Thursday, April 30, 2009

Abide by rules of host countries, MILF tells Moro OFWs

MANILA, Philippines — The Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) has reminded Muslim overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) to follow the laws of countries where they are working so they can be models for suffering fellow Moros in the Philippines.

An article on the MILF website (www.luwaran.net) said two MILF officials relayed the reminder to OFWs in Saudi Arabia after joining the minor pilgrimage (umrah) in Makkah (Mecca.)

“We urge all of you to work diligently and religiously so that you will be appreciated by your employees and the Saudi government but also by Almighty Allah," they said.

But the MILF officials also urged the OFWs to start to identify themselves as Bangsamoro, a nation which is distinct from Filipinos.

The MILF said the meeting between its two officials and some 100 Moro OFWs took place last April 24 in Makkah.

One of the MILF officials also advised the OFWs to spend their earnings wisely and to invest them in something tangible like land where they can plant fruit-bearing trees.

“Land will never depreciate and every year the value increases," said the other MILF official.

The two officials also reminded them to educate their parents, wives, or sons and daughters about spending their remittances wisely and not on almost useless things.

According to the MILF account, all the ethno-linguistic tribes were represented in the meeting, including Maranaos, Maguindanaos, Tausogs, Yakans, Ka’gans, Samas, Kalibugans, Iranons, Sangils, Molboganens, and Badjaos.

The MILF officials exhorted them to unite, saying “there is no substitute for unity." - GMANews.TV

Migrante slams Conejos’ nomination to IOM

MANILA, Philippines — While Foreign Affairs Undersecretary Esteban Conejos Jr.’s nomination to the International Organization for Migration (IOM) has reportedly been assured of support by African Caribbean Pacific (ACP) countries, Migrante International is not happy.

President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo earlier nominated the official as the Philippines' candidate for deputy director general in the Geneva-based IOM, whose elections will be held June.

Arroyo said Conejos “will bring to the IOM the unique combination of policy expertise backed up by solid operational capability."

Migrante, however, said Conejos’ nomination is nothing to be proud about, citing his alleged bungling as DFA undersecretary in charge of migrant workers affairs.

“Conejos has a proven track record of incompetence and wanton disregard for the plight of millions of OFWs; that if nominated to the global migration body, he would spell disaster not only for OFWs and their families but for migrants the world over," warned Migrante chairperson Garry Martinez in a press statement.
Martinez said that under Conejos’ watch, OFW Jenifer Bidoya was beheaded in Saudi Arabia because he was not provided proper legal assistance by the Philippine government, particularly Conejos’ office in the DFA.

He also claimed that the government bungled the case of OFW Cecilia Alcaraz in Taiwan by not sending any representative during Alcaraz’s crucial hearing last April 1.

The de-facto RP Embassy in Taiwan and Cecilia’s lawyers failed to show up during the hearing because they were “busy," he lamented.

Martinez warned that there are still 40 Filipinos awaiting execution in death rows all over the world and the DFA needs to be on constant alert.

It said the “Arroyo regime should stop campaigning for Conejos to the IOM and focus on saving the life of Cecilia Alcaraz in Taiwan," Martinez said, noting that the Taiwan Appellate Court is scheduled to hand down its final decision on her case May 4, 2009." - D’Jay Lazaro, GMANews.TV

ACP assures support for Conejos’ bid for global post

MANILA, Philippines — Foreign Affairs Undersecretary Esteban Conejos Jr. got an "assurance" of support from African Caribbean Pacific (ACP) countries in his bid for a post in a global migration body, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said Wednesday.

Right after President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo nominated Conejos for the position of deputy director general of the International Organization for Migration (IOM), he apparently started campaigning during an ACP meeting in Belgium.

"Undersecretary Conejos also informed the ACP Committee of Ambassadors of his candidature to the position of deputy director general of the International Organization for Migration. His candidature was warmly welcomed and assured of support by (ACP Secretary General Sir John) Kaputin and the ACP. The ACP ambassadors will consult their respective capitals on the matter," the DFA said on its website (www.dfa.gov.ph).

Conejos met with ACP representatives to convey the Philippine government's appreciation for the ACP's full support to the Global Forum on Migration and Development (GFMD) in Manila last October.

In his meeting with the ACP Committee of Ambassadors based in Brussels last April 21, Conejos cited the African support as one of the reasons for the conference’s success.

The DFA said Conejos met with ACP officials including Kaputin and Committee of Ambassadors Chairman Joseph Ma’Ahanua.

Some 78 ACP ambassadors were present at the meeting, the DFA said.

Earlier, Mrs. Arroyo nominated Conejos as the Philippines' candidate for deputy director general in the Geneva-based IOM. The IOM elections will be held June.

“Undersecretary Conejos will bring to the IOM the unique combination of policy expertise backed up by solid operational capability," Mrs. Arroyo said in her nomination letter to IOM. - GMANews.TV

Maids, farmers abroad may not hear about 'swine flu'

MANILA, Philippines - While the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) has already issued health alerts to Filipinos in countries with confirmed swine flu cases, a former labor official urged the government to intensify the information drive to those who are at most risk but are least likely to hear the news about the disease.

Susan Ople of the Blas F. Ople Policy Center was concerned that the health advisories might not reach domestic helpers, agricultural and factory workers employed in swine flu-affected countries since they don’t have ready access to the Internet or television.

There are 309 Filipino workers and 21 permanent residents in Mexico, the DFA said. It is unclear if there are any Filipinos there employed in domestic work or in the agricultural sector.

The Ople Center had earlier expressed fears that the disease might be closing in as South Korea has suspected swine-flu cases. Korea employs thousands of Filipino factory workers, many of them in meat processing factories and small-scale agri-business establishments. [See: 5 more SKoreans being tested for swine flu]

Ople asked the DFA to map out contingency plans for overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) and explain the disease to community leaders, who would then relay the information to the rest of the Filipino migrants.

“We are not causing any undue alarm," Ople said, “But it’s always prudent to have these safety precautions."

The advocacy leader suggested that future job contracts should now include a health clause to ensure that foreign employers will shoulder the medical needs of OFWs should they be affected by the disease.

Meanwhile, the DFA said the Philippine Embassy in Mexico has started a telephone brigade to advise Filipinos there on precautionary measures that they could take.

The DFA also reiterated its advisory against making unnecessary travel to Mexico and other countries affected by the swine influenza.

The Philippine government had earlier warned Filipinos in Mexico against shaking hands, kissing (beso-beso), and traveling using the subway as the deadly swine flu continues to spread there. [See: Avoid beso-beso, crowds in Mexico, Pinoys told]

The Department of Health is also set to distribute a Health Alert Notice (HAN) to all arriving travelers from the US and Mexico.

Travelers will also be required to fill out a health declaration at all ports of entry in the Philippines to screen from potential exposure from the virus. - GMANews.TV

Pay up! Lending firm tells duped RP drivers

MANILA, Philippines - After returning home penniless from Dubai, the 137 aspiring overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) are now being 'harassed' by a lending company to pay up the loans they used to process their non-existent jobs as bus drivers.

Rey Salas, one of the Filipino drivers, told GMANews.TV that agents from RJJ Lacaba Financing Company are demanding them to pay the P150,000 they used to process their employment to Dubai. Salas said the lending company threatened them of jail time should they fail next week to pay up the initial P27,000 of their loan.

Salas was told by his recruiter, CYM International, to loan money from RJJ Lacaba.

"But what do we pay them with? They’ve already sucked our pockets dry," Salas said.

Like the rest of the 137 Filipino bus drivers, Salas had to shell out more than a month of his promised salary in Dubai just to process his papers and facilitate his employment there.

Former Labor Undersecretary Susan Ople, of the Blas F. Ople Policy Center, a non-government organization assisting distressed OFWs, said they will be lodging a complaint against the lending company to suspend its collection of the loans.

Ople said they are already readying a class suit against RJJ Lacaba and CYM.

"They came home without jobs, without money but with a lot of debts to pay," she said.

Marvin Aremado, one of the duped bus drivers, sent a text to Ople just before the Wednesday press conference saying how harassed they felt after an agent of RJJ Lacaba called his wife the night before informing them that they’ve been delayed in paying two months of their debt with the lending agency.

"We are very, very pressured," Aremado said.

Lawyer Reynaldo Robles, who is representing the 137 Filipino drivers, said he is now drafting the case against the recruiter and the lending company, which he suspected connived to lure the workers into paying the exorbitant P150,000. Robles wants the debt of the OFWs waived for the meantime.

"This is large-scale illegal recruitment. The fees exacted from them are more than what is stipulated under the law," Robles said adding that only one month of a migrant worker’s salary should have been asked by the recruiter.

Robles did not specify how much in damages they would sue CYM for but said it should be enough to cover for the moral damages inflicted to the 137 Filipinos – some of whom were even forced to scavenge for food. [See: Duped Pinoys scavenge for food in Dubai’s garbage]

CYM International Services and Placement Agency, Inc. promised that they could earn as much as 5,200 Dh (roughly P67,000) per month at Dubai’s government transport agency – the Roads and Transport Authority (RTA).

But when the job never came three months later, some of them were forced to scavenge.

The Philippine Overseas Employment Agency had recently placed CYM under preventive suspension, and set the first hearing on the case on May 5.

Newly-inducted ABAKADA Party-list Representative Jonathan de la Cruz filed House Resolution No. 1118 on Monday calling for a House inquiry into the recruitment scam. He also called for the cancellation of CYM’s contract.

"This is my first resolution as a lawmaker because I empathize with the situation of the drivers," De la Cruz said.

Senator Jinggoy Estrada, chair of the committee on labor and employment, sought a hold departure order against the management and owners of both companies.

The 137 Filipino bus drivers were recruited by CYM International last November and were promised jobs in Dubai. But upon arriving in the emirate, the Filipinos were told to stay in a two-story apartment in front of a garbage dumpsite until they were trained for work.

After months of not having their promised jobs, the Filipino bus drivers resorted to scavenging for scrap metals to sell for food. - Mark Joseph H. Ubalde, GMANews.TV

33 Filipinos face drug cases in Brazil, Suriname since 2003

MANILA, Philippines - A total of 33 Filipinos have been arrested for being involved in drug smuggling cases in Brazil and Suriname since 2003, the Dangerous Drugs Board (DDB) reported Wednesday.

