Tuesday, August 25, 2009

World-class Filipinos ask fellow Pinoys to vote wisely

Cristeta Comerford holds the distinction of being the only Filipino chef to have served three US Presidents in the White House. - Philippine NewsTwo overseas-based Filipino professionals awarded for their world-class skills urged Pinoys to choose their leaders wisely in next year’s elections.

All Filipinos must put a lot of thought on who would they vote for next year, White House executive chef Cristeta Pasia-Comerford and Eli Remalona, chief representative for the Asia and the Pacific of the Bank for International Settlements, said.

Both Comerford and Remalona, along with renowned painter Anita Magsaysay-Ho, were chosen by the Bank of the Philippine Islands as this year's 4th BPInoy Awardees.

The recognition is given to outstanding Filipinos all over the world who have served as excellent examples of how to “Be Pinoy" even when one is working outside the Philippines.

The BPInoy Awards is an annual initiative of BPI to encourage nationalism among Filipinos abroad and to communicate BPI's commitment to excellence in the service of overseas Filipinos.

“Filipinos must think hard. Try to find someone who will do good for the country. A leader can make a very good difference in the course of this nation," Remalona said.

BIS is considered the central bank of all central banks in the world.

Meanwhile, Comerford, who is already an American citizen, said it is very important that Filipinos find good leaders as a “six-year term is a very long time" and may either “make or break" the Philippines.

Magsaysay-Ho was absent from the awarding ceremonies held at the Makati Shangri-La.

Despite facing discrimination either because of their race and or their stature, both Comerford and Remalona said that they remained focused on doing their jobs.

“You can't let it put you down. Deal with it and move on when someone's picking on you," Remalona said.

Comerford, on the other hand, said that although one can not control other people, Filipinos can always control themselves and how they would respond to any mistreatment.

The Filipina chef, who was handpicked by former first lady Laura Bush in 2005, said every dish she serves to the United States’ first family always carries that distinct Filipino quality.

Comerford remained as executive chef when US President Barack Obama assumed office this year.

“It's not necessarily serving them 'adobo", but there's always that sense of family, sense of community. In the Philippines, it's good to be part of the community. That's the 'Pinoyness' in what I do – having that “Bayanihan Spirit"," she said.

Emalona, on the other hand, said he is most proud of the Filipinos'
“combination of hard work and good humor."

“I've never met any group of people who face hardship and adversity and still have a sense of humor. Despite ill conditions, Filipinos can still laugh," he said.

Comerford said like most families, the Obamas are just simple people who ask for simple meals and that the Obama couple just want to have food that is healthy and good.

“It's more a circular thing for me because I came from a huge family. We were 11 in our family. I think it was in the second or third grade when I volunteered to take care of preparing my family's food. Back then, for me, it was just a fun thing to do. Right now, I don't take it as a career but a calling," she said.

She said Michelle Obama's kitchen garden, where the first family gets the vegetables served on their table, was reminiscent of her childhood summers spent in the houses of her grandparents either in Bulacan or in Batangas, where vegetables abound. - GMANews.TV

Anti-illegal recruiter agents nab 3 people for duping aspiring OFWs

Authorities had arrested three women for allegedly duping aspiring overseas Filipino workers (OFW).

Vice President Noli de Castro, who heads the Task Force Against Illegal Recruitment (Tfair), identified the suspects as Roselyn A. Lopez, Agnes A. Haduca, and Luz Alipio Carthy.

“The arrests are part of the government's intensified campaign against illegal recruitment," said De Castro, who is also the presidential adviser on OFWs.

He said Tfair agents nabbed Lopez last August 18 at the Farmers Plaza in Cubao in Quezon City where she was about to collect payment from her four victims.

The task force’s investigation showed that the suspect recruited the four through a direct hiring scheme to work in Cyprus as domestic helpers with salaries of P25,000 each per month.

De Castro alleged that Lopez told the victims they could be “deployed" if they shell out P150,000 each for “processing fee" and an additional P5,000 for “escort service fee" when they are already at the airport.

Also on August 18, Tfair’s agents, together with representatives of the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA), arrested Haduca in a coffee shop at the Mall of Asia in Manila. The arrest stemmed from a complaint by seven nurses alleging that Haduca promised them non-existent jobs in New Zealand with a monthly salary of P160,000.

Complainants Jenny Casulla Gutierez, Allan Jay Lucero Reyes, Katherine Castillo Jallores, Genasky Rocha Maya, Monsher Malogka Suraik, Leo Tombo Hernandez and Leopoldo Villanueva Gabrador said the suspect had collected P60,000 from each of them, but the promised work never materialized.

Another suspect, Carthy, had been arrested in Meycauayan, Bulacan by local officials, who later turned her over to the Tfair. Carthy had likewise promised her 10 victims jobs in France as factory workers and housekeepers with salary of P120,000 every month.

After collecting P20,000 from each of her 10 victims, Carthy failed to deliver on her promise and the victims tracked her down in Bulacan.

All the three suspects are currently in the hands of the Tfair in Camp Crame, Quezon City, said De Castro. They will be charged with illegal recruitment which prohibits them from posting bail.

De Castro had earlier directed the task force to go after big-time illegal recruiters with pending warrants of arrest.

Senior Superintendent Gilbert Sosa, Tfair operations chief, said at least 276 Filipino individuals are facing more than 20,000 unserved warrants of arrest for large-scale illegal recruitment. At least 68 of the suspects have more than 10 warrants of arrest each.

But Col. Bernie Yang of the Tfair had earlier told GMANews.TV in a phone interview that they have already narrowed down the number of unserved warrants after some successful entrapment operations.

He also said that they would soon be coming out with posters of the top 50 illegal recruiters in the country to reveal their names and pictures to the public.

Based on statistics supplied by Initiatives for Dialogue and Empowerment through Alternative Legal Services, there were 1,662 confirmed victims of illegal recruitment from January to November 2008, an increase of 4 percent during the same period in 2007. - GMANews.TV
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Anti-illegal recruiter agents nab 3 people for duping aspiring OFWs

Authorities had arrested three women for allegedly duping aspiring overseas Filipino workers (OFW).

Vice President Noli de Castro, who heads the Task Force Against Illegal Recruitment (Tfair), identified the suspects as Roselyn A. Lopez, Agnes A. Haduca, and Luz Alipio Carthy.

“The arrests are part of the government's intensified campaign against illegal recruitment," said De Castro, who is also the presidential adviser on OFWs.

He said Tfair agents nabbed Lopez last August 18 at the Farmers Plaza in Cubao in Quezon City where she was about to collect payment from her four victims.

The task force’s investigation showed that the suspect recruited the four through a direct hiring scheme to work in Cyprus as domestic helpers with salaries of P25,000 each per month.

De Castro alleged that Lopez told the victims they could be “deployed" if they shell out P150,000 each for “processing fee" and an additional P5,000 for “escort service fee" when they are already at the airport.

Also on August 18, Tfair’s agents, together with representatives of the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA), arrested Haduca in a coffee shop at the Mall of Asia in Manila. The arrest stemmed from a complaint by seven nurses alleging that Haduca promised them non-existent jobs in New Zealand with a monthly salary of P160,000.

Complainants Jenny Casulla Gutierez, Allan Jay Lucero Reyes, Katherine Castillo Jallores, Genasky Rocha Maya, Monsher Malogka Suraik, Leo Tombo Hernandez and Leopoldo Villanueva Gabrador said the suspect had collected P60,000 from each of them, but the promised work never materialized.

Another suspect, Carthy, had been arrested in Meycauayan, Bulacan by local officials, who later turned her over to the Tfair. Carthy had likewise promised her 10 victims jobs in France as factory workers and housekeepers with salary of P120,000 every month.

After collecting P20,000 from each of her 10 victims, Carthy failed to deliver on her promise and the victims tracked her down in Bulacan.

All the three suspects are currently in the hands of the Tfair in Camp Crame, Quezon City, said De Castro. They will be charged with illegal recruitment which prohibits them from posting bail.

De Castro had earlier directed the task force to go after big-time illegal recruiters with pending warrants of arrest.

Senior Superintendent Gilbert Sosa, Tfair operations chief, said at least 276 Filipino individuals are facing more than 20,000 unserved warrants of arrest for large-scale illegal recruitment. At least 68 of the suspects have more than 10 warrants of arrest each.

But Col. Bernie Yang of the Tfair had earlier told GMANews.TV in a phone interview that they have already narrowed down the number of unserved warrants after some successful entrapment operations.

He also said that they would soon be coming out with posters of the top 50 illegal recruiters in the country to reveal their names and pictures to the public.

Based on statistics supplied by Initiatives for Dialogue and Empowerment through Alternative Legal Services, there were 1,662 confirmed victims of illegal recruitment from January to November 2008, an increase of 4 percent during the same period in 2007. - GMANews.TV
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Case vs OFWs arrested in mixed gathering dropped

The charges against 18 overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) arrested for participating in a "mixed gathering" have been dropped by the Saudi police, an advocacy group said Monday.

The 18 OFWs, including runaways and officials of the group Migrante-Riyadh, were arrested last August 14 at an apartment at the Badea district in the Saudi Arabian capital city for mixing unrelated men and women in the same room. [See: 18 OFWs held in Riyadh over 'mixed gathering']

Under Saudi Arabia’s laws, men and women who are not married or related are not allowed to come together in private or public gatherings. If caught, they are charged with immorality or prostitution.

But Eric Jocson, chairperson of Migrante-Riyadh, has told Migrante Middle East that the Saudi police dropped the charges after case officers of the Philippine Embassy convinced them that there was no "prostitution" as those apprehended were members of a legitimate migrant organization providing assistance to OFWs.

John Leonard Monterona, Migrante Middle East coordinator, said the gathering was part of their rights and welfare assistance program wherein they give advice and assistance to distressed Filipino workers before endorsing their cases to the Philippine Overseas Labor Office in Riyadh.

Vice Consul Roussel Reyes confirmed the dropping of the charges and said that it was the intervention of the case officers that allowed it to happen.

