Thursday, January 21, 2010

Gov't urged to aid raped OFW in Saudi

abs-cbnNEWS.com



MANILA, Philippines –An alliance of Filipino migrant organizations on Thursday blamed the government for its alleged inaction on the case of an OFW who was a victim of rape in Dammam, Saudi Arabia.

In a press statement, Migrante International said the OFW’s family fears that Saudi authorities would soon carry out the 100 lashes penalty before releasing Camille (not her real name).

Camille got pregnant as a result of the rape. However, she lost the baby on her fourth month of pregnancy.

The group learned from Camille’s relatives that the OFW had a miscarriage last December 2009 while detained at the Hafer Al Baten jail.

Camille’s mother told the group that no one from the Philippine Embassy in Saudi Arabia visited her daughter when she was hospitalized. The foreign affairs department in Manila also could not give them any information about Camille’s condition.

The Filipina was working as a janitress at a dental clinic for about 3 months when she was attacked by a co-worker, a Bangladeshi national only identified as a certain Mr. Mammon, last year.

Out of fear of the suspect, the victim decided to remain silent. She only revealed her ordeal when she found out she was pregnant.

“Sadyang nakakalungkot dahil sa halip na ipahuli at maparusahan ang nanghalay sa kanya ay sinampahan pa ng kasong ‘illicit affair’ at ipinakulong ng kanyang employer si Camille,” said Gina Esguerra, secretary-general of Migrante International.

Migrante International brought Camille’s case to the DFA and the Philippine embassy in Saudi Arabia. The group lamented that until now the government has yet to provide legal assistance to the victim.

“Ngayong naibalik na si Camille sa piitan ay hindi malayong umpisahan na ang paglalatigo sa kanya na kasama sa sintensya sa kasalanang hindi naman niya ginawa,” Esguerra said.

4th Pinoy fatality in Haiti found; missing down to 2

CARMELA LAPEÑA, GMANews.TV
01/21/2010 | 09:09 AM

(Updated 1:30 p.m.) The body of yet another Filipino UN peacekeeper was recovered from the rubble of a collapsed building in Haiti, bringing to four the number of Filipinos confirmed killed in the deadly earthquake that struck the Caribbean nation last week.

Haiti peacekeeping forces commander Col. Lope Dagoy identified the casualty as Sgt. Janice Arocena, whose body was retrieved from the ruins of Christopher Hotel in Port-au-Prince on Wednesday afternoon, Manila time.

"Meron tayong bad news. Kahapon nang hapon natagpuan na po ang bangkay ni Sgt. Janice Arocena," Armed Forces of the Philippines spokesman Lt. Col. Romeo Brawner Jr. told GMA News' Unang Balita on Thursday. The victim's family was immediately informed, he said.

On January 15, two days after the magnitude-7 earthquake rocked Haiti, Arocena's older sibling posted a plea for help on CNN's iReport.

Arocena was a clerk at the Chief of Staff, Central Registry of the Philippine peacekeeping contingent in Haiti.

Two still missing

At the time of the killer quake, 462 recorded Filipinos were in Haiti — 290 civilians and 172 military and police peacekeepers.

Brawner said the Philippine military is teaming up with the Department of Foreign Affairs in addressing the needs of Filipinos there, including providing for their security.

Last Wednesday, the military confirmed the retrieval of the remains of of Sgt. Eustacio Bermudez, a clerk at the Conduct and Discipline Unit/Force Provo Martial. [See: Another Pinoy peacekeeper's body pulled from Haiti rubble]

Earlier, the military also confirmed the deaths of Jerome Yap, a United Nations staff member serving with the UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti, and Petty Officer 3 Pearly Panangui.

Only two Filipinos are unaccounted for — Grace Fabian and Geraldine Lalican, who remain trapped in the ruins of a supermarket in Haiti's capital.

"Dalawa na lang ang hinahanap, mga OFW na nagtratrabaho sa Caribbean Supermarket (Only two are missing. They are Filipinos working at the Caribbean Supermarket)," Brawner said.

Filipino troops continue to help

Brawner said in a press briefing at Camp Aguinaldo that the remaining members of the 10th Philippine peacekeeping contingent in Haiti are "no longer directly involved in the rescue and retrieval operations" at the Christopher Hotel.

The AFP spokesman said "expert rescue teams" from Spain, China, France, Iceland, the United States, Guatemala, Indonesia, and Brazil have taken charge of such operations.

Instead, the Philippine team is tasked to transport retrieved bodies from the Christopher Hotel to the logistics base and the Argentina hospital, Brawner said, adding that Filipino troops also helped secure vital UN installations such as the UN Development Programme compound against looters.

"The headquarters of the 10th Philippine contingent to Haiti continues to serve as trauma clinic for rescued victims," he added. — LBG/RSJ/NPA, GMANew.TV

DFA warns vs email scam targeting Berlin-bound jobseekers

An "evolving" email scam is targeting prospective overseas Filipino workers heading for Berlin in Germany, the Department of Foreign Affairs said on Wednesday.

The DFA said the scam appeared to be a variation of the one involving Markel Power International, which was uncovered earlier this month.

Philippine Ambassador to Germany Delia Albert advised Filipinos to be “very cautious" of recruitment emails that claim to involve “Power International companies."

Albert told prospective OFWs not to pay a single cent to complete the recruitment process.

She said two Filipinos had contacted the Embassy via email to verify the authenticity of one Maleko Power International and Moss Power International, allegedly in Hamburg and Dortmund.

“These Filipinos received emails telling them that they were being hired through an employment agency allegedly based in Messina, Italy," the DFA said.

But a check showed Maleko Power International does not exist in Hamburg, while its address showed a wrong postal code. It also has no phone and fax numbers, and its website was purely in English.

The Embassy suspects the new scam naming Maleko Power International and Moss Power International “is the same fraudulent entity Markel Power International" as their websites are identical except for the names and addresses.

Markel had advised job-seekers that for their recruitment to be completed, they have to pay €70 through Western Union to an employment company based in Monza, Italy.

The DFA said it will bring the matter to the attention of the departments of Labor and Employment and Justice, the Philippine National Police and the Commission on Information and Communication Technology. - JV/LBG/RSJ, GMANews.TV

3 Pinays meted out jail terms for drug trafficking in HK

Three Filipinas were convicted and sentenced to long jail terms for drug trafficking in Hong Kong, one of whom had small plastic bags of cocaine inside her body, according to the Philippine Consulate General there.

The three, all of whom pleaded guilty, were sentenced by the High Court of Hong Kong to imprisonment of 14, 12 and eight years, respectively, according to a release posted on the website of the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA).

The first Filipina was arrested by customs authorities at Hong Kong International Airport (HKIA) on February 20 last year, after 1.2 kilograms of a drug mixture containing 750 grams of heroin were found in her luggage. The drugs were concealed in four books the Filipina carried with her from Malaysia, which were allegedly given to her by another Filipino who arranged her trip.

The Filipina was represented by a Hong Kong law firm and was sentenced to 14 years in jail.

Sentenced to 12 years in prison is another Filipino who arrived also from Malaysia on June 10 last year. She was arrested at HKIA after authorities found in her luggage 380 grams of heroin hidden inside the buttons of 16 pieces of clothing.

The Filipina was reportedly offered $1,000 (P45,760) also by another Filipino based in Malaysia to bring the items to Hong Kong.

A third Filipina was sentenced to eight years in jail. She was arrested at HKIA on June 1 last year after 260 grams of cocaine were found inside her body.

The Filipina was immediately brought to a hospital upon her arrest, where small plastic packets containing the drugs were extracted.

Under Hong Kong law, drug trafficking is considered a serious offense, with penalties including a maximum sentence of life imprisonment and a fine of up to HK$5 million (P29.5 million).
The Consulate General thus reiterated its calls for Filipinos travelling abroad not be duped into serving drug couriers.

The Consulate General also recommended the enhancement of cooperative efforts between Philippine security officials and their counterparts in other jurisdictions to take further actions n preventing Filipinos from becoming part of the drug trade.

The three Filipinas’ conviction came after the DFA disclosed that 66 Filipinos, 53 of whom are women, are on China’s death row over drug related charges. [See: 66 Pinoys face death in China over drug charges]

While remaining part of China, Hong Kong's status is defined as a special administrative region, with a legal system that operates independently and follows the English common law being a former British colony.

In 1993, Hong Kong officially abolished the death penalty, and life imprisonment is now the most severe punishment. – Jerrie M. Abella/JV, GMANews.TV

Local UK passport applications to be processed in Hong Kong

Starting February 8, British passport applications from the Philippines will be processed in Hong Kong, hinting that the move will make it difficult for criminals to produce counterfeit documents.