According to DDB Chairman Vicente Sotto III, the information was provided by the Philippine envoy in Brazil, Ambassador Teresita V.G. Barsana, who is also the concurrent envoy to Colombia and Suriname.

Sotto said that 23 of the Filipinos were arrested in Brazil while the other 10 in Suriname – six of whom are permanent residents of Brazil while the others are tourists and contract workers. Of those arrested, 19 were women and 14 men.

He said that one was arrested in 2003, another in 2004, five in 2006, another five in 2007, 18 in 2008, and three in 2009. Most of them were reportedly arrested for attempting to smuggle cocaine, while the others for possessing the prohibited substance.

The amount of cocaine retrieved from the Filipinos ranged from 460 grams to 69.2 kilograms.

Sotto said that 15 of the cases are still undergoing trial, while 18 of the suspects have already been sentenced by the lower court – four of whom have appealed.

Brazil and Suriname are countries both located in South America. - GMANews.TV

81 illegal Filipino migrants arrested in Malaysia - report

MANILA, Philippines - - Eighty-one Filipinos have been arrested in Malaysia for illegal entry, an online news report said Wednesday.

The illegal migrants from the Philippines were arrested during the raid on two squatter houses at the Kampung Forest in Sandakan, the Daily Express report said.

Sandakan is the second biggest city in Malaysia’s eastern state of Sabah on Borneo Island.

Arrested along with the 81 were a 45-year-old man and his 59-year-old wife, who were accused of forging and selling documents to illegal migrants.

Sabah Marine Operations Force (MOF) commanding officer Muhammad Sallam Spawi was quoted in the report as saying the couple supplied fake documents to Filipinos who were illegally entering Malaysia through Sandakan.

Spawi said the couple stayed in one of the squatter houses while another was rented out to the Filipinos while they wait for their fake documentation.

Recovered during the raids were two imitation stamps bearing the seal of the Bureau of Immigration in the Philippines, several fake documents, Philippine passports, visitor’s passes, and photographs. - Kimberly Jane T. Tan, GMANews.TV

DOLE to negotiate with employers of distressed OFWs in Poland

MANILA, Philippines - The Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) will try to negotiate with the employers of the 96 overseas Filipino workers (OFW) in Poland who were earlier reported to have encountered some labor problems.

“DOLE would try to negotiate with their employers," Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) Undersecretary Esteban Conejos Jr. said in a recent press conference.

The 96 Filipino workers earlier complained of contract substitution, reduction of agreed salaries, sickness due to inadequate food provision, and heavy work. [See: Help urged for 96 distressed OFWs in Poland.]

Conejos said 71 of the Filipino workers have refused to work due to a “labor-related incident," prompting the DFA to dispatch a consul from Budapest in Hungary to the industrial town of Aleksandrow Lodzki in Poland.

He said that the OFWs who have stopped working are still staying with their employer – two of whom said they will try to resolve the dispute.

Conejos said he has asked Labor Secretary Marianito Roque to send a labor attaché from London to Poland to bring the necessary funds to provide food and clothing for the workers.

Conejos added that he has also requested Roque to deploy two more DOLE officials from Manila to look into the incident in Poland.

However, if things are not settled, the undersecretary said that they will be forced to bring the OFWs back to the country. - With Kimberly Jane T. Tan, GMANews.TV

Somali pirates try to re-capture MT Stolt Strength

MANILA, Philippines - While on their way to safer waters, the all-Filipino crew of the recently freed MT Stolt Strength escaped another hijacking by pirates, a maritime official said.

If it weren’t for the Chinese navy frigate Huangshan, which escorted the chemical tanker, the 23 Filipino seafarers might have been kidnapped again by pirates, said Administrator Elena Bautista of the Maritime Industry Authority.

“There was a mother ship and another vessel," Bautista said, “They were able to reach the Stolt Strength’s flanks but because of the decisive act of the Chinese they drove the pirates away after immediately deploying choppers."

The Chinese navy ship has become a Good Samaritan to the stranded MT Stolt Strength since Sunday, providing it with security, food and medical supplies. [See: Chinese navy plays Good Samaritan to RP vessel]

As of 7:20 a.m. (Manila time), the Stolt Strength safely reached their port of destination in Salalah, Oman.

“Together with their families and loved ones in the Philippines, we look forward to welcoming them back to Manila few days from now. Please be assured that they are safe and sound," Bautista said.

On April 21, pirates released 23 Filipino seafarers on board the MT Stolt Strength, which was hijacked last Nov. 10. Shipowners refused to say whether ransom was paid for the release of the ship and crew.

Bautista said the government is already making all the necessary arrangements for the crew’s immediate repatriation to the Philippines.

The Philippines is the world’s leading supplier of crew, with over 350,000 sailors manning oil tankers, luxury liners and passenger vessels worldwide, exposing them to piracy attacks.

Despite the risks, private companies still see the seas surrounding the Horn of Africa as a cost-effective means for moving goods with as many as 20,000 ships traveling these waters annually.

At present, 81 Filipino seafarers (76 as of GMANews.TV’s count) remain in the hands of pirates. [See: Number of Pinoys held in Somalia yo-yos to 81 as pirates capture, release ships]

Church asked to help OFWs in Switzerland

MANILA, Philippines — Philippine officials in Switzerland have asked Roman Catholic Church officials there to help care for overseas Filipino workers based there.

The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said Philippine Ambassador Maria Theresa Lazaro made the request at a special dinner for the senior officials of the Swiss Catholic Church.

"Ambassador Lazaro discussed with the Swiss Catholic officials the strengthening of the role of the Filipino community in Switzerland in terms of migration and integration, the support and assistance provided by the Swiss Catholic Mission and Bishop’s Conference for Migration to the Filipino migrants, and the various collaborative endeavors between and among the Philippine Embassy in Berne, the Swiss Catholic Church, and the Filipino-Swiss migrants," the DFA said on its website (www.dfa.gov.ph).

It said the dinner was held at Lazaro's residence in Berne.

Guests included Fr. Franz Stampfli, vicar general for the Canton of Zurich and Glarus; Marco Schmid, national director of Swiss Bishops Conference for Migration; Fredy Isler, member of the Roman Catholic Central Commission for the Canton of Zurich; Fr. Johan Dumandan, chaplain of the Philippine Catholic Mission in Switzerland; Sr. Merlyn Arsolon, pastoral coordinator of the Philippine Catholic Mission for Geneva; Minister and Consul General Edsel Barba; and First Secretary and Consul Margarita Ibayan. - GMANews.TV

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

0.7-million Pinoys in US belong to housing rescue plan tier

by ISAGANI DE LA PAZ
www.ofwjournalism.net


QUEZON CITY, Philippines—MORE than 0.7 million Filipinos belong to the tier that the United States government plans to rescue from a housing crisis, recent US census data bare.
The 2007 American Community Survey of the US Census Bureau cited that 45.6 percent of an estimated 1.7 million Philippine-born US residents cite 30 percent or more of their monthly income goes to cost of ownership of a house, or mortgage.
The US Census Bureau said the ACS provides the latest detailed look at the nation's rapidly changing and diverse population with the release of new population profiles by race, Hispanic origin, ancestry and age. These profiles were produced using the 2000 decennial census. The Census Bureau said it uses the term foreign-born to refer to anyone who is not a US citizen at birth.
“This includes naturalized US citizens, Lawful Permanent Residents (immigrants), temporary migrants (such as students), humanitarian migrants (such as refugees), and persons illegally present in the US,” the Census Bureau said.
It added however that questions “about legal (migrant) status of respondents in any of its survey and census programs” are not asked.
“We expect that unauthorized migrants were included among people who indicated that the United States was their usual place of residence on the survey date.”
For Philippine-born US residents, the median selected monthly owner costs with a mortgage was pegged at $2,344. This is higher by nearly a thousand to the median $1,464 for the estimated total 301 million people in the US.
The median selected monthly owner costs without a mortgage for Philippine-born US residents included in the ACS was also higher at $475 from the US-wide median of $407.
The ACS report cited the Philippines community as the third-highest number of foreign-born living in the US in 2007.
Of the total estimated 38.1 million foreign-born living in the US, 11.7 million are from Mexico while 1.9 million from China. India-born people living in the US is the fourth largest at 1.5 million.
Based on the ACS, some 405,017 Philippines-born residents of the US own their own houses, of the total 587,052 housing units recorded for this population segment.
In his speech February at Dobson High School in Mesa, Arizona, President Barack Obama announced a Homeowner Affordability and Stability Plan that aims to require participating lenders to reduce mortgage payments “to no more than 31 percent of a borrower's income.”
“This will enable as many as three to four million homeowners to modify the terms of their mortgages to avoid foreclosure,” President Obama said (see http://www.whitehouse.gov/the_press_office/Remarks-by-the-President-on-the-mortgage-crisis/).
While the ACS didn’t reveal if Filipinos shelling out more than 30 percent of their income to mortgage are facing foreclosure, its data reveal nearly three-quarters of a million of Filipinos are paying above their earning.
Still, anecdotal data of Filipinos smack in the center of the housing crisis in the US have been reported by news agencies.
On the other hand, many Filipinos were recorded by ACS (53.5 percent or 925,412.544) to have been spending less than 30 percent of their income for cost of owning a house in the past 12 months.
ACS data cited that the median household income in the 12 months up to January this year of Philippine-born US residents at $78,050, higher than the US-wide $50,740 household income.
ACS data reveals there are 587,052 households for these residents, with 81.2 percent categorized as family households. The owner-occupied housing units are higher at 69 percent than renter-occupied units for a total 587,052 occupied housing units.
The family median income was listed as $83,254, again higher than the $61,173 median family income of a total 75.12 million families in the US.
The per capita income of Philippine-born individuals was estimated at $34,167 each two years ago.
Things are different now as the crisis that started in the sub-prime mortgage market has eroded the US financial base.
The World Bank has described this crisis as “the epicenter of the financial turbulence in the US.”
There is “now widespread recognition that unless the decline in housing prices and the accompanying quality of credit are arrested, nonperforming loans in US banks could rise to levels last seen during the banking crisis in Sweden in 1991 (13 percent of assets) or Japan during the 1990s (35 percent of assets), with much larger fiscal deficits and government borrowing than anticipated at present.”
The WB said the American federal program that “will share with lenders the cost of modifying mortgages for people facing hardship (either delinquent at their payments or at risk of falling behind schedule) by reducing the mortgage payment (to 38 percent of the borrower’s income or less) and cut the annual interest rate to as low as 2 percent.”
The US is now implementing a $275-billion rescue package for the housing sector.
Of the total, $75 billion is provided under the TARP and the rest represents new funds, the World Bank report released April said.
Still, the bank said these “efforts come against a grim background.”
“US housing prices have fallen 27 percent from their peak in July 2006, reducing home values and housing wealth by about $3.5 trillion.” OFW Journalism Consortium

