Thursday, February 25, 2010

High overseas Filipino voter turnout seen this year

by Maria Aleta Nieva Nishimori, abs-cbnNEWS.com | 02/24/2010 8:41 PM

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3-day training for foreign service corps starts

MANILA, Philippines – A high voter turnout among the 600,000 Filipino registered voters overseas is expected in the May 10 elections.

Comelec-Committee on Overseas Absentee Voting (Comelec-COAV) Commissioner Armando Velasco said Filipinos abroad “have interest in the political affairs in our country.”

“They, too, have the right to choose their leaders,” Velasco said, adding the need for overseas absentee votes to be “counted, protected, and respected”.

Based on the latest records, the total number of Filipino overseas absentee voters for the 2010 elections is at 589,830. Of the total, 568,733 are land-based OFWs while 21,097 are sea-based.

The Middle East and Africas have the most number of registered voters with 225,148, followed by Asia Pacific at 215,546, North and South America with 66,745 and Europe at 61,294.

“We are all one in wishing that the voter turnout for this election be better than what we expect,” Velasco said.

In 2004 elections, the voter turnout was 64%. However, in the 2007 mid-term elections, the voter turnout was only 16%.

“It may not be 100% turnout this time, but I believe we have the 100% people to conduct the elections honestly and orderly. We believe that we cannot get that 100%, but it will be really our effort to have a 100% to do our task,” he said.

Ambassador Nestor Padalhin, Vice Chair of the Overseas Absentee Voting Secretariat (OAVS), believes that this year’s turnout would surpass the participation in the 2007 elections.

“Ang dapat na point of comparison yung 2004. Hindi na siguro lalayo doon sa dati sa 64%. Baka over 50% o pwedeng lumampas. Mahirap ma-predict. Pero definitely, not 16%. I can personally assure,” he said.

Padalhin said that if all registered voters cast their votes, “it could spell a big difference either as a deciding vote or a swing vote” for a candidate.

One month to cast votes

Overseas absentee voters have a month to cast their votes starting April 10 to May 10, 2010.

“Voting will start on April 10, one month to give a chance to all our OFWs to really come and cast their votes,” he said.

“Despite everything that we are doing, promoting it, campaigning…the bottom line is still the voter. Kahit natanggap na niya yung balota, kung ayaw niya for his own reasons, hindi ifi-fill up yun. We are doing everything to campaign for it,” he said.

3-day training starts in Manila

More than 100 representatives from the Philippines' foreign service corps are now undergoing 3-day training in Manila, in preparation for the start of Overseas Absentee Voting (OAV).

Padalhin said participants in the “Training on the Conduct of Overseas Absentee Voting, Counting and Canvassing For Purposes of the 2010 Elections” at a hotel in Pasay City were all excited.

“Excited na excited sila to participate in the training kasi matagal na silang nag-prepare to be here,” Padalhin said.

Both the OAVS and Comelec-COAV are coordinating closely the conduct of the OAV.

Padalhin said the training is the first and biggest of its kind. Participants in the training will form the Electoral Boards in the Foreign Service Posts they represent. The boards are the Special Ballot Reception and Custody Group (SBRCG), the Special Board of Election Inspectors (SBEI) and the Special Board of Canvassers (SBOC).

A maximum of 3 people will be deployed in each of the 3 electoral boards to serve as alternates in case of emergency. “Naka-deputize na sila,” he said.

According to Padalhin, representatives from the Comelec and the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA)-OAVS will also travel to Los Angeles, California and Madrid in Spain to conduct trainings on Postal Voting for Electoral Boards of Posts in the Americas and Europe on March 11-13, 2010.

Mode of voting

Trainings on Personal Voting will be held from March 18-20, 2010 in Abu Dhabi and Riyadh for the Electoral Boards of Posts in the Middle East and Africa and in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

Both government agencies expect over 200 Foreign Service personnel to attend the trainings in the 4 countries.

Padalhin explained that personal voting is similar to how one votes in the Philippines. “A-appear ka sa prisinto, bibigyan ka ng balota, fill-up mo, ikaw mismo maglagay,” he said.

As to postal voting, ballots are mailed from Manila to registered Filipino voters abroad.

“Mine-mail yun ballots from Manila. Mayroon tayong mailing center sa Post Office, doon lahat nagmumula yung mga ballots under the close watch of the representatives of political parties and it's open to the public. Ipapadala ng Comelec yung balota direct to the voter and the voter will have to fill up and return to the embassy,” he added.

Earlier this month, the DFA, Comelec and the Philippine Postal Corporation (PHILPOST) signed a memorandum of agreement on the implementation of the overseas postal voting in the 2010 elections.

“Nakapagpadala na. Tapos mayroon din mga posts, because of the peculiar circumstances sa kanilang mga jurisdiction, postal voting pero dumaan sa embassy. Dadaan muna ang ballots through our pouch, mayroon kaming diplomatic pouch na protected siya, tapos pagdating doon sa embassy, ang embassy ngayon ang magme-mail,” he explained.

On the other hand, poll automation will only be conducted in Hong Kong and Singapore because of the large concentration of Filipinos who registered. There are 31,851 registered voters in Singapore, while Hong Kong has a total of 93, 355 registered voters.

A separate training will be held a week before the start of the voting. He said consultations between the 2 posts are now ongoing.

No report of Pinoy victim in Portugal floods

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MANILA, Philippines – No Filipino was reportedly affected by the flashfloods and mudslides that recently hit Madeira Island in Portugal, the Department of Foreign Affairs said Wednesday.

In her report to the DFA, Philippine Ambassador to Lisbon Teresa Barsana said there is no record of Filipinos residing in the Madeira area. Philippine Honorary Consul Manuel Pinhiero was also not aware of any Filipino who sought assistance due to the calamity last February 20.

"Nevertheless, if there are Filipinos who are in need of assistance, the Embassy is ready to help them," she said.

Floods claimed the lives of 42 people in Madeira Island while 8 villages remain out of reach as of February 21.

Portuguese authorities began rushing aid to the tourist island off the African coast Saturday night, dispatching a Navy frigate and preparing a Hercules C-130 transport plane loaded with rescue teams, divers, and equipment to clear blocked roads, replace destroyed bridges, and repair downed power and telephone lines.

The Portuguese Prime Minister José Sócrates flew to Madeira late Saturday to meet with regional government officials, pledging Lisbon's full support.

First Filipino solar energy firm hiring

by Henni


SAN FRANCISCO, California - A new company is looking to green energy as the future of the American economy.

Solar Tech Solutions Group is the first Filipino-owned company in the US to sell and install solar panels.

Owner Thai Poblete partnered with Sunflower, one of the biggest solar panel manufacturers in the world. Poblete says going into the green movement is crucial, especially during the recession.

“This is one of the industries that actually help the infrastructure of the America and open doors on environmental and economical issues in the country,” Poblete said.

The US government launched the Green Jobs Initiative in 2007 and funded up to US$125 million to provide job training programs all over the country.

The green industry provides jobs that protect the environment, such as energy efficient buildings and construction, renewable electric power, energy-efficient vehicles, and biofuels development.

The Obama administration gives billions of dollars in tax breaks to the wind and solar industries to create jobs in the US.

As a result, Poblete has increased the hiring of green job workers, the majority of whom are Filipinos.

“Aside from the fact that it’s environmentally-friendly, it’s been something that I want to do. I want to learn what the industry has to offer,” said Mecona Foston, one of Poblete’s hires.

A solar panel installer can earn about US$15 an hour.

“You can’t be afraid of heights, you can’t be afraid of working on roofs, but aside from that it’s actually quite fun,” said Russell Murphy, Installation Manager for Solar Tech Solutions Group.

The company’s green job workers say it’s fulfilling to be in the solar industry because it helps communities survive the recession. While they know their job entails a big responsibility, they also know they have done the world a whole lot of good. Balitang America

No automated polls for OFWs in Europe

ITALY- The Philippine embassy in Rome is now busy informing overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) based in Italy that the country is not included in the poll automation system for the coming presidential elections.

Aside from Italy, Filipino voters living in countries in Europe won’t be able to get a taste of the poll automation system, said Minister and Consul General Danilo Ibayan.

The embassy in Rome picked the postal voting system for its overseas absentee voters.

"Ang gagawin ninyo isusulat po ninyo ang mga kandidato na gusto ninyong iboto sa inyong balota at kung tapos na kayo na ay ipapadala ninyo dito sa embahada," said Ibayan.

