Monday, June 28, 2010

DFA reopens passport office at POEA for OFWs

Overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) stand to benefit from the Department of Foreign Affairs’ reopening of its passport extension office at the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA).

The DFA reopened its Passport Extension Office (DFA-PEO) at the POEA building along Ortigas Avenue in Mandaluyong City early this week.

“This facility is mainly for the benefit of overseas Filipino workers
(OFWs) and seafarers. Their immediate family may be allowed to file their application simultaneously, provided that they are traveling together," the DFA said in its website. (http://dfa.gov.ph/main/index.php/newsroom/dfa-releases/1466-dfa-re-opens-passport-office-in-poea-for-ofws).

It said the PEO was re-opened after passport data-capture equipment was installed to enable electronic passport (ePassport) issuance.

Located at the ground floor of the POEA Building, the PEO is open from Mondays through Fridays, from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m., excluding public holidays.

Passport fees range from P950 for regular processing (20 working days) and P1,200 for expedited processing (10 working days).

Only 200 OFW applicants may be accommodated at the DFA-PEO everyday. Those who could not be assisted at any given day would be given an on-the-spot appointment within succeeding days.

The new setup includes state-of-the-art equipment for data-capturing of applicants’ biometrics and for enhancing passport security.

It also eliminates the need of bringing a photograph as a requirement for passport applications, the DFA said. — LBG, GMANews.TV

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

DFA scored for ‘delay’ in release of ePassports

Recruitment agencies have scored the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) for the supposed delay in the processing and release of electronic passports (ePassport) despite the agency’s modernized facilities.

“This is very deplorable especially [since] overseas Filipino workers (OFW) have to be at their jobsites at the agreed time and any delays in their arrivals are hurting their chances in earning income for their families," said Jackson Gan, vice president for marketing of Federated Association of Manpower Exporters.

Gan said passport processing has gone from 20 working days to 40, resulting to backlogs. He said even the more expensive express service to speed up passport processing is now taking longer than usual.

“Even if the applicant is willing to pay the express service fee of P 1,200, the current backlog still results in a long processing time of 15 working days, [even as] the applicant was promised that the passport would be released in 10 days," he said.

Waiting time

The DFA, for its part, said the delay was not in the processing of passports but the waiting time to get an appointment, adding that passports are released 10 days from application for expedited passports, 20 days for regular passports, and even less than 10 days for emergency cases.

“It is the waiting time to get an appointment that is longer due to a number of reasons, including non-appearance," the DFA said in a statement posted on its Website.

“The processing and releasing time is in fact faster (here) compared to other countries. In the United States for instance, passports are released four to six weeks from the date of application," it added.

The DFA explained that 40 percent of individuals who set appointments do not show up on the designated dates. It said that despite this, the Office of Consular Affairs (OCA) still accommodates these slots since these were not cancelled by the applicants.

The OCA is urging the public to appear on the dates set for their appointments, or cancel their appointments if they will not be able to show up so that these could be allocated for other applicants.

Peak season

The DFA also attributed the two-month waiting time for appointments to the peak summer season and the huge demand for the ePassport, saying it has been accepting 3,500 applicants daily.

It said the number is expected to go down by July.

Still, OCA offices will be open on Saturdays starting next month to accommodate applicants.

While short of saying that its new modernized consular building is congested with applicants, the DFA said it is looking at “increasing the absorptive capacity" of the edifice.

The DFA recently transferred its OCA to a multimillion-peso facility along Macapagal Boulevard in Parañaque City. The building, leased by the Development Bank of the Philippines, houses, among others, the facility for the issuance of the ePassport.

The ePassport features an embedded integrated circuit chip for identity verification, which includes the biometric information of the holder and a unique identification number. - KBK, GMANews.TV

RP post in Riyadh verifying if body found inside drum is Filipino

The Philippine Embassy in Saudi Arabia is confirming if the dead body found inside a drum in Riyadh is of a Filipino.

Vice Consul Roussel Reyes told GMANews.TV in a phone interview that the Embassy received reports Sunday of a dead body found dumped inside a drum in Riyadh’s major district of Al Bat’ha.

“We have confirmed that there is indeed a dead body found in Al Bat’ha, and we are now verifying the victim’s nationality," Reyes said in Filipino.

Migrante-Middle East regional coordinator John Leonard Monterona said in a separate interview that based on reports from the Filipino organization Kapatiran sa Gitnang Silangan, the drum was found in front of the Riyadh branch of Sky Freight Forwarders morning of Sunday.

According to Monterona, bystanders first thought the drum was a cargo container scheduled for delivery. The drum, however, was noticeably different from the ones usually used by the forwarding company, prompting the bystanders to open it.

Unconfirmed rumors are circulating in the area that the body was dismembered, Monterona said.

Reyes said they are now coordinating with the local police, but expressed doubts they would get information about the incident soon. “Usually, police authorities here do not reveal anything unless they have all the evidence they need," he said.

Reyes was unable to confirm if the body had indeed been dismembered.

Monterona said Filipinos in Riyadh usually converge in the commercial district of Al Bat’ha, where Filipino restaurants, money remittance centers and shops selling cheap devices can be found.

He said the district is dubbed “little Quiapo" by Filipino expatriates there.

“The incident is very unfortunate regardless of the victim’s nationality, but we’re hoping it was not of a Filipino national as it will surely cause alarm the large population of Filipinos here," said Monterona. - Jerrie Abella/KBK, GMANews.TV

Heat blamed for Filipino engineer's death in Saudi

A Filipino engineer in Saudi Arabia died of heart attack last week while at work.

Labor Attaché David Des Dicang of the Philippine Overseas Labor Office in Al Khobar confirmed that 60-year old Wilfredo Bautista suffered a heart attack inside his office past noon on June 14.

Bautista's office was on the fourth floor of the Gulf Center Building in Al Khobar.

An engineer for Tariq Hajj Architects, Bautista is a native of Baliuag in Bulacan where his family resides.

Dicang said Bautista’s family has already been informed of his death..

“Hindi ako makapaniwala dahil limang minuto lamang nang dumaan siya sa harap ng opisina ko at nagbatian pa kami (I could not believe what happened as he even greeted me five minutes before he died when he passed by my office)," said Ricardo Senapilo, a secretary at a nearby office, in an email to GMANews.TV.

Senapilo added that the company’s doctor tried but failed to revive Bautista. He said Bautista’s heart attack was caused by extreme heat based on information he heard from Bautista’s officemates.

According to Dicang, they are now coordinating with Bautista’s company to process documents required for the shipment of his body to the Philippines, which is expected in a month's time.

Among the requirements are a medical report, a death certificate from the hospital and a report from the local police.

“We can’t estimate how long the processing of his repatriation will take, but we hope it won’t take long since he died of a natural cause," Dicang told GMANews.TV in a phone interview.

He added the company will submit to the Saudi’s labor ministry a computation of Bautista’s monetary benefits, such as insurance, to be sent to the family. - KBK, GMANews.TV

Father's Day a sad affair for 17 OFWs in Saudi

For the 17 female overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) stranded in Saudi Arabia inside a company-owned facility, Father’s Day brought more grief.

“Wish naming (We wish) we could personally greet our respective fathers and husbands a happy Father’s Day, if we are only in the Philippines," the workers said in a text message to migrants’ rights group Migrante-Middle East.

Virtually detained in their accommodation for as long as six months for some of them, the 17 have refused to return to work due to several labor malpractice allegedly committed by their employer, the Annasban Group.

Among their complaints were unpaid salaries, illegal deductions, extended work hours without overtime payment, and absence of benefits such as health insurance.

Annasban’s management has yet to respond to several e-mails sent by GMANews.TV seeking their side, while representatives from the recruitment agencies have earlier said they are assisting their workers in their plight.

Help us

Migrante-ME regional coordinator John Leonard Monterona said the 17 OFWs have been sending him text messages asking for help to pressure the Philippine post in Riyadh to speed up their repatriation.

In their message to Monterona, the OFWs disclosed at least 11 striking workers were transferred from Abha, south of Saudi Arabia, to their shelter in Al Badia in Riyadh, bringing their total number to 17.

At least six of the workers stopped working since January this year, while the newly transferred workers ceased working on April.

“The 17 OFWs in distress have been held hostage by their employer and used them for bargaining so that its partner recruitment agencies in the Philippines could pay back the deployment costs; this must not be the case," Monterona said.

The female workers are caregivers employed by the outsourcing company Annasban Group and deployed by such recruitment agencies such as United Placeman, Global Jobsearch, Placewell International and Saveway International.

Early this year, several other Filipino workers of Annasban were repatriated following similar complaints, prompting the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) to temporarily suspend the company from hiring Filipino workers.

"Inept" officials

Migrante scored Philippine labor and welfare officials in Saudi Arabia for allegedly failing to arrange the 27 workers’ repatriation, which should involve requiring the employer to issue their exit clearances.

Recruitment agencies in the Philippines, and not the workers themselves, should likewise be ordered to pay deployment costs incurred by Annasban, Monterona said.

“Inept labor and welfare officials, and even embassy and consular officials who not do their task of protecting the well-being of and providing assistance to troubled OFWs must be sent back home; they are just wasting the fees and other charges imposed on us by the government," he said.

He challenged President-elect Benigno “Noynoy" Aquino III to work on improving on-site services and programs for OFWs.

No dates yet

In an earlier interview, Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) administrator Carmelita Dimzon said they are already booking the tickets for the Annasban workers’ return to the Philippines, but the dates have yet to be finalized.

She also said OWWA would pay for the tickets in the meantime since neither Annasban nor the workers’ recruitment agencies have agreed to shoulder their airfare.

The POEA will then be asked to compel the company and the agencies to reimburse the cost, she added. - KBK, GMANews.TV

Missionary: Many OFWs in Sudan suffer abuses

Many Filipino workers in Sudan are suffering from abusive employers and no longer expect Philippine officials to help them, a Filipino missionary has said.

Fr. Melito Pinili, a Filipino Franciscan assigned in Khartoum, said some Filipina home caregivers run away from their employers due to maltreatment and non-payment of wages.