Overseas Filipino workers bear debts as crisis hits labor-importing economies

by JEREMAIAH M. OPINIANO and ISAGANI DE LA PAZ
www.ofwjournalism.net


MAKATI CITY, Philippines—RAMONES Caytiles’s stint in Taiwan is as short as the song-length of his namesake American punk rock band: two weeks.
But nearly six months now since he and 171 fellow workers got pink slips last year from their employer Hanston Display Corp., Caytiles feels life is as long as Don Maclean’s American Pie song.
It was the nineteenth of November, Caytiles recalls, when their music –the crinkle of New Taiwan dollar– died.
When we arrived in Taiwan, we borrowed money to pay fees to a broker who paid for our travel, Caytiles said adding such was the standard process for workers trying their luck outside the Philippines.
He and five other OFWs sent back after LCD manufacturer Hanston downsized are now saddled with that debt from Taiwan-based lending agencies eCash and Paylite Financing.
Caytiles said they were focused on working and earning they didn’t think the Kaohhiung, Taiwan LCD manufacturer would get hit by the economic catatonia seeping from the United States.
And if it did, he said they didn’t expect the time between working in Taiwan and getting laid-off would be that fast.
“You left the country riddled with debt, and then you came back home still saddled with debt—causing an even bigger problem,” said Caytiles, a single parent (his wife left him and his daughter some years ago).
Caytiles’s fate marks the lives of millions of OFWs in labor-importing countries whose real sectors are getting hit by the collapse of the global financial system that began in the US housing sector.
So says economists like former budget secretary Benjamin Diokno.
Diokno has become a prophet of doom since the start of the year, noting that May would be the month countries in Asia like the Philippines would feel the impact of the financial crisis that has coursed through the so-called “transmission channels.”
One of these channels, credit lines, has plugged lending to the electronics export industry, a flagship for most Asian economies like the Philippines.

Grim reaper
IN HIS presentation to journalists last March, Semiconductor and Electronics Industries in the Philippines Inc. (SEIPI) president Ernesto B. Santiago presented a grim outlook on worldwide industrial production as traditional lending windows shutter.
Santiago ticked off global companies announcing they were affected by the downturn in consumer electronics downturn: Sony (to shed 8,000 jobs); Philips (6,000); NEC (20,000); Panasonic (15,000); Pioneer (10,000); IBM (2,800); TDK (8,000); Nokia (2,500); Motorola (13,000); Sprint Nextel (8,000); and AT&T (12,000).
Closer to home, the closure of Intel Corp.’s Cavite manufacturing by May would see thousands of Filipinos losing a steady source of income.
“Countries that are heavily dependent on electronics have been the worst affected (notably the NIEs, Philippines, and Malaysia, but also China), followed by commodity exporters (notably Indonesia, Lao, Malaysia, Mongolia, PNG and Vietnam), exporters of capital equipment (all NIEs) and the garment manufacturers,” a recent World Bank report said.
“There will be higher unemployment abroad and here at home,” Diokno said, “and this means less jobs, less jobs, and less jobs.”
Caytiles said he was imagining kicking himself in the back while listening to Diokno.
“I think before workers should go overseas, they should know the situation that is happening –or if their employer is still steady,” Caytiles’s colleague Elwood Yambao said.
The father of two based in Olongapo City, which hosted an American air base a century ago, said that knowledge he could’ve gotten by reading newspapers.
But the overseas labor market is tough enough, and when potential OFWs like Yambao do access news sources, it’s for securing work.
That is still in their minds right now, according to Yambao, because they are hounded by their lenders of their debts amounting to between P60,000 (US$1,250) and P80,000 ($1,667) each.
He said they filed a case against their agency to at least get back the placement fees they paid for work contracts in Taiwan.
Under Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) regulations, OFWs who did not finish their contracts can file for some claims to their recruitment agencies. Manila-based recruitment agency Grand Placement and General Services Corp. brokered Yambao and his five co-workers for the Taiwan jobs.
We haven’t paid yet the Taiwanese lender since we’re still jobless, Yambao said in a short message via mobile phone.
In the meantime, Yambao said they feel immobile.
We went to Manila to check out that recruiter claiming he’s not requiring payment of placement fees, he added.
Other than that, he said they’re staying put in their respective homes in the provinces.
Caytiles, for one, has gone back to his farm in Sibalom, Antique, southern Philippines.

Slo-mo
IF The Ramones band was known for its blitzkrieg hit songs, Caytiles notes government support to displaced OFWs like him is like a slow-motion dance.
Deputy administrator Hans Leo Cacdac of the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration said Caytiles’s and Yambao’s cases require having these “heard through conciliation proceedings” so that some placement fees can be recovered.
Another government employee said displaced workers like Caytiles and Yambao can apply for public training grants on entrepreneurship and livelihood loans for small businesses.
It is a package totaling 60,000 pesos ($1,250 at US$1=P48), explains Teresita Manzala of the DOLE’s National Reintegration Center for OFWs.
“We need to repay our debt quickly,” Yambao said adding that meeting the documentary requirements of OWWA only “means additional expenses for us.”
The labor department’s Bureau of Local Employment said it is trying to find companies that may have vacancies in the domestic market.
Government’s Technical Education and Skills Development Authority, on the other hand, said it will train displaced local and overseas workers on identified lines of businesses, as well as retraining workers on certain skills.
The labor department’s online job search websites, meanwhile, reports 753,719 overseas job orders needing to be filled while local job openings run to 46,300 as of end-January this year.
Looking at the end-October 2008 data of the quarterly Labor Force Survey, the Philippines generated some 861,000 local jobs last year; the government deployed 1,376,823 newly-hired and re-hired overseas workers in 2008.
Amid the global economic crisis, the Philippines had a record-low 6.8 percent unemployment rate in 2008, as well as a record-high 34.533 million employed Filipino workers that same year
Since 2005, the government’s statisticians included overseas Filipino workers as among the “employed” in the Philippine labor force as mandated by the International Labor Organization. But since that time, the number of local jobs generated cannot outpace annually-rising overseas employment numbers (see Table 1).
In a presentation to business journalists last March, Labor Undersecretary Rosalinda D. Baldoz said of the total 6,406 displaced workers as of March 12, 2009, 4,197 reported Taiwan as host country while 1,357 came from the United Arab Emirates.
However, reports of local workers retrenched daily have gone down by 40 from 437 during the first week of March to only 397 as of March 16, 2009.
From October last year to March 16, 2009, Baldoz said a total of 109,529 workers were affected by the global economic crunch. Nearly 11 percent of this number or 11,574 workers were permanently displaced (10.6%) while 38,806 reported to be temporarily laid- off (35.4%). A greater number or 59,149 were reported to be in flexible work arrangements.
The World Bank paints grim pictures in its latest update on the effects of the global slowdown.
“As unemployment in the region and around the world begins to climb, migrant workers, wherever they are, are likely to be among the first to lose their jobs,” the report titled Battling the forces of global recession said.
“This will mean lower remittance flows to the poorest countries in the region and, if the migrants return home, a worsening unemployment in those countries as well as further downward pressure on real wages, especially in the informal sector that would directly affect the poor,” added the report, released early April. OFW Journalism Consortium

Teachers say Asia grappling to balance migration, crisis-hit labor market

by JEREMAIAH M. OPINIANO and ISAGANI DE LA PAZ
www.ofwjournalism.net


PASIG CITY, Philippines—PROFESSORS studying labor migration in Asia said countries in the region will scuttle to protect their economies but avoid edging out foreign workers as a global financial collapse seeps into real sectors.
One of them is Dr. Yap Mui Teng of the Lee Kwan Yew School of Public Policy under the National University of Singapore.
Dr. Teng says that while Southeast Asia’s financial hub will experience a “sharp economic downturn that is the most severe in the country’s history,” it will still need foreign workers in Singapore.
As countries across the world grapple with the catatonic effects of a global financial crisis, nation-states witness the decapitation of their respective labor markets.
Dr. Teng says it is unavoidable that companies cut costs and fire foreign workers first and nationals last: Singapore companies forecast a minus five percent gross domestic product growth rate for this year.
What’s currently happening in Singapore, says Dr. Teng, is that more foreign workers are complaining of unclaimed salaries, being subjected to “no work, no pay” situations. He adds there are some instances of repatriation if manpower agencies cannot place these foreign workers.
Dr. Teng affirmed forecasts of analysts that an expected 50,000 foreign workers will lose their jobs this year, especially those in the manufacturing and construction sectors.
An estimated 143,000 highly-skilled foreign workers in Singapore hold employment passes. In addition, an estimated 757,000 semi-skilled foreign workers hold work permits. The latter category include domestic workers.
A recent World Bank report on its outlook for East Asia and the Pacific region affirms Dr. Teng’s views.
“As unemployment in the region and around the world begins to climb, migrant workers, wherever they are, are likely to be among the first to lose their jobs,” the report titled “Battling the forces of global recession” said.
Report writer Ivailo Izvorski added this “will mean lower remittance flows to the poorest countries in the region and, if the migrants return home, a worsening unemployment in those countries as well as further downward pressure on real wages, especially in the informal sector that would directly affect the poor.”

