Sunday, June 28, 2009

KSA's 48 A(H1N1) cases include 7 Pinoy nurses

MANILA, Philippines – The number of Filipino nurses confirmed to have been infected with A(H1N1) flu in Saudi Arabia has risen to seven, with reports saying two more tested positive for the virus.

A report in the Arab News (www.arabnews.com) on Saturday said the latest victims of the virus were described by health officials as aged 25 and 26, and were part of a batch of three new cases that included a 10-year-old Saudi boy.

The Arab News report said the A(H1N1) virus entered the kingdom via inbound passengers on flights from the United States, Canada, Australia, the Philippines, the United Arab Emirates, Thailand, Bahrain, and India.

Coming in contact with these travelers exposed others, mainly relatives and Filipino nursing staff, it added.

The first swine flu case in Saudi Arabia was also a Filipino nurse employed by a major hospital in the capital city of Riyadh. Except for one who is working in the eastern region, all the other infected Filipino nurses were based in Riyadh.

All the infected Filipino nurses were reported to have just arrived in the kingdom from vacation in the Philippines.

Pinoy organizations in Saudi Arabia have expressed concern that the discovery of Filipino nurses among the kingdom’s swine flu cases could result in discrimination against members of the community.

Saudi officials, however, have repeatedly clarified that the A(H1N1) is a pandemic disease that has not spared even developed countries. The kingdom has 48 confirmed swine flu cases, which include Saudis and expatriate workers.

Health officials also noted that all the swine flu cases in the kingdom were “mild" and that many of the patients had recovered.

Health Minister Abdullah Al-Rabeeah was to inaugurate a four day-workshop on the A(H1N1) problem at the Jeddah Hilton Saturday, said the Arab News report.

Health Ministry spokesman Khalid Al-Mirghalani was quoted saying 20 foreign experts from the US Centers for Diseases Control, the World Health Organization, and local health officials from the 20 health regions in the kingdom are to participate in the meeting.

Al-Mirghalani said the workshop would also discuss new preventive measures that could be introduced at the country’s entry points, especially airports.

During the workshop, experts will be taken on field trips to the Haj Terminal of King Abdulaziz International Airport in Jeddah, Prince Muhammed Bin Abdulaziz Airport in Madinah, and other places where pilgrims gather.

He also said the ministry had set a national committee to control the spread of the A(H1N1) virus. - GMANews.TV

RP among 4 foreign 'hotspots' for Malaysian students

MANILA, Philippines — The Philippines was among four foreign destinations tagged as A(H1N1) "hotspots" for Malaysian students who traveled abroad recently, the Department of Foreign Affairs said late Friday.

In an update on its website, the DFA cited a report from the Philippine Embassy in Kuala Lumpur that students returning from these countries should quarantine themselves for seven days.

"The Ministry of Health of Malaysia announced that students returning to Malaysia from their travels to the United States, Britain, Australia and the Philippines are obliged to quarantine themselves for seven days, following the confirmed cases of students at the Klang Valley," the DFA said in its report (http://dfa.gov.ph/?p=6467).

Earlier this week, Philippine health authorities confirmed that a 49-year-old woman as the first A(H1N1)-related death in the country.

The fatality turned out to be an employee at the House of Representatives, which shut down for one week after learning at least one more of its employees was infected.

Meanwhile, the DFA said the Philippine Consulate General in Shanghai reported that Chinese authorities will monitor "group activities" instead of closely tracking and quarantining individual patients in case of a rampant spread of A(H1N1) in communities.

"The Chinese Ministry of Health issued a document that says in case of a rampant spread of the virus in local communities, it would switch to monitoring the 'group activities' instead of closely tracking and quarantining individual patients," it said.

It added that there were suggestions that mass activities in communities could be suspended or canceled. - GMANews.TV

Number of Filipino drug mules increasing

DONKEY WORK. Despite the name, a drug mule is actually a person who smuggles something with him or her across a national border in exchange for money. AP photoMANILA, Philippines - Just as the world celebrated the United Nation’s International Day Against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking, Vice President Noli De Castro on Friday revealed that the number of Filipino drug “mules" is increasing.

Citing a report from Philippine Ambassador to Beijing Sonia Brady, De Castro said that a total of 158 Filipinos – most of whom were women – have been arrested for drug trafficking in mainland China, Hong Kong, and Macau as of June 7.

Drug trafficking of 50 grams or more of highly dangerous drugs like heroin is punishable by death in China and its territories.

But the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) earlier reported that in 2008 alone, 111 Filipinos were arrested for drug-related offenses in the same Chinese territories.

This, the DFA said, was a 594-percent increase from the 16 arrested in 2007.

Of those arrested in 2007 and 2008, 22 are facing death sentence, 12 have gotten life, while 11 have been made to serve 15-16 years prison terms.

De Castro said that all the arrests had stemmed from narcotic drugs being found in the suspects’ luggage supposedly given to them by people they met in a transit country – usually Thailand, Malaysia, Nepal, Laos, and Vietnam.

He said that members of foreign drug rings give Filipino mules tickets and pocket money to travel to Hong Kong or to mainland China and promise to pay the carriers upon delivery of the drugs to their destination.

The vice president therefore appealed to the public to warn their relatives and friends not to accept any parcel or bag from people they do not know in exchange for money.

“Think twice before you allow yourself to be used as drug couriers as you become an instrument to destroying lives of others. At the same time, you expose yourself to certain criminal prosecution," said De Castro.

Meanwhile, the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency has said that it is working on a memorandum of agreement with the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration to help prevent Filipinos from being used as drug couriers. [See: PDEA moves to shield OFWs from drug rings] - GMANews.TV

Pardoned OFW Vecina back in RP Tuesday - DFA

FREE AT LAST. Filipino domestic helper May Vecina has escaped certain death after she was granted a full pardon by the Kuwaiti Emir. – GMANews.TVMANILA, Philippines - The overseas Filipino worker on death row who was pardoned by the Kuwaiti emir is expected to return to the Philippines on Tuesday, the Department of Foreign Affairs said Friday.

The DFA said May Vecina’s repatriation has been moved to June 30 at 8:45 a.m. The Overseas Worker Welfare Administration (OWWA) had earlier announced Vecina was to arrive last Wednesday (June 24).

Vecina, the 30-year-old mother of two from North Cotabato province, was found guilty of killing her employer’s seven-year-old son Salem Sulaiman al-Otaib on Jan. 6, 2007.

She was also accused of attempting to kill the victim’s 13-year-old brother Abdulla by slitting the boy’s throat, and his 17-year-old sister Hajer by stabbing her.

During her trial, Vecina said she suffered physical and mental abuse from her employer that resulted in "temporary insanity." But the Kuwait Supreme Court upheld her sentence of death penalty by hanging.

On July 8, 2008, however, the emir signed a decree commuting Vecina's death sentence to life imprisonment. [See: Kuwaiti ruler commutes OFW May Vecina's death sentence]

And finally on June 1, 2009, Kuwaiti Emir Sabah al-Ahmad al-Jaber al-Sabah granted Vecina full pardon for her good behavior during her time at the Kuwaiti Central Jail. [See: Kuwaiti ruler grants full pardon to OFW Vecina] - Kimberly Jane Tan, GMANews.TV

16 undocumented OFWs stopped at NAIA

MANILA, Philippines - Sixteen would-be overseas Filipinos workers (OFWs) were stopped from leaving the country on Thursday for failing to present the required documents for legal deployment, Vice President Noli De Castro said.

Citing reports from the Task Force Against Illegal Recruitment (Tfair), De Castro said the workers were supposed to board a Cathay Pacific flight at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) but immigration officials barred them from leaving.

He said the workers failed to present required documents such as work visas from the country where they are supposed to work and overseas employment certificates from the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA).

The 16 were supposed to go to Mali in western Africa to work as miners.

They were just the latest batch of workers to be barred by the Tfair and Bureau of Immigration from leaving the country. More than a hundred workers have been stopped from departing this year at the NAIA and at Clark Field for lack of work documents.

“Filipino workers who depart for overseas jobs without complying with requirements from the POEA usually encounter problems and it is better to prevent them from departing to save them from misery," said De Castro in a statement.

He explained that undocumented OFWs are vulnerable to exploitation abroad because they have no legal standing in their places of work. And when they get in trouble, they are also not covered by protection from the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA).

Meanwhile, De Castro instructed the POEA and Tfair to fight human trafficking without delaying the departure of outbound Filipino workers.

A recruitment consultant was earlier quoted saying the fast processing of OFWs has contributed to the surge in human trafficking cases in Philippine airports.

Da Castro said that while human trafficking is a serious global concern, it does not warrant “unnecessary delays" in the departure of OFWs whose earnings have constantly kept the country's economy afloat.

“I believe there is a way to establish balance between fighting crime and allowing our countrymen to find opportunities in foreign lands," said De Castro. - Kimberly Jane T. Tan, GMANews.TV

Human rights group hits arrest of Pinoy gays in KSA

The arrest in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) of 67 Filipinos and several others for dressing like women was a clear violation of a person’s right to privacy and freedom of expression, the New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) said on Thursday.

A human rights group has criticized the recent arrest of 67 Filipinos and other party goers for dressing up as women in Saudi Arabia as a violation of a person’s right to privacy and freedom of expression.

Rasha Moumneh, the Middle East and North Africa division researcher of the New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW), said: "If the police in Saudi Arabia can arrest people simply because they don't like their clothes, no one is safe."

At the same time, Filipino gay rights activist Danton Remoto urged Filipinos in the conservative Muslim country to be "more discreet."

“You went to Saudi Arabia, you were told the rules, you have to follow them," said Remoto, who heads the advocacy group Ladlad.

Vice Consul Roussel Reyes of the Philippine Embassy in Riyadh told GMANews.TV that the men were rounded up in a Philippine Independence Day “gay pageant" at a private villa on June 12.

The open display of homosexual behavior is strictly prohibited under Saudi Arabian law. In extreme cases, such as when the government feels that homosexuals are challenging state authority, the maximum punishment for the act is public execution.

The 67 Filipinos and their guests were released after three days.

Reyes said arresting officers, who were tipped off by someone who complained of the noise from the villa, found the Filipinos wearing wigs and women’s clothes and imbibing alcoholic beverages, which is also a crime in Saudi Arabia.

The HRW urged Saudi authorities to drop the charges against the 67 Filipinos and release other prisoners they are still holding because of ‘gay’ behavior.

