Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Repatriation of distressed OFWs delayed for Arroyo’s Jeddah visit?

An alliance of Filipino migrant groups expressed concern that the repatriation of distressed overseas Filipino workers in Saudi Arabia could have been put on hold to wait for the visit of President Arroyo.

“But their repatriation will not happen any day from now until Mrs. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo arrives in Saudi Arabia reportedly on 21st September,” said John Leonard Monterona, regional coordinator of Migrante-Middle East chapter.

Monterona said Migrante chapter in Jeddah informed them that the number of stranded workers in Jeddah seeking repatriation is now estimated at 300.

“Just like her previous visit in the Kingdom, she will make sure that she has a trophy to present to the public –the 300 stranded OFWs; this is cheap publicity stunt at the expense of OFWs lives and well being,” Monterona said.

He said the repatriation of distress OFWs usually increase during and after the Ramadan. He added that this has been a problem that the Philippine Consulate General failed to solve.

“But this should not be case, the “One Country Team” approach by the government is not working and ineffective; it must be coupled with genuine protection mechanism that would ensure that OFWs rights and welfare is being guaranteed by receiving host governments as well,” Monterona stressed.

Monterona said the 300 stranded OFWs are now inside the Hajj Airport in Jeddah hoping for their immediate repatriation.

“In fact, they are readying and now eager to be home and be reunited with their loved ones. But according to PCG announcement, only 170 of them will be repatriated,” he said.

He added: “With or without Gloria coming to Saudi Arabia, the hundreds of distressed and stranded OFWs must be repatriated immediately as it is primary government responsibility.”

Repatriation on going

On Tuesday, the Department of Foreign Affairs announced that 71 OFWs are set to arrive from Jeddah on Wednesday.

According to the DFA’s Web site, the third batch consists of 62 female, six male and three children. They are expexted arrive at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport at 11 p.m.

“The Philippine Government extends its gratitude to the Saudi government for the immediate processing of the exit papers of the 71 Filipinos,“ the DFA stated.

On Monday, 66 Filipinos composed of 24 adults and 42 children returned to the country. They were repatriated by Saudi Arabia deportation authorities.

The OFWs were among the Filipino migrant workers who stayed under a bridge in Jeddah.

Doubts cast on new OWWA board appointee

MANILA - An advocacy group called for transparency after the appointment of a person allegedly in close association with President Arroyo to the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) Board of Trustees.

“Our question on the lack of standard in handing out appointments has not been addressed,“ said Daphne Ceniza of the Center for Migrant Advocacy.

Ceniza was referring to the appointment of Jose Jouelito Sapio to the OWWA Board of Trustees representing the Land-based sector.

OWWA chief Carmelita Dimzon said Sapio was appointed by President Arroyo.

A portion of Dimzon’s letter to CMA Executive Director Ellene Sana read: “We cannot question the authority and prerogative of Her Excellency in the appointment of Mr. Sapio. Having been appointed, he needs all your support and cooperation so that he can perform his duties and responsibilities as the trustee for the land-based sector. Let us give him a chance to represent you and be your voice in the Board.“

However, Ceniza pointed out that appointing an OWWA land-based representative to the OWWA Board will affect millions of migrant workers abroad.

“It should not be handed as a Presidential prerogative especially from a government that has consistently been tainted by corruption and abuse of power in handing a position,“ Ceniza said in her letter-response to Dimzon.

The CMA earlier wrote to OWWA and the labor department verifying the appointment of Sapio who is from Hong Kong. In the letter, Sana said they were informed that Sapio “headed the presidential campaign of Pres. Arroyo in 2004 in his capacity as founder of GMA Ikaw Pa Rin Movement in Hong kong. Subsequently, in the 2007, Mr. Sapio was lead campaigner for Pres. Arroyo's Team Unity.“

“The lack of transparency on the selection process and the cavalier attitude of the President in handing out appointments as payment for services rendered reflects the government's low regard for migrant workers. Please note that Mr. Sapio heads the Gloria Pa Rin Movement in Hong Kong,“ Ceniza said.

Ceniza added “The management and allocation of OWWA funds has already been questioned by migrant workers in the past. The manner in which Mr. Sapio was appointed gives us further reason to doubt that OWWA funds wil be used judiciously for the welfare of migrant workers.“

Meanwhile, Migrante International Middle East chapter also raised the issue of transparency by stressing that the appointment was “devoid of democratic consultations from OFWs and their organizations.“

“OFWs and their families could not forget that Mrs. Arroyo and her administration has a long list of alleged OWWA fund misuses and fund diversion devoid of consultations from OFWs stakeholders; thus we can’t simply give a nod to the appointment made by her to the OWWA-BoT without giving OFWs the chance to be heard and consulted,” Migrante-ME regional coordinator John Leonard Monterona said.

Pinoys in Vienna divided over Noynoy's presidential bid

by Hector Pascua, ABS-CBN Europe News Bureau

Filipinos in Austria have mixed feelings about the decision of Senator Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III to run for president in next year’s polls.

"Noynoy doesn't seem to have solid credentials. Indeed, he is a good guy at isa pa anak ng mga sinasabing heroes ng Pilipinas. He is Okay but he has no charisma and so far no leadership or even management skill,” a United Nations employee in Vienna who declined to be named told ABS-CBN Europe News Bureau.

Sen. Noynoy Aquino is the son of democracy icon President Corazon “Cory” Aquino and the late senator Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino Jr. who was assassinated in 1983.

“The Aquino’s possesses a very clean record. Their record of decency will surely be Noynoy’s ‘political capital’ in winning widespread grassroots support from Filipinos. Di ba, kung malinis kang tao, marami kang ma-aatract din na malilinis at honest na tao? Decency coupled with dedication will surely help to make our country move forward," said Filipino economist Rene Ilagan.

Henry Llacuna of the Alpha Phi Omega Vienna chapter welcomed Sen. Noynoy Aquino’s decision to run for president.

“The Filipino people are tired of traditional politicians! Noynoy will surely change the political system of our country,” Llacuna said.

Angelita de Guzman, a Pinay nurse working in a public hospital in the city believes that the senator’s parents instilled good values in them and this is surely a very good start.

“If ever elected as President in 2010, Noynoy might not be able to make a quick change in our economy but being a honest person and hopefully having sincere, truthful government officials surrounding him, the Philippines may have a chance,” de Guzman said.

Though there are unsettled opinions of “kababayans” in Austria on Noynoy’s capability to run for President, still the majority of Filipinos here wish and pray that they would be united to help change and reform politics in the Philippines.

Remittances rise in July on Pinoy labor demand

HARD WORK. Nearly 10 percent of the country's 90 million people work abroad — many as nurses, maids, engineers, construction workers and seamen. Charlie Magno file photoRemittances from Filipinos working abroad amounted to $1.5 billion in July, up 9.3 percent from a year earlier due to sustained demand for Filipino manpower and increased access to money transfer facilities, officials said Tuesday.

Cental Bank Governor Amando Tetangco said Tuesday he expects remittances to remain stable for the rest of year because of the “sustained remittance flows at the onset of the second half of the year and continuing signs of improving global economic conditions."

Remittances in January-July have totalled $10 billion, up 3.8 percent from a year earlier.

The United States, Canada, Saudi Arabia, Britain, Japan, Singapore, United Arab Emirates, Italy, and Germany have been the major sources of remittances this year.

Nearly 10 percent of the country's 90 million people work abroad — many as nurses, maids, engineers, construction workers and seamen.

Last year, overseas Filipinos sent home $16.4 billion, equal to 10.4 percent of the country's gross domestic product and fueling domestic consumption.

Aggressive marketing by banks and non-bank remittance centers abroad have resulted in the “greater capture" of money being sent home by Filipinos overseas, the central bank said. - AP

66 stranded OFWs return home from Jeddah

Almost 200 Filipino workers still remain at the Hajj terminal in Jeddah - a safe house temporarily provided by the Philippine Consulate for stranded workers who are awaiting repatriation. - Ronaldo Concha A total of 66 stranded Filipino workers have finally returned to the Philippines from Jeddah after they were repatriated by Saudi deportation authorities, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said Tuesday.

In a statement, the DFA said the group consisted of 24 adults and 42 children. They arrived at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport at 6 a.m. Tuesday.

According to Anthony Basil, administration staff of the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA), most of these workers were runaways from Riyadh and the Eastern Province.

But instead of seeking help from the Philippine Embassy in Riyadh or the Philippine Overseas Labor Office in Alkhobar, many of the workers opted to travel to Jeddah in hopes of being sent home for free by Saudi authorities through a deportation process.

Some of them even lived under the Khandara Overpass, along with other nationals such as Indians, Pakistanis, and Bangladeshis, who are also trying to attract the attention of Saudi police so that they would be brought to their countries.

They were transferred to the Hajj terminal after they camped out in front of the Philippine Consulate General in Jeddah, demanding repatriation.

The DFA said Friday that they were the ones who recommended the case of the OFWs to the Saudi immigration. DFA undersecretary for migrant workers affairs Esteban Conejos Jr. said 170 of the workers would soon be repatriated.

According to the Philippine Consulate General in Jeddah, a group consisting of 62 females, six males, and three children is expected to arrive on Wednesday at 11 a.m. This will be the third group of Filipinos to be repatriated from Jeddah. The first batch brought home 100 workers while the second repatriated 66.

At present, there are still 123 male and 52 female stranded OFWs awaiting repatriation at the Hajj terminal.

The Filipino community in Saudi Arabia is estimated to have reached 1.2 million last year and the figure continues to increase. It is also still the top destination among overseas Filipino workers, data from the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration showed. - Kimberly Jane T. Tan and Ronaldo Z. Concha, GMANews.TV

22 Pinoy seafarers freed by pirates in Somalia


Win Far 161 - Hijacked April 6 with 17 Filipinos.

MV Charelle- Hijacked June 13 with 3 Filipinos.

Sichem Peace - Hijacked July 4 with 2 Filipinos.*

* Except for the Sichem Peace, all the ships mentioned are in the hands of pirates in Somalia.