"We commend embassy’s case officers Mr. Frias, Akrahman, and Harris under the direct guidance of Vice Consul Roussel Reyes for their timely intervention that lead to the dropping of the case against our members. We will not hesitate to laud the good job done by embassy’s case officers and officials for that matter so long as they will provide same assistance to all distress and run away OFWs not only to KGS and Migrante members," said Monterona.

But the Migrante regional coordinator said that they are still awaiting the release of their fellow migrant advocates Mike Garlan and Rustico Marcos. Other Migrante officials were earlier bailed out by their employers.

Reyes reportedly told Monterona that after the police receives the notice from the prosecutor, those with Iqama (working permit) will be released immediately while runaways and those who have expired Iqamas will be deported.

Monterona said detained Filipina workers Sarah Gumansing and Elvira De Guzman have already been released and are currently in the custody of their employers while distressed OFWs Clemia Corpuz, Rosa Salazar, Reynaldo Balagtas, and Amauri Meriz will soon be deported.

The migrant leader said they estimate that there are about 26,000 undocumented and runaway OFWs in the Middle East, mostly in Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Jordan, and Lebanon. - GMANews.TV

65 OFWs in CNMI's new list of overstayers

SAN ANTONIO, Saipan – At least 65 overseas Filipino workers are listed as “overstayers" or “illegal stayers" in the US Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, a new report released by the CNMI Department of Labor shows.

These OFWs represent 59 percent of the 110 total “overstayers" or those who have overstayed the immigration permission granted to them upon their entry into the CNMI for employment purposes.

Persons in an overstayer status are required to leave the commonwealth immediately.

“Persons who depart the Commonwealth voluntarily are eligible to return. Those who are deported are not eligible to return," Labor said.

There are some 10,000 OFWs and Filipino-Americans in the 14-island CNMI, whose capital — Saipan — is only about three hours away from Manila via direct flight.

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

Permissions granted upon entry into the CNMI may be extended or the entry status may be changed under a number of different provisions of the Commonwealth law, but all extensions and changes must be documented and the applicable fees paid.

Labor said if the necessary applications and supporting documents have not been correctly completed, filled, or recorded, a name may appear in overstayer status although an extension may have been granted upon completion or recording of the necessary documentation.

Foreign workers whose names are on the Labor list but have current status allowing them to be in the CNMI are asked to report to Labor’s Division of Administration Hearing Office no later than Aug. 28, 2009, to correct the records. - GMANews.TV

UK eyes crackdown on Pinoys with fake visas in 'ber' months

After noticing a spike in fraudulent visa applications in the Philippines, the United Kingdom will intensify its drive against such applications, especially in the '–ber' months.

The UK Border Agency, which will also improve coordination on the matter with Philippine authorities, warned Filipinos caught with fraudulent applications of up to 10 years in jail.

"We are intercepting increasing numbers of fraudulent applications, from 584 in 2007 to 657 last year, and we will continue our efforts, focusing especially on the peak periods of August and Christmas," said Ed Mackie, The UK Border Agency’s Regional Manager for Northeast Asia/Australasia.

According to Mackie, all applications are checked thoroughly with the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) - Interpol Division to verify the documents.

The UK Embassy said the UK Border Agency and Philippine law enforcement agencies will seek to identify those providing and those seeking such false documentation.

Its website noted an official police referral program has been in operation since June 2007 in the Philippines.

Under the program, Filipinos who provide or submit forged visa documentation may be arrested and banned from making further applications for up to 10 years.

“We welcome genuine Filipino travelers to the UK, but it is an offence to submit forged documents to support your visa application. If you do, there is a high risk you will be caught and arrested," said Mackie.

He said applicants should make their applications in person, with the support of the staff at the Visa Application Centre, which will ensure the application is accurate.

Those who choose to pay an agent to manage the application should make sure they are properly licensed, he added.

“It is your responsibility to check your documents carefully and make sure they are genuine," he said.

The British Embassy said it has so far referred over 100 applicants to the program to date and will continue working closely with the police to prosecute fraudsters.

"Filipinos who provide or submit forged visa documentation may be arrested and will be banned from making further applications for up to ten years. All applicants are required to submit their biometric details (fingerprint scans and digital photo) and these records will be used to ensure that future applications from individuals who have used false or fraudulent documents are refused without question," it said. - GMANews.TV

40K Pinoy seafarers to benefit from Japan's anti-piracy law

At least 40,000 Filipino seafarers stand to benefit from a new Japanese anti-piracy law protecting ships and its crew off Somalia, the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) said Saturday.

The DOLE said this new law dovetails with the wider efforts of the United Nations (UN) to ensure safe passage in maritime trading areas.

"(The Japanese anti-piracy law), while aimed at protecting Japan-flagged vessels, would reinforce the safety and well-being of the more than 40,000 overseas Filipino seafarers currently manning the majority of Japan’s global merchant marine fleet," the DOLE said.

Before the law was passed, DOLE Secretary Marianito Roque visited Tokyo earlier this year to represent the Philippines at the Philippine-Japan Seafarer Policy Forum.

He pushed for the preservation of the jobs of the numerous overseas Filipino seafarers employed in Japanese vessels.

The Philippines supplies a third of the world's seafarers and has been tagged as one of the most vulnerable nationalities to pirate attacks.

Accompanying him in the forum were partners from the Associated Marine Officers’ and Seamen’s Union of the Philippines (AMOSUP), and the Philippine-Japan Consultative Council.

The new law will allow Japan to “discharge its responsibility as a member of the international community," by actively contributing to the global efforts against piracy.

Japan reaffirmed the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, which provides that all states shall cooperate to the fullest possible extent in the repression of piracy on the high seas or in any other place outside the jurisdiction of any State.

Forged in 1982, the Law of the Sea defined piracy as illegal acts committed on the high seas for private ends, adding all countries have a right to seize and prosecute those committing such acts.

Japan had contributed proactively to the anti-piracy efforts in tandem with the protecting naval vessels of the United States (US), European countries, China, and other states patrolling the waters off Somalia.

Its measures included the dispatch of two destroyers from the Japan Coast Guard and the Maritime Self Defense Forces for the conduct of maritime police operations in the Gulf of Aden.

Specifically, the vessels had already escorted some 87 Japan-flagged vessels in 28 operations since early 2009. - GMANews.TV

Recall of OFW rep to OWWA Board sought

Filipino migrant groups in Hong Kong are demanding the recall of the appointment of OFW Joselito Sapio as land-based sector representative to the Board of Trustees of the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA).

In a petition being distributed to other overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) worldwide, the groups headed by the United Filipinos in Hong Kong (Unifil-Migrante-HK) said the appointment was “biased" and “politically motivated."

Sapio was given the board seat only because of his personal relationship with President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, said the statement.

“We are aware of the controversies surrounding many appointments of (Arroyo) – from Supreme Court justices to National Artist awardees. We are alarmed that this trend of rewarding trusted allies has now been extended to an OFW post," it said.

The groups said Sapio headed the campaign of Mrs. Arroyo in Hong Kong during the 2004 presidential elections. He was also reportedly known to have organized events in Hong Kong for the President.

“During GMA’s (Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’s) frequent visits to Hong Kong, Mr. Sapio is known to have organized or participated in events held in her honor, such as the most recent one in June. That unexpected side trip was projected to the media as a consultation-meeting with OFWs but, in reality, was meant to merely celebrate Mike Arroyo’s birthday," said the petition.

See no evil

OWWA chief Carmelita Dimzon said she sees nothing wrong if Sapio was in fact a strong supporter of Mrs. Arroyo.

“The President appointed him. What is so wrong if he is a supporter of the President?" Dimzon told GMANews.TV in a phone interview on Friday.

Unifil-Migrante-HK said they were worried that this close connection with Mrs. Arroyo would only “consolidate (the President’s) hold" over the P12-billion OWWA fund.

“Now that the election is again nearing, we fear that OWWA’s money will again be used for purposes not related to providing concrete welfare services to OFWs," it said.

Dimzon, however, was quick to explain that Sapio would have no power to manipulate the OWWA fund for the use of the President.

“Hindi mangyayari yun (That would never happen). We have internal control," she said.

She said that aside from having other members at the Board of Trustees, they also have an auditor from the Commission on Audit who look after the agency’s fund.

The Board of Trustees is the policy making body of OWWA. It is a tripartite body composed of 12 members from the government, management, and labor sector.

The board is currently composed of Labor Secretary Marianito Roque as chairman and OWWA Administrator Dimzon is vice chairman.

Its members from the government are Labor Undersecretary Luzviminda Padilla, Foreign Affairs Undersecretary Esteban B. Conejos, Philippine Overseas Employment Administration head Jennifer Manalili, Budget Director Arturo Bumatay, and Finance Undersecretary Gil Beltran.

From the non-government sector are Victorino Balais (labor), Rene Soriano (management), Gregorio Oca (sea-based), Bai Omera Dianalan-Lucman (women), and just recently Sapio (land-based sector).

Corazon Carsola

Sapio replaced Corazon P. Carsola, who showed her true mettle as an advocate of OFW rights when she stood her ground in opposing the transfer of P530.38 million in OWWA Medicare funds to the PhilHealth.

She was outvoted, however, and as proposed by then PhilHealth president Francisco Duque (now health secretary), part of the fund was used to boost the re-election bid of President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo in 2004.

Dolores T. Balladares, chairperson of Unifil-Migrante-HK, urged other OFW groups and individuals worldwide to support the petition to have their voices heard.

So far, the petition has the support of the following organizations:

• Abra Migrant Workers Welfare Association (AMWWA-HK),
• Abra Tinguian Ilocano Society (ATIS-HK), Alay Kapwa Catholic Group
• Association of Concerned Filipinos (ACFIL-HK)
• Cordillera Alliance in Hong Kong (CORALL-HK)
• Cuyapo Association Hong Kong
• Filipino Friends in Hong Kong (FFHK)
• Filipino Migrant Workers’ Union (FMWU-HK)
• Filipino Migrants’ Association (FMA-HK)
• Filipino Women Migrants Association (FILWOM-HK)
• FMWU – Chater Garden Chapter
• FMWU – Chater Road Chapter
• Friends of Bethune House (FBH-HK)
• GABRIELA Hong Kong
• Gabriela – HSBC
• Gabriela – Chater Road
• Iglesia Filipina Independiente (IFI - Hong Kong) Mission Council
• Mars Balaoro, Filguys Association Hong Kong
• Migrante – HSBC
• Migrante – Naguilian (Isabela) Hong Kong
• Migrante – Shatin
• Pinatud a Saleng ti Umili (PSU)
• United Filipinos in Hong Kong (UNIFIL-MIGRANTE-HK)
• United Pangasinan Hong Kong (UPHK) - GMANews.TV
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Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Saudi Arabian General Authority of Civil Aviation Imposes New Safety Regulation for Travelers

by DFA-PISU
3 July 2009 – The Philippine Consulate General in Jeddah reported that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s General Authority of Civil Aviation (GACA) has imposed a new regulation on travel safety procedures.

