Tuesday, May 26, 2009

More Filipino hostages rescued in Nigerian delta

Reuters


WARRI, Nigeria - Nigerian security forces said they had freed three more Filipino hostages in the oil-producing Niger Delta on Saturday and vowed to press on with an offensive that has forced hundreds of villagers to flee.

Helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft were being used to survey the creeks and guide ground troops to try to flush out militants from remote communities around the port of Warri, military spokesman Colonel Rabe Abubakar said.

"We were able to rescue three Filipinos today," he said. "People should not be panicked when they see helicopters or planes. Innocent people should not fear. We are targeting the militants, not them."

He said the three Filipino hostages freed on Saturday were among more than a dozen seized 10 days ago from an oil vessel in Chanomi Creek near Warri. Nine other Filipinos and four Nigerians had already been freed.

The military began its biggest offensive for years just over a week ago, bombarding militant camps around Warri from the air and sea before sending three battalions of soldiers to hunt down rebels believed to have fled into surrounding communities.

Foreign oil firms have evacuated non-essential staff from the western delta, home to part of Africa's biggest oil industry, but production has continued largely unaffected and global oil markets have shrugged off the unrest.

Militant groups say they are fighting for a fairer share of the oil wealth for local people in the delta, still mired in poverty despite five decades of oil extraction.

The armed gangs have also grown rich from the large-scale theft of crude oil, worth millions of dollars a day, and the line between militancy and criminality is blurred.

Major-General Sakin-Yaki Bello, commander of the joint military task force in the Niger Delta, has said he ordered a "pinpoint helicopter attack" on the home of militant leader Government Tompolo in the village of Oporoza on May 15.

The military says aircraft have only been used for surveillance since then.

Hiding in the bush

Local authorities handed out basic goods including rice, groundnut oil and soap to hundreds of people, mostly women and children, on the outskirts of Warri on Saturday who said they fled from Oporoza and surrounding communities in recent days.

"We were in Oporoza when the plane started dropping bombs. Everyone ran into the bush," Doreen Aborowa, in her early 20s, told Reuters in local government offices in Ogbe-Ijoh on the edge of Warri, where the displaced were being cared for.

"We slept in the bush for three days before somebody from the village came with a canoe to start taking us away," she said, explaining that the men had stayed behind for fear they would be arrested by the army if found travelling the waterways.

Abubakar said 11 soldiers from the delta task force were missing and the "cordon-and-search" operation would continue until they were found.

Some leaders from the Ijaw ethnic group, the largest in the Niger Delta, have accused the military of a targeted ethnic campaign and say innocent civilians have been killed in the villages of the Gbaramatu Kingdom around Oporoza.

Chief Godspower Gbenekama, a traditional Gbaramatu Kingdom leader, said three communities -- Venikrukru, Daubiriye and Egonoebizor -- were attacked by the army on Saturday.

"I am told the oldest man in Gbaramatu Kingdom, who could not run, was killed in the operation as well as a woman and two children," he said.

Abubakar said he was not aware of any such attack on Saturday.

Group wants remittances exempt from documentary tax

abs-cbnNEWS.com

An alliance of overseas Filipino workers’ organizations in the Middle East on Sunday urged Congress to fast track the passage of Senate Bill 3255, exempting OFW remittances from documentary stamp tax.

John Leonard Monterona, Migrante-Middle East regional coordinator, said Malacañang should certify as urgent SB 3255 filed by Sen. Panfilo Lacson.

He said Congress should also pass a bill scrapping the OWWA Omnibus Policies, a codified policies of OWWA implemented during the time of Labor Secretary Patricia Sto. Tomas which led to a phaseout of several social and welfare programs and services of OWWA to OFWs and their families.

“We are for the scrapping of the OWWA Omnibus Policies as it not only phased out OWWA’s social and welfare programs but also intended to corner the billions of OFWs membership fees which amount is now P11.7-B held in trust to the government,” he said in a statement.

Monterona said the funds have been misused and misappropriated by the administration’s self-appointed OWWA Board of Trustees.

“Even the sea-based and land-based OFW representatives are appointed by the President. Thus, there is no genuine OFWs representation on the OWWA Board. Hence, misappropriation and misused of OFWs funds is always imminent most especially in time of 2010 elections,” he said.

OFW's body finally arrives from Saudi - after six months

abs-cbnNEWS.com


Emy Pepito/Photo courtesy of Migrante International
The nightmare that hounded the family of an overseas Filipino worker for more than six months is over. Their kin returned Monday afternoon from Saudi Arabia.

However, Emy Pepito had no gifts or “pasalubong” to give his family. The only box his family would be bringing home contained his remains.

“Noong una hindi kami maniwala na ganoon [ang] nangyari,” said his sister Charito Pepito-Villanueva when they were informed of his brother’s death through his colleague.

According to Migrante International, an alliance of migrant organizations assisting Pepito’s family, the OFW died on November 12, 2008 in Jeddah. He was reportedly buried alive in sand mixed with boiling asphalt while working on the foundation of a building.

“Naihabol pa daw sa ospital pero di na umabot,” said Villanueva during a phone interview with abs-cbnNEWS.com.

It took six months before the remains of the 29-year-old OFW in the morgue were repatriated. According to Migrante, some of the alleged reasons for the delay were due to the failure of his employer to cooperate and to process the papers for the release of his body.

A native of Ozamiz City, Pepito left the Philippines to work as a construction worker in Jeddah in 2006 with the hopes of improving the lives of loved ones back home.

His sister, their mother and a cousin were assisted by members of Migrante at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport when the family fetched his body which arrived on board a Saudi Airlines flight 872. The group said the plane arrived around 1 p.m. Monday.

Before heading to the airport, Migrante International held a protest-dialogue Monday morning in front of the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) office in Pasay City to press for government’s assistance to the OFW’s family.

“Maganda naman ang kinalabasan ng dialogue. Nailabas lahat ang mga lehitimong karaingan ng pamilya,” said Migrante’s chairperson Garry Martinez.

Martinez said the family was worried that they would not be able to afford a decent burial for their kin or even bring his remains home once it arrives because of financial difficulties.

Martinez said the head of the OWWA’s repatriation office promised to shoulder the expenses of the Pepito family on their way back to their hometown in Mindanao.

“Yong nanay mag-eeroplano tapos ‘yong apat magbabarko,” said Martinez.

He added that if found that Pepito died from work-related accident, his family will get around P200,000. However, if his death was due to natural causes, his beneficiaries would only get P180,000.

Migrante also cited the cases of Eduardo Reyes who reportedly died in Riyadh last March 6, 2009 and Marilou Macam who died last November 23, 2008. The families of both OFWs continue to demand for the repatriation of the remains of their loved ones. Maria Aleta Nieva-Nishimori, abs-cbnNEWS

Public vigilance urged over increasing number of human trafficking cases

Civil society organizations involved in the fight against human trafficking recently called for more vigilance and involvement on the part of the public to stop the increasing number of cases of human trafficking in the country.

Cecille Flores-Oebanda of the Visayan Forum Foundation, an organization which provides assistance to victims of human trafficking in the Philippines, noted a 10 percent increase in the number of cases of human trafficking monitored by their group this past year.

“In areas where we operated before, Cebu, Davao, there has been a slight decrease,” Flores-Oebenda observed. She pointed out however that there had been an increase in cases monitored in backdoor areas such as Zamboanga and Tawi-tawi. Flores-Oebanda also says that there have been a couple of cases in Clark.

“Even if we stand guard in those places, we’ll already die in guarding, but this problem will still not be over. It should be the public themselves [who should] own the problem,” Flores-Oebanda says. She adds that human trafficking is alarming because the victims are very young, the youngest they have rescued being an 11-year-old girl.

“Trafficking has been happening right under our noses,” said Flores-Oebenda. “Traffickers creatively prey on our women and children, especially during this time of financial crisis when the poor becomes most vulnerable to false promises.”

War against trafficking

Flores-Oebanda described their fight against human trafficking as a type of war. “We call it a war because the issue is no longer cute and urgent action is needed,” she says.

To increase public awareness over the issue, a series of concerts organized by MTV Philippines, the Visayan Forum Foundation and United States Agency for International Development (USAID) was launched last Friday, May 22, at the Mall of Asia. Artists who played at the concert included Parokya ni Edgar, Pupil, Callalily, Spongecola, Bamboo, Gary V, and Christian Bautista.

Dubbed as the MTV End Exploitation and Trafficking (EXIT) campaign, the concert series aims to raise awareness to help prevent human trafficking in Asia and the Pacific through television programs, the internet, live concerts, and partnerships with anti-trafficking organizations.

The MTV EXIT 2009 Philippines Concert Tour is produced by the MTV Europe Foundation in partnership with USAID.

Prior to the concert, thousands of anti-trafficking advocates led by the Visayan Forum endured the heat of the sun as they participated in a Freedom March against human trafficking on Friday, May 22 at Pasay City.

The delegation; which was composed of representatives from both government and non-government organizations, religious groups, private institutions, and schools; initially gathered by the Heritage Hotel at 2:30 in the afternoon on Friday before marching to the Mall of Asia Concert Grounds for the kick-off concert.

This freedom march is the first in a nationwide campaign to spread awareness about human trafficking and increase vigilance about the issue. Following the Mall of Asia concert, subsequent events will be held in Clark, Davao, and Cebu.

Multimedia Initiative

The MTV EXIT (End Exploitation and Trafficking) campaign is an award-winning multimedia initiative to raise awareness and increase prevention of human trafficking and exploitation. MTV EXIT was launched in Europe in 2004, in partnership with the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency, Sida, and expanded across Asia with USAID in 2007.

To date MTV EXIT has produced many MTV documentaries and other programming on trafficking, including Traffic: An MTV EXIT Special, presented by Lucy Liu; Inhuman Traffic, presented by Angelina Jolie; over a dozen localized language versions presented by Asian celebrities; short films; public service announcements; and animation.