“We will no longer seek shelter at the honorary consulate because we will just be turned over to our previous employers," Pinili quoted concerned Khartoum-based overseas workers as saying, in an article posted Saturday on the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines news site.

He said workers who earlier escaped from their employers usually sought refuge at the honorary consul’s residence but most workers said they are returned to their employers.

There are no Filipino diplomats in Sudan as the country falls within the jurisdiction of the Philippine Embassy in Cairo, Egypt, he added.

“All we have is an honorary consul in Khartoum and a Filipino staff who helps in consular matters," he said.

Pnili said many OFWs take part-time jobs to increase their income.

Other Filipino workers seek two or three employers who pay better wages rather than stay in a home and get paid from $150-200 (P6,864 to P9,153) a month.

Illicit relationships

“As Filipinos work on part-time basis and rent available spaces together, illicit relations occur," Pinili said.

He said the problem becomes more complicated when the illicit relationship results in childbirth.

Illegitimate children are registered in the civil registrar and are given Philippine passports. Pinili said he does not know where most of these children born out of wedlock are brought.

He believes the illegitimate child is either brought to the mother’s or father’s parents back home.

The Association of Filipinos in Sudan’s registry reveals there are around 1,800 Filipinos there, excluding peacekeepers (either police or military personnel) in Darfur.

But Pinili believes there are at least 5,000 Filipinos in Sudan.

While there is no jueteng yet in Sudan, cockfighting has become a favorite pastime though they are barred from the usual shouting inside cockpits in the Philippines. Cockfighting is considered gambling and thus prohibited.

Pinili said workers should see to it they have a duly-signed contract between them and their agency or employer and verify with the Philippine consulate in Khartoum the actual status of their employer.

They should also be given pre-departure orientation about Sudan, what to and what not to expect.

“They should be told what they will have during meals like bread and beans because they don’t grow rice and mostly meat without pork and fish is a luxury," Pinili said.

He said Filipinos usually look for rice, which is too costly because it still comes from Vietnam or Egypt.

In Sudan, Pinili said locals usually eat breakfast at 11 a.m. and lunch at 4 p.m. without dinner, while domestic caregivers are on call 24 hours a day.

Before Sudan, Pinili was assigned in Libya for four years where he served Filipino workers and expatriates including British, Irish, French, Italian, Indian professionals in petroleum companies and rigs.

“I also celebrated Mass at various oil rigs some two hours away by helicopter into the Mediterranean Sea," he said.

In preparation to his posting in Sudan, Pinili was sent to Egypt for two years to study inter-religious dialogue, Arabic and Islamic studies. — LBG, GMANews.TV

Despite shift to high-tech passport, fixers still pester DFA

Even a shift to high-tech passports might not help the Department of Foreign Affairs in efforts to rid the agency of passport fixers.

The DFA admitted this over the weekend as it warned the public anew against fixers charging exorbitant fees, this time for a passport appointment.

"DFA-OCA does not authorize any of its personnel to offer passport-related services (particularly appointments) to the public inside or outside of its premises," it said on its website.

It noted there are now "unscrupulous and enterprising individuals" who charge exorbitant fees in exchange for a passport appointment.

The DFA Office of Consular Affairs (DFA-OCA) said getting an appointment for passport processing is free and may be done in two ways.

One is to call telephone number 737-1000, while another is to log on to www.epassport.com.ph.

"The public is further advised not to deal or transact any business with any of these people or even offices near the DFA offering passport-related services to avoid being victimized," the DFA said.

Inquiries or urgent concerns or requests may be directed to any of the DFA-OCA Public Assistance personnel, it added.

The DFA said its OCA can provide assistance to applicants with urgent passport requirements provided that sufficient proof of urgency is submitted.

"Finally, the cooperation of the public is requested by reporting any suspicious and anomalous offers regarding passports to the Office of the Passport Director," it said. — LBG, GMANews.TV

Go jump off building, official allegedly tells OFW in distress

Repatriated overseas Filipino workers (OFW) renewed their call to remove a welfare officer in Riyadh from his position, this time for allegedly advising a caregiver in distress to jump off the building when she sought assistance.

The complaining caregiver, who was repatriated just this week, was accompanied by other repatriated OFWs and migrant rights’ group Migrante International when she went to the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) on Friday.

The caregiver who requested anonymity formally filed charges of grave misconduct and neglect of duties against welfare officer Nestor Burayag of the Philippine Embassy in Riyadh.

“Tinawagan ko si Mr. Burayag para magpasaklolo dahil hindi ko na matagalan ang pang-aabuso ng employer ko sa akin. Pero sinabihan niya lang ako na tumalon mula sa third floor ng aming building para raw may dahilan para matulungan niya ako," the caregiver said in a statement released through Migrante.

(I called Mr. Burayag to ask for help as I can no longer tolerate my superior who has been abusing me. But he only told me to jump from the third floor of our building so he’ll have a reason to help me.)

The caregiver said she was abused several times by her site manager since January, and complained that her mobile phone and ATM card were likewise confiscated.

She reported her plight to the management of Annasban Group which deployed her but never received help. It was then that she decided to seek help from the Philippine officials there.

No such advice, says Burayag

However, in a separate interview Burayag denied having made the remark but said the caregiver indeed sought assistance from his office.

“Hindi ako nagpayo na tumalon siya mula sa building (I did not advise her to jump off the building)," Burayag told GMANews.TV over the phone.

“Humingi siya ng tulong sa amin, sabi ay inaabuso raw siya. Sabi ko, gumawa siya ng paraan para makalabas ng building (She asked for help, saying she was being abused. I told her to find a way to get out of their building)," he added.

Burayag likewise admitted that the Embassy’s Repatriation and Assistance Division, which he heads, was unable to assist the caregiver as she allegedly could not decide then whether to file formal charges against her superior.

The caregiver’s colleagues, also women caregivers of Annasban, earlier filed before OWWA a separate complaint against Burayag for allegedly neglecting OFWs in distress.

They accused him of delaying their repatriation by not securing exit visas from Annasban, as well as failing to provide them food, water and medicine during their stay inside a company-owned facility when they stopped working.

The workers also claimed Burayag forced them to pay 2,500 to 6,500 Saudi riyals (about P31,000 to P80,000) each for their repatriation, instead of negotiating with Annasban to waive deployment costs, shoulder their airfare, and provide compensation for supposedly violating their employment contracts.

They likewise demanded the speedy repatriation of some 30 more OFWs who have stopped working and are still stranded in a facility owned by Annasban.

OWWA defends Burayag

In a separate interview, OWWA administrator Carmelita Dimzon defended Burayag and said he was able to set some of the remaining OFWs in Annasban for repatriation.

“He was able to schedule the workers for repatriation, including two who are reportedly sick. We are now booking the tickets for 18 workers," Dimzon told GMANews.TV.

Since neither Annasban nor the workers’ recruitment agencies have agreed to shoulder their airfare, OWWA will pay for the tickets in the meantime, she said.

She added that the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) will be asked to compel the company and the agencies to reimburse the cost.

Dimzon added they will still investigate the latest accusation lodged against Burayag, but expressed doubts that Burayag indeed told the caregiver to jump off the building.

“I’ll have to get the facts straight from the post. Burayag should be given a chance to be heard, (but) do you really think Burayag can say such things?" Dimzon explained.

Burayag refused to comment on the first complaint filed against him.

Migrante meanwhile scored Burayag’s alleged neglect of OFWs in distress, saying his attitude is reflective of the government’s general disregard for the welfare of OFWs

“They really do not pay attention to the well-being of our kababayans. In truth, many of them connive with foreign employers such as Annasban in subjecting Filipino workers to dire conditions. They treat OFWs as commodities and are only after the remittances of these overseas workers," said Migrante chairperson Garry Martinez. - GMANews.TV

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Resigned Pinoy workers in Jeddah seek repatriation

Over 20 overseas Filipino workers in Saudi Arabia are now awaiting repatriation after they quit their jobs due to their company’s alleged contract violations.

However, just four days before their resignation’s effectivity, the 26 machine operators from Jeddah have yet to receive the final details of their repatriation and more importantly, a notice on who will shoulder the cost of their tickets.

As a result, the workers fear they may either be kicked out of the accommodation provided by their company, or forced to just finish their two-year contracts despite their complaints.

In an interview with GMANews.TV, a worker who requested anonymity said their company, Arabian Gulf Manufacturers Ltd. for Plastic, has failed to pay them for overtime work. Moreover, the company has reportedly been making illegal salary deductions.

The machine operator added they were given a contract different from the one they signed with their recruitment agency in Manila.

“In our original contract, we’re supposed to receive 1,200 Saudi riyals (about P14,760) but we’re only getting 900 (P11,070)," the worker explained.

The original contract dated March last year, obtained from migrants’ rights group Migrante-Middle East, also indicates the workers were supposed to be paid for overtime work, but the worker said they did not receive any extra compensation.

On May 20, the 26 workers filed their resignation effective a month later as required by Saudi’s labor law.

However, the workers remain uncertain if their agency, Armstrong Resources Corp. (ARC), would shoulder their repatriation.

In a separate interview, Labor Attache Vicente Cabe clarified the agency has agreed to pay for the workers’ plane tickets.

“(The agency) called me last week and said they will provide the tickets. We’re just waiting if indeed the 26 workers will push through with being repatriated," Cabe told GMANews.TV.

But he was unable to give the exact date as to when the workers will be repatriated.

ARC refused to comment when reached by phone, saying it is attending to “more important issues," a staff member who refused to be identified said.

Nine-month ordeal

According to the worker, they wrote the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) to seek assistance regarding their plight as early as September 2009.

The POEA forwarded the letter to the Philippine Consulate General in Jeddah for action, which Cabe said he did not receive.

Around April, Cabe said he initiated talks with the company for a possible resolution.

“We were unable to convince the company. The company was offering free transportation and accommodation, but the original contract includes provision for food and laundry. The workers found the offer unacceptable," Cabe explained.

Cabe added the complaining workers originally numbered 36, but ten decided to just continue with their employment contract despite its departure from the original agreement.