“How persons choose to dress and present themselves is integral to their free expression and privacy," HRW said. “These rights are set out in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which reflects customary international law."

‘You were warned’

But not everyone in the human rights community shares HRW’s sentiments.

The gay activist Remoto said the arrested Filipinos should have known the consequences of their behavior.

Although he thinks the arrest was uncalled for, he said the Filipinos were given enough warning before they went to Saudi Arabia. “In Saudi Arabia, gay men have to be discreet," Remoto told GMANews.TV.

All outbound Filipino workers undergo a Pre-Deployment Orientation Seminar to acquaint them with the laws and cultural norms of other countries.

The 67 Filipinos still face charges of homosexual behavior and possession of alcoholic beverages in a Saudi court. Vice Consul Reyes said they have been blacklisted by Immigration authorities and are not allowed to leave the kingdom until the case is resolved.

Normally, authorities impose other punishment such as fines, imprisonment, and whipping for similar offenses. Individuals caught wearing even just one article of women’s clothing could face three to six months imprisonment, and suffer between 50 and 100 lashes with a rattan stick. - Joseph Holandes Ubalde, GMANews.TV

RP, Barbados establish diplomatic ties

MANILA, Philippines — The Philippines formally established diplomatic relations this week with the Caribbean island-state of Barbados, following ceremonies held in New York.

A Joint Communiqué on the Establishment of Diplomatic Relations between the Republic of the Philippines and Barbados was signed last June 22, the Department of Foreign Affairs said Thursday.

Ambassador Hilario Davide Jr., RP permanent representative to the United Nations, and his Barbados counterpart Ambassador Christopher Fitzherbert Hackett, signed the document, the DFA said on its website (www.dfa.gov.ph), citing a report from the Philippine Mission to the UN.

Barbados is the easternmost island-state in the Caribbean with a total land area of 430 square kilometers and a population of 282,000. Its closest neighbors are Saint Vincent and the Grenadines and Saint Lucia.

The island state made local headlines recently with the approval by the Commission on Election of the bid of the Smartmatic – Total Information Network consortium to supply poll automation machines for the Philippines’ national and local elections in May 2010.

According to the consortium’s spokesman, Smartmatic’s holding company is based in the Netherlands and also owns a company in Barbados.

Due to the absence of diplomatic relations between the Philippines and Barbados, the authentication documents of Smartmatic — which are being questioned in a Senate inquiry — were done at the Philippine Embassy in Washington D.C.

Barbados will be under the jurisdiction of the Philippine Embassy in Caracas, Venezuela, under Ambassador Jocelyn Batoon Garcia, the DFA said.

Witnessing the signing ceremony were Deputy Permanent Representative Leslie Gatan, Consul General Cecilia Rebong and other officials from the Philippine Mission.

The Philippine Mission said the Barbados government proposed the establishment of diplomatic relations with the Philippines in 2008, coursing it through the Philippine Embassy in Caracas.

A member of the Caribbean Community, Barbados was a British colony for more than three centuries before it was granted independence in 1966.

In the human development index, Barbados is among the top 75 countries in the world. In 2006, it ranked 31st in the world, and third in the Americas, behind Canada and the United States, said the DFA. - GMANews.TV

Blacklist abusive employers, not runaway Pinoys in KSA – group

MANILA, Philippines - Instead of blacklisting runaway overseas Filipino workers (OFWs), abusive employers in Saudi Arabia should be barred under the new employment policy there, a migrants’ advocacy group said.

In a letter to Philippine officials in Saudi Arabia, Migrante’s Middle East chapter said the new policy puts the blame wrongly on foreign workers instead of employers who are subjecting these workers to various forms of maltreatment and labor malpractices.

"It should be erring and abusive employers that need to be blacklisted in hiring our workers, not the other way around," said Migrante regional coordinator John Leonard Monterona.

Based on Migrante Saudi Arabia’s records, there were 1,793 cases of OFWs requesting repatriation as of December 31, 2008. Of the total, 566 ran away from their employers, while 1,019 were in various “distress" situations.

"We believe running away from abusive employers is the only way out for our distressed OFWs to save their lives. They should not be punished as they are the victims here," Monterona added.

A GMANews.TV source in Saudi Arabia explained that under the new policy, all entering expatriates will be scanned for fingerprints for the kingdom’s database. Employers could no longer ask immigration officials to take a foreign employee’s name out of the blacklist. The SR2,000 fine for blacklist removal is also not applicable. [See: OFWs in KSA warned of new immigration rule]

Deportees are required to take a Saudi Arabian Airlines flight out of the country, “"but the deportee will surely be delayed in his return because of the long process and difficulty in booking a (Saudia) flight," said the source, who has assisted many workers in the Middle East in leaving abusive employers.

Welfare Officer Romualdo Exmundo of the Philippine Consulate General in Jeddah said some runaway OFWs have even left the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration shelter at the consulate in Jeddah to join other expatriates who are staying under an overpass in Khandara District, in the hope that immigration police would arrest and deport them. [See: OFWs' tales of struggles and despair in Jeddah]

The other runaway workers are from India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, and Indonesia.

But the GMANews.TV source said trooping to the Al Khandara bridge can only expedite the deportation of runaway maids, and not males or skilled workers.

Police records would have to be checked first for runaway men and skilled workers before they get deported. They also need their employer’s go-signal before they are allowed to leave the country, the source warned. - GMANews.TV

Pay, career growth push Filipino teachers abroad

WHERE'S MA'AM? Filipino students are said to be the real casualties in the migration of highly-qualified Filipino teachers to more career-rewarding offers abroad. JHUMANILA, Philippines - Poor working conditions, a dim chance at career advancement and low salaries have continued to push thousands of experienced Filipino teachers to greener pastures abroad, leaving behind a generation of students hungry for quality education.

This was the concern of Annie Geron, secretary-general of Public Service Labor Independent Confederation (PS-LINK) at a forum on the mass migration of Filipino teachers amid the global economic crisis.

In less than a decade, PS-LINK said more than 4,000 Filipino educators, including school principals who demoted themselves to teaching jobs, have moved to the US, Middle East, and other Asian countries like China, Japan and Indonesia to teach.

In the US, Gerona said a Filipino teacher with at least three years of teaching experience could receive between $4,000 and $8,000 a month or 20 times their paycheck in the Philippines.

With more experienced teachers in core subjects like math and science leaving Philippine classrooms, the quality of education in the country is slowly becoming compromised, she added.

Math and science teachers who receive scholarships and study grants from Philippine institutions hike their chances of getting hired in the US. The continued outflow of Philippine teachers has helped create a shortage of 16,000 teachers as school year opened, Geron said, citing figures from the Department of Education.


--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
If teaching is a public service, recently it has become a business.
– Shannon Lederer of the AFT
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Shannon Lederer of the American Federation of Teachers, said part of the reason teachers are lured outside is because of very aggressive recruiters offering attractive packages to Filipinos, including permanent US residency.

"If teaching is a public service, recently it has become a business," Lederer said.

The AFT said there are 33 recruitment agencies luring teachers into the US. Currently, 19,000 foreign teachers are working in various US states such as Maryland, Texas and Louisiana. Federer said a very significant portion of this figure are Filipinos.

Aileen Mercado was among the first batch of 55 teachers who sought work in Baltimore’s school district in Maryland in 2005.

“It was a very, very risky move," Mercado said. “We didn’t know anyone from Baltimore."

Now, Mercado, who has petitioned her entire family to Maryland, said there are 600 teachers in Baltimore, which is 10 percent of the district’s teaching population.

Emphatizing with the teachers' plight, Labor Undersecretary Romeo Lagman vowed to help teachers who decided to stay in the Philippines have better working conditions.

"My wife is a teacher for 41 years," Lagman said. ‘But when she retired two years ago, her salary was only P14,000."

Geron is pushing for an increase in plantilla positions for teachers in the Philippines and an ethical recruitment process to avoid the brain drain. She suggested signing agreements with destination countries to train at least five teachers in the Philippines for every Filipino teacher they hire abroad. - GMANews.TV

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

2 Pinoys in UAE get jail sentence over alcohol

MANILA, Philippines — Two Filipinos in the United Arab Emirates have been sentenced to two months in jail for drinking liquor, a news report said Wednesday.

Philippine Consul General Benito Valeriano was quoted by online news site Khaleej Times (www.khaleejtimes.com) saying the duo were caught drinking outside their accommodation in the UAE state of Sharjah.

Valeriano took the opportunity to warn other Filipinos in the UAE to avoid excessive drinking sprees so as not to get in trouble.

“I know that it is your way of enjoyment, but it is difficult for you to go against UAE laws against drunkenness. If arrested for such a crime, there are dire consequences not only on the person but on his employment as he can be deported after serving jail," he said.

Such a habit of going into drinking sprees, especially on birthdays and other special occasions must be cut as it is considered a crime in the UAE, he warned.

Alcohol-related violations are also one of the biggest causes of trouble for Filipinos working in other parts of the Middle East, especially in Saudi Arabia.

When President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo visited Saudi Arabia in May 2006, King Abdullah ordered the release of 682 Filipinos from jails all over the kingdom, mostly related to alcohol, gambling and immorality.

Several months later, however, Philippine Embassy officials complained that more than 300 Filipinos were again arrested mostly for alcohol-related offenses. - GMANews.TV

2 more Pinoy nurses in KSA found with A(H1N1)

MANILA, Philippines — Two more Filipino nurses were among the latest batch of people confirmed with A(H1N1) virus in Saudi Arabia, a Jeddah-based online news site reported Wednesday.

Arab News said the two nurses, aged 51 and 52, were part of the six new cases identified in the kingdom in the past 24 hours, bringing the total number of reported cases there to 45.

Health officials in Saudi Arabia said five of the six new cases are people who contracted the virus from patients in various hospitals in Riyadh, while the sixth case is a 25-year-old Saudi man who arrived from New Delhi Tuesday.

"The new cases in Riyadh include two Filipino nurses aged 51 and 52, a 21-year-old Saudi man, and two Saudi girls aged six months and one year," the report said.

The two nurses became the 4th and 5th Filipino nurses tested positive for the flu virus in the oil-rich kingdom.

The kingdom’s first swine flu case was also a Filipino nurse who works at the King Faisal Specialist Hospital and Research Center in the Saudi capital.

A week later, another Filipino nurse working at the King Fahd National Guard Hospital also in Riyadh was reported to be among the new A(H1N1) cases there.

