Friday, August 31, 2012

Pinay maid in Kuwait arrested for putting bits of glass in children's food

A Filipina housemaid in Kuwait was arrested for allegedly putting bits of glass in the food of her employer's children.

According to a report of the news site Emirates 24/7, the children's mother was shocked when she saw the maid mixing bits of glass into the food.
The mother told the police that the maid "pretended to be epileptic" to escape punishment.
Quoting a report of the Alwatan Arabic language daily, Emirates 24/7 said at the hospital, the maid was found to be normal and not epileptic.

The doctors suspected that "she was simply pretending to be ill…the children’s father later asked police to deport the maid immediately,” Emirates 24/7 said. - VVP, GMA News

California okays driving licenses for some illegal immigrants


SACRAMENTO - California lawmakers approved a bill on Thursday to allow some young illegal immigrants who came to the United States as children to obtain driving licenses, in a move that could appeal to Hispanic voters in the heavily Democratic state.
The bill, which passed the state Assembly by a 55-15 vote before being sent to the desk of Democratic Governor Jerry Brown, was introduced following the announcement of a federal program to relax deportation rules and grant some young immigrants temporary legal status in the United States.
"It is a victory for those who were brought here through no fault of their own, played by the rules, and are only asking to be included in and contribute to American society," the bill's sponsor, Assembly member Gilbert Cedillo, said in a statement.
He added that he was confident Brown would sign it into law.
The bill's passage marks the latest chapter in a long-running national battle over how to handle illegal immigrants that has seen California's legislature emerge as a major proponent of integration into mainstream society of undocumented migrants who came as children.
California's stance on the matter has been in stark contrast with other states such as Arizona that have passed laws that sought to clamp down on such immigrants. California has the largest population of undocumented immigrants in the United States, with nearly 2.6 million at the start of 2010.
The "deferred action for childhood arrivals" permits shield them from deportation for at least two years so long as they were younger than 16 when they came to the United States, have lived in the country since June 15, 2007, and have not been convicted of a felony. They must be at least 15 years of age and no older than 30 when they apply.
As many as 1.7 million people could qualify for the program, which enables them to apply for work permits, Social Security cards and driver's licenses, according to the Pew Hispanic Center. But some states, such as Arizona and Nebraska, have said they would not grant benefits including driver's licenses to "deferred action" migrants.
California's driver's license bill had already passed the state Senate in a 25-7 vote on Wednesday.
President Barack Obama, whose administration has aggressively deported illegal immigrants with criminal backgrounds, said in June that he was moving to help this group of youth—many of them Hispanic—who have become increasingly vocal in calling for immigration relief.
Republicans have criticized the policy nod to young undocumented immigrants as a political ploy in an election year to help win the Latino vote.
Three US states currently allow undocumented immigrants to obtain a driver's license: New Mexico, Utah, and Washington.
The bill follows a series of pro-immigrant measures passed by California in the current legislative session. California lawmakers have also passed an immigration bill that activists have dubbed the "Anti-Arizona" that would shield some illegal immigrants from status checks by local police.
Earlier this week, the governor also signed into law a bill encouraging state schools to teach the history of a post-World War Two guest worker program that brought close to 5 million Mexican agricultural laborers into the country over two decades. –Reuters

Return suspected fake PHL passports to DFA, Pinoys urged



In an email to GMA News Online on Friday, Assistant Secretary Jaime Victor Ledda of the Office of Consular Affairs of the DFA, said, "If a person has reason to believe that a passport is fake, he or she is kindly requested to bring the matter to the immediate attention of the Office of the Assistant Secretary at the DFA Office of Consular Affairs."

GMA News Online asked Ledda about the fake passports issue after media reports came out that fugitive ex-Palawan Governor Joel Reyes used a tampered passport to flee the country earlier this month.
Reyes is wanted for the murder of Palawan-based environmentalist and broadcaster Gerardo "Gerry" Ortega in Puerto Princesa early last year.
Fugitives and fake passports

Asked if there were other cases where fugitives used fake passports to leave the Philippines, Ledda said, "Since the implementation of the e-Passport system in 2009, the case of former Palawan Governor Joel Reyes appears to be the first one where a fugitive from justice used a tampered e-passport in leaving the country."
Ledda said the DFA is conducting an investigation on how Reyes obtained a fake passport.

"We have reason to believe that, on his reported departure for Vietnam on March 18, 2012, former Governor Reyes used the identity of Joseph Lim Pe, whose passport was tampered with the substitution of the latter’s photo on the passport data page with that of the former Palawan Governor."