Under the new regulation, travelers departing from airports of Riyadh, Jeddah, Dammam and Madinah are now prohibited from carrying liquids, gelatinous and compressed materials exceeding 100 milliliters in glass, plastic or metallic containers in their hand luggage. Drinks, juices, perfumes, oils cosmetics and toothpaste are also prohibited in travelers’ hand luggage.

The new regulation is being imposed in compliance with international civil aviation safety conditions.

Security personnel at the airports will only allow essential items such as baby milk and medicines for patients and other humanitarian needs.

In this regard, the Department wishes to advise the public as well as Filipino expatriates in Saudi Arabia to observe these regulations so as to avoid unnecessary inconvenience when traveling through the airports of Saudi Arabia. END

DOLE forms committee to hasten settlement of labor disputes

The Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) has set in place a mechanism to facilitate the settlement of all labor disputes and subsequently the delivery of labor justice and assistance to needy workers.

Labor and Employment Secretary Marianito D. Roque said a committee in charge of the DOLE speedy and efficient delivery of labor justice (DOLE SpeED) has been constituted to hasten the resolution of labor and employment disputes lodged at concerned DOLE regional offices, bureaus, and attached agencies.

Roque said the "DOLE SpeED Committee" is tasked to monitor case dispositions and make necessary interventions to ensure the speedy and efficient dispensation of labor justice and assistance to workers involved in these cases.

He said the committee would observe the Single Team approach and the use of conciliation-mediation as the first and preferential mode in the settlement of all labor and employment disputes to ensure speedy disposition of the cases.

The committee, he said, is chaired by the DOLE Undersecretary for labor relations with the National Labor Relations Commission (NLRC) as vice-chair.

Committee members include the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA), National Conciliation Mediation Board (NCMB), Employees Compensation Commission (ECC), Bureau of Labor Relations (BLR), Bureau of Working Conditions (BWC), DOLE's Legal Service (LS) and Regional Offices in the National Capital Region, Regions 3 (Central Luzon), 4-A (Calabarzon), and 7 (Central Visayas).

Roque said the NCMB will act as the committee's overall secretariat.

Meanwhile, 7,622 workers received a total of P208.6 million in back wages and other benefits following settlement of labor disputes from January to June 2009.

A report from NCMB showed that the labor disputes included 396 labor cases which were settled under the single entry approach (SENA) that benefitted 524 workers who received an economic package totaling P7.6 million.

At the same time, collective bargaining deadlock settled by NCMB under preventive mediation benefitted 761 workers who received a total of P47.5 million in CBA benefits. Another 379 workers received separation and restitution packages amounting to P9.5 million.

The NCMB also facilitated the settlement of CBA deadlock involving workers and companies which filed notices of strikes and lockouts with the board in the first six months of the year benefitting 5,254 workers who received a total of P134 million in CBA economic benefits. Another 704 workers received a total of P10 million in separation and restitution packages

The NCMB also reported that it received a total of new 139 notices of strikes and lockouts (NS/L) since January to June this year, 29% lower than the 195 cases during the same period last year. The board disposed 127 NS/L cases that included cases pending at the end of 2008.

source: Information and Publication Service

Gamca lists diseases that would make OFWs unfit to work

The Gulf Cooperation Council-(GCC) Accredited Medical Clinics Association (Gamca) recently released the list of diseases that would render overseas Filipino workers (OFW) unfit to work in GCC countries

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

These include:

Infectious category
• HIV/AIDS reactive
• Hepatitis B surface antifgen, HCV reactive
• Microfilaria positive and malaria blood film positive, known leprosy patients
• Tuberculosis – any type, X-ray showing active PTB, past evidence of PTB or healed • Pulmonary scar, including minimum fibrosis, calcification (granuloma) pleural thickening, pleural effusion, tuberculosis lymphadenitis
• VDRL/TPHA reactive

Non-infectious category
• Chronic renal failure
• Chronic hepatitis failure
• Congestive heart failure
• Hypertension
• Diabetes mellitus
• Known case of cancer
• Psychiatric disease and neurological disorders
• Physical disabilities, i.e. color blindness, deafness

"Nanny hotline" in Toronto

The provincial government of Toronto, Canada has set up a toll-free hotline for caregivers. The hotline, 1-866-372-3247, is will be used by caregivers to seek advise on their rights under Ontario's provincial labor laws, or to report cases of abuse and exploitation.

OFW Advisory

Filipino seafarers with transit visas not allowed to work in UK
The United Kingdom’s Border Agency recently announced that Filipino seafarers who have been issued transit visas are not allowed to work in the UK fishing industry.
The UK transit visas are basically temporary visas for non-European Union seafarers, including Filipinos joining vessels in the UK which are bound for foreign ports or traveling international waters for a longer period.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Broadcasters urged to warn China-bound OFWs vs drug trafficking

Philippine officials in China sought the media's help Friday in warning China-bound Filipino workers to be wary of "delivery assignments" lest they unwittingly act as drug mules.



Ambassador to China Sonia Brady relayed her request to a delegation from the Kapisanan ng mga Brodkaster ng Pilipinas (KBP) now touring China.

"I ask our fellow Filipinos not to agree to bring parcels to China, lest they find themselves in trouble," she said in Filipino in an article on the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines website.

KBP president Herman Basbaño and legal counsel Rudolf Steve Jularbal agreed to discuss the request during the next general assembly meeting scheduled next week.

They agreed to help disseminate the needed information to the general public possibly to advocacy spots among KBP member stations.

Brady said that in China, at least 180 Filipinos, mostly women, are languishing in various jails in China due to drug trafficking.

Under China’s laws, anybody caught in possession of 50 grams or more of prohibited drugs would face the death penalty. [See: After Vecina’s freedom, what about other Filipinos in jails abroad?]

Brady said that since 2007, 180 Filipinos have been jailed because of possession of illegal drugs.

The Filipinos are languishing in various jails from Guangzhou, Fujian to Shanghai, including far-away Urumqi and Tibet. She said the Filipinos mostly came from Malaysia and some from Manila.

She called on Filipino broadcasters to relay her message to the general public.

Brady said most of the Filipinos found guilty of drug trafficking were promised huge amounts of money upon delivery of the illegal goods to various contacts inside China.

However, most of these “mules" are caught upon entry because of the strict rules and regulations against illegal drugs in China.

One of the mules died recently because the drug container inside his body broke.

Meanwhile, Brady asked the Catholic Church as well to help spread her appeal to Filipino workers not to get involved in the illegal drug trade.

She said some of the mules have become girlfriends of syndicate members involved in illegal drug trade.

Brady said it is difficult to come up with an accurate estimate of Filipinos in China because most Filipinos who go to Beijing and other cities are considered tourists.

She said contract workers are easy to monitor but Philippine embassy officials find it hard to monitor tourists who go looking for work either as domestic helpers or teachers. [See: Not all schools in China accept Pinoy teachers, POEA warns]

There are also instances when Filipino teachers are lured to work in China as English language teachers through the Internet, only to have their contracts substituted upon reporting for work.

“It is only when they get into trouble that they call on the embassy for consular assistance," she said. - GMANews.TV

Remains of 8 Pinoys in Afghan crash to be home soon, says De Castro

The bodies of the eight remaining Filipino fatalities in July 19’s helicopter crash in Afghanistan will be home soon, Vice President Noli De Castro said Thursday.

De Castro, who is also presidential adviser for overseas Filipino workers (OFWs), said forensic experts have already taken DNA samples from the bodies to be matched with blood samples of their relatives in the Philippines.

“We received report from Philippine Ambassador to Kuwait Ricardo Endaya that representatives of the employer, AIM Group, together, with two British technicians, arrived in Kuwait and took blood samples from the bodies of the victims for DNA testing in London," De Castro said in a press statement.

The results of DNA testing are expected within 15 to 20 days and once the results are known, the remains of the victims could be flown to their respective families.

At present, the remains of the victims are at a United States military facility in Kuwait, he said.

Last Tuesday, the remains of the two other Filipino workers recovered in the crash were brought home. .[See: Remains-of-2-of-10-Pinoys-in-Afghanistan-crash-to-arrive-Tuesday]

The bodies of Manolito Hornilla and Leopoldo Jimenez were first to be repatriated because their remains were recognizable.

The vice president assured the families of the victims that the government will continue to help them acquire their claim for benefits from the victims’ employer and at the same time warned them against soliciting the services of unauthorized persons in facilitating their claims.

The victims were killed on July 19 after the Russian-owned civilian Mi-8 helicopter transporting them crashed on the tarmac in Kandahar Air Base shortly after takeoff at NATO's largest air base in Afghanistan. [See: 10 Pinoys killed in Afghan chopper crash] - GMANews.TV

Malaysia assures RP of full probe into welfare attaché's death

Malaysia assured the Philippines it will get to the bottom of the death of a Philippine welfare officer in Kuala Lumpur last Aug. 7.

Foreign Minister Anifah Aman gave the assurance to Philippine Ambassador Victoriano Lecaros, who discussed the matter in a courtesy call, the Department of Foreign Affairs said.

"During the meeting, the Malaysian Foreign Minister expressed his government’s assurances that they will 'leave no stone unturned' in pursuing the ends of justice for Mr. Cabilao," the DFA said on its website (www.dfa.gov.ph) Thursday.

Philippine social welfare attaché Finardo Cabilao, who has been based in Malaysia since 2008, was found dead at his residence last August 7.