On June 19, a 32-year-old Filipino nurse working in Jubail, Eastern Province, became the 30th confirmed swine flu case in the kingdom.

She was tested positive for the virus seven days after she arrived from the Philippines. She was still reportedly confined at the Aramco Hospital in Dammam, while the 1st and 2nd nurses have already recovered and discharged from hospital.

Community organizations in Saudi Arabia have expressed concern that the infection of Filipino nurses could lead to discrimination against Filipinos working in Saudi Arabia, especially that the Philippine tally of A(H1N1) cases had been rising.

On Wednesday, the Philippine tally was recorded at 604, including one death.

Saudi Arabia, the world’s biggest oil producer, is the largest employer of Filipino contract workers, estimated at 1.2 million last year.

Saudi health officials, however, have explained to the public that the A(H1N1) disease is a pandemic that has affected many countries in the world, including the wealthy ones. Some of the cases have arrived from the United States or from Europe.

Khaled Al-Mirghalani, spokesman for the Ministry of Health, said the Saudi man who was tested positive for swine flu on Tuesday arrived at Jeddah’s King Abdulaziz International Airport from India aboard Saudi Arabian Airlines Flight SV763.

"This is the first time we have found a case in a passenger coming from India," he said, adding that the volume of passenger traffic between the kingdom and India is huge.

He requested passengers who traveled aboard SV763 yesterday to monitor their health condition and any visible symptoms should be brought to the immediate notice of health officials.

The numbers to be contacted in the western provinces are 02-6640288 or 02-6640256. Lines are open between 8 a.m. and 11 p.m.

Al-Mirghalani said the ministry has shifted the venue of its workshop on swine flu from Riyadh to Jeddah due to logistic reasons.

“It will now be held for three days from Sunday," he was quoted by Arab News as saying.

Experts attending the workshop will be taken on field trips to the Haj Terminal of King Abdulaziz International Airport and other places with huge concentration of pilgrims to get their ideas and suggestions in overcoming the current health crisis.

Al-Mirghalani said Health Minister Dr. Abdullah Al-Rabeeah, who is slated to inaugurate the workshop, is open to any constructive suggestions to combat the disease. - GMANews.TV

Take safety precautions, RP tells Pinoys in Iran

MANILA, Philippines - Amid the continued tension over alleged electoral fraud in Iran, Philippine authorities advised Filipinos based there to take precautionary measures at home and at work.

The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said Wednesday the Philippine Embassy in Tehran issued the advisory to Filipinos through Filipino community leaders there.

"The Embassy has issued an advisory to Filipinos in Iran, through the network of Filipino community organizations in the area, for them to take the necessary precautionary measures at home and at work to ensure that no harm will come their way. They were also advised to make themselves accessible at all times and to constantly coordinate with the Embassy to facilitate the exchange of information," the DFA said in a statement posted on its website.

It added the Philippine government is actively monitoring the ongoing political developments in Tehran.

Manila hopes that concerned parties would be able to explore ways toward a peaceful and amicable resolution to the crisis, the DFA said.

On the other hand, the DFA reiterated that the Philippine Embassy in Tehran is in touch with Filipinos in the area and is prepared to activate and carry out its contingency plan, "if needed."

It said there are some 1,500 Filipinos in Tehran, consisting mostly of spouses and children of Iranian nationals.

No evacuation yet

On Tuesday, DFA spokesman Eduardo Malaya maintained there is still no need to evacuate Filipinos living there, at least for now.

"We don’t see the necessity as of this time, although ang ating embahada in constant communication with members of our Filipino community there. At lahat na embahada ng Pilipinas ay may contingency plans so just in case ina-activate yan. But right now we do not see any necessity for doing that," Malaya said in a radio interview Tuesday.

[We don’t see the need for it at this time but our embassy is in constant communication with the Filipino community there. All Philippine embassies have contingency plans that can be activated if the need arises. But right now we don’t see the need for it.]

Reports said protests in Iran followed alleged electoral fraud in the 2009 Iranian presidential election against and in support of opposition candidate Mir-Hossein Mousavi.

Police and a paramilitary group called the Basij had violently suppressed the protests, firing into crowds and using batons, pepper spray, and other weapons.

Malaya said that if civil war breaks out in Iran, the DFA’s Office of Middle East and African Affairs is monitoring the situation and will take appropriate action.

It is in constant communication with Ambassador Generoso Senga, a former Armed Forces chief of staff, he added. - GMANews.TV

Passport application processing limited July 6-7

MANILA, Philippines — Citing limited machines and technical adjustments, the Department of Foreign Affairs will limit the number of passport applications it will process on July 6 and 7.

The DFA Office of Consular Affairs said applicants who cannot be accommodated on those days will be given appointments starting July 8.

"Due to limited machines for use and some technical adjustments, the Office of Consular Affairs wishes to inform the public that only 1,500 passport applications from walk-in applicants will be accepted for processing on 06-07 July 2009 (Monday & Tuesday)," it said.

It did not elaborate on the limited machines and technical adjustments. - GMANews.TV

Family of Pinoy seaman in Atlantic plane crash get financial assistance

ILL-FATED PLANE. The high-tech Air France jet flight 447 was last heard encountering turbulence over the Atlantic Ocean after flying into bad weather. AP file photoMANILA, Philippines - The Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) has released P220,000 in benefits to the family of the Filipino seafarer who was on board the ill-fated Air France flight 447.

In a statement, OWWA chief Carmelita Dimzon said that she personally gave the money to the family of Filipino seaman Arden Jugueta, one of the passengers of the Air France 447 that crashed into the Atlantic Ocean last May 31.

Jugueta was on a 12-hour flight on board the French aircraft when it was on its way to Paris, the point where he was supposed to take a connecting flight to the Philippines.

And although his remains have yet to be recovered, Dimzon said OWWA opted to release the financial benefits to his family since Air France had already declared that no one survived the accident.

In a separate AP report, the French air accident investigation agency said that no “firm conclusions" have yet to be drawn from their investigation of the crash.

Dimzon said the P220,000 released to Jugueta’s family includes P200,000 as accident insurance and P20,000 as burial benefits.

Officials are encouraging all overseas Filipino workers whose membership with the OWWA has expired to renew for their own good.

For only US$25 a year as membership fee with the OWWA, a worker is fully covered by life/accident insurance of P100,000 for natural death and P200,000 for accidental death, disability or dismemberment benefits ranging from P2,000 to P50,000, total disability benefit of P100,000, and a burial benefit of P20,000. - Kimberly Jane T. Tan, GMANews.TV

OFWs in KSA warned of new immigration rule

JEDDAH, Saudi Arabia - Overseas Filipino workers (OFW) in Saudi Arabia have been warned of a new immigration rule blacklisting foreign workers that are reported by their employers to have run away.

Welfare Officer Romualdo Exmundo of the Philippine Consulate General in Jeddah said the new policy makes runaway workers more vulnerable to deportation, which means they no longer have any chance of returning to Saudi Arabia to work.

In the past, an abscondment report could be canceled if a runaway worker paid the penalty with the Immigration department. A worker could then transfer to another employer or apply for an exit visa in order to leave the country legally, and still have the option to return.

“This policy is really disappointing. It doesn’t seem advantageous on the part of the worker," Exmundo said.

On the other hand, he noted that some foreign workers who want to leave the Kingdom are “encouraged" to run away from their employers so that they could go home immediately.

“Mabilis ang processing, mabilis ang pag uwi. I heard that in about three days nakakauwi yung mga napi-pickup for deportation [The processing is faster. Those picked up by the Immigration department for deportation are sent home in about three days]," he said.

Exmundo said some runaway OFWs have even left the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration shelter at the consulate in Jeddah to join other expatriates who are staying under an overpass in Khandara District, in the hope that immigration police would arrest and deport them.

The other runaway workers are from India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, and Indonesia.

“There is nothing that we can do because many employers do not communicate with us anymore. Whatever we do to try to contact them, nothing happens because even the workers themselves are hiding from us," he said.

More than one million Filipinos are estimated to be working in Saudi Arabia, of whom 20,000 are undocumented. - With Kimberly Jane Tan, GMANews.TV
| | More

OFW who woke up from 8-month long coma returns home

JEDDAH, Saudi Arabia - After waking up from an eight-month long coma, overseas Filipino worker (OFW) Ruben de Leon finally returned to the Philippines on Monday afternoon.

De Leon, 25, was working as a helper in Jeddah for two years when a car driven by a 16-year-old Saudi boy knocked him unconscious in September last year.

He left for the country past midnight on Sunday on board Saudi Airlines flight SV 860 and arrived in Manila at 5:45 p.m. on Monday.

He was escorted by Dr. Ashraf Abdelaziz Abdulrauf Ibrahim and Filipino nurse Edwin Homillano of the Dr. Sulayman Fakkeh Hospital until they reached the OFW’s home in Taytay, Rizal.

Tess Fogata, charge nurse of de Leon, said that the vehicular accident caused great damage to the patient’s mental condition.

But Dr. Hazem Abdelkarim Mohamed, assistant director of the hospital, said that de Leon is already in a stable condition and just needs to continue his medication. He recommended that the OFW undergo physiotherapy in the Philippines.

Welfare Officer Romualdo Exmundo said that de Leon will be able to avail himself of benefits from the Saudi General Organization of Social Insurance (GOSI) and Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA).

According to the evaluation of the GOSI, the Filipino worker is 74 percent disabled and may receive 41,000 Saudi riyals or more than P500,000 in benefits. He will also receive disability benefits from OWWA, with the amount depending on its assessment.

His employer, on the other hand, has also promised to also give him his benefits and unpaid salaries.

De Leon is one of the recently reported OFWs who were hit by minors driving illegally in Saudi Arabia. Last April, Ryan D. Fajardo was hit by a car while he was jogging along a street in Taif, a highland city in Saudi Arabia’s western region. Reports said a Saudi teenager on a “joyride" killed the OFW. [See: Teenage 'joyride driver' kills OFW in Jeddah] - With Kimberly Jane T. Tan, GMANews.TV

RP, Lebanon inch closer to lifting deployment ban

MANILA, Philippines - The Philippine government has called on Lebanon to send representatives for the second round of talks between the two countries and finally decide on the labor deployment ban imposed in the Middle East state in 2007.

