA for overstaying Pinoys, says consulate

JEDDAH, Saudi Arabia – Attention, all stranded or distressed Filipinos in Saudi Arabia who wish to go back to the Philippines: Don’t take the so-called “Jeddah backdoor exit" because it no longer exists and the host government currently has no amnesty offer for overstayers.

This warning comes from the Philippine Consulate General in Jeddah, which expressed alarm that the number of Filipinos congregating under an overpass in Jeddah in hopes of being deported is again reportedly increasing.

"The rumors are baseless and untrue and it was just being spread by unscrupulous individuals who would like to take advantage of innocent and distressed overstaying Filipino expatriates, who in their eagerness to go back to the Philippines in any way whatsoever including the so called backdoor which is actually nonexistent are ready to part with their hard-earned money," Consul General Ezzedin Tago said in a press statement.

Tago also asked leaders of responsible Filipino community groups all over the kingdom to warn their members against being taken in by syndicates who entice stranded or distressed overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) to go to Jeddah.

Jeddah’s Khandara overpass has become a magnet for expatriate workers seeking to return to their countries because immigration authorities often round them up and deport them at the Saudi government’s expense.

Expatriate workers who have either ran afoul with Saudi laws or who escaped from their employers also flock to the overpass.

Tago, however, said the Saudi Ministry of Foreign Affairs has noticed such practice and is bent on plugging the loophole.

He also warned Filipino Muslims on Umrah visit who plan to overstay to think twice.

“Overstaying is a violation of the Kingdom’s immigration rules on entry and residency. Those who have absconded from their sponsors have also violated Saudi laws. If overstaying expatriates will be caught by the authorities, they will be apprehended, detained, processed accordingly and, eventually, deported," he said.

For runaway workers who intend to take advantage of the usual amnesty for umrah overstayers, Tago said it’s no longer that easy. He said they can only be allowed to leave the kingdom and be deported if their personal and also their employers obligation have been settled and their biometrics have been taken, thus their sponsor/employer will allow them to exit.

He said those who pass through the Khandara overpass will suffer temporarily from detention in a deportation facility where conditions are not favorable and could take weeks or months depending on circumstances of their situation and the readiness and willingness of their employer/sponsor to cooperate.

Tago further warned them not to deal with people not connected with the consulate or who use fictitious name and claiming to be another nationality or claiming to be a hajj or umrah visa holder to cover up one's being an absconding worker can make the process any shorter and easier.

He said it could further worsen the situation and extend the process, particularly, the detention due to the need for police authorities to conduct an investigation on the real identity and circumstances of a possible deportee.

He said this practice exposes those individuals to investigations, resulting in prolonged detention while the authorities ascertain their true identities.

"I advise our overstaying kabayans in the Western Region under the consulate’s jurisdiction to seek the direct assistance of the consulate or the Philippine Overseas Labor Office, which shall be glad to lend a hand as you undergo the legal process of deportation," Tago said.

To avoid aggravating one’s problems, he also remind stranded OFWs and overstayers alike to cooperate by revealing their true identity and the circumstances of their overstay in the Kingdom, presenting their passport and/or iqama; and sharing their employer’s/sponsor’s circumstances and contact particulars so that their legal deportation could possibly be expedited. - GMANews.TV

Heart ailments top cause of Filipino deaths in Saudi Arabia

JEDDAH, Saudi Arabia - Cardiac arrest is still the number one cause of death of overseas Filipino workers (OFW) in western Saudi Arabia, the Philippine Consulate General in Jeddah has said.

Consul General Ezzedin Tago said a total of 154 Filipinos have died in the region last year alone, 85 or 55 percent of whom died of cardiac arrest and other cardiovascular illnesses.

Consulate personnel said the figure could be more than double if other parts of Saudi Arabia were included.

Data for the entire kingdom were not immediately available but the Philippine Embassy in Riyadh usually reported far bigger numbers in previous years.

The embassy covers the capital city as well as the Central and the Eastern regions, including the key cities of Dammam and Alkhobar.

With the latest statistics, Consul General Tago has urged Filipinos within his jurisdiction and other OFWs in the kingdom take extra care in their food intake and daily activities. Medical

Moreover, it advised OFWs to regularly monitor their health condition.