- Data collected by GMANews.TV (Updated: 3:43 PM) After more than five months in captivity, 22 Filipino seafarers on board a Greek merchant ship were freed by their Somali captors, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said.

In a statement on Tuesday, the DFA said the local manning agency of MV Irene confirmed the safe release of the all-Filipino crew on Monday.

"Negotiations for the release of the vessel and its crew had been successful and that it is now working on the repatriation of the Filipino seafarers," the DFA said.

The St. Vincent-flagged merchant ship was hijacked off the Gulf of Aden last April 15.

This latest development has brought down to 22 the total number of Filipino seafarers still held hostage this year.

Somali pirates often do not hurt their hostages and only demand a hefty ransom from ship owners. Last year however, a Filipino seafarer died by accident, when the Somali bandits boarded their ship. The body has since been repatriated.

Earlier, MalacaƱang refused to direct any of the Department of Foreign Affairs’ funds to pay any part of the $2.8 million or almost P137 million in exchange for the release of the 22 Filipino seafarers of MV Irene.

The families of the victims have earlier appealed to the Philippine government, the United Nations, the African Union, and other international organizations to intervene for the release of the hostages.

An online petition has even been set up for the release of the hostages and the growing problems of piracy. A similar petition has also been set up on networking sites such as Facebook.

It was not clear whether the Somali pirates received money in exchange for the release of the MV Irene or its crew. - Joseph Holandes Ubalde, GMANews.TV

Some stranded OFWs in Jeddah already sick

Consulate officials give medical attention to stranded Filipino workers who got sick while staying at a safe house in Jeddah before repatriation. - Ronaldo ConchaJEDDAH, Saudi Arabia - - Because of the hot weather and lack of supplies, many of the stranded Filipino workers staying at the Hajj terminal in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia have been falling sick.

“We have lots of the stranded here in the safe house who (are) suffering from high blood pressure, others have flu. Some of the stranded females here are pregnant. We have also some children and they need milk and pampers and our problem is we do not have any more resources to support or daily expenses," said Conrado Soriano, one of the leaders of the stranded Filipinos.

According to Anthony Basil, administration staff of the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA), most of the stranded OFWs are runaways from Riyadh and the Eastern Province.

But instead of seeking help from the Philippine Embassy in Riyadh or the Philippine Overseas Labor Office in Alkhobar, many of the workers opted to travel to Jeddah in hopes of being sent home for free by Saudi authorities.

Some of them even lived under the Khandara Overpass, along with other nationals such as Indians, Pakistanis, and Bangladeshis, who are also trying to attract the attention of Saudi police so that they would be deported to their countries.

They were transferred to the Hajj terminal after they camped out in front of the Philippine Consulate General in Jeddah, demanding repatriation.

Upon hearing of their grievances, OWWA officials checked the condition of the workers, conducted treatment, and distributed medication.

“I’m happy that the Philippine Consulate is doing their best to accommodate us especially when they provided us shelter and food and they look after our sick colleagues here and provided us medicines," said Soriano.

OWWA welfare officer Romualdo Exmundo, a doctor by profession, said some of the stranded have flu and high blood pressure after examining them.

“The highest I checked (has) a 200 over 120 blood pressure...the poor lady did not know that her blood pressure is already high. She can have a stroke or a heart attack with her condition," he said.

The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) on Friday said they have already recommended the case of 170 stranded Filipino workers to the Saudi immigration. DFA undersecretary for migrant workers affairs Esteban Conejos Jr. said they would soon be deported.

This group is already the second batch to be repatriated to Manila. An earlier batch consisting of 100 OFWs have already returned to the country.

The Filipino community in Saudi Arabia is estimated to have reached 1.2 million last year and the figure continues to increase. It is also still the top destination among overseas Filipino workers, data from the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration showed. - GMANews.TV

OFWs told: Beware of agencies with canceled, suspended licenses

Overseas Filipino workers (OFW) should be wary of recruitment agencies that are still operating despite having their licenses suspended or canceled, the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) warned Monday.

"The (POEA) advises the public to be wary of recruitment agencies with canceled or suspended licenses that are still actively recruiting for overseas jobs," the agency said in an advisory.

It has canceled the licenses of 451 recruitment agencies since the start of its operations and placed 44 others under preventive suspension.

From 2008 until the first eight months of 2009 alone, the POEA had canceled 74 operating licenses and suspended or fined 22 agencies due to recruitment violations.

To verify the status of a certain agency, you may log on here.

Earlier, the Task Force Against Illegal Recruitment (Tfair) named the suspected illegal recruiters with the most number of pending warrants of arrest.

Senior Superintendent Gilbert Sosa, Tfair operations chief, said that at least 276 Filipinos have a total of more than 20,000 unserved warrants of arrest for large-scale illegal recruitment.

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

But Sosa had also told GMANews.TV earlier that they have already narrowed down these arrests after the task force conducted several back-to-back entrapment operations.

Sosa, who is also from the Philippine National Police’s Criminal Investigation and Detection Group, said they plan to come up with a list of the top 50 most wanted persons in large-scale illegal recruitment and seek public help in rounding them up.

Based on statistics supplied by the non-government organization Initiatives for Dialogue and Empowerment through Alternative Legal Services (Ideals), there were 1,662 confirmed victims of illegal recruitment from January to November 2008, an increase of four percent from 1,539 during the same period in 2007.

According to the POEA, a total of 1, 236, 013 Filipinos were deployed in 2008 – with Saudi Arabia still as the top destination for OFWs with 275, 933 deployed there. - Kimberly Jane T. Tan, GMANews.TV

RP to send 336 Filipino peacekeepers to Syria

The Philippines has assured the United Nations (UN) that it will send a 336-strong peacekeeping battalion to the Golan Heights in Syria to help them keep peace in the conflict-ridden area, the Department of National Defense (DND) said Monday.

"It is a great honor for the Philippines to be given the opportunity to participate in United Nations peacekeeping operations. Despite our own constraints and requirements, we can be expected to continue to fulfill our obligations as a responsible and reliable troop-contributing country," Defense Secretary Gilberto Teodoro assured UN Undersecretary for Peacekeeping Alain Le Roy on Monday.

Teodoro just arrived from a six-day official visit to the US. During the visit, he held talks with US Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Philippine Permanent Representative to the UN Ambassador Hilario G. Davide Jr.

The DND chief assured Le Roy that the Philippines will strictly enforce “a zero-tolerance policy" against misconduct and select only the best personnel for the peacekeeping mission. He also said he will look into increasing the number of female personnel available for deployment overseas.

The first Philippine battalion to Golan Heights will start deployment by the end of September with a 12-man advance party. They will take over the peacekeeping responsibilities of the Polish Battalion in the UN Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) mission area before the end of October.

"The UNDOF is a big step forward for the Philippines and is a mark of confidence in the country’s ability to send larger units to support UN peacekeeping operations abroad," Teodoro said.

For his part, Le Roy expressed his gratitude for the help that Filipino peacekeepers give the UN in bringing peace and stability in conflict areas across the globe, specifically in Haiti, Liberia, and Timor Leste. The UN is looking forward to more contributions from the Philippines in the future, he said.

Davide said the Philippines first participated in UN peacekeeping operations in the 1960s with the deployment of an Air Force squadron in the Congo.

Since then, the country has sent military and police personnel to UN missions in Cambodia, Burundi, Georgia, Haiti, Iraq, Kosovo, and Nepal.

At present, the Philippines is the 29th largest troop contributor to UN peace operations with a total of 611 Filipino peacekeepers deployed – consisting of 295 troops, 22 military observers, and 294 police officers serving in Afghanistan, Cote d’ Ivoire, Darfur, Haiti, Liberia, Sudan, and Timor Leste.

This number does not include the three military officers who were recently sent to the UN Military Observer Group in India and Pakistan in the disputed Kashmir region. - GMANews.TV

Pinay mail-order brides still rampant in SKorea

Despite an ongoing ban on illegal matchmaking agencies, a number of Filipino women were married to their South Korean partners as mail-order brides, according to a Philippine envoy.

In a report to the Department of Foreign Affairs, Ambassador Luis Cruz said that as of April 2009, around 6,000 Filipino women met their South Korean spouses through matchmaking agencies.

“Many were quick to accept the whirlwind marriage in order to seek employment abroad and have better opportunities in life," Cruz said.

However, aside from receiving complaints about false information regarding their partner’s background, the envoy also said he has been getting reports about domestic violence against Filipina wives, noting that the abuses would often lead to abandonment, separation and divorce.

Most of these troubled marriages there, he said, were those that had been arranged by illegal matchmaking agencies.

While international marriage broker agencies are allowed in South Korea, these firms can not operate in the Philippines, he added.

“Philippine Republic Act 6955, or the Anti-Mail-Order-Bride Law, makes it illegal for a person, natural or juridical, association, club or any other entity to establish or carry on a business which has for its purpose the matching of Filipino women for marriage to foreign nationals either on a mail-order basis or through personal introduction," Cruz said.

According to the law, it is illegal for anyone “to advertise, publish, print or distribute or cause the advertisement, publication, printing or distribution of any brochure, flier, or any propaganda material" promoting the services of these matchmaking agencies.

The law also rules against the use of emails or Web sites in mail-order bride schemes.

In addition, the law requires Filipino spouses or partners of foreign nationals to participate in the Guidance and Counseling Program of the Commission on Filipinos Overseas (CFO) before they can get a passport to leave the country. Certificates are awarded to those who have completed the program.

The program is designed to inform Filipinos about the facts of inter-racial marriages, as well as migration laws and support services in their countries of designation.

So far, there are only two groups that provide these counseling services, namely the St. Mary Euphrasia Foundation-Center for Overseas Workers (SMEF-COW) and the People’s Reform Initiative for Social Movement Inc. (PRISM).