With Lecaros at the call were Vice Consul Shirlene Mananquil and Police/Immigration Attaché Bernardo Diaz, the lead Embassy officials on the case.

Embassy personnel discovered Cabilao dead in his apartment after he failed to report to work for two straight days.

Malaysian police authorities are investigating the incident.

The Philippine Embassy, DFA, Department of Social Welfare and Development and the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration are extending full assistance to the family.

Following the incident, the DFA said Lecaros has instructed Philippine Embassy staff members to take security and safety measures. - GMANews.TV

CBCP, insurance firm launch program for OFW families

Families of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) stand to benefit from a new savers' program launched by the Catholic Church and a life insurance firm.

The Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines and Pioneer Life Inc. launched the Pamilyang OFW Savers and Wellness Club with a memorandum of agreement last July 29.

"Pamilyang OFW Savers and Wellness Club is a program for the families of the Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) that aims to address their financial wellness. It intends to help them bank the remittances they receive through a savings program such as a saver’s ID bundled with a saving and investing account," the CBCP said in an article on its website (www.cbcpnews.com).

According to the CBCP Episcopal Commission for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People (CBCP-ECMI), the program gives OFWs' families tips on savings and investment.

Under the program is a “financial wellness workshop" where the diocesan migrant’s desk and the some related organizations discuss such tips.

Pioneer cited data from the Customer Expectations Survey of the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) showing that in the second quarter of 2009, the percentage of households that allotted portions of remittances to savings dropped slightly to 38.3 percent from 40 percent in first quarter 2009.

“It was also noted that, following household and education expenses, more than half of OFW families (51.1 percent) allotted a bulk of the remittances for paying their debts," it stated.

Pioneer Life CEO Lorenzo Chan said their company intends to help pursue the vision of ECMI regarding the migrant workers and their families.

“Our aim is to complement one of CBCP-ECMI’s objectives of making the sons and daughters of OFWs productive partners of their families. By doing their part in responsibly managing the money they receive from abroad, no matter how young or old they may be, children of OFWs can hope for the earlier return of their parent-OFWs to the Philippines," he said.

For his part, Edmund Ruga, ECMI Luzon Coordinator, also expressed the reason for their partnership with the Pioneer Life.

“We partnered with Pioneer because we saw their sincerity in working towards the same objective of helping the families save and invest for the future," he said.

He said the constant support of the insurance company on this program will have “a greater chance of bringing the Filipino families back together after being separated because of the need to earn money abroad." - GMANews.TV

Kin of Pinay on death row in China asks for help

The family of a Filipina who is currently on death row in China for drug smuggling charges is appealing to the Philippine government for help.

"Mahal naming presidente, kung maaari po, tulungan mo po ang anak ko na walang kamalay-malay nalalagay sa alanganin, nakikusap po ako sa inyo (To our dear president, please help my daughter who is innocent but was put in a undesirable situation, I am begging you)," Soledad Sarmienta said in an interview with GMA News.

Sarmienta made the appeal for her 43-year-old daughter, Gemma Sagido, who is in danger of being executed in China. Sagido was arrested in July 2007 at the Shenzhen International Airport for smuggling one kilogram of heroin.

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

But Sarmienta said her daughter was only recruited to transport gold from Malaysia to China for P20,000.

“Wala hong kasalanan ang anak ko kung hindi itong mga taong nasa paligid ko, taga-lugar pa po namin ang gumawa sa amin ng ganyan (My daughter is innocent, the ones at fault are the people around me, they were the ones who put her in that situation)," she said.

HOW DRUGS ARE HIDDEN
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Drug syndicates have found ingenious ways of smuggling thousands of dollars worth of prohibited substances.

One of the most common ways of smuggling drugs through human “mules" is by making them swallow plastic capsules containing several kilograms of the illegal narcotics. Others have died using this method.

But perhaps the some of the newest modus operandi of these drug gangs involve “conveniently" sewing drugs inside the Filipino mules’ “abdominal cavity" and placing the substance inside a condom and tucking it inside a woman's genitals




She said that in the one year that Sagido was in jail, they received only one letter from her because of the strict security. She added that even if they go to China to see her, they would only be given five minutes with her daughter.

In a letter sent to the family, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said that Sagido has been given a two-year reprieve, meaning she will not be executed in a span of two years while the department negotiates her sentence.

Filipinos as drug couriers

According to the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA), about 500 Filipinos are languishing in jails abroad for drug-related cases.

In Chinese territories alone, Philippine Ambassador to Beijing Sonia Brady reported that a total of 158 Filipinos – mostly women – have been arrested for drug trafficking as of June 7. [See: Number of Filipino drug mules increasing]

PDEA director Dionisio Santiago told GMA News that they suspect a West African syndicate to be behind all the drug-smuggling operations overseas.

Roel Bolivar, deputy commander of the National Bureau of Investigation Anti-Legal Drugs Task Force, said the slow execution of justice is the reason why these syndicates remain rampant.

“Napakabagal tumakbo yung hustisya so kapag mabagal yung hustisya, maraming chances yung mga taong ito na magkaroon ng pagkakataon na makaligtas (The execution of justice is so slow, when it’s that’s slow, these kind of people have more chances to get away)," he told GMA News.

In the meantime, Santiago advised Filipinos to be weary of suspicious job offers abroad.

“Wag kayo basta-basta maengganyo ng (Don’t be so easily enticed by the) dollar or travel to other countries, be very cautious," he said.

In an earlier report, the PDEA chief said that the agency is already 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]

Filipinos on death row

The DFA has said that the number of overseas Filipinos on death row stands at 57, down from 59 after the commutation of the death sentence of an overseas Filipino worker (OFW) in Taiwan and the reversal of another in Malaysia. [See: After Vecina, 57 more OFWs still on death row]

Foreign Affairs Undersecretary Esteban Conejos Jr. said most of the 57 remaining cases involve offenses such as rape, drug smuggling, and homicide in China, Malaysia, Kuwait, Brunei, United States and Saudi Arabia.

Of the total, 48 are facing death for drug-related charges, mostly in Chinese jails. China gives a two-year reprieve for foreign nationals with death sentences, giving them a chance at commutation for good behavior.

DFA records show that a total of 87 Filipinos have been placed on death row since January 2006.

DFA officials could not provide any figures on the number of Filipinos executed abroad but Migrante International said its tally under the Arroyo administration was six, the latest of whom was Jenifer Bidoya a.k.a. Venancio Ladion who was executed in Jeddah in 2008 for killing a Saudi man. [See: Saudi man killed by OFW from a conservative clan]

The department could not also give a specific number of Filipinos languishing in jails abroad, but data previously released by Migrante placed the total at almost 5,000 Filipinos all over the world, particularly in several Middle Eastern countries.

The DFA said most of the cases are minor ones, including alcohol-related offenses, gambling and illicit affairs, which are considered crimes in most Mideastern countries, particularly in Saudi Arabia, home to some 1.2 million Filipinos. - Kimberly Jane Tan, GMANews.TV

Filipino elected vice president of UN rights council body

A Filipino has been unanimously elected vice president of the United Nations Human Rights Council's advisory committee.

The Department of Foreign Affairs said the official, Purificacion Valera-Quisumbing, presidential envoy for human rights and humanitarian law, was elected unanimously on August 6.

“It is an honor for me to accept this important position. I feel it is fitting for the Philippines to be acknowledged as an advocate for human rights in the global arena. Tita Cory was a symbol of our national quest for justice and freedom, and we must remain true to her spirit and reverence for human rights," Quisumbing said in an article on the DFA website (www.dfa.gov.ph).

The HRC advisory committee is the expert think-tank body of the UN Human Rights Council, of which the Philippines is a founding member.

Some 17 independent human rights experts comprise the advisory committee, which conducts studies and accomplishes tasks given to it by member states.

Ambassador Erlinda Basilio, the Philippines permanent representative to the UN in Geneva, served as vice president of the Human Rights Council representing the Asian Group of states from June 2008 to June 2009.

One of the most significant tasks given to the advisory committee is the elaboration of a draft UN Declaration on Human Rights Education.

The DFA said the Philippines plays a leading role in this task, with Quisumbing’s inclusion as a member of the drafting group which is preparing the initial text for consideration of the council.

Also, the Philippines is a member of the cross-regional Platform for Human Rights Education and Training composed of delegations from Costa Rica, Italy, Morocco, Slovenia and Switzerland.

The Platform supports the efforts of the advisory committee in preparing a draft UN Declaration on Human Rights Education and Training. - GMANews.TV

Friday, August 7, 2009

Only 2 bodies in Afghan crash identified

abs-cbnNEWS.com


KUWAIT – Philippine Ambassador to Kuwait Ricardo Endaya and other embassy officials went to the Abdullah Al-Mubarak Airbase to check on the bodies of 10 overseas Filipino workers (OFW) who died in a chopper crash in Afghanistan last July 19.

Endaya told ABS-CBN News, “So far, nasabi sa akin ng mga American authorities na sa sampung Pilipino, dalawa lang ang identified at ‘yung walo ay hindi pa na-a-identify.”

Ten Filipinos were among the 16 passengers who died when the civilian MI8 chopper they rode crashed a few minutes after take off in Kandahar, Aghanistan.

According to the US military, they were only able to identify two victims as the bodies were completely charred. They are Manolito C. Hornilla of Taysan, Batangas and Leopoldo G. Jimenez, Jr. of Lubao, Pampanga.

Hornilla was identified after finding his burnt passport with him. While Jimenez was identified when authorities found his identification card and burnt wallet.

“I am recommending therefore na ipa-DNA testing sila sa Dover, Maryland para malaman kung kani- kaninong mga bangkay ang mga ito para ma-claim ng kanilang pamilya sa Pilipinas,” said Endaya.

The eight victims awaiting identification are Celso Q. Caralde (born in Gingoog City, Misamis Oriental), Ely I. Cariño (Cabusao, Camarines Sur), Ernesto C. De Vega (Naic, Cavite), Mark Joseph C. Mariano (Floridablanca, Pampanga), Marvin P. Najera (San Fernando, Pampanga), Rene D. Taboclaon (Cagayan de Oro City), Recardo E. Vallejos (Bislig, Surigao del Sur) and Noli M. Visda (Lubao, Pampanga).