The UK Embassy said it wants the British passport to remain trusted as a secure document, and to make it hard to forge or obtain through fraud, an article on its website said.

“The British passport is trusted as a secure document the world over. We want to keep it that way so that British travellers continue to enjoy the convenience and benefits of a travel document which is known to be difficult to forge or obtain fraudulently," the website quotes British Consul Joanne Finnamore-Crorkin as saying. “Limiting the number of locations where passports are printed will reduce the risk of them falling into the wrong hands."

Teams specialized in passport examination, fraud detection, and secure document technology will run the new processing centers, the article said

The embassy also said the changes intend to help the UK government deliver a more streamlined, efficient, and secure system and to control costs of new passports.

British nationals in the Philippines will be required to submit their applications to the British Embassy Manila.

This application will be forwarded to the British Consulate Hong Kong.

Once the new passport is ready, it will be sent directly to the applicant in the Philippines.

“There will though be a charge for the courier fee," said Finnamore-Crorkin.

Since passport applications will be processed at the regional Passport Processing Centers, applicants will need to allow extra time for their applications to be sent to and from the Processing Center, the embassy said.

However, the UK government will still aim to issue at least 90 percent of all straightforward passports applications within 10 working days of receipt of the correct documents and fee, “although this will exclude the time taken for delivery of the new passport."

However, the UK Embassy in Manila said it will continue to issue travel documents for applicants who need to travel in case of emergency. - GMANews.TV

Raped OFW may get 100 lashes after miscarriage

53 An overseas Filipino worker launguishing in a Saudi Arabian jail suffered miscarriage and now fears getting a hundred lashes before finally being freed.

Camille (not her real name) has been in prison since August last year after her employer turned her over to authorities because she got pregnant out of wedlock by a co-worker who raped her.

Camille, who lived with her in Quezon City, went to Dammam on May last year to work as a janitor in a dental clinic on a two-year contract, the victim’s mother told GMANews.TV in an interview.

Three months into the job, a co-worker – a Bangladeshi national – raped her.

But Camille chose to keep quiet, fearing her rapist would kill her if she reports the incident.

In September, after undergoing a medical check-up – a requirement before she decided to return to the Philippines – she discovered she was pregnant and was reported to Saudi authorities by no less than her employer.

However, hard life in Hafr Al-Baten prison caused the miscarriage of her daughter’s four-month-old baby in December, Camille’s mother said.

Although Camille was able to go to the hospital, she was sent to prison immediately after.

The Shari’ah or Islamic law imposes imprisonment for women who get pregnant out of wedlock and, after giving birth, a penalty of lashes to be determined by courts before being freed.

The law applies even to victims who claim to have been raped.

Uncertain fate

Camille, 35 years old, was able to talk to her mother Monday night, during which she asked for help from back home.

“Sabi niya, sana makauwi na raw siya. Hindi ko naman alam kung ano ang gagawin. Hindi na ako tinawagan ng DFA (Department of Foreign Affairs)," the mother said.

(My daughter said she wishes to be sent home as soon as possible, but I don’t know what to do. The DFA has not called me back.)

The mother added that Camille’s case would still have to be heard in a Saudi Arabian court this January, according to the DFA. The exact dates of the hearings, and Camille’s fate in the
meantime, remain uncertain, she added.

“Natatakot siya ngayon kasi ganoon ang nangyari sa mga kasama niya sa kulungan, mga ibang lahi, nilalatigo nang 100 pagkapanganak," the mother said.

(She now fears getting 100 lashes because that’s what happened to her fellow prisoners who are of different nationalities after giving birth.)

‘Illicit affair’

“It is really saddening that instead of arresting and punishing the rapist, it was Camille who was charged with [having an] 'illicit affair’ and brought to the Saudi authorities by her employer," said Gina Esguerra, secretary general of the migrants’ rights group Migrante International.

Camille’s mother also disclosed that the ordeal has angered Camille’s three children in the Philippines, aged 15, 14, and five years old.

“Galit na galit sila. Naaawa rin sila sa nangyari sa Mama nila (They are enraged. They also pity their mother for what happened to her)," Camille’s mother said.

Camille's children have also stopped going to school since money remittance from their mother, the family's only source of income, ceased in September last year.

Camille previously worked as a domestic helper in Dubai, but she had problems with her employer who did not feed her, according to the mother.

Migrante is currently in coordination with the DFA to assist Camille, Esguerra

Comelec junks appeal to extend OAV registration

The Commission on Elections (Comelec) on Tuesday denied due to time constraints the petition filed by a group of overseas Filipinos seeking to extend the overseas absentee voting (OAV) registration.

“Today the petition for extension of overseas absentee voting registration was denied. There will be no extension of OAV registration and that’s official," Comelec spokesman James Jimenez said at a press briefing.

He was referring to the appeal made by overseas Filipino Maritess Salientess Bloom of Massachusetts, USA, last January 8 asking the poll body to grant them 28 more days of registration.

The petition was filed by the National Federation of Filipino-American Associations, which said overseas Filipinos deserve the same privilege as their fellowmen at home when it comes to registering for the May 10 elections.

“What’s good for Filipinos in the Philippines should be good for Filipinos everywhere. Ano kami (What are we), chopped liver?" said Loida Nicolas Lewis, chairman emeritus of the NFFAA, in a separate interview.

Registration for overseas voters ran from Feb. 1 to Aug. 31, 2009, while the one held in the Philippines ran from Dec. 1, 2008 to Oct. 31, 2009. It was later extended for five days - December 21, 22, 23, 28, and 29 – following an order from the Supreme Court.

Contributions

Lewis said the Comelec should take into consideration the contributions made by Filipinos abroad to the economy. “We work, we send money here, bakit kami inaapi (why are they treating us unfairly)?" she said.

Data from the Central Bank indicate that Filipinos abroad sent home a total of $16.43 billion in 2008 alone.

Lewis said that lack of time is not enough reason for the Comelec to deny overseas Filipinos the right to suffrage.

"I just want to express my extreme disappointment that the Comelec has allowed bureaucracy to triumph over the supreme right of the Filipino whether here in the Philippines or abroad to register and vote," she said.

She noted that the registration period was not publicized among overseas Filipinos, and that the Philippine posts are too far from their residences, especially in the United States where there are only seven consulates for the 49 states.

Jimenez, however, maintained that they had done enough to inform overseas Filipinos about the registration. "This is not true, the fact that registration was well publicized, we coursed the information through the different posts. Sufficient notice was given to the public," he said.

Lewis said they just plan to take the matter up to the Supreme Court – a move welcomed by the Comelec.

Comelec Commissioner Armando Velasco, who heads the poll body’s OAV committee, earlier said it would be difficult for them to grant the petition because they had already finalized the list of overseas voters and are in the process of preparing the packages of the ballots.

Overseas voting is traditionally done manually. Registered Filipinos abroad are given two options: personal or by mail.

Dismal numbers

A total of 589,830 overseas Filipinos registered for the 2010 elections.

According to the poll body’s statistics, 224,884 new voters were added to the list of 364,946 active voters from the past two elections. In addition to the land-based Filipinos, a total of 21,097 seafarers will also be allowed to vote in the 2010 elections.

Since the OAV was signed into law in 2003, figures have not been encouraging. In the 2004 national elections, only 360,000 of the more than four million qualified overseas Filipinos had registered. Of this figure, only 65 percent or 233,092 actually voted.

In the 2007 midterm elections, at least 145,000 more overseas Filipinos registered to vote but only 81,732 cast their ballots.

Data from the Comelec indicated that the countries with the most number of overseas Filipino voters are Saudi Arabia with 111,549; Hong Kong, 95,355; and the United States of America, 40,430.

In terms of geographic regions, the Middle East and African nations have the most number of overseas voters, with a total of 225,148. The Asia Pacific, meanwhile,

Body of RP peacekeeper in Haiti recovered

The body of a Filipino United Nations peacekeeper was retrieved from the rubble of the collapsed Christopher Hotel, bringing to two the number of Philippine fatalities following the deadly earthquake that rocked the impoverished Caribbean island nation of Haiti.

At a press conference in Camp Aguinaldo, military information chief Lt. Col. Romeo Brawner Jr. said the body of Petty Officer 3 Pearly Panangui was pulled out at 5:30 a.m. Tuesday from the second floor of the hotel, which houses the United Nations Peacekeeping headquarters in Haiti.

In a prepared prayer, Brawner, on behalf of the Philippine military, paid tribute to Panangui and to all servicemen performing their duties outside the Philippines.

"They have shown a culture of peace, heroism, and dedication, and commitment to serve even outside of their office especially at this crucial time," he said. "They may be gone but they will forever be in our hearts."

At the time of the killer quake, a total of 462 Filipinos were in Haiti - 290 civilians and 172 military and police peacekeepers.