However, the CFO reported that fake certificates are being peddled by the illegal matchmaking agencies, a violation of the Anti-Mail-Order-Bride Law and Anti-Human Trafficking Law (RA 9208). – GMANews.TV

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

US Labor Day compels recall, of study on women migration


QUEZON CITY–A STUDY that concluded female migrate to the United States out of filial ties resonates as the nonprofit ethnic media organization behind the study focused on immigrants to celebrate Labor Day.
The New America Media group posted on its website a commentary by Manuel Pastor, Professor of Geography and American Studies and Ethnicity at the University of Southern California, which emphasized the importance of immigrants.
So much so that he advises taking a new method at viewing this phenomenon as a tool to solve the US ’s pending demographic problems.
Pastor’s commentary, which dedicated September 6 to immigrants, compels a review of the results of NAM’s survey titled “Women Immigrants: Stewards of the 21st Century.”
The study released last May bared that women immigrants move to the US to help their families start a new life in the country once touted as a nation founded by migrants.
According to United States Census data cited in the study, 49 percent of the total 18.9 million immigrants in the US as of 2007 are women.
Based on the survey of 1,002 respondents, the NAM study said female foreign immigrants move to the US primarily to join family members already living there.
The study said these women immigrants are generally professionals by the time they fuse into the American society.
Sixty-four percent of respondents who said they have Filipino ethnic origins told NAM they emigrated from the Philippines to "join family members already in the US".
Of the total respondents, a hundred were Filipino women, more than half of whom lived in the US for more than 20 years. Respondents of Latin American, Arab, Asian, and African origins also participated in the survey conducted through random digit dialling and ethnic encoding methods.
The latter uses the first and last names in determining ethnicity. Still, Filipinos formed the largest percentage among the ethnic groups surveyed.
Forty-five of the Filipino women respondents said that once they arrived in the US , they focused their concern on helping their children "achieve critical success."
Pastor’s commentary echoes such views as well as what the study noted. Contrary to popular perception, the study said migration had strengthened rather than weakened family ties because it motivates female migrants to work harder for their families.
Almost all respondents from all ethnic groups surveyed reported that they lived with their husbands within the same city and that most of them had already brought all their children below 18 to the US .
"In the 21st century, the face of the immigrant is of that of a mother," the report said.
The face is also that of a wife, as 61 of the 65 married Filipino women respondents reported that they live together with their husbands in the same city.
Majority (76) of all Filipino women respondents said that none of their children under 18 were left behind in the Philippines when the family emigrated to the US. When asked if they will bring home their children if they are asked to go back to the Philippines, 58 Filipino women respondents said yes.
While a same percentage (26 percent) of respondents said that they are the head of households in the Philippines and the US, almost seven out of ten Filipino women respondents said that decisions pertaining to finances, family size, and sensitive family issues are arrived at in consensus with their husbands.
Still, more than half (56) said they have become more assertive in their roles as housewives when they migrated into the US.
This is not unique to Filipino women as respondents from other ethnic groups also reported that many of them became ''head of the households" upon arriving in the US. Majority of them said decisions they make are also arrived at after discussion with their husbands.
"These findings are significant because they dispel the notion that immigration is breaking up families," notes the report.
The study also noted that more than half of respondents from all groups, except the Vietnamese and Latin Americans, reported being professionals while still residing in their home countries.
The situation changed with their arrival in the US, with more than half of respondents from all ethnic groups reporting working in blue-collar jobs such as factory technicians, maids, waitresses and house cleaners, upon migrating to the US.
Six out of ten Filipino women respondents were white-collar workers before emigrating to the US. Seven out of ten Filipino women respondents said they have blue-collar jobs upon settling down in the US.
The study found out that 54 percent of Filipino women respondents said it took them less than three months to find a job in the US. Latin American and Korean respondents reported higher percentages of being able to find work three months after arriving in the US.
Four out of ten respondents from Vietnam, India and Africa reported not being able to find work within a year.
Upon finding work, two out of ten Filipino women respondents report as having earned $5OO-$1000 in their first job, well within the $500 average income of all respondents. Only 14 reported they earned $200-$500 while 41% of Koreans reported earning between $500-$1,000 on their first job.
But more Koreans received the highest salary among all ethnic groups in their current job –only 45 Filipino women respondents said they earn such level, $2,000, in their current work.
The study also found out that unlike other ethnic groups, women from the Philippines and India said they didn’t encounter difficulties in communication. Only eight Filipino women respondents claimed they had difficulty conversing in English when they arrived in the US . In contrast, seven out of ten respondents both from Vietnamese and Latin American origin said they didn’t speak English when they immigrated to the US .
Filipino and African women were among the most educated migrants while seven out of ten Latin American and Chinese respondents reported as finishing only either the primary or secondary levels of education, the study added.
Thirteen Filipino women respondents claimed that discrimination is a major problem for them.
“On Labor Day, it is important to remember that immigrant labor has been a key to economic growth, and it will continue to be in the future,” NAM said in its introduction to Pastor’s commentary.
Founded by the nonprofit Pacific News Service in 1996, the California- headquartered NAM claims to be the first and largest national collaboration and advocate of 2000 ethnic news organizations in the US.
OFW Journalism Consortium

Foreign workers for the US are casualties twice over

by T. CHRISTIAN MILLER (Pro-Publica), contributor

MANILA—REY Torres dreamed of a better life for his wife and five children when he left a neighborhood of wooden shacks and burning trash piles to drive a bus on a U.S. military base near Baghdad.
He hoped to send his children to college and build a new home with the $16,000 a year he earned in Iraq — four times what he could make in the Philippines.
Then, in April 2005, Torres, 31, was killed in an ambush by Iraqi insurgents. His widow and children were supposed to be protected by a war zone insurance system overseen by the U.S. government. They were eligible for about $300,000 in compensation.
But Gorgonia Torres knew nothing about the death benefit and did not apply. When she did learn about the insurance, two years later, it was from a reporter. She has since turned down an insurance company's $22,000 settlement offer. Her only hope of receiving full compensation is a legal fight that could drag on for years.
"He knew it was dangerous.... He had second thoughts all the time," she said of her husband. "But he'd say, 'If I don't go, there's no way we'll be able to survive.'"
Torres was among tens of thousands of civilian contract workers from poverty-stricken countries hired to support the U.S. war effort in Iraq and Afghanistan. In case of injury or death, they are supposed to be covered by workers' compensation insurance financed by American taxpayers. But the program has failed to deliver medical care and other benefits to many foreign workers and their survivors, a Los Angeles Times-ProPublica investigation found.
Previous articles by the Los Angeles Times and ProPublica described how American civilians injured in Iraq have had to battle insurers for medical care, artificial limbs and other services.
An examination of what happened to foreign nationals has uncovered an even more dismal record. Injured workers have gone without medical treatment and compensation because they were never informed of their right to the benefits. Widows and children have not received death payments for the same reason.
The system relies on companies to make employees aware of insurance coverage and to report deaths and injuries to insurers and the federal government. But some employers have shirked those obligations, and the U.S. Department of Labor, which oversees the program, has done little to ensure compliance, punish violators or reach out to injured foreigners or their survivors.
An analysis of Pentagon and Labor Department records indicates that thousands of injured foreigners have fallen through the cracks.
About 200,000 civilians are working in Iraq and Afghanistan under U.S.-funded contracts. Many are so-called third-country nationals, from countries other than the United States, Iraq or Afghanistan. The rate of reported injuries among these workers is much lower than for Americans doing similar jobs.
Nearly 22,000 injury claims were filed by third-country nationals and American workers from 2003 through 2007. Although they outnumbered Americans by about 2-to-1, the third-country nationals filed just 14 percent of the total claims.
Insurance experts said the numbers suggest that many wounded foreigners never apply for benefits, even though U.S. taxpayers have paid more than $1.5 billion in premiums for the war-zone insurance.
Those who do apply often confront rejections and resistance from insurers. It can take years for them to receive compensation.
"It's been a big problem," said Jack Martone, a former top Labor Department official. "The Department of Labor is not well equipped to police" the conduct of employers and insurers.

Coverage required
INSURANCE for civilians working in war zones is required under a World War II-era law known as the Defense Base Act. Companies providing services to the U.S. government must secure a special type of workers' compensation coverage for their employees, both American and foreign.
The insurance covers all injuries and deaths, whether caused by workplace accidents or roadside bombs. Companies bill the cost to U.S. taxpayers as part of their government contracts.
For decades, this system was overseen by a handful of federal bureaucrats who processed a few hundred claims a year. That changed when the U.S. went to war in Afghanistan in 2001 and later in Iraq.
In both conflicts, the U.S. military has relied on civilian workers to a greater extent than ever before — to cook meals, clean latrines, deliver fuel and translate for troops, among many other tasks. There are more civilians than uniformed soldiers in the two war zones, and more than 1,400 contract workers have died.
Despite this large-scale mobilization of civilians, the Labor Department did not increase staff or budget to handle Defense Base Act claims and was quickly swamped.
The department stationed no one in Iraq or any other country to help injured foreigners file claims. Nor did it make a serious effort to ensure that companies posted information about workers' rights, as required by law.
"I see a complete absence of claims or payments for foreigners," said Joshua Gillelan, a former Labor Department attorney who now represents injured contract workers. "They are never going to be enforced."
Thousands of companies have worked under U.S. contracts in Iraq, but since the war began in 2003, the department has fined only one, a small security subcontractor, for not reporting worker injuries, according to Labor Department figures.
Similarly, the department has not prosecuted any companies for failing to buy war-zone insurance, although the Times-ProPublica investigation identified at least five cases in which military contractors did not provide coverage for employees.
The department does not even attempt to communicate with injured Iraqis or Afghans for fear that a letter from the U.S. might imperil their lives. Instead, the department asks employers to forward Labor Department mail informing workers of their rights.
"It's the biggest fiasco. Almost all of it is returned," Richard Robilotti, a department official who oversees many of the claims, told a recent conference.
Labor Department officials said cultural barriers and war-zone dangers have prevented them from reaching out to injured foreigners.
"There is no mechanism for the Department of Labor to stand around in Baghdad and drum up claims," said Shelby Hallmark, who oversees the department's Defense Base Act program. Officials try "to get the word out down through their chains of subcontractors on how this works. Is it perfect? No, I wouldn't say it is."
Insurers defended their performance. American International Group Inc., the insurance giant that received a huge taxpayer bailout last year after suffering heavy losses in the derivatives market, is the largest provider of workers' compensation coverage in Iraq.
In a statement, the company said it conscientiously fulfilled its obligations to workers injured in the war zone and took "numerous extraordinary measures under very difficult circumstances to locate and pay claimants or their beneficiaries."
AIG opened an office in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, to handle claims and translated Labor Department guidelines into Arabic, Turkish and other languages. In some cases, AIG has hired insurance research companies to track down widows and injured workers.
CNA Financial Corp. has the second-largest number of claims in Iraq and Afghanistan. The insurer said it "routinely pays claims made by foreigners" and "is not aware of a problem with regard to foreign workers."