The Philippine Embassy in Kuwait, meantime, is coordinating with the employer of the crash victims.

“Ang nakita ko doon ang nag-issue ng authority to board the helicopter is a certain company called AIM,” said Endaya, adding “Samantalang ‘yong sa incident report na inissue ng US Military authorities sa Kandahar ang nakalagay don Flour Intercontinental.”

“Siguro yong isa sub-contractor at main contractor ‘yong pangalawa… Pero dapat ‘di sila nagtuturuan dahil joint and several ang kanilang liabilities,” added Endaya.

Despite the Philippine government’s deployment ban of OFWs to Afghanistan, around 1,500 OFWs are said to be working there amid security concerns.

“Nanawagan po ako uli sa mga Pilipinong gusto magtrabaho sa Afghanistan napakadelikado po ng bansang ito,” warned Endaya.

“Ayan na po ang resulta…Sampung Pilipino ang namatay.”

“Kaya kung balak niyo magtrabaho sa Afghanistan, isipin niyo po ng isandaang beses bago kayu tumulak don,” he said.

Endaya advised aspiring migrants: “Sa ibang lugar na lang po kayo mag-apply… huwag na lang sa Afghanistan o kaya sa Iraq.” Report from Maxxy Santiago, ABS-CBN Middle East News Bure

Freed German ship with 14 Pinoys is escorted to Kenya port

Reuters | 08/07/2009 1:40 AM

A German ship, the Hansa Stavanger, freed by Somali pirates earlier this week, was escorted by European Union (EU) vessels towards Mombassa port in Kenya on Wednesday (August 5).

The 20,000-ton German container vessel was captured about 400 miles off the southern Somali port of Kismayu on April 4 with 14 Filipinos, five Germans, three Russians and two Ukrainians on board.

However, the pirates said on Monday that they had received a 2.7 million U.S. dollar ransom for the release of the ship.

The European Union Naval Force patrolling the perilous shipping lanes off Somalia said its ships were escorting the Hansa Stavanger.

The EU agreed last month to extend its anti-piracy operation off the coast of Somalia - codenamed Atalanta - until the end of next year and to expand its area of operations. The mission, which was launched last December and was originally planned to last 12 months, will now run until the end of 2010. It has involved more than a dozen vessels and several maritime patrol aircraft.

Gangs of Somali pirates in the shipping lanes linking Asia and Europe have made millions of dollars in ransom payments from ships hijacked in the Indian Ocean and Gulf of Aden.

Foreign navies patrolling the waters off Somalia have been unable to stem attacks on merchant ships and are overstretched given the vast expanses of seas they have to cover.

Poor weather has hampered pirate attacks of late giving the nearly 20,000 ships that pass through the Gulf of Aden each year a temporary reprieve. But the monsoon season lull broke last week with a flurry of attacks.

The Hansa Stavanger is due to arrive in port on Friday (August 7).

as of 08/07/2009 1:40 AM

8 Pinoys in Afghan crash to undergo DNA testing

Countries that have been declared off-limits to OFWs

Afghanistan

A total ban on the deployment of Filipino workers in Afghanistan took effect in 2007.

Iraq

OFWs were prohibited from going to Iraq in 2004 after a series of suicide bomb attacks and the abduction of Filipino truck driver Angelo Dela Cruz.

Jordan

Reports of widespread abuses against Filipino workers prompted the government to stop sending OFWs there in January 2008.

Lebanon

Following the war between Israeli and Hezbollah forces in 2006, Filipino workers were barred from entering Lebanon in June 2007.

Nigeria

Deployment ban in this African country was implemented in December 2007 due to kidnappings and civil unrest in the Niger Delta.

* Due to desperation for work or good pay being offered, thousands of workers sneak into these countries using fake documents.- GMANews.TVEight of the 10 Filipinos who were killed in a recent helicopter crash in Afghanistan will have to undergo DNA testing so that they can be properly identified, Vice President Noli De Castro said Thursday.

The victims were were killed on July 19 after the Russian-owned civilian Mi-8 helicopter transporting them slammed into the tarmac at the Kandahar Air Base shortly after takeoff at NATO's largest air base in Afghanistan. [See: 10 Pinoys killed in Afghan chopper crash]

In a statement., the Department of Foreign Affairs identified the 10, who were employees of US-based construction firm The AIM Group, Inc. as:

1. Celso Q. Caralde (born in Gingoog City, Misamis Oriental)
2. Ely I. Cariño (Cabusao, Camarines Sur)
3. Ernesto C. De Vega (Naic, Cavite)
4. Manolito C. Hornilla (Taysan, Batangas)
5. Leopoldo G. Jimenez Jr. (Lubao, Pampanga)
6. Mark Joseph C. Mariano (Floridablanca, Pampanga)
7. Marvin P. Najera (San Fernando, Pampanga)
8. Rene D. Taboclaon (Cagayan de Oro City)
9. Recardo E. Vallejos (Bislig, Surigao del Sur)
10. Noli M. Visda (Lubao, Pampanga)

But De Castro, quoting a report from Kuwait Ambassador Ricardo Endaya, said that only two bodies were recognizable while the other eight were severely burned and charred.

He identified the two recognizable fatalities as Jimenez and Hornilla.

De Castro, who is also presidential adviser on overseas Filipino workers, said the remains of the two workers will immediately be repatriated to the Philippines, while the other eight bodies will still have to undergo DNA testing so that their names can be properly matched with their bodies.

Endaya reported to the vice president that the unrecognizable remains will be brought to Maryland in the United States for the test, as it is “standard operating procedure" whenever the accident is military-related.

Afghanistan is one of five countries where overseas Filipino workers are forbidden to work. The others are Iraq, Lebanon, Jordan and Nigeria, although there are moves to ease the restrictions on Jordan, Lebanon and Nigeria.

Despite the ban, many Filipino workers still end up employed at military bases in Iraq and Afghanistan, where US troops and allies are fighting militants.

The AIM Group and Philippine officials, however, maintained that the Filipinos killed in the crash had in fact been working at the NATO base for several years.

They just did not return to the Philippines because the government had imposed a travel ban on Afghanistan and they didn’t want to risk losing their jobs, said Carmelita Dimzon, chief of the government's Overseas Workers Welfare Administration.

Undersecretary Conejos said that the DFA will look into how these workers got into the country despite the ban after the repatriation procedures have been settled. [See: Govt zeroes in on Afghan crash victims' recruiters] - GMANews.TV

Pinoy tests positive for A(H1N1) in Bahrain

A Filipino national tested positive for A(H1N1) in Bahrain this week, Saudi-based online news site Arab News (www.arabnews.com) reported Thursday.

The report said the Filipino was among at least four foreign nationals who tested positive for A(H1N1) there this week.

"Since Monday, a Filipino, a Japanese and a Canadian citizen have tested positive for swine flu. All were coming to Bahrain from high-risk countries. All the patients have been kept in isolation at the Ebrahim Kanoo Health Center," the report said.

Dozens of A(H1N1) cases involving Filipinos, mostly contract workers, have earlier been reported in other countries, notably in Saudi Arabia, Hong Kong, Singapore and Japan.

Two Filipinos, so far, have succumbed to A(H1N1) or swine flu last month, while the number of deaths related to the influenza strain have been reported in the Philippines.

Swine flu cases in the Philippines were last counted by the Department of Health on July 9 at 3,207, of which 2,975 of the patients have recovered.
The DOH stopped giving regular updates on swine flu after the World Health Organization ceased requiring countries to submit regular reports of individual laboratory-confirmed cases. - GMANews.TV

Pinoys, other Haj pilgrims to undergo mandatory flu shots

HAJ IN THE TIME OF SWINE FLU. Muslim pilgrims circle the Kaaba inside the Grand Mosque in Makkah to mark the zenith of the annual Haj. AP file photoFilipino Muslims who want to take part in the Haj pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia will have to take flu shots at least two weeks before departure.

Saudi-based Arab News reported Thursday that this is one of the conditions sought by the Saudi government to minimize the risk of visitors getting A(H1N1) during the pilgrimage.

For this year, Ramadan is expected to start in the second half of August and will continue for 30 days.

"These conditions have been approved after consultations with top international experts in the field. No one will be able to get a visa without fulfilling these new rules," Saudi Health Minister Abdullah Al-Rabeeah said, adding that the conditions are "balanced, fair and scientific."

Al-Rabeeah said the Saudi government will also restrict Haj pilgrims to those between the ages of 12 and 65 - a condition pending formal approval by the Saudi Cabinet.

He also said pilgrims taking part in the circumambulation or the movement around the Kaaba, stoning of the devil at Jamrat, and the standing at Arafat would be required to wear face masks to reduce the risk of flu.

Pilgrims must also be vaccinated two weeks prior to their departure for the holy cities of Makkah (Mecca) and Madinah (Medina), he said.

Al-Rabeeah urged pilgrims to wear masks in crowded places, to sanitize their hands and to seek medical help if they have flu symptoms.

These measures to prevent the spread of the infectious disease are part of a comprehensive plan for Haj operations, he said.

On the other hand, he said the millions of pilgrims expected to flock to the Kingdom will be required to provide health certificates showing that they do not have chronic diseases.

Khaled Al-Mirghalani, the Health Ministry’s spokesman, said pilgrims will likewise be required to show proof they have received flu shots at home.

But Al-Rabeeah said the new measures would not affect countries’ Haj quotas.

He said the proposal was based on decisions taken at a meeting in Jeddah of swine flu experts and at an emergency meeting of Arab health ministers in Cairo last month.

To date, more than 600 people in the Kingdom have been affected with A(H1N1), with six deaths caused by the infection. The first recorded case of A(H1N1) in the oil-rich kingdom was a Filipina nurse, who contracted the mutant virus after returning from the Philippines. [See: Pinay nurse is first case of A(H1N1) in KSA]

Other than the age restrictions, Haj visas will not be given to pregnant women or to those who are chronically ill with heart, kidney, liver, lung, diabetes, obesity and hypertension problems.