If conciliatory talks now ongoing would not prosper, appropriate charges will be filed before the Primary Commission of Saudi’s Ministry of Labor, he said.

No tickets yet

With their resignation’s effectivity just a few days away, the workers remain unsure regarding the date of their repatriation.

“I am really worried so I did not go to work today. However, I did not receive any categorical response from the POEA, which is coordinating with the agency, if we already have tickets," the worker said.

He added their company is also asking them to present their tickets two days before their resignation’s date of effectivity, so that their exit papers can be processed.

“If we can’t present the tickets, the company said they will ignore our resignation and force us to finish our contracts. We may also be kicked out of our accommodation, and we have nowhere to go," the worker explained.

He likewise scored the POEA and the labor office in Jeddah for their slow response, and for seemingly ignoring their plight by allowing more OFWs to be deployed by their agency.

“Just yesterday (Tuesday), eight more OFWs arrived at the company deployed by our agency," the worker said.

Pinoy nurses in Northern Marianas complain of delayed, partial wages

GARAPAN, Saipan – At least 22 Filipino nurses and auxiliary personnel in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) have complained they have not been paid on time for as long as three months now.

Some nurses received partial payments for their salaries, but are still uncertain whether they would get paid in full or if they would get paid after all in the next pay period.

The 22 overseas health workers are employed by a private employment agency, Saipan Employment Agency and Services, for work in the CNMI, a U.S. territory some three hours away from Manila.

These Filipino nurses are assigned to the CNMI government-run Rota Health Center and Tinian Health Center, located in two other major islands of the CNMI.

In the CNMI’s capital island of Saipan, nurses in the government-run hospital are directly employed by the government and do not experience salary delays.

Most of the government nurses in Saipan and in the whole Northern Marianas are Filipinos.

“Nagi-stay pa rin kami dito dahil ayaw naman naming iwanan ang mga pasyente namin. Pero sana maayos na itong problema namin. Sana ma-hire na kami directly ng gobyerno. Hindi na namin makakayanan kapag ‘di pa kami makatanggap ng sweldo," one of the Filipino nurses at the Rota Health Center told GMANews.TV.

(We’re staying here because we don’t want to abandon our patients. But we’re hoping that our problem would be addressed. We hope we’d be hired directly by the government. We can’t stand it any longer if we still don’t receive our wages.)

Filipino nurses in both Tinian and Rota do not want to be identified, fearing retaliation from either the employment agency or the CNMI government.

Since March 2010, nurses in Rota received payments covering only the hourly $4.55 minimum wage of their salaries, and not their complete hourly salary of $8.93 to $9.20 an hour.

These nurses’ employment agency, SEAS, has also been permanently barred and disqualified from hiring, renewing or employing foreign workers in the CNMI because of labor violations.

SEAS appealed the decision, but the CNMI Department of Labor upheld the debarment and disqualification. The agency can still appeal the latest decision.

The employment agency likewise said it has not been receiving payments from the CNMI government and, as a result, could not pay these Filipino nurses for the services they render at the government health centers.

CNMI lawmakers stepped in to identify funds to pay the nurses salary. However, the funding appropriated by lawmakers and approved by the governor could only cover partial payment of the salaries.

The Philippine Consulate General in Saipan could not be reached as of posting time.

Records from the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration show there are over 3,200 Filipino workers in the US territory as of 2009.—JMA/JV, GMANews.TV

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Tourism, exports may boost RP-China ties

BEIJING – As the Philippines and China celebrated 35 years of diplomatic relations last week, officials on both sides expressed optimism about the prospects for strengthening economic ties through tourism and export growth.

“We are hoping that we will have more Philippine products come into China to capture this huge market for the advancement of our country and people," Ambassador Francisco Benedicto told GMANews.TV on the sidelines of a gathering of Filipinos, Chinese, and members of the diplomatic community on Saturday to celebrate Philippine Independence Day.

Chen Haosu, president of the Chinese People’s Association for Friendship with Foreign Countries, was equally optimistic about the economic scenario with the Philippines and expressed satisfaction with the growth of bilateral relations.

“Although many new things will be there in the future, for example the new president of the Philippines and the new five-year plan for China’s development, China-Philippine friendship will remain unchanged," he said at a ceremony preceding a performance of the Philippine Madrigal Singers here Sunday.

In Manila, China’s ambassador to the Philippines Liu Jianchao noted that Senator Benigno Aquino III was proclaimed as the country’s next president on the exact date that China and the Philippines established diplomatic relations 35 years ago.

“Today represents an historic moment ushering in a new era for China-Philippine relations," he said in a congratulatory message to President-elect Aquino, who will be sworn into office on June 30.

Ambassador Benedicto said he has encouraged the heads of the six Philippine consulates in China to organize trade visits for Chinese investors, which involves taking them “to the Philippines to look for native products they can buy and bring to China."

Philippine exports to China in the first four months of 2010 amounted to $4.76 billion, while inbound Chinese goods totaled US$3.49 billion, according to a report made by the Philippine Trade and Investment Center in Beijing.

China was the Philippines’ fifth largest export market in 2009, buying goods worth US$2.93 billion – almost half the figure in 2008 due to the global economic downturn, the report said. Top Philippine exports to China include semiconductors, parts for electrical and electronic machinery, copper cathodes, optical-disk drives and parts for office machines, the report said.

Benedicto said the blueprint for closer business ties includes boosting the Philippines as a tourist destination for Chinese mainlanders. Some 180,000 Chinese tourists visited the country last year, up 13.3 percent from 2008, said the Philippine tourism attaché in Beijing.

China is currently the Philippines’ No. 4 source of tourists, the trade and investment center report said.

In five years, Chinese mainlanders are projected to make 100 million overseas trips in which they are expected to spend US$100 billion, China Daily reported last month, quoting the head of the China National Tourism Administration.

Countries across the globe are scrambling for a piece of the huge market in China, which has a fast-growing middle class within its population of 1.3 billion.

Target for diplomacy

Such close cultural and economic ties between the two nations were unimaginable back in 1971, when journalist Chito Sta. Romana first came to Beijing as a student.

“As a matter of fact, it was not allowed for Filipinos to come here at that point," he said. “We were the only Filipino students. Most of the students were from Vietnam, North Korea, Albania – China’s allies," he recalled.

At the time, China and the Philippines had not yet established diplomatic relations, and it was Taiwan that the Philippines recognized as China. Mainland China has considered Taiwan a renegade province since it was taken over by Nationalists after they lost to the Communists in the Chinese Civil War in 1949.

China and the Philippines established diplomatic ties on June 9, 1975. Sta. Romana, now the Beijing bureau chief of ABC News, described the development of bilateral relations as “incredible," particularly in the political arena.

He said China regards the Philippines as a “major target for diplomacy" due to its active role in the Association for Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), which groups 10 countries in the region. “The Chinese consider the Philippines as a key part of ASEAN, and ASEAN is a major diplomatic ally," Sta. Romana added.

China is also becoming an increasingly important destination for Filipino workers and students. There are 1,500 Filipinos registered in the 16 cities, provinces and autonomous regions administered by the Embassy in Beijing alone. The number does not include Filipinos served by the Philippine consulates in Chongqing, Guangzhou, Hong Kong, Macau, Shanghai and Xiamen.

The relationship between the Philippines and China is “already comprehensive," said Maria Teresa Almojuela, consul general at the Embassy in Beijing, who has been involved in Sino-Philippine affairs since 1994.

“Now we’re looking at making the relationship more solid," she said. – YA, GMANews.TV

UK visa applicants warned vs submitting fake papers

Filipino students seeking education and possible employment in the United Kingdom who will be found submitting fraudulent documents to the British Embassy will be barred from applying for 10 years.

The warning was issued by recruitment consultant Emmanuel Geslani after the student visa applications of two Filipinos have recently been rejected by the UK Embassy.

The rejection came after the Embassy’s consular officers were unable to confirm that the bank certifications submitted by the two applicants were genuine, he said.

According to Geslani, the bank certifications were issued in a province from Northern Luzon, but the students’ papers indicated they were residents of Bicol province, which is in Southern Luzon.

As a result, the consular officers denied the applications, citing they had “concerns" that the bank documents may be fraudulent.

Bank certifications are required as proof that student visa applicants have the financial capacity to live in the UK, and pay for their tuition fee and living expenses, such as accommodation, food and transportation, for a period of at least nine months.

Geslani explained the usual amount ranges from P450,000 to P650,000, depending on their location in the UK, and is deposited in an accredited bank which issues the required certification to the applicant.

“The consultancy office assisting these students, the International Student Advisors, has to rely on the documents given by the students, and they had no way to verify the certifications as these were issued by banks," he explained.

He added the Embassy would have approved the students’ applications but had a problem with the bank certifications.

Geslani warned visa applicants, students or otherwise, that submitting fraudulent documents may result in their being barred from entering the UK under any type of visa for up to ten years. - Jerrie Abella/KBK, GMANews.TV

2 get life terms for killing Filipina in Canada in '07

Two Ecuadorean tradesmen have been sentenced to life imprisonment for the killing of a Filipina housekeeper in Canada in 2007 — a case that was considered as “highest-profiled" that year.

An eleven-member jury found Cristian Figueroa and Fabian Loayza-Penaloza guilty of killing Dulnuan, a housekeeper of a huge mansion in Toronto’s suburb of Mississauga.

The decision was handed down on June 11, according to a report on Canada-based news site The Star.

Dulnuan was strangled in October 2007 after the suspects broke into the $15-million mansion where she worked as a live-in housekeeper, shocking the residents of the posh Mississauga neighborhood in Ontario.

She was found with a thin braided copper wire wrapped twice around her neck and tightly tied with a knot at her throat. Her left hand was likewise bound with the same wire, while her feet were tied using her sweater.

Figueroa, 37, and Loayza-Penaloza, 30, showed no emotion when the verdict was read Friday afternoon in a Brampton City courtroom on Friday, the report noted.

“Very well justified" decision

Justice John Sprout said the decision, which deliberated for two days, was “very well justified" in light of the evidence presented during the month-long trial, according to the report.