Singapore and Hong Kong are the only 2 countries approved by the Comelec to use the automated election system.

Ibayan reminded, voters especially those in South Italy, to supply the Comelec with their complete and permanent address.

"Paalala sa mga kababayan natin na importante na ang inyong address na ibibigay sa Comelec na pang matagalan na address, permanenteng address dito sa Italy. Dahil kasi kung wala kayo, doon pupunta ang inyong balota na ipapadala ng Comelec kaya di ninyo matatanggap at possible kayo di makaboto," Ibayan added.

In Milan, registered Filipino voters must vote personally at the Philippine consulate.

Overseas absentee voting will run for one month starting April 10 to May 10, 2010.

44 Pinoy seafarers repatriated from Miami to arrive Thursday

Forty-four Filipino seafarers from a beleaguered casino ship temporarily docked in a United States port have been repatriated and will arrive in Manila on the morning of Thursday.

According to a release posted on the website of the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA), the 44 will arrive via Philippine Airlines flight PR 103, five months after MV Palm Beach Princess declared bankruptcy and was kept docked in Miami, Florida.

Reports said the shipowner had fallen behind payment of salaries and had refused to obtain plane tickets for its foreign crew members. In September last year, the company claimed bankruptcy and threatened to divert its crew to Haiti where the ship would be furloughed.

OWWA Administrator Carmelita S. Dimzon said the 44 sought the assistance of the Philippine government after the ship’s crew went on strike in December 2009 over deteriorating working conditions and salary issues.

The shipowner denied the allegations, according to the agency.

“The Philippine government responded to the workers’ request to help in negotiations because they will be left on their own once they get to Haiti. They faced uncertainty in Haiti because the shipowner was already delinquent with payment of salaries and declined to provide plane tickets home," Dimzon said in the online release.

Negotiations in Miami with the shipowner resulted in a commitment that the unpaid salaries will be settled and that the company will also pay OWWA for advancing the fares, Dimzon added.

The 44 repatriated seafarers were part of the original batch of 65 Filipinos affected by the ship’s bankruptcy. The shipowner had issued fares and settled back wages for 21, leaving the 44 stranded in Miami.

The Philippine Overseas Employment Administration has already suspended the local manning agency that recruited the crew for reneging on its responsibility and refusing to repatriate the seafarers.

Dimzon also said government negotiated with US immigration authorities to extend the expiry of the seafarers’ visas in time for their departure, and to allow the seafarers to leave from Miami to Manila via Los Angeles.—Jerrie M. Abella/JV, GMANews.TV

DFA warns vs job offers for domestics in China, Mongolia

Philippine officials in China and Mongolia warned prospective job-seekers Wednesday not to fall for job offers as domestic helpers in the two countries, saying such a job is unlawful there.

In a report to the Department of Foreign Affairs, Philippine Ambassador to China Francisco Benedicto added that Chinese and Mongolian authorities are stepping up their crackdown on illegal workers.

“Filipinos who are promised jobs as domestic helpers in China and Mongolia are always in danger of being arrested because foreign nationals are not allowed to work as domestic helpers in China and Mongolia," Benedicto said in his report, excerpts of which were posted on the DFA website.

He said foreigners in China who overstay or who do not have proper visas face hefty fines of up to 5,000 yuan (P33,000), detention and deportation.

In Mongolia, foreigners who overstay are fined up to US$30 (P1,384) per day.

Benedicto said officials from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Public Security Bureau have informed the Philippine Embassy that domestic service employment in China is closed to foreigners.

Also, he pointed out that China and Mongolia have particularly intensified their border control and immigration efforts.

Benedicto issued the warning in the wake of illegal recruiters victimizing job-seekers.

This has resulted in the increasing number of foreigners going to and staying in China and Mongolia with inappropriate visa or working permit, he said.

“Because they don’t have proper visa or work permit, foreign job seekers, including our kababayans, who have been victimized by unscrupulous recruiters tend to overstay, hoping to find jobs in China and Mongolia," he said.

The Embassy suggests that prospective overseas Filipino workers take steps to avoid exploitation, such as demanding receipts from recruiters, timely turnover of passports with appropriate work visas, draft employment contracts, and contact details of employers, Benedicto added. —Jerrie M. Abella/JV, GMANews.TV

DFA, Comelec get set for April 10 start of absentee voting

The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) and the Commission on Elections (Comelec) have started finalizing preparations for some 589,830 overseas Filipino workers to cast their votes in this year's automated elections, as absentee voting starts April 10.

In line with this, personnel from the DFA Overseas Absentee Voting Secretariat (OAVS) and the Comelec Committee on Overseas Absentee Voting will hold a training at Heritage Hotel in Pasay City from Feb. 24 to 26, according to a release posted on the DFA Website.

DFA-OAVS Chairman and DFA Undersecretary Rafael Seguis said the training is the first and the biggest to be conducted before the start of the OAV component of the May elections.

Expected to attend are over 100 representatives from the foreign service, especially in the Asia-Pacific region, which have recommended the adoption of personal voting.

Also attending are Philippine ambassadors-designate to six countries who will be assuming their posts soon, and two incoming heads of consular posts in the United States.

"They will serve as members of the Electoral Boards in the Foreign Service Posts they represent. These boards are the Special Ballot Reception and Custody Group (SBRCG), the Special Board of Election Inspectors (SBEl), and the Special Board of Canvassers (SBOC)," the DFA said.

Training in Americas, Europe

Aside from the training, Comelec representatives supported by DFA-OAVS personnel will travel to Los Angeles and Madrid on March 11-13 to conduct training on Postal Voting for Electoral Boards of Posts in the Americas and Europe, respectively.

They will go to Abu Dhabi and Riyadh on March 18-20 to conduct training on Personal Voting for Electoral Boards of Posts in the Middle East and Africa and in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA), respectively.

"The trainings in these four countries will be attended by over 200 foreign service personnel, more than half of whom will be coming from Saudi Arabia (Riyadh, Jeddah and AI-Khobar)," the DFA said.

A separate training for the automated election system in Hong Kong and Singapore will take place in the first week of April 2010.

An expert from Smartmatic-TIM is currently on a visit to Hong Kong and Singapore to coordinate with the information technology focal points of the two posts, also in preparation for the May elections.

Meanwhile, Comelec-COAV and OAVS personnel will undertake a consultation mission to Hong Kong and Singapore from February 27 to March 5 to ensure that the automated elections in said posts will not encounter problems.

No info drive yet in HK, Singapore

On Monday, members of a migrants’ rights group trooped to the Comelec to raise their concerns on the conduct of OAV, particularly in Hong Kong and Singapore, saying overseas voters have yet to be informed of the conduct of the elections less than two months before the scheduled start.

“The COMELEC’s nonchalance scares us. Filipinos in Hong Kong and Singapore will start voting in seven weeks, but the COMELEC hasn’t come up with the guidelines on the automated balloting. All it has issued so far are scant information through press releases and media interviews," Migrante International chair Garry Martinez said in a press conference outside the poll body’s office.

Martinez said the issuance of the guidelines on OAV is necessary as the process is completely different from the local voting and counting. Filipinos in Hong Kong and Singapore will be voting for a month until May 10 and each Precinct Count Optical Scan (PCOS) machine will be configured to accommodate 5,000 voters each.

Local elections will only be conducted on May 11, and PCOS machines can only handle up to 1,000 voters each.

“What will be the Comelec’s contingency plan in case the machines break down in the one-month balloting? The Comelec says transmission of results will only happen at the close of the polls on May 10. Do they have safeguards in place to protect all the votes stored in the machine for an entire month?" Martinez asked.

He also expressed concern on the PCOS machines’ durability, saying these will have to be working for ten hours every day for an entire month for the OAV. No mock elections and field tests were done in Hong Kong and Singapore, he added.

The group thus fears an imminent failure of elections for the OAV, which Martinez said will result in disenfranchisement of 95,355 Filipino voters in Hong Kong and 31,851 in Singapore. —Jerrie M. Abella/JV, GMANews.TV

Group warns traveling OFWs vs illegal ‘padala’

The Middle East chapter of a migrants’ rights group on Monday warned returning overseas Filipino workers (OFW) against accepting padala or care packages.

The term padala literally means consignment, in the form of money or goods. In the context of Filipino migration, it has become a tradition among OFWs to send packages of goods to relatives here in the Philippines.