Incident rates differ
KBR Inc. is the largest employer of contract workers in Iraq, with about 16,000, most of them U.S. citizens, according to a July 2007 Pentagon census.
The Houston engineering and construction firm reported more than 700 serious injuries or deaths in the first six months of 2007 — almost five incidents for every 100 workers.
Prime Projects International of Dubai was the largest employer of foreigners in Iraq, with about 10,000 civilian workers.
The company reported 43 serious injuries or deaths in the first six months of 2007 — less than one per 100 workers.
The same held for other subcontractors with large foreign workforces, such as Saudi-based Gulf Catering Co. and Tamimi Global Co. and Turkish firm Kulak. None of the companies responded to requests for comment.
“When you're dealing with these subcontractors, a lot of them would just as soon wash their hands and walk away," said an official with Vetted International Ltd., a North Carolina firm that researches claims for insurance companies. He did not want to be named for security reasons relating to his work in war zones. "A lot of claims go unreported and these people just don't get care."
Many of the Middle East firms providing services to the U.S. military in Iraq are subcontractors for KBR. In a statement, KBR said its "top priority is the safety and security of all employees and those the company serves.... We expect those we do business with to uphold that same commitment."
When an employer neglects to report an injury or death, it is difficult for foreign workers or their survivors — assuming they even know about the war-zone insurance — to persuade U.S.-based insurance companies and federal bureaucrats that they are entitled to benefits.
Gorgonia Torres found that out after losing her husband in Iraq.
Rey Torres had gone to Baghdad in December 2003. Stationed at Camp Victory, a U.S. military complex on the outskirts of the Iraqi capital, he was a jack-of-all-trades, working as a driver, janitor and security guard, according to his wife.
On April 17, 2005, Gorgonia got a call from one of Rey's co-workers, who told her he had been killed traveling through an insurgent-infested neighborhood of Baghdad.
Eleven days later, her husband's remains were delivered to her in a coffin sealed with red wax. Gorgonia took a deep breath when she remembered looking inside.
"Every part of my body was in pain. I felt like I had just run a long distance. I couldn't even feel my legs. Everything hurt," said Gorgonia, 38, a slight woman with high cheekbones and short black hair.
The Philippine government paid Gorgonia about $5,000, a death benefit for citizens working abroad. Her husband's employer, Qatar International Trading Co., made a one-time payment of $16,000, representing a year of his salary.
That was a fraction of what she was due. Under the Defense Base Act, a widow is entitled to as much as half her spouse's salary for the rest of her life — more if the deceased left children behind. For foreigners, the law allows insurers to calculate a lump sum based on an estimate of the widow's remaining life span, and pay half that amount.. (Survivors of U.S. citizens receive the full lump sum or lifetime monthly payments.)
Under the formula, Gorgonia and her children were eligible for up to $300,000. But until a reporter visited her in 2007 after learning of her case from a Philippine government Web site, Gorgonia had never heard of the insurance.
Qatar International never told her about it, Gorgonia said. Nor is there any record that the firm reported Rey Torres' death to the U.S. government.
When she finally applied for compensation, the Labor Department sent her a notice in English that she could not read. It said that AIG, Qatar International's insurance carrier, was disputing her claim and wanted more time to investigate the death and verify her husband's employment.
AIG recently offered a one-time payment of $22,000, Torres said. She turned it down. She hired a U.S. lawyer and is pursuing full compensation through the Labor Department's dispute resolution system, a process that can take years.
AIG declined to comment on any individual case.
Qatar International, a logistics and support firm, did not return phone calls and e-mails seeking comment.
Torres used the $21,000 she received after her husband’s death to build a two-story, two-room concrete house among tin shacks and rutted roads in a poor area of San Fernando, a provincial capital on Luzon, the Philippines' main island.
The bottom floor houses the family business, a store crammed with sacks of rice, cases of soda and canned squid. Gorgonia and the five children live upstairs.
Business is bad. One December day, Gorgonia fretted that she would not earn enough to put food on the table. One of her children hunted for snails in a ditch for dinner. Another went Christmas caroling in hopes of getting donations to buy pants for school.
"As time goes by, it gets worse and worse," she said.

Claim goes unfiled
MARCELO Salazar, a Filipino from the resort island of Cebu, was killed in Iraq in April 2005 while working as a truck driver. He left behind his partner, Vicky Buhawe, their baby son and an unfinished house.
Buhawe has no right to benefits under the Defense Base Act because she and Salazar were not married. Their son, John Mark, now 4, is eligible for a one-time payment of about $14,000, based on his father's wages. But Buhawe was unaware that civilians employed in the war zone were covered by insurance and never filed a claim.
There is no record that Kuwait-based El Hoss Engineering and Transport Co., Salazar's employer, reported his death to the Labor Department. The company did pay compensation to Salazar's son by a different relationship, according to a Philippine government news release.
Efforts to reach El Hoss for comment were unsuccessful.
"Sometimes we go to Marcelo's grave and we whisper, 'How will we survive tonight?'" Buhawe said as she held John Mark on her knee. "Tonight, I am not sure where we're going to get dinner."
Another Filipino, Leopoldo Soliman, took a job in a warehouse on a U.S. military base in Iraq in 2003, hoping to save enough to build a home for his wife and children in a village northeast of Manila.
He earned $9,000 a year working for Prime Projects International, a KBR subcontractor. In 2004, he was given a commendation by U.S. soldiers for "hard work and tireless dedication."
Then, in May 2005, a mortar shell fell near his living quarters in Balad, a military logistics hub north of Baghdad. Shrapnel blew a hole in his knee.
Prime Projects paid for his initial medical care in Iraq and the United Arab Emirates and his transport back to the Philippines, he said. But since then, he has had to pay out of his own pocket for pain medication, follow-up surgery to remove shrapnel and physical therapy.
Soliman said Prime Projects ignored his pleas for help. He said he never received any information about the war-zone insurance and has not filed for benefits.
Prime Projects did not respond to requests for comment.
Solomon said the company "treated me well during the accident. After that, when I came home, nothing."

A global workforce
THE Defense Base Act was not designed for the complexities of the global contractor workforce now in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Citizens of at least 45 countries are working under U.S. contracts in the two nations. Yet Labor Department notices are printed in English and Arabic, but not Tagalog, Hindi or the many other languages spoken by foreign workers.
Overseas companies often ignore orders from Labor Department administrative law judges to appear in court or pay benefits.
Contracts for support services often involve layers of subcontractors. A Sri Lankan janitor might work for an Indian labor broker hired by a Middle Eastern subcontractor for a U.S. company. The chain is so complex that foreign workers can have trouble proving they were employed on behalf of the U.S. war effort.
In 2004, a dozen Nepalese were killed in western Iraq by insurgents. They had been on their way to work at a U.S. base. Daoud & Partners Co., a Jordanian logistics firm, held a contract. The company denied employing the men, foreclosing death benefits for their survivors.
After news reports about the case, attorneys from the Washington law firm of Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll volunteered to represent relatives of the slain Nepalese.
Atty. Matthew Handley traveled to Nepal to take witness statements and discovered, by chance, a copy of an employment contract that showed the men worked for Daoud.
In 2008, four years after the killings, a Labor Department judge ruled that Daoud and its insurance provider, CNA, were obliged to pay death benefits. That June, CNA began paying compensation, ranging from $35,000 for dependent parents to $175,000 for young widows of the dead workers.
Daoud did not respond to requests for comment.
"I couldn't imagine anyone without counsel, never mind somebody from Nepal, trying to navigate through this process," Handley said. "When it comes to third-country nationals, it becomes a black hole. You're lucky if you're able to get payments."

Survivor's struggles
EVEN when foreigners know their rights, the system can be daunting.
Daniel Brink, a South African, was working as a security guard in Iraq when his SUV was hit by a string of roadside bombs in December 2005.
Brink, a former police officer, lost his right leg and most of his fingers. He was flown to London, where surgeons used some of his toes to replace some of his lost fingers.
CNA, the insurance carrier for Brink's employer, paid for that treatment. But when he returned to Johannesburg, South Africa, disputes arose over the cost of follow-up surgeries, psychological counseling, an electric wheelchair and related renovations to Brink's house. CNA took months to pay for the surgeries and rejected the other bills, Brink said. His credit rating plunged, his wheelchair was repossessed, and he lost his home to foreclosure.
In May 2007, Brink flew to Chicago, believing he had an appointment to meet with his CNA claims adjuster. When he arrived, Brink said, he was told nobody would meet with him. Security guards escorted him out of CNA headquarters.
Two years later, Brink is pressing his claim in the Labor Department's dispute-resolution system. He said his outstanding medical bills total about $150,000.
CNA said that it "does not have any direct contact with workers," but otherwise declined to comment, saying that individual cases are confidential.
Brink, 39, said scores of South Africans who worked in Iraq are in similar situations. He is now in law school and hopes to represent injured contract workers from his country someday.
"It's not that I want something out of the ordinary," Brink said. "I just wan t what I'm entitled to, nothing more, nothing less." (This story can also be found at
OFW Journalism Consortium