Malaysia
NEAR Singapore is Malaysia, which Dr. Vijayamukari Kanapathy says is also feeling the pinch.
Dr. Kanapathy said migrant workers will be among the 400,000 workers that her country’s employers federations forecast to be laid off this year.
The situation is especially glaring for Malaysia’s manufacturing sector, whose biggest market is recession-hit United States.
The policy responses of Malaysia’s government for migrant workers is that they will be terminated first, that there’s freeze hiring of migrant workers, and that the deportation of undocumented migrants will be fast-tracked, Kanapathy said.
A bright spot, Kanapathy adds, is that the crisis may possibly see the government regularizing some of the undocumented workers in Malaysia’s informal sector.
But Malaysia is “extremely cautious,” she says, in dealing with migrant workers as it has a “soft policy” to encourage these foreign workers to leave Malaysia.
And since migrant workers hold an annual work permit, “it is easy for Malaysian employers to retrench them,” Kanapathy said.
As of September 2008, Kanapathy says Malaysia has retrenched an estimated 5,5867 migrant workers —majority of whom were in the manufacturing sector. She said she didn’t have the data on which country these workers came from.

Thailand
ANOTHER country is politically-rocked Thailand, which is both a sending and a receiving country of migrants and refugees.
Dr. Supang Chantavanich of the Asian Research Center on Migration based in Chulalongkorn University said she expects an increased hiring of construction workers and domestic workers amid the crisis.
It is only these two sectors’ migrant workers who will not be affected by the crisis “due to increasing needs for them,” she added.
Chantavanich said Thailand currently has 76,206 foreign construction workers and 53,933 foreign domestic workers.
It is likely possible, however, that the Thai government will not extend the work permits of some 200,000 documented migrant workers come the year 2010, and that Thai nationals will be hired first.
If foreign workers wish to extend their work permits, “they have to apply through Thai line government agencies,” she added.

Korea
THE global economic crisis, for economist Park Young Bum of Hansung University, has further “polarized” the Korean labor market as some 6,707 foreign workers have been retrenched as of December 2008.
These retrenchments are due to the bankruptcy and shutting down of small- and medium-sized enterprises in Korea, Park said.
The Korean government has suspended the issuance of work visas (called the E-9 visa) to foreign workers until the year 2010, with the Korean government having an annual quota of 72,000 issuances of these work visas until February this year.
But don’t expect an increase of the E-9 visa quota for the country soon, said Park, due to the “shrinking labor market”.
Korea’s government will also try to subsidize small and medium enterprises who will replace foreign workers with Korean workers, to the tune of 1.2 million won per newly-hired local worker.
Since November 2008, Korea has also sent back home some 8,000 undocumented migrant workers. Again, no breakdowns by nationality were given.
As of October last year, the estimated undocumented migrant workers in Korea numbered to 219,596, down from 224,965 in January 2008.
Yet Park thinks that the country will likely depend on unskilled foreign labor as a massive repatriation of foreign workers “is not possible”.

Familiar
THESE situations affecting foreign workers in East and Southeast Asia are familiar territory for these countries, especially so that the region had experienced the Asian financial crisis in 1997.
Thus, Scalabrini Migration Center director Dr. Maruja Asis thinks that repatriation, more border controls, punitive penalties for undocumented migrant workers, and no new or higher levels of employment in host countries will be the same scenes this year as in 1997.
For countries like the Philippines that send out labor to overseas markets, expect increasing documented and undocumented overseas migration, rising numbers of returning migrant workers, and the increasing role of remittances this year as in 1997, Asis said.
Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand and Korea are among the target destination countries for Filipino migrant workers.
Figures of deployed migrant workers in 2007 from the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) show that the four countries received 76,565 new-hired and re-hired Filipino workers.
As of January, 74 OFWs who worked in Korea’s electronics sector have been retrenched. There are no reported displaced OFWs from Singapore, Thailand, and Malaysia thus far.
In her paper titled “The Impact of the Global Financial Crisis on Employment,” Labor Undersecretary Rosalinda D. Baldoz said a total 6,406 workers were displaced as of March 12, 2009. Some 4,197 came from Taiwan while 1,357 were at the United Arab Emirates.
The 74 Korea-based OFWs are part of the 5,036 displaced OFWs reported by the POEA, said POEA director Liberty Casco during a multi-sector workshop on the global financial crisis that the Department of Labor and Employment convened last January 30.
De La Salle University professor and migration expert Stella Go told participants to a workshop organized by the Scalabrini Migration Center and the International Labor Organization that despite the crisis, international labor migration “hasn’t adversely affected” the Philippines, owing to increasing deployment to old and new labor markets, and because of rising remittances.
What worries Go, however, is that the crisis might increase the risks facing OFWs who work in “vulnerable occupations” such as domestic help and construction.
“They might be exposed to wage cuts and less-ideal work conditions,” she added.

OFW Journalism Consortium

Gov’t economist says Middle East

by JEREMAIAH M. OPINIANO and ISAGANI DE LA PAZ
www.ofwjournalism.net


PASIG CITY. Philippines—AS the plane nosed down to its landing in Dubai, economist Josef Yap sensed a portent of things to come for Filipino workers in the Middle East and the labor export industry.

“These are the scenes of the Asian financial crisis of 1997,” Yap recalled saying to himself and to three other Southeast Asian economists during that visit in the financial capital of the United Arab Emirates.

He said his colleagues agreed especially after seeing and walking inside high-end shopping malls and knowing the price tags of a day’s stay in Dubai’s luxury hotels.
Yap, president of the Philippine Institute for Development Studies (PIDS), said in a forum on Asian labor migration by the Scalabrini Migration Center early this year he wondered how cash-strapped Westerners can afford staying in these places during these trying times.

Those sights of the region’s economic progress can lead to an economic crisis that is “waiting to happen” in the Gulf region, Yap added during the forum on labor migration statistics.

An International Labor Organization estimate supports Yap’s view.
According to its 2009 Global Employment Trends Report, the ILO estimates the Middle East’s gross domestic product growth rate will go down to 5.1 percent this year from an estimated six percent GDP growth last year.

The report also estimates the Middle East, composed of 16 countries, posted the second highest unemployment rate among the world’s regions with 9.4 percent last year.

Yap opines that not even the region’s petro-dollars can avert a looming economic crisis in the Middle East, especially with world oil prices reversing its last year’s upward jolt.

In a statement last February, the International Monetary Fund said the Gulf Cooperation Council nations and oil exporting countries in the Middle East, North Africa, Afghanistan, and Pakistan (MENAP) region will post growth at 3.6 percent this year, down from 5.6 percent in the previous year.

“For the oil exporters, the decline in oil prices and Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) production cuts are projected to reduce oil export receipts by almost 50 percent in 2009. This implies a loss of government revenue to the tune of US$300 billion compared to 2008,” the statement quoted director Masood Ahmed as saying.

MENAP oil-exporters include Algeria, Bahrain, Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Libya, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, United Arab Emirates, and Yemen.
These numbers spell bad news to an estimated two million Filipinos working in the Middle East and their families relying on their monthly cash remittance.

Hold up
RECENT data, however, from the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas, the Philippines’s central bank, gives a pound of hope that the Middle East countries are still holding up against the weight of a global financial collapse that forced advanced economies to declare recession in their respective economies.

Cumulative remittance last year from OFWs in 16 Middle East countries posted a 15.2-percent growth to US$2.5 billion, or $3.3-billion higher than the previous year’s remittance of $14.4 million.

Land-based Filipino workers there sent $2.4 billion from January to December, according to the BSP data, while sea-based workers sent home nearly $20 million in the same period last year.

Remittances from the UAE, specifically, also posted a double-digit growth rate to $621 million or $91-million more than what was recorded Filipinos sent back to the Philippines in 2007.

Only Qatar and Kuwait posted declines in remittances –Kuwait-based workers sent home 25-percent less to $125 million while Qatar-based workers sent 7.5-percent less than the $133 million in 2007.

Government estimates there are 139,803 Filipino workers in Kuwait while 195,558 are in Qatar.

Remittance rates posted declines in six of 11 months last year, the biggest recorded in April (-23 percent) when world oil prices spiked nearly $100 a barrel. Dubai crude, for one, hit $95.08 in April 2, 2008
(see http://www.petron.com/pops/pricewatch.asp?cat=Crude&yir=2008)
The second-lowest month-on-month drop was recorded in October at nearly 18 percent, when world oil prices began tapering down up to $56.42.

Notably, the February 2009 cumulative year-on-year remittance level of 2.5 percent was the lowest in six years since 2003. The second-lowest was in February 2004, when the level was at 5.6 percent.

This means that while remittances from an estimated eight million Filipinos in 190 countries was bigger at $2.6 billion in February this year, it was just an inch above the $2.2 billion posted in the same month last year.

Of the eight countries that the BSP cited in its statement as major sources of remittances for the first two months of the year, two are in the Middle East: Saudi Arabia and the UAE.

Last year, full-year remittances from Saudi Arabia posted a growth rate of 21.5 percent to nearly $1.4 billion, the largest among the 16 countries.

BSP Governor Amando M. Tetangco, Jr. was quoted in the statement as saying remittances “have been holding up as deployment of overseas Filipino workers has risen during the first two months of the year while the increase in the number of reported layoffs has slowed down.”

Mixed, up
SOME industry players offer mixed views on the impact of an impending slowdown in Middle East economies to overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) in the region.

The Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) reported that some 1,376,823 land- and sea-based overseas workers were deployed in 2008, but no figures per region of destination are available.

Last year, however, the country deployed lesser numbers of new-hire overseas workers to the Middle East with 203,572 (lower by 4.9 percent to the 214,360 deployed new hires in 2006), according to POEA data.

On a per-country basis, comparing 2006 and 2007 figures of deployed new hires, deployment grew in Middle East destination countries such as Saudi Arabia (by 6,892 new hires), the United Arab Emirates (5,395 new hires), and Qatar (1,742 new hires).
Meanwhile, new-hire deployment dropped in Kuwait by 12,192 workers.

Still, recruiters look at the Middle East labor market as rosy for Filipino workers.
Health workers remain needed in Saudi Arabia, said president Victor Fernandez of the Philippine Association of Service Exporters Inc. (PASEI), even as he thinks construction projects in the Middle East “may be delayed”.

“The supply of construction workers to the Middle East can be a problem during these times,” Fernandez said during the same forum where Yap spoke.

For his part, former overseas worker Loreto Soriano, president of LBS e-Recruitment Solutions, still believed in the market potentials of the Middle East.

The region “needed thousands of construction workers,” says Soriano, citing data from the Federated Association of Manpower Exporters where he is president.

Soriano points out there is a need for increased deployment of workers in Libya “due to its growing economy,” again based on his group’s data.