At times, the OFWs’ relatives here ask other OFWs returning to the host countries to carry a package to a family member working there, to save on shipping costs. Similarly, workers ask their fellow OFWs returning here to bring items to the families they left behind.

More recently, however, OFWs have become unsuspecting drug couriers falling prey to syndicates, mostly from West African countries, which ask them to bring packages to their destination countries, unaware that these contain contraband or other illegal items.

Migrante-Middle East thus reminded OFWs to refuse padala from strangers or even friends without checking the content of the package.

“We are asking our fellow OFWs, especially those returning abroad, to refrain from accepting ‘padala’ especially if they have not checked and verified what the luggage, bags and similar items contain," said John Leonard Monterona, Migrante regional coordinator.

Drugs in bags, shoes, clothes

Monterona said they have already received two reports of OFWs carrying items which were later found to be containing illegal drugs. The OFWs involved are now in jail facing prosecution after being apprehended by the host country’s immigration police.

“This tactic has become the modus operandi of unscrupulous individuals, often connected with drug syndicates, victimizing innocent OFWs," Monterona added.

Based on previous reports, drugs can be tucked inside the OFW’s luggage or in a separate bag. (See: 'Kindness' makes Pinays vulnerable to drug rings)

These illegal substances can also be hidden inside the soles of slippers, or stuffed into fabric buttons of clothes. T-shirts can also be immersed in liquefied illegal drugs and dried before delivery.

Stuffed, sewn into Pinoys’ bodies

Some syndicates, however, have figured other more dangerous ways of smuggling prohibited substances: stuffing and sewing drugs inside the bodies of Filipino travelers. (See: Syndicates sneak, tuck, sew drugs into Pinoys)

A Filipina, for example, was arrested in 2008 for carrying the substance in a condom tucked inside her genitals.

The Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency also said there have been cases of these illegal substances being sewn inside the Filipino drug mules’ abdominal cavity, which would then be reopened upon arrival at the destination country to retrieve the drugs.

More recently, the National Bureau of Investigation arrested four members of a Western African drug ring who tried to recruit three Filipinos as drug couriers by making them ingest capsules containing drugs. (See: 3 Filipino would-be drug mules rescued in Pampanga)

Lax security in RP airports

Victims reported being offered payment ranging from $500 to $2,500 (about P23,062-P115,311) for transporting the substance. The usual destinations are China and its territories, Hong Kong and Macau, where trafficking of at least 50 grams of prohibited drugs such as heroin is punishable by death.

Monterona also scored immigration authorities in Philippine airports for what he said are lax security measures, thereby allowing drug couriers to leave the country with their smuggling activities undetected.

These Filipino drug mules, he said, end up being nabbed in the destination countries which have special X-ray machines that could scan suspicious objects even if hidden inside a person’s body.

Monterona is thus urging the Philippine posts in the Middle East to issue a formal advisory to the Filipino communities in the region against carelessly taking padala.

“The government must take these incidents seriously and end this vicious practice of preying on OFWs, who are pushed into doing these illegal and dangerous activities because of poverty and lack of job opportunities," he said.—Jerrie M. Abella/JV, GMANews.TV

OFWs warned against South Korean jobs through religious visas

Applicants for overseas work have been warned against promises of employment in South Korea through the issuance of a religious visa.

The Philippine Overseas Employment Administration issued the warning in an advisory dated February 19 following a complaint against supposed Korean nationals who offered jobs but disappeared after collecting over P7 million from Filipino applicants.

In the advisory posted on the agency’s Website, POEA administrator Jennifer Manalili said they are currently investigating a complaint letter filed by victim Lorie Humaynon against two people identified as Cho Chang Kuy and Oh Gyuk Su.

The complaint alleged that Cho, who introduced himself as a pastor of the Kor World International Ministries supposedly located here in the Philippines, and Oh, who claimed to be the owner of the KI-S factory in Seoul in Korea, promised Humaynon and 33 other applicants employment in the factory.

Based on the complaint, Oh came to Manila to brief applicants on the work to expect in Korea.

Cho meanwhile allegedly collected a total of P7.5 million from 34 applicants in exchange for the religious visa, but later disappeared with their money and without leaving any contact information.

Manalili said that the POEA has requested the Human Resource Development Service of Korea, which is in charge of the Employment Permit System (EPS) program, to provide information on KI-S and to know if it is participating in the EPS.

As of 2008, the POEA has recorded over 12,000 overseas Filipino workers in the republic, considered one of the world’s most developed countries. - RJAB Jr., GMANews.TV

OWWA releases list for college scholars

The Overseas Workers Welfare Administration has released the list of 150 students across the Philippines who qualified for its Education for Development Scholarship Program (EDSP) for school year 2010-2011.

The EDSP is a scholarship grant offered to graduating high school students who intend to enroll in any four or five-year baccalaureate courses and who are qualified beneficiaries or dependents of OWWA members.

The scholarship comes in the form of a financial assistance amounting to P60,000 per school year.

OWWA will pay the school directly for the students’ tuition and will release the remaining amount upon the scholars’ submission of grades for the semester.

Scholars are allowed to choose their desired program or course offered by any college or university accredited by the Commission on Higher Education.

The scholarship shall also continue until completion of the course regardless of the status of membership of the overseas Filipino worker member, provided that the terms of the scholarship agreement are complied with by the student.

For a student to be eligible for the grant, he or she must be a child of a married OWWA member, or a brother or sister of an unmarried OWWA member; 21 years old or below; a Filipino citizen; in good health with good moral character; and must have an average grade of at least 80 percent and belong to the upper 20 percent of the graduating high school class.

The complete list of the EDSP passers can be found here. - GMANews.TV

Churches pray for OFWs on Migrants' Sunday

Catholic churches around the country on Sunday paid tribute to overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) with an appeal to the government to reverse more than 40 years of poor economic development that force Filipinos to seek employment abroad.

With the theme “Sustainable Economic Development: Key to an Effective Migrant Family Reunification," the 24th National Migrants' Sunday also called for more assistance for OFWs. Priests also asked the faithful during the regular Sunday mass to offer prayers for OFWs and their families

The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines likewise called for good governance especially from the incoming administration to improve economic conditions to give Filipinos job opportunities at home.

“Many Filipinos, especially the poor, are quick to consider migration as the only option to combat economic poverty and social injustice. But the government, even after four decades of labor migration, has shown insufficient economic development for its own people," the CBCP said in its news site.

The CBCP also said migrants regard the upcoming elections as a critical time to assess the stance of political candidates on the issue of migration.

The CBCP Episcopal Commission on Migrant and Itinerant People (ECMI) said OFWs want the next set of political leaders to seriously address the plight of migrants.

ECMI said both the Church and the migrants’ sectors believe that a strong political will is needed for good governance to take effect in the country’s leadership.

“Many OFWs observed that a lot depends on good governance to create a sustainable economic environment that would entice investments," it said. - KBK, GMANews.TV

Friday, February 19, 2010

Repatriation of Pinay killed in Haiti quake delayed

Due to some glitches, the repatriation of a Filipino woman killed in last month’s magnitude-7 quake in Haiti was delayed by at least one day.

Radio dzBB’s Manny Vargas reported on Friday that the body of Mary Grace Fabian was not loaded on the Philippine Airlines PR-103 flight from Los Angeles that arrived in Manila before 6 a.m.

Overseas Workers Welfare Administration head Carmelita Dimzon tried to console the family of Fabian, who went to the Ninoy Aquino International Airport to welcome Mary Grace’s remains.

Dimzon said the remains of Fabian may be brought home Saturday, but did not elaborate on the schedule.

The Department of Foreign Affairs said earlier this week that Fabian’s remains were to be shipped to Manila from Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic.

Fabian’s body was pulled out of the collapsed Caribbean Supermarket at 11 a.m. of February 7 in Haiti, or midnight of Feb. 7 in Manila.

Lowel Lalican, the husband of Geraldine Lalican, another OFW still trapped under the rubble of the supermarket, identified the Fabian’s remains.

Fabian, an employee of the Caribbean Supermarket, was identified through her uniform, hair and necklace.

Family's request

The DFA had coordinated with the OWWA and Fabian’s family so her remains can be brought home to her family soonest.

“We would like to honor the family’s request to have her home," DFA Undersecretary for Migrant Workers Affairs Esteban Conejos Jr. said earlier this week.

Fabian’s Haiti-based sister Rosalyn had initially instructed that the remains be interred at the National Cemetary in Port-au-Prince.

But the DFA said Fabian’s family in the Philippines requested it to have her remains repatriated.