OFWs in low-skilled jobs remain RP’s,top remitters, gov’t survey bares


MANILA—LABORERS and unskilled workers, mostly women, have been the country’s top remitters in the last two years.
Results from the 2008 Survey on Overseas Filipinos (SOF), done by the National Statistics Office (NSO), show that laborers and unskilled workers sent home P19.491 billion ($397.8 million at US$1=P49) last year compared to the P17.574 billion ($358.7 million) sent in 2007.
In both years, laborers and unskilled workers were the top remitters in terms of remittance volumes.
The SOF, a rider to the fourth quarter round of the NSO’s Labor Force Survey, captures overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) who were in the country from April to September. The survey culls demographic information and basic details about their remittances (including amounts and transmission channels).
The biggest gainers from the year-on-year remittance volumes are trades and related workers (mostly men). From P13.220 billion in 2007, Filipinos abroad who are in these jobs sent home P18.065 billion in 2008, for a gain of P4.845 billion.
Professionals also sent home bigger money in 2008 (P13.237 billion) than in 2007 (P9.422 billion) —the difference being P3.815 billion. However, professionals are only the fifth biggest occupational group in terms of remittance volumes.
By total remittance volumes, laborers and unskilled workers and trades and related workers ranked first and second, with plant and machine operators and assemblers third (P15.55 billion) and service workers and shop and market sales workers fourth (P14.014 billion).
OFWs surveyed by the SOF in 2008 sent home P103.928 billion in cash remitted through formal and informal remittance channels, P30.53 billion in cash brought home, and P7.446 billion worth of in-kind remittances (such as items sent through the balikbayan box).
Of the P103.928 billion remitted, those sending through banks remitted P79.097 billion, while those sending through door-to-door channels remitted P12.212 billion.
Monthly data issuances of the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas for the year 2008 did not explicitly credit laborers and unskilled workers, such as domestic helpers and caregivers, and trades and related workers such as those in construction, for the rise of Philippine remittance volumes.
The BSP press releases on 2008 remittances, issued March 2008 –covering January 2008 figures —and up to February 2009— covering December 2008 and the year-long total volumes–show rising monthly remittances from abroad are due to four major elements.
These are the increasing labor demand in identified countries and the skilled labor and professionals such as doctors, nurses, engineers and those in food and hotel services. The increase is also credited to the efforts of Philippine government agencies to forge deals with host countries to recruit Filipino labor, notably skilled workers, and to market Filipino workers for overseas jobs. The BSP also acknowledged the work of the private sector, in particular commercial banks, to service Filipino remitters.
The most recent BSP issuance, covering remittances in the first six months of 2009 which reached P8.479 billion, announced that some 4,000 medical workers might be recruited to Libya. It also cited government’s expansion of employment opportunities for Filipinos to work for the hotel, oil and gas, and technical services sectors in Algeria, Chad, Malta, and Morocco.
As well, BSP’s release noted the prospective hiring of production workers to Taiwan, a country whose manufacturing and electronics sectors were hit by the global economic crisis, through a special hiring program for Taiwan.
Data from the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) on deployed new-hire overseas workers from 1992 to 2007 (see Table 1) show that female domestic helpers are the most in number with 931,289.
Female choreographers and dancers (366,359) and female composers, musicians and singers (235,348) are the next two biggest groups of new-hire OFWs. New-hire professional nurses deployed during the 16-year period total to 107,192. OFW Journalism Consortium

Permanent settlers abroad keep , OFW money flow up —economist


MANILA — GROWTH rates of remittances are due to sustained sending from two types of overseas Filipinos, University of Santo Tomas economics professor Alvin Ang said.
These are residency permit holders and naturalized citizens in Japan, Germany, Norway, Greece, the Netherlands and Canada. They are also in countries whose demand for Filipino workers is next to nil.
Ang describes these Filipinos as “non-traditional” remittance senders. But they have helped the Philippines weather the storm of possible remittance declines as a result of the global economic crisis, according to him.
“You wonder why they are sending more money at this time. Or first of all, why them?” Ang told the OFW Journalism Consortium.
Permanent migrants are sending more money now regardless of what jobs they have overseas. They include Filipinos holding residency permits doing domestic work for foreign households and who have their families with them, Ang says.
Data on the first six months of remittance inflows from Filipinos in 239 countries and territories saw the country receiving US$8.479 billion, higher than the US$8.241 billion for the same six-month period last year.
Prior to the events that triggered a global economic crisis in September last year, Ang predicted that remittances from overseas Filipinos will reach a plateau that, according to him, is within growth range of one to three percent.
True enough, after the first half of the year, the year-on-year remittance growth of 2.89 percent is within his plateau range forecast.
While Ang said he wasn’t surprised with the plateauing and the continued positive growth rates for remittances, what caught his fancy is the volume of remittances from these specific countries.

FIRST off is Japan, which Ang said, made the entry of overseas performing artists or entertainers doubly stricter since 2005.
However, based on the 16-page report of the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas, Japan’s year-on-year remittance growth rate is higher by 61.56 percent to US$390.3 million as against the US$214.6 million received from this country during the first half of 2008.
Germany, known to be a destination country for Filipino women marrying German nationals, posted a 55.27-percent growth. The Philippines got US$228.7 million from Germany during the first half of this year.
Remittance from Greece, known for money sent by seafarers and domestic workers was smaller compared to Germany at US$92.7 million. Still, money flow from Greece was at a 52.08-percent year-on-year growth rate.
Likewise, money from the Netherlands is smaller at US$73.1 million but the year-on-year growth rate is 94.16 percent.
Filipino seafarers sending money from Norway were primarily responsible for not just the US$177 million sent to the Philippine as of June this year, but also for the 63.99 percent year-on-year growth rate.
These countries made up for the nearly negative growth rate of remittances from Filipinos in the United Kingdom (minus-0.70 percent), and from the declines of flows coming from Italy (minus-26.53 percent)—traditionally, the two highest-remitting countries in Europe.
Filipinos from these countries are among the “non-traditional” remittance sources for the Philippines, especially so that many of remitters have brought their families with them, Ang said.
As of 2007, data on the stock estimates of overseas Filipinos show that the United States alone has 2,517,833 permanent migrants and the whole of Europe only has 284,987 permanent migrants.
Remittance inflows coming from the US continue to slump with a minus-13.13 percent growth rate. The US$3.510 billion that came from the US during the first six months was lower than the US$4.041 billion during the same period last year.
Canada, known for its demand for Filipino workers and for its visible number of permanent residents (410,626), posted a 58.25-percent growth rate given the US$913.3 million that came in as of June 2009.

ANG thinks Filipino permanent residents in these countries may be getting ready to return to the Philippines and got scared of what might happen to them “so they are sending more money”.
Knowing also the Filipino remitter’s mentality, especially when additional incomes arrive, the overseas Filipino will send money “no matter what.”
Recruiter Lito Soriano of LBS e-Recruitment Solutions, on the other hand, thinks the government’s improved system of capturing bank and non-bank remittance inflows contributed to the current remittance uptick.
Soriano, himself a former overseas worker, though, projects remittance growth for 2009 to reach only 1.5 percent.
But he said he’s also “worried” because it took the country five years for remittances to be above 1998 levels (US$7.578 billion was recorded in 2003) and there are signs remittance growth rates in terms of volume and value are slipping to the single-digit levels.
Ang said while the World Bank forecast a decline in remittances, he forecast a five-percent growth rate in remittance inflows this year.
The forecast is slightly above his plateau range but lower than BSP Governor Amando Tetangco’s double-digit growth forecast.
Tetangco’s forecast defies World Bank projections that the global economic crisis in developed countries (where most of the world’s migrants are) will hit on migrants’ remittances to developing countries.
Global remittance flows, the World Bank predicts, will decline by 7.3 percent this year. The sources of risk to the remittance outlook include uncertainty about the duration of the crisis and unpredictable movements in exchange rates.
Flows to Latin American countries (including Mexico) and Sub-Saharan African countries are projected to decline while money to South Asia and Southeast Asia “have been strong but are expected to decline somewhat,” the World Bank report said.
OFW Journalism Consortium

Globe Telecom offers IDD load for OFW families


MANILA - Globe Telecom Inc. is now offering prepaid credit for international direct dialling (IDD) services to help keep Filipinos connected to their loved ones overseas.

In a statement, the second-largest telecommunications firm said it has launched its IDD Suki promo, which allows Globe prepaid subscribers to purchase IDD credit in sari-sari stores, groceries, and other load outlets.

"Since it is readily available in all your suking tindahan, there is no need to go far to avail of this IDD promo," Globe Segment Business Head for Overseas Filipino Communities Alan Supnet said.

Globe offers 2 IDD Suki packages, depending on the country where one wishes to call. IDD Suki 20 allows a user to make an IDD call to the United States, Canada, Hong Kong, Taiwan, or Singapore for 5 minutes for P20, while IDD Suki 30 provides a 3-minute call to Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, or Kuwait for P30.

Aside from being readily accessible, Supnet said Globe's promo is more convenient to use since it no longer requires users to dial PIN codes and prefixes, unlike traditional IDD phone cards.

"With Globe IDD Suki, Globe prepaid subscribers can now easily call their loved ones in 8 countries at very affordable rates. Compared to other IDD promos, IDD Suki is easy to use. There is no need to dial prefixes, prepaid call numbers or PINS, or listen to a recording," he said.

as of 09/09/2009 1:29 PM

60 OFWs in Maldives appeal for help

By Maria Aleta Nieva-Nishimori,

Around 60 overseas Filipino workers in the Maldives had dreamt of providing a better future for their families in the Philippines. But, they are now the source of worry of their relatives in the country.

“Agahan lugaw? Magbubuhat ka ng semento ang kakainin mo lugaw? Napakahirap po ang kalagayan nila doon,” said Myrna Grimaldo, the wife of Randy Grimaldo.

Mrs. Grimaldo told media during a press conference organized by Migrante International that aside from the deplorable conditions endured by her husband and other Filipinos working in a construction site in the Maldives, their employer have yet to give them their five-month salary.

“Pumirma po sila ng kontrata nila doon na for 15 months at may sahod silang US$300 a month. Ngunit ngayon po, limang buwan na po ang asawa ko. Umalis po siya ng March 15 dito. Simula po ng umalis siya hanggang ngayon hindi pa din sila pinapasahod. Napakarami na po nilang utang doon. Hindi na po sila pinapautang ng mga tindahang maliliit doon sapagkat wala po silang pambayad,” Mrs. Grimaldo said.