The two convicts, charged with first-degree murder, pleaded not guilty but instead pointed to each other as the lone killer of Dulnuan.

While admitting that they broke into the 30,000-square foot mansion to commit burglary on October 1, 2007, both convicts said they never harmed the victim.

Crown prosecutors Steve Sherriff and Carrie Stoddard said the tradesmen attacked Dulnuan while she was cooking and confined her in the basement kitchen of the mansion, where she was strangled to death.

According to the report, Figueroa testified he tried but failed to save Dulnuan when he found Loayza-Penalosa strangling her from behind.

Figueroa’s DNA was subsequently found under Dulnuan’s fingernails.

Loayza-Penaloza, a long-time painter at the mansion, insisted he brought Figueroa inside the mansion to do an ocular inspection for a future break-in. Figueroa, however, took a safe from the master bedroom and said he left the maid tied up in her bedroom.

Dulnuan’s body was later found by her employer, Dr. Jayshree Chanchlani, when she got home after 5 p.m. that day. Her husband, a businessman, was on an overseas trip.

The housekeeper’s slaying was one of Greater Toronto Area’s (GTA) “highest-profiled cases of the year," the report said.

Vindication for Dulnuan

A separate report by Romeo Marquez of the Philippine Village Voice in Canada said Philippine Consul General Minerva Falcon has praised the jury’s decision.

“It’s a vindication for somebody who gave herself unselfishly," Falcon was quoted as saying.

Dulnuan, a native of Ifugao province, was 27 when she was killed. She had a degree in criminology from the University of Baguio.

However, in 2005, she sought employment overseas and joined her mother who was a housekeeper in Hong Kong.

In November 2006, she came to Canada and worked several jobs in the GTA before working for the affluent Chanchlani family.

"She came here like everybody else; to make a living and help her family. We just can’t believe it," said Fay Hangdaan, who lives in Toronto and is the cousin of Dulnuan's fiancé, in another report in the Star.

Prior to the killing, Dulnuan mentioned to her friends she feared for her safety.

"There's a second door in the back of the house that leads to the basement where her room is. She told me the last time I saw her that there's a river behind the house, so someone could just pass onto the (property) there, around the gates," said a housekeeper who spoke with Dulnuan the morning she was killed, as quoted in the report.

Dulnuan left behind a two-year-old daughter and a fiancé.

Her remains took three weeks to be repatriated to the Philippines, as the Philippine Consulate in Toronto had said it does not have enough fund to repatriate Dulnuan’s body, and that she was an “unregistered" worker.

Dulnuan’s fellow Filipino workers in Toronta earlier clamored that her killers be sentenced to death, but Canada abolished death penalty in 1976. - with Joseph Lariosa/KBK, GMANews.TV

Priest to gays in KSA: Look for work elsewhere

A Catholic Church official on Saturday advised Filipino homosexuals working in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to look for work elsewhere, noting the ban imposed by the country on gay and lesbian migrant workers.

“It’s much better if they don’t go there. They should look for another country where there is no discrimination," Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) Commission on Migrants and Itinerant People Executive Director Fr. Edwin Corros said in an article on the CBCP news site.

Corros said he had nothing against the decision of the Saudi government, which adheres to Shariah law prohibiting homosexuality.

“There are countries which have their own laws so we have to respect them," he said.
Gay groups as well as the overseas workers rights group Migrante International earlier slammed the new rules.

“We were shocked because this is discrimination. This deprives us of our right to earn and the right to livelihood, that's why we are sad," said Bermz Benedicto of group Ang Ladlad.

In June 2009, 67 Filipinos in Riyadh were forced to resign from their jobs after being arrested for dressing up in women’s clothes. --LBG, GMANews.TV

Pinoy anti-graft lawyer gets Harvard award for excellence, leadership

A Filipino lawyer received an award for academic excellence and leadership from the prestigious Harvard University in the United States late last month.

Lawyer Gerard Mosquera received the 2010 Lucius N. Littauer Award for Academic Excellence and Leadership from Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government last May 25.

Lawyer Gerard Mosquera at Harvard University. Photo by Enrique Pahm.
“I plan to continue to do work that will help fight corruption, promote transparency and accountability, and improve governance, either in government or as an active member of the civil society," Mosquera said after receiving the award.

The award is the highest recognition given by the Harvard Kennedy School for exemplary academic achievement, public service and leadership.

Mosquera holds a Masters degree in Public Administration and was at the top five percent of Harvard Kennedy School’s Class of 2010, with 577 students from 80 countries.

Mosquera, a native of General Santos City, made a name for himself in anti-corruption work.

Since 2005, he has served as Chief of Party of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID)'s anti-corruption program in Timor-Leste.

He also served as technical adviser for anti-corruption to the United Nations Mission of Support in East Timor.

In the Philippines, he briefly served as Director in the Office of the Ombudsman.

Mosquera placed second in the 1992 Bar Examinations, and holds a Masters of Law degree from Kings College London and graduated with honors from the Ateneo School of Law.

He once served as Integrated Bar of the Philippines chapter president for General Santos City and South Cotabato and Sarangani provinces.

He has four children with wife Myra. — LBG, GMANews.TV

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Filipino Migrant Workers' Day marked with triumph, tribulation

Jason Aguilar is unaware that June 7 marks Filipino Migrants’ Day.

Less than two months after he started working as a welder in Doha, Qatar, he was deported on suspicion of being a high-profile suspect on the run. He still considers working abroad, but only as a last option.

“Pagkatapos nito, wala pa akong nakikitang trabaho. Pero maghahanap pa rin ako ng trabaho, ‘yung dito lang sana sa Pilipinas," Aguilar told GMANews.TV in an interview with a hint of hesitation.

(I haven’t found a job where I could transfer after this. But I will still keep on looking for job, hopefully just here in the Philippines.)

Right now, Aguilar works as a security aide of outgoing Bulacan Governor Joselito Mendoza, but his employment contract is set to expire on June 30 when the governor steps down.

Aguilar was deported January this year after authorities suspected him of being Jason Aguilar Ivler, who was the subject of an international manhunt for fatally shooting the son of a Malacañang official in a road-rage incident.

It was only when he landed in Manila that Aguilar came to know that he had fallen victim to a case of mistaken identity. He admitted to being “traumatized" by the experience.

On June 7, however, Aguilar admitted that if he does not find another job soon, he may just try his luck abroad once more despite the ordeal he went through.

“Ayoko nang mag-abroad dati, pero ngayon, naiisip ko, balang araw baka kailanganin ko (Back then I said I don’t want to work abroad anymore, but now, I think I may have to do it again someday)," he explains.

OFWs as partners in progress

Unknown to many, Republic Act 8042 or the Migrant Workers and Overseas Filipinos Act of 1995, apart from establishing the government’s responsibility to protect migrant workers and promote their welfare as well as their families’, includes a provision for the celebration of the Filipino Migrant Workers Day.

Then President Fidel Ramos issued an executive order declaring June 7 of every year as the date for the celebration.

This is the 15th year that the country observes the Migrant Workers Day, otherwise known to migrant workers as Araw ng Pasasalamat (Day of Thanksgiving), according to the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA).

This year’s theme is “OFWs: Tagumpay sa Hamon ng Panahon, Kaagapay sa Pagsulong" (OFWs: Triumph amid the Challenges of Time, Partners in Progress).

“The celebration serves as the avenue for the government and its social partners to express their gratitude to all OFWs," said OWWA administrator Carmelita Dimzon in a statement posted on the agency’s website.

The celebration, according to the statement, centers on the milestones and accomplishments of OFWs during the last decade amid major global and local crises such as the Lebanon crisis, global financial crisis, outbreak of the H1N1 virus, and calamities.

The POEA, meanwhile, marked the occasion by recognizing local government units in Metro Manila who have been involved in the campaign to minimize illegal recruitment activities in their respective areas, according to a separate statement.

“Forced migration"

Despite the festive mood that government agencies want to promote to commemorate this special day, the conditions of overseas Filipino workers have not been encouraging.

Migrants’ groups, for one, view the government’s policy towards increased labor export as “forced migration".

Aguilar, for example, was just one of about 3,000 Filipinos who leave daily for overseas employment given the lack of job opportunities here, according to estimates by migrants’ groups.

In 2009 alone, over 1.4 million Filipinos went abroad, according to records of the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA).

This translates to over 3,800 workers leaving daily last year, in line with the continuing government policy of encouraging large-scale deployment of workers. Overseas workers have become an indispensable economic force.

Since 2003, there has been a steady increase in the amount of remittances that overseas Filipino workers send home, thereby keeping the economy cushioned from the dire impacts of the financial crisis.

From over $7.5 billion (about P348 billion) in 2003, OFW remittances ballooned to $17.3 billion (over P800 billion) in 2009.

“The incoming administration should never take labor export as a tool for development and should see forced migration as an effect of the worsening problem of unemployment in the country. There is no way to solve forced migration but to aggressively pursue local job generation through improving our local agriculture and industry," said Migrante International in a statement.

Dolores Balladares, chairperson of the Union of Filipinos in Hong Kong, has been in Hong Kong for 16 years now as a domestic service worker, owing to the lack of job opportunities in the Philippines.

Every two years she goes home to a house in Laguna which she acquired through the fruits of her overseas labor. Married but without a child, she is sending a nephew to school, apart from also helping her parents and siblings.

“Filipinos are being forced to leave the country for overseas employment. If there’s work available for us back in the Philippines, we will always choose to just stay there and be with our families," she said.

No end to tales of woe

The group Overseas Filipinos Worldwide has urged presidential front-runner Sen. Benigno Simeon “Noynoy" Aquino III to work toward self-sufficiency and the creation of local jobs so that migration would no longer be a “forced option."

In an open letter to Aquino, the group wrote, “Shall we continue to send out our people and rely on remittances without any development objectives in sight?" adding that government-managed deployment of Filipino workers abroad has resulted in dire social costs, such as the continued loss of talents to overseas work and dysfunctional families.

Stories thus abound of Filipino workers falling victims to abuses and oppressive labor schemes.