Citing a report from the Philippine Embassy in Cuba, the DFA said Philippine officials cleared all Dominican documentary requirements to have Fabian’s remains brought home. - LBG/RSJ, GMANews.TV

DFA ‘efforts still ongoing’ to save OFW from death

The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) issued an assurance Thursday that it is doing its best to save the Filipina worker whose death sentence was upheld by Kuwait’s high court.

The death sentence on Jakatia Pawa, a 33-year-old domestic service worker, was affirmed by Kuwait’s Court of Cassation on January 19 for the alleged murder of the 22-year-old daughter of her employer. (See: Kuwaiti high court: It’s death for Pinay OFW)

“Low-key negotiations are ongoing with the victim’s family for the settlement of the private rights aspect of the case," DFA spokesperson Eduardo Malaya said in a text message sent to GMANews.TV.

Malaya said this amid demands by a migrants’ rights group for updates on the case of Pawa.

“Do not leave us in the dark. The people who are committed to saving her life deserve to know the present status of her case. We need to know so that we can think of appropriate actions," said Garry Martinez, convenor of the Save Jakatia Pawa Movement and also the chairperson of Migrante International.

Malaya, however, refused to elaborate on the details of the negotiations, saying this might imperil the Philippine government’s efforts.

“Experience tells us that additional publicity at this point could be counter-productive," he said, adding that the Philippine Embassy in Kuwait is in constant communication with Pawa.

Forgiveness from victim’s family

DFA undersecretary Esteban Conejos Jr. earlier said the Philippine government is working for the issuance of tanazul or forgiveness from the victim’s family to save Pawa from the death penalty.

After getting the family’s forgiveness, Vice President Noli De Castro will go to Kuwait to hand over a written letter from President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo to the Kuwaiti Emir Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Sabah asking for commutation of her sentence from death to life imprisonment, Conejos said.

An Arab Times report, however, quoted a relative of the victims as saying that the family will not grant Pawa forgiveness even if Arroyo herself comes to Kuwait. (See: No ‘mercy’ even if Arroyo comes)

Farouq Abdulrahim, the victim’s uncle, also said in the report that he is “happy" that the Filipina worker’s death sentence was upheld, adding that the crime has prompted the victim’s family to transfer residence for psychological reasons.

As this developed, the Kuwait Times reported that a Kuwaiti lawmaker questioned De Castro’s supposed visit to the country, saying Kuwaiti court rulings should be respected. (See: MP Barrak against clemency for maid)

"Kuwaiti blood is not cheap and not a subject for political bargains," the report quoted the lawmaker as saying, adding that the Kuwaiti people will never forgive their government if it decides to commute Pawa’s sentence.

De Castro has not visited Kuwait yet as the government awaits the tanazul from the victim’s family. Malaya also refused to comment on the Kuwaiti lawmaker’s remarks.

For its part, Migrante said it will continue to forward appeals to the Kuwaiti government for the commutation of Pawa’s sentence in time for the country’s National Day on February 25, when the Emir usually gives clemency to individuals languishing on death row.

Claim of innocence

Pawa, a mother of two children, is a native of Zamboanga del Norte. She earned a bachelor’s degree in banking and finance from the Zamboanga Arturo Eustaquio Colleges in Zamboanga City, now Universidad de Zamboanga.

During court hearings, Pawa denied killing the daughter of her employer, for whom she has worked for over five years, saying the victim’s family members had stronger motives to kill her because of an alleged illicit love affair with a male neighbor.

Philippine Ambassador to Kuwait Ricardo Endaya has also maintained Pawa’s innocence, as there was no solid evidence to convict the OFW. He said the knife which was used in the murder does not have Pawa’s fingerprints, and there was no blood stain on her dress or body that could link her to the crime.

Around 73,000 Filipinos are working in oil-rich Kuwait, including about 60,000 women employed mostly as domestic service workers.—JV, GMANews.TV

DFA ‘efforts still ongoing’ to save OFW from death

The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) issued an assurance Thursday that it is doing its best to save the Filipina worker whose death sentence was upheld by Kuwait’s high court.

The death sentence on Jakatia Pawa, a 33-year-old domestic service worker, was affirmed by Kuwait’s Court of Cassation on January 19 for the alleged murder of the 22-year-old daughter of her employer. (See: Kuwaiti high court: It’s death for Pinay OFW)

“Low-key negotiations are ongoing with the victim’s family for the settlement of the private rights aspect of the case," DFA spokesperson Eduardo Malaya said in a text message sent to GMANews.TV.

Malaya said this amid demands by a migrants’ rights group for updates on the case of Pawa.

“Do not leave us in the dark. The people who are committed to saving her life deserve to know the present status of her case. We need to know so that we can think of appropriate actions," said Garry Martinez, convenor of the Save Jakatia Pawa Movement and also the chairperson of Migrante International.

Malaya, however, refused to elaborate on the details of the negotiations, saying this might imperil the Philippine government’s efforts.

“Experience tells us that additional publicity at this point could be counter-productive," he said, adding that the Philippine Embassy in Kuwait is in constant communication with Pawa.

Forgiveness from victim’s family

DFA undersecretary Esteban Conejos Jr. earlier said the Philippine government is working for the issuance of tanazul or forgiveness from the victim’s family to save Pawa from the death penalty.

After getting the family’s forgiveness, Vice President Noli De Castro will go to Kuwait to hand over a written letter from President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo to the Kuwaiti Emir Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Sabah asking for commutation of her sentence from death to life imprisonment, Conejos said.

An Arab Times report, however, quoted a relative of the victims as saying that the family will not grant Pawa forgiveness even if Arroyo herself comes to Kuwait. (See: No ‘mercy’ even if Arroyo comes)

Farouq Abdulrahim, the victim’s uncle, also said in the report that he is “happy" that the Filipina worker’s death sentence was upheld, adding that the crime has prompted the victim’s family to transfer residence for psychological reasons.

As this developed, the Kuwait Times reported that a Kuwaiti lawmaker questioned De Castro’s supposed visit to the country, saying Kuwaiti court rulings should be respected. (See: MP Barrak against clemency for maid)

"Kuwaiti blood is not cheap and not a subject for political bargains," the report quoted the lawmaker as saying, adding that the Kuwaiti people will never forgive their government if it decides to commute Pawa’s sentence.

De Castro has not visited Kuwait yet as the government awaits the tanazul from the victim’s family. Malaya also refused to comment on the Kuwaiti lawmaker’s remarks.

For its part, Migrante said it will continue to forward appeals to the Kuwaiti government for the commutation of Pawa’s sentence in time for the country’s National Day on February 25, when the Emir usually gives clemency to individuals languishing on death row.

Claim of innocence

Pawa, a mother of two children, is a native of Zamboanga del Norte. She earned a bachelor’s degree in banking and finance from the Zamboanga Arturo Eustaquio Colleges in Zamboanga City, now Universidad de Zamboanga.

During court hearings, Pawa denied killing the daughter of her employer, for whom she has worked for over five years, saying the victim’s family members had stronger motives to kill her because of an alleged illicit love affair with a male neighbor.

Philippine Ambassador to Kuwait Ricardo Endaya has also maintained Pawa’s innocence, as there was no solid evidence to convict the OFW. He said the knife which was used in the murder does not have Pawa’s fingerprints, and there was no blood stain on her dress or body that could link her to the crime.

Around 73,000 Filipinos are working in oil-rich Kuwait, including about 60,000 women employed mostly as domestic service workers.—JV, GMANews.TV

Task force created vs recruitment of Filipino drug couriers

President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo has created a task force that seeks to stop to the rampant recruitment of overseas Filipinos as drug couriers by international drug syndicates.

"There is a need to conduct an intensive and unrelenting campaign against drug syndicates responsible for victimizing the Filipino as drug courier," President Arroyo said in issuing Administrative Order 279 mandating the creation of Drug Couriers Task Force.

The task force’s main function is to develop and implement strategies to counter the recruitment of Filipinos as drug mules by international drug trafficking syndicates. It is also tasked to conduct a sustained media campaign to deter the recruitment, and to aggressively prosecute the drug syndicate members operating in the Philippines.

The task group will also coordinate with counterpart agencies in other countries to undertake bilateral or regional actions against the use of Filipinos as drug mules.

President Arroyo created the task force as she admitted that there is an "alarming increase" in the number of Filipinos who have been "enticed, duped and subsequently recruited to act as drug couriers by international drug trafficking syndicates."