Al-Rabeeah said overseas Saudi missions would instruct Haj operators to inform pilgrims of the current requirements and advise them to follow the guidelines issued by the Ministry of Health.

Meanwhile, he said the Kingdom had adequate medicines and facilities to cope with any emergency during the Haj.

In addition to local preparations, the ministry has ordered four million vaccines expected to arrive in October.

Riyadh Al-Kheneini, deputy chief of mission at the Saudi Embassy in Colombo, said the Saudi Foreign Ministry had not yet made any changes in the rules concerning the issuance of Umrah visas.

“We are still waiting for the new regulations for Haj," he added.

Last year, about 4,000 Filipino-Muslims participated in the annual pilgrimage to Makkah. The Haj is the largest annual pilgrimage in the world and is the fifth pillar of Islam, an obligation that must be carried out at least once in an Islam devotee's lifetime if he or she can afford it and is able to do so.

In 2007, among the prominent Filipino pilgrims were former Batangas Gov. Antonio Leviste and her more famous equestrienne daughter Toni; Reps. Mujib Hataman of the Anak Mindanao party-list group and Yusuf H. Jikiri of the 1st district of Sulu; Govs. Andal Ampatuan of Maguindanao, Sakur Tan of Sulu, and Sadikul A. Sahali of Tawi-Tawi. - GMANews.TV

Report: 2 Filipinos killed in Saudi Arabia fire

At least two Filipino workers were killed in a blaze that engulfed a makeshift camp near a gas plant in Saudi Arabia last weekend, an online news site reported Wednesday.

Jeddah-based Arab News said the unidentified Filipinos were among six foreign nationals who have been recovered in the camp about 7 kilometers from the Khurasaniyah Gas Plant in Saudi Arabia's Eastern Province.

The 50-square-kilometer camp belongs to the Athens-based Consolidated Contractors International Company (CCC) that has been tasked by Bechtel and Technip to construct the massive gas processing plant for Saudi Aramco.

CCC employees and supervisors who spoke on condition of anonymity said the fire broke out at 8:30 a.m. Sunday in one of the sections of the residential camp.

According to the CCC supervisor, the fire broke out because of a leaking cooking gas cylinder in a kitchen in that particular quarter of the camp.

Of the fatalities, three were from Bangladesh, two from the Philippines and one from India, said the report.

The Arab News report said at least 40 workers known to be Bangladeshis, Nepalese, Indians, Pakistanis and Filipinos were reported missing.

"Going by what we have seen, we can only assume the worst," a CCC technical supervisor who cited company records told Arab News on condition of anonymity.

“Most of those who died were sleeping at the time of the accident. They had done their night shift and were asleep when the fire engulfed their porta-cabins. Most of the other workers were at the work site.
They saw the devastation that the fire caused only when they came back during lunch break," he added.

Some of the co-workers reportedly counted nearly 15 bodies being transported to ambulances, some of whom were presumed to be still under treatment at the Jubail Central Hospital and Dammam Central Hospital.

"Workers were horrified by the charred remains of some of their colleagues. Many bodies were burned beyond recognition, the Arab News report said.

One of the employees said nearly 400 workers were in that particular area at the time of the accident.

Civil Defense personnel battled the blaze for nearly four hours. Nurses at the two hospitals spoke of receiving badly burned bodies.

“We don’t know their nationalities. They will have to conduct DNA tests to ascertain which country they are from," one local newspaper quoted nurses as saying.

The Arab News said the nurses recalled receiving more than 20 bodies, but local authorities did not corroborate this.

Also, the report said the blaze was visible from quite a distance on the Dammam-Khafji Highway.

However, many trailer drivers who spoke to local newspapers believed the fire was one of the many oil refinery flares that dot the Eastern Province skyline.

Some of the workers said there were no adequate safety measures in the place where the accident occurred.

“There was only one escape route in that area. Even if the workers were awake, they would have found it difficult to escape. It would have been a near stampede if all of the 400 workers had been trying to escape from that area," they said.

The Philippine Consulate in Riyadh said it has yet to receive a report about a Filipino casualty in the incident.

Vice Consul Roussel Reyes told GMANews.TV that the report of the Philippine Overseas Labor Office (POLO) based in Alkhobar mentioned only that six Bangladeshi nationals and one Indian have died in the fire.

Saudi Arabia is host to an estimated 1.2 million Filipinos, mostly professionals and skilled and semi-skilled professionals. - Joseph Holandes Ubalde with Kim Tan, GMANews.TV

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Two Pinoy crew of German ship freed in Somalia

Two Filipino crew of a German container vessel were freed Monday night by Somali pirates after 121 days in captivity, the Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said Tuesday.

The DFA confirmed that the two seafarers on board the MV Hansa Stavanger were "well and in good condition."

"The vessel is now on its way to Dubai, United Arab Emirates," said the DFA, quoting a report by the Philippine Embassy in Nairobi, Kenya, which has jurisdiction over Somalia.

The number of Filipino seafarers still in the custody of Somali pirates is down to 42, in three vessels, following the release of Hansa Stavanger, the DFA added.

Hansa Stavanger and its crew of two Filipinos, one German, three Russians and two Ukrainians were captured 400 miles (670 kilometers) off the southern Somali port of Kismayu on April 4.

Morten Gramberg, a European Union naval spokesperson, told the Associated Press that the pirates have pocketed money in exchange for the release of the vessel. Gramberg, however, refused to disclose the exact amount that the shipowners gave.

Engineer Nelson Ramirez, president of the United Filipino Seafarers, told GMANews.TV that paying ransom is not new for shipowners who brave their ships in crossing pirate-ridden areas near the Horn of Africa.

In fact, Ramirez said that piracy has become an attractive industry in Somalia.

"It's now easy for people there to suddenly have three families to feed," Ramirez said.

Ramirez earlier said that shipowners could easily fork out multi-million dollars in ransom considering that a single ship would contain as much as $90-million in cargo alone.

The UFS president admitted that sheer force won't push shipowners to give up their captive ships. "The important thing is to have a trained and experienced Philippine negotiator there in Somalia to keep our seafarers safe."


SHIP TERROR. Pirates guard the crew of the Chinese fishing vessel FV Tianyu 8 as it sails across the Indian Ocean in this photo taken by the US Navy late last year. Three Filipino seafarers wee on board the ship. The ship has since been freed. The Philippines supplies one-third of the world’s shipping manpower with about 270,000 Filipino seamen employed by foreign maritime agencies, making them the most vulnerable and prone to pirate attacks. [See: Pirates of the Somalian waters: Curse of the Filipino seafarers]

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

The Philippine government has issued a deployment ban on vessels carrying Filipino seafarers that would pass through the Gulf of Aden, which has seen a rise in piracy attacks in recent months.

In 2008, a total of 117 Filipino seamen on board 11 ships were seized by Somali pirates in the Gulf of Aden alone. All have been freed eventually.

This year, Somali pirates also seized 233 Filipinos on board 16 vessels. Forty-two remain in pirates’ hand.

According to the International Maritime Organization (IMO), 44 ships were seized by pirates in 2008 in various parts of the world, while more than 600 seafarers were kidnapped and held for ransom.

Boom towns

But piracy has already transformed the coastal towns of Somalia into vibrant boom towns, as ship owners willingly pay multi-million dollar ransom to bail out their ship and crew.

In northern coastal towns like Harardhere, Eyl and Bossaso, the pirate economy is thriving thanks to the money pouring in from pirate ransoms that have reached $30 million this year alone, the Associated Press said in a report.

"There are more shops, and business is booming because of the piracy," Sugule Dahir, who runs a clothing shop in Eyl, told the AP in a report. "Internet cafes and telephone shops have opened, and people are just happier than before."

A representative of ship owner Beluga Shipping, owner of the BBC Trinidad which was freed last September, admitted that the company paid ransom for the safe release of the ship, including nine Filipino seafarers.

“For the ship owner, paying ransom was the only way," Capt. Tomas Awiszut said. - GMANews.TV

RP officials in KSA expect surge of OAV registrants before Aug. 31

Encouraged by the increase in registration of overseas absentee voters (OAV) in Jeddah last month, Philippine authorities in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) expect a surge in last-minute registrants before the Aug. 31 deadline.

The Philippine Consulate noted that OAV registrants "markedly swelled" during the weekends in July.

With three more local field registrations scheduled to be held in Philippine curriculum schools in Jeddah on July 30 (Al Hekma International School), August 7 (International Philippine School in Jeddah) and August 14 (Pearl of the Orient International School), Philippine officials are becoming more optimistic.

"The Consulate expects a further increase in the number registrants in the final stretch of the registration period," the Department of Foreign Affairs said on its website.

Last July 23 and 24, throngs of Filipinos enlisted for the 2010 elections in Khamis Mushayt, bringing the number of new OAV voters in the Abha-Khamis Mushayt region to 750. [See: OAV mobile registration spreads in Jeddah as deadline draws near]

These included registrants from the nearby cities of Najran and Jizan, the DFA said, citing reports from the Philippine Consulate General in Jeddah.

Consul General Ezzedin Tago commended employers like the International Medical Center (IMC), which he said not only permitted their Filipino employees to go and register, but also provided transportation service to them.

He added civic-minded organizations like the United Filipino Muslims for Peace and Development (UFMPAD) and the "Pinoy sa Jeddah" Internet group campaigned hard to their members on the need for them to exercise their right of suffrage even if they are away from the Philippines.

The Consulate also reminded the Filipino community in Jeddah and the Western Region that OAV registration continues at the Consulate daily, from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

With just one month to go, government is aiming to have one million OAVs sign up before the Aug. 31 deadline, but only more than 100,000 have so far signed up.

Saudi Arabia had earlier barred Philippine officials from conducting OAV registrations on Filipino workers’ work sites that are often too far from the nearest Philippine post.

Currently, OAV registration in the oil-rich kingdom is limited only to the Philippine Embassy in Riyadh, consular office in Jeddah and Labor office in Al Khobar, as well as all Philippine schools in the country.

More than two million Filipinos live and work in the Middle East but less than 28,000 Filipinos have so far registered in the oil-rich region.