Lebanon, which has consistently lobbied for the Philippines to lift its two-year deployment ban, is expected to submit its counter proposal to the Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) on Labor Cooperation in July, Philippine Ambassador to Lebanon Gilberto Asuque said.

The Philippines has stopped sending Filipino workers to Lebanon in mid-2006 at the height of fighting between Israeli and Hezbollah forces.

The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) then blocked the deployment of household service workers in Lebanon following reports of maltreatment and non-payment of wages.

The signing of the MOA is one of the conditions in order to lift the ban.

“Both countries are also negotiating the Protocol on Household Service Workers as part of their talks," the DFA said in a statement.

The first technical meeting, held on May 27-29 in Beirut, was attended by DFA representatives as well as officials from the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE), Philippine Overseas Employment Administration, and Overseas Workers Welfare Administration.

“The Embassy shall endeavor to negotiate the revised draft MOA with the Lebanese side for the purpose of bringing an agreed text to the second technical meeting to be held in Manila at an agreed date," Asuque said.

The DFA reported that Lebanon’s Ministry of Labor said that the arbitration and conciliation committee was recently organized within the ministry and now receives complaints of foreign workers against their employers.

Malacañang and the Office of the Vice President had earlier given the go-signal to lift the OFW deployment ban to Lebanon, but the DOLE has declined to lift the ban unless the Lebanese government ensures the protection and safety of Filipino workers.

Labor Secretary Marianito Roque has opposed the lifting of the ban without guarantees from the Lebanese government, due to the high number of Filipino maids running away from abusive employers.

In the meantime, the Philippine Ambassador reiterated the government’s advisory to Filipinos not to accept jobs in Lebanon until the MOA has been signed, the DFA said.

The DFA meanwhile clarified that Lebanese employers are interested in hiring household service workers, chefs, and waitresses at this time, contrary to reports that there are 10,000 jobs available for skilled and non-skilled Filipino workers.

Seminars and dialogues will be conducted by the DFA and DOLE with local officials, church leaders, and barangay leaders especially in Isabela, Cagayan and La Union provinces, which are said to be the main source of illegally-deployed Filipinos to Lebanon. - Joseph Holandes Ubalde, GMANews.TV

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

RP, Lebanon inch closer to lifting deployment ban

MANILA, Philippines - The Philippine government has called on Lebanon to send representatives for the second round of talks between the two countries and finally decide on the labor deployment ban imposed in the Middle East state in 2007.

Lebanon, which has consistently lobbied for the Philippines to lift its two-year deployment ban, is expected to submit its counter proposal to the Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) on Labor Cooperation in July, Philippine Ambassador to Lebanon Gilberto Asuque said.

The Philippines has stopped sending Filipino workers to Lebanon in mid-2006 at the height of fighting between Israeli and Hezbollah forces.

The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) then blocked the deployment of household service workers in Lebanon following reports of maltreatment and non-payment of wages.

The signing of the MOA is one of the conditions in order to lift the ban.

“Both countries are also negotiating the Protocol on Household Service Workers as part of their talks," the DFA said in a statement.

The first technical meeting, held on May 27-29 in Beirut, was attended by DFA representatives as well as officials from the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE), Philippine Overseas Employment Administration, and Overseas Workers Welfare Administration.

“The Embassy shall endeavor to negotiate the revised draft MOA with the Lebanese side for the purpose of bringing an agreed text to the second technical meeting to be held in Manila at an agreed date," Asuque said.

The DFA reported that Lebanon’s Ministry of Labor said that the arbitration and conciliation committee was recently organized within the ministry and now receives complaints of foreign workers against their employers.

Malacañang and the Office of the Vice President had earlier given the go-signal to lift the OFW deployment ban to Lebanon, but the DOLE has declined to lift the ban unless the Lebanese government ensures the protection and safety of Filipino workers.

Labor Secretary Marianito Roque has opposed the lifting of the ban without guarantees from the Lebanese government, due to the high number of Filipino maids running away from abusive employers.

In the meantime, the Philippine Ambassador reiterated the government’s advisory to Filipinos not to accept jobs in Lebanon until the MOA has been signed, the DFA said.

The DFA meanwhile clarified that Lebanese employers are interested in hiring household service workers, chefs, and waitresses at this time, contrary to reports that there are 10,000 jobs available for skilled and non-skilled Filipino workers.

Seminars and dialogues will be conducted by the DFA and DOLE with local officials, church leaders, and barangay leaders especially in Isabela, Cagayan and La Union provinces, which are said to be the main source of illegally-deployed Filipinos to Lebanon. - Joseph Holandes Ubalde, GMANews.TV

Speedy airport processing fuels RP human trafficking

MANILA, Philippines - The process of speeding up the departure of outbound Filipino workers has in turn helped in the surge of human trafficking cases in Philippine airports, a recruitment consultant said.

Emmanuel Geslani, the consultant, urged the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) to re-impose the validation system, which was scrapped last year to expedite the processing of OFWs.

The POEA on March 2008 dropped the validation of documents of OFWs leaving through the Labor Assistance Center (LAC) to further streamline processes in overseas deployment. This resulted in an increase in OFW deployment in the following quarter.

Geslani said the function of validating exit or e-receipt is a key process that keeps syndicates from trafficking overseas Filipino workers (OFWs). He said without such measures at LAC, efforts to curb human trafficking would be “feeble" if not “useless."

“The POEA has no direct way of accurately validating and recording genuine-POEA-processed OFW deployment. It is highly probable that many such documents are fabricated," he said.

In response, POEA chief Jennifer Manalili said they are studying the proposal to revive the validation of OFW work documents and ensure that workers would not be trafficked overseas.

Interviewed by GMANews.TV, Manilili said the POEA and the Bureau of Immigration (BI) would begin sharing information to trace the validity of an OFW’s work permit as well as the record of his/her recruiter.

The labor assistance counter remained open 24/7, but its services were limited to assisting OFWs with documentation problems, issuing overseas employment certificates (OEC) to OFWs leaving the country within 24 hours, and dissemination of information and education materials to OFWs and families. [See: POEA eases OFW exit procedure at airports]

Despite having laws against human trafficking, the Philippines has been included in the US watch list of countries suspected of not doing enough to combat the illegal migration of people.

In its ninth Trafficking in Persons report, the US State Department included the Philippines along with 51 other countries on their list.

Washington’s move to expand the watch list came as officials said the world financial crisis has left more people at risk for the crime.

If a country appears on the list for two consecutive years, it can be subject to US sanctions.

Seventeen nations, up from 14 in 2008, are now subject to the trafficking sanctions, which can include a ban on non-humanitarian and trade-related aid and US opposition to loans and credits from the International Monetary Fund and World Bank. The penalties can be waived if the president determines it is in US national interest to do so. - GMANews.TV

Held captive for months, job applicants refused rescue

Presidential Decree No. 442
Articles 38 of the Philippine Labor Code
"Art. 38. Illegal Recruitment. — (a) Any recruitment activities, including the prohibited practices enumerated under Article 34 of this Code, to be undertaken by non-licensees or non-holders of authority shall be deemed illegal and punishable under Article 39 of this Code. The Ministry of Labor and Employment or any law enforcement officers may initiate complaints under this Article.


Republic Act No. 9208
Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act of 2003
"...the State shall give highest priority to the enactment of measures and development of programs that will...eliminate trafficking in persons, and mitigate pressures for involuntary migration and servitude of persons, not only to support trafficked persons but more importantly, to ensure their recovery, rehabilitation and reintegration into the mainstream of society."


Supreme Court Decisions
“There is illegal recruitment when one purports to have the ability to send a worker abroad though without authority or license to do so" (Pp vs Villas, 277 SCRA 391)
“It is the lack of necessary license or authority that renders the recruitment activity unlawful or criminal." (Pp vs Borromeo, 305 SCRA 180)
“Failure of the complainants to ask for the receipts for the fees they paid, x x x, is not fatal to their case if they are able to duly prove by their testimonies the involvement of the accused in the recruitment process." (People vs. Comia, 136 SCRA 185)
About five hundred women were virtually held hostage in Manila, locked inside a decrepit six-story building, uncertain if the agency that recruited them would ever place them in jobs overseas.

But when government agents last week tried to rescue the illegally recruited job applicants, more than 400 declined to leave, still clinging to dwindling hopes that they would end up with dollar-earning work abroad.

Ninety seven of them did decide to go with their rescuers, telling the police stories of terrible living conditions and false promises made by a nationwide recruitment agency that the government had believed was "in good standing."

The Al-Alamia International Manpower Services Private Employment Agency had enticed the applicants from various parts of the country with offers to place them in overseas jobs as caregivers and domestic helpers in only two or three weeks.

But more than four months later, all of them were still locked inside the agency's "training facility" in San Andres, Manila and forced to use up their savings for their food and other expenses. They were told that they would be blacklisted with other recruitment agencies if they tried to leave.

Some of the applicants got desperate enough to contact the police, which mobilized the multisectoral Task Force Against Illegal Recruitment (Tfair) to conduct the rescue operation last June 16.

Even the seasoned task force members were surprised by the number of job applicants crammed into makeshift living quarters. “Nakakulong sila dun, hindi sila pinapalabas, naliligo sila ng sabay-sabay, pinagluluto sila, sila pa bumibili ng niluluto nila [They were locked up, they couldn’t go out, they had to bathe together, they were ordered to cook, and pay for whatever they would cook]," said police Senior Superintendent Gilbert Sosa, operations chief of the task force.

“Maraming gustong sumama pero sinasabihan daw kasi sila na iba-blacklist sila sa mga employer [Many wanted to come with us but couldn’t because they were told that they would be blacklisted with other employers]," said Sosa.

An agency 'in good standing'

Al-Alamia, a licensed recruitment agency with its main office in Ermita, Manila, has 12 regional branches nationwide, from Tuguegarao in the north to General Santos City in the south. GMANews.TV tried getting the side of Al-Alamia but was told that nobody of authority was available to speak for the agency as of posting time. Al-Alamia is owned by a Maria Dolores Elenany.

Elenany was not present at the training center when Tfair operatives raided it, said Sosa. “Nung time na yun, wala siya, yung lawyer lang yung nag-appear [During that time, she was not there, only her lawyer appeared]," he said, adding that the task force is preparing a case against her and her company.

“Malaki itong kumpanya na ito, parang one-stop shop ito eh, meron silang recruitment agency, meron silang training center, may assessment center [This is a big company. It’s like a one-stop shop – they have a recruitment agency, a training center and an assessment center]," Sosa said.