Early this year, the Philippines repatriated Filipina caregivers from Saudi Arabia who stopped working to protest their company’s alleged unfair labor practices such as contract substitution, illegal salary reduction, non-payment of benefits and overtime pay, and unsafe working environment.

To this date, however, the repatriated OFWs are struggling anew to have their company delisted from recruiting Filipino workers, as over 30 of their former co-employees who likewise refused to work are still being detained by their company.

Meanwhile, based on Migrante records, there are over 20 Filipinos languishing on death row in the Middle East alone, including the recent case of Joselito Zapanta, who was sentenced to death in Saudi Arabia for killing his Sudanese landlord.

In China meanwhile, as of January this year, 66 Filipinos are on death row for attempting to smuggle illegal drugs into the People’s Republic. Of these, 53 are women.

New government, new hope

Migrants and migrants’ rights advocates, however, see new hope with the incoming administration of Aquino.

“Susubukan ko muna talagang maghanap ng trabaho dito sa Pilipinas. Kung meron, dito na lang ako (I will really try to find work here, because I’d rather stay here)," Aguilar said, as he expressed hopes that more job opportunities will be made available when Aquino assumes the presidency.

Joselito Zapanta’s sister Rosemay likewise urged the government to do its best to save her brother and have his death penalty reduced.

“Sana makauwi na ang kuya ko, tulungan siya, para makapiling na niya ang mga anak niya (I hope that with their help, my brother will be able to go home and be reunited with his children," Rosemay said.

For its part, Migrante is challenging Aquino to realize his campaign propaganda of putting an end to corruption by holding outgoing President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and other government officials accountable for mismanaging OWWA’s funds, among others.

“We hope that (Aquino’s) OFW platform presented during the presidential campaign will take real form. To prove its worth, we challenge him to start extending help to OFWs in distress even before his proclamation," the group added. - KBK, GMANews.TV

PhilHealth launches 1st office in Saudi Arabia

Overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) in the Middle East received an advance Independence Day gift with the launching of a new Philippine Health Insurance Corp. (PhilHealth) office in Riyadh.

PhilHealth president Rey Aquino and representatives from Enjaz and Development Bank of Philippines (DBP) signed Friday night a manifesto during the launching at the Riyadh Palace Hotel.

“The manifesto is in support of PhilHealth’s campaign to serve Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) in the Kingdom by looking after their health insurance needs as well as those of their beneficiaries," Aquino said, according to a report Sunday on Arab News.

PhilHealth offices had been established in Hong Kong and Macau. Another office will also be set up in Singapore soon.

Enjaz correspondent banks’ manager Amanat Ali represented Sami Al-Rajhi, head of Enjaz Network Group, while Abdullah Gacuan represented DBP.

PhilHealth’s OFW members will exclusively remit their memberships dues to the Philippines through DBP-Enjaz.

Citing recent reports, Aquino said Saudi Arabia again topped the list of land-based OFW destinations, with an 11.7-percent increase in deployment in 2009 compared to 2008.

“Almost a million OFWs were deployed in Saudi Arabia last year in the skilled category. With this trend in OFW deployment, it is imperative that we educate our OFWs about their health insurance benefits so that they will have peace of mind while they toil in this oil-rich Middle
Eastern country," he said.

He added PhilHealth office there can assist on questions regarding membership amendments and member data records.

Also, he said PhilHealth can accept claims and will distribute fliers to drum up interest among OFWs in the Kingdom and neighboring countries regarding their health insurance needs.

“Eventually, our desk will receive premium payment amounting to SR81 (P1,009) per year. Note that OFW members are paying less compared to what other members in the other paying categories remit," he said.

“We recognize the fact that OFW remittances made through banks for the first quarter of this year reached $4.3 billion, a major bulk of which came from the Middle East. This implies that there’s a strong demand for Filipino skills in almost every major industry in the Middle East and this demand translates to better opportunities for our skilled workers and to our economy as well," he said.

He thanked Ambassador Antonio Villamor, outgoing Labor Attaché Rustico dela Fuente who will be cross-posted to Belgium, and incoming Labor Attaché Albert Valenciano for their help in the launching of PhilHealth’s office in Riyadh. — LBG, GMANews.TV

Jobless in Jeddah: 200 unpaid Pinoys seek help

Filipino medical workers in Jeddah trooped Wednesday to the Philippine Consulate General there to request action against their erring employer and on the impending closure of their workplace, six months after they sought assistance from the Philippine post.

The workers, numbering over 200, are nurses and clinic staff of the Al Ansar Hospital, located at the Al Salama district of Jeddah in Saudi Arabia.

“They are complaining of non-payment of their salary for six months now which they would like to be released immediately amid the impending closure of the hospital, and are demanding that they all be given their release papers so that they could look for possible employment," said Migrante-Middle East regional coordinator John Leonard Monterona, who has been assisting the workers.

The facilities of Al Ansar include a hospital and two polyclinics where about 236 Filipino workers are deployed. Only one polyclinic remains in operation.

According to Monterona, only 59 workers have so far received their release papers, while all are still awaiting payment of their salaries.

Labor Attache Vicente Cabe told GMANews.TV in a separate interview that the workers’ case has already been forwarded to Saudi’s Ministry of Labor and to the Office of the Governor of Jeddah for appropriate action.

“A committee, composed of representatives of the Jeddah governor’s office, immigration office and labor office, has also been formed to resolve the issue," he added.

According to Cabe, the committee has agreed to allow the workers to apply for employment in other hospitals even without their release papers.

Those who may wish to just go back to the Philippines will also be assisted, he said.

“As regards the unpaid salaries, a case against the company is already pending before the Primary Commission of the Ministry of Labor," he explained.

Cabe, however, could not estimate when the case will be resolved, saying the commission is still conducting regular hearings.

In a separate interview meanwhile, the recruitment agency in Manila of 55 of the workers said they have done what they can to assist the workers in the five months that they did not receive their salary.

“The workers under my agency, which include nurses, housekeepers and bus drivers, have already transferred employment, some of whom started working June 1. What’s good here is that their new jobs involve higher salaries and increased benefits," Anchor Manpower Intl. Services Inc. owner Oscar Garcia told GMANews.TV.

He added they are still working on the case of at least five workers, who have opted to be repatriated.

According to Garcia, a possible resolution for the workers’ unpaid salaries may involve selling the properties of Al Ansar, the proceeds of which will go to the workers.

The workers first came to the Consulate General December last year, according to Cabe.

He said the Consulate agreed on a deadline for the company management to release the workers’ salaries, which the company failed to meet.

The workers had earlier complained they did not receive assistance from the Consulate and their Manila agency, until recently.—JV, GMANews.TV

Release of 9 Pinoys in Maldives, Sri Lanka caps RP envoy's career

A retiring Philippine envoy ended her career on a doubly positive note after she secured the release of nine Filipinos detained in Maldives and in Sri Lanka.

Maldives President Mohamed Nasheed ordered the release of seven overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) in Maafushi Prison as a farewell gift to Ambassador Zenaida Rabago.

"This was as a gesture of goodwill and as a farewell gift to the Ambassador, who is retiring from the foreign service," the Department of Foreign Affairs said in its website.

For his part, Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa ordered officials to work on the release and deportation of two Filipinos jailed for illegal recruitment.

Rabago paid farewell calls to high officials of the Maldivian and Sri Lankan Governments from May 22 to 25.

Until her retirement, she served as the country's non-resident Ambassador to Maldives and Sri Lanka.

The DFA said the seven OFWs in Maldives, who were working in the hospitality industry there, pleaded guilty to credit card theft and fraud and were sentenced to 25 years in prison in February 2009.

But the DFA and the Philippine Embassy had sought avenues for their release or deportation through the recently approved "Clemency Law," which empowers the President to grant pardons to prisoners.

On the other hand, Rabago also reiterated the country's request to Maldives for support for its bid for Observer Status in the Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC).

"The Maldivian President gladly obliged, and informed her that he will personally write the OIC Secretary-General of his country's strong support," the DFA said.

In turn, Nasheed requested the Ambassador for support for an Asian Summit on climate change.

He also intimated to Rabago the hiring of Filipino professionals from the medical, entertainment, and educational fields, the DFA said.

Rabago, during her farewell call to Sri Lankan President Rajapaksa, appealed for the deportation of two Filipinos held in prison for alleged violation of Sri Lankan immigration laws.

She stressed the protection of Filipinos as one of the pillars of the country's foreign policy.

The DFA added the two Filpinos detained in Sri Lanka already served seven months in jail while awaiting formal charges from the Sri Lankan government.

Meanwhile, the Sri Lankan government also reiterated its request for the Philippine government to re-open its Embassy in Colombo and commended the Philippines as role model in protecting and safeguarding the rights of Filipino migrant workers. — LBG, GMANews.TV

DFA to repatriate OFWs' children born in Israel

The Foreign Affairs Department assured over the weekend it is ready to repatriate children of overseas Filipino workers born in Israel.

Israeli law orders the sending of migrant workers' children born there back to their home countries if the overseas workers are to continue their employment.

The Israeli government vowed the deportation would be in "the most humane way possible," Philippine Ambassador to Israel Petronila Garcia said.

"The (Philippine) Embassy (in Tel Aviv) has made representations with the Israeli government about the imminent deportation of Filipino children, and we were informed by the Foreign Ministry that it will be handled in the most humane way possible and in the best interest of our two countries," Garcia said in an article posted Friday on the Department of Foreign Affairs website.

Garcia added, however, that the final decision of the Ministerial Committee in Israel is still pending.

Militant migrant workers' group Migrante earlier appealed to the Israeli government to stop what it called the crackdown against some 1,200 children of illegal immigrants in north Hadera and the southern part of Gedera.

In an article on the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines news site, Migrante Middle East coordinator John Monterona cited reports from some OFWs in Tel-Aviv that there were gross violations of migrants’ rights during the crackdown.

Monterona said in 2006, 400 to 500 children were granted citizenship with their parents, entitling them to all the rights and benefits under Israel laws, but was reversed by President Benjamin Netanyahu when he came to power.