The announcement came hours after the first Filipino casualty was reported by the Department of Foreign Affairs.

The body of Jerome Yap, executive assistant to the deputy head of the UN mission in Haiti, was found at 6:15 p.m. Monday, Philippine time. [See: Body of UN Pinoy worker in Haiti retrieved from rubble]

Yap's body was recovered from the site of the collapsed hotel, a few hours after other remains were found, including those of mission head Hedi Annabi, deputy Luis Tacosta and Chinese Ambassador to Haiti Shulin Wang.

Yap's sibling based in New York is already coordinating with the UN regarding the arrangements for the transport of his remains.

Yap's family in Pampanga has already been informed and would be left to decide on whether to bring his remains back to the Philippines.

With the retrieval of the remains of the two Filipinos, four Filipinos, who are believed trapped in a number of establishments in Haiti, remain missing.

They are Sergeant Janice Arocena and Sergeant Eustacio Bermudez, both members of the RP peacekeeping force in Haiti; and Grace Fabian and Geraldine Lalican, who both worked at the Caribbean Supermarket. - Mark Merueñas/RSJ, GMANews.TV

Monday, January 18, 2010

Automation of OAV in HK, Singapore in limbo

KIMBERLY JANE TAN, GMANews.TV

Plans to automate the overseas absentee voting (OAV) in vote-rich Hong Kong and Singapore may not push through due to the opposition of the Philippine embassies there, the Commission on Elections (Comelec) said on Monday.

In an interview with reporters, Comelec chief Jose Melo said the Philippine Embassy in Singapore expressed doubts that it could handle the volume of voters who would vote using the Precinct Count Optical Scan (PCOS) machines.

“Ayaw daw, maraming people nagmi-mill around sa isang lugar … Siguro ika nila ang dami-daming boboto dyan (They do not want automation. They don’t want many people to gather there, that’s what the ambassador told us)," he said.

The Philippine Consulate in Hong Kong, meanwhile, is just asking for updates and mechanics regarding the automation of the OAV, according to Comelec Commissioner Amanda Velasco, head of the poll body’s OAV committee.

“Ang Hong Kong wala naman silang problems, gusto lang nila malaman nang maaga paano ang automation (Hong Kong actually has no problems, the just want to know this early how we will go about with automating the OAV)," she said.

Velasco said the host countries do not have any objection with the automated OAV, adding that the opposition was only from the Philippine posts.

Comelec officials will meet with representatives from the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) and poll machine supplier Smartmatic-TIM on January 27 and 28 to discuss the Singapore issue, and on January 29 and 30 to tackle the Hong Kong problem.

The poll body decided to automate the polls in Singapore and Hong Kong based on the number of voters there – 31,851 in Singapore and 95,355 in Hong Kong. This makes up 20 percent of the total number of overseas voters.

The voting in these countries would be conducted for one whole month until May 10, the day of the elections in the Philippines.- KBK, GMANews.TV

Somali pirates release Greek supertanker; 16 Pinoys among crew

NAIROBI, Kenya — Somali pirates released a Greek supertanker and its crew of 28 on Monday after a rival pirate group attacked the pirates onboard in an unsuccessful attempt to steal the ransom, the spokesman for the European Union's anti-piracy force said.

Cmdr. John Harbour says pirates left the Greek-flagged Maran Centaurus Monday morning. He said a group of rival pirates had attacked the ship just before the ransom was being delivered, prompting the pirates onboard the tanker to call for assistance from the anti-piracy force.

He said the EU naval force did not intervene but declined to give details on the actions of other warships in the area. The naval force is monitoring the ship as it leaves Somali waters, he said.

A Somali middleman, who helped negotiate for the release of the ship, says pirates collected $5.5 million Sunday afternoon and left the ship Monday morning. The figure could not be immediately confirmed.

The middleman spoke on condition of anonymity because he said he feared reprisals.

The middleman said pirates in two speedboats attacked the ship Sunday just before the ransom was due to be delivered but after a brief shootout, two helicopters from a warship intervened. The middleman said the two helicopters did not fire at any of the pirates, but only hovered over them, successfully scaring off the attacking group.

The Maran Centaurus was hijacked Nov. 29 about 800 miles (1,300 kilometers) off the Somali coast. It was carrying about 2 million barrels of crude oil from Saudi Arabia destined for the United States, estimated to be worth roughly $150 million at the time of the attack.

A Greek coast guard spokeswoman said the tanker had left Somalia escorted by a Greek frigate and was heading to the South African port of Durban.

She said all crew members were in good health, and the ship was expected to reach Durban in a week. She spoke on condition of anonymity in line with Greek government regulations.

The ship, only the second oil tanker captured by Somali pirates, had 9 Greeks, 16 Filipinos, 2 Ukrainians, and a Romanian aboard. Its seizure resurrected fears of an environmental or safety disaster first raised by the capture of the Saudi-owned Sirius Star. That hijacking was resolved in January last year with a $3 million ransom payment. It was carrying 2 million barrels of oil valued at about $100 million at the time.

The International Maritime Bureau said last week that sea attacks worldwide surged 39 percent to 406 cases, the highest in six years, with raids on vessels by Somali pirates accounting for more than half of the attacks.

It said that Somali pirates were responsible for 217 of the global attacks and had seized 47 vessels. This was nearly double the 111 attacks Somali pirates launched in 2008, of which 42 were successful hijackings.

The impoverished Horn of Africa nation has not had a functioning government for 19 years and the weak UN-backed administration is too busy fighting the Islamist insurgency to arrest pirates. Across the Gulf of Aden, tensions between north and south Yemen continue to rise and Islamic militancy is increasing.

Pirates now hold about a dozen vessels hostage and more than 200 crew members. - AP

Condition of injured RP soldier in Haiti quake improves

The condition of a Filipino peacekeeper injured in last week's devastating quake in Haiti has improved, allowing him to be transferred from a hospital to a local clinic, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said on Monday.

Staff Sergeant Bonifacio Paet was transferred from the Argentine Hospital to the Philippine Contingent Clinic, according to an article in the DFA Web site.

The DFA also said Philippine officials have met with leaders of the Filipino community in Haiti to discuss their concerns.

Philippine Ambassador to Havana Macarthur Corsino was to arrive in Port-au-Prince Monday afternoon (Haiti time) to coordinate ongoing relief efforts there. Corsino received instructions from DFA Secretary Alberto Romulo to proceed to Haiti to oversee relief operations for Filipinos there and to present a plan of action for the repatriation of Filipinos who would want to go back to Manila.


The Philippine Embassy team will link up with the peacekeeping contingent, Philippine Honorary Consul in Haiti Fitzgerald Brandt, and Filipino community members, the article read.

The DFA also said 10th Philippine Contingent Commander Lt. Col. Lope Dagoy met Sunday with the leaders of the Filipino community in Delmas villages led by their president, Francisco Bagadiong.

An initial census in Delmas showed some 100 Filipinos there were found to be in good physical condition. Six, meanwhile, remain trapped in the rubble.

"The Filipino community leaders and Contingent Commander Dagoy discussed the on-going accounting of Filipinos in Haiti and their families, their concerns and needs, and a listing of those who wish to be repatriated to the Philippines," the DFA said.

It added the Filipinos conveyed the immediate need for tents for those whose houses were damaged.

"Earlier, Filipinos in the Delmas district were given rice, sugar, oatmeal, and bottles of coffee. They were also given instructions on how to contact the Philippine Contingent using all available means," the DFA said. - KBK/RSJ, GMANews.TV

DFA: 100 Filipinos in Haiti accounted for, safe

At least 100 Filipinos in Haiti’s Delmas district have been accounted for and were safe, the Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said on Sunday.

The DFA quoted Lt. Col. Lope Dagoy, 10th Philippine Contingent commander, as saying that an initial census of Filipinos in the Delmas district had been conducted to determine their locations and conditions.

Delmas is a district in the Ouest Department of Port-au-Prince, Haiti's capital, where a sizeable number of Filipinos reside. The list was drawn from three areas — Delmas 31, Delmas 41 and Delmas 56.

“Some 100 Filipinos were identified, accounted for, and found to be in safe physical condition. These include two religious nuns with the Immaculate Heart of Mary Sister of Haiti," the department said in a statement posted on its Website.

Of the recorded 462 Filipinos in Haiti, 290 are civilians and 172 are peacekeepers. There are some Filipino priests and nuns as well.

Filipinos who work in the Caribbean country occupy middle- to upper-level management positions and are employed in the garment, telecommunication and power generation sectors.

At least 50,000 have been feared dead in the Haiti quake after most concrete buildings in the capital collapsed.

The DFA said efforts were still underway for the rescue of Filipinas Grace Fabian and Geraldine Lalican, who remained trapped under the ruins of the Carribean Supermarket area in Port-au-Prince.