“They must use their medical insurance, see the doctors regularly, they must monitor their health, we are not getting younger anymore so we have to take care of ourselves," he said.

Aside from heart attack, the other causes of Filipino deaths recorded in the Kingdom are:

• 18 or 11 percent in 2008 compared to 29 20 percent in 2007); stillborn babies (18); work-related (eight); other accidents (five); murder/homicide (four); and suicide (one).

Vice Consul Lorenzo Jungco, head of the consulate’s Assistance to Nationals Section, said he receives almost 13 reports of deaths per month. He said the highest number of deaths reported in one month is 17 and the lowest is 6.

According to him, the month of March and October had 17 death cases each while April and December had 16 each. May had 15 cases of death, followed by November, 14; January, 13; , July and Augus, 11 each; June, 10; September eight; and February six.

“It is really sad on our part to see our countrymen returning home in coffins. Everyone must really listen to of the doctor’s advice," said Jungco.

He said that of the total number of deaths last year, 126 were male and 28 are female.

Jeddah was on the top list with 93 death cases, followed by Abha with 10 cases, Madinah, Tabuk, and Yanbu each with nine reported death cases.

Gizan reported six deaths, Al -Baha four; Taif and Rabigh had three each; Makkah and Najran each had two deaths; and Bisha, Khamis Mushayt, Qassim, Qilwa, Qunfuda and Shoqaiq had one each.

Jungco said the bodies of 154 OFWs have been repatriated to the Philippines already. - with Kimberly Jane Tan, GMANews.TV

OFWs in Mideast join protest vs. hike in passport, other fees

MANILA, Philippines - An alliance of overseas Filipino workers' organizations in the Middle East warned Tuesday that the impending 25-percent increase in passport fees and other consular charges could spark international protests.

Migrante-Middle East, claiming to be the largest OFW group in that part of the world, said the fee adjustment is unjustifiable.

"Increase in passport fees and other consular charges by the Arroyo administration ... could not be justified especially in time of global financial crisis and price increases of basic commodities and services," said John Leonard Monterona, Migrante-Middle East regional coordinator.

Migrante chapters in Europe last week showed strong opposition to the increase in fees, citing the "drastic drop in the local currencies vis-a-vis the US dollar."

"We join hands with our fellow OFWs in Europe in denouncing the impending increase in passport fee and other consular fees as it only an additional burden. Fellow OFWs and their families are already bleeding dry due to numerous government fees and charges collected before they could be successfully placed abroad by recruitment agencies which also collected exorbitant placement and processing fees," Monterona said.

He enumerated some of government fees and charges collected to an OFW from the required authentication of birth certificate, NBI clearance, OWWA membership fee, Medicare, Overseas Employment Certificate, Artist Accreditation Certificate, Passport Fee, authentication, renewal, that would reach to not less than P20,000.

"This is not to include the placement fee the recruitment agency would ask, which is equivalent to one-month salary," he continued.

He said the Arroyo administration is again using an old squid tactic to implement first the increase of passport fee and other consular fees in RP posts in Europe, testing the waters first, then if there is no opposition other posts would follow suit.

"That's why as early as this (time), OFWs and their families must strongly register their collective opposition and not to wait until the 25% increase in passport fee and other consular fees would be implemented in all RP posts abroad, first in Europe, Asia-Pacific, then in the Middle East and Africa," Monterona added.

Migrante chapters in Europe already started conducting consultations and readying for massive protests.

OFWs in the Asia-Pacific would certainly follow, and OFWs in the Middle East will conduct consultations among OFWs and their organizations if passport fee and other consular fees have already been increased by Philippine Embassies and Consular offices in the Middle East, he said. - GMANews.TV

Polo sets up online portal in UAE for laid-off Pinoys

MANILA, Philippines - Philippine labor officials have set up an online portal in the United Arab Emirates to help retrenched Filipino workers find new jobs.

The Khaleej Times reported that the Philippine Overseas Labor Office (Polo) set up the portal in Deira for job-matching.

The portal will connect to the database of the Philippine Overseas Employment Agency (POEA) in Manila.

Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) overseas operations coordinating service director Jocelyn Hapal said 830 retrenched Filipinos have so far reported to the team for job matching.

She said most of the retrenched workers used to work in the banking, construction and real estate sectors, and the marketing departments of companies in Dubai, Sharjah and Jebel Ali, including the free zone areas.