But while most of the 5,036 displaced overseas Filipino workers (as of January) come mostly from Taiwan’s electronics sector, 298 OFWs from the UAE got displaced.

As of January 28 also, the departure of some 85 UAE-bound workers who are scheduled to begin their work in the country’s services and electronics sectors “has been put on hold,” POEA’s running data on the global economic crisis show.

Taiwan and the UAE are the top two sources of displaced OFWs in recent months, based on government data.

The ILO projects that if the unemployment rates in the developed economies and in the European Union rise because of the global crisis, the Middle East’s unemployment rate may reach 11 percent —affecting eight million workers (including foreigners).
OFW Journalism Consortium

DOLE to negotiate with employers of distressed OFWs in Poland

MANILA, Philippines - The Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) will try to negotiate with the employers of the 96 overseas Filipino workers (OFW) in Poland who were earlier reported to have encountered some labor problems.

“DOLE would try to negotiate with their employers," Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) Undersecretary Esteban Conejos Jr. said in a recent press conference.

The 96 Filipino workers earlier complained of contract substitution, reduction of agreed salaries, sickness due to inadequate food provision, and heavy work. [See: Help urged for 96 distressed OFWs in Poland.]

Conejos said 71 of the Filipino workers have refused to work due to a “labor-related incident," prompting the DFA to dispatch a consul from Budapest in Hungary to the industrial town of Aleksandrow Lodzki in Poland.

He said that the OFWs who have stopped working are still staying with their employer – two of whom said they will try to resolve the dispute.

Conejos said he has asked Labor Secretary Marianito Roque to send a labor attaché from London to Poland to bring the necessary funds to provide food and clothing for the workers.

Conejos added that he has also requested Roque to deploy two more DOLE officials from Manila to look into the incident in Poland.

However, if things are not settled, the undersecretary said that they will be forced to bring the OFWs back to the country. - With Kimberly Jane T. Tan, GMANews.TV

Church officials asked to help care for OFWs in Switzerland

MANILA, Philippines — Philippine officials in Switzerland have asked Roman Catholic Church officials there to help care for overseas Filipino workers based there.

The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said Philippine Ambassador Maria Theresa Lazaro made the request at a special dinner for the senior officials of the Swiss Catholic Church.

"Ambassador Lazaro discussed with the Swiss Catholic officials the strengthening of the role of the Filipino community in Switzerland in terms of migration and integration, the support and assistance provided by the Swiss Catholic Mission and Bishop’s Conference for Migration to the Filipino migrants, and the various collaborative endeavors between and among the Philippine Embassy in Berne, the Swiss Catholic Church, and the Filipino-Swiss migrants," the DFA said on its website (www.dfa.gov.ph).

It said the dinner was held at Lazaro's residence in Berne.

Guests included Fr. Franz Stampfli, vicar general for the Canton of Zurich and Glarus; Marco Schmid, national director of Swiss Bishops Conference for Migration; Fredy Isler, member of the Roman Catholic Central Commission for the Canton of Zurich; Fr. Johan Dumandan, chaplain of the Philippine Catholic Mission in Switzerland; Sr. Merlyn Arsolon, pastoral coordinator of the Philippine Catholic Mission for Geneva; Minister and Consul General Edsel Barba; and First Secretary and Consul Margarita Ibayan. - GMANews.TV

Tagalog used in US to warn against spread of swine flu

CHICAGO – Using the fastest way and largest reach to warn the public, the United States National Library of Medicine based in Bethesda, Maryland, the world’s largest medical library, used 17 languages, including Filipino (Tagalog), in issuing an advisory on how to avoid the swine flu (influenza) outbreak.

The other languages used by the US health officials, who declared a public health emergency Sunday (April 26), are Arabic, American Sign Language, Chinese (Simplified and Traditional), Hmong (pronounced Mong), Japanese, Khmer, Somali, Spanish, French, Hindi, Korean, Portuguese, Russian, Ukranian and Vietnamese.

Filipino-Americans constitute the second biggest Asian-American population in the United States, next to Chinese-Americans.

According to Medicine Plus, there are approximately 1.2 million Filipinos in the United States who speak Tagalog. [See: Avoid beso-beso, crowds in Mexico, Pinoys told]

The advisory circulated by Jennifer M. Kons, outreach and interpretation project assistant of the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, among the Asian-American community organizations, quoted Medicine Plus on the basic hygiene information related to Germs and Hygiene to avoid and prevention of the swine flu virus.

The Medicine Plus is posting the information as a service to the US National Library of Medicine and the National Institutes of Health. Health officials had earlier clarified that the virus cannot be transmitted from eating pork. [See: What scare? TIME goes ga-ga over RP's lechon]

According to the advisory, quoting the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention of the US Department of Health and Human Services, in order to “stop the spread of germs that make and others sick," everybody should cover his or her mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing;

Or they should cough or sneeze into their upper sleeve, not in their hands. And he/she should put the used tissue in the wastebasket.

And everybody might be asked to put on a surgical mask to protect others.

Then, afterward, they should wash their hands with soap and warm water for 20 seconds or clean their hands with alcohol-based hand cleaner. If using a gel, rub the gel in the hands until they are dry. The gel doesn’t need water to work; the alcohol in the gel kills germs that cause colds and flu.

It said when washing hands with soap and warm water, the 15 to 20 seconds to do it is usually the same time to sing the “Happy Birthday" twice.

The advisory said illnesses like colds and flu are spread from person to person in respiratory droplets of coughs and sneezes called “droplet spread."

This happens when droplets from a cough or sneeze of an infected person move through the air and are deposited on the mouth or nose of people nearby.

Sometimes, germs also can be spread when a person touches respiratory droplets from another person on a surface like a desk and then touches his or her own eyes, mouth or nose before washing his or her hands.

Usually some viruses and bacteria can live two hours or longer on surfaces like cafeteria tables, doorknobs and desks.

In school, children should be taught to practice healthy habits “because germs spread, especially at school."

The flu has caused high rates of absenteeism among students and staff in this country’s 119,000 schools. Nearly 22 million school days are lost each year to the common cold alone. When children practice healthy habits, they miss fewer days of school.

Approximately one-fifth of the US population attends or works in schools. Students need to get plenty of sleep and physical activity, drink water, and eat good food to help them stay healthy in the winter and all year.

Illnesses like the flu and colds are caused by viruses that infect the nose, throat and lungs. The flu and colds are usually spread from person to person when an infected person coughs or sneezes.

Aside from covering mouth and nose when sneezing and coughing and cleaning hands often, everybody should avoid touching his/her eyes, nose or mouth. Anybody, who is sick, should stay at home and check with a health care provider when needed and practice other good health habits.

Common symptoms of the flu include: fever (usually high), headache, extreme tiredness, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, muscle aches, and nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea (much more common among children and adults). - GMANews.TV

RP no longer UN's model-country in OFW protection

MANILA, Philippines - The United Nations Convention on the Protection of Migrant Workers has stricken out the Philippines as model state for its failure to fulfill customary duties under the UN standards, migrants group based in Europe has said.

Grace Punongbayan of Migrante Europe chapter said the Philippines was deleted as a model state at the meeting of the Steering Committee for the Campaign For Ratification of the Migrants Rights Convention presided by Ms. Carla Edelenbos, secretary of the Committee on Migrant Workers, at the UN headquarters in Geneva last April 8.

The document being referred to, where the Philippines was deleted as a “positive case study of state ratification and implementation" is the “Guide on Ratification of the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and members of Their Families.

The steering committee approved the deletion after Rev. Cesar Taguba of the Ecumenical Ministry for Filipinos Abroad and Migrante-Europe cited several instances wherein the Philippine government failed to meet its obligations under the Convention.

Present during the meeting, among others, were representatives from the International Organization for Migration (IOM), International Labor Organization (ILO), International Catholic Migration Commission, and the World Council of Churches.

Meanwhile, Migrante International, at the opening of the 10th session of the United Nations Committee on Migrant Workers held April 20 in Switzerland, called attention to the violations by the Philippine government of the rights of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs), and its non-compliance with the provisions of the UN Convention on the Protection of Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families (UNCPMWMTF).

Among the countries under review by the UN steering committee were Azerbaijan, Colombia and Bosnia-Herzegovina.

Punongbayan, together with a representative of Migrante Switzerland, both member organizations of Migrante International, gave oral interventions in behalf of the Manila-based international alliance.

Migrante International earlier submitted a written report before the start of the 10th session to the Committee that was distributed to the members of the Commission and posted on the website of the UNCMW.

In the report, the group noted that in 2005, the deployment of documented OFWs breached the one million mark. It said the average number of workers sent abroad daily was 3,000 making the Philippines top-three among migrant-sending countries.

“Approximately a tenth of the population live and work in 194 countries and territories around the world, with concentrations in North America, Middle East, Asia-Pacific and Europe. This migration which started by waves in the course of Philippine history has become an almost daily phenomenon since the government initiated its labor export program (LEP) in the 1970s. What was initially meant as a temporary measure to address the country’s unemployment problem has become a regular fixture, massive and systematic in scope, and bruited about as a tool for national development," Migrante International said in a statement.

Remittances from migrants have kept the Philippine economy continuously afloat. From $659 million in 1984 remitted OFW money hit a staggering $16 billion by the end of 2008.

“These remittances were earned at tremendous costs to Filipino migrants and their families who had to endure long years of separation and suffer from various forms of exploitation, abuse, discrimination, violence and terrorism," Migrante said.

During the question and answer portion of the UN committee discussion, Punongbayan stressed that despite the enactment of Republic Act (RA) 8042 and the ratification by the Philippine government of the UNCPMWMTF, the government on many occasions violated the rights of OFWs and is guilty of non-compliance with the provisions of the said convention of which the country is a signatory. - GMANews.TV

RP still model country for migrant workers

MANILA, Philippines - Contrary to a migrant group's claim, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said the Philippines was not stricken out from the UN's list of model-countries for migrant workers, simply because no list exists.

Foreign Affairs spokesperson Ed Malaya said the group might have been led to believe that the Philippines was demoted by the United Nations since the country did not appear in the Guide on Ratification of the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and members of Their Families.

"How can the Philippines be deleted when no list exists?" Malaya told GMANews.TV in an interview.