MTV EXIT and Radiohead collaborated on an anti-exploitation video for their song All I Need, which premiered across MTV’s global network on 1 May 2008. MTV EXIT has also established partnerships with over 100 non-governmental organizations, distributed hundreds of thousands of anti-trafficking brochures in over 25 languages, and reached out to millions of young people through anti-trafficking messages at concerts and music festivals featuring R.E.M., Radiohead, The White Stripes, The Hives, Thievery Corporation, and hundreds of other international and local artists. – Victoria Camille Tulad and Anna Bueno, Newsbreak

Pinoy family quarantined for A(H1N1) in Macau discharged

MANILA, Philippines — A Filipino family quarantined last week in Macau as a precaution against A(H1N1) has been discharged, the Department of Foreign Affairs said.

The DFA, in its update, said the Macau Health Bureau informed the Philippine post there that the family had completed the seven-day quarantine period.

"Post was informed by the Macau Health Bureau that the Filipino couple with their three children who were quarantined for suspected A(H1N1) influenza tested negative of the virus and were discharged following the completion of the seven-day quarantine period given to them," it said on its website (www.dfa.gov.ph).

It did not divulge the identities of the family members who were quarantined.

Last week, the DFA said a Filipino couple and their three children were quarantined in Macau after getting in contact with a confirmed A(H1N1) patient.

The DFA said that while the five tested negative, they would still be quarantined seven days.

It said the Philippine Consulate was able to contact this Filipino family over the phone to check on their health condition and also contacted their immediate relatives in the Philippines. - GMANews.TV

Pay hike rejection expected to push more Pinoy nurses, teachers to go abroad

KIMBERLY JANE T. TAN, GMANews.TV

MANILA, Philippines - As the proposed bill to double the monthly pay of government nurses and teachers has been shut down by a House panel, a recruitment consultant on Tuesday predicted that more of these Filipino workers would probably consider going abroad.

A number of congressmen, led by Nueva Vizcaya Rep. Carlos Padilla, had proposed that the monthly pay of government nurses and teachers be increased by P12,000 to P25,000 to “cope with rising inflation and stave off the departure of nurses and teachers for destinations abroad."

Padilla said that this is the group of state workers who should have been given a 100-percent increase instead of other “high-ranking and high-salaried officials."

The lawmaker was pertaining to the President, Cabinet members, senators, congressmen, and government bureaucrats down to director level who will receive double their salaries starting July 1 this year.

But House Appropriations Committee chairman Quirino Rep. Junie Cua just said that the government’s soaring budget deficit could not afford a huge increase for teachers and nurses numbering to a total of about 600,000.

The committee, however, approved an increase of P 6,500 to be paid within four years thereby increasing the monthly pay to P18,000 by the year 2014.

This, said recruitment consultant Emmanuel Geslani, is not enough to stop our homegrown nurses and teachers from leaving the country.

“The recent rejection of the pay hike will encourage nurses those with at least two years experience to apply for the thousands of job openings in the Middle East and others will still pursue their dream of “American pie" with US hospitals," he said.

Data from the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) showed that more than 130,000 nurses left for various countries – mostly in the Middle East, United States, and the United Kingdom – from 1992 to 2007.

Almost 8,000 teachers, on the other hand, left for abroad from 2003 to 2008.

Moreover, Geslani said that the Middle East has been increasing its demand for Filipino nurses especially in Saudi Arabia where there are over 30,000 of them spread all over in military and private hospitals who are getting paid as much as $1,200 to $1,500 with various benefits.

Despite tightening its immigration policies, the US government has been asked to ease up on the entry of foreign nurses due to the inability of local nurses to fill up the growing demand for health care workers.

Likewise, the United Kingdom has recently reopened its door once more for the entry of foreign nurses.

The only challenge, however, is the points-based system and the strict requirement of a grade of 7.0 for the IELTS (International English Language Testing System) needed for them to be able to work in the UK as registered nurses.

A total of 39,455 nursing examinees passed the November 2008 Nursing Board Exam while 27,765 passed the June 2008 exam. [See: 39,455 pass nursing board exam; Baguio grad is No. 1]

About 18,800 examinees, on the other hand, passed the November 2008 Licensure Exam for Teachers. [See: LIST OF NEW SECONDARY TEACHERS (November '08)] - GMANews.TV

From Dubai to Manila: An OFW’s harrowing tale of abuse, betraya

JANESS ANN J. ELLAO, Bulatlat/Migrant Watch

MANILA, Philippines — In the 1970s, many engineers and skilled workers left the country to work in the Middle East.

Today, more women are now leaving the country to work abroad such as domestic workers and health professionals as the demand for land-based migrant workers has dramatically shifted from men to women.

Maricar Evangelista, 35, a mother of four children, is one of the millions of Filipinos who left the country to find work abroad. Her story, of course, is also similar to the thousands of women migrant workers who have returned home after experiencing various forms of abuses from their employers.

Evangelista left the country last November 2007 to work as a domestic helper in Dubai. "I never thought my employers would maltreat me," she said.

Evangelista said her employers were good to her during the first six months. But when the family decided to hire another domestic helper, her suffering started.

"My fellow domestic helper who is also a Filipina went out on a date. My employer thought that I was her accomplice. We are both Filipino women so our employer thought that we are the same," she said.

"I was slapped by my employer and they threw a chair at me," Evangelista told Bulatlat. Evangelista’s first employer eventually sent her back to her agency in Dubai. But just as she thought her ordeal was over, she realized that another one was yet to begin, only much worse.

The manager of Evangelista’s agency Al Dookhi Labor Supply, a certain Dana, was very disappointed upon learning about Evangelista’s dismissal from her first employer. Dana then tried to send her again to other families based in Dubai who were looking for domestic helpers. But on three occasions, Evangelista was dismissed again weeks after she was employed for reasons that she did not know.

Each time Evangelista was employed, she would give her first salary to her agency. But since she was always dismissed weeks after she started working, Evangelista did not have the chance to save money for herself.

"They locked me up inside the agency for a month. The meal they served in the morning was supposed to last me the whole day," Evangelista said.

"I have already told my brother about my situation in Dubai," she said. Evangelista is the sister of Randy Evangelista, public information officer of Anakpawis (Toiling Masses) party list. When the agency learned about her calls, it confiscated her cellphone.

"I left many cellphones at the agency because they kept on confiscating it so I would not be able to call my family," she said.

But Evangelista said that her agency found a way to further demoralize her. She claimed that it was responsible for spreading rumors that she was having an extramarital affair in Dubai. She said the agency blackmailed her by bribing two Filipino women under their agency to tell her family about her so-called infidelity.

She said she helped these women to find a way to go home by helping them contact their families. When the two were about to go home, the agency talked to them and bribed them to spread the rumor about her when they reach the Philippines. Evangelista said that she even prioritized them before herself. “I was the one who was left there and this was what happened to me in return," she said.

"The only thing that I can say about her [Dana] is that she is greedy. She was able to get people to her side because she has the money"

Group effort

Last October 2008, Evangelista and a fellow migrant worker broke the glass window of the agency to escape their dreadful circumstances and sought the help of the Overseas Workers’ Welfare Administration.

"It was the only way we could escape," Evangelista said. The two of them were charged with robbery but the case was later dismissed for lack of evidence.

Meanwhile, her brother Randy looked for various ways to keep his sister from the hands of her cruel agency. He sought the advice of Migrante International and Gabriela on how to immediately bring her sister back home.

"We also asked Villar to help us raise the money for Maricar’s plane fare," Randy said, referring to Sen. Manuel Villar, who has packaged his public image as a savior of OFWs.

Randy said that while his sister was in the custody of OWWA, some concerned Filipinos constantly checked on Maricar’s situation. He also told Bulatlat that the safe return of her sister Maricar to the Philippines is a 'group effort' of all progressive groups that he had approached for help.

Randy said that his sister needs justice for the maltreatment that she experienced. He added that they would press charges against the agency and the employers. “Maricar’s case is very common," said Randy, adding that the belittling of the Filipino migrant workers in their receiving countries is a result of the absence of initiatives from the government to protect the rights of Filipino workers.

“The framework of development of the Arroyo regime is dependent on the export of labor instead of generating local jobs that pay well," Randy said. He said that while the Arroyo regime is milking the OFWs for economic growth, it does not provide them with the assistance they needed.

Making up for lost time

Evangelista went home to the country last May 18, 2009. She regretted the fact that she got herself into this situation. “My husband believed the rumors that the agency spread and now, I’d be the only one responsible for making a living for my children," Evangelista said. “The agency is responsible for tearing my family apart."

Evangelista said her two daughters are living with her while her two sons are still living with her in-laws. She said her children always asked about their father. “I feel sorry for my children because they are still very young, especially now that our family has been torn apart," she added.

“I really want to file charges against the agency," Evangelista told Bulatlat.

Evangelista said Randy is helping her find work that would keep her thoughts away from her problems. Aside from that, she also wishes to live with all her four children, to try to make up for the lost time when she was still in Dubai. But she would have to play the part of both mother and father.

“There will come a time," she said, “when I will be able to get all my children." - Bulatlat.com

Missing Fil-Am activist surfaces but...

MANILA, Philippines - Less than 24 hours after she was reported abducted along with two companions in Manila, a Filipino American activist surfaced in Manila, a militant group said Monday.

But the Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) US chapter said the companions of Melissa Roxas, 32, remain missing since they were "abducted" last May 19.

"We are happy to hear about Melissa's surfacing, but we are still concerned about the whereabouts of her two companions, Juanito Carabeo and John Edward Handoc, who were abducted along with Melissa on May 19th and are still missing to this day," Bayan USA chairwoman Bernadette Ellorin said on the Bayan Web site (www.bayan.ph).

"We fully intend to pursue the demand for the surfacing of Carabeo and Handoc, as well as justice for Melissa. This abduction should never have taken place," she added.

Bayan claimed at least eight armed men abducted Roxas, Carabeo, and Handoc at gunpoint in La Paz, Tarlac. The three were members of a medical mission team in the area.

It said it and Bayan USA "exerted strong efforts" calling for their immediate surfacing, including releasing an online petition addressed to US elected officials.

Ellorin claimed it was international pressure that forced the immediate surfacing of Roxas.

"Because more than five days had passed since their abduction, we believe Melissa's surfacing is a direct result of rapid community response and international pressure exerted from the Philippines and the United States first and foremost," she said.

She added BAYAN USA in Southern California has also been working closely with Roxas' family in Los Angeles in their campaign efforts to surface Roxas and her companions.