The agency recruited mostly women to work as domestic helpers, babysitters, drivers, and caregivers in countries like Kuwait and Qatar in the Middle East. Domestic helpers were supposed to get a monthly salary of US$200.

All 97 of those rescued executed complaint affidavits and promised not to withdraw, according to Sosa. More than half have returned to their home provinces, while the rest are still at a shelter maintained by the Visayas Forum Foundation, an NGO that assists human trafficking victims. The foundation declined a request to interview them over the phone.

A prosecutor has been assigned by the Department of Justice to assist the task force in pursuing the case. Chances are Al-Alamia will soon be delisted by the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) as an agency in “good standing."

An uncommon nationality for illegal recruiter

These new victims add to the untold thousands, maybe millions, who have been cheated by overseas recruiters eager to cash in on a growing market of desperate job seekers.

Indicative of this veritable gold rush in illegal recruitment was not just the large number of victims in a single rescue operation, but the recent arrest in a separate case of a Briton, a nationality not previously known to be involved in this criminal activity.

The Tfair's Sosa identified the suspect as Steven Michael Randell, who has been accused of running a recruitment scam in the guise of a special student visa program.

Randell's Sawsee International Corporation and Smart Promotion also enticed applicants with high-paying jobs like chefs and nurses in the United States, Australia, United Kingdom, and New Zealand through their website.

According to the Sawsee website, the agency “was formed in 2004 and quickly established itself as a leading force in exchange programs and has been dedicated to the promotion of cultural understanding, academic development, as well as promoting educational enhancement."

But after an Analisa Ng, along with six others, complained that Sawsee was just ripping off applicants, the task force conducted an entrapment operation last June 11 at the agency’s Quezon City office.

“Ginawa niyang front ng kanilang recruitment activity ang pangako ng student visa na walang otoridad ng POEA [He made the promise of a student visa the front of their recruitment activity which was not authorized by the POEA]," said Sosa.

He said Randell has been charged with large-scale syndicated illegal recruitment for asking for hundreds of thousands of pesos from applicants as fees for non-existent student training programs.

The Briton is being held at the Philippine National Police Custodial Center in Camp Crame, Quezon City and is not allowed to post bail.

Unserved arrest warrants

For every illegal recruiter that ends up behind bars, many more remain at large. At least 276 Filipino individuals have a total of more than 20,000 unserved warrants of arrest for large-scale illegal recruitment. Each warrant represents a complaint from an alleged victim.

The top suspect, identified as Harleta Velasco, had 134 arrest warrants for illegal recruitment and estafa (fraud), which means she continued to prey on job seekers even after warrants were issued for her arrest.

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).

According to HumanTrafficking.org, the Philippines has become a source, transit, and destination country for human trafficking. The website said that the Philippine government and non-government organizations estimate the number of trafficked Filipino women to range between 300,000 and 400,000. GMNews.TV

Arroyo hails Japan's move to protect seafarers in Indian Ocean

In an interview with reporters in Tokyo, Mrs. Arroyo said there are many Filipinos at risk in the Gulf of Aden, and Japan’s patrol craft will be a “very, very big source of comfort."

“(It is a) very, very big source of comfort for our Filipino seafarers and our government in behalf of our seafarers," she said, adding she was “very gratified" about the gesture.

The Japanese Diet passed an act that empowers the Japanese government to send patrol craft from its Self Defense Force to protect ships in the Gulf of Aden.

Japanese patrol ships are to protect ships not only carrying the Japanese flag but the flag of any national, Mrs. Arroyo noted.

Mrs. Arroyo noted the protection will benefit at least 30,000 Filipino seafarers manning Japanese vessels.

She said the 30,000 Filipino seamen account for some 70 percent of the total member of sailors manning Japanese vessels, who are at times victims of kidnappings by pirates.

“As a major supplier of the world’s seafarers, we greatly appreciate Japan’s decision to send vessels from the Maritime Self-Defense Force to the Indian Ocean to protect Japanese and foreign ships from the scourge of piracy," she said at a speech Friday.

She said the active participation of Japan in combating piracy in the Indian Ocean is an example of the many roles that Japan has assumed internationally.

“This action and other actions clearly demonstrate that Japan should be a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council," she said, referring to Japan’s role in the fight against piracy in the high seas.

Several other countries have sent naval patrols to protect their vessels in the Indian Ocean and Gulf of Aden. These include the United States, Russia, India, Germany and China.

Last month, patrols of the US, German and Chinese navies prevented the Philippine-flagged MV Stolt Strength from being seized again by Somali pirates, which had just been released along with its 23 all-Filipino crew after the owner paid an undisclosed amount of ransom.

Since January, Somali pirates have seized a total of 287 Filipino seafarers on board 14 ships along the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean since January.

A GMANews.TV tally based on records of the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) showed that 245 of the hostages have been released after their ship owners paid ransom to pirates.

Of the 42 hostages on board three ships who are still being held by their captors, three were seized only on June 13 on board the New Zealand-flagged vessel MV Charelle. - GMANews.TV

OFWs reminded to abide by laws of host countries

After the arrest of Filipinos in drag at a private Independence Day party in Riyadh, Vice President Noli De Castro reminded overseas Filipino workers (OFW) on Saturday to abide by the laws of host countries to avoid getting into trouble.

De Castro, who is also presidential adviser for OFWs, issued the statement after 69 Filipinos were arrested in Saudi Arabia last June 12 for engaging in gay behavior. [See: Arrested Filipinos dressed in drag freed in KSA]

“I just want to reiterate to our OFWs to observe the laws and rules of the country where they work so as not to get into trouble," he said on his radio program “Para Sa Iyo, Bayan."

Vice Consul Roussel Reyes of the Philippine Embassy in Riyadh earlier told GMANews.TV that the Filipino men were arrested in an Independence Day “gay pageant" at a private villa in the Saudi capital.

Reyes said arresting officers, who were tipped off by someone who complained of the noise from the villa, saw the Filipinos wearing wigs and women’s clothes.

Some of the cross dressers were locked in embrace with their foreign boyfriends when arresting officers arrived, a local media report said, quoting arresting officers.

It was not the first time that Filipinos have been rounded up en masse for openly engaging in gay activities. At least 50 people were reportedly arrested last year in the Eastern Province for a similar offense.

According to Saudi Arabia's laws, open display of homosexual behavior is strictly prohibited and punishable by fines, imprisonment, or whipping.

Individuals caught wearing even just one article of women’s clothing could face three to six months imprisonment, and suffer between 50 and 100 lashes with a rattan stick.

Reyes said the 69 Filipinos have been released three days after their arrest, but they are already blacklisted by the Saudi Immigration department.

That means they cannot leave the kingdom while their case is being heard in court.

Reyes said he has contacted the Saudi authorities to find out the hearing date of the 69 Filipinos so the embassy can coordinate directly with them.

Not just in Saudi Arabia

De Castro said it is not only in Saudi Arabia, though, where Filipinos have been detained for engaging in gay behavior.

He cited the case of several Filipino transvestites who are now in jail in the eastern Chinese city of Shanghai on prostitution and theft charges.

Citing a report of the Philippine mission in Shanghai, De Castro said police made the arrest following complaints from male expatriates that they were robbed by their Filipino gay partners in hotels or motels.

De Castro said the Philippine Embassy in China is helping the Filipinos in their cases, but warned that such incidents could sap the meager resources of Philippine foreign posts that could be used for more important cases, such as those of abused domestic workers.

“It would be best if before embarking on a job abroad make sure you are physically, mentally, emotionally and psychologically prepared for the job, aware of the new kind of community, culture you will adapt to and the laws and rules you have to follow," De Castro also said in a statement on Friday. - GMANews.TV

Arroyo approves $25K appeal fund for OFW on death row in Kuwait

MANILA, Philippines - President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo has approved a $25,000 fund to be used in appealing the case of an overseas Filipino worker (OFW) in Kuwait whose death sentence was recently affirmed by an appellate court.

In a statement released Friday, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said that it will use the fund of almost P1.2 million to appeal the case of OFW Jakatia Pawa with Kuwait’s Court of Cassation, which is equivalent to the Philippine Supreme Court.

Pawa, 33, of Zamboanga Del Norte province in the southern Philippines, was sentenced to death on April 13, 2008 for killing her employer’s 22-year-old daughter.

She has denied the allegation and said one of the family members might have committed the crime.

After the Kuwait Court of Appeals upheld the death sentence earlier this week, DFA Secretary Alberto G. Romulo immediately directed Philippine Ambassador to Kuwait Ricardo Endaya to facilitate the filing of an appeal within 30 days.

The appeal will be done in consultation with Pawa’s lawyers, said the DFA.

The Court of Appeals ruling came after the emir of Kuwait granted full pardon to May Vecina, another Filipino domestic helper who was sentenced to death for killing her employer’s seven-year-old son Salem Sulaiman al-Otaib on January 6, 2007.

Vecina, a 30-year-old mother of two from North Cotabato province, was also accused of attempting to kill the victim’s 13-year-old brother Abdulla by slitting the boy’s throat, and his 17-year-old sister Hajer by stabbing her.

At her trial, Vecina said she suffered physical and mental abuse from her employer that resulted in "temporary insanity."

The Kuwait Supreme Court upheld her death sentence, but following a personal appeal by President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, Kuwaiti Emir Sabah al-Ahmad al-Jaber al-Sabah signed a decree on July 8, 2008 commuting Vecina's death sentence to life imprisonment.

Earlier this month, the emir granted Vecina full pardon for her good behavior during her time at the Kuwaiti Central Jail.

The emir also commuted the death sentence on another Filipino maid, Marilou Ranario, when President Arroyo visited the oil-rich country in 2007.

Ranario was convicted for murdering her female employer in 2005. – Kimberly Jane T. Tan, GMANews.TV

Ex-diplomat Baja not covered by immunity

CHICAGO – A US court has denied a motion by former Philippine ambassador Lauro Baja to dismiss forced labor and human trafficking charges filed against him, saying the diplomatic immunity that came with his job did not extend to his personal household needs.

Baja and his wife, Norma, are facing charges before the US District Court of Southern New York for wage violation, fraud, and negligent misrepresentation, among others.

The charges stemmed from the complaint of Marichu Suarez Baoanan, who alleged that the Bajas recruited her from the Philippines to work in the United States in January 2006. She said they forced her to work 16 hours daily and paid her only $100 for three months, plus another $100 for taking care of the son of Baja’s daughter Elizabeth Baja-Facundo.