Grace Punongbayan of Migrante Europe chapter said the Philippines was deleted as a model state at the meeting of the Steering Committee for the Campaign For Ratification of the Migrants Rights Convention presided by Ms. Carla Edelenbos, secretary of the Committee on Migrant Workers, at the UN headquarters in Geneva last April 8. [See: RP no longer UN's model-country in OFW protection]

But Ellene Sana of the Center for Migrant Advocacy, who attended the 10th session of the United Nations Committee on Migrant Workers held April 20 in Switzerland, said no country has been listed by the UN as a model-country for the protection of migrant workers.

"We are just being touted as a model-country," she said.

During last year's UN session, Malacañang reported that the International Labor Organization and the International Organization on Migration have commended the Philippines for handling well the situation of migration.

"Indonesia said RP’s ‘great investment to the issue of migrant workers can serve as a model for other countries,’ a sentiment echoed by Guatemala and Egypt that asked for more concrete information on RP programs including bilateral agreements to give workers social security," the statement said. [See: RP's migration program seen as model - DoLE exec]

The DFA denied Migrante's assertion and said that the Philippines was even praised by members of the Committee on Migrant Workers as a model in the field of migration and for its robust institutional capacity to protect its citizens abroad.

The country also figured well in the "Guide on Ratification of the International Convention on the Protection of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families" as a strong supporter of the Migrant Workers Convention, according to the DFA.

"Page 28 of the Guide stated that: 'Several countries, such as Mexico and the Philippines, have engaged in diplomatic efforts to widen ratification…'" the DFA said.

The Philippines has had more than 30 years of experience with policies on migrant workers since the first batch of Filipino contractual workers left for the Middle East in the early 1970s.

Republic Act 8042 or the Migrant Workers and Overseas Filipinos Act of 1995 is also the first legislation in the region outlining standards and policies protecting OFWs. - GMANews.TV

23 RP seafarers to arrive home soon - DFA

MANILA, Philippines - The 23 Filipino seafarers manning the recently freed chemical tanker will be arriving in Manila on the weekend, the Department of Foreign Affairs said.

Foreign Affairs Undersecretary Esteban Conejos Jr, told reporters on Monday that the MT Stolt Strength is expected to dock on Wednesday at a safe port, which he refused to identify.

But Conejos assured that the Filipino crew is safe with the Chinese navy escorting them to safer waters. [See: Chinese navy plays Good Samarian to RP vessel]

The DFA official reiterated that President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo has directed the Labor department to ban the deployment of Filipino seafarers in vessels that ply the Gulf of Aden, a piracy hotspot in the Horn of Africa.

The Department of Labor and Employment is reportedly preparing the guidelines.

Conejos urges manning agencies to advise ships with Filipino seafarers to traverse the high-seas through maritime security corridor patrolled by combined maritime task force
of Germany, US and China.

On Tuesday morning, pirates released 23 Filipino seafarers on board the Philippine-flagged and operated MT Stolt Strength, which was hijacked for more than five months. Shipowners refused to say whether ransom was paid for the release of the ship and crew. - GMANews.TV

Qatar lauds Filipinos, needs 37,000 more workers - Palace

MANILA, Philippines - Filipino workers in Qatar are getting excellent grades for reliability, skill, industry and professionalism, President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo was told Saturday (Doha time).

A Malacañang statement Sunday said the "rave reviews" came from chief executive officers (CEOs) and other top officials of 27 Qatar-based companies during an "appreciation lunch" with Arroyo.

The lunch was held at the Sheraton Doha Hotel and Resort on Saturday shortly upon Arroyo's arrival.

Meanwhile, Arroyo said the Philippine government is projecting only a minimal displacement of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) despite the financial crisis sweeping across the globe.

She told Filipinos at the Sheraton Doha Hotel and Resort that instead of retrenching its expatriate workforce, Qatar needs 37,000 more workers.

This more than offsets the displacement of Filipino workers in other countries, she said.

With Arroyo in the trip to Qatar were secretaries Peter Favila (trade), Margarito Teves (finance), Angelo Reyes (energy), Nasser Pangandaman (agrarian reform) and presidential peace adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr.

Companies represented in the luncheon meeting included US-based engineering giant Bechtel Corporation, Al Ahli Hospital, Sterling Group of Companies, Midmac Contracting, and Doha Resort and Convention Center.

Bechtel Doha Chief Executive Officer (CEO)/Project Manager Laremy Estrada cited Filipino workers for their reliability, industry and overall skill.

He said Filipinos were highly trainable, efficient and trustworthy. He added that 65 percent of Bechtel's workers in the construction of the new Doha International Airport are Filipinos.

Bechtel, a towering presence in the Middle East construction sector, won the contract for engineering, project and construction management of the US$2.5-billion new Doha International Airport.

When completed, the new air terminal can accommodate 24 million passengers and 750,000 metric tons of cargo annually.

Another CEO said his company would be at a loss looking for workers as reliable, hardworking and skilled as his Filipino employees.

Labor secretary Marianito Roque estimated there are 190,000 overseas Filipino workers now in Qatar.

Arroyo thanked the company officials for hiring Filipino workers and protecting their rights and privileges under the International Labor Organization (ILO) mandate.

She said the Philippine government would act immediately on problems cited by the CEOs, including delays in the registration of labor recruitment permits and the need for stepped-up training for Filipinos seeking employment abroad.

She said her administration has launched a P3-billion scholarship program to equip Filipinos with the needed expertise for frontline services not only abroad but also in the Philippines.
- GMANews.TV

Duped Filipinos forced to beg for money on Qatar's streets

BY JOSETTE EMILY Z. DE JESUS
MIGRANT WATCH
Bulatlat


Nelson Ebreo left the Philippines late last year to work as a tile setter in Qatar, seeking to provide a good future for his three children, the eldest of whom is still in Grade III, and his wife. However, after months of receiving nothing from his employer, he ended up begging on the streets of Qatar and his family went hungry.

Ebreo was recruited by SML Human Resource Inc. and was promised a salary of US$500 a month. According to him, he was asking for a basic contract but the agency instead provided them an offer letter assuring them of jobs in Qatar.

Upon arrival in Qatar, he learned that there is no contract and the salary would be based on production. For two months of work, he was only paid QR800 each month which was lower than what was stipulated.

"We had to shoulder our food, and our water and electricity expenses would also be deducted from our salaries. If you got sick they wouldn’t bring you to the hospital. We had to fend for ourselves. They didn’t care about us. Our food cost as much as QR350, so we would be left with only QR450, and then there would be the many salary deductions. There would be nothing left for our families," Ebreo shared.

Because of his situation in Qatar, Ebreo was unable to provide money for his family. "My family went hungry because in the five months that we stayed in Qatar we were unable to send money to our families," he said.

Because of this, he decided to stop working and talked to his employer, saying that he wanted to go home. Unfortunately, his employer turned down his request and told him that he could only go home upon payment of US$1500, otherwise he would be imprisoned.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Senate to summon recruiter of 'duped' bus drivers in Dubai

abs-cbnNEWS.com

The Senate is set to summon the owner and officials of a recruitment agency that sent 137 Filipino bus drivers to Dubai.

Reports said the Senate’s Committee on Labor, Employment and Human Resources Development will subpoena CYM International Services owner Connie Paloma and the company’s directors.

The firm recruited the overseas Filipino workers to work as bus drivers in Dubai. However, the OFWs said they found themselves stranded in Dubai after learning that there was no job order for them.

One of the drivers Napoleon Santos recounted how they lived near a dump site with no electricity and had nothing to eat. They said that they had to compete with camels for tomatoes to have something to eat.

Santos and some of his companions already made it back home this month. However, there are still 115 others stranded in Dubai.

The drivers were allegedly asked to pay P150,000 each as placement fee. Earlier reports stated that some used their house and lot as collateral to come up with the amount while others resorted to borrowing money from a lending agency with interest and payable in 15 months.

In a committee hearing Wednesday chaired by Sen. Jinggoy Estrada, Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) Director Alejandro Padaen said the recruitment agency is already under preventive suspension.

Estrada questioned how the agency continued to operate despite already having three previous cases pending against them.

Padaen explained that the agency has appealed the first case in the labor department while hearings are still on going on the other two cases.

Meanwhile, the task force of Vice President and Presidential Adviser on OFWs Noli de Castro has filed a criminal complaint against the recruitment agency while the drivers said they will file a civil case for damages.

Estrada meanwhile said he will attend a POEA hearing on May 5 where he hopes to meet and talk to the agency’s owner. Report from Timi Nubla, ABS-CBN News

First batch of quake-hit Pinoys from Italy arrives home

The first batch of Filipinos affected by the earthquake in Abruzzo, Italy arrived home, reports said Wednesday.

The batch consisted of six people from two families. They arrived on board a Cathay Pacific CX 907 flight from Italy.

Among those repatriated was Jennifer Arce who worked as a domestic worker in Italy for 13 years.

“Akala namin mamamatay kami. Tinanggap ko na lang, naghintay na lang, nagdasal po,” said Arce on her experience during the April 6 earthquake which hit Central Italy.

Arce said she was at home with her child when the earthquake occurred.

“Sa taas namin may nakatira, akala ko guguho, unan nilagay ko sa anak ko, para di masaktan masyado,” said Arce.

Like Arce, another OFW identified as Marvin Gacayan also saved his wife and two kids.

“Nagpapasalamat kami at binigyan kami ng Diyos ng pangalawang buhay,” said Gacayan.

The two families were evacuated to safer grounds and stayed in tents provided for victims displaced by the earthquake. They remained there for three weeks. The tents also served as temporary shelter to some 120 Filipinos.

Some Filipinos remain worried about their passports and other important documents that were buried under rubbles. Aside from passports, OFWs must show their permits to stay and Italian identification cards before they are allowed to be repatriated.

“Kung uuwi na walang document, they can't go back. Karamihan ayaw umuwi dahil gusto nilang bumalik, matagal na sila doon,” said administrator Carmelita Dimzon of the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA).

The OWWA also gave financial assistance to each OFW who opted to remain in Italy and look for other jobs. With reports from Jocelyn Ruiz, ABS-CBN Europe News Bureau

Pinoy in US arrested for alleged bigamy

A Filipino man was arrested by authorities in Golden Meadow in Louisiana in the United States, for alleged bigamy, a report said.

In a report written by Raymond Legendre and published online by the dailycomet.com, the Filipino was identified as Norman A. Simon.