In China alone, 66 Filipinos – 53 of whom are women – have been sentenced to death for possession of illegal drugs. Many others have been languishing in jail while awaiting their final conviction.

The task force will be headed by the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) and the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA), with the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE), Immigration and Customs bureaus, National Bureau of Investigation, Philippine Information Agency, Manila International Airport Authority, and the Philippine Tourism Authority as members.

The members of the task force are the labor department, Bureaus of Immigration and Customs, National Bureau of Investigation, Philippine Information Agency, Manila International Airport Authority, and the Philippine Tourism Authority.

President Arroyo ordered all government agencies to fully support the task force.

The task force’s initial operating budget will come from President Arroyo’s contingent fund. Afterward, its operating expenses will be included in the budget of the Office of the President. - KBK/RSJ, GMANews.TV

DFA warns vs recruitment scam in Spain

Philippine officials in Spain warned prospective jobseekers against a recruitment scam using Spain as a destination for Filipino workers.

The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) cited a report from the Philippine Embassy in Spain identifying the dubious firm as Previsto Ferrocariel Guiscoanagin.

“The syndicate is using the email address espanolconsulate@europe.com to communicate with Filipino workers and lead them to believe that this is the email address of the Philippine Embassy in Madrid," the DFA said in article on its website Tuesday.

It said the firm gave its address at Calle Placentinos 18B, 32005, Barcelona, Spain, but the Philippine Consulate General in Barcelona verified that there is no such address in Barcelona.

“There is a Calle de los Placentinos in the province of Salamanca, while the zip code 32005 corresponds to the province of Ourense, not Catalonia," the DFA said.

The DFA advised the public to be wary of job offers from this company and to first check the veracity of any job offer and company with the Philippine Overseas Labor Office (POLO) in the country concerned, the Philippine Overseas Employment Agency, or the Department of Labor and Employment.—Jerrie M. Abella/JV, GMANews.TV

UK’s stricter student visa regulations to hit Pinoy student nurses

With the United Kingdom set to implement more stringent student visa guidelines to prevent “abuse by economic migrants," a recruitment consultant expressed fears that the thousands of Filipino student nurses in the British isles may be negatively affected.

The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said Tuesday the UK will effect the changes to Tier 4 (Student Visa) Regulations in March under its new Points-Based System of Migration, based on earlier announcement by UK Home Affairs Minister Alan Johnson.

"The Philippine Embassy in London reiterates its advice for all prospective applicants under Tier 4 to secure updated information on new regulations, procedures, and requirements from the UK Embassy in Manila," the DFA said in a release on its website.

The DFA said the initial announcement outlines broad measures resulting from a comprehensive review of the Tier 4 scheme as initially relayed by UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown in November 2009.

In the Ministerial Statement/Notes released by the UK Home Office, the UK Government announced the modifications were aimed at achieving a "a balanced and targeted package of measures to tackle the abuse of Tier 4 by economic migrants whilst at the same time continuing to safeguard the ability of genuine international students to come to the UK to benefit from our world class education system and bring benefit to our economy."

New setup

Under the new setup, students will only be allowed to work during the school term for 10 hours a week instead of the present 20 hours a week.

Students registered in courses of six months or less can also no longer bring dependents with them to the UK.

Further, dependents will not be permitted to work unless they qualify in their own right under Tier 1 (General) as a highly skilled migrant or as a skilled worker under Tier 2 (General worker, sportsperson or Minister of Religion).

The DFA said the changes will apply to adult students coming to the UK to study below degree level in the further-education and English-language sectors.

But it said these changes will not apply to students coming to the UK for a foundation degree (broadly the equivalent of the first two years of a Bachelor's degree), courses at degree level or above, and those coming in as children at independent or private schools.

The changes will come into force on March 3 and all Tier 4 applications submitted on or after this date will be subject to the new restrictions.

Uncertainty for Pinoy student nurses

Recruitment consultant Emmanuel Geslani said the changes may place in uncertainty the status of about 10,000 Filipino health workers, most of whom are nurses, who entered UK from 2007 to 2009.

Majority of these health workers availed of the study-and-work plan offered by various consultancies and are presently taking awards, certification and diploma courses, also known as National Vocational Qualifications (NVQ).

Further, more than half enrolled only in certificate courses lasting for six months, while at the same time working in care homes.

“Ten hours per week and the new rule which prohibits their dependents the right to work will make it difficult to cope with the living expenses like food, rent and taxes, with the high standard of living in the UK," Geslani said.

Geslani further disclosed that the NVQ, which is set to be replaced this year by a yet to be determined program, only allows a stay of one year and will not allow the workers to remain as permanent residents.

“Many of these nurses will be forced to return to the Philippines if they cannot shift to higher education courses like degree programs in universities," Geslani explained.

Geslani, however, said that despite this, Filipino students from all fields may take advantage of taking a one-year degree in the UK. This will allow the students to stay and do paid work for up to two years without studying further, which will in turn lead to securing a work permit.—JV, GMANews.TV

RP post repatriates last batch of striking OFWs from Saudi

The last batch of overseas Filipino workers (OFW) who went on strike in Saudi Arabia last year were repatriated on Monday, according to the Philippine post in Riyadh.

Cesar Chavez Jr., Philippine welfare officer in Riyadh, said in an interview with GMANews.TV that 13 workers of the operation and construction firm Annasban Group were repatriated.

This last batch completes the 43 OFWs who went on strike and were promised repatriation until February 15 after staging a few days of hunger strike. (See: Protesting OFWs in Saudi ask RP to repatriate them)

The 43 were part of the three groups of OFWs who staged a work stoppage on October 12 last year due to alleged unfair labor practices by their company.

Chavez also clarified that neither the Philippine Overseas Labor Office nor the workers shouldered the repatriation costs, and that the company agreed to waive fees, such as reimbursement of deployment costs, which it earlier demanded.

"'Yung recruitment agency nila sa Pilipinas ang nag-ayos ng repatriation. Napakiusapan din ang kumpanya nila dito sa Saudi na i-waive 'yung fees. Mass resignation kasi yan so entitled dapat ang Annasban sa reimbursement ng deployment costs," Chavez said.

(It's the workers' recruitment agency in the Philippines that arranged the repatriation. We also persuaded the company here in Saudi to agree to waive the fees. The workers resigned en masse so normally, Annasban would have been entitled to reimbursement of deployment costs.)

Chavez also said he will ask the Philippine post in Jeddah to look into the case of one Filipina caregiver, also employed by Annasban, who was earlier reported to have contracted a skin disease from a patient under her care.

“Leonora" (not her real name) claimed she contracted the painful, blistering skin rash herpes zoster or shingles from one of her patients, and is now seeking repatriation. (See: Pinay caregiver in Riyadh seeks repatriation due to illness)

"'Yung mga kababayan natin dito, kapag nagkasakit, pananagutan ng employer na ipagamot. For the first 30 days, ipapagamot siya nang libre at may suweldo rin. Sa next 60 days, libre pa rin ang gamot at makakatanggap ng 75% ng kanyang sweldo," Chavez explained.

(The medical treatment of Filipino workers here who get sick are the company's responsibility. For the first 30 days, costs of treatment will be shouldered by the company while the worker continues to receive her salary. For the next 60 days, the treatment will still be paid for by the company, and the worker will still receive 75% of her salary.)

Leonora allegedly refused the company's help, claiming that she was being forced to return to work in exchange for her treatment.

She said she does not want to go back to what she called deplorable working conditions, such as risky work designation and the low salary she received, adding that she just wants to return to the Philippines.

Chavez said they will look further into her case.—Jerrie M. Abella/JV, GMANews.TV

Remains of Pinay killed in Haiti quake due Friday

The remains of a Filipino worker who died in the magnitude-7 quake in Haiti last January 12 will arrive in the Philippines Friday morning.

Philippine Vice-Consul to Cuba Jason Anasarias said the remains of Mary Grace Fabian were shipped to Manila from Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic Tuesday.

"Upon the instructions of her sister Rosalyn Fabian, who is based in Haiti, the remains of Mary Grace Fabian was initially interred at the National Cemetary in Port-au-Prince. But her family in the Philippines requested the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) to have her remains repatriated," the DFA said on its Web site Wednesday.

Citing a report from the Philippine Embassy in Cuba, the DFA said Philippine officials cleared all Dominican documentary requirements to have Fabian's remains brought home.