Roxas, a founding member of the cultural organization Habi-Arts in Los Angeles and founding Southern California Representative for BAYAN USA, went to the Philippines in 2007 to pursue human rights advocacy full-time.

This was amid an acute human rights crisis in the Philippines that includes reports of rampant extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances, illegal arrest, torture, and summary executions, Bayan said.

In 2005, Roxas participated in an international fact-finding mission investigating human rights violations throughout the Philippines under the Arroyo administration.

Meanwhile, Bayan USA member organizations across the United States will launch actions denouncing the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) this Wednesday.

"Included in these actions will be the call for justice for Melissa Roxas and for the immediate surfacing of Juanito Carabeo and John Edward Handoc. BAYAN USA firmly believes the continuing, unabated human rights violations committed by the Philippine military and death squads are generously funded by US military aid to the Arroyo government. BAYAN USA also ultimately holds the Arroyo government accountable for the pattern of killings and abductions against civilians critical of the regime since 2001," Bayan said.

"As we continue to campaign for justice for Melissa, Juanito, and John Edward, we are consciously raising awareness of the role of US tax dollars in funding these abductions and other human rights violations.
There are hundreds more victims of politically-motivated abductions in the Philippines that are still missing to this day," Ellorin added. - GMANews.TV
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Nigerian militants free three Filipino hostages

LAGOS, Nigeria — Militants in Nigeria's southern oil delta said Monday they had destroyed major pipelines in the region and freed three Filipinos taken hostage earlier this month.

The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta said it had destroyed crude-bearing pipes run by Chevron Corp. early Monday in Delta State, where the military has launched its largest operation in years against militants.

The group said the destruction was intended to stanch the flow of oil from five so-called flow stations, which route crude oil from wells into larger pipes heading toward refineries and export terminals.

In a statement, the militants also said they had released three Filipino hostages seized earlier this month.

Officials for the military and Chevron were not immediately available for comment.

The military launched its operation in Rivers State nearly two weeks ago, after rare clashes between armed forces and the militants in the Scotland-sized region of swamps, rivers and creeks. The militants say they have killed at least 12 soldiers, and the military says it is searching for 11 troops missing in the area.

Amnesty International says hundreds of people may have been killed, including innocent bystanders to the violence. But the military has classed the entire Niger Delta region as a military zone, severely curtailing access for reporters and aid workers. A true death toll isn't known.

The militants say they are fighting to force the federal government to send more of the oil-industry funds it controls to the Niger Delta, which remains deeply impoverished despite five decades of oil production. But criminality and militancy are closely linked, with many leaders of the militant groups growing rich by stealing oil from pipelines and selling it overseas.

An upsurge in violence that began in early 2006 has seen hundreds of foreign workers kidnapped and dozens of attacks on crucial oil infrastructure. Hostages are normally released unharmed although several have died during botched snatch or rescue attempts, including two other Filipino hostages killed as violence flared this month.

Militant activities have trimmed Nigeria's daily oil output by about 25 percent off pre-2006 heights, with Africa's oil giant producing about 1.6 million barrels per day now. The government says no more production has been lost in the recent spate of violence. - AP

Execute 20K pending warrants vs illegal recruiters - VP Noli

MANILA, Philippines - After learning of 20,000 unserved arrest warrants against 276 large-scale illegal recruiters in the country, Vice President Noli De Castro asked local authorities to take action.

"We are wondering why such number of warrants of arrest remains unserved. The task force is looking into this. That is why we are asking the help of Philippine National Police and National Bureau of Investigation for the prompt execution of these unserved warrants," De Castro said.

The vice president, who is also head of the Task Force Against Illegal Recruitment (TFAIR), has earlier ordered TFAIR operations chief Senior Superintendent Gilbert Sosa to document and come up with a list for the most wanted persons in large-scale illegal recruitment.

"The correct approach in helping our OFWs is to stop illegal recruitment at the source. Instead of the government spending so much money in the repatriation expenses and board and lodging expenses in all our embassies abroad, we should prevent them from getting victimized at the outset," he said.

De Castro also asked the TFAIR chief to prioritize the arrest of big recruiters or those with the most number of pending warrants to prevent these individuals from further victimizing unsuspecting job seekers.

Sosa identified the top suspect as Harleta Velasco, who has 134 arrest warrants for illegal recruitment and estafa (fraud). [See: Top illegal job recruiter has 134 arrest warrants]

Of the 276 suspects, 68 have double digit warrants of arrests.

Joining Velasco on top of the list were Rosemarie Liwanag (82), Maricar Inovero (79), Corazon Ventura (48), Amelia Gabriel (29), Beverly Tuazon (27), Maria Harleta Velasco (27) – suspected to be the same recruiter with the most number of arrests— Aminola Camarudin (24), and Marissa Biyalat (24).

"The Task Force, under my lead, aims to go after each for the 276 illegal recruiters and give justice to their victims. This must serve as a warning to the public to verify first the recruiters they deal with at the POEA and know the right process in getting jobs," he said. - Kimberly J. Tan, GMANews.TV

RP seeks global action vs human trafficking

MANILA, Philippines - The Philippines reiterated its call to the international community for more inter-governmental efforts against human trafficking, the Philippine Mission to the United Nations said.

Philippine representative to the United Nations Hilario Davide Jr. made the call before the Interactive Thematic Dialogue of the UN General Assembly General Assembly where he also pushed for the development of a global plan of action to fight trafficking.

"Human trafficking is a gross violation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. In a world that prides itself as civilized, human trafficking is not only a form of slavery; it is far worse than any form of slavery," Davide said in his statement before the General Assembly.

"It is a crime that shames us all. It shames us because we have not done enough to remove the shame. It must be eliminated. It must be exterminated from this civilized world," he added.

The dialogue was themed “Taking Collective Action to End Human Trafficking." Its sponsors included the Philippines, Belarus, Egypt, Nicaragua and Bahrain.

In pushing for more synergy in intergovernmental efforts to address the issue, Davide cited the various protocols and conventions that have been put in place since 2000 to guide international actions against trafficking. He also cited the meetings and conferences that have been taking place in the United Nations and its agencies.

“The plan of action should not re-invent the wheel, that is, it should not be a document that repeats the norms, standards and approaches that are already in the Trafficking Protocol and other related instruments, the resolutions and other existing documents," he said.

The Philippines is recognized to be among the leading countries active in the fight against human trafficking. It tables biannually a resolution entitled “Trafficking in Women and Girls" at the General Assembly, with the resolution traditionally adopted by consensus. - GMANews.TV

Top illegal job recruiter has 134 arrest warrants

MANILA, Philippines - At least 276 Filipino individuals have a total of more than 20,000 unserved warrants of arrest for large-scale illegal recruitment, an official of the Task Force Against Illegal Recruiters (TFAIR) said Saturday.

Senior Superintendent Gilbert Sosa, TFAIR operations chief, identified the top suspect as Harleta Velasco, who has 134 arrest warrants for illegal recruitment and estafa (fraud).

And of the 276 suspects, 68 have double digit warrants of arrests, Sosa said in an interview on Vice President Noli De Castro’s radio program “Para Sa Iyo, Bayan."

De Castro, who is also head of the Task Force Against Illegal Recruitment, wanted all the suspects to be identified but in view of the long list, he had Sosa name only the top 10 for a start.

Sosa, however, ended up naming only nine, all of them women, with one suspect — Velasco — landing in the 1st and 7th place.

Joining Velasco on top of the list were Rosemarie Liwanag (82), Maricar Inovero (79), Corazon Ventura (48), Amelia Gabriel (29), Beverly Tuazon (27), Maria Harleta Velasco (27) – suspected to be the same recruiter with the most number of arrests— Aminola Camarudin (24), and Marissa Biyalat (24).

“Ang ginawa po namin ngayon, so nag-workshop kami, nanarrow down na po natin sa 276 [What we did was we did a workshop, we were able to narrow it down to 276]," said Sosa.

“Ito ho ay ang maraming warrant of arrests pero marami pa sila [There really are many warrants of arrests but there are more]," he said, adding that they obtained the list from the databases of the Philippine National Police (PNP) and the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI), who in turn received it from the courts.

De Castro said while the suspects have yet to be convicted, the task force felt compelled to release their names so that aspiring OFWs would be forewarned.

“Layunin natin dito eh bigyan ng babala ang ating mga kababayan [We aim to warn our fellow Filipinos about them]," he said.

“Layunin natin na ang illegal recruiter ay ating mapigilan dito pa lamang [We want to stop the illegal recruiter while they’re still here]," said De Castro.

Sosa, who is from the PNP’s Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG), said they plan on coming up with a list for the most wanted persons in large-scale illegal recruitment and seek public help in rounding them up.

De Castro told the task force to go first after those with the most number of pending warrants to prevent them from victimizing more job seekers.

He noted that many of the cases were non-bailable, and yet the suspects are still scot-free, looking for more victims. - GMANews.TV

Friday, May 22, 2009

RP suspends consular services in Osaka over flu

The Philippines suspended consular services in Japan's western city of Osaka for four days on Tuesday due to the spread of a new strain of the flu virus, Manila's Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said.

Citing public safety concerns, the Philippine consular office in Osaka advised its staff to stay indoors and avoid unnecessary travel to "maintain their state of health" after Japan reported a sharp rise in influenza A (H1N1) cases in the past few days.

The DFA said in a note on its website (www.dfa.gov.ph) the Osaka office would be closed from Tuesday until Friday "in the interest of public safety".

More than 150 people have been reported infected by the new strain of influenza virus in Japan's western areas of Osaka and Hyogo prefectures.

The Philippines remains free of the new flu virus after testing 65 people with flu-like symptoms since May 1. Three cases remained under observation, the health department said in a statement on Tuesday.

as of 05/19/2009 10:18 PM

Pinoys evacuated from quake-hit areas in Saudi Arabia

Several overseas Filipino workers were immediately evacuated from their homes after a series of earthquake hit the town of Al Ais in the western region of Saudi Arabia.

ABS-CBN Middle East News Bureau correspondent Charles Tabbu reported that 24 Filipino nurses were temporarily brought to an evacuation center, 30 kilometers from Al Ais.