She complained of verbal abuse from Mrs. Baja and said she was made to sleep on the basement of the Philippine Consular residence in New York with only a thin blanket on the cold floor.

In seeking to dismiss the case, Baja argued that he was covered by “residual diplomatic immunity" even though the case was filed in mid-2008, more than a year after he ended his stint as Permanent Representative of the Philippines to the United Nations.

Baja held that position from May 11, 2003 to Feb. 21, 2007, until he was replaced by retired Chief Justice Hilario Davide Jr.

Citing previous rulings, Judge Victor Marrero said the hiring of Baoanan is a private act and that her “duties benefited the Baja family’s personal household needs, and are unrelated to Baja’s diplomatic functions as a member of the mission."

Judge Marrero set a conference with the court on July 10 to discuss case management.

Welcome development

A group monitoring the Baoanan case hailed the June 16 court ruling as a welcome development for exploited migrant workers in the United States.

“This is an exciting victory for Marichu Baoanan, and for other domestic workers who have been exploited and mistreated by diplomats. Ms. Baoanan will finally have the opportunity to have her case against the Bajas heard in court," said Ivy Suriyopas, Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund staff attorney.

She added: “At last, nannies, cooks, housekeepers, and other workers will be able to seek a remedy for their claims."

Salvador E. Tuy, Baja’s lawyer, made light of the ruling, saying it “was not unexpected.

“This outcome does not affect our defense. The decision pushes the case to a trial on the merits," he said.

“We look forward to a full jury trial, where we will show to the whole world that this lady Marichu Baoanan is a liar and a fraud and make her pay for these perjuries. A conviction of perjury will strip her and her family of the immigrant visa that she hoped to get by this lawsuit," Tuy added.

Baja has claimed that Baoanan filed the case so that she could continue to stay in the US.

He said that when Baoanan chose to leave his house less than three months after arriving in the US, she became an illegal alien and was subject to deportation.

Under US law, a foreign worker will not be deported until the case he or she filed in the court against his or her employer is resolved. - GMANews.TV

Flu shots for departing OFWs proposed

MANILA, Philippines - The only group of medical clinics accredited by Persian Gulf countries said Friday it plans to give flu shots to departing overseas Filipino workers (OFW) as a precaution against the A(H1N1) virus.

Gamca, which stands for Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) Accredited Medical Clinics Association, said it has proposed the inoculation of workers selected by local recruitment agencies for medical exam with H3 vaccine, as there is no vaccine for A(H1N1) yet.

“The advantage here is that the H3 vaccine is meant for regular influenza, and regular influenza is worse than the A(H1N1)," Gamca president Dr. Rodolfo Punzalan told GMANews.TV in a phone interview.

He said the proposal was made to allay the apprehension expressed by Saudi Arabian Ambassador Mohammad Ameen Wali, following the case of two Filipino nurses who tested positive for the A(H1N1) virus in his country.

Aside from Saudi Arabia, other GCC members are the states of Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates.

Punzalan said he would request prospective employers to spend for the vaccination, which costs between P500 to P700, so that OFWs would not have to shoulder the burden.

Gamca included the following in its proposal:

• Issuance of questionnaires for OFWs undergoing medical examination.

• Thermo-scanning for body temperature.

• Voluntary quarantine of OFWs for 7-10 days.

• Pre-departure vital signs checkup.

Under the hiring policies of GCC states, foreign workers from the Philippines and other Asian countries are required to pass the medical tests conducted only by Gamca clinics.

Around 200,000 workers go through their electronic referral system each year.

Ten Filipinos have tested positive for the A(H1N1) virus after leaving the Philippines and arriving in foreign countries. Two of them were the first such cases in Saudi Arabia and Macau.

As of June 17, the World Health Organization has reported 39,620 confirmed cases of H1N1 all over the world.

Of this number, there have been 167 deaths, mostly in the United States and Mexico.- GMANews.TV

Macau’s first case of A(H1N1) is a Filipino

MANILA, Philippines - A Filipino man has been tested positive for the A(H1N1) virus in Macau, making him the first such case in the former Portuguese colony.

Consul General Jaime Victor Ledda, told GMANews.TV that the Filipino was intercepted at the Macau International Airport on Wednesday after arriving from the Philippines, which already has 344 confirmed cases as of Thursday afternoon.

"He is now being attended to. He is quite alright," Ledda said.

The Filipino worker in Macau is the 12th reported case abroad that contracted the case from the Philippines, which includes a mother and daughter in Taiwan who visited the Philippines, two Filipino nurses in Saudi Arabia, two tourists and two workers in Hong Kong; Filipino-Japanese siblings in Japan; and one in Singapore.

One of the Filipino nurses who had been confirmed to have infected the flu was also the first such case in Saudi Arabia.

Ledda said the Filipino worker in Macau is recovering from the flu and will be released soon. The consulate had earlier launched a massive information campaign to the Filipino community there to prevent the spread of the disease.

The Chinese territory is home to about 16, 400 Filipino workers, permanent residents and dependents. Majority of the Filipinos there are employed as domestic helpers while the rest are working in hotels, casinos, retail and health care.

Earlier, a Filipino family was reported to have been quarantined in Macau for sharing the same airplane with a foreign tourist with a confirmed case of the ‘swine flu.’ They were released ten days after exhibiting no signs of the disease. - GMANews.TV

DFA: Filipino woman is 18th A(H1N1) case in Singapor

MANILA, Philippines - A Filipino woman in Singapore has tested positive for the
A(H1N1) virus, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) reported Friday.

The DFA cited a report from the Philippine Embassy in the island-city state that the Singapore Ministry of Foreign Affairs had confirmed the case.

In an update posted Friday morning on its Web site, the DFA also said at least 10 Filipinos were quarantined in Singapore until June 15 after having had "close contact" with a confirmed A(H1N1) case.

A separate account on the site Barangay Singapore said the Filipino woman was the 18th A(H1N1) case in Singapore.

In an entry dated June 10, the site described the Filipino woman as 36 years old working in Singapore.

"She returned to Singapore from Manila on Philippine Airlines PR501 at 1835 hours on June 8. She was seated in row 6," it said.

On the other hand, the DFA said three more Filipinos were to be quarantined until June 19.

"The total number of Filipinos in Singapore who were reportedly issued Home Quarantine Orders is now twenty-one," it added.

Meanwhile, the DFA cited reports from the Philippine Consulate General in Hong Kong that two Filipinos traveling to Hong Kong are currently confined in a hospital after health authorities confirmed them as new A(H1N1) cases.

The DFA said the Philippine post in Hong Kong "is taking precautionary measures against the flu after the WHO upgraded the alert status Phase 5 to Pandemic."

On Thursday, dzBB radio reported an overseas Filipino worker (OFW) who returned from Singapore last June 6 is the first confirmed A(H1N1) case in Capiz province.

Capiz Governor Victor Tangco Sr. said the 38-year-old OFW was found positive for A(H1N1), based on a fax message from the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine (RITM) that found swab samples from the OFW positive for A(H1N1).

He said the provincial government has started contact tracing for the OFW. - GMANews.TV

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

One-stop hub for Pinoy seamen sought

MANILA, Philippines - Bukidnon Rep. Teofisto Guingona has filed a measure seeking to speed up the processing of work and travel documents for Filipino seafarers.

Under House Bill No. 6376 the Philippine Seafarers’ One-Stop Hub would be established to “centralize and expedite" the processing of documentary requirements for seafarers and their principals.

“Regulation is the first step to making things right. Policies and requirements must both be centralized to ensure uniformity and predictability. Better regulation by the government will also lead towards comprehensive exhaustion of the industry’s job-generating potentials," Guingona said in a statement.

The bill, he said, proposes that the hub have the services of different government offices, namely the Overseas Welfare Workers Association (OWWA), Commission on Higher Education, Professional Regulations Commission (PRC), Technical Education and Skills Development Authority, Maritime Industry Authority (MIA), National Telecommunications Office;

Maritime Training Council, Department of Foreign Affairs, National Bureau of Investigation, Social Security System, Pag-ibig Fund, Philippine Coast Guard, National Statistics Office, and other government agencies that the Department of Labor and Employment may deem necessary.

The Philippine Overseas Employment Agency (POEA), on the other hand, shall control and supervise the proposed establishment.

“An administrator with sufficient experience in the maritime industry shall be designated by the [labor secretary] to manage and oversee the operations of the hub," said Guingona.

As defined in the bill, a seafarer refers to any person who is employed or engaged in any capacity on board a seagoing ship navigating the foreign seas other than a government ship used for military or non-commercial purposes. It shall include fishermen, cruise ship personnel, and those on board foreign maritime mobile offshore and drilling units.

A principal, on the other hand, refers to a foreign person, partnership or corporation engaging and employing Filipino seafarers through a licensed manning agency.

HB 6376 is currently pending with the House Committee on Overseas Workers Affairs.

A doppelganger?

Convincing other lawmakers to support Guingona’s proposal, however, may not be that easy as the functions of the hub being envisioned are already being by handled by the Luneta Seafarer’s Center.

Located along T.M. Kalaw Ave. near Rizal Park in Manila, the Luneta Seafarer’s Center is a private establishment run by the Luneta Seafarer’s Welfare Foundation, Inc. whose land was leased by the national government.

Giovanni Lopez, the Center’s vice chairman, told GMANews.TV on Tuesday that an average of 1,000 Filipino seafarers go to them daily to look for jobs – about 600 of whom reportedly get hired everyday.

The Center provides the seamen with dormitories, 112 manning and shipping information booths, medical missions, and free legal advice.

It also has a one-stop shop that facilitates the dissemination of information regarding the processing of Overseas Employment Certificates, Seaman’s Registration Certificates, approval of contracts, renewal, and concerns on the procurement of a Seaman’s Book, Qualification Documentation, and Certification.

Seafarers can also inquire on scholarship programs and livelihood development programs for overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) there.

And just like the proposed one-stop hub, the Center houses satellite offices of the POEA, OWWA, PRC, and MIA.

But Lopez said that if ever the bill does push through, they won’t see it as a threat to their establishment.

“We welcome the idea, we don’t want to monopolize," he said.

Moreover, he said that having two one-stop hubs would probably be good for all the jobless Filipino seamen.

“If ever that bill becomes a law, seafarers naman makikinabang [seafarers will be the ones to benefit from it]," he said.