Mrs. Grimaldo was among the 17 families who sought the help of Migrante International to prompt the government to repatriate their loved ones.

She said she now tries to make ends meet in Marinduque while also worrying about the fate of her husband abroad.

“May apat kaming anak, nag-aaral lahat iyon. Para lang makatawid gutom naggagapas na ako ng palay maghapon. Magpapainit ka isang baldeng palay ang makukuha mo. Okay na sa akin kasi hindi na kami bibili ng bigas. Ang iisipin ko na lang iyong pera. Sa susunod na araw pera naman ang kukunin kong pambayad para may pambaon iyong mga anak namin,” she tearfully said.

Some of the families who attended the press conference were from Isabela, Nueva Ecija, Catanduanes, Marinduque, and Bulacan.

‘Mosquitoes, flies’

Joseph Macapia said his brother Leonito informed him through text messages and calls that the workers had to gather rainwater to drink and bathe in the ocean.

“Ang kalagayan po ng kanilang tirahan ay mainit, puno ng lamok, maraming langaw at ang kanila pong iniinom na tubig ay marumi, may kiti-kiti. Ang kanilang kinakain doon ay isang kilong bigas na ilulugaw nila sa isang container na tubig. Ang kanilang ulam, noodles, tatlong hiwang galunggong na maliit,” he said.

Macapia said that his brother and the other Filipino workers have taken several part-time jobs to buy food and contact their families back home.

“Kapag araw po ng Biyernes gumagawa sila ng paraan, nagtatabas sila ng mga damo ng mga puno, nagpapaupa sila doon sa mga residente ng Maldives para lamang magkaroon sila ng komunikasyon, makatawag [lang] sa kanilang pamilya,” Macapia said.

They also resorted to fishing to have something to eat aside from the porridge they eat.

Junjun Primo is a first-time OFW and a father of six. Before working in the Maldives, he was a driver of a vice mayor in Catanduanes.

“Driver ng vice mayor sa Catanduanes kaya lang po maliit lang daw po sahod niya, gustong kumita ng malaki kaso nga po napunta doon sa walang sahod... Gusto lang daw po niya ang makauwi. Wala naman kaming pera. Saan kami kukuha ng pera?” Primo’s sister Clemencia Primo-Tapia told

Tapia said she too received a distressed text message from her brother telling her that they lack water, food and have not been paid yet by their employer.

“Bumalik na lang po sila kasi kawawa ang pamilya niya. Anim ang anak niya wala namang naipapadala kung nandito po siya at walang makain at least nandito siya wala kaming kaba, alala kung anong nangyari sa kanila,” she said.

Seven OFWs sick

The poor conditions suffered by the OFWs there have resulted to seven of them already getting sick.

“Tulungan naman po ninyo sila. Kahit po gamot wala sila doon. Iyong asawa ko po sinipon, inubo dahil maghapon kang magda-drive tapos pupunta ka ng dagat manghuhuli ka ng isda. Walang gamot kung di iyong tinitipid niya na galing Pilipinas at wala din silang libreng gamot doon,” Mrs Grimaldo said.

Edwin Oclares, 24, has reportedly been sick for three straight days now. A townmate of Primo in Catanduanes, Oclares worked as a secretary of the town’s vice mayor.

“Dating secretary ng vice mayor, graduate ng computer programming pero dahil sa hirap ng buhay sa probinsiya namin pinilit niyang mag-abroad para kahit papaano kumita kaso lang iba iyong napuntahan,” his brother said.

Migrante International chairperson Garry Martinez urged the government to act now and not wait for one of the OFWs to die.

“Hindi po nakakabigla na magkasakit sila sa kondisyon nila na malangaw, malamok, may kiti-kiti ang iniinom. Nasa desperadong sitwasyon ang ating kababayan,” Martinez said.


He likewise pointed out that government agencies like the Department of Foreign Affairs, the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration and the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration all have budgets intended for distressed OFWs.

“Ngayon ninyo ipakita sa mamamayan, sa mga OFWs at pamilya nila iyong tinatawag nyong ‘one country team’ approach na madalas niyong ipinagmamalaki sa inyong mga brochure, sa inyong mga press releases, sa inyong mga interview,” Martinez said.

Joseph Macapia tells reporters the deplorable condition of 60 OFWs including his brother Leonito, in the Maldives/M.A.N. Nishimori, abs-cbnNEWS.comLike the rest of the families, Rosemari Velarde also appealed to the government to help repatriate her brother Christopher.

“Hinihiling lang po naming mga pamilya ng OFW na nasa Maldives na mapauwi sila agad dito. Kasi po nakakaawa ang kalagayan nila doon. Sana po magawan ng paraan as soon as possible mapauwi sila dito at mabigay iyong sahod nila,” she said.

She added: “Wala naman po kaming sapat na pera para mabigyan sila ng pamasahe doon para mapauwi dito. Mahirap lang po kasi kami. Marami po sa amin ang nagbubukid ang. Hindi po sapat yung pera namin para mabigyan sila ng pamasahe pauwi dito.”

Aside from Grimaldo, Macapia, Primo, Oclares and Velarde, the other OFWs were identified as Ramil Grimaldo, Edwin Grimaldo, Manolo del Mundo, Armando del Mundo, Crispin Ramiro, Mark Rioveres, Danilo Rey, Aniceto Rodelas, Francisco Pelaez, Ildefonso Permejo, Edmar Pahanonot, Ludwin Romero, Romeo Pelaez, Elmer Geografo, Leonardo Medez, Melicio Lopez, Darwin Cortez, Wilson Recamara, Jackson Rejano, Megmel Revilla, Santos Esplana, Pedro Esplana Jr., Marcelino Uminga, Edgardo Pagtulunan, Ronaldo Patalino, and Romulo Perreno.

Listen to the phone conversation between Migrante International chairperson Garry Martinez and OFW Christopher Velarde, who is among the 60 OFWs appealing for government's help in the MaldivesZaldy Acumabig, Elezalde Mendoza, Allean Oriola, Marcial Creus, Eugeniano Darapieza, Antonio Cadiog, Ruben Burce, Samuel Burce, Rolly Sualibio, Antonio Casimiro, Louie Cadiz, Edchiel Ariete, Ricardo Acosta, Antonio Unabia, Mario Adriano, Jr. William Nicolas, Gilbert Uddipa, Allen Cabrahon, Abraham Sanchez, Andy Villaruel, Engelbert Estriller, Marlon Dumantay, Remecar Cabrahan, Welfredo Ancheta, Sandy Alcantara, Renaldo Cordova, Bengno Pacunana, and Rolando Palatino.

They were hired by their local employer Mayonview International Manpower Services as construction workers to Ashley Alexis Builders Corporation based in the Republic of Maldives.

According to Migrante International, the OFWs employment contract with Ashley Alexis Builders Corporation stipulates that the workers will receive US$300 monthly salary with “free, suitable and comfortable housing facilities and adequate and nutritious meal or adequate compensatory allowance of US$50 per month.” The contact also reportedly provides for “free medical and dental services including free medicine and free hospitalization whenever necessary”.

Ramadan inspires some Saudi Pinoys to convert

By Reuters

RIYADH, SAUDI ARABIA - The Muslim holy month of Ramadan has become a popular time for many non-Muslims, especially Filipino migrant workers, to convert to Islam.

Everyday in Saudi Arabia, Islamic centres across the country open their arms to non-Muslim migrant workers who decide to join the world's fastest growing religion.

During Ramadan, a period of fasting, Muslim organizations set up camps attended by migrants who want to break their daily fast.

One religious center, The Cooperative Office for Call and Guidance at Al-Bat'ha (COCG Al-Bat'ha) in the capital Riyadh, sees around 200 would-be-converts from different nationalities flock through their doors every month.

"Thanks to Allah, the number of those who convert to Islam monthly is somewhere between 180-200 people, from different nationalities," says the COCG's Director Sheikh Nouh al-Qarain.

"Most of them give the reason for converting to Islam as the one-ness of God, they want to worship him and him alone," he said.

The process of converting to Islam involves seeking knowledge about the Islamic faith and attending a ceremony led by a preacher or Imam, where the convert is asked to recite the Islamic profession of faith.

The reaction from converts afterwards varies. One Filipino convert named Adcel Maglintian, said Islam gave him a new life.

"I feel like I am a new born baby, new life, new life, so right now I will start my new life as a Muslim, happy, I am very very happy," he said.

Another new convert from the Philippines named "Bebido" said he prefers praying five times a day to his previous life as a Christian.

"When I was a Christian maybe I come to church 5 or 3 times a year, but in Islam I know prayer is 5 times a day, I make prayer thank God. So that is why I go to Islam, that is why I need to feel the heart of Islam and a Muslim to make a good things to Allah," he said.

Inspired by Ramadan
Some say Ramadan inspired their conversion.

"I feel good because we will eat together when we break the fast. When we eat iftar. This [is] why if I break alone, I am not feeling happy because I want to gather with the new brothers in Islam," said Filipino convert Omar.

Saudi Arabia receives the highest number of Filipino workers in the Middle East region. At least 200,000 Filipinos entered Saudi Arabia in 2007 alone.

The total number of migrant workers from the Philippines is estimated to be around 800,000, but statistical breakdown of the different religious denominations of foreigners in Saudi Arabia is not readily available.

After converting, migrant workers are encouraged by the centres and preachers to continue learning about Islam to deepen their faith.

"What we are going to do now is to give them the basic analysis about Islam, Tawheed, the Hadeeth, the Quran, the Fiqh and other things, very basics for them," says Filipino preacher Sheikh Abdul Qadir al-Alabani.

Pinoy preacher
Al-Qarain, the centre's head, immigrated from the Philippines to Saudi Arabia over 20 years ago, and is one of the few non-Arab preachers in the country.
A member of the Abdul Aziz Hospital University, he spends all his spare time preaching to the Filipino community in Riyadh. He takes with him a new group of would-be converts to every Friday prayer.