Monterona claimed undocumented Filipino workers there fear for their safety as the crackdown continues, adding that many of them were women and former caregivers or domestic helpers with expired contracts.

The DFA said, meanwhile, that there was a planned deportation of children in August 2009, but was postponed due to public outcry and protests of Israeli activists, and to give time for the Committee to study the issue and present its findings.

The inter-ministerial committee, composed of officials from the welfare, education, finance justice and interior ministries, is expected to formulate a final draft of the said plan soon, which will be submitted to Interior Minister Eli Yishai. — with Nikka Corsino/LBG, GMANews.TV

RP lifts travel warning for Thailand

The Philippines has lifted its warning to Filipinos against traveling to Thailand, saying the peace and order situation in the country’s capital city has improved.

“In view of the improved peace and order situation in Bangkok, Thailand, the Philippine Embassy in Bangkok said Filipino nationals may now undertake travels to Thailand," the Department of Foreign Affairs said in a release posted on its Web site.

“Filipino travelers are advised to still exercise extra caution if traveling to Bangkok or other cities or provinces," the release added.

Red Shirt protesters took to the streets of Bangkok mid-March to demand the resignation of the country’s prime minister, but a subsequent military crackdown resulted in widespread violence leaving at least 83 people dead and more than 1,800 injured. - GMANews.TV

No Filipino casualty in Tropical Storm Agatha — DFA

06/03/2010 | 07:44 PM

No Filipino in Central America was affected by the powerful tropical storm that lashed the region last week.

“The Embassy was able to contact a number of Filipinos from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, who said they were all safe," said Philippine Ambassador to Mexico Francisco M. Ortigas III in an article posted on the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) website.

A total of 131 people perished due to the flooding and landslides that were caused by Tropical Storm Agatha. Dozens are also missing while thousands lost their homes.

Agatha made landfall near the Guatemala-Mexico border on May 29 as a tropical storm with winds up to 45 miles per hour (75 kilometers per hour). - Jerrie Abella/KBK/RSJ, GMANews.TV

Saturday, June 5, 2010

RP lifts travel warning for Thailand

The Philippines has lifted its warning to Filipinos against traveling to Thailand, saying the peace and order situation in the country’s capital city has improved.

“In view of the improved peace and order situation in Bangkok, Thailand, the Philippine Embassy in Bangkok said Filipino nationals may now undertake travels to Thailand," the Department of Foreign Affairs said in a release posted on its Web site.

“Filipino travelers are advised to still exercise extra caution if traveling to Bangkok or other cities or provinces," the release added.

Red Shirt protesters took to the streets of Bangkok mid-March to demand the resignation of the country’s prime minister, but a subsequent military crackdown resulted in widespread violence leaving at least 83 people dead and more than 1,800 injured. - GMANews.TV

No Filipino casualty in Tropical Storm Agatha — DFA

No Filipino in Central America was affected by the powerful tropical storm that lashed the region last week.

“The Embassy was able to contact a number of Filipinos from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, who said they were all safe," said Philippine Ambassador to Mexico Francisco M. Ortigas III in an article posted on the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) website.

A total of 131 people perished due to the flooding and landslides that were caused by Tropical Storm Agatha. Dozens are also missing while thousands lost their homes.

Agatha made landfall near the Guatemala-Mexico border on May 29 as a tropical storm with winds up to 45 miles per hour (75 kilometers per hour). - Jerrie Abella/KBK/RSJ, GMANews.TV

Babies of 2 convicted Pinays in China arrive in Manila

Two babies whose mothers were convicted for drug-related offenses in China were repatriated to the Philippines Wednesday night.

Representatives of the Philippine Consulate General in Guangzhou accompanied the 11-month-old baby of Rosabeth Villapando and the 14-month-old baby of Karren Andojar.

"While their respective mothers remain in detention and could not be helped at the moment, the babies needed to be saved from the horrible experience of being in prison," Department of Foreign Affairs Office of the Undersecretary for Migrant Workers Affairs (DFA-OUMWA) executive director Enrico Fos said in an article posted Thursday on the DFA website.

He added that this particular case is more meaningful to the people of the Consulate General and the DFA-OUMWA than past repatriation cases because those that were saved were innocent babies.

Fos and representatives from the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), as well as the babies' relatives in Manila, welcomed the babies.

Also present were representatives from the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency and Rep. Roquito Ablan Jr.

The DFA said the repatriation was made possible through consistent diplomatic representations of the Consulate General led by Consul General Joselito Jimeno.

It added its OUMWA unit provided the funding and coordinated with the DSWD and the babies' next of kin.

Chinese authorities arrested the babies' mothers in separate operations in Youyiguan Port, Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region on September 26 and 27, 2008 for suspected drug smuggling.

Andojar and Villapando were found carrying 1,350 grams and 3,741.5 grams of heroin, respectively.

They were convicted by the High People's Court on January 21, 2009 and sentenced to life imprisonment.

"Both women were pregnant at the time of their arrest. They had the misconception that pregnant women caught smuggling drugs in China will not be detained by authorities and will be immediately repatriated. They also admitted that they knowingly accepted the offer to carry drugs from members of international drug syndicates for a fee," the DFA said.

Upon representation of the Consulate General, both women were not mixed with other criminals while they were in detention but were confined at the Pingxiang Detention House.

The DFA, in coordination with the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency and other concerned government agencies, continue to work on comprehensive and proactive measures to address the drug mules' issue and prevent the further victimization of Filipinos by international drug syndicates.

Upon the DFA's recommendation, outgoing President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo signed last February 8 Administrative Order (AO) No. 279, which created the Task Force on Drug Couriers, tasked to prevent Filipinos being used as drug couriers by international drug trafficking syndicates. - LBG, RJAB Jr., GMANews.TV

Saudi govt gets tough on gay, lesbian workers

For nine years, Ramil Autentico had to watch his moves as an overseas Filipino worker (OFW) in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

That was because as a homosexual, Ramil knew very well that the Saudi government didn’t approve of his sexual preference.

“Once na nakita nilang kumembot ka, nag-makeup ka doon na lalaki ka, alam na nilang bakla ka. Ikukulong ka. Kapag nakita ka nila, alam na kasi nila ang word na bakla, sisigawan ka nilang 'bakla', ‘harami’. Ang ibig sabihin ng ‘harami’, delikado ka," Autentico said in an interview aired over “24 Oras" Wednesday night.

(Once they see you swaying your hips or applying make-up and you’re a man, they’ll conclude that you’re gay and detain you. They call you ‘gay,’ or ‘harami’, which means you’re in danger of being arrested.)

The Saudi government follows Shari’ah or Islamic law, which strictly prohibits open display of homosexual behavior.

Last month, the Saudi government took its drive against homosexuality a step further when it banned the recruitment of gay and lesbian workers, including those from other countries.

In a May 26 memorandum, the consular section of the Royal Embassy of Saudi Arabia reminded recruitment agencies in Manila to be stricter in screening job applicants to the Middle Eastern country.

“Officials of recruitment agencies who are responsible in conducting interviews of job applicants to Saudi Arabia are strongly advised to screen them thoroughly so that those belonging to the third sex are excluded," the memo read.

The accreditation of recruitment agencies found to have failed to observe this advisory would be permanently terminated, it added.


Discrimination

While Philippine groups respect the Saudi government’s decision in light of its sovereignty, they branded this recent move as discriminatory and urged the Philippine government to seek “clarification."

The group Ang Ladlad, which advocates the rights of gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transsexuals, said while the Saudi government has the right to implement its own policies, prohibiting the recruitment of gay and lesbian workers is tantamount to discrimination.

“If the policy was signed by their King, Saudi authorities are duty-bound to implement it. It is up to them to decide what to do," said Ang Ladlad leader Danton Remoto in Filipino in the “24 Oras" report.

Remoto said it was not simply a matter of implementing the law but a human rights issue, as the policy would mean fewer job opportunities for Filipinos in Saudi Arabia, the top destination for migrant Filipino workers.

Remoto questioned how the Saudi government plans to implement the policy, particularly on determining whether a worker is gay or not. “How will the screening work? Will it based on hair length, or one’s raising of an eyebrow?" he asked

Clarification sought

In a phone interview with GMANews.TV, the Middle East chapter of migrants’ rights group Migrante International urged Philippine authorities to clarify the new policy.

“We need to understand the cultural limitations in this country, but the Philippine government must seek a clarification on the basis of labor relations between the two countries," said Migrante coordinator for the Middle East John Leonard Monterona.

The Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) refused to comment, saying it is currently discussing the new policy, according to the “24 Oras" report.

For its part, the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) advised OFWs to be more careful with their demeanor while in the Kingdom to avoid being arrested.

“What happens is wherever we are, if we violate the laws of our host country, offenses will have corresponding sanctions," said OWWA director for policy and program development Vivian Tornea in the newscast.

“As part of our pre-departure program, the workers leaving the country are educated and informed about the laws and the culture of the host country and we advise them to conform to the norms," she added.

Last year, 72 Filipinos were arrested and lashed for cross-dressing in a private concert in eastern Riyadh.

Normal penalties include fines, imprisonment and whipping. Individuals found to be wearing even one article of women’s clothing can be imprisoned for three to six months and whipped with a rattan stick between 50 and 100 times. - KBK, GMANews.TV

Repatriated OFWs seek recall of exec in Riyadh

Repatriated overseas Filipino workers trooped on Tuesday to the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) to demand the recall of a welfare officer in Riyadh, whom they accused of neglecting OFWs (Overseas Filipino Workers) in distress.

The workers, who were formerly caregivers of the Annasban Group, staged a protest in front of the OWWA office in Pasay City to demand that welfare officer Nestor Burayag, who heads the Repatriation and Assistance Division of the Philippine Embassy in Riyadh, be removed from his post.

“Dahil kay Burayag, umabot ng halos limang buwan ang aming pagdurusa. Sa halip na kami ay tulungan, lalo lamang niyang pinatitindi ang paghihirap na dinadanas namin sa kamay ng Annasban. At hanggang sa ngayon, ganito pa rin ang kanyang ginagawa sa mahigit 30 kababayan nating kababaihan na ipiniit ng aming employer," said Eppie Bellarma, one of the workers who lead a work stoppage to protest their former company’s alleged contract violations.