Fabian was earlier reported to have been rescued, but Dagoy belied the reports.

Earlier on Sunday, Armed Forces information office chief Lt. Col. Romeo Brawner Jr. said three Filipinos from the United Nations Peacekeeping Force and another Filipino UN worker were still trapped beneath the rubble of Christopher Hotel, also in Port-au-Prince.

The missing Filipinos were earlier identified as UN civilian staff member Jerome Yap and peacekeepers Petty Officer 3 Pearly Panangui, Sergeant Janice Arocena and Sergeant Eustacio Bermudez.

“Right now, massive retrieval and rescue operations are ongoing. The three peacekeepers and one UN worker, as well as two Filipinas who worked at the Caribbean Supermarket have not been rescued," Brawner told dzBB radio in Filipino. — Sophia Regina Dedace/NPA, GMANews.TV

The DFA said the following Filipinos in the Delmas district were safe. The list was drawn from three areas — Delmas 31, Delmas 41 and Delmas 56.

1. Mariflor Tuibeo 35. Ruben Martinez 69. Mary Grace Joy Genaro
2. Nelson Lardizabal 36. Vener Maning 70. Richard Pasahol
3. Jocelyn Ortiz 37. Roberto Cunanan 71. Israel Pasahol
4. Paul William Usana 38. Arnel Barrera 72. Lilibeth Mendoza
5. Ramil Macalino 39. Christian De Roxas 73. Pricilla Aguinaldo
6. Melanie M Villamin 40. Rickson Dapasin 74. Leah Tabigay
7. Frank Repizo 41. Freddie De Roxas 75. Rosalyn Fabian
8. Maria Lucia Repizo 42. Sonny Maning 76. Sherwin Magno
9. Kelly May Repizo 43. Sandy Maning 77. Fe Labalando
10. Kyle Kennette Repiz 44. Ronil Maning 78. Remy Villero
11. Brenda Tambo 45. Renato Pera 79. Aries Mendoza
12. Dennis Tapat 46. Rene Jordan 80. Agripino Cornejo
13. Jonathan Villa 47. Rey Jordan 81. Joven Cruz
14. Lelaine M Villa 48. Joseph Alama 82. Boy Duran
15. Jonna Leigh Villa 49. Zarina Flor 83. Philip Benitez
16. John Lloyo Villa 50. Moises 84. Maricel Benitez
17. Moreto Casuyon 51. Angelita Aguinaldo 85. Jetro Benitez
18. Adelina Manalansang 52. Ryza Bagadiong 86. Jana Benitez
19. Berwyn Manalansang 53. Joan Sespene 87. Lily Sonico
20. Danica Manalansang 54. Corazon Obnial 88. Aurora Fernandez
21. Wendyl Manalansang 55. Renato Bagadiong 89. Frankie Bagadiong
22. Elina A Felipe 56. Renelyn De Vera 90. Dolor Bagadiong
23. Johnny J Cabe 57. Ferdinand De Vera 91. Val Bagadiong
24. Gil Meru 58. Rizalino Ramirez 92. Ariel Bagadiong
25. Patrick Gecangao 59. Allzana Ramirez 93. Shiela Dubios
26. Joel Bristol 60. Lourdes Cabalhin 94. Henry Reobuya
27. Dominador Tiru 61. Manolito Cabalhin 95. Lucy Trinidad
28. Nelson Blanco 62. Dennis Cabalhin 96. Fely Tan
29. Zosimo Melo 63. Aurora Aguinaldo Mehlbaum 97. Jun Bacurin
30. Andy Frias 64. Elenita Granada 98. Donna Bacurin
31. Albino Villalba 65. Ma Sanrio Granada 99. Sister Hermie
32. Joselito Maniulit 66. Juliane Del Rosario 100. Sister Inden
33. Dante Rebanal 67. Joaquin Tena
34. Arnel Cariaga 68. Oscar Mendoza

Case of Riyadh OFWs resolved, says labor attaché

RONALDO Z. CONCHA

JEDDAH - The head of the Philippine Overseas Labor Office (POLO) in Riyadh said Wednesday, January 13, that the case of more than 40 Filipino caregivers who went on hunger strike in the Saudi capital has been resolved.

Labor attaché Rustico Dela Fuente assured the workers that an agreement had been reached with the workers’ employer and that they would be able to leave as soon as their exit papers are released.

Head count

In a phone interview, Dela Fuente stated, “Nakatutok tayo sa kaso ng mga caregivers at ginagawan natin ng paraan na mapauwi sila pero siyempre kailangan din natin maisaayos ito sa tamang proseso. Responsibilidad din ito ng kanilang mga ahensya sa Pilipinas bagamat nakikita ko naman ang kanilang kooperasyon para maresolba ang problemang ito. Sa katunayan may tatlong ahensya ang dumalaw na dito>," he said.

(“We’re looking into the case of the caregivers and we’re doing everything to be able to send them home, but of course we have to do this through the right process. This is also the responsibility of their agencies in the Philippines and we see that they have been cooperating to resolve this problem. In fact, three agencies have already sent their representatives here.")

On October 12, 2009, three separate groups of OFWs deployed in Annasban decided to stop working to call attention to their company’s alleged violations of their employment contract, and they have since been locked up in "crowded and unhealthy" structures, according to migrants’ rights group Migrante. [See: "Protesting OFWs in Saudi ask RP to repatriate them"]

But figures obtained from Riyadh show only 51 Annasban workers went on strike in October last year. Four have already been repatriated, three of whom paid the expenses demanded by the employer, while the fourth one’s exit was facilitated by her agency when her husband died, according to Dela Fuente.

Dela Fuente added that another four have also reportedly vacated the living quarters provided by their company and are suspected by their colleagues to have returned to work. This brings the number of the remaining OFWs to 43.

Migrante’s records and communication with the OFWs families in the Philippines, however, show there are still 88 OFWs under the custody of Annasban.

Repatriation issues

The employer, Riyadh-based multimillion conglomerate Annasban Group, has agreed to secure exit visas once the expenses it incurred in hiring the workers are paid. The company is asking for SR4,000 (P48,760 Pesos) to SR8,000 (P92,889) for each worker to cover deployment costs.

“There will be no out-of-pocket expenses on the workers. Their agencies are cooperating with Annasban," Dela Fuentes said, though it remains unclear as to who will pay the deployment costs or if such will be paid at all.

Migrante-Middle East earlier said that Annasban should not be paid for deployment costs, since it was they who violated the employment contracts.

Then again, Dela Fuente said Annasban has been adamant about demanding a refund of its expenses in bringing the workers to the Kingdom, arguing that they have yet to complete their two-year contracts.


Steadfast strikers

Despite the POLO’s assurance, a spokesperson for the workers who identified herself only as Eppie told GMANews.TV Wednesday night that they will not stop their hunger strike until at least one of them has been repatriated.

“Kung hindi kami matulungan ng ating gobyerno, mabuti pa tuluyan na kaming mamatay dito," Eppie said.

(“If the government would not be able to help us, we might as well die here.")

One of the hunger strikers is Annie Maclang of Pampanga, who was barely one month into her job when the group decided to stop working last year to protest Annasban’s alleged abuses and unfair labor practices.

Maclang said she agreed to work for Annasban with the understanding that she would be paid 950 riyals (P11,400) a month. When she came to Riyadh, however, she was made to sign a new contract stating that she would receive only 650 riyals (P7,923), with 100 riyals to be deducted every month as payment of her placement fee with the agency that recruited her in the Philippines.

“Bukod pa diyan, sagot ko ang aking pagkain. Kaya sa katulad ko na single parent na may tatlong anak na mga nag-aaral sa high school, ano pa ang maipapadala ko sa pamilya ko sa Pilipinas?" a dismayed Maclang lamented.

(“Aside from that, I also have to spend for my food. For someone like me whi is a single parent with three children in high school, there would be nothing left in my salary for me to send to my family in the Philippines.")

Apart from reduced salaries, the workers also complained of being made to work more than 12 hours a day without overtime pay. They also were not covered by health insurance.

Second case scenario

The case of the striking Annasban workers was the second for the company for the past five months.

In September 2009, 23 of Annasban’s workers at the Baljurashi Rehabilitation Center in the southeastern province of Al-Baha went on strike, complaining that their employer reduced their salaries and refused to pay their agreed food allowance. They also complained of poor accommodation facilities.

This has prompted Migrante to call for a permanent banning of Annasban from hiring OFWs in light of the numerous complaints the group received against the company. [See: "Group seeks permanent ban of ‘notorious’ Saudi firm for detaining 88 OFWs"]

Dela Fuente said the priority of the POLO right now is to bring the distressed Annasban workers home so that they could look for better job opportunities.