Hapal said labor attache Virginia Calvez will manage the special portal in Deira after the team departs from Dubai.

"As we leave the UAE, this special online portal becomes the permanent repository and clearing house of jobs for the professionals, skilled and semi-skilled Filipinos," she added.

Retraining centers have been established in Bahrain, Qatar and Saudi Arabia to train potential Filipino job seekers to enter the market in these countries, Hapal added. - GMANews.TV

Officials: No govt aid for stranded Pinoys in UAE

MANILA, Philippines - Philippine officials advised Filipino expatriates at the border of the United Arab Emirates and Oman to coordinate with them before leaving UAE, as Manila has no funds for their hotel bills should they be stranded.

The advice came from labor attaché Jeffrey Cortazar and welfare officer Mario Antonio of the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration and Philippine Overseas Labor Office.

Online news site Khaleej Times reported that the POLO and OWWA learned most of the stranded Filipinos expect the Philippine government to bail them out.

Cortazar and Antonio said they could only make representations with the hotel managements regarding the pending hotel bills.

"A hotel has agreed to write off the hotel bills of a Filipino, who has been stranded for five months and whose bills have reached Dh15,000 (P194,422). But this is an isolated case as not all hotels will give this much assistance," Cortazar said.

The team advised Filipinos facing the problem to contact the Philippine Embassy in Abu Dhabi and the Philippine Consulate before they leave Dubai.

It said Filipinos should at least know the contact official and the telephone numbers of the diplomatic missions.

"Majority of the Filipinos, who are left by their travel agencies and sponsors to fend for themselves, do not know what to do because they do not know the officials and the telephone numbers of the Philippine missions," the team said.

On the other hand, the team also found the Omani government will grant visas for a month, after which the expats will have to renew it for another month.

"If they cannot renew, they have to pay OMR10 (Dh100 or P1,296) daily until the 24th day. On the 25th, the penalty is a flat rate, which is OMR250 (Dh2,500 or P32,403).

Cortazar and Antonio said their fact-finding showed a Filipino in such a problem would spend an average of Dh3,000 (Php30,000) for visa exit purposes on the UAE-Oman border.

"We advise strongly for the Filipinos to go home to the Philippines and wait for their new visa, whether for employment or for new tourist visas, instead of undergoing stress, spending a lot and sacrificing themselves in a foreign land," they said.

They also stressed that Filipinos should refrain from having multiple applications with different travel agencies or sponsors because this will just delay the release of their visas. - GMANews.TV

Demand for OFWs remain high in Mideast despite crisis

MANILA, Philippines - Countries in the Middle East will continue to be the market for overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) as their demand for construction workers stays up.

Administrator Jennifer Manalili of the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) said the global economic downturn has also affected oil-rich nations in the Middle East, but some sectors had been spared.

"In fact, the construction industry in the Middle East like in Qatar remains to be OK," Manalili said in an interview.

According to Manalili, construction firm Alhab Toor Engineering in Dubai has already transferred more than 1,000 of its Filipino workers to Qatar, where the construction industry is booming.

"Dubai is affected like Alhab Toor, but instead of having their employees returned to their country the company absorbed and transferred them to their construction firm in Qatar," Manalili revealed.

She said that in her meeting with the labor minister of Qatar last month, "they affirmed their commitment of hiring OFWs in their construction jobs."

The POEA chief said that in January alone, a total of 8,000 Filipino construction workers have been deployed to Qatar and they expect it to double in the next few months.

Manalili said Qatar would be in need of welders, engineers, pipe fitters and other skilled workers for its construction jobs.

Aside from Qatar, Manalili said Libya is another market for OFWs due also to its booming construction works.

Manalili is optimistic that while some countries have been affected by the financial crunch and forced to lay off some Filipino workers, the crisis would not affect the deployment target.

"I don’t have the figures yet but I think it will not have significant drop… we will have the figures by end of February," Manalili said.

As of February 13, Manalili said the number of OFWs who were displaced as a result of the financial meltdown was placed at 5,300. But she said the situation is now stabilizing.

POEA records show that deployment of OFWs for the year 2008 reached 1.376 million or an increase of 27 percent from the 1.077 million recorded in 2007. - GMANews.TV
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