He says the most difficult and most time consuming thing is teaching the new converts the details of Islam after they officially convert to Islam by reciting the "Shahadah," the Muslim declaration of faith in God.

Supervised by the Ministry of Saudi Arabia, the COCG is the oldest and one of the most active centres in this field. It operates through a number of camps located in areas heavily populated by Asian workers, and it has preachers dedicated to the cause of helping non-Muslims convert to Islam.

There are around 18 centres Like the COCG in Riyadh, and more then 215 around the Kingdom.

As well as providing 5,000 people with food to break their daily fast in Ramadan, the center gives free lectures, and, twice a year, takes Muslim converts to perform the Umrah, a non-mandatory pilgrimage to Mecca and Medina that can be done any time of the year.

Seminar instills value of money to OFWS in Belgium

By Raquel Bernal-Crisostomo, ABS-CBN Europe News Bureau

Filipinos in Belgium are encouraged to save or invest their hard earned money for the future to ensure a comfortable life for those who will be retiring.

In a seminar organized by Samahan ng Manggagawang Pinoy sa Belgium, a micro-financing group pointed out the importance of OFWs’ earnings not only to their families but to the country as well.

“Kung kaya nating pag-igihan at magagamit ng husto ang remittances, mas mapapaigi natin ang ating buhay, matutulungan natin ang ating pamilya, pati na ang sambayanang Pilipino,” said Edwin Salonga of Ateneo de Manila Microfinance Capacity Building Program (SEDPI).

The group also stressed that relatives and families of OFWs should also be informed of how hard it is to earn Euros and to orient them how to be sensible in spending the money they receive.

“I think the most important advise na maibibigay ko sa mga OFW in Europe is magsabi sa kanilang kamag-anak sa Pilipinas kung gaano kahirap ang buhay sa Europa. Na dugo at pawis ang katumbas ng bawat perang kanilang ipinapadala. At dahil dun, sana mas magamit ng tama ng mga kamag-anak nila sa pilipinas yung pera nila”, said Vincent Rapisura, program manager of SEDPI.

Lessons learned
Lolita Galicia, 71, who still works as a nanny for a family in Belgium admitted she learned a valuable lesson from the seminar.

“Kailangan magkaroon ka ng matigas na kalooban para di magiging dependent sa iyo ang pamilya mo. Kung sila ay palahingi, dapat tapusin na. Hindi habang panahon gagawin mo silang palaasa sa iyo,” she said.

She added “Pag uwi ko sa Pilipinas, lahat ng natutunan ko dito sa seminar, ituturo ko rin sa mga apo ko para matutunan nila ang kahalagahan ng perang pinaghirapan.”

Others who attended the seminar realized that while helping family sustain their needs is a noble act to do, it is equally important to save money for “the rainy days” and teach their family to stand on their own feet.

FVR to OFWs: Choose candidates well

Former president Fidel V. Ramos urged Filipinos overseas to choose and vote for candidates who can best resolve their many problems.

“They must be aware of the issues in the Philippines. Unang tutukan nila iyong mga issues, what are the problems that are important to them that must be resolved as quickly as possible,” Ramos told Atty. Mike Templo during a special episode of Crossing Borders on ANC.

Ramos said OFWs must carefully examine each candidate at the national level “who are best qualified to resolve their problems”.

“Those candidates themselves must also be more caring, sharing and daring than our common Filipinos including the overseas workers,” he said. “Third, beyond just focusing on issues, in selecting the candidates who can best resolve the issues that are of highest priority to them, they must themselves be as self reliant, as self supporting as can be.”

Ramos is not new to the many challenges and issues faced by millions of Filipinos who seek greener pasture abroad.

“Those that go abroad are daring enough to look for new opportunities and build new lives for themselves and their families,” Ramos said.

The 12th president of the Philippines considers himself as a Filipino migrant who, right after the World War 2, won a slot for a government scholarship to enter the US Military Academy in November 1945.

“I consider that a wonderful opportunity just like any other overseas Filipino worker to finally lands the job and is there at the workplace. I was so happy and more than that optimistic about the future kasi free education iyan,” Ramos said.

Culture shock

Coming from an impoverished and war torn Philippines, the first challenge that he had to face abroad was “cultural shock”.

“The need to adjust quickly to this new physical and cultural environment was my first problem but I was always very optimistic about it,” Ramos said.

For Ramos, Filipino overseas workers exude a strong sense of leadership and self discipline.

“When a needy Filipino or Filipina decides to look for work abroad that’s already indicating or manifesting a strong sense of leadership and self discipline and this is further enhanced when you see the conditions abroad and you maybe all alone or you may be accompanied by some kababayans or equally stressed as you are and therefore the best possible arrangement is for you is to help each other for the initial difficulties that you may encounter,” he explained.

While abroad, Filipinos learn to adjust quickly to the new environment and to the new faces around them.

“Adjusting, knowing more about your new workplace also getting the goodwill of people that are complete strangers to you and then adjusting to and surviving within different cultures whether it is religion, customs and maybe even language,” he said.

‘Global Kababayans’

Countless media reports about OFWs and their activities in different parts of the globe prove that they are well organized.

“I have in fact recommended to the authorities here--in Malacanang and the Department of Foreign Affairs—that, they must aim for a global network of global kababayans,” he said.

He said he expects “huge outcomes” from “Global Kababayans”. He said the first letters of the two words, G and K, belongs to Gawad Kalinga.

“The letters GK really belong to Gawad Kalinga which is our most popular housing or community development and nation building,” he explained.

Promoting volunteerism by tapping more than eight million of Filipinos in more than 100 countries can make a huge difference to the Philippines.

“Using that same battle cry of Filipinos getting together and caring, sharing and daring maybe we can organize the national organization in its country first into a regional network and eventually global network at dapat ang maging pangalan nyan in my view is Global Kababayan,” he said.

“Of course, that is still a dream at this stage but since there are many scattered groups maybe in 175 countries this can be done due to the advent of information and communications technology in which our workers are very proficient now,” he said.

He urged Filipinos to be optimistic despite the many problems that beset the country.

“Even if you are abroad, you must look at the Philippines still as our mother land. Of course there is hardship here but we must look at the more optimistic side of it. We are not the worst country in the world and therefore we must make the best out of what is given to us,” Ramos said.

More abuses feared with revisions in OFW law

An alliance of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) on Tuesday warned that some of the amendments to the Migrant Workers Act of 1995 that lawmakers are proposing could only lead to the continued abuse and neglect of Filipino migrants all over the globe.

Migrante – Middle East assailed the consolidated bills in the Senate (SB 3286) and House of Representatives (HB 5649) for being anti-OFW by continuing to promote labor as a “cheap" export while institutionalizing government-imposed fees and recruitment charges.

In reality it only promotes exportation of cheap human labor and institutionalizes exactions of government-imposed fees
– John Leonard Monterona, Migrante

According to Migrante-ME regional coordinator John Leonard Monterona, contrary to the obligations and responsibilities of the government set out in the Migrant Workers Act, OFWs witness the government’s neglect on a daily basis.

“Six OFWs were already beheaded under the Arroyo administration, 59 more are awaiting their execution. Six to 10 bodies of OFWs are arriving at different Philippine airports daily; while the numbers of sexual and physical abuses, labor malpractices are increasing in an alarming proportion, in the Middle East alone averaging 5-8 cases everyday," Monterona said.

The House of Representatives has already approved on third and final reading the amendments to Migrant Workers and Overseas Filipinos Act of 1995 or Republic Act 8042.

HB 5649, titled "An Act Improving the Standards of Protection and Assistance for Migrant Workers," seeks to amend RA 8042 and impose stiffer penalty on officials and employees of the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) who unlawfully allow the deployment of Filipinos to countries without any guaranteed protection.

Rep. Edgar Chatto (1st District, Bohol), one of the authors of HB 5649, said those who willfully and grossly violate the act shall be removed or dismissed from the service, and disqualified to hold any appointive public office for five years.

"If amply protected, they will continue to remit the needed income for the support of their families as well as contribute to the fiscal growth of the government," Chatto said.

Jackson Gan, vice president of the Federated Association of Manpower Exporters, supported the bill’s passage.

Should the bill become law, any OFW processed by the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) or any licensed recruitment agency would be covered by a compulsory employment liability insurance equivalent to three months of the worker's salary for every year of his contract.

According to Gan, the liability insurance plan for OFWs will also relieve the agencies of being burdened with money claims or damages sought by workers in case it has not been settled at the National Labor Relations Commission (NLRC). [See: Recruiters group urges Congress to pass OFW liability insurance bill]


Monterona cited Sec. 2 (c) of the consolidated bill that affirms “the State shall continue to create local employment opportunity and promote equitable distribution of wealth."

According to Monterona, this contradicts an earlier Administrative Order No. 247 by President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo that ordered the aggressive marketing for OFWs abroad.

Monterona further said that while the consolidated bill affirms the state principle recognizing and encouraging “OFWs to participate in the decision-making process and to be represented in institutions," the appointing authority is still vested in the President.

Monterona also raised concern over the provision in the proposed consolidated bill, Sec 2 (i), which states that government fees and cost of recruitment is “free."

“This is vague as in Section 34 of the consolidated proposed bill, where it states that ‘fees shall remain at their present level,’ which we believe the government could increase anytime if they wanted to," Monterona added.

Another disturbing provision of the proposed consolidated bill, Monterona said, is the creation of an “Emergency Repatriation Fund," which would be sourced from the placement and recruitment agency contribution between US$50 and US$100.

“Just like the Overseas Workers’ Welfare Administration (OWWA) membership fee of US$25 supposed to be paid by the employer for the OFW, in reality it is being passed on and shouldered by the OFWs," Monterona said. - Joseph Holandes Ubalde, GMANews.TV

'Form task force vs syndicates using Pinoy drug mules'

DONKEY WORK. Despite the name, a drug mule is actually a person who smuggles something with him or her across a national border in exchange for money. AP photoAlarmed over the spate of jailed Filipino workers in China, an advocacy group urged the Philippine government to form a special task force to crack down on international drug rings luring mostly women migrants.