Rey Vicencio, coordinator of the Philippine Consulate in Yanbu, said that aside from the nurses, Filipino workers employed at the Saudi Cooperative Electric Company or SCECO were also moved to evacuation centers in Yanbu and Madinah, 50 kilometers from Al Ais.

Officials of the Philippine Consulate in Jeddah are now determining the situation of Filipinos affected by the quake, the report said.

The report added that Philippine Consul General Ezzedin Tago has given instructions to find out the condition of Filipinos living in the earthquake affected areas of Al Ais, Madinah and Yanbu.

According to the US Geological Survey, 46 tremors have hit the region in a span of three days since 2 p.m. Sunday.

The most powerful quake was recorded 8 p.m. Tuesday in the town of Al Ais that forced the Saudi Civil Defense to conduct evacuation operations in nearby villages. The quake was measured 5.6 magnitude on the Richter scale.

The Arab News reported that the earthquake also created panic among residents due to fears that the tremors might trigger eruptions of extinct volcanoes in Al Ais.

Aftershocks were also felt in the nearby town of Umlaj, where some OFWs are working.

Tents near hospitals

A Filipina nurse from Umlaj said they have set up tents near their hospital due to the series of earthquakes. They are also afraid to sleep in the building where their accommodation is located.

"Aalis daw kami ngayon kasi baka sasabog. Malakas ang earthquake kaya doon kami sa ospital. May tent na doon na naka-ready. Lahat kami dito aalis. Mga 60 kami dito na tao--Indian at Filipina," said a Pinay nurse, who asked not to be named.

The Filipino workers called on the Philippine government to issue an advisory for them to determine the next action to take.

“Wala kaming makuhaan na balita. 'Yung iba nakiki-internet sa kasama namin na mga doctor. Fifty kilometers ang layo namin. Malapit lang sa mismong bulkan. Ang sabi kanina ng chief nurse namin, ang flow ng lava papunta daw ng Madinah at saka ng Yanbu, hindi daw dito sa amin. 'Yun lang kasi may dagat kami dito sa likod. 'Yun ang nakakatakot, 'yung tsunami daw,” she added. With Dindo Amparo, ABS-CBN Middle East News Bureau, Chief

2 more Pinoy seafarers rescued in Nigeria - DFA

MANILA, Philippines - Two more Filipino seafarers who were kidnapped in Nigeria last May 13 were rescued by Nigerian authorities, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said Thursday.

Foreign Affairs Undersecretary Esteban Conejos said the duo were to be brought to the Nigerian key city of Lagos to join nine other Filipino crew of the MV Spirit who were rescued earlier.

Five other Filipino seafarers remain in the chartered oil tanker, which was hijacked by Nigerian militants at the Delta State on May 13. The vessel had a total of 16 Filipino crew on board.

Conejos said the Philippine Embassy is coordinating with the Nigerian Foreign Ministry and federal security officials "for the safe release of the five seafarers who remain in the custody of the militants."

A consular team headed by the charge d’affaires of the Philippine Embassy in Abuja, Alex Lamadrid. is to meet with the rescued kidnapping victims in Lagos.

At least two Filipino seafarers – from the first group of nine – sustained slight injuries in the rescue efforts. [See: 2 rescued Pinoy seafarers in Nigeria injured - DFA]

The Philippine government has stopped sending Filipino workers to Nigeria following hostilities and kidnappings of foreign nationals. Several groups have requested that Manila lift the deployment ban as the situation there continues to improve.
Apart from the Gulf of Aden, the waters off Nigeria are considered the most dangerous due to piracy threats.

Global organizations monitoring hijackings have said that more than 200 foreigners have been taken hostage by pirates and other lawless groups across the southern oil region of Africa's biggest petroleum producer.

Foreign shipping and oil companies operating in Nigeria were known in the past to have paid huge amounts to ransom off their crewmen and staff taken hostage by militants.

A number of Filipino workers have also been abducted in the Niger Delta region but were later on freed upon payment ransom. - Mark Joseph Ubalde, GMANews.TV

'Rise in OFW deployment due to repro job orders'

MANILA, Philippines - The reported rise in the deployment of overseas Filipino workers (OFW) is clearly due to the “reprocessing" of job orders, a recruitment industry consultant said.

According to the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA), a total of 1,236,013 Filipino workers were deployed in 2008 – a 14.7 percent increase from the year before.

Of the number, 376,973 were land-based new hires – a 20 percent increase from the 313,360 new hires deployed in 2007. [See: POEA clarifies rise in OFW deployment for 2008]

Recruitment consultant Emmanuel Geslani, however, clarified that the rise in OFW deployment wasn’t actually due to an increase of job orders for new hires.

“The recruitment industry believes that the large increase of deployed workers… is due to the proliferation of ‘repro job orders’ being used by licensed agencies in sending domestic helpers to Middle East," he told GMANews.TV.

“Reprocessing," as previously defined by recruiters, means using particular job orders to recruit workers into jobs different from the work that they would be given at the jobsite.

This, Geslani said, is being used by many licensed agencies in sending domestic helpers to Middle East destinations under the guise of female categories like cleaners, janitress, chambermaids, beauticians and the like.

“Some licensed agencies are using ‘repro job orders’ from other agencies who have an abundance of female categories which may be used to deploy OFW maids violating POEA rules of contract substitution and falsified documents," he said.

The recruitment consultant asked the POEA to make such agencies accountable.

“The POEA should crack down on those agencies which have been found to be collaborating with illegal recruitment syndicates and recalcitrant agencies participating in ‘repro job orders,’" he said.

Geslani said the proliferation of these violating agencies stemmed from the absence of POEA desks at airports where e-receipts and other documents can be properly validated. - GMANews.TV

Authentication of documents important, POEA tells OFWs

MANILA, Philippines - The Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) recently reminded overseas Filipino workers (OFW) that having their documents authenticated before going abroad is very important.

“Documents coming from where they are working abroad must be authenticated by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of that country and by the Philippine Embassy accredited to that country, if they want to use the said documents anywhere else in the world later on," the POEA said on its website.

The POEA issued the warning in light of the increasing number of Filipinos trying to go abroad using fake documents. [See: BI bars four undocumented OFWs from leaving at Clark Field]

According to the Commission on Filipinos Overseas, more than four million Filipinos worked abroad in 2007.

About 900,000 of this number, however, were reportedly undocumented. - Kimberly Jane T. Tan, GMANews.TV

RP, Italy officials tackle ways to enhance OFWs’ remittances

MANILA, Philippines — Officials from the Philippines and Italy met with members of the Filipino community in Italy to discuss ways to enhance the development potential of their remittances.

The International Organization for Migration (IOM) said the meeting opened Wednesday in Rome, and had representatives from international groups.

“Representatives from international organizations, NGOs and the private sector are also attending the two-day meeting, which opened ... in Rome, to identify best practices that will encourage the investment of remittances in activities that will stimulate growth and employment in the Philippines," the IOM said on its website (http://www.iom.int/jahia/Jahia/media/press-briefing-notes/pbnEU/cache/offonce?entryId=25007).

IOM said the meeting is part of a program funded by the European Commission and carried out by IOM Manila to improve the knowledge of remittance corridors, enhance the development potential of remittances through inter-regional dialogue through the setting up of pilot projects in Southeast Asia and Europe.

Some 8.73 million Overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) remitted $16.4 billion in 2008, representing 9.7 percent of the Philippines’ gross domestic product (GDP).

However, the global financial crisis has led to a reduction in the number of Filipinos deployed abroad and to a slower growth rate of remittance inflow, with a 2 per cent recorded growth in February 2009 compared to 13 per cent annual growth recorded in 2008.

At the meeting, preliminary findings of an ongoing IOM research project on remittance flows between Italy and the Philippines were to be presented.

The IOM said the research showed 72 percent of Filipinos in Italy send money home on a monthly basis, with 63 per cent saying they remit 350 euros (P22,739.64) a month.

Some 40 percent of the respondents said they had been sending money home for more than 10 years, with women on average remitting more money than men.

When asked about their future plans, 55 per cent of respondents said they wanted to bring their families to Italy, although 91 percent said they planned to retire in the Philippines.

Some 26 per cent of the interviewees confirmed they had invested money in rotating and savings associations (paluwagan) and 38 percent had invested in cooperatives and in rural banks. - GMANews.TV

Alec Baldwin banned from RP despite apology

'SORRY' Alec Baldwin says sorry to Filipinos offended by his Filipina-mail-order bride joke last May 12. AP photoMANILA, Philippines - After receiving flak from Filipinos worldwide, 30 Rock star Alec Baldwin on Wednesday apologized for joking that he was interested in buying himself a Filipina wife.

"I apologize for the perceived insensitivity of that remark," Baldwin said in his blog posted at the Huffington Post website.

Despite his apology, Baldwin explained that his joke was just meant to "achieve the goal of having more children in [his] life."

"I believe that most people understood that this was a joke and took it as such. (A dated reference, no doubt, and another sign of my advancing age)," he said.

On May 12, the 51-year-old Hollywood actor told David Letterman on the Late Show how he thought of getting, or buying, himself a Filipina bride.

"I think about getting a Filipino mail-order bride at this point or a Russian one, I don’t care, I’m 51," he told Letterman.

Letterman, responding to the seemingly funny joke, replied: “Get one for me [also], for later." [See: Alec Baldwin's Letterman interview]

But despite his apology, the Bureau of Immigration issued an order barring Baldwin from entering the Philippines as he is deemed an "undesirable alien."

Immigration Commissioner Marcelino Libanan said Baldwin appeared to condone the mail-order bride scheme, which is a criminal act prohibited and punishable under Republic Act 6955.

"By being in the bureau’s blacklist, Baldwin is forbidden from entering the country as he is deemed an undesirable alien," Libanan said.

Last month, Libanan also barred Hong Kong-based columnist Chip Tsao from entering the Philippines, after the well-known writer called the Philippines a "nation of servants", which shouldn't lord over the Spratly islands that is still being claimed by China.

The Immigration chief later lifted the ban, days after Tsao issued an apology.

Afraid of Revilla?

In his letter, Baldwin noted the remark of Philippine Senator Ramon 'Bong' Revilla Jr., who threatened to beat up up the actor should he decide to visit the Philippines.