The report said that Simon could face possible jail term and deportation after investigations found out that he had three wives, two in the Philippines and one in the US.



Simon reportedly married a Lafourche Parish woman allegedly to gain citizenship.

The Filipino allegedly told police that he had separated from the two women in the Philippines, but explained that he had not divorced them.abs-cbnNEWS.com

OFWs bear debts as crisis hits labor-importing economies

By JEREMAIAH M. OPINIANO and ISAGANI DE LA PAZ, www.ofwjournalism.net

Ramones Caytiles’s stint in Taiwan is as short as the song-length of his namesake American punk rock band: two weeks.

But nearly six months now since he and 171 fellow workers got pink slips last year from their employer Hanston Display Corp., Caytiles feels life is as long as Don McLean’s American Pie song.

It was the nineteenth of November, Caytiles recalls, when their music –the crinkle of New Taiwan dollar– died.

“When we arrived in Taiwan, we borrowed money to pay fees to a broker who paid for our travel,” Caytiles said adding such was the standard process for workers trying their luck outside the Philippines.

He and five other OFWs, sent back after LCD manufacturer Hanston downsized, are now saddled with that debt from Taiwan-based lending agencies eCash and Paylite Financing.

Caytiles said they were focused on working and earning they didn’t think the Taiwan LCD manufacturer would get hit by the economic catatonia seeping from the United States.

And if it did, he said they didn’t expect the time between working in Taiwan and getting laid-off would be that fast.

“You left the country riddled with debt, and then you came back home still saddled with debt—causing an even bigger problem,” said Caytiles, a single parent (his wife left him and his daughter some years ago).

Caytiles’s fate marks the lives of millions of OFWs in labor-importing countries whose real sectors are getting hit by the collapse of the global financial system that began in the US housing sector.

So says economists like former budget secretary Benjamin Diokno. Diokno has become a prophet of doom since the start of the year, noting that May would be the month countries in Asia like the Philippines would feel the impact of the financial crisis that has coursed through the so-called “transmission channels.”

One of these channels, credit lines, has plugged lending to the electronics export industry, a flagship for most Asian economies like the Philippines.

Grim reaper

In his presentation to journalists last March, Semiconductor and Electronics Industries in the Philippines Inc. (SEIPI) president Ernesto Santiago presented a grim outlook on worldwide industrial production as traditional lending windows shutter.

Santiago ticked off global companies announcing they were affected by the downturn in consumer electronics downturn: Sony (to shed 8,000 jobs); Philips (6,000); NEC (20,000); Panasonic (15,000); Pioneer (10,000); IBM (2,800); TDK (8,000); Nokia (2,500); Motorola (13,000); Sprint Nextel (8,000); and AT&T (12,000).

Closer to home, the closure of Intel Corp.’s Cavite manufacturing by May would see thousands of Filipinos losing a steady source of income.

“Countries that are heavily dependent on electronics have been the worst affected (notably the NIEs, Philippines, and Malaysia, but also China), followed by commodity exporters (notably Indonesia, Lao, Malaysia, Mongolia, PNG and Vietnam), exporters of capital equipment (all NIEs) and the garment manufacturers,” a recent World Bank report said.

“There will be higher unemployment abroad and here at home,” Diokno said, “and this means less jobs, less jobs, and less jobs.”

Caytiles said he was imagining kicking himself in the back while listening to Diokno.

“I think before workers should go overseas, they should know the situation that is happening –or if their employer is still steady,” Caytiles’s colleague Elwood Yambao said.

The father of two based in Olongapo City, which hosted an American air base a century ago, said that knowledge he could’ve gotten by reading newspapers.

But the overseas labor market is tough enough, and when potential OFWs like Yambao do access news sources, it’s for securing work.

That is still in their minds right now, according to Yambao, because they are hounded by their lenders of their debts amounting to between P60,000 (US$1,250) and P80,000 ($1,667) each.

He said they filed a case against their agency to at least get back the placement fees they paid for work contracts in Taiwan.

Under Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) regulations, OFWs who did not finish their contracts can file for some claims to their recruitment agencies. Manila-based recruitment agency Grand Placement and General Services Corp. brokered Yambao and his five co-workers for the Taiwan jobs.

“We haven’t paid yet the Taiwanese lender since we’re still jobless,” Yambao said in a short message via mobile phone.

In the meantime, Yambao said they feel immobile.

“We went to Manila to check out that recruiter claiming he’s not requiring payment of placement fees,” he added.

Other than that, he said they’re staying put in their respective homes in the provinces.

Caytiles, for one, has gone back to his farm in Sibalom, Antique, southern Philippines.

Slo-mo

If The Ramones band was known for its blitzkrieg hit songs, Caytiles notes government support to displaced OFWs like him is like a slow-motion dance.

Deputy administrator Hans Leo Cacdac of the POEA said Caytiles’s and Yambao’s cases require having these “heard through conciliation proceedings” so that some placement fees can be recovered.

Another government employee said displaced workers like Caytiles and Yambao can apply for public training grants on entrepreneurship and livelihood loans for small businesses.

It is a package totaling P60,000 ($1,250 at US$1=P48), explains Teresita Manzala of the labor department’s National Reintegration Center for OFWs.

“We need to repay our debt quickly,” Yambao said adding that meeting the documentary requirements of OWWA (Overseas Workers Welfare Administration) only “means additional expenses for us.”

The labor department’s Bureau of Local Employment said it is trying to find companies that may have vacancies in the domestic market.

Government’s Technical Education and Skills Development Authority, on the other hand, said it will train displaced local and overseas workers on identified lines of businesses, as well as retraining workers on certain skills.

The DOLE’s online job search websites, meanwhile, reports 753,719 overseas job orders needing to be filled while local job openings run to 46,300 as of end-January this year.

Looking at the end-October 2008 data of the quarterly Labor Force Survey, the Philippines generated some 861,000 local jobs last year; the government deployed 1,376,823 newly-hired and re-hired overseas workers in 2008.

Amid the global economic crisis, the Philippines had a record-low 6.8 percent unemployment rate in 2008, as well as a record-high 34.533 million employed Filipino workers that same year

Since 2005, the government’s statisticians included overseas Filipino workers as among the “employed” in the Philippine labor force as mandated by the International Labor Organization (ILO). But since that time, the number of local jobs generated cannot outpace annually-rising overseas employment numbers

80 ‘duped’ Pinoy bus drivers offered jobs in Dubai - DFA official

MANILA, Philippines - At least 80 of the 137 Filipino bus drivers who were duped into paying money for non-existent jobs in Dubai will finally be able to find employment, an official of the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said Wednesday.

Agnes Cervantes, executive director of the DFA’s office of migrants workers affairs, told of the good news during a Senate hearing on the plight of the bus drivers.

Cervantes said she received a call from the consul general in Dubai informing her of the news.

She said 80 of the bus drivers are being considered by Emirates Flight Catering and Qatar Agencies to work for them. The Emirates Flight Catering contacted the bus drivers, she said.

She said the bus drivers were asked to take a test for drivers and if they pass, they will work as drivers. If they fail, they would be given other jobs.

Richard Pardo Boitizon, one of the drivers who was contacted by Emirates Flight Catering, told reporters on the sidelines of the hearing that he would be working as a team member - Grade 2. Boitizon was one of the bus drivers who has returned to the country.

He said he was told that after taking and passing the driver’s test, the company will consider them for the position, subject to availability of jobs..

He said he wanted a disclosure of the case before he returns to Dubai.

Of the 137 Filipino drivers, 115 are still in Dubai while only 22 have been repatriated to the Philippines. - GMANews.TV

'Should RP gov't create more OFWs amid crisis?'

MANILA, Philippines - While some of the world’s leading economies are crumbling amid the global slowdown, an economist asks whether it is sustainable for the Philippine government to continue pushing for overseas labor and go on recruitment sprees in the Middle East.

Benjamin Diokno, a professor of economics at the University of the Philippines, posed the question as government officials returned from their trips in the Middle East allegedly to go on a ‘recruitment spree.’

“Do we want to continue exporting labor in the long term?" Diokno asked at a forum on the global economic crisis on Tuesday.

Diokno, who is a former secretary of budget, said the battle for economic stability during these dire times should be fought in the home front by creating more jobs and preserving them.

This was echoed by labor economics specialist Clarence Pascual, saying that the multi-billion dollar remittance being sent home annually by Filipino overseas workers have not been used wisely to put a lid on the outward migration of labor.

“We have not really used resources from OFWs to generate jobs here and prevent migration," Pascual said.

The number of unemployed Filipinos jumped 2.855 million in January this year from 2.675 million during the same period last year, the National Statistics Office (NSO) said last month.

Diokno added that the government should not be too dependent on OFW remittances especially at a time when jobs of thousands of Filipinos abroad are in danger of getting retrenched.

Citibank recently projected that remittances sent home by OFWs may decline to $11.4 billion for 2009. The cited figure is approximately 30 percent lower than 2008’s $16.4 billion.

Lower remittances may compromise the country’s economic growth targets since funds from OFWs boost demand for products ranging from cell phones to condominiums.

President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, who returned last week from Dubai, reported that she has secured over 200,000 jobs for Filipinos in the rich Middle East emirate. The government is eyeing the Middle East as an oasis for OFWs amid massive job layoffs in other export-dependent countries.

But quoting Bert Hofman of the World Bank, Diokno stressed that the longer the global recession lasts, the more the risks of large-scale return of migrants.

Billions of dollars worth of remittances sent home every year has created a false sense of security for the government to cure all its economic woes, Diokno reiterated.

“It is time for the government to review its labor policies," he added.

Despite fears that a quarter of a million Filipinos will lose their jobs overseas in the first quarter of 2009, government statistics show that the sheer volume of Filipinos leaving the country to work abroad more than offsets the number of those laid off.

The deployment of overseas Filipino workers (OFW) rose by 25 percent in January 2009 as compared to the same month last year, data from the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) showed.

The Philippine government exceeded its deployment target by more than 300,000 new hires in 2008, an increase of almost 30 percent compared to the same period in 2007. - GMANews.tv

6 Pinoys affected by Italy quake arrive home

MANILA, Philippines - The first batch of Filipinos affected by the recent strong earthquake in Italy arrived in Manila on Wednesday morning, the Overseas Workers’ Welfare Administration (OWWA) said.