Under Saudi labor law, running away from an employer or going on strike are prohibited acts. Workers who have complaints are encouraged instead to file complaints with the Labor Ministry.

Many expatriate workers, however, find themselves helpless when their employers retaliate against them for filing complaints. -FVI, GMANews.TV

Case of Riyadh OFWs resolved, says labor attaché

RONALDO Z. CONCHA

JEDDAH - The head of the Philippine Overseas Labor Office (POLO) in Riyadh said Wednesday, January 13, that the case of more than 40 Filipino caregivers who went on hunger strike in the Saudi capital has been resolved.

Labor attaché Rustico Dela Fuente assured the workers that an agreement had been reached with the workers’ employer and that they would be able to leave as soon as their exit papers are released.

Head count

In a phone interview, Dela Fuente stated, “Nakatutok tayo sa kaso ng mga caregivers at ginagawan natin ng paraan na mapauwi sila pero siyempre kailangan din natin maisaayos ito sa tamang proseso. Responsibilidad din ito ng kanilang mga ahensya sa Pilipinas bagamat nakikita ko naman ang kanilang kooperasyon para maresolba ang problemang ito. Sa katunayan may tatlong ahensya ang dumalaw na dito>," he said.

(“We’re looking into the case of the caregivers and we’re doing everything to be able to send them home, but of course we have to do this through the right process. This is also the responsibility of their agencies in the Philippines and we see that they have been cooperating to resolve this problem. In fact, three agencies have already sent their representatives here.")

On October 12, 2009, three separate groups of OFWs deployed in Annasban decided to stop working to call attention to their company’s alleged violations of their employment contract, and they have since been locked up in "crowded and unhealthy" structures, according to migrants’ rights group Migrante. [See: "Protesting OFWs in Saudi ask RP to repatriate them"]

But figures obtained from Riyadh show only 51 Annasban workers went on strike in October last year. Four have already been repatriated, three of whom paid the expenses demanded by the employer, while the fourth one’s exit was facilitated by her agency when her husband died, according to Dela Fuente.

Dela Fuente added that another four have also reportedly vacated the living quarters provided by their company and are suspected by their colleagues to have returned to work. This brings the number of the remaining OFWs to 43.

Migrante’s records and communication with the OFWs families in the Philippines, however, show there are still 88 OFWs under the custody of Annasban.

Repatriation issues

The employer, Riyadh-based multimillion conglomerate Annasban Group, has agreed to secure exit visas once the expenses it incurred in hiring the workers are paid. The company is asking for SR4,000 (P48,760 Pesos) to SR8,000 (P92,889) for each worker to cover deployment costs.

“There will be no out-of-pocket expenses on the workers. Their agencies are cooperating with Annasban," Dela Fuentes said, though it remains unclear as to who will pay the deployment costs or if such will be paid at all.

Migrante-Middle East earlier said that Annasban should not be paid for deployment costs, since it was they who violated the employment contracts.

Then again, Dela Fuente said Annasban has been adamant about demanding a refund of its expenses in bringing the workers to the Kingdom, arguing that they have yet to complete their two-year contracts.


Steadfast strikers

Despite the POLO’s assurance, a spokesperson for the workers who identified herself only as Eppie told GMANews.TV Wednesday night that they will not stop their hunger strike until at least one of them has been repatriated.

“Kung hindi kami matulungan ng ating gobyerno, mabuti pa tuluyan na kaming mamatay dito," Eppie said.

(“If the government would not be able to help us, we might as well die here.")

One of the hunger strikers is Annie Maclang of Pampanga, who was barely one month into her job when the group decided to stop working last year to protest Annasban’s alleged abuses and unfair labor practices.

Maclang said she agreed to work for Annasban with the understanding that she would be paid 950 riyals (P11,400) a month. When she came to Riyadh, however, she was made to sign a new contract stating that she would receive only 650 riyals (P7,923), with 100 riyals to be deducted every month as payment of her placement fee with the agency that recruited her in the Philippines.

“Bukod pa diyan, sagot ko ang aking pagkain. Kaya sa katulad ko na single parent na may tatlong anak na mga nag-aaral sa high school, ano pa ang maipapadala ko sa pamilya ko sa Pilipinas?" a dismayed Maclang lamented.

(“Aside from that, I also have to spend for my food. For someone like me whi is a single parent with three children in high school, there would be nothing left in my salary for me to send to my family in the Philippines.")

Apart from reduced salaries, the workers also complained of being made to work more than 12 hours a day without overtime pay. They also were not covered by health insurance.

Second case scenario

The case of the striking Annasban workers was the second for the company for the past five months.

In September 2009, 23 of Annasban’s workers at the Baljurashi Rehabilitation Center in the southeastern province of Al-Baha went on strike, complaining that their employer reduced their salaries and refused to pay their agreed food allowance. They also complained of poor accommodation facilities.

This has prompted Migrante to call for a permanent banning of Annasban from hiring OFWs in light of the numerous complaints the group received against the company. [See: "Group seeks permanent ban of ‘notorious’ Saudi firm for detaining 88 OFWs"]

Dela Fuente said the priority of the POLO right now is to bring the distressed Annasban workers home so that they could look for better job opportunities.

Under Saudi labor law, running away from an employer or going on strike are prohibited acts. Workers who have complaints are encouraged instead to file complaints with the Labor Ministry.

Many expatriate workers, however, find themselves helpless when their employers retaliate against them for filing complaints. -FVI, GMANews.TV

DFA says no ePassport processing until Jan 22

The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) will be unable to process electronic passports from January 15 to 22 due to its data migration and computer systems upgrade.

In a notice to the public, the DFA asked the public for its understanding.

"Due to data migration and systems upgrade, we would like to inform the public that there will be no ePassport processing on 15 January up to 22 January, 2010," it said.

The DFA started issuing the machine-readable e-passports in August last year, and began accepting online applications last August 26. - LBG, GMANews.TV

RP envoy backs Jason Aguilar's return to Qatar

A Philippine ambassador has offered assistance to OFW Jason Aguilar in his re-entry to Qatar, where he was incarcerated for a week last December in a case of mistaken identity. Aguilar, who was wrongfully deported, is now saddled with debts.

In a statement Saturday, January 16, the Department of Foreign Affairs said that the Philippine Embassy in Qatar has sent a note verbale, which is "an unsigned diplomatic note written in the third person, of the nature of a memorandum but sometimes considered to be more formal," to the Qatari Foreign Ministry to seek clarification on the circumstances surrounding the apprehension and deportation of Aguilar.

Philippine Ambassador to Qatar Crescente R. Relacion, said that while the embassy awaits the reply of Qatari authorities, he suggested that Aguilar should take the necessary steps to facilitate his return and reentry to his place of work in Qatar. (Read: Gov't blunder shatters dreams of OFW mistaken for a fugitive)

Relacion said Aguilar should secure a clearance from the National Bureau of Investigation or the Quezon City Police Department to document that he is not the same person as Jason Aguilar Ivler, who has a warrant of arrest and is subject of an Interpol Red Notice.

"This document will be the basis for the embassy’s request for the deletion of Aguilar’s name from the immigration blacklist of Qatari and other Gulf Cooperation Council authorities, with which it shares databases," the statement said.

It added that the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration is also extending assistance to Aguilar to get another job if he wishes.


For the latest Philippine news stories and videos, visit GMANews.TV

Aguilar was taken into custody on December 31, 2009, detained at the Search and Follow-Up Department of Qatar’s Deportation Center and then deported to the Philippines on January 7.

He was mistaken for Ivler, who is facing charges for the alleged shooting of Renato Ebarle Jr. during a traffic altercation in November 2009. Ebarle, son of Presidential Chief of Staff Undersecretary Renato Ebarle Sr., died in the said encounter. Ivler remains at large.

The Philippine Embassy noted the swift action taken by Qatari authorities in taking into custody an individual whom they believed was facing criminal charges in another jurisdiction. They stated that such kind of bilateral cooperation is useful in future cases.

According to the statement, the embassy is exploring the possibility of entering into an arrangement with Qatar, for a much judicious and swift notification of any arrest, detention, deportation and repatriation of their respective nationals.

The NBI’s Special Action Unit stated on January 14 that Philippine law enforcement authorities are strictly guarding and monitoring all possible exits from the country. They believe that Ivler is still in the country. - FRJ/FVI, GMANews.TV

DOLE, OWWA to provide aid to Dubai-based OFWs

Two government agencies have been tasked to provide assistance – and possibly even redeploy Dubai-based Filipino workers to other Middle Eastern countries – after a debt crisis erupted in the city-state.

The Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) and the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) were mandated to take charge of distributing assistance to Dubai-based workers, Press Secretary Cerge Remonde said.