"The comments of some Philippine government officials come as no surprise to me, either. Even the one by a former action film star-turned-Senator who beckoned me to come to the Philippines so he could 'beat' me over my comment," he said. [See: Alec Baldwin's ‘RP mail-order bride remark’ irks senator]

The Philippine Consulate in New York had earlier given Baldwin a free lecture about Filipino mail-order-brides.

In a letter addressed to the actor on Tuesday, Consul General Cecilia Rebong noted the key legislations against human smuggling including: Republic Act 6955 or “The Anti Mail-Order Bride Law of 1990" and the RA 9208: “The Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act," which criminalizes the act of “introducing for money or other consideration any Filipino to a foreigner as a possible spouse."

"Being an actor and a comedian it is understandable that you may not be aware of these matters," Rebong added.

Baldwin replied that he "understands" why Filipinos react like that to such comments.

"Such anger and frustration about the issue of sex trafficking is understandable. The Philippines has suffered significant problems with the issue of sex trafficking," he said.

In 2007, the Philippines was placed in Tier 2 by the US Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report for not fully complying with the Trafficking Victims Protection Act’s minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking. - GMANews.TV

Pinoy family quarantined in Macau over A(H1N1)

MANILA, Philippines - A Filipino couple and their three children were quarantined in Macau after getting in contact with a confirmed A(H1N1) patient, the Department of Foreign Affairs said late Wednesday.

In an update on its Web site, the DFA said that while the five tested negative, they would still be quarantined seven days.

"All five members of this family were tested negative but nevertheless will be quarantined for seven days from the day they got in contact with a confirmed A(H1N1) patient," it said.

It did not elaborate on when the family came into contact with the patient.

The DFA said the Philippine post in Macau learned of the incident after getting information from the Macau Health Department.

"The Consulate was able to contact this Filipino family over the phone to check on their health condition and also contacted their immediate relatives in the Philippines," it said. - GMANews.TV

Consulate lectures Baldwin on Pinay mail-order brides

MANILA, Philippines - American actor Alec Baldwin got a free lecture from the Philippine Consulate in New York about Filipino mail-order-brides, which he jokingly expressed interest in buying.

In a letter addressed to the actor on Tuesday, Consul General Cecilia Rebong said the 30 Rock actor’s May 12 statement on the “Late Show with David Letterman" gave them the impression that “Filipino women can be categorized as easy commodities for sale."

“The Philippine is one of the leading countries in the effort to eliminate the trafficking of women and children," Rebong wrote.

She noted the key legislations against human smuggling including: Republic Act 6955 or “The Anti Mail-Order Bride Law of 1990" and the RA 9208: “The Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act," which criminalizes the act of “introducing for money or other consideration any Filipino to a foreigner as a possible spouse."

"Being an actor and a comedian it is understandable that you may not be aware of these matters," Rebong added.

But the consulate reminded the veteran actor to be sensitive to discriminatory statements especially in a very diverse country like the Philippines.

“To label women married to US nationals as ‘mail-order brides’ simply because they are overseas, or from the Philippines or Russia in particular, is offensive and prejudiced," she said. [See: 'Alec Baldwin doesn’t deserve a Filipina wife']

Despite the lecture, the Philippine Consulate in New York, where “The Late Show" and Baldwin’s show 30 Rock are taped, does not demand any apology from him.

At least three Philippine lawmakers on the other hand, are asking Baldwin to say sorry.

"For him, it is funny but to the millions of Filipinos, it is mockery. Bad joke, not worth laughing," said Senator Ramon ‘Bong’ Revilla Jr., himself a celebrity in the Philippine movie industry. - GMANews.TV

Taiwan recalling OFWs laid off due to crisis

MANILA, Philippines -Some Taiwanese companies have started recalling overseas Filipino workers (OFW) who were laid off due to the global financial crisis, the Manila Economic and Cultural Office (MECO) announced on Wednesday.

“Several Taiwanese manufacturers value the significant contribution of their Filipino talent and skilled workforce to their enterprises’ future growth and competitiveness," said Antonio I. Basilio, resident representative of MECO, Manila’s de-facto embassy in Taiwan.

He said that some workers who were asked to go on a three-month vacation have also started returning to their Taiwanese employers.

The MECO said that employers in the electronics sector made the move in light of the improvements in the economy of the export-dependent country.

As proof, Basilio said the jobs registered with the online Job Bank in Taiwan rose to 203,000 in early May – the highest in six months, thereby indicating that the country’s employment market is “regaining momentum."

Taipei-based Labor Attaché Rodolfo M. Sabulao even said that a total of 3,434 job orders for Filipino workers bound for Taiwan were processed and verified during the last quarter of 2008.

A total of 3, 563 workers, on the other hand, were laid off and repatriated over the same period – leaving a net job loss of 129 workers.

Moreover, Sabulo noted that the number of workers hired during the first four months of 2009 exceeded the number of job cuts in the latter part of 2008.

“Job orders have also been steadily increasing by at least 15 percent every month while the number of workers receiving pink slips has been on the decline," the report stated.

During January to April 2009, 4,406 job orders were processed and verified by MECO’s labor posts as against the 1,509 workers retrenched by their employers – resulting in a net job gain of 2, 897 workers.

The data, said Sabulo, was based on job orders processed and verified by MECO’s labor posts in Taipei, Taichung, and Kaohsiung as against the workers retrenched by their employers over the same period.

Taiwan’s economy was hit hard by the global financial crisis which stemmed from the financial troubles of the United States last year.

As a result, many companies in the electronics sector, which were exporting their products to US and Europe, shut down their operations and laid off local and foreign workers – causing the local unemployment rate to shoot up. - With Kimberly Jane T. Tan, GMANews.TV

Pinoy on death row in Kuwait gets pardon from murder victim's family

MANILA, Philippines - An overseas Filipino worker who has been sentenced by a Kuwaiti court to die for killing a compatriot may yet get a new lease of life, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said on Wednesday.

In a statement, the DFA said Bienvenido Espino’s chance of being spared the death penalty has improved after the victim’s family agreed to forgive him.

Espino was convicted for killing fellow OFW Jhiyas Gumapac in Kuwait in 2007.

To save Espino, the DFA facilitated the grant of a tanazul or an affidavit of forgiveness under Shariah law from Gumapac’s legal heirs as required by Kuwait’s Court of Cassation (equivalent to the Philippine Supreme Court).

The statement quoted Gumapac’s father, Joel, as saying that the persistent representations made by the DFA’s Office of the Undersecretary for Migrant Workers’ Affairs and Philippine Ambassador to Kuwait Ricardo Endaya led to the decision for them to forgive Espino and sign the tanazul.

“In Kuwait, the tanazul will allow the offender to be freed form his private obligation to the victim. Only the Amir (King) of Kuwait can grant a pardon which will free a convicted offender from his public obligation," the DFA said.

Kuwait’s Shariah court hears the case on two aspects – private and public – in cases of death or injury to a victim.

The private aspect surrounding Espino’s case can be addressed with the signing of a tanazul by the heirs of the victim or the victim himself, while the public aspect may be influenced by the signing of a tanazul although circumstances surrounding the case may have a bearing on the final judgment of the court.

Apart from Espino, another Filipino named Kakapi Pawa is appealing a death sentence imposed by a Kuwaiti court in April 2008 for allegedly killing the 22-year-old daughter of her employer.

Last year, Kuwait’s ruler, Emir Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah, commuted the death sentences of Filipino domestic helpers Marilou Ranario and May Vecina, who were sentenced separately on murder charges. - GMANews.TV

Pinoy on death row in Kuwait gets pardon from murder victim's family

MANILA, Philippines - An overseas Filipino worker who has been sentenced by a Kuwaiti court to die for killing a compatriot may yet get a new lease of life, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said on Wednesday.

In a statement, the DFA said Bienvenido Espino’s chance of being spared the death penalty has improved after the victim’s family agreed to forgive him.

Espino was convicted for killing fellow OFW Jhiyas Gumapac in Kuwait in 2007.

To save Espino, the DFA facilitated the grant of a tanazul or an affidavit of forgiveness under Shariah law from Gumapac’s legal heirs as required by Kuwait’s Court of Cassation (equivalent to the Philippine Supreme Court).

The statement quoted Gumapac’s father, Joel, as saying that the persistent representations made by the DFA’s Office of the Undersecretary for Migrant Workers’ Affairs and Philippine Ambassador to Kuwait Ricardo Endaya led to the decision for them to forgive Espino and sign the tanazul.

“In Kuwait, the tanazul will allow the offender to be freed form his private obligation to the victim. Only the Amir (King) of Kuwait can grant a pardon which will free a convicted offender from his public obligation," the DFA said.

Kuwait’s Shariah court hears the case on two aspects – private and public – in cases of death or injury to a victim.

The private aspect surrounding Espino’s case can be addressed with the signing of a tanazul by the heirs of the victim or the victim himself, while the public aspect may be influenced by the signing of a tanazul although circumstances surrounding the case may have a bearing on the final judgment of the court.

Apart from Espino, another Filipino named Kakapi Pawa is appealing a death sentence imposed by a Kuwaiti court in April 2008 for allegedly killing the 22-year-old daughter of her employer.

Last year, Kuwait’s ruler, Emir Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah, commuted the death sentences of Filipino domestic helpers Marilou Ranario and May Vecina, who were sentenced separately on murder charges. - GMANews.TV

OWWA report: Over P73M lent to displaced OFWs

MANILA, Philippines - Over P73 million has been loaned to displaced overseas Filipino workers (OFW) to help them get back on their feet, the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) said.

The OWWA said that as of May 11, the Filipino Expatriate Livelihood Support Fund (FELSF) has already lent over P73,063,155 to 1,473 of its OFW members who were displaced by the financial crunch.

FELSF loans are available up to P50,000 for OWWA members whose work contracts abroad were shortened as a consequence of the economic downturn since October 2008. [See: OWWA willing to lend P50K for displaced OFWs]

These loans, OWWA said, are without collateral for two years. The interest rate is only five percent per annum and borrowers start paying back only after a grace period of 90 days.

Loan applicants may qualify by attending a three-day course on starting a livelihood business. The course, a grant by the Department of Labor and Employment, covers entrepreneurial basics, skills training, practice materials, and training kits.