Ambassador Nestor Padalhin of the DFA’s OAV Secretariat said the Filipinos’ inherent procrastinating nature caused the poor turnout.

“The Filipinos’ [hasta] mañana habit is clearly manifested in the low turnout," Padalhin said in an earlier GMANews.TV interview. [See: Pinoys' 'mañana' habit blamed for poor OAV registration turnout] -GMANews.TV

Pinoys worldwide mourn death of Cory Aquino

The Life of Cory

January 25, 1933: Corazon Cojuangco Aquino was born in Manila, the sixth among eight children of former congressman Jose Cojuangco and pharmacist Demetria Sumulong.

1946 to 1953: Cory finished high school and college in the United States; she majored in French and mathematics at the College of Mount Saint Vincent in New York City.

1954: She married Benigno Servillano “Ninoy" Aquino, Jr. who would later become mayor of Concepcion in Tarlac, senator of the Philippines, and main political opponent of strongman Ferdinand Marcos.

1972 to 1980: Her husband Ninoy was imprisoned by Marcos during Martial Law.



Across the globe, Filipinos are mourning the death of former President Corazon Aquino and Philippine mission offices in several countries have opened books of condolences for the Aquino family.

In the United States, deputy presidential spokeswoman Lorelei Fajardo said Filipino communities visited by President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo during the weekend were saddened at the news.

“Malungkot na malungkot. (We were all very sad.) We all paused in silence for prayer, we offered a prayer for the late president," Fajardo said in an interview on dzBB radio early Sunday.

The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) on Sunday announced that books of condolences would be opened at all Philippine Embassies and Consulates.

In a statement on its Web site, the DFA said the gesture would allow foreign friends and Filipinos overseas to pay their last respects to President Aquino, who died early Saturday after battling colon cancer for more than a year.

The DFA will receive message of condolences from members of the Diplomatic Corps in Manila while the Philippine flag at the DFA grounds will be flown at half-mast during the 10-day period of national mourning, which was announced by President Arroyo on Saturday.

“With her profound love for country and her deep faith, President Aquino carried the torch of democracy for the Filipino People. Through her relentless efforts, the light of Philippine democracy continues to shine to this day and inspire other nations," the DFA statement said.

It added the officers and staff of the DFA are deeply indebted to President Aquino for being instrumental in strengthening the Philippine Foreign Service under her leadership.

“President Aquino will remain an inspiration to those whose lives she positively touched and influenced in working diligently for our country and people," it said.

Pinoys in the Middle East

In the Middle East, thousands of Filipino expatriates in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) grieved over the death of Mrs. Aquino. The Philippine flag flew at half-mast Saturday at the Philippine Embassy in Abu Dhabi and the consulate-general in Dubai Saturday. Books of condolences at the two missions were opened 9 a.m. Sunday.

Philippine Ambassador to the United Arab Emirates Libran Cabactulan said the death of Mrs. Aquino is a loss for all Filipinos as the nation remembers her role in the 1986 EDSA people power uprising.

“When we remember her, we always remember Ninoy Aquino (her husband). She remains an example for all Filipinos in her life. Ninoy always says that the Filipinos are worth dying for. Indeed, for the country and the Filipino people, it is sad to know she’s dead. But, we have to move on," he said.

A special Mass in Tagalog will be held for Mrs. Aquino at St Michael’s Church in Sharjah at 8 p.m. Sunday, and at St. Mary’s Church in Dubai at 8 p.m. Monday.

Many Filipinos are expected to wear yellow ribbons, the color of the Aquino administration that restored Philippine democratic institutions after the fall of the 20-year rule of Ferdinand Marcos.

Fr. Sergio Arenga, who will conduct the mass in Sharjah on Sunday, urged Filipinos to wear yellow dresses.

Global tribute

Many Filipino expatriates have offered their condolences to the Aquino family through online networking sites Twitter, Facebook and Friendster.

Many also sent electronic cards (e-cards) to express sympathy with the family of the first woman president in the Philippines.

Art Los Baños, public relations consultant and Filipino community leader in Dubai, said Mrs. Aquino symbolized change in the political system through peaceful means.

“This is her legacy not only to the Filipinos but to humankind as a whole. This virtue of a government leader is timely considering what is happening in some African countries and even here in the Middle East, specifically in Palestine," he said.

Manuel Pachico, 43-year-old painter in Dubai, said Mrs. Aquino was the only Philippine president who had no record of corruption.

“She was very honest, God-fearing, and a people-centered state leader. I have nothing to say against her except that she was surrounded by corrupt men. But she was a clean president. Had she decided to run again for president, I would surely have voted for her," he said.

Riolyn Martinez, 29, saleswoman in Sharjah, said Mrs. Aquino exemplified the life of a housewife, who brought good principles for the country and the Filipino people.

“She was the only president whose image was not tarnished with controversy, corruption and anomaly. She finished her term without any bad record," she said.

Philippine consul general Noel Servigon recalled he was a law student at UP Diliman in 1986 when he volunteered for the Cory-Aquino-for-President Movement to conduct election law orientation seminars.

“In 1993, I had the chance to tell my story to the former president when she attended the World Human Rights Congress in Vienna where I was posted as vice-consul. She was so delighted to know that I was her long-time supporter," he said.

Servigon said he cherishes a photo taken with her when he escorted her to Prague during a side trip and a book she gave him with her personal dedication.

“Her passing away is a definite loss for the country. I just hope that those in politics today will continue to fight for what she started when she was in power – a country free of corruption and oppression," said Arlene Contreras, an aeroparts coordinator.

“It is a sad moment in the Philippine history. I can’t imagine how people back home must be feeling. I am here, yet I feel saddened by the news. I hope this episode will not be a setback, but a pivotal moment in our country’s politics," said Danny Cagasan, a food service crew.

Moment of unity

“This moment is unifying, just like when Aquino came into power by EDSA people power uprising. Filipinos are once again united although it is with a sad spirit this time," said Delia Mijares, a sales consultant.

Rose Tongol, a special services officer, said: “She is still very young to pass away, but at least she is free from suffering now. I just hope that our fellowmen will easily come to terms with this loss and use this moment as an inspiration to strive to achieve what she had set out to do when she was elected. I hope we have more politicians like her."

Mary Jane Oca, 31, sales staff of a leather wear company, was all praises for Mrs. Aquino's spiritual devotion.

Armando Aveno, 33, Filipino businessman, said Mrs. Aquino was the icon of democracy in Southeast Asia, the first woman president in Asia who rose from a mere housewife to lead the Filipino people back to democracy.

In Saudi Arabia, online news site Arab News said overseas Filipino workers expressed pain and sadness over the death of Mrs. Aquino.

“All of us are extremely sad, to use an understatement. The kind of revolution she led was the first of its kind and was copied by other countries to effect change in government," said Dr. Carlito Astillero, a community leader.

“She left us with good memories to remember her by; this also makes her passing more painful," said Rene Layug, of the sports group Siglakas and Bukabin.

“She not only took care of her own children after her husband was assassinated, but she also showed that she was a mother to the whole country," said Roi Alojado, a community leader.

Dionisio Tabuco Jr., another community leader, said: “Her passing is a great loss for us Filipinos. She served the country selflessly."

In Kuwait, Filipinos offered prayers at a memorial Mass for Mrs. Aquino at 5 p.m. (midnight in Manila) at the Philippine Overseas Labor Office there.

Fr. Ben Barrameda, chaplain of the Filipino community in Kuwait, said they will never forget Mrs. Aquino as an icon of democracy.

“During my assignment to St. Paul the Apostle Parish along Timog Avenue, I often passed by her residence hoping to see her and personally thank her but failed," Barrameda said in an article posted on the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines Web site

Barrameda said he is personally grateful to Mrs. Aquino for sponsoring him for a year through his seminary years.

He said he always included Mass intentions for her recovery when he learned she had colon cancer. Mrs. Aquino’s family announced she had colon cancer in March 2008.

Also, Barrameda said it is time Filipinos in the Philippines and abroad express their thanks and offer their sincere prayers for the repose of Mrs. Aquino’s soul.

In Manila, the funeral for Mrs. Aquino will be held at the Manila Cathedral due to the expected huge number of people who want to pay their respects.

Manila Cathedral rector Msgr. Nestor Cerbo said the remains of Mrs. Aquino will arrive at the Cathedral at around 2 p.m. Monday.

A Mass will be held at 8 p.m., followed by public viewing of Mrs. Aquino’s remains.

Her family had decided she will be laid to rest beside her husband, former Sen. Benigno Aquino Jr., at the Manila Memorial Park in Parañaque City. - GMANews.TV

OFWs in Bahrain to benefit from new sponsorship rule

Some 40,000 Filipinos working in Bahrain will be among the main beneficiaries of a decision by the Bahrain government to ease sponsorship rules for them, a report said Saturday.

To help make the 40,000 Filipino workers in Bahrain aware of the new policy, yhe Philippine Embassy is preparing an awareness campaign, said online news site Khaleej Times (www.khaleejtimes.com).

Charge d'áffaires Jose Dela Rosa Burgos said that with the Bahrain government's decision, foreign workers can change jobs without no-objection certificates (NoC) from their employers.

The Bahraini government, which announced the decision in May, will stick to its August 1 schedule for the implementation of the new labor rule, despite objections from the business community.

Bahrain Labor Undersecretary Jameel Humadan said decision did not mean completely abolishing sponsorship, but expatriate workers would now have rights to change employers without much ado.

Humadan said implementing the clause in the Labor Market Regulatory Law would improve Bahrain’s image in the international community.

“The right of expatriate workers to shift jobs without no-objection letters from their employers is part of the clause in the Labor Market Regulatory Law that had been in effect since last year. We gave enough grace period for the decision to be implemented," he added.

The government went ahead with the plan after a committee comprising representatives from the public and private sectors failed to agree on Bahrain’s commitments to international labor laws, and protecting the rights of business owners.

Bahrain’s lead could also extend to Filipinos and other nationalities elsewhere in the Arabian Peninsula should other countries hosting foreign workers would follow suit.

The Indian Embassy, which has the largest number of foreign workers in Bahrain estimated at 300,000, also said it will alert its citizens already there or those who plan to arrive about the new rule.