(Because of Burayag, our plight lasted for almost five months. Instead of helping us, he only aggravated our suffering under Annasban. To this date he has likewise been neglecting more than 30 female employees still detained by our employer.)

The women workers who participated in the protest were repatriated early this year after staging a work stoppage in October last year.

Their complaints include contract substitution, illegal salary reduction, deductions, non-issuance of benefits, and unsafe working environment.

They likewise accused their company of practically detaining them when they refused to go back to work.

More than 30 of their Filipino co-workers are set to suffer the same neglect they did under Burayag, they said.

They are now accusing Burayag of delaying their repatriation by failing to secure the required exit visas from Annasban management as well as failing to provide them food, water, and medicine during their stay inside a company-owned facility when they staged the work stoppage.

The workers also claimed Burayag forced them to pay 2,500 to 6,500 Saudi riyals (about P31,000 to P80,000) each for their repatriation, instead of negotiating with Annasban to waive deployment costs, shoulder their airfare, and provide compensation for supposedly violating their employment contracts.

One of the caregivers in the protest, Leonor Agorilla, said she contracted herpes zoster from one of the patients and requested repatriation, but Burayag allegedly refused to assist her.

According to the migrants rights group Migrante International, Agorilla was traumatized by her ordeal and is now undergoing psychiatric treatment.

The group likewise scored OWWA for failing to reprimand Annasban and work for banning the deployment of Filipino workers by the company.

“OWWA knows very well the notorious labor practice of Annasban. This has been going on for years and until now Administrator (Carmelita) Dimzon has not done any move to prevent our kababayans from falling prey to Annasban. She should begin by investigating the ill-conduct of Burayag and immediately submitting recommendations to (the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration) to ban Annasban," said Migrante Chairperson Garry Martinez.

Migrante records show they have received similar complaints against the company from about 280 workers, including during the three years it was banned from recruiting Filipino workers due to previous complaints.

In an interview with GMANews.TV, Dimzon said she has yet to look at the workers’ complaints.

“I will have to look into it first. I’ll look at the demands of the workers, and also at the response of Burayag on the issue," said Dimzon, who returned to the country Wednesday from a conference in Rome.

Meanwhile, Burayag refused comment on the workers’ complaints when reached via phone.

“It would not be good for me to react on the issue because I am the one they are complaining against," he said in Filipino, adding his immediate supervisor Labor Attache Rustico Dela Fuente is the proper person to ask.

Repeated calls and text messages to the Dela Fuente were unanswered as of posting time.

The workers meanwhile said they are considering bringing the case against Burayag before the Office of the Ombudsman.

The Annasban Group is a multimillion company involved in construction and development. It is reportedly owned by the “powerful" Al Nasban family, according to Migrante, which includes Engineer Fahad Al Nasban, who is also an immigration police official, as its director general.

Its recruitment arm, the Al Nasban Trading and Contracting, supplies labor manpower such as janitors, patient attendants, dental assistants, and caregivers to various government-run medical facilities and rehabilitation centers all over the Kingdom.

The non-government organization Kapatiran sa Gitnang Silangan estimates that the Annasban employs at least 800 Filipino workers. - RJAB Jr., GMANews.TV

Ban sa Saudi Arabia: Opisyal ng CBCP may payo sa mga bakla, tomboy

MANILA – Maghanap ng bansa na walang diskriminasyon sa mga bakla at tomboy.

Ito ang payo ni Fr Edwin Corros, opisyal ng Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines, kaugnay sa pinaigting na kautusan ng pamahalaan ng Saudi Arabia laban sa mga migranteng manggagawa na bakla at tomboy.

Ang pag-iwas umano sa Saudi Arabia ay paraan para makaiwas din sa problemang legal ang mga homosexual na overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) at pati na kanilang mga recruiter.

“Maghanap na lang sila ng ibang bansa na walang discrimination, yung mga walang pinipiling sexuality. Kasi sayang naman kung capable enough ang isang tao na magtrabaho tapos just because bading s’ya eh bawal na," pahayag sa Veritas Radio ni Corros, executive secretary ng Episcopal Commission on Migrant and Itinerant People ng CBCP.

Kamakailan ay nagbigay ng direktiba ang pamahalaan ng Saudi Arabia sa mga recruitment agency sa Pilipinas na salaing mabuti at tiyakin na walang homosexual na maipapadalang OFWs sa kanilang bansa.


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Mahigpit na ipinagbabawal sa Saudi Arabia ang lantarang pagpapakita ng kabaklaan tulad ng pagsusuot ng damit ng babae at pakikipagrelasyon sa kapwa lalaki.

Noong nakaraang taon, 72 Pinoy na hinihinalang bakla na dumalo sa “gay pageant" ang dinakip ng mga pulis sa Saudi Arabia. Ilan sa mga nadakip ay nakabihis pambabae at naka-wig.

Sa panayam ng GMA Network's Unang Hirit nitong Huwebes, binatikos ng grupong Ang Ladlad ang kautusan na isa umanong pagpapakita ng diskriminasyon sa mga manggagawa.

"Kami ay nagimbal dahil ito talaga ay diskriminasyon, dahil ang karapatan na makapamuhay, the right to earn the right to livelihood ay hind na naman matutupad. Kaya kami ay nalulungkot," ayon kay Bemz Benedicto, incoming chair ng Ang Ladlad.

Sa panayam ng Veritas Radio, sinabi ni Corros na hindi niya masisisi ang mga kababayan – kabilang na ang mga homosexual - na nangingibang-bansa dahil na rin sa kawalan ng oportunidad sa Pilipinas.

“Kung may job opportunity dito wala na sanang dahilan para umalis pa ang mga Pilipino. Pero since wala, hindi natin maiiwasan na may mga kababayan pa rin tayo na talagang aalis ng bansa at maghahanap ng job opportunities," pahayag ng pari.

Nanawagan si Corros sa susunod na administrasyon na pagtuunan ng pansin ang paglikha ng mga trabaho sa Pilipinas upang hindi na umalis ng bansa ang mga Pilipino.

Sa kabila ng kautusan ng Saudi Arabia, sinabi ni Corros na kailangang igalang ng mga Pilipino ang batas na ipinatutupad sa nabanggit na bansa.

Una rito, sinabi ni Labor Secretary Marianito Roque na kailangan nilang sundin at igalang ang kultura at patakaran ng Saudi Arabia. Pinayuhan niya ang mga homosexual na Pinoy sa nabanggit na bansa na kumilos nang akma sa kultura nito.

"Bawal ang openly na kayo ay naghaharutan at may ginagawa na labag sa kanilang kultura. I remember a year ago, may pinauwi kasi sobra ang kanilang public display... Minsan may nagpa-party na sobrang ingay," ayon kay Roque. - GMANews.TV

Filipina rape victim in Saudi flies home

Nearly a month after she escaped her employer, a Filipino domestic helper in Saudi Arabia who accused her sponsor of raping her finally left for the Philippines.

The victim, who was not named in the report, thanked officials at the Philippine Consulate in Jeddah before she left Sunday, Arab News reported.

According to the report, the Filipina, who was separated from her husband with whom she has two children, had been working in Taif for eight months. She is from Cavite province.

Police rescued the victim on May 15 after she sought help from the Philippine Consulate coordinator in Al-Salamah district.

The Filipina reportedly first contacted Philippine authorities last January but could not tell them her whereabouts. She was then advised to escape, and when she did she called again from the Ministry of Education in Taif, a school in Al-Qumriyah.

The report also did not identify the suspect, but said he was working at a government hospital in the Kingdom. He reportedly was asked to pay the victim some SR5,000 (P62,180) and issue an exit visa for the victim's repatriation.

A Filipina tutor, meanwhile, reportedly ran away from her employers — a couple — after allegedly being slapped for her “good looks." She accused her sponsor’s wife of being jealous, and of maltreating the family’s three-year-old son.

According to the report, the tutor holds a bachelor’s degree in education from a university in the southern Philippines, and was tutoring the boy and his five other siblings. She is reportedly seeking employment with another Saudi family, and a transfer of sponsorship is being worked out, the report said. - Jerrie Abella/KBK,

Filipinos warned against looking for jobs in Macau

Filipino jobseekers, especially those with only tourist visas, were warned Tuesday against seeking work in Macau as the special administrative region is giving priority to local hires.

It is no longer easy to get jobs as walk-in applicants in the region, Labor Secretary Marianito Roque said, citing a report from the Philippine Overseas Labor Office (POLO) in Macau.

In an article on the Labor Department website, Roque also warned Filipino jobseekers against falling for unscrupulous individuals or entities who may bring them to Macau as tourists with promises of jobs.

Instead of finding jobs, he said these jobseekers may find themselves in dire straits due to the new Macau restrictions against foreign workers.

Roque advised workers to verify first with the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) the legality of jobs being offered in Macau.

In 2009, POEA deployed 6,729 OFWs to Macau, most of whom were employed in the tourism sector.

But the Macau government passed the Law for the Employment of Non-residential Workers, or the Law on Imported Labor, to safeguard the employment of local workers and restrict the hiring of migrant workers there.

The new law took effect last April 26.

In its report, the POLO in Macau said the draft administrative regulations complementing the new law have already been submitted to the Macau government’s Executive Council.

In view of the new law, the Macau Federation of Trade Unions (FAOM) presented 10 demands to the Macau Department of Transportation and Public Works to protect local workers and prevent the illegal employment of foreign workers.

The union asked the Macau government to, among others, prevent the hiring of foreign workers in occupations such as drivers and floor supervisors in casinos, and in the industrial and construction sectors as well.

As this developed, the POLO-Macau has consulted the Macau Labor Affairs Bureau for a symposium aimed at orienting the OFWs in Macau on the new law.

Macau, a former Portuguese colony, is one of the two special administrative regions in China, the other one being Hong Kong.

Its economy is based largely on tourism, gaming, and hospitality industry which contribute more than 50 percent of its gross domestic product.