“By transforming setback into opportunity, they take the first step to become self-employed. OWWA will help them start new enterprises on a modest but manageable scale, or revive existing ventures. Either way, nothing beats growing your own pet project and being your own boss," said OWWA chief Carmelita Dimzon.

She added that the processing for more loan applications is still ongoing. [See: OWWA to give more livelihood packages for displaced OFWs]

Application forms are available at the National Reintegration Center for OFWs at Blas F. Ople Center, BFO Development Center, Solana St. corner Victoria St., Intramuros, Manila. Those from the provinces may also approach their nearest OWWA regional office.

Launched last January, the FELSF is part of a P100-million credit facility created by Labor Secretary Marianito Roque under the Comprehensive Livelihood and Emergency Employment Program. - Kimberly Jane T. Tan, GMANews.TV

HARNESSING THE DEVELOPMENT POTENTIALS OF REMITTANCES AMONG OVERSEAS FILIPINOS AND THEIR FAMILIES

I O M N E W S R E L E A S E

ITALY (21 May 2009) –Government representatives from the Philippines and Italy met members of the Filipino diaspora to discuss ways to enhance the development potential of remittances.

Representatives from international organizations, NGOs and the private sector also attended the two-day meeting, which ended yesterday in Rome. The meeting aimed to identify best practices that would encourage the investment of remittances in activities to stimulate growth and employment in the Philippines.

As part of the event, preliminary findings of an on-going IOM research project on remittance flows between Italy and the Philippines were presented.

The research shows that 72% of Filipinos in Italy send money home on a monthly basis, with 63% saying they remit on average 350 Euros per month.

Forty percent of the respondents said they had been sending money home for more than 10 years, with women on average remitting more money than men.

When asked about their future plans, 55% of respondents said they wanted to bring their families to Italy, although an overwhelming majority (91%) said they planned to retire in the Philippines.

Some 26% of the interviewees confirmed they had invested money in rotating and savings associations locally known as paluwagans and a further 38% had invested in cooperatives and in rural banks.

The 8.73 million Overseas Filipinos remitted USD 16.4 billion in 2008, which represents 9.7% of the gross domestic product.

However, the global financial crisis has led to a reduction in the number of Filipinos deployed abroad and to a slower growth rate of remittance inflow, with a 2% recorded growth in February 2009 compared to 13% annual growth recorded in 2008.

This event is part of an EC-funded programme carried out by IOM Manila to improve the knowledge of remittance corridors, enhance the development potential of remittances through inter-regional dialogue through the setting up of pilot projects in Southeast Asia and Europe.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

OWWA report: Over P73M lent to displaced OFWs

MANILA, Philippines - Over P73 million has been loaned to displaced overseas Filipino workers (OFW) to help them get back on their feet, the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) said.

The OWWA said that as of May 11, the Filipino Expatriate Livelihood Support Fund (FELSF) has already lent over P73,063,155 to 1,473 of its OFW members who were displaced by the financial crunch.

FELSF loans are available up to P50,000 for OWWA members whose work contracts abroad were shortened as a consequence of the economic downturn since October 2008. [See: OWWA willing to lend P50K for displaced OFWs]

These loans, OWWA said, are without collateral for two years. The interest rate is only five percent per annum and borrowers start paying back only after a grace period of 90 days.

Loan applicants may qualify by attending a three-day course on starting a livelihood business. The course, a grant by the Department of Labor and Employment, covers entrepreneurial basics, skills training, practice materials, and training kits.

“By transforming setback into opportunity, they take the first step to become self-employed. OWWA will help them start new enterprises on a modest but manageable scale, or revive existing ventures. Either way, nothing beats growing your own pet project and being your own boss," said OWWA chief Carmelita Dimzon.

She added that the processing for more loan applications is still ongoing. [See: OWWA to give more livelihood packages for displaced OFWs]

Application forms are available at the National Reintegration Center for OFWs at Blas F. Ople Center, BFO Development Center, Solana St. corner Victoria St., Intramuros, Manila. Those from the provinces may also approach their nearest OWWA regional office.

Launched last January, the FELSF is part of a P100-million credit facility created by Labor Secretary Marianito Roque under the Comprehensive Livelihood and Emergency Employment Program. - Kimberly Jane T. Tan, GMANews.TV

Somali pirates free 15 more Pinoy seafarers

Hijacked last April 6 with 17 Filipinos.

MV Irene
Hijacked April 15 with 22 Filipinos.

*Data collected by GMANews.TV.MANILA, Philippines - Somali pirates have released a German cargo ship which they seized last April 25 with 15 Filipino seafarers on board, an online report said Tuesday.

The National Radio Company of Ukraine website quoted the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry’s press service on Tuesday as saying the pirates have released the Maltese-flagged MV Patriot, along with a Ukrainian engineer and 15 Filipino seafarers.

German ship operator Johann M.K. Blumenthal GmbH and Co. KG said in the report that “successful talks" between the owner of the German ship and the pirates led to the release of the vessel and its crew.

The Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) could not immediately confirm the release of the Filipino seafarers. DFA spokesman Ed Malaya said they were still awaiting information from the relevant authorities.

The Ukrainian rereport said all the Patriot’s crew members were in “satisfactory health" and the ship was heading for the nearest port in Yemen on Wednesday.

MV Patriot was seized in the Gulf of Aden last April 25.

A tally based on date released by the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) show that 39 Filipino seafarers on board two ships remain in the hands of the Somali pirates. The two remaining vessels are the WinFar 161, hijacked last April 6 with 17 Filipinos, and MV Irene, hijacked April 15 with 22 Filipinos. - Kimberly Jane T. Tan, GMANews.TV

Militant Fil-Ams support 'rape' victim

MANILA, Philippines — Militant Filipino-American women threw their support Tuesday behind a 22-year-old Filipino woman who claimed she was raped by a US serviceman.

The Filipinas for Rights and Empowerment (Fire) said the soldier must be held accountable for this "despicable crime."

“The exercises count up to 6,000 US troops deployed to a Philippine province, (in) Bicol, among others. They have and continue to pose a threat to the welfare of Filipino women, as exemplified with this past rape case. News of Vanessa's rape comes just weeks after the Subic Bay Rape Case of 'Nicole' was overturned in April 2009 and LCPL Daniel Smith, her convicted rapist, was set free," the group said in an article on the Catholic Bishops'Conference of the Philippines website (www.cbcpnews.com).

“Smith's release and the manipulated case of Nicole gives US military servicemen in the Philippines free reign to do whatever they want without any consequence," it added.

Fire said the Philippine government already surrendered sovereignty and justice to appease US-RP relations and unwittingly set a precedent for US troops in the Philippines.

Earlier this month, the Filipino woman surfaced and told her tale before media, but said she will not wage a legal battle because she is afraid that the government, especially the Philippine judicial system, will only rule in favor of the US military man.

“The protection of assailants like Smith, and now Jones, under the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) proves that the Philippines' priority is the political relationship with the U.S. instead of their human relationship with its citizens. The VFA has kept military personnel under US jurisdiction allowing them to commit and ultimately get away with offenses towards Filipinos, a complete insult to Philippine sovereignty," the group said.

Late last week, “Vanessa" surfaced and accused a certain “John Jones," a member of the US Joint Military Assistance Group (JUSMAG), of raping her last April 18.

Fire said the VFA has historically compromised the safety, justice, and security of the Filipino people, and has wreaked havoc on the lives of Filipino women and children.

It said that on Feb. 19, Rafaela Polborido, a 16-month-old girl was killed in a province in Bicol, after government soldiers bombed her home with grenades in preparation for the Balikatan exercises. - GMANews.TV

Sending of DSWD attachés to help distressed OFWs welcomed

MANILA, Philippines — A migrant group welcomed the Department of Social Welfare and Development’s (DSWD) plan to deploy social work attachés to provide assistance to OFWs in distress.

Migrante International, a global alliance of migrant organization, said the DSWD should make that a permanent program in view of the increasing number of distressed OFWs.

“This is a positive development and we commend the DSWD for taking a step in the right direction. With the increasing number of OFWs in distress in the Middle East, the social work attachés will be very relevant," said Garry Martinez, Migrante’s chairperson.

“However, we sincerely hope that this is not simply a token gesture as this is not enough if the government wants to really genuinely provide protection and assistance to our kababayans in the Middle East," he said.

Martinez reminded the DSWD that OFWs in distress can be found everywhere in the Middle East and not only in Riyadh and in Jordan, but in many major cities of the region.

“The sheer number of those in death row and in detention, those who are/were abused, raped, those who were illegally recruited or left stranded, scrounging for food in the Middle East demands an urgent, comprehensive and more effective response than what the attachés provided for the deportees from Malaysia." averred Martinez.

Last year, a fact-finding mission on how effective government protected and assisted the deportees from Sabah was conducted by the organization. The report revealed awful accounts by the deportees of violence, hunger, forcible separation of parents and children resulting from the harsh raids conducted in migrant communities in Sabah. The victims that they it was only when they reached Zamboanga City were they given some kind of help by the DSWD.

Migrante also reiterated their demand that “government must also immediately send legal attachés, instead of police attaches."

The group earlier objected to the sending of police attachés to the Middle East, raising doubts as to whether the attachés were sent to protect OFWs or terrorize them.

Martinez, however, noted that the sending of attachés to other countries, either lawyers or social workers, will only be palliative measures if the government continues its labor export policy. - GMANews.TV

AH1N1 threat prompts RP post in Osaka to suspend operations

MANILA, Philippines — The threat from A(H1N1) has prompted the Philippine Embassy in Osaka, Japan to suspend consular operations for four days, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said Tuesday.

In its update for Tuesday, the DFA said the Philippine Embassy in Osaka cited "public safety" in its decision to suspend such operations from Tuesday to Friday.

"Post decided to suspend consular operations from 19 to 22 May 2009 in the interest of public safety," it said in an update posted on the DFA website (www.dfa.gov.ph).

But it said it will maintain a skeletal force at the office during the suspended operations period and will continue to receive assistance to nationals (ATN) cases and other emergency consular transactions.

On the other hand, the embassy said it is contacting leaders of the Filipino community in western Japan to request their assistance in disseminating information to their respective constituencies.

"Consulate staffs were instructed to remain confined at their respective residences within the 4-day period to avoid unnecessary travel and to take all precautions to maintain their state of health," it added.