Issued by President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, the order also instructed both agencies to look into the possibility of redeploying workers to other Middle Eastern countries, Remonde added.

The so-called Dubai debt crisis – which took place after a United Arab Emirates (UAE) investment company deferred debt payments for six months – may eventually cut jobs of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs).

Next to Saudi Arabia, the UAE is the Philippines’ biggest source of remittances in the Middle East.

The crisis could force Dubai-based firms to cut jobs in real estate, construction, financial services, travel, and tourism, the Trade Union Congress of the Philippines (TUCP) said in an earlier statement.

In turn, job losses may cut remittances by as much as $300 million, TUCP secretary general Ernesto Herrera said.

About 200,000 OFWs are employed in Dubai, comprising a bulk of the half a million who work in the entire UAE.

But at the same time, the Press Secretary allayed concerns about job losses, citing employment commitments secured by the President during her visits to the UAE and other Middle Eastern countries.

“The government remains confident of being able to redeploy skilled workers," Remonde said. “Those who may be unable to secure jobs will nevertheless get benefits from OWWA."

These benefits will help them secure retraining or start small businesses in the country, he added.

In the meantime, OFWs may be transferred to the UAE’s other six emirates or in countries like Qatar, Bahrain, and Saudi Arabia, DOLE Secretary Marianito Roque said. - with RJAB Jr., GMANews.TV

Remittances of Filipinos abroad up 11.3% in Nov

Millions of Filipinos abroad sent home $1.46 billion in November, up 11.3 percent from a year earlier, boosted by extra transfers of funds to help families affected by typhoons.

The November figure brings total remittances for the first 11 months of 2009 to $15.8 billion, 5.1 percent higher than a year earlier, the central bank said Friday.

It said remittances rose because of extra funds sent to families back home affected by a series of typhoons in September and October and fewer Filipino workers losing jobs abroad as the global economic crisis eased.

Central bank Governor Amando Tetangco earlier forecast remittances to rise 4 percent in 2009 to a record $17.1 billion.

The money sent home by 10 million overseas workers — or nearly 10 percent of the population of 90 million — fuels domestic spending, which is the backbone of the Philippine economy.

Remittances account for about 10 percent of the country's gross domestic product. - AP

Household members of RP diplomats in Belgium allowed to work

Household members of Filipino diplomatic and consular personnel in Belgium will now be allowed to work in their host country, after a pact between the Philippines and Belgium was signed.

The pact, signed last December 23, also allows household members of Belgian diplomatic and consular personnel to find work in the Philippines.

The agreement allows spouses, unmarried dependent children up to 18 years old, and other household members of the diplomatic and consular personnel posted in the Philippines and Belgium, to be employed in their host countries on a reciprocal basis.

They can also work in an international organization with a seat in the receiving State.

"I am very happy to be able to conclude this agreement," Philippine Ambassador to Belgium Cristina Ortega said in an article on the Department of Foreign Affairs website. “This is good news to our colleagues in the Foreign Service, who are posted in Belgium. Subject to the provisions of this Agreement, their spouses, dependent children and household members can now work here."

Ortega signed the agreement on behalf of the Philippine Government while Belgian Foreign Affairs Secretary General Dirk Achten signed for
Belgium.

The signing ceremony served as a culmination to her term as an Ambassador in Brussels, she said.

"I am very grateful to all the officials of the Belgian Ministry of Foreign Affairs for the cordial relations and all the support that they have extended to me," she said. - RJAB Jr./ GMANews.TV

14 pass first Midwife Licensure Exams in HK

Fourteen out of the 28 examinees of the the first Midwives Licensure Examinations in Hong Kong passed the exams conducted by the Board of Midwifery of the Professional Regulation Commission (PRC) in Hong Kong on December 12-13, 2009.

Based on an announcement posted on the website of the Department of Foreign Affairs, the new midwives are the following:

1. Dacumos, Ryda Acosta
2. Espiritu, Fe Landicho
3. Polido, Marivic Febreo
4. Ramos, Cherry Cepeda
5. Ronquillo, Aziel Anne Fabella
6. Rosas, Alilie Gonzales
7. Segundo, Zenaida Encarnacion
8. Subia, Mae Belle Edu
9. Tabucol, Cherry Cruz
10. Talco, Jovelyn Ladip
11. Toledo, Nezil Dante
12. Untalasco, Glenda Escobar
13. Vallejo, Dona Bumal-o

Ms. Jonalyn Amparo Zubiaga also passed the exams, but her registration in the roster of new midwives will be deferred, pending the submission of some requirements.

The members of the Board of Midwifery who gave the licensure examination were Dr. Alejandro R. San Pedro (chairman); Dr. Remy B. Dequiña, Dr. Josephine H. Hipolito, Ms. Lolita I. Dicang and Ms. Rhodora L. Lopez (members). - JMA/JV, GMANews.TV

Gov’t awardee says few options for OFW families in Maguindanao

by JEREMAIAH M. OPINIANO
OFW Journalism Consortium


Maguindanao province
Temporary contract workers 3,993 (year 2007)
• Land-based workers 3,693 (year 2007)
• Sea-based workers 300 (year 2007)
Permanent residents 164 (from 1988 to 2007)
Filipino spouses and other partners of foreign nationals 42 (from 1989 to 2007)
Households with migrant dependents 6,181 (year 2000)
Estimated remittances PhP1,200,730,545 (year 2006)
Source: Government data found in http://almanac.ofwphilanthropy.org



PASAY CITY, Metro Manila—MAGUINDANAO province, the site of a mass killing last month, is one of the safest places in the country.
That is according to Abdilah Malasigan, whose family was recently hailed as the Model Overseas Filipino Workers Family (MOFYA) this year for the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao.
We will say that again and again, said Malasigan, who has been a seafarer for 21 years.
“You don’t have any other choice,” Malasigan said on the sidelines of this year’s MOFYA national awards by the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA).
“You were born there [in your hometown], and you grew up there.”
Apparently, for some of the 57 killed November 23 in fourth-class town Ampatuan, some 15 kilometers northwest of Malasigan’s hometown of Datu Odin Sinsuat, they would also die there.
“Our parents and siblings also live in Datu Odin Sinsuat. Our parents are too old to go to another place,” Abdilah said.
The Malasigan family currently owns a 12-hectare rice field in the second-class municipality of Datu Odin Sinsuat. They also own a 5-ha. fish pond, a 2.5-ha. coconut farm, a 2-ha. rice field, and a 4.5-ha. corn field in neighboring Kabuntalan municipality where Abdilah’s wife Sahada hails from.
Datu Odin Sinsuat is near the provincial capitol of Cotabato City, also Maguindanao’s commercial center.
Malasigan told the OFW Journalism Consortium that the municipalities in the southern part such as Ampatuan, Datu Saudi-Ampatuan, Datu Unsay, and Shariff Aguak are the places marked by violence.
The entire province of Maguindanao was placed under military rule for eight days after the killings that is being allegedly masterminded by the Ampatuan municipality political leaders Andal Ampatuan Jr. and father Andal Sr.
The younger Ampatuan recently pleaded innocent to the criminal charges filed against him.

Business
MALASIGAN said it’s been business as usual for his family’s agriculture-related businesses in Datu Odin Sinsuat and Kabuntalan towns.
This is also his indicator of normal activity in his place, even if isolated and occasional bombing incidents also strike at the capitol in Cotabato City.
The tension that grips the province has not spilled over to small businesses in the northern part of the province, claims the third engineer seafarer of Altamar Shipping International Co.
Though he observed that some residents from the four municipalities flocked to the northern side of Maguindanao, including Datu Odin Sinsuat, during the eight days of Martial Law.
No problems happened thus far, but Malasigan said he and his family won’t mind leaving behind their small businesses and properties if the conflicts from the southern part go northward.
“Then we will have a hard time,” Malasigan says.
Local residents’ perceptions of safety are overshadowed by the killings, and the socio-economic and safety conditions of the entire province, he added.
Maguindanao, some 950 kms. southeast of Manila, is the Philippines’ third lowest-ranked province in terms of human development, according to the 2008/2009 Philippine Human Development Report or PHDR.
With a real per capita income of P15,681 as of 2006, this province of 710,829 residents has a human development index rating (2006) of 0.535, that being comparable already to African countries Mauritania (0.557) and Swaziland (0.542).
The province has gained a reputation for being the most strife-torn. From 1986 to 2004, says the 2005 edition of the PHDR, Maguindanao is the province with the highest number of encounters involving the members of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF).
The 2005 PHDR adds areas like Maguindanao that are hit by conflict will miss out potential revenues and foregone investments, the latter being both a local cost as well as a spill-over cost.
Areas facing conflict situations “are bound to have a fall-out in terms of lower investment, lower output growth, and higher employment than otherwise, in the same way that ordinary taxes raise the cost of doing business,” writes the 2005 PHDR. [351 words]