Fabian's remains were pulled out of the collapsed Carribean Supermarket at 11 a.m. of February 7 in Haiti, or midnight of Feb. 7 in Manila.

Lowel Lalican, the husband of Geraldine Lalican, another OFW still trapped under the rubble of the supermarket, identified the remains.

Fabian, an employee of the Caribbean Supermarket, was identified through her uniform, hair and necklace.

The DFA coordinated with Overseas Workers Welfare Administration and Fabian's family so her remains can be brought home to her family soonest.

"We would like to honor the family's request to have her home," DFA Undersecretary for Migrant Workers Affairs Esteban Conejos Jr. said.

At the time of the killer quake last January 12, a total of 462 recorded Filipinos were in Haiti — 290 civilians and 172 military and police peacekeepers. - RSJ, GMANews.TV

Friday, February 5, 2010

Group, ulama seek pardon for OFW in death row

A Muslim leader and a militant migrants’ rights group have joined the clamor to spare overseas 34-year-old Filipino worker (OFW) Jakatia Pawa, who is now on death row in Kuwait.

Shari’a Court Judge Abu Ali Cali, president of the Ulama League of the Philippines (ULP), wrote to fellow ulama (Islamic scholars) in Kuwait to plead for Pawa's life.

“Muslims here have code of working so justice can be shown to all Filipinos, especially Muslims, working overseas," Cali said in an article on the Union of Catholic Asian (UCA) News website.

He undertook efforts to get help from fellow ulamas “so Jakatia can receive the required letter of forgiveness from the family."

This week, the Kuwaiti Court of Cassation upheld the verdict on Pawa, a native of Zamboanga Sibugay province.

As a result, he will be hanged for killing the 22-year-old daughter of her employer, for whom she has worked for over five years. [See: Kuwaiti high court: It’s death for Pinay overseas worker]

Pawa has maintained her innocence, telling the court that one of the victim’s family members might have committed the crime as the victim allegedly had an illicit love affair with a male neighbor.

Under Shari’a law, Pawa’s life can be spared if the victim’s family forgives her.

Cali said they hope Pawa will be released through Shari’a Law and allowed to return to the Philippines "where she can live her life fully as a Filipina Muslim."

As this developed, an alliance of migrant Filipinos similarly called on the government to prevent a 7th overseas worker from being hanged, even as it hit the administration for having the highest number of beheaded OFWs.

“The Arroyo administration already holds the record of having the most number of OFWs that were beheaded under its watch," Migrante chairperson Garry Martinez said.

According to Migrante records, six OFWs in death row have already been executed since 2001.

The OFWs were Antonio Alvesa, Sergio Aldana, Miguel Fernandez, Wilfredo Bautista, Reynaldo Cortez, and Venancio Ladion a.k.a. Jenifer Bidoya.

“Most of the cases of OFWs in death row are either being bungled by the government or have not received proper legal assistance from our embassies abroad," Martinez maintained.

He cited the case of Ladion who was given a lawyer only after the third hearing of his case.

In self defense, Ladion killed a Saudi man who tried to rape him, according to Martinez. [See: Filipino beheaded for murder in Saudi Arabia]

“The Gonzales brothers, Cabalens of President Arroyo, were tortured to admit heinous crimes they did not commit. But the government has not raised any howl against the torture," Martinez added. [See: Govt urged to look into case of 3 Pinoys on Jeddah death row]

The alarming increase in the number of OFWs in death row is due to the government’s thrust to aggressively market OFWs abroad at the expense of their protection against abuses and exploitation, Migrante said.

“Saudi Arabia, for example, remains as the top destination for Pinay domestic helpers despite the fact that female OFWs suffer the most gruesome cases of abuse in that country." Martinez said.

Meanwhile, the Middle East chapter of Migrante has launched the “Save OFW Pawa" signature campaign for a petition to at least commute Pawa’s sentence.

The petition will be sent to President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and Kuwaiti Emir Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Sabah. - GMANews.TV

Kuwaiti high court: It’s death for Pinay OFW

Kuwait’s high court affirmed the death sentence on a Filipina housemaid who pleaded innocent to the charge of murdering her employer’s daughter, the Department of Foreign Affairs said.

The Kuwaiti Court of Cassation upheld this week the verdict on Jakatia Pawa, 34 years old and a native of Zamboanga Sibugay province, to die by hanging for killing the 22-year-old daughter of her employer, for whom she has worked for over five years.

Foreign Affairs undersecretary for migrant workers’ affairs Esteban Conejos Jr. said the Philippine government is working for the issuance of tanazul or forgiveness from the victim’s family to save Pawa from the death penalty.

“After achieving this, Vice President Noli De Castro will go to Kuwait to hand over a written letter from President Arroyo to the Kuwaiti Emir Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Sabah to ask for commutation of her sentence from death to life imprisonment," Conejos said in a press briefing.

Conejos expressed hopes that Pawa will be spared the death penalty, as with the case of Filipina domestics Marilou Ranario and Mae Vecina.

Vecina, a 30-year-old mother from North Cotabato, was sentenced to death for killing her employer’s seven-year-old son in 2007, but was granted full pardon by the emir last year for good behavior.

Also sentenced to death was Marilou Ranario, a 35-year-old mother from Surigao del Norte, for murdering her female employer, but her sentence was similarly commuted two years later.

Philippine Ambassador to Kuwait Ricardo Endaya said he was dismayed with the court decision on Pawa, even as he noted that the court decision must be respected.

He maintained that Pawa is innocent and that there is no solid evidence to convict the OFW. Endaya said the knife which was used in the murder does not have Pawa’s fingerprints, and there was no blood stain on her dress or body that could link her to the crime.

Pawa pleaded not guilty to the charge in an earlier hearing, telling the court that one of the victim’s family members might have committed the crime.

She revealed that family members had stronger motives to kill the victim because of an alleged illicit love affair with a male neighbor.

Around 73,000 Filipinos are working in oil-rich Kuwait, including 60,000 women employed mostly as domestic helpers, earning less than US $200 on the average. – Jerrie M. Abella/JV, 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

200 Filipinos in Jeddah fail to make it home

More than 200 runaway Filipino women and children risk being left behind in Saudi Arabia, with repatriation efforts going at a snail's pace.

Over 150 women and at least 40 children, the youngest of whom is a month-old baby, were stranded in Jeddah for still unknown reasons.

The women and children are among the hundreds of Filipino workers who escaped from their employers for reasons such as alleged nonpayment of salary or overtime pay, overwork and physical abuse.

"They (Saudi Immigration officials) always tell us that the deportation area is full every time we follow up on the case of our fellow Filipinos. But we are not losing hope; we will do our best to send them home at the earliest time," Labor Attaché Vicente Cabe said.

However, the Philippine Overseas Labor Office (POLO) reported that a hundred male Filipino workers had been sent home on Monday.

Cabe said they were still trying to find out why the women and children had not been sent home ahead of the men, admitting that Philippine officials were unsure when the rest would be sent home.

Cabe said the repatriation had come two months after the workers, mostly ‘runaways,' were taken to a safe house being rented by the Philippine government while they awaited their exit papers.

The workers, however, did not have to stay long in the deportation center, he added.

"They managed to leave less than a week since they arrived at the deportation area," Anthony Basil, a case officer at the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA), said in Filipino.

Only seven men were not repatriated pending resolution of their labor cases.

Cabe said the government had spent 1,200 Saudi riyals (about P14,400) for each one-way plane ticket, plus 25 riyals daily for each worker's board and lodging expenses.

The stranded workers were from Jeddah, the capital city of Riyadh, and the eastern province cities of Alkhobar, Dammam and Jubail.

Reports reaching Philippine Consulate in Jeddah have said that many of the runaway Filipino workers had been brought to Jeddah by fixers promising them a quick repatriation for a fee.

Meanwhile, Cabe appealed to other workers in the kingdom to think many times before running away from their employers to avoid getting into further trouble.

Despite problems faced by the workers, Saudi Arabia is still the top destination for Filipino workers.

Last year, there were about 1.2 million Filipino workers in the kingdom and the figure continues togrow, according to the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA). Ronaldo Z. Concha/NPA, GMANews.TV

SKorea deports 57 Pinoy performers over fake AIDS tests

Fifty-seven Filipino overseas performing artists (OPAs) have been deported by the South Korean government as of December last year over fake AIDS test certificates, according to the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE).

In a release posted on its web site, DOLE said investigations are now ongoing on an unidentified international recruitment agency which issued the fake certificates and should be held responsible for the deportation of the OPAs.