The Philippine Embassy noted there have so far been 130 reported laboratory confirmed case of A(H1N1) infection in Japan.

It added there have been 96 reported confirmed cases of A(H1N1) in the Kansai Region (Hyogo and Osaka), affecting the cities of Kobe and Ibaraki.

"A Japanese influenza expert estimates there could be more than 1,000 new influenza cases in Japan," it added. - GMANews.TV

BI bars four undocumented OFWs from leaving at Clark Field MANILA, Philippines —

Four outgoing passengers have been barred from leaving the country at Clark Field in Pampanga after they were profiled as undocumented overseas filipino workers (OFW), the Bureau of Immigration said Tuesday.

The passengers were stopped at the Diosdado Macapagal International Airport (DMIA) last April 26 before they could board their flights to Malaysia and Brunei, immigration officer Heranio Manalo in a report to Immigration Commissioner Marcelino Libanan.

Manalo, the BI operations chief at Clark Field, identified the four illegal recruitment victims as Cristina Turing, Rachel Tolentino, Marilyn Abanes, and Janet Rima Buenafrancisca.

Libanan said immediately placed the tourist workers in the immigration watch list to prevent them from trying to leave the country without proper documents.

“We will only remove them from our watch list if they can prove that they are legitimate tourists or after they have secured the necessary documents from the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA)," Libanan said.

Manalo’s report said Turing and Tolentino, who were traveling together, were prevented from leaving after they admitted that they were recruited to work in Malaysia.

They, however, claimed that they were still in the process of being recruited and they were merely invited to attend a seminar in Malaysia by their employer.

They also presented invitation letters from their employer, the Green Apple Foot and Reflexology Sdn. Bhd., which further aroused suspicions that they are tourist workers or OFWs disguised as tourists.

Abanes and Buenfrancisca were offloaded while about to board their flights to Brunei Darussalam where they were supposed to work, said Manalo’s report.

“They were prevented from leaving after their passports were found to have employment visa stamps although they did not have any overseas employment certificates from the POEA," it said.

Vice President Noli De Castro, who heads the Task Force Against Illegal Recruitment, has ordered a tight watch at Clark Field following reports that it was being used as exit point for undocumented OFWs.

The government has said it has to stop undocumented OFWs from leaving to save them from being exploited and abused abroad. - GMANews.TV

150 OFW kids given OWWA scholarships

MANILA, Philippines - One hundred and fifty children of overseas Filipino workers (OFW) have been granted scholarships by the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA).

In a statement, OWWA said that the 150 applicants were granted the scholarships for passing the examination for the agency’s Education for Development Scholarship Program (EDSP).

The top two placers of the examination were Kevin Loyola Leaño and Jon Dewitt Enriquez Dalisay.

Leaño is the son of a consumer goods manufacturing facility manager in China. He will be taking up Computer Science at the Ateneo De Manila University.

Dalisay, on the other hand, is the child of a sea-based OFW. He will be taking up Mechanical Engineering at the University of the Philippines in Diliman.

The whole list of the EDSP scholars for school year 2009-2010 may be viewed at the OWWA website.

This is already the sixth batch of students that were awarded scholarships by the agency. - Kimberly Jane T. Tan, GMANews.TV

Filipinos in NY concerned over Baldwin's 'joke'

MANILA, Philippines - Concerned by 30 Rock star Alec Baldwin’s plans to buy himself a Filipina bride, the Filipino community in New York will be sending a letter to the A-list actor and the producers of the talk show that interviewed him over the insensitive remark.

Cecilia Rebong, Philippine consul general to New York, is sending a letter to Baldwin and the producers of the Late Show with David Letterman “to express deep concern over the derogatory remarks" made by the actor. The “Late Show"and “30 Rock" are taped at the NBC studios inside the GE Building at Rockefeller Center in New York City.

“The consulate shares the sentiments expressed by many others that although said in jest, the remarks displayed insensitivity and tactlessness," the consulate said in a statement.

Baldwin – a divorced father of a 13-year-old girl – told David Letterman in one of his last interviews on the Late Show, how he thought of getting, or buying, himself a Filipina bride.

“I think about getting a Filipino mail-order bride at this point or a Russian one, I don’t care, I’m 51," Baldwin told Letterman in a May 12 interview. [See: Alec Baldwin's Letterman interview]

Baldwin’s joke left a bitter taste in the mouth for lawmaker and women’s rights activist Risa Hontiveros.

“He totally doesn’t deserve a Filipina wife," Hontiveros told GMANews.TV on Monday evening. “He meant that as a joke but it was totally foul." [See: 'Alec Baldwin doesn’t deserve a Filipina wife']

Aside from Hontiveros, several lawmakers, particularly Senators Loren Legarda and Bong Revilla Jr. are demanding an apology from Baldwin. [See: Alec Baldwin's 'RP mail-order bride remark' irks senator]

"For him, it is funny but to the millions of Filipinos, it is mockery. Bad joke, not worth laughing," said Revilla, himself a celebrity in the Philippine movie industry.

Between 20,000 and 100,000 Filipino women and children are being pushed to human smuggling, according to Humantrafficking.org.

Facilitating or arranging a marriage between a Filipina and a foreigner is also prohibited under Republic Act 6955 of the Anti-Mail-Order Bride Law of 1990.

Violators face imprisonment of between six to eight years, and the payment of a fine between P8,000 and P20,000. A foreign national caught engaged in such a scheme will also be meted the same penalties then deported and barred from entering the Philippines for life. - with Mark Joseph Ubalde, GMANews.TV

Illegal recruiter arrested in sting operation

MANILA, Philippines - A 47-year-old woman has been arrested by the Task Force Against Illegal Recruitment (Tfair) for illegally recruiting Filipinos to work in the United Arab Emirates.

Vice President Noli De Castro, head of the task force, said that Remedios Briones Razon of Caloocan City was arrested last week during an entrapment operation conducted inside a fast food chain in Baclaran, Parañaque City.

He said the case stemmed from the complaints of six aspiring overseas Filipino workers who were each asked to pay P15,000 to Razon in exchange for jobs as domestic helpers in Dubai.

The suspect was not authorized by the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) to conduct any recruitment activities, De Castro said in a press statement.

He identified the victims as Angela Abaya, Michelle Advincula, Chona Rivera, Alejandra Balbin, Milleth Villaruel, and Laarni Ishibashi.

“They personally appeared and lodged their complaints against the suspect before the Tfair office which immediately conducted its investigation and entrapment operation," he said.

Seized from the suspect were the marked money, victims’ passports, and mobile phones.

Razon is now facing charges for violation of Republic Act No. 8042 or the Migrant Workers and Overseas Filipinos Act of 1995 and of Republic Act 9208 or the Anti-Trafficking in Person Act of 2003. - Kimberly Jane T. Tan, GMANews.TV

2 rescued Pinoy seafarers in Nigeria injured - DFA

MANILA, Philippines - Two of the Filipino seafarers rescued last weekend from a hijacked oil tanker in Nigeria were hurt, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said Tuesday.

Foreign Affairs Undersecretary Esteban Conejos Jr. said the injured were among the nine Filipino seamen — not just six as earlier reported — who were rescued from Niger militants who hijacked the MV Spirit on May 13.

The MV Spirit had a seven other crew members of different nationalities, the DFa said.

“Two of the nine rescued Filipino seafarers had slight injuries," Conejos said.

DFA Secretary Alberto Romulo had earlier dispatched Conejos to personally look into the condition and welfare of the Filipino seafarers on board the chartered oil tanker.

Quoting Nigerian army spokesperson Colonel Rabe Abubakar, the DFA reported that the latest operations brought the number of freed hostages to 13, including the nine Filipinos and four Nigerians.

“A consular team was sent to the city of Warri in Delta State where the hijacking took place, and the nine rescued Filipino sailors are expected to be turned over to the embassy’s custody shortly," Conejos added.

Conejos and. Alex Lamadrid, Charge d’Affaires of the Philippine Embassy in Abuja, had met and continue to communicate with the Nigerian foreign ministry and federal security officials for the safe and early release of the remaining Filipino seafarers in the custody of Nigerian militants, the DFA said.

After years of militant activity and lack of maintenance on crucial oil infrastructure, Nigeria produces about 1.6 million barrels of crude per day, or about one quarter less than its stated capacity

The Philippine government has stopped sending Filipino workers to Nigeria following hostilities and kidnappings of foreign nationals. Several groups have requested that Manila lift the deployment ban as the situation there continues to improve. - Mark Joseph Ubalde, GMANews.TV

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

POEA clarifies rise in OFW deployment for 2008

MANILA, Philippines - Overseas Filipino worker (OFW) deployment for 2008 rose by only 14.7 percent, not by 30 percent as earlier reported, the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) clarified.

In a statement released January, the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) said that 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.

It also said that 1,376,823 Filipinos left the country last year to look for greener pastures abroad. [See: OFW deployment in 2008 up by 30%]

The POEA, however, recently clarified that only 1,236,013 Filipino workers were actually deployed in 2008, which is 14.7 percent higher than the year before. Of the number, 376,973 were land-based new hires – a 20 percent increase from the 313,360 new hires deployed in 2007.

POEA Administrator Jennifer Manalili said she cited the new figures to rectify reports that they were purposely “bloating" the figure to mislead the public of the true status of the industry.

“OFW deployment figures for 2008 require thorough finalization and disaggregation. Hence, it is not true that the DOLE nor the POEA released final deployment figures last January with the intent to mislead the recruitment industry," she said.

The adjusted deployment report, meanwhile, still cites the Middle East as the foremost destination of OFW new hires in 2008, with a 33 percent increase in deployment as compared to 2007.

It said that new hire deployment rose in Saudi Arabia (25.4 percent), United Arab Emirates (71.5 percent), Qatar (46.5 percent), and Oman (39.7 percent).

There was, however, a fall in the new hire deployment in traditional household service workers markets like Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore, and Kuwait.

Processed OFW contracts for 2008, on the other hand, totaled to 1,464,295 – representing an increase of 12.1 percent from the year before.

“The notable number of processed contracts for the last quarter of 2008 is expected to a huge number of actual deployments for the first quarter of 2008, a not unusual situation," said Manalili.