Indian Embassy First Secretary Ajay Kumar said the focus would be on Indians coming to Bahrain as they would not know much about labor market situations there.

“The embassy appreciates the role of the Bahrain’s government to offer more rights to foreign workers and we will continue to help the country and our community towards improving the labor market," he said.

The Pakistani Embassy said the new rule would ensure 30,000 of its workers would not be exploited.

“There is no chance for some companies to cheat workers if we inform them before joining about the new privilege of shifting jobs without the permission of sponsors," said the embassy’s first secretary, Mohammed Saleem. - GMANews.TV

Homesick Pinay jumps off building in Saudi Arabia

Veronica Lascano, 24, jumped from the first floor of the building in Jeddah where she was working at around 6 a.m. last July 3, a welfare officer at the Philippine Consulate General said.

She suffered injuries at the back and other parts of her body from the incident. She is currently confined at the King Fahd Hospital in Jeddah.

In an interview, Lascano said her employer was very kind but that she really couldn’t cope with the though of being separated from her family.

"Hindi ko po alam ang gulu-gulo ng isip ko noon. Kahit po ako iniisip ko kung bakit ko nagawa ‘yun (I don’t know what I was thinking, my mind was a mess. Even I don’t know why I did that)," she said.

“Wala naman akong problema sa amo ko. May mga kasama naman ako pero ‘di ko po alam kung bakit ko nagawa ‘yun, lagi nga po akong umiiyak at laging naiisip ang aking pamilya," she added.

(I have no problem with my employer. I also have some companions there, but I was still lonely. I always cry and think about my family.)

Lascano, who came to Saudi Arabia last March 2, is from Malolos, Bulacan where she has a husband and two children.

Learning from the incident, Lascano advised other aspiring OFWs to make sure that they can stand the loneliness of work abroad.

Different case

According to the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) and Philippine Consulate General in Jeddah, the number of domestic helpers jumping off buildings was nothing new.

But they were quick to add that Lascano’s case was different from the other cases that they have handled. In most cases, the workers were maltreated or exploited by their employers.

OWWA Welfare Officer Romualdo Exmundo said Lascano was apparently suffering from loneliness due to separation from her family and difficulty in adjusting to a foreign environment.

Exmundo assured Lascano of help from the OWWA. Lascano’s employer is arranging for her repatriation.

One of the benefits being offered by OWWA is for disability but the case still has to undergo assessment to determine whether the disability is permanent or not.

“Payo ko sa kanya na itago nya lahat ang medical records nya at pagdating nya sa Pilipinas ay pumunta sa OWWA at titingnan kung ano ang step by step na dapat gawin para ma-evaluate ang kanyang sitwasyon," said Exmundo.

(I advise her to keep all her medical records. When she returns to the Philippines, she should go to OWWA and look into how she can have her situation evaluated.)

On mandatory psych tests

The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) has proposed that household service workers undergo mandatory psychological tests to prevent incidents like that of Lascano from happening.

The DFA said the proposal was triggered by the recent spate of cases of runaway Filipino workers who are said to have been unable to adjust to life in the Middle East.

Then DFA spokesperson Claro Cristobal said the test is only aimed at protecting the welfare of OFWs abroad. [See: Psych tests will protect OFWs - DFA official]

"The psychological test is aimed at checking whether or not the coping mechanism of Filipino workers is well," he said.

He added that even DFA and embassy officials undergo such tests before they are deployed to other countries.

“It is needed simply because it is very stressful overseas," he added.

The test, however, received flak from various migrant workers’ groups. [See: More groups nix proposed psych test for migrant Pinoy domestics]

Migrante International said such a policy would only castigate Filipino workers as mentally unfit and unstable for work in other countries.

Instead of preparing OFWs, the group asserted that employers should be made to undergo psychological tests to determine if they are fit to employ foreign workers.. - with Kimberly Jane T. Tan, GMANews.TV

2009 remittances may hit P17 billion despite crisis

8,726,520
(Total number of Filipinos abroad in 2007)

4,133,970
(Number of temporary Filipino workers in 2007)

900,023
(Number of irregular Filipino workers in 2007)

1,376,823
(OFWs deployed in 2008)

283,348
(OFWs deployed in the first two months of 2009)

US$16.43 billion
(Total OFW remittances in 2008)

- Data from the POEA, DOLE, BSP, and the Commission on Filipinos Overseas If the current trend in remittances of overseas Filipinos continue, the total for this year could reach, if not surpass, a record $17 billion in 2009, the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) has said.

Labor Secretary Marianito Roque said the projection is based on a report of the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) that showed remittances by Filipinos abroad through banks reached $6.98 billion in the first five months of 2009.

Roque said the five-month figure, averaging almost $1.4 billion per month, represents a growth rate of almost 2.8 percent compared to the same period in 2008.

In 2008, remittances hit $16.43 billion, representing a growth rate of 13.7 percent compared to the figure in 2007.

In a press statement, Roque said the continued increase in remittances by overseas Filipinos amid the global financial crisis is largely due to the distinctive global preference for overseas Filipino workers (OFWs).

He said the effect of the crisis on the country’s labor export were "counterweighed" by the DOLE’s bilateral missions, which he said assured "continuing opportunities" for Filipinos overseas.

Although remittances by overseas Filipinos include those sent home by migrant Filipinos or foreign spouses of Filipino nationals, a press statement by the BSP also acknowledged that the increasing amount had something to do with the rise in number of OFWs, or the contract workers.

Said BSP Governor Amando M. Tetangco Jr., "remittance flows continued to be underpinned by the steady demand for Filipino workers abroad, specifically professional and skilled workers, as well as the expanded access of overseas Filipinos and their beneficiaries to a wide range of financial products and services offered by banks and other financial institutions."

OFW deployment attained a new record level reaching 1,376,823 (+27.8 percent) in 2008, compared to 1,077,623 in 2007, the statement said.

The Philippine Overseas Employment Administration also claimed that the growth trend had indeed been sustained, as OFW deployment grew by another 27.3 percent to 283,348 in the first two months of 2009, compared to the same period in 2008.

He said such bilateral efforts gave the Philippines "favorable" agreements, including those forged between the Philippines and OFW-host nations like Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Australia, Canada, and Japan.

At the same time, Roque confirmed that the Memorandum of Understanding entered into by the DOLE and its counterpart in South Korea last May would allow the hiring of up to 5,000 OFWs. [See: Korea seen hiring 5,000 OFWs in next 10 months]

The department has also previously projected that almost 16,000 Filipinos will hopefully be hired in the construction, hospitality, medical, and other services sectors of Libya through their bilateral efforts. [See: Pinoys eyed to fill up 15,000 job vacancies in Guam]

Roque added that while they continue to find job opportunities abroad, they are also simultaneously ensuring the necessary welfare protection for them.

In her previous pronouncements, President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo has said that while her government continues to tap available foreign markets for professional and skilled labor, she longs for the day when overseas employment would be just an option for Filipinos. [See: OFWs on Arroyo SONA: We've heard that before] - GMANews.TV

2009 remittances may hit P17 billion despite crisis

8,726,520
(Total number of Filipinos abroad in 2007)

4,133,970
(Number of temporary Filipino workers in 2007)

900,023
(Number of irregular Filipino workers in 2007)

1,376,823
(OFWs deployed in 2008)

283,348
(OFWs deployed in the first two months of 2009)

US$16.43 billion
(Total OFW remittances in 2008)

- Data from the POEA, DOLE, BSP, and the Commission on Filipinos Overseas If the current trend in remittances of overseas Filipinos continue, the total for this year could reach, if not surpass, a record $17 billion in 2009, the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) has said.

Labor Secretary Marianito Roque said the projection is based on a report of the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) that showed remittances by Filipinos abroad through banks reached $6.98 billion in the first five months of 2009.

Roque said the five-month figure, averaging almost $1.4 billion per month, represents a growth rate of almost 2.8 percent compared to the same period in 2008.

In 2008, remittances hit $16.43 billion, representing a growth rate of 13.7 percent compared to the figure in 2007.

In a press statement, Roque said the continued increase in remittances by overseas Filipinos amid the global financial crisis is largely due to the distinctive global preference for overseas Filipino workers (OFWs).

He said the effect of the crisis on the country’s labor export were "counterweighed" by the DOLE’s bilateral missions, which he said assured "continuing opportunities" for Filipinos overseas.

Although remittances by overseas Filipinos include those sent home by migrant Filipinos or foreign spouses of Filipino nationals, a press statement by the BSP also acknowledged that the increasing amount had something to do with the rise in number of OFWs, or the contract workers.

Said BSP Governor Amando M. Tetangco Jr., "remittance flows continued to be underpinned by the steady demand for Filipino workers abroad, specifically professional and skilled workers, as well as the expanded access of overseas Filipinos and their beneficiaries to a wide range of financial products and services offered by banks and other financial institutions."

OFW deployment attained a new record level reaching 1,376,823 (+27.8 percent) in 2008, compared to 1,077,623 in 2007, the statement said.

The Philippine Overseas Employment Administration also claimed that the growth trend had indeed been sustained, as OFW deployment grew by another 27.3 percent to 283,348 in the first two months of 2009, compared to the same period in 2008.

He said such bilateral efforts gave the Philippines "favorable" agreements, including those forged between the Philippines and OFW-host nations like Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Australia, Canada, and Japan.

At the same time, Roque confirmed that the Memorandum of Understanding entered into by the DOLE and its counterpart in South Korea last May would allow the hiring of up to 5,000 OFWs. [See: Korea seen hiring 5,000 OFWs in next 10 months]

The department has also previously projected that almost 16,000 Filipinos will hopefully be hired in the construction, hospitality, medical, and other services sectors of Libya through their bilateral efforts. [See: Pinoys eyed to fill up 15,000 job vacancies in Guam]

Roque added that while they continue to find job opportunities abroad, they are also simultaneously ensuring the necessary welfare protection for them.

In her previous pronouncements, President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo has said that while her government continues to tap available foreign markets for professional and skilled labor, she longs for the day when overseas employment would be just an option for Filipinos. [See: OFWs on Arroyo SONA: We've heard that before] - GMANews.TV
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