Labor Secretary Marianito Roque said the most recent deportations were 18 OPAs on Dec. 4 and 11 OPAs on Dec. 7, which followed an earlier batch of 28 OPAs from July 12 to 16 last year, all from Seoul.

DOLE also said that according to one of the deported OPAs, their recruitment agency in the Philippines prepared and submitted all the documents, including their AIDS test certificates.

The unnamed OPA added that they were not made to undergo the AIDS test here in the country, because the agency and the promoter advised them that the test would be conducted in Korea.

“To protect overseas Filipino workers in both the sending and host countries, a strict AIDS test should be made a crucial part of the medical examination required by the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) on overseas-bound workers," Roque said.

In this light, Roque has ordered a crackdown on recruitment agencies found to be issuing fake certificates, which will be sanctioned accordingly if found violating Republic Act No. 8042 or the Migrant Workers and Overseas Filipino Act of 1995.

“We strongly urge the recruiters to adhere to the stringent requirement and ensure that the credentials and required certificates of OFWs … are in accordance with the international standards," Roque stated.

The Philippine Overseas Labor Office in Seoul is now inviting the promoter in Korea to shed light on the incident, DOLE said.

Labor Attaché to Seoul Delmer F. Cruz also recommended that necessary reintegration assistance should be extended to the deported OPAs through DOLE’s National Reintegration Center for OFWs and the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration. – Jerrie M. Abella/JV, GMANews.TV

SOS sounded for jailed OFW in Dubai

Relatives of a jailed and allegedly maltreated overseas Filipino worker (OFW) in the United Arab Emirates on Sunday appealed to the government for help.

The OFW, identified only as Mirasol, has been in jail since 2008 and is now suffering from erratic blood pressure and may go insane due to allegedly inhumane treatment by the UAE prison authorities, an article on the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) news site quoted the relatives as saying.

Militant migrant workers advocacy group Migrante said that while Mirasol had served her first sentence, her employer filed two more cases, pressuring her to pay AED684,200 (US$186,236.47 or P8,682,101.12) she allegedly stole by forging company checks.

“With the new civil cases filed against her, the Philippine Consulate General in Dubai, this time, should provide legal assistance to Mirasol so that she could be properly represented and defended in court. Besides, it is clearly stated in RA 8042 or the Migrant Workers and Overseas Filipinos Act of 1995 that whenever an OFW is facing a legal case abroad, he or she must be provided legal assistance by the government," Migrante-UAE secretary general Nhel Morona said in the article.

According to Migrante’s records, Mirasol, 38, was sentenced to one year’s imprisonment but the sentence was reduced to six months. The Sharjah Court also ordered her deported after her release.

Mirasol, a former accountant at a Dubai firm, had spent more than one year at the Sharjah Central Jail.

Morona said Mirasol and her husband sought assistance from the Philippine Consul General (PCG) shortly after her arrest but it allegedly ignored their request for help.

The article said it was only last Jan. 18 when Mirasol’s sister Maria received a letter from the Department of Foreign Affairs’ Office of the Undersecretary for Migrant Workers’ Affairs (OUMWA). The letter reportedly advised Mirasol’s sister to get a lawyer for her defense,
as the next hearing for the two new cases, is set on February 7.

Morona said it was only last January 26 when Maria and the OUMWA had a dialogue on how to take her sister out of jail and repatriate her, together with her three-year-old daughter whose visa expired August 10, 2008.

He said that during the case dialogue at the DFA, Maria asked the DFA-OUMWA to give her sister legal assistance. “However, the OUMWA representative said there is no assurance that they can provide Mirasol a lawyer. This is really unforgivable," he said.

“Upon entering the prison, the prison authorities have confiscated her personal belongings like mobile phone and cash amounting to AED5,000 (P63,515.83 based on the 30 January 2010 foreign exchange)," he added.

The article quoted Mirasol as claiming that her company had framed her up and made her a sacrificial lamb.

Her employer filed the first case against her on Feb. 10, 2008, for allegedly forging checks (Case No.2008/2291). She was sentenced to four months in prison, to be released June 30.

However, a new case was filed against her, Civil Case No. 2008/1663. Another civil case was slapped against her (Case No. 2008/9064 on October 20, 2008.

Due to the new cases filed, the Sharjah court ordered Mirasol to remain in jail. - KBK, GMANews.TV

Welfare funds intact, OWWA assures OFWs

The government has assured overseas Filipino workers (OFW) that their welfare funds are intact and will not be used to fund the campaign of administration candidates in the coming May elections.

Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) administrator Carmelita Dimzon on Thursday said the $25 membership fee that OFWs pay upon departure would be used solely for the benefit of the workers.

The compulsory membership fee entitles OFWs to such benefits as repatriation, financial assistance, counseling, and livelihood loans and training.

“The internal control policies adopted and implemented by the board of trustees and the pre-audit procedures of the Commission on Audit (COA) ensure that the trust fund of the OWWA will only be used for the benefit of its members and will not be diverted for election purposes," Dimzon said in an interview.

The agency issued the assurance after a migrants’ rights group raised fears that the workers’ welfare fund, amounting to P12 billion according to their estimates, may again be diverted to fund campaign expenses.

“The misuse or illegal diversion of OWWA funds for any electoral agenda by the ruling party is not remote; in fact, the Arroyo administration already did it during the 2004 Presidential elections when it diverted the estimated 500-M OWWA medical funds to Philippine Health Corp. (Philhealth) by issuing ‘free’ medical Philhealth cards to woo voters during campaign sorties," said John Leonard Monterona, Migrante-Middle East regional coordinator, in a statement.

Dimzon, however, said the OWWA board of trustees is multisectoral in nature and includes members from the workers’ ranks themselves.

“The voice of the OFWs, particularly the land-based workers and seafarers, is heard through their representatives in making sure that every centavo spent is for a purpose authorized under OWWA’s mandate," the labor official stressed.

Other members of the board are representatives of the Department of Budget and Management, the Department of Finance, the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA), and the Department of Foreign Affairs.

The OWWA chief added that diversion of funds will not be possible under a system where every transaction is to be recorded promptly and fully documented.

“The paper trail, pre-audit, and surprise inspections by COA auditors assure members and the public that OWWA funds are used only for purposes mandated by law," she said.

Migrante, however, said the Medicare funds and functions of OWWA were transferred to Philhealth in 2003 without the knowledge of two of its trustees: Rosalinda Baldoz, then POEA administrator, and Cora Carsola, the only OFW representative in board.

Monterona thus called on OFWs and their dependents here to be vigilant and wary of possible attempts to again divert their welfare funds for election-related expenses.

Under the law, OWWA funds can only be used to promote and protect the welfare of its OFW members. - KBK, GMANews.TV

Welfare funds intact, OWWA assures OFWs

The government has assured overseas Filipino workers (OFW) that their welfare funds are intact and will not be used to fund the campaign of administration candidates in the coming May elections.

Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) administrator Carmelita Dimzon on Thursday said the $25 membership fee that OFWs pay upon departure would be used solely for the benefit of the workers.

The compulsory membership fee entitles OFWs to such benefits as repatriation, financial assistance, counseling, and livelihood loans and training.

“The internal control policies adopted and implemented by the board of trustees and the pre-audit procedures of the Commission on Audit (COA) ensure that the trust fund of the OWWA will only be used for the benefit of its members and will not be diverted for election purposes," Dimzon said in an interview.

The agency issued the assurance after a migrants’ rights group raised fears that the workers’ welfare fund, amounting to P12 billion according to their estimates, may again be diverted to fund campaign expenses.

“The misuse or illegal diversion of OWWA funds for any electoral agenda by the ruling party is not remote; in fact, the Arroyo administration already did it during the 2004 Presidential elections when it diverted the estimated 500-M OWWA medical funds to Philippine Health Corp. (Philhealth) by issuing ‘free’ medical Philhealth cards to woo voters during campaign sorties," said John Leonard Monterona, Migrante-Middle East regional coordinator, in a statement.

Dimzon, however, said the OWWA board of trustees is multisectoral in nature and includes members from the workers’ ranks themselves.

“The voice of the OFWs, particularly the land-based workers and seafarers, is heard through their representatives in making sure that every centavo spent is for a purpose authorized under OWWA’s mandate," the labor official stressed.

Other members of the board are representatives of the Department of Budget and Management, the Department of Finance, the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA), and the Department of Foreign Affairs.

The OWWA chief added that diversion of funds will not be possible under a system where every transaction is to be recorded promptly and fully documented.