The POEA chief, meanwhile, said that they are still inviting the recruitment industry to further enhance their “statistical coordination efforts." - GMANews.TV

Pinay held captive by UAE employment firm returns home

MANILA, Philippines - A Filipina worker who was once held like a prisoner by her employment firm in the United Arab Emirates has finally returned to the Philippines.

Overseas Filipino worker (OFW) Maria Caridad “Maricar" Evangelista Laganzo arrived in Manila via Gulf Air on Monday at 11:10 a.m.

Laganzo went to Dubai in October 2007 to work as a domestic helper but was reportedly maltreated by her employer who threw a chair at her, denied her proper wages, and even threatened to send her to jail.

But after several media people took interest in the plight of the 35-year-old OFW, her employer sent her back to her employment agency, the Al-Doukhi Labour Supply.

The agency then locked her inside a small kitchen without any ventilation and adequate food supplies. [See: Pinay held like a prisoner by UAE employment firm]

Having heard this, militant groups Anakpawis and Migrante International held a picket in front of the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) office on October 3, 2008 to demand action on the plight of runaway OFWs in Middle East countries. [See: Militants picket POEA, call to save all victims of illegal recruiters]

The POEA, however, said it was not in a position to help Laganzo because she is an undocumented OFW.

“On our part, wala kaming matetake na action dahil undocumented siya (we cannot take action because she is undocumented), maybe the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA_ can help them," said POEA Administrator Jennifer Manalili.

Philippine embassies, along with their labor and OWWA components, have a standing policy of helping any OFW, whether legally deployed or not.

The POEA, on the other hand, is limited to helping only the documented since its role is limited to regulating recruitment or manpower agencies.

Laganzo, meanwhile, escaped from her agency two days later.

She immediately went to the OWWA center in Dubai where support from the Filipino community poured in. [See: OFW escapes recruiter in Dubai, seeks help from RP embassy

Anakpawis and Migrante then sought the help of Senator Manuel Villar, who is known for helping distressed OFWs, to help in the repatriation of Laganzo.

“Maricar’s family has long been waiting for her repatriation after her ordeal in the Middle East, and we are happy that she has returned safe and whole," said the senator. - GMANews.TV

Pinoys in HK reminded to be careful of A(H1N1) virus

MANILA, Philippines - Filipinos in Hong Kong were reminded to stay vigilant and take needed precautions against the A(H1N1) virus after the confirmation of a third A(H1N1) case there.

The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said the Philippine post in Hong Kong reiterated its call to the Filipino community and those traveling to Hong Kong to take needed measures.

"Post called on Filipinos in Hong Kong to remain vigilant against A(H1N1) influenza in view of the confirmation by authorities of the city’s third imported case of A(H1N1)," the DFA said in its website Monday night.

It also said the Philippine Consulate reiterated its earlier call on the Filipino community and those traveling to Hong Kong to observe precautionary measures against A(H1N1).

Meanwhile, in New York, the Philippine consulate general issued a press release advising Filipino-Americans in Northeast States to take precautionary measures and stay vigilant to avoid getting the virus. - GMANews.TV

'Alec Baldwin doesn’t deserve a Filipina wife'

MARK JOSEPH H. UBALDE, GMANews.TV

OH, NO YOU DON'T. While Alec Baldwin is thinking about buying himself a Philippine bride, migrant groups are saying Filipinas deserve better than the divorcee actor. AP/GMANews.TV File PhotosMANILA, Philippines - First, Teri Hatcher questioned the medical certificates of Filipino doctors. Then, British show Harry & Paul ridiculed a Filipina maid as a sex symbol. And just recently, Chinese columnist Chip Tsao called the Philippines a nation of slaves.

Now, it’s 30 Rock star Alec Baldwin's turn, joining the ranks of "internationally-recognized" celebrities who have maligned Filipinos, according to critics.

Baldwin – a divorced father of a 13-year-old girl – told David Letterman in one of his last interviews on the Late Show, how he taught of getting, or buying, himself a Filipina bride.

“I think about getting a Filipino mail-order bride at this point or a Russian one, I don’t care, I’m 51," Baldwin told Letterman in a May 12 interview. [See: Alec Baldwin's Letterman interview]

Seemingly delivered in jest, Baldwin’s remark caused the audience to break into laughter and prompted the show’s host, Letterman, to respond: "Get one for me [also], for later."

Totally foul

But Baldwin’s joke left a bitter taste in the mouth for lawmaker and women’s rights activist Risa Hontiveros.

“He totally doesn’t deserve a Filipina wife," Hontiveros told GMANews.TV on Monday evening. “He meant that as a joke but it was totally foul."

Baldwin had recently ended his marriage with actress Kim Bassinger after irreconcilable differences. He was highly criticized after a phone conversation leaked out where he screamed at his child for being hard-headed. He has since apologized and wrote a book about it.

Hontiveros, who lodged a protest against the producers of Harry & Paul last year, is worried Filipinos are being pigeonholed as either domestic workers or brides-for-hire.

"His comment is already anecdotal evidence of the growing phenomenon of mail-order-brides and the perception of foreigners that those are Filipinas."

Jean Enriquez, executive director of the Coalition Against Trafficking in Women-Asia Pacific, was also disappointed that such a "racist" comment came from an actor like Baldwin.

The 51-year-old actor is a board member of People For the American Way and a vocal supporter of the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA).

“By joking about mail-order brides he is trivializing human smuggling," Enriquez said. “It shows that some actors portray themselves as sharp on shows but are actually not in real life." [See: Alec Baldwin's 'RP mail-order bride remark' irks senator]

Human smuggling

Between 20,000 and 100,000 Filipino women and children are being pushed to human smuggling, according to Humantrafficking.org.

Foreign tourists, particularly from other Asian countries, sexually exploit women and children in the Philippines, according to the group.

In 2007, the Philippines was placed in Tier 2 by the US Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report for not fully complying with the Trafficking Victims Protection Act’s minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking.

But since the late ‘80s the Philippine government has stepped up efforts to curb the exportation of Filipina women as brides for men in Europe and the Americas, said Ellene Sana, executive director of the Center for Migrants Advocacy.

Facilitating or arranging a marriage between a Filipina and a foreigner is prohibited under Republic Act 6955 of the Anti-Mail-Order Bride Law of 1990.

Violators face imprisonment of between six to eight years, and the payment of a fine between P8,000 and P20,000. A foreign national caught engaged in such a scheme will also be meted the same penalties then deported and barred from entering the Philippines for life.

With Baldwin’s disregard, or ignorance of such problems in the Philippines, Sana hopes the veteran actor will learn his lesson the hard way.

“I hope he comes to the Philippines, meets a Pinay and get dumped," Sana said. [See: Ex-sexy star Aleck Bovick lightens up Senate mood] - with reports from Mark Merueñas, GMANews.TV

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

92 nurses, 188 caregivers hired under JPEPA

By Lira Dalangin-Fernandez
INQUIRER.net



MANILA, Philippines—They may have landed in Japan by this time, savoring the land’s chilly weather and beginning their journey towards a new life of challenge and greater opportunity.

They are the 92 nurses and 188 caregivers who left the country Sunday after being hired in various institutions under the Japan-Philippines Economic Partnership Agreement (JPEPA).

The stories about life and leaving tell of the same tales as that of thousands of Filipinos working abroad, but each departure always conveys a mixed feeling of joy, sadness and uncertainty.

Japan is not a bed of roses, this much Maria Theresa Urquico knows. She left, anyway, for the benefit of her three children, aged 7, 6, and two-and-a-half years old.

“I’ve read not-so-good stories about Japan, but this opportunity to work there under JPEPA is one that I cannot let pass. For now, this is the best that’s available,” said the 36-year-old nurse in an interview at a send-off ceremony in Quezon City two days before their flight.

Urquico and fellow nurse, Christine Guevarra, have been accepted as “candidate nurse” at the Kurokawa Hospital.

Like the rest of the health workers who were hired under the agreement, they will undergo six-months training to learn the native language before being deployed in their respective institutions.

The health workers would be classified as candidate nurses and caregivers until they pass the licensure examination that would elevate them to the status of being full-fledged nurses and caregivers.

The first licensure examination for nurses is scheduled on February 2010 and would be held every year. Candidate caregivers, meanwhile, need at least three-years of work experience before they can take the national certification examination.

Under their contract, the health workers are eligible to work in Japan for three years and may work there continuously if they pass the examination.

Labor Assistant Secretary Reydeluz Conferido said the candidate nurses and caregivers would receive between 150,000 and 180,000 yen per month.

The standard rate of nurses in Japan is between 350,000 yen to 420,000 yen, he said.

Urquico, who has worked in Saudi Arabia from 1997 to 2006, said she feels jitters taking the examination, but she said they have no choice but to pass the exams to be allowed to continue to stay there beyond three years.

“I hope they also have practical examinations, where they could really see how Filipino nurses work,” she said.

Jesse Rey Cruel, 25, is coming in to Japan as caregiver, although he is a registered nurse.

He said he lacked a few months to complete the requirement that nurses should have at least three years of work experience.

But Cruel sees better prospects in Japan.

He said he’d be assigned in a first-rate hospital in Japan, unlike in Qatar where he worked only in a secondary hospital. Technology is Japan “is a lot better,” he added.

And there is less discrimination, Cruel said.

“I want career development and bigger earning,” he said.

After three years, he said he will take the exam so he could raise his status to a nurse.

Serlun Kiat DaJose of Santiago, Isabela said she is feeling joy and sadness about leaving.

“Joy, because my dreams to support my family would be fulfilled, and sadness because I would be leaving two innocent children – grades 2 and 3 – but I know that God will take care of the rest,” she said as she delivered a response in behalf of the caregivers.

Addressing Japan Ambassador to the Philippines Makato Katsura, DaJose said, “We promise to do our best, work hard, and behave.”

“We hope you will take good care of us the way we take care of you,” she added.

Katsuda said that the hiring of the health workers under JPEPA has “raised to a higher level” the relationship between the Philippines and Japan.

He said the nurses and caregivers might face challenges “that are not easy” but that they should be able to rise above it.

Conferido said he is confident that nurses and caregivers would be able to adapt easily to the Japanese culture and would be able to hurdle the examinations.

”The key here is their grit, their determination, which all of them, I think, have,” he said.
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