Other chief economic activities in this administrative region are export-geared textile and garment manufacturing, banking and other financial services. - JMA, RJAB Jr., GMANews.TV

Group asks Noynoy to stop 'forced migration'

Overseas Filipinos have asked presidential front-runner Sen. Benigno “Noynoy" Aquino III to work toward self-sufficiency and the creation of local jobs so that migration would no longer be a “forced option."

In an open letter circulating on the Internet, the group Overseas Filipinos Worldwide said the advent of a new administration is a good time to examine where the country is heading regarding its migration policies.

“Shall we continue to send out our people and rely on remittances without any development objectives in sight?" wrote the letter’s signatories, which included organizations like Habagat Foundation and Damayang Pilipino in The Netherlands; the Social Enterprise Development Partnerships, Inc.; and the Wimler Partnership for Social Progress in Hongkong.

Individual signatories include Filipinos from the US, Germany, Luxembourg and Saudi Arabia.

The group said government-managed deployment of Filipino workers abroad has resulted in dire social costs, such as the continued loss of talents to overseas work and dysfunctional families.

They urged the next government to set up long-term migration goals, even as they encouraged that urgent migration and deployment issues be addressed in the meantime.

The group posed six suggestions to the incoming administration:

1. Migration and remittances should be only temporary measures in preparation for self-sufficiency, where Filipinos will no longer take migration as a “forced option." The group said this must be integrated in the government’s Medium-Term Development Plans formulated by the National Economic Development Authority;

2. A Special Presidential Adviser on Migration and Development should be created to work with a technical working group, to come up with updated situationers and policy recommendations so that remittances and migrant resources can be tapped to develop local economies. The social costs of migration should likewise be addressed by facilitating return migration, and providing incentives for OFW investments various fields;

3. The performance of government agencies in charge of migrant workers, such as the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration, Overseas Workers Welfare Administration, Commission on Filipinos Overseas (CFO), and the Department of Foreign Affairs;

4. The disposition and administration of the $25-fee for OWWA membership, which forms a trust fund estimated to be around P10 billion, should be more transparent following accusations of mismanagement. The group thus called on OWWA to impose more strict criteria in the process of selecting people who will sit in the Board of Trustees. OWWA proceedings should likewise be made transparent and open to public scrutiny, particularly the investment of the trust funds;

5. The work of the CFO and the National Reintegration Center for OFWs should be looked into, and the appropriate level of funds and support should be given to the two agencies; and

6. A nationwide program on financial literacy should be institutionalized so that OFWs may be able to use their incomes productively.

The group promised their continued support to Aquino as they noted that his campaign on good governance—better access to health, education, employment and livelihood, and business opportunities for all—seemed to be on the right track. - KBK, GMANews.TV

Dubai OFWs in the face of the UAE’s credit crisis

DUBAI, UAE - With the repercussions of Dubai’s worst financial crisis still hanging thick in the air, life for most Filipinos working in this Middle Eastern cosmopolitan enclave goes on, their resilience hanging tough against yet again another litmus test.

Christopher Benecio, a 30-year-old civil engineer from Roxas City, Panay, came to Dubai in November last year along with four other Filipino engineers. At the time, Dubai, where the bulk of overseas contract workers from the Philippines were, was already beginning to feel the effect of the global recession as companies started downsizing and retrenching in bulk.

By March the following year, all three of Benecio’s batch mates had already been terminated, with the first to lose job in January.

Benecio has gone back to the Philippines, having left Dubai on Dec. 5 this year on a paid vacation. But, he said, given the situation at the company where he was employed—Arif & Bintoak Consulting Architects and Engineers—he said he might opt to go back instead to the former firm in the Philippines where he was working at before moving to the Middle East—Megawide Construction in Makati, Metro Manila.

“We were getting less and less projects," Benecio said, adding that Arif & Bintoak has resorted to implementing a one-month forced unpaid leave to cut cost. “If there was still no project after that period, it’s another forced leave or you can choose to be terminated," he added. This however, could not immediately be confirmed from company officials.

Prior to implementing a forced leave, the company cut down salaries of its employees by 10 percent; also taken away were fringe benefits, according to Benecio.

Moreover, he said, the situation at Arif & Bintoak is that of uncertainty. “You don’t know when you’d finally get your notice of termination. It’s very difficult to work under that situation," he said. “So why go back?"

Benecio did not divulge how much he was getting; he said he was able to save just enough to keep him and his family—a housewife and two children aged six and four—going during the transition to his old job when returns home.

Benecio said he has submitted his resume to several companies in other countries and was awaiting reply.

Dubai’s construction sector was hardest hit by the global recession as the emirate’s real estate bubble burst. This being a result of what financial gurus said was the reckless and unsustainable lending practices arising from the deregulation and securitization of real estate mortgages in the United States. These mortgage-backed securities reinforced risky lending practices and, in the process, fed a global speculative real estate bubble.

Arif & Bintoak Consulting Architects and Engineers was established in 1975. Its portfolio includes large-scale urban developments. It had reported an annual project value of approximately US$ 490 million.

Unlike Benecio, however, 58-year-old Alfredo Ranin, a former seaman who now is quality control officer at Wartsila Middle East and due to retire in 2011, said he’ll finish his remaining two years with the company and go home where, he said, work is also waiting for him. Home is Orion, Bataan where his housewife, five children and five grandchildren are.

Ranin, who has been in Dubai since 1992, said Wartsila UAE is “still busy" providing services to various shipowners, including commercial ones needing drydocking.

He said several fellow OFWs have left Wartsila UAE, apparently to dodge the effects of the ongoing crisis. “They have sought better employment opportunities at another Wartsila operation elsewhere or at a different company."

“I’m staying. I’ll finish the two years and head home," Ranin said.

Established in 1834 and headquartered in Helsinki, Finland, Wartsila manufactures large diesel and gas engines for ships and power generation. In 2008 its total workforce was 18,810 spread in several countries across the globe.

Twenty-four-year-old Katrina “Kate" Oquialda, for her part, first arrived in Dubai on March 29, 2008 on a visit visa. She found a job in June of that year as a sales merchandiser. She quit in December 2008. Failing to find a new job, she went home in March this year, and came back in August, again on a visit visa.

All in a month’s time upon her arrival, she found a job as a hotel receptionist, but resigned because she found a better-paying one as waitress at a beach bar, and then resigned again because the third one—cashier at a high-end candy and chocolate shop, Candylicious,— is “much, much better," she said.

Candylicious is located in what has been hyped as the biggest mall in the world—Dubai Mall, a US$20-billion project that has a wall-sized aquarium and about 1,200 shops. It opened in November last year.

Oquialda, whose family lives in Pasay, said it was tougher looking for a job in Dubai earlier this year when the effects of the global recession was at its height, than it is in the past few months. “There were more job opportunities. In fact, I was able to find three in only a month’s time," she said.

Upon her return to Dubai, Oquialda, obviously a risk-taker, had about US$1,000, that, she said, her mother gave her, and which she used for the rent, utilities and food during the time she was jobhunting. With the high cost of living in Dubai, a US$1,000, which is equivalent to AED3,672 dirhams, UAE’s currency, could only last for barely two months.

Oquialda said she’ll continue taking her chances in Dubai. “It’s a lot more difficult to find a job in the Philippines than it is here," she said.

Arnel Sanchez, who holds a degree in accountancy with earned units in MBA and MPA arrived in Dubai on Jan.1, 2009 to try his luck. He came on a spouse visa arranged by his wife, Mary Grace, an architect by profession working currently as senior designer at Josef Gartner GmbH—Dubai.

Sanchez was able to secure employment as purchase officer at a steel company in the Dubai Investment Park, a free trade zone, around August. He, however, quit after a month apparently after having been persuaded by a friend to transfer to another company which has a better offer; but nothing came of it.

“I thought I would be able to move in to the new company, but nay. Now, I’m back to the grind, looking for another job. That episode taught me a lesson—be contented with what you have," he said, noting that in these trying Dubai times, the best way to go is stay where you are and weather it.

Sanchez said it’s difficult to look for a job that fits his mold. “They (prospective employers) ask for a driver’s license and ‘UAE experience,’" he explained.

Being a purchase officer, Sanchez needs mobility and, therefore, a driver’s license. It takes months in classroom lecture, driving lessons and actual driving tests; and, at times, up to AED10,000 (P130,000) to obtain a driver’s license in Dubai because of strict government measures.

Seldom does one pass an actual test on first try; it usually takes four to five attempts. A student who has failed is required to undergo lecture again before going through another actual test. The repeated lecture and actual test require another round of payments, which explains the prohibitive total cost.

Jobless as he is, Sanchez’ chances of getting a driver’s license is nil—he doesn’t have the money. Despite this, his hopes remain high. “Despite the challenges of the current economy here in Dubai and all over the world, I still don’t think it’s a bad time to be looking for a job. Demand is still high and good offers can be found at plenty of places," he said, adding that he will also opt to apply for other jobs.

Josef Gartner GmbH—Dubai is part of the Gartner Group, which is headquartered in Germany and is engaged in steel and glass architectural structures with offices in 11 countries.

Sanchez and his wife have a five-year-old daughter staying with Sanchez’s parents in Davao.

According to the UAE Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Dubai has the most number of OFWs from among the country’s seven emirates.

The UAE, as of 2008 has 299,241 OFWs, of which 167,264 were in Dubai; 85,999 in Abu Dhabi; 28,856 in Sharjah; 9,824 in Raz al Khaima; 4,914 in Aj Man; 1,829 in Um al Qain, and 555 in Fujairah, according to MFA.

There were no immediately available official figures on the number of OFWs that have gone home due to the recession and Dubai’s debt woes.

On Nov. 25, 2009, Dubai requested a freeze on debt repayments by its largest and most indebted group, Dubai World, liable for US$59 billion. This sent shock waves in stock markets around the world as equities dropped and fears of a looming collapse of the emirate’s economy sprang forth.

This reporter had since repeatedly tried to reach Philippine Ambassador to UAE Grace Princesa, and Consul Gen. Noel Servigon for their comments—but received no reply. - KBK, GMANews.TV
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