The Blas F. Ople Policy Center, a non-government organization involved in helping distressed overseas workers, said the task force should include the immigration, airport and drug enforcement agencies.

According to Susan Ople, the group’s president, Nigerian syndicates often escape persecution after persuading female aspiring overseas Filipino workers to transport luggage in exchange for cash.

"In the end, it is our own citizens that are put in jail while the ringleaders of these syndicates remain scot-free," Susan Ople, the group’s leader, said.

Last week, Philippine Consul General in Guangzhou Joselito Jimeno said 95 Filipinos are currently languishing in various jails in Chinese territories – four of whom are on death row. Asean countries like Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, and Vietnam have only about 10 to 20 jailed nationals each. [See: RP has most jailed drug mules in China]

The Department of Foreign Affairs said around 500 Filipinos are in various jails around the world due to drug smuggling, with 210 of them detained in China alone.

Jimeno said unsuspecting Filipinos are usually duped by foreign drug syndicates, even sometimes through fellow Filipinos, into smuggling illegal drugs for $500 to $2,000 a trip.

Drugs on shirts, pregnant ‘mules’

Drug syndicates have devised ingenious ways to sneak prohibited substances into other Asian countries using Filipino mules.

Ople cited the arrest of a Filipina caught with five kilograms of cocaine at the Puduraya bus station in Malaysia last week. The drugs were diluted and dried with an assortment of t-shirts found in her baggage.

The 45-year old suspect was said to have received US$ 3,000 (RM 10, 596) from a foreign drug trafficking syndicate. She has been charged under Section 39B of the Dangerous Drugs Act of 1952, which carries the mandatory death penalty upon conviction.

Ople said that there was another case of a Filipino woman arrested and charged last February in Shanghai, China for bringing in 60 cylinder-shaped articles wrapped in scotch tape found inside her body which contained 607 grams of heroin.

During the trial, the suspect admitted that she swallowed 60 capsules of drugs but had no idea
that the capsules contained heroin.

The Filipina claimed that she followed the instructions of the syndicate because her mother was seriously ill and she has many children to support.

In consideration of her voluntary admission, the Shanghai court rendered a sentence of 15 years fixed term imprisonment, rather than the death penalty.

Ople suspected that some syndicates were using pregnant women as drug mules to reduce suspicion and in the hope that the "mules" when caught, would be given a lighter sentence.

’No country will tolerate drug trafficking’

Chinese Ambassador to the Philippines Liu JIanchao said Beijing is seeking stronger cooperation with Manila to curb drug trafficking.

"We are firmly against drug trafficking. We need help from the Philippine side to contain and fight drug trafficking and also the other way around, the Philippines also needs China," Liu said.
Despite good bilateral relations between the two countries, the envoy noted that those Filipinos caught carrying prohibited drugs to China “should be treated in accordance with the law."

"For drug traffickers we do punish them very harshly because that’s a very, very bad crime and no country will tolerate drug trafficking and drug traffickers. It’s one of the worst things and the worst crimes in the world," Liu said.

Liu said no Filipino has been executed for drug trafficking although several have been meted death penalty.

"Though they were imposed the death sentence, under Chinese laws there is a two-year
probation period for those on death row, meaning if they behave well in prison it’s likely that they will not be executed," Liu said.

In recent months, Filipina drug mules have been transiting Vietnam and Cambodia to smuggle drugs to China.

Upon direction by a Nigerian drug syndicate, a Filipino contact in China gives or promises the mule a salary ranging from US$2,000 to US$3,000 per trip. - GMANews.TV

Pinoy domestic workers picket vs HK wage freeze

Foreign domestic workers on Sunday protested the wage freeze imposed by the Hong Kong Executive Council. - AMCBFilipino domestic workers, along with more than a hundred other foreign workers, trooped to the Central Government Office in Hong Kong on Sunday after the HK Executive Council (ExeCo) decided to freeze their wage at the current level.

Under the decision, foreign domestic workers (FDW) are to receive a Minimum Allowable Wage (MAW) of only HK$3,850 or almost P23,000 monthly.

“Wage freeze is an insensitive and inconsiderate response of the HK government in the face of the economic hardships facing workers right now," said Emmanuel Villanueva, spokesperson of the Asian Migrants Coordinating Body (AMCB), in a statement.

“Contrary to previous statements of the government, the MAW does not work. In fact, what it does is to keep our wage depressed and maintain the treatment of FDWs as no more than slaves and social welfare benefits of the government to employers," said Villanueva.

He added that the MAW provides no venue for FDWs and advocates of domestic workers’ rights to “lobby effectively."

The HK ExeCo had earlier refused to include FDWs in its Statutory Minimum Wage (SMW) proposal for the Legislative Council. The AMCB protested the move, saying that it amounts to discrimination.

HK ExeCo did increase the food allowance of FDWs from HK$300 to HK$740 per month.

Villanueva said, however, that “(the increased food allowance) is no graciousness but a long-overdue move," adding that it will “never make wage freeze acceptable" to the domestic workers.

The AMCB said that they would continue to challenge the decision to peg the MAW, and also to push for FDW inclusion in the SMW coverage. The HK Legislative Council is expected to deliberate on the proposal when it convenes next month. - GMANews.TV

Monday, September 7, 2009

22 Pinay runaway maids repatriated from UAE

At least 22 household workers in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) who fled from their workers were repatriated over the weekend, a UAE news site reported Sunday.

The Khaleej Times reported the batch of 22 is the biggest group sent back so far this year by the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA).

“Fifty percent of the employers, whose maids ran away, have refused to release their passports unless the expenses incurred on bringing them to UAE were refunded," Welfare Officer Mary Cimangan said.

Cimangan said there were no negotiations or refunds for cases involving physical assault, as in the case of OFW Marilyn Vinluan.

In such cases, she said employers normally declare them "absconding"
and surrender their passports to the immigration authorities to cancel their employment permits.

She noted employers who demand a refund of expenses involve runaway helpers who have worked for just a few months, some even for a few days only.

Records at the Philippine Overseas Labor Office (POLO) and OWWA show an increase in the number of Filipino household workers complaining of maltreatment, overwork, and non-availability of meals.

Philippine Consul General Benito Valeriano said his staff spends more time outside the consulate filing cases for the household workers, taking them to the hospital, and going to the police and Immigration.

“For professionals, there is a mechanism such as the laws on labor-related work hours and questions arising out of their employment. In the case of household helpers, the employers immediately lodge an ‘absconding report’ once they run away and the pressure is on the household helpers," he said. - GMANews.TV

4 charged for illegal recruitment of Pinoys to Afghanistan

Two men and two women are facing illegal recruitment charges before the Department of Justice (DOJ) for allegedly luring four Filipinos to work in Afghanistan despite a Philippine government deployment ban to the war-ravaged country.

Senior Superintendent Gilbert Sosa, operations chief of the Task Force Against Illegal Recruitment (Tfair), said in a radio interview Saturday that illegal recruitment complaints were filed against Domingo Cruz, Rolly Cruz, Winnie Cruz and Maria Lourdes Cabigting for collecting placement fees from four Filipinos and failing to deploy them in Afghanistan.

Sosa said the suspects lured the four aspiring overseas Filipino workers, one of whom he identified as Juan Soliman Pelayo Jr., to high-paying jobs in Afghanistan, only to find out that there were no jobs waiting for them there.

He added that the alleged illegal recruiters escorted the victims to the destination country, but abandoned them in Afghanistan after making them wait for employment for months.

The victims were able to return to the Philippines last July, Sosa said. They filed the complaint against the four alleged illegal recruiters last Tuesday.

Vice President and Tfair chairperson Noli de Castro reminded aspiring OFWs of the total ban on the deployment of Filipino workers in Afghanistan that took effect in 2007.

“Bawal pa rin ho dito. Ban pa rin po ang ating pamahalaan sa pagpapadala ng mga OFW dito po sa Afghanistan (OFWs are still not allowed there. Our government is still not allowed to send OFWs to Afghanistan," he said in his radio show Saturday.

De Castro also reminded the task force he heads to be more vigilant of aspiring OFWs trying to go to Afghanistan in airports.

“Ang utos ko po sa ating task force, sa airport, ‘yung mga patungong Afghanistan ay harangin kaagad dahil wala naman silang business na pumunta sa Afghanistan," he said.

Despite the total deployment ban of OFWs in Afghanistan, many Filipino workers still manage to get employed in military bases there, where US troops and allies are fighting local militants.

Last July, 10 Filipinos were killed in a helicopter crash in Afghanistan amidst the government prohibition of OFWs in the said country. - Andreo Calonzo, GMANews.TV

34 Filipino drug mules face death or life sentences in China


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.

Some of the 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.

Read more

The Philippines leads all Southeast Asian countries in the number of nationals arrested for drug smuggling charges in China, a Philippine diplomat said Friday.

“Ang pag-akyat sa talaan ng bilang ng mga Filipino ay sobrang nakababahala sa gobyerno(This rise in number is worrying the government)," said Consul General Joselito Jimeno.

Jimeno said there are currently 95 Filipinos languishing in various jails in Chinese territories – four of whom are on death row. Asean countries like Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, and Vietnam have only about 10 to 20 jailed nationals each.

In 2008 alone, 111 Filipinos were arrested for drug-related offenses in the Chinese territories, representing a 594-percent increase from the 16 arrested in 2007. Of those arrested in 2007 and 2008, 22 are facing death sentence, 12 have gotten life, while 11 have been made to serve 15-16 years prison terms.

The consul general said the jailed Filipinos were accused of smuggling illegal substances like heroin or diamorphine from countries like Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam, India, Nepal, Cambodia, and the Philippines into Chinese territories.

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

Jimeno said unsuspecting Filipinos are usually duped by foreign drug syndicates, even sometimes through fellow Filipinos, into smuggling illegal drugs for $500 to $2,000 a trip.

But he said because of the high technology in Chinese airports and train terminals, carriers of prohibited substances can now be more easily spotted.

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

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] - GMANews.TV
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