Claims
THE Malasigans are among the few OFW entrepreneurs of Maguindanao, which is home to families of nearly-4,000 land- and sea-based overseas workers, 164 overseas permanent settlers, and over-6,000 migrant households.
OFWs like Malasigan have brought home remittances that were more than the provincial government’s income in 2003: P647.294 million in remittances, versus the provincial government’s total income of P498.145 million.
The 2006 Family Income and Expenditures Survey (FIES) of the National Statistics Office estimated that Maguindanao’s OFW families have received P1.2 billion in remittances.
Malasigan claims doing business in his hometown is “logical” citing that his rice fields employ local residents and some relatives.
The 53-year-old Abdilah says at least 80 percent of what he earns as a seafarer goes to wife Sahada.
He says while he’s away, Sahada takes full responsible for the children, as well as providing revolving capital to the farm and fishing businesses.
The couple left for Manila to attend the MOFYA awards Nov. 22, a day before the massacre in Ampatuan town, and returned two days after.
When the couple received the citation as a regional finalist at the posh MOFYA ceremonies in Sofitel Philippine Plaza Hotel, Sahada said she felt uneasiness from the crowd when “Maguindanao” was mentioned.
Later, Abdilah brushed aside her feelings.
“Our place is safe. Period.” OFW Journalism Consortium

Pinoys abroad tapped to wake up sleepy town of Bohol

by JEREMAIAH M. OPINIANO

MARIBOJOC, Bohol–THE explorer Pigafetta would have chosen this town over Mactan had it already sported a Hollywood-like sign on its mountain ranges.
But had this town did, it may have attracted not only Pigafetta –desperate to escape after his and Ferdinand Magellan’s fleet was pummeled in the Battle of Mactan– but also other explorers who may know only Bohol because of its famed chocolate hills.
That is ultimately what this project hopes to accomplish, according to mayor Leoncio Evasco: to lure back its former residents, or at least their resources, from abroad.
Evasco said he has secured commitment from the Maribojoc Association USA to construct a Maribojoc billboard —similar to what Hollywood in Los Angeles, USA, has— on the side of the mountain range that faces the Maribojoc Bay.
Evasco is the man behind such project that, he said, aims to raise tourism receipts and attract investors in his town, a five-minute ride northwest of Bohol’s capital city of Tagbilaran.
Evasco said he’s starting with Maribojocanons overseas as a target market.
“We want to raise awareness to the returning Maribojocanons about the town that they left, of what it has become today, and of the values and people that were lost here.”
Evasco spoke to the OFW Journalism Consortium last month to promote the project, which will be announced during the annual town fiesta on May 5.
The fiesta is the highlight of a town-wide reunion from April 10 to July 31 called Balik Maribojoc.
Aside from announcing the construction of the Hollywood-like sign, the reunion aims to showcase some of Maribojoc’s tourist spots.
One of this is Punta Cruz, Bohol’s remaining watch tower, which deterred Spanish pirates during the 19th century.
Punta Cruz is also symbolic for overseas Filipinos and their families in Maribojoc since it is here where the germ for the town’s version of diaspora philanthropy was seeded.

Crossing
PUNTA Cruz is a historic site for the informal, town-wide group of families of overseas Filipinos who meet in this triangular, sturdy structure almost every month.
The last gathering in October of over-300 families affirmed Evasco’s belief in the possibility of tapping OFWs as source of social investment.
People just kept coming and the seats were not enough. Municipal government employee James Mabilin, then manning the entrance of the watch tower compound, couldn’t stop the influx.
The organizers said they expected representatives of only 200 migrant families.
Seafarers waiting for their next contract bankrolled lechon (roasted pig). College-schooled children of overseas Maribojocanons hosted parlor games around the grassy complex.











Amazed at the turnout, Evasco said he donated P5,000 for additional cash prizes for the parlor games.
“We never had this kind of a crowd, coming from OFWs [and their families] in our town,” Evasco said.
Still, those who joined the gathering represented only half of the total 742 overseas workers and emigrants from this town of 18,133 people.
The figure is based on Mabilin’s census of families with dependents and relatives abroad in Maribojoc’s 22 upland, lowland, and coastal villages.
While only half were represented in that gathering last year, it failed to dampen the spirit of Virginia Alindajao, 48, wife of an electrician in Saudi Arabia since 1993.
“I never realized that we OFWs and OFW families,” she said in Tagalog, “are just around waiting to get ourselves together.”
Alindajao is also one of the organizers of Punta Cruz Environmental Organization.
When the buzzword of forming an OFW group swept Maribojoc, she signed up.
Alindajao’s euphoria was shared by Laura Manuta, mayor Evasco’s sister and a former nurse in Germany and in Saudi Arabia.
Manuta is also a volunteer nurse for the Holy Cross Parish’s medical clinic since retiring in 1997.
She’s also president of the land-based OFW family circle group called the Maribojoc Land-based Migrant Workers and Beneficiaries Association.
On the other hand, the Maribojoc Seafarers and Beneficiaries Association has the town’s agricultural officer, seaman’s wife Eva Bolasco, as its head.

Stronghold
THE stronghold of Maribojoc’s OFW population, Mabilin told the OFW Journalism Consortium, is not the remittances plowing into the town, estimated to be between P52 to 84 million annually.
It is the OFW townmates’ alayon (bayanihan in Tagalog, or community spirit), Mabilin said.
Last December, the groups recommended foregoing a town-wide Christmas party to donate school supplies and slippers to children in the town’s poorest village of Candavid.
Filipino migration-and-development analysts have remarked the potential of luring the resources and bayanihan spirit of overseas Filipinos and their families right in the migrants’ rural hometowns.
Evasco and the OFW family circles that his office, the Municipal Manpower Development and Placement Office, facilitated to organize are seeking to make that spirit transform the town into an economic paradise.
Currently a fourth-class municipality whose income in 2008 was P61.358 million, this sleepy town lacked jobs, forcing some middle-class residents go to the provincial capital of Tagbilaran City, the cities of Cagayan de Oro, Cebu, Davao (like Evasco himself) and Manila, and overseas.
Overseas Maribojocanons’ remittances that pass by the town’s only two pawnshops, as well as banks and money transfer outfits in Tagbilaran City (some 14 kilometers from Maribojoc), are the single biggest economic drivers of Maribojoc, says Evasco.
The lack of vibrant economic activities apart from retail trade, fishing, and farming made Maribojoc a fifth-class municipality previously.
“Nothing wrong if you go elsewhere,” two-year mayor Evasco recalled telling some Maribojocanons during casual conversations, “but come back home and bring with you the ideas and experience you learned elsewhere.”
Maybe after the Hollywood-like sign facing the sea, some would mimic Pigafetta’s journey but not accidentally landing in this town whose name was taken from a pine tree named “Malabojoc”.
OFW Journalism Consortium

Overseas Pinoy helps sustain Cebu-Dutch city sisterhood

by JEREMAIAH M. OPINIANO
OFW Journalism Consortium

CEBU CITY–MIGRANT Filipinos continue to burn the passion of city sisterhood through a fire truck, which is expected to arrive here after a 15,000-kilometer journey.
For 47 days in mid-June 2010, a fire truck route from the northern Dutch municipality of Haarlemmermeer (pronounced “jar-le-mer-mir”) celebrates a goodwill gesture brokered by migrant Filipinos since 1990.
Donations to be raised for the fire truck’s journey will go to the projects of the sister-city organization Vereniging Haarlemmermeer-Cebu (VHC), according to Filipina-Dutch Ruby Langeveld-Cumba.
The sister city ties, says VHC board member Langeveld-Cumba, lead to the provision of development aid worth over €1.5 million in two decades, from a Dutch municipality with 0.14 million residents to an urbanized Philippine City with nearly 0.8 million people.
Reaching Cebu, the keys of the fire truck will be given to the Emergency Rescue Unit Foundation (ERUF), the first beneficiary of the sister-city ties when then Haarlemmermeer mayor Aad Van Hulst and Cebu City counterpart Tomas Osmeña began exploring sister-city ties on October 15, 1990.
The gist of that 19-year support to ERUF is further improving the emergency rescue operations of the nonprofit group with training support from Haarlemmermeer’s fire department.
“This (journey of the fire truck) will be a tremendous adventure,” said Haarlemmermeer current mayor Theo Weterings during his visit here in the second week of December.
Called “Beyond Marco Polo,” the journey of the 1994 red “DAF” fire truck from Haarlemmmermeer to this city will span 17 cities in nine countries.
A briefing material said it refers to the 24-year journey of 13th-century merchant Marco Polo, his father Niccolo and uncle Maffeo in Asia. Marc Polo’s route was from Bolgar in Bulgaria to the former Dadu, or what is now known as Beijing, China.
A project coordinator, ambulance, nurse, firefighter, and a communications person will be part of the Haarlemmermeer team driving the 5,385-kg. fire truck, according to Langeveld-Cumba.
“Hopefully, next year’s fire truck of ERUF, driving all the way from Haarlemmermeer, will not conk out,” Langeveld-Cumba said noting that a fire truck and two ambulances donated previously are rusting away in the ERUF’s compound in Banilad municipality here.
Haarlemmermeer had already donated three fire trucks and eight ambulances to Cebu City.