Lopez said the Center is funded by the manning agencies who pay P9,000 monthly for the booths that they set up along T.M. Kalaw.

According to the Department of Labor and Employment, the Philippines supplies one-third of the world’s shipping manpower with about 270,000 Filipino seafarers employed by foreign maritime agencies.

In 2007, Filipino seafarers comprised twenty five percent of all OFWs abroad. They remitted over US$2 billion – 16 percent of the total remittances that year. - KIMBERLY JANE TAN, GMANEws.TV

Kin of pardoned OFW Vecina thankful to RP govt

DEATH NO MORE. Filipino domestic helper May Vecina is given a new life after Kuwait's emir commuted her death sentence. GMANews.TVNORTH COTABATO, Philippines - The family of May Vecina, the Filipina domestic helper recently spared from death row in Kuwait, has nothing but gratitude to the Philippine government.

May’s husband Leo sent a letter to President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo last April 2008 asking for her immediate intervention to save her wife from death sentence.

Written in a whole sheet of yellow paper and sent via courier, Leo appealed to President Arroyo to help her wife, who was that time imprisoned after a Kuwaiti court found her guilty of killing her employer's seven-year-old son, Salem Sulaiman Al-Otaib, on January 6, 2007.

She was also alleged of attempting to kill the victim's 13-year-old brother Abdulla by slitting the boy's throat, and his 17-year-old sister Hajer by stabbing her.

Request granted

“I am happy that the government and President Arroyo listened and acted on my request," Leo said in vernacular.

May is a native of Matalam town in this province.

President Arroyo, during her recent trip to the Middle East, was said to have asked for the pardon of May and other Filipinos facing death penalty in the oil-rich country.

During her trial, May claimed she was able to commit the crime due to the alleged maltreatment she was receiving from her employer.

The Kuwaiti court sentenced May to death but was commuted to lifetime imprisonment following several appeals made by the Philippine government, including President Arroyo and Vice Pres. De Castro.

The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) is still preparing all necessary documents for the immediate return of May in the country and to Matalam.

Excited family

May's children - 9-year old Queeny Jane and 5-year old King James - are very excited for the return of their mother, who left them three years ago.

Queeny said what she misses more about her mom was her hugs. “I will hug my mother since I wasn’t able to be with her and see her for so long," she told this writer in a interview.

King James, who was an infant when May left, said he recognizes her mother only through their family picture.

Leo predicted that King James would have a difficult time recognizing May when she arrives.

“I am afraid that (King Jame) could not recognize her mother," Leo said, as he promised to prepare May’s favorite food, tinolang manok, upon her return.- GMANews.TV

More than 150 distressed OFWs return home

MANILA, Philippines - Just as the Philippines celebrated its independence, more than 150 distressed overseas Filipino workers (OFW) also broke free from their horrible experiences in the Middle East.

“Sabi nga, it is Independence Day, so paglaya ito sa kanilang pinanggalingan, at nandito na sila sa kanilang inang bayan," said Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) chief Carmelita Dimzon in a report aired over Q’s Balitanghali.

[As they say, it is Independence Day, so it’s like they became free from where they came from and now they’re here in their motherland]

Dimzon said in a previous report that these OFWs were victims of exploitation and abuse who opted to run away from their employers. [See: 150 distressed OFWs to return home Friday]

"They are mostly household service workers who found themselves in situations of hardship and exploitation," she said, adding that most of them complained about non-payment of wages as well as excessive work hours.

Elizabeth Baya, who worked for two years in Kuwait, recounted that she was hit by her employer at the back with such great force that she lost her sanity.

“For two months I stayed at the mental hospital, so I’m happy that I am here now," she said.

Just like Baya, most of the workers came from the Middle East, specifically in Kuwait, Oman, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, United Arab Emirates, and Saudi Arabia.

Prior to their repatriation, they stayed at the OWWA welfare centers of the Philippine Overseas Labor Offices in the host countries.

The repatriation expenses of the OFWs were shouldered by the San Miguel Corporation, Development Bank of the Philippines, and some anonymous donors.

Last month, a total of 135 distressed OFWs were repatriated by the OWWA, including 57 maids who ran away from their employers in Lebanon, 49 who abandoned their jobs in Poland due to breaches in their contracts, and 14 who were displaced by an earthquake in the Italian city of L’Aquila. - Kimberly Jane T. Tan, GMANews.TV

2 Filipinos among 24 medics released by Yemeni abductors

MANILA, Philippines - Two Filipinos who were among 24 doctors and nurses abducted by tribesmen in Yemen have been released, reports said on Saturday.

An Associated Press report said that the health workers – one Egyptian, two Indians, two Filipinos, and 19 Yemenis – of the Saudi-funded Salam Hospital in Saada were freed early Friday after kidnappers were assured that their demands would be met.

But a separate report by the Yemen News Agency quoted the governor of Amran, where the medics were seized, as saying that they were released “without any condition." The tribesmen held their hostages for 24 hours.

Amran Governor Kahlan Abu Shawarib also said that the victims are all in good health and are currently staying at the Saada governorate.

Tribesmen in Yemen frequently take foreigners hostage to pressure the government on a range of demands, but generally release them unharmed. The report did not specify any of the tribesmen’s demand in the latest kidnapping.

Abu Shawarib said that such acts are “condemned" by all Yemenis because it disagrees with Islam and Yemeni customs. - Kimberly Jane T. Tan, GMANews.TV

Give attention to other OFWs on death row, lawmaker urges govt

MANILA, Philippines - The Philippine government should also give attention to other OFWs on death row or those facing potential death sentences, just like they did with May Vecina, a lawmaker has said.

Senator Manuel Villar issued the statement after Vecina, the overseas Filipino worker (OFW) whose death sentence was commuted to life imprisonment, was fully pardoned by Kuwaiti Emir Sabah al-Ahmad al-Jaber al-Sabah on June 1. [See: Kuwaiti ruler grants full pardon to OFW Vecina]

Vecina was found guilty of killing her employer’s seven-year-old son on January 6, 2007. She was also accused of attempting to kill the victim’s 13-year-old brother Abdulla by slitting the boy’s throat, and his 17-year-old sister Hajer by stabbing her.

At her trial, the 30-year-old mother of two from North Cotabato province said she suffered physical and mental abuse from her employer that resulted in "temporary insanity." But the Kuwait Supreme Court upheld her sentence of death penalty by hanging.

Separate appeals made by President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo and Vice President Noli de Castro in behalf of the domestic helper apparently influenced the Kuwaiti ruler to spare her life.

Before Vecina, the Kuwaiti ruler in December 2007 commuted the death sentence of Marilou Ranario, another domestic helper who was declared guilty by a court of murdering her employer.

“The government’s triumph in the May Vecina case underscores that hard work and all-out efforts make a difference in protecting the welfare of our OFWs," Villar said in a statement.

But Villar reminded the government that under the Magna Carta for Migrant Workers and Overseas Filipinos (RA 8042), the Labor Code of the Philippines, treaties on international labor and human rights conventions, and the guarantees of the 1987 Constitution on labor, all OFWs deserve the same attention.

“Such tenacity should apply to all others languishing in prisons and awaiting execution abroad," he said.

Villar had earlier filed Senate Resolution No. 421 urging the Senate to inquire into the status of OFWs on death row. The resolution is currently pending at the Senate Committee on Labor, Employment, and Human Resources.

Bayan Muna Representative Satur Ocampo, on the other hand, filed House Bill 5657 that seeks to amend existing Philippine laws and provide substantial legal services to OFWs who are facing trial or languishing on death row. [See: 59 Pinoys face death penalty abroad]

Most of the cases involve several offenses such as rape, drug smuggling and homicide and are pending in host countries’ courts, said Foreign Affairs Undersecretary Esteban Conejos Jr.

Conejos said there were a total of 87 Filipinos on death row since January 2006. Of the number, 28 were commuted. He added that 12 Filipinos already returned home after serving their prison sentences.

Ten cases of Filipinos, who allegedly committed crimes punishable by death are still under preliminary investigation, while 49 are pending in courts.

Of the number, the DFA said the government has successfully appealed the death sentences of 24 Filipinos in various countries last year.

The report did not mention how many of the 87 have been executed. - GMANews.TV

After Vecina’s freedom, what about other Filipinos in jails abroad?

MANILA, Philippines- As flags are waved to commemorate the country’s 111th year of freedom, Norie Gonzales will be waiting for her brothers to call from their jail cell in Saudi Arabia.

Norie’s brothers, Rolando and Edison, along with Eduardo Arcilla, were accused on April 2006 of killing and chopping into pieces three fellow Filipinos in Jeddah. The victims were said to be their rivals in an illegal gambling business, and in their appeals, the detainees claimed they were framed up.

But sometimes, Norie dreads the ringing of the phone. “I’m not sure if it’s good news or bad news," she told GMANews.TV in a phone interview from her hometown in Pampanga. She fears the next call will be from the morgue.

Saudi Arabia never informs relatives of prisoners on death row when the order of execution will be carried out. Last October, Jenifer Bidoya, a Filipino worker convicted in Jeddah, was beheaded to the surprise even of the Philippine post there, and of media, who had not even heard of his case. [See: Group: RP govt liable for ‘neglect’ of beheaded OFW's case]

But when Norie found out on Thursday that another overseas Filipino worker, May Vecina, was granted freedom in Kuwait after more than two years in jail for killing an Arab child, she felt a bit more optimistic. Saudi Arabian King Abdullah can also grant pardon to prisoners.

“I’m hopeful my brothers would be freed too," she said. “They have to be freed. They have to return here to us, to their kids."

Fifty-nine Filipino workers languishing in various jails worldwide are facing the death penalty for crimes ranging from drug possession to murder, according to the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA).

Foreign Affairs Undersecretary Esteban Conejos Jr. said the cases cover the period from January 2006 to June 2008. There are 30 active death penalty cases in various stages of appeal, and eight potential death penalty cases that the Philippine government is closely monitoring and assisting.

Most of the cases involve offenses such as rape, drug smuggling and homicide. They are pending in China, Malaysia, Kuwait, Brunei, United States and Saudi Arabia.

Citing data from Philippine foreign posts, Conejos said 87 Filipinos have been sentenced to death since January 2006. Of these cases, 28 were commuted and 12 have returned home after serving their prison sentences.