Only six Filipinos have been repatriated so far after a 6.3-magnitude earthquake rocked the Italian city of L'Aquila on April 6. L’Aquila is the capital of Abruzzo and is approximately two to three hours from Rome.

OWWA chief Carmelita Dimzon accompanied the group and offered them repatriation and livelihood loans in behalf of Labor Secretary Marianito Roque. Dimzon also reportedly met with other Filipinos whose homes have been leveled in the strong earthquake.

The six repatriated Filipinos were identified as Marvin Gacayan, Beatrice Gacayan, Irish Faye Gacayan, Krizelle Maye Gacayan, Jennifer Molina and Samantha Molina.

Dimzon said those who want to return to the Philippines must first secure their passports and other necessary travel documents that might have been buried in the rubble.

Officials from OWWA’s Philippine Overseas Labor Office (POLO), stayed behind in Italy to assist other Filipino victims and help those who wish to Manila.

OWWA gave 450 euros each [roughly P28, 000] to the Filipinos who were temporarily sheltered in emergency tents in Italy.

Those returning home would take a free three-day course on entrepreneurship, while the OWWA’s Filipino Expatriate Livelihood Support Fund will loan them P50,000 to jump-start their business .

Dimzon added that borrowers would start paying only after three months without the five-percent interest.

The Commission on Filipinos Overseas estimated that there were more than 120,000 Filipinos in Italy in 2007.

Of the number, almost 83,000 are contract workers while more than 24, 000 are permanent residents. About 150 Filipinos were reportedly in L'Aquila when the earthquake struck. - Maria Katrina Elaine Alba, with Mark Ubalde, GMANews.TV

DFA says ban to Gulf of Aden unavoidable

MANILA, Philippines - The Department of Foreign Affairs is appealing for understanding from the shipping industry for the government’s deployment ban to the Gulf of Aden, saying it is a necessary measure to curb the spiking number of Filipino seafarers being kidnapped by Somali pirates.

Foreign Affairs spokesperson Ed Malaya told GMA News on Wednesday morning that the deployment ban is only temporary and is meant to put a lid on the abduction of Filipino crew members plying the troubled gulf.

"The ban is only an interim emergency measure," Malaya told Arnold Clavio over Unang Balita, “We can’t just keep our eyes closed as the number of Filipino seafarers kidnapped there is spiking."

Based from data collected by GMANews.TV, a total of 80 Filipino seafarers remain captive by Somali pirates, who have resorted to sea banditry after the collapse of their central government in 1991.

The number of Filipino seafarers being held hostage in Somalia have constantly yo-yoed — from 44 at the start of the year to 108 last month — as pirates continuously hijack ships passing through the Gulf of Aden, slowly releasing vessels only after ship owners willingly pay multi-million dollar ransom.

On Tuesday morning, pirates released 23 Filipino seafarers on board the Philippine-flagged and operated MT Stolt Strength, which was hijacked for more than six months. Shipowners refused to say whether ransom was paid for the release of the ship and crew.

Meanwhile, Malaya pointed to two other government agencies - the Department of Labor and Employment and the Philippine Overseas Employment Agency – for the deployment ban’s implementation.

Maritime and seafarers’ groups slammed the ban saying it was impossible to implement such policy for ships consider the Gulf of Aden an important waterway for trade. Contracts of Filipino seafarers also do not reveal the ship’s route so it is difficult to check whether or not the vessel would pass through the banned area. [See: Deployment ban to Gulf of Aden risky, ridiculous]

But Malaya is not giving up on the ban.

"We are looking into those concerns. Of course the shipping industry is important in giving opportunities to Filipino seamen but the security and safety of the seafarers is our primordial concern." He said.

Malacañang stood its ground on the deployment ban to the Gulf of Aden and maintained that it was only doing so for the Filipino seafarers, who supply a third of the world’s shipping manpower and are most prone to sea abductions.

Press Secretary Cerge Remonde was quoted in reports as saying that they are holding talks with all stakeholders in the maritime sector to address their concerns on the government policy. - Mark Joseph Ubalde, GMANews.TV

New OAV registrants surpasses 50,000 mark - DFA

MANILA, Philippines — The number of new overseas absentee voter (OAV) registrants has topped the 50,000 mark and the government is aiming for one million, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said late Tuesday.

DFA Undersecretary and Overseas Absentee Voting Secretariat (OAVS) chairman Rafael Seguis said the number of new OAV registrants now stands at 50,122.

“The performance of all Posts is being constantly monitored by the OAVS. While the Posts’ Officers and Staff, especially the OAV Focal Persons, have an important role to play in the on-going exercise, the Chiefs of Mission/ Ambassadors/ Heads of Posts bear a higher responsibility," he said in an article on the DFA website (www.dfa.gov.ph).

He said he expects the number of OAVs to increase tremendously as the campaign for promotion of OAV activities in all Philippine Foreign Service Posts (FSPs) intensifies.

OAV registration will end on August 31.

“To date, the OAVS has issued a series of instructions to all FSPs to strengthen their strategies in order to garner one million OAV registrants for the 2010 national elections," he said.

He said the instructions include:

• Encouraging posts to register their personnel;

• Directing posts to campaign for, or promote, the OAV registration through regular press releases in the mainstream and Fililipino community media; including attendance by all posts’ officers and staff of community events.

• Instructing posts to activate and/or organize the One Country Team Approach (OCTA) to OAV registration. The Posts and Attaches from other government or semi-government agencies, under the leadership of the Chiefs of Mission/Ambassadors/Heads of Posts, shall collaborate and cooperate with one another to achieve the one million OAV voters for the 2010 national elections.

• Encouraging posts were encouraged to tie-up with Globe, Smart, etc. to inform the OAVoters of the on-going registration; and

• Instructing posts with seaports to replicate Brussels PE’s implementation of “Akyat Barko" where it coordinates with ship owners/principals, ship representatives, manning agencies, and authorities of the Host Government to urge/encourage Filipino seafarers to register for the upcoming National Elections.

So far, Seguis said the 50,122 figure was based on tallies from Philippine embassies, missions, consulates and offices abroad as of April 20.

He said the new OAV registrants for the different regions worldwide include 13,136 in Asia and the Pacific; 12,342 in the Americas; 7,298 in Europe; and 5,756 in Middle East and Africa.

"The top ten Posts, in terms of the number of new OAV registrants are:
Hong Kong (4,917), Los Angeles (3,950), London (2,460), Toronto (2,322), Singapore (2,232), Dubai (1,856), New York (1,743), Washington DC (1,541), Brunei (1,365), and Chicago (1,182)," the DFA said.

By country, the following are the top ten: USA, China, Canada, UK, Singapore, UAE, Italy, Taiwan, Japan, and Brunei.

Some 11,590 new OAVs have so far registered at the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) and the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) OAV registration centers. - GMANews.TV

Wife thankful RP seafarer husband finally free

MANILA, Philippines - When Catherine heard that his husband Rodell Borreta and his companions were finally released by the Somali pirates, she could not contain her happiness.

The Blas F. Ople Policy Center said that Catherine received a text message from Sea Cap Shipping Company at 12 noon, saying that Rodell – with 22 other Filipino crew of chemical tanker MT Stolt Strength – was released Tuesday, after more than five months in captivity.

It read: “Thank God at sinagot na ang ating mga panalangin. Na-release na po ang crew sa mga kamay ng pirata. [Thank God our prayers have been answered. The crew has finally been released] They are all onboard and safe. God bless us. Just wait for our call today."

Upon receiving the text message, Catherine reportedly cried as she repeatedly uttered “Thank you, Lord!"

“I am so overjoyed by the good news! I am very happy and very thankful especially to the Lord. He has heard our prayers," she told the Center.

The other wives of the freed Filipino seafarers – Doris Deseo, Vilma de Guzman, and Lerena Abiera – were reportedly “equally ecstatic" upon hearing the news.

“Our husbands haven’t called yet but we were told that the ship had to add bunker fuel and will soon sail home. We are very thankful and happy that they have regained their freedom," said Catherine.

The Filipina extended her thanks to all those who helped her husband.

“We would like to thank Vice-President Noli de Castro, Labor Secretary Marianito Roque, the Ople Center, and members of the press for their help and support," she said.

The Filipino crew members are now reportedly sailing to “safer waters" under the command of its Filipino captain, Abelardo Pacheco.

The tanker was seized Nov. 10, 2008, when Somali pirates swarmed aboard as it sailed through the Gulf of Aden while hauling a cargo of phosphoric acid destined for Japan. - Kimberly Jane T. Tan, GMANews.TV

MT Stolt owners to re-hire freed Pinoy seafarers

MANILA, Philippines - The 23 Filipino crew of chemical tanker MT Stolt Strength are more than welcome to re-apply with the company once they return safely to Manila, a spokesperson of the shipowners said on Tuesday.

Captain Dexter Custodio, spokesman of ship owner Sagana Shipping Lines, told GMANews.TV that they have no problem re-hiring the Filipino seamen should they decide to give seafaring another try.

“We are willing to hire them again. There’s no problem with that," Custodio said.

Custodio added that the crew was not careless when Somali pirates hijacked the Filipino-manned chemical tanker as it was traveling from Senegal in Africa to India.

“They are just victims too. No one wanted that to happen," Custodio said.

MT Stolt Strength was released on Tuesday morning, 162 days after being held in Somalia.

In a separate statement, Sagana Shipping Lines expressed their gratitude to the families of the crewmen for their patience and cooperation and to the Philippine government and the combined military forces operating in the area.

“[We] recognize that the safe release of the creawand vessel has been difficult and protracted and is extremely pleased that a safe conclusion to this most unfortunate situation has been reached," the ship owner said.

Previously released Filipino seafarers were given vacation leaves by ship owners after being debriefed of their ordeal. At least one shipping company offered “compassion pay" to the freed Filipino crew aside from doubling their pay during the months they were in the hands of Somali pirates. [See: Owner of pirate-seized ship finds ‘win-win’ solution for Filipino seamen]

When asked if Sagana Shipping Lines would provide the same benefits to the 23 Filipino seafarers, Custodio said they will “wait and see."

“What is important now is that the crew arrive home safe and be reunited with their family," he added. - GMANews.TV
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