“The paper trail, pre-audit, and surprise inspections by COA auditors assure members and the public that OWWA funds are used only for purposes mandated by law," she said.

Migrante, however, said the Medicare funds and functions of OWWA were transferred to Philhealth in 2003 without the knowledge of two of its trustees: Rosalinda Baldoz, then POEA administrator, and Cora Carsola, the only OFW representative in board.

Monterona thus called on OFWs and their dependents here to be vigilant and wary of possible attempts to again divert their welfare funds for election-related expenses.

Under the law, OWWA funds can only be used to promote and protect the welfare of its OFW members. - KBK, GMANews.TV

Pinay domestic helper gets more than P500,000 in damages

A battered Filipino maid in the United Arab Emirates finally got some measure of justice after three long years when her Egyptian employer paid her some Dh45,000 (P565,639) in damages.

The amount included the Dh22,000 (P276,534) salary of Filipino Baina Mokalam for three years, the UAE-based news site Khaleej Times reported on Thursday. [See story here]

Police in Ras Al Khaimah rescued Mokalam from her employer, who allegedly hurt her physically for three years.

The amicable settlement, which included a plane ticket home for Mokalam, was made before the Court in Ras Al Khaimah.

According to the court, the Dh22,000 represented the salary of Mokalam from January 24, 2007 up to the time she was rescued by police on January 27, 2010.

The Philippine Consulate represented Baina in the final settlement as she wanted to return to her hometown in Maguindanao province, Consul General Benito Valeriano said.

She will depart from Dubai to Manila on Sunday aboard Emirates Airlines with a connecting flight to General Santos City, the nearest airport to her home province, Valeriano added.

He added her employer and all others who maltreated their Filipino house help can no longer hire Filipino maids since they will be blacklisted by the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA).

“Our Labor Attaché Virginia Calvez will always report to Manila, employers who, in one way or another, maltreated, and abused our Filipino helpers requesting the POEA to immediately blacklist them so they can no longer hire a new one," he said. - GMANews.TV

Mandatory Pag-IBIG for OFWs still in effect

Contrary to earlier reports, the mandatory Pag-IBIG fund coverage for overseas Filipino workers (OFW) will still be implemented as provided in a newly implemented law, the government’s savings and shelter financing agency clarified Thursday.

In an interview with GMANews.TV, Pag-IBIG Fund Vice President for Public Relations and Information Services Group Margie Jorillo said they have no choice but to implement the mandatory coverage for OFWs, which involves a P100 monthly contribution, as it is mandated by the law.

“We are legally bound to implement mandatory Pag-IBIG membership coverage," Jorillo said, citing Republic Act (RA) 9679 or the Home Development Mutual Fund Law, which took effect in January.

RA 9679 mandates a monthly P100-contribution from members for such benefits as savings, short-term loans and housing loans. The law’s coverage was expanded to include, among others, Filipino workers employed abroad and here in the country by foreign employers.

Women’s rights group Gabriela-Hong Kong earlier released a statement saying that due to protests from OFWs based in the Chinese territory, Pag-IBIG Fund chief executive officer Jaime Fabiaña declared in a visit that OFWs will not be charged the coverage fee.

“Sabi ni CEO Fabiaña, wala raw siyang naaalalang may sinabi siyang ganoon (CEO Fabiaña said he doesn’t remember saying anything to that effect)," Jorillo maintained.

Fabiaña recently visited the former British colony, with its high concentration of OFWs, as the agency’s first stop in a series of visits to explain the new law and the benefits that come with mandatory membership.

“In fact, the OFWs in Hong Kong welcomed the Pag-IBIG coverage. More than 200 OFWs flocked to the Philippine Consulate General there and even paid in advance," Jorillo said.

Jorillo added that the group may have “misconstrued" another declaration from Fabiaña, where he clarified that Pag-IBIG membership will not be made a requirement for the processing of OFWs’ overseas employment certificate (OEC).

“They put two and two together and thought that Fabiaña was referring to the mandatory coverage. Mandatory coverage is still in effect, but there’s no such thing as Pag-IBIG membership being made a requirement for OEC," she said.

Since November last year, the government ceased from making a similar mandatory membership to the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration as a requirement for OEC processing.

She confirmed, however, that talks are ongoing on making Pag-IBIG fund membership a requirement for OEC processing.

Pag-IBIG Fund plans next on visiting the Middle East and Europe to explain the new law to OFWs in those regions, Jorillo said. - KBK, GMANews.TV

Mandatory Pag-IBIG coverage for OFWs dropped

The government’s savings and shelter financing agency has withdrawn its original plan to impose mandatory membership for overseas Filipino workers (OFW) as a requirement to process their employment papers, a Hong Kong-based group said Wednesday.

In a statement, the Hong Kong chapter of a women’s rights group said Pag-IBIG chief executive officer Jaime Fabiaña declared that they would not force OFWs to become members of Pag-IBIG, nor will it be made a requirement to process their documents.

Gabriela-HK chairperson Cynthia Abdon-Tellez said Fabiaña announced this in a forum with leaders of OFW organizations on February 1 at the Philippine Consulate General in the Chinese territory.

"It is a victory for the vigilant OFWs resisting schemes of government exaction. While the Arroyo government is bent on squeezing more income from our labor, we shall always be there to fight its schemes every step of the way," Tellez said.

Republic Act (RA) 9679 or the Home Development Mutual Fund Law, which took effect in January, mandates a monthly P100-contribution from members for such benefits as savings, short-term loans and housing loans. The law’s coverage was expanded to include, among others, Filipino workers employed abroad or here in the country by foreign employers.

Protests from OFWs, however, prompted Fabiaña to say that they would not be forced to become members, Tellez said.

According to Tellez, the plan to make Pag-IBIG a mandatory requirement for OFWs came on the heels of their successful campaign to oppose the forced membership of OFWs to the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) to enable them to get an overseas employment certificate.

Since November last year, a moratorium has been imposed on the mandatory OWWA collection as a requirement for the certificate, she added.

Tellez also hit the government for being a “consistent extortionist" of OFWs, noting that government exaction intensifies especially at the onset of every national elections.

“Just before the 2007 elections, the POEA Guidelines on hiring Filipino household workers was implemented that carried provisions for training and accreditation requirements which translated to more fees for migrant Filipinos. Now, a few months before the 2010 polls, here comes the mandatory Pag-IBIG membership," Tellez added.

The group also recalled that in 2004, the government forced the transfer of the OWWA Medicare Fund to Philippine Health Insurance Corp. at the request of then PhilHealth head Francisco Duque.

On February 7, Tellez said her group will stage a rally to call for the scrapping of the provision in RA 9679 on mandatory Pag-IBIG membership. - KBK, GMANews.TV

Comelec hopes for 50% OAV turnout in upcoming polls

The Commission on Elections (Comelec) is hoping that at least half of the almost 590,000 Filipino registrants abroad would vote in the May 10 automated elections.

"Based on history, [voter turnout is] very, very low. We hope makakakuha tayo ng (that we would be able to get) 50 percent, at least," Comelec Commissioner Armando Velasco, head of the Overseas Absentee Voting (OAV) committee, told reporters in an interview.

In the 2004 national elections, only 360,000 of the more than four million qualified overseas Filipinos registered. Of this figure, only 233,092 or 65 percent cast their votes.

In the 2007 midterm elections, at least 145,000 more overseas Filipinos registered to vote, but only 16 percent or 81,732 cast their ballots.

There are almost 589,830 overseas voters registered for the 2010 polls, with 138,113 postal voting by mail and 451,717 voting personally.

The commission was earlier planning on automating the elections in Hong Kong and Singapore, but these plans has since been stalled because of certain disagreements with Philippine posts onsite.

Velasco said they had decided to automate the polls in Singapore and Hong Kong based on the number of voters and the feasibility of holding automated elections there. Singapore has 31,851 voters while Hong Kong has 95,355. Combined, they make up 20 percent of the total number of overseas voters.

The voting in these countries, although probably automated, will still be conducted for a whole month until May 10, election day in the Philippines. Velasco said they would only print out the election returns on the last day.

Unlike the Precinct Count Optical Scan (PCOS) machines that will be used in the country, the units to be used for OAV would be able to handle 5,000 voters a day, Velasco said. A normal PCOS unit to be used in the May polls is expected to be able to handle about 1,000 voters. - Kimberly Jane Tan/KBK, GMANews.TV
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