Unlike the Middle East, China has yet to execute a Filipino convict. Instead, they have so-called suspended cases that allow a stay of execution for two years, with the possibility of commutation to life sentence, if a detainee behaves properly in jail, Conejos said.

On Thursday, Vecina, a 30-year-old mother of two from North Cotabato, was given full pardon by Kuwaiti Emir Sabah al-Ahmad al-Jaber al-Sabah for good behavior during her time at the Kuwaiti Central Jail. [See: Kuwaiti ruler grants full pardon to OFW Vecina]

With Ramadan less than three months away, DFA officials are becoming more optimistic because Middle East governments often turn soft on inmates who have done well in jail during the Muslim holy month.

“We expect more Filipinos on death row will have their sentences commuted, probably even pardoned," a DFA official who requested anonymity said.

It is this generosity in the Middle East that Rowena Ranario hopes will be showered upon her sister, Marilou, another OFW who was sentenced to death in Kuwait for murder. Ranario's death sentence was commuted to life in prison by the ruler of Kuwait in December 2009.

Rowena, who campaigned for the freedom of her sister and other Filipinos on death row, is hoping her sister’s freedom will be granted soon.

“I miss my sister very much. I keep on praying that I'll see her again soon," she said. [See: Timeline: Marilou Ranario case]


MODERN APPEAL. The Facebook group "Help Save a Life" has attracted more than 5,000 members since it was set up. While Rowena doesn’t mind waiting, OFW Rodelio Lanuza is getting impatient.

Lanuza was convicted in 2002 for killing a Saudi national who allegedly tried to rape him. He has drummed up support for his cause through a Facebook account that has gathered more than 5,000 supporters.

He believes his freedom depends heavily on the media’s power of persuasion, and not only on the mercy of the king.

"If I could only get help and attention the same as much as Ms. Marilou Ranario, Sarah Balabagan, Sarah Dematera, etc, got a few years ago then I do believe that freedom is within my hands," he wrote in the social networking site. [See: Facebook account set up for OFW on KSA death row]

For now, most families of Filipinos languishing in jails abroad are pinning their hopes on the generosity of the Middle East's rulers, and perhaps, a little divine help.

"I'm praying and praying and praying for my brothers to return home. Hopefully someone up there is listening," Norie said. - GMANews.TV

Acid attack ruins HK holiday of Pinoy family

MANILA, Philippines - A Filipino family ended up spending their four-day vacation in Hongkong in a hospital after an unknown attacker splashed them with acid, a television report said.

In a report aired over Q’s Balitanghali, the Asistio family recounted that they were walking around the streets of Hong Kong at around 8 p.m. on Monday looking for a place to eat when someone threw a plastic bag at them.

“Para siyang alam mo yung inalog na soda, parang soft drinks na nag-bubbles talaga, tumalsik sa amin tapos biglang parang umulan sa amin ng muriatic acid," Anna Dionnie Asistio told GMA reporter Marvin Tumandao.

[It was like shaken soda, like soft drinks with bubbles, that splashed on us. The next thing we knew, we were bathed in muriatic acid]

In just a few seconds, their skin started to peel off.

Daniel Asistio, patriarch of the family of ten, suffered the most while protecting his four-year-old granddaughter Mishka from the attacker.

“Inano ko ‘yung apo ko kaya marami akong tama sa likod, tinakluban ko [I protected my granddaughter so I got burned at the back]," he said.

Mishka was also hurt during the incident, the report said.

Her baby sister, on the other hand, was saved by their father, model Alvin Abelardo.

The Asistios said Hong Kong officials quickly responded to the incident.

“Inasikaso kami ng government, ng Hong Kong government, ng officials, kaya na-transfer agad kami sa Disney Land Hotel. Nung na-transfer kami ‘dun, okay naman, special treatment naman ang ginawa nila sa amin," said Debbie Anne Asistio.

[The Hong Kong government assisted us. We were immediately transferred to the Disney Land Hotel. When we transferred there, we were given special treatment]

Hong Kong tourism officials said they will fly to the Philippines next week to personally update the Asistio family about the case. The family returned home Thursday night.

Hong Kong is a favorite tourism and shopping destination for Filipinos because of its proximity to the Philippines. It is also host to more than 100,000 Filipino workers, mostly domestic helpers. - Kimberly Jane T. Tan, GMANews.TV

Italy-bound Pinoys advised about Schengen visa suspension

MANILA, Philippines — Filipinos traveling to Italy this July should expect a temporary suspension of the Schengen visa agreement from June 18 to July 15 for the upcoming Group of Eight (G8) meeting in Italy, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said Thursday.

"This means that there will be police control in the borders that Italy shares with Schengen countries," a DFA advisory said, citing an announcement by Italian Interior Minister Roberto Maroni.

Italy is hosting the Group of Eight meeting in L’Aquila from July 8 to July 10.

The Schengen accord permits passport-free travel between nationals of 25 European countries.

The DFA quoted Maroni as saying the suspension of the agreement is “not to prevent demonstrations, but to block the arrival of those violent people who would like to come to Italy to hit policemen and crack people’s (skulls)."

He said the Italian government had warned European Union member countries of its plans to suspend the accord.

"Minister Maroni stressed that the suspension is in keeping with general EU practice for the G8 and other important events. It may be noted that Italy suspended the agreement in 2001 during a G8 meeting held in Genoa," the DFA said.

Other Schengen countries had also suspended the agreement in the past. France suspended the agreement five times since 1995 as a measure against terrorism, while Belgium did the same during the European Football Championship to prevent hooliganism.

Spain also suspended the treaty in May 2004 as a security measure for the wedding of Prince Felipe, the DFA said. - GMANews.TV

Italy-bound Pinoys advised about Schengen visa suspension

MANILA, Philippines — Filipinos traveling to Italy this July should expect a temporary suspension of the Schengen visa agreement from June 18 to July 15 for the upcoming Group of Eight (G8) meeting in Italy, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said Thursday.

"This means that there will be police control in the borders that Italy shares with Schengen countries," a DFA advisory said, citing an announcement by Italian Interior Minister Roberto Maroni.

Italy is hosting the Group of Eight meeting in L’Aquila from July 8 to July 10.

The Schengen accord permits passport-free travel between nationals of 25 European countries.

The DFA quoted Maroni as saying the suspension of the agreement is “not to prevent demonstrations, but to block the arrival of those violent people who would like to come to Italy to hit policemen and crack people’s (skulls)."

He said the Italian government had warned European Union member countries of its plans to suspend the accord.

"Minister Maroni stressed that the suspension is in keeping with general EU practice for the G8 and other important events. It may be noted that Italy suspended the agreement in 2001 during a G8 meeting held in Genoa," the DFA said.

Other Schengen countries had also suspended the agreement in the past. France suspended the agreement five times since 1995 as a measure against terrorism, while Belgium did the same during the European Football Championship to prevent hooliganism.

Spain also suspended the treaty in May 2004 as a security measure for the wedding of Prince Felipe, the DFA said. - GMANews.TV

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Pinay receives award from foundation in Washington

MANILA, Philippines — A Filipina received an award from the World Cocoa Foundation in Washington, D.C. for promoting development opportunities for Filipino cocoa farmers.

Josephine Ramos, founding member and Operations Manager of Cocoa Foundation Philippines, Inc. (CocoaPhil), was cited for her “commitment and passion" for the small cocoa farmer.

"CocoaPhil (www.cocoaphil.org), a member of the WCF, is the umbrella organization for the Philippine cocoa industry actively promoting integrated and sustainable development practices by providing assistance on cocoa production, post-harvest processing, pest and disease management and marketing," the Department of Foreign Affairs said.

It said Ramos was given the award during WCF’s 15th Partnership Meeting reception in Washington, DC.

CocoaPhil’s Success Alliance program, aimed at assisting at least 15,000 smallholder cocoa farmers, received funding from USAID (2002-2005) and the US Department of Agriculture (2006-present).

It also has support from the WCF and Mars, Inc., along with the Department of Agriculture (DA), the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR), and the LGUs in Basilan, Palawan, Northern Luzon, Davao, Sorsogon, Camarines Sur, Iloilo and Antique. - GMANews.TV

Pinoys in Canada join opposition to ‘conass’

MANILA, Philippines — Filipino militants in Canada have joined protests against the House of Representatives' passage of a resolution to amend the Philippine Constitution via constituent assembly.

Jonathan Canchela, chairman of Filipino Migrant Workers' Movement, called on Filipinos in other parts of the globe to march in the streets and protest this kind of oppression.

“Let the people’s voice be heard in the halls of Congress and in the parliament of the streets. We will not tolerate this arrogance of power and the political self-interest of the Arroyo regime," he said in an article on the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines website (www.cbcpnews.com).

The Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) Canada chapter called the “Aye!" vote by lawmakers a show of arrogance by those who are in the seat of power.

"The passage of HR 1109 is but a show of force by the majority in the House of Representatives. The House cannot convene itself as a Constituent Assembly without the Senate’s approval of the same resolution. As noted by Fr. Joaquin Bernas, an expert on Constitutional matters, the House of Representatives ‘cannot exclude the Senate’ in voting for such a measure to change the Constitution simply because Congress is [composed of both] the House and the Senate," Bayan Toronto spokesman Diwa Marcelino said.

Marcelino said HR 1109 spells out another dark era in Philippine politics and society, similar to Marcos's martial rule in 1972.

Bayan Canada Secretary-General Joey Calugay added the Arroyo regime is becoming more desperate as the elections draw near.

“As Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, Arroyo is well aware that the military and state agents are widely known to have committed numerous crimes against the people; surely she must also know that her family's involvement in one of the worst cases of graft and corruption since the Marcos dictatorship will land her in hot water when she steps down from office. Arroyo will do everything to stay in power, including bribing members of Congress to pass HR 1109 and making sure her cronies toe the line," Calugay said.

He added that with the Constituent Assembly, the Arroyo administration aims to strip the Constitution of its provisions that uphold national sovereignty and protect national patrimony.

This will lay bare the economy to continued exploitation and plunder by foreign corporate greed, thereby intensifying the present economic crisis, he said.

Also, he said this will set the stage for the unbridled entry of US troops, now numbering some 40,000 US soldiers scattered in 25 provinces since the Visiting Forces Agreement took effect in 1999, into the country and the establishment of permanent US military bases on Philippine soil.

Bayan Canada also called on all its allied organizations to continue to monitor the developments on charter change and to organize protest actions in the coming days. - GMANews.TV
There was an error in this gadget
There was an error in this gadget