Witness
LANGEVELD-CUMBA has been the sister-city relationship’s quiet Filipina lobbyist and liaison since 1990.
A native of Cebu City, she arrived in the Netherlands in 1974 as an operating room nurse.
In the late 1980s, Langeveld-Cumba said she hosted the stay of a member of a dance troupe from her hometown who visited Haarlemmermeer for the annual Volkerendag, the city’s annual cultural celebration.
She got into the loop of the ties brokered by Van Hulst and Osmeña that resulted to a signing of a letter of intent for the sister-city relationship.
The sister-city agreement was formally signed December 2, 1992.
The agreement was sealed when Haarlemmermeer named one of its brug or bridge, some five kilometers away from where Langeveld-Cumba lives, after Cebu City.
Here in Cebu City, in the district of Guadalupe, a bridge is named Haarlemmermeer.
Since the signing of the deal, the Haarlemmermeer government has allotted €0.50 cents per resident of Haarlemmermeer (then it was fl0.50—half of the old Dutch currency, the guilder) to projects of VHC for Cebu.
Counterparts coming from Dutch local government leagues, companies and development organizations such as Oxfam Novib and the Nationale Commissie voor Internationale Samenwerking en Duurzame Ontwikkeling (National Commission for International Cooperation and Sustainable Development or NCDO) have helped finance projects under the sister-city arrangement.
Projects include rescue capability building through ERUF, computer donations, a charity hospital, a village water systems project, schools for kindergartens, internships in agriculture, and a youth cultural exchange program involving Dutch and Cebuano volunteers.
Langeveld-Cumba also coursed some of the development aid from Haarlemmermeer to Cebu City-based groups such as the ERUF and the Ramon Aboitiz Foundation Inc. (RAFI).
The group formed by the Aboitiz clan has been said to have helped in VHC’s weeks-long exchange programs, the Dutch-Pinoy Xplore Program (for the Cebuanos going to Haarlemmermeer) and MyCebu (for Dutch volunteers going to Cebu City), that expose volunteers to socio-economic and politics-related activities in the two cities. (319 words)

Decades
HAARLEMMERMEER is more known for Schipol International, the world’s biggest airport.
Langeveld-Cumba said while Haarlemmermeer also has sister-city ties with the Hungarian city of Hódmezovásárhely (found in the south-eastern part of Hungary), the relationship is more to foster cultural exchange.
While Cebu City also has international sister city ties with the US cities of Seattle, Salinas and Chula Vista, Xiamen in China, Kaoshiung in Taiwan, Beersheba in Israel, Parramatta in Australia, St. Petersburg in Russia, and Bandung in Indonesia, Langeveld-Cumba said the one with Haarlemmermeer “is aligned with Cebu’s social development needs”.
Philippine cities and municipalities in various parts of the country have forged sister-city and town-twinning ties with counterparts in North America, Asia, Middle East, Oceania, and Europe.
But some Filipinos found in more than 200 countries have helped lobby for sister-city ties between Philippine hometowns and the migrants’ new overseas settlement communities. An example of a town twinning relationship that Filipinos abroad initiated was the Canadian city of Vaughan and Baguio City (northern Philippines) —with the Filipino-Canadian Association of Vaughan (FCAV) lobbied to Vaughan officials.
Sister city relationships like that of Haarlemmermeer and Cebu City are outlets for Filipinos and Filipino organizations to channel donations to urban and rural hometowns in the Philippines (with the help of communities in foreign lands).
However, Langeveld-Cumba laments that of VHC’s more than 150 members and volunteers, most are Dutch and the few Filipino members are neither from Cebu province nor active with VHC activities.
Regardless of the minimal Filipino participation from the Netherlands, the fire truck and ambulance donations have not stopped.
Haarlemmermeer mayor Weterings said in his speech before the Cebu City council during his visit here December 8-12 that these donations celebrate two decades “of support to the fire fighters and ambulance nurses from one of the least developed cities in the world.”
Hopefully, the fire trucks and ambulances won’t douse the ember of ties between the two cities but further make it healthy, Weterings said.
OFW Journalism Consortium

Anywhere but Qatar, survey of expats shows

by JEREMAIAH M. OPINIANO
OFW Journalism Consortium


MANILA—CANADA or bust, majority of expatriates surveyed in 26 countries revealed.
An international bank’s survey of 26 countries showed that Canada is the best place for expatriates to settle in.
While the Philippines hosts expats of multinational companies, it was excluded in the survey. Still, except for Vietnam and Mexico, all the countries included were destinations for migrant Filipino workers.
Also, the countries surveyed by HSBC Bank International (see Table 1) have been the source of some US$14.512 billion in overseas Filipino remittances in 2008, according to data from the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas.
The “Expat Experience” segment of the second Expat Explorer Survey, commissioned by HSBC Bank International, showed that Canada is the best place for expats to go in terms of accommodation.
Canada was also their second-best choice in terms of setting up utilities, making friends who are nationals of the host country, family life, and doing hobbies.
Canada is a destination country of an estimated 462,935 Filipinos, including an overwhelming 410,626 Filipinos who are now permanent residents there, according to 2007 stock estimates from the Commission on Filipinos Overseas.
Australia follows as second-best, with Thailand, Singapore, Bahrain, South Africa, France, the United States of America, Spain, and Hong Kong Special Administrative Region in the top ten.
The survey said it looked at 23 social and economic criteria showing where there is the best quality of life for expatriates.
HSBC defines an “expat” or “expatriate” as somebody “over the age of 18 years old and currently living away from their country of origin”.
Colloquially, Filipinos refer to expats as those who are overseas as professionals and as highly-skilled workers.
The bank said its Expat Explorer’s Survey had 3,100 expats as respondents when it was administered from February to April 2009. It added that the survey had a sample size of 30 or more respondents from each of the 26 countries surveyed. The survey, however, did not indicate the nationalities of expat respondents, as well as their occupations in the host country and their immigration status.
The surprise package of the 26 countries surveyed was the small island country of Bahrain, a nation with an over-727,000 population and with an estimated number of 44,703 Filipinos (including 40,818 temporary migrants or overseas workers).
Bahrain ranked first in four of the 23 criteria of the survey: organizing one’s healthcare, joining local community groups, working hours, and social life.
The US, where there are an estimated 2.8 million Filipinos of which nearly 90 percent are permanent residents (2.5 million), had an overall rank of eight. While it topped three criteria –learning the local language, clothing, and household goods, the US had its worst rankings in criteria such as “social life” (22nd) and “organizing one’s healthcare” (24th).
Australia, second over-all, was chosen by many expats surveyed as the best place for “organizing finances.”
Another Asia-Pacific country, Thailand, topped two indicators: “finding somewhere to live” and “making friends”.
Some 250,347 Filipinos are recorded to work and live in Australia while Thailand hosts an estimated 20,780 Filipinos, with nearly half of that number or 14,121, are working on a temporary contract.
Meanwhile, the survey’s “Expat Economics” segment showed that the Russian Federation, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Hong Kong SAR, and the United Arab Emirates are the top-ranked countries.
These countries host nearly two million Filipinos, majority of who are temporary migrants or overseas workers.
This segment studied four factors surrounding the economic conditions of expats: annual income in excess of US$0.2 million; a monthly disposable income in excess of US$3,000; an increase in savings while living/working abroad; and, having at least two luxury items in the country they live in.
Saudi Arabia ranked first for the criterion “increased savings,” while Bahrain topped the criteria “luxuries.” Japan ranked first in terms of “income,” while Qatar topped the criterion “disposable income”.
The Expat Economics survey segment also showed that 68 percent of expats are saving and investing more since they moved away from their home country. For expats with annual incomes below US$60,000 and US$0.2 million or more, most of them save and invest in banks.
Some 63 percent of the respondents said the credit crunch as a result of the global economic crisis had changed their attitude to spending. Nearly 70 percent of respondents said they have been trying to save on a day-to-day basis, while some 60 percent of respondents have cut down on luxuries.
If a 2005 survey by the Asian Development Bank on overseas Filipinos’ remittances is to be believed, Filipinos abroad remit home an average of US$340 monthly to families back home.

OFW Journalism Consortium
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