"The DFA has already cancelled the passport of Joseph Lim Pe and that of former Governor Reyes," Ledda explained.
Asked if the DFA already has leads on who issued the fake passport to Reyes, Ledda said, "In the conduct of its probe on the case, the Department of Foreign Affairs is closely looking into the processing and issuance of the e-passport to Joseph Lim Pe and the people who may have been involved." - VVP, GMA News

1,300 Pinoys in Syria waiting to be repatriated — DFA


The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) on Wednesday said about 1,300 overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) are still waiting to be repatriated from strife-torn Syria.
“Sa ngayon sa ating estimate, mayroon pang mga 6,000 to 7,000 Filipinos na nandun pa sa Syria. Out of this, 1,300 na nagsignify ng interest na magrepatriate,” DFA spokesperson Raul Hernandez said in an interview with Howie Severino over GMA News TV’s “News To Go” program on Wednesday.
Since March last year, some 2,098 OFWs have been repatriated from the war-torn country, Hernandez noted.
About 19 Pinoys returned from Syria on Tuesday. This was the latest batch of OFWS repatriated from the country. 

“Basically ang ating mga kababayan ay nasa Damascus at Aleppo pero nandoon po sila sa mga mayayamang lugar... Ang sagupaan ngayon ay 'yung sa periphery at impoverished ng mga [nasabing] area,” Hernandez added.
Most of the OFWs working in Syria are employed as household service workers, the DFA spokesperson said.
Hernandez revealed that some Syrian employers would not let their workers go, posing a challenge to the Philippine Embassy in Syria.
“Meron pong mga ganung cases na ayaw ng mga employers na umalis or i-release sila kasi kailangang nga sila… pero paghalimbawa, sinabi na ng ating kababayan na kailangan na talaga na umalis na siya, at yung kanyang kaligtasan ay napepeligro na, tinutulungan natin silang sa pakikipagnegotiate sa kanilang employers,” he explained.

Rapid Response Team
Apart from the Philippine Embassy based on Damsacus, DFA also created a 30-member Rapid Response Team that solely focuses on repatriation.
“Ang Rapid Response Team ay tumutulong sa ating embahada para kausapin ang ating mga kakababayan para mapalikas na at kausapan ang kanilang mga employers para mapabilis ang kanilang repatriation,” the DFA spokesperson said.
“Karamihan po [ng mga OFWs sa Syria] ay may naka-register na ngayon sa ating embahada. Meron pa rin pong iilan na nagbago ang kanilang details, pati yung mga information kaya nahihirapan din po tayong kontakin sila,” he added.

Information about family members

Meanwhile, the DFA urged families of Filipinos in Syria to contact DFA at (02) 834-4996 or (02) 834-3333 to provide information about their family member’s current location and contact details.
Filipinos in Syria can likewise contact the Embassy for assistance at 963-11-6132626.
Labor Secretary Rosalinda Baldoz earlier appealed to prospective OFWs to steer clear from illegal recruiters offering jobs in Syria.

She noted that some 100 Filipinos arrive in Syria monthly despite the deployment ban in the country. 

200,000 refugees
Meanwhile, a Reuters report on Tuesday said the number of Syrian refugees in Turkey could reach 200,000 as the conflict deepens and many others could flee to Jordan, the United Nations refugee agency said on Tuesday.
"The increase in the number of Syrians arriving in Turkey has been dramatic. Compared to previous weeks in which we saw about 400-500 people arriving a day, we've been seeing peaks of up to 5,000 people in one day over the past two weeks," Melissa Fleming, chief spokeswoman for the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), told a news briefing.
A growing number of unaccompanied children without parents are also turning up in camps, the UNHCR said. Refugees from the southern Syrian province of Deraa have reported being bombed by aircraft or shelled on their journey across the border.
"We are already looking at potentially up to 200,000 and are working with the Turkish government to make the necessary plans," another spokeswoman, Sybella Wilkes, told Reuters.
The figure would include the more than 74,000 Syrian refugees already registered in Turkey, which is building at least five new camps in addition to the existing nine.
In the past 24 hours, more than 3,000 Syrians crossed into Turkey, with a further 7,000 expected in coming days.
Turkish authorities have sought assistance from UNHCR and other agencies, Fleming said.
"But they will continue to provide access and open borders to Syrians fleeing the conflict," she said.
Turkey's Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu on Monday called for more help from other countries with the growing refugee crisis. Last week Davutoglu suggested the United Nations may need to create a "safe zone" inside Syria.
Fleming said that was a question for the U.N. Security which the U.N. humanitarian organisations could not address.
Overall, 214,120 Syrians have been registered in four neighbouring countries - Jordan, Iraq, Lebanon and Turkey - exceeding the UNHCR'S forecast of 185,000 for this year.
Start of influx
The pace of Syrian refugees reaching Za'atri camp in northern Jordan has doubled, with 10,200 arriving in the past week, heralding what could be a bigger mass movement, she said.
"We do believe this could be the start of a major, a much larger influx into Jordan," Fleming said.
Nearly 70,000 Syrian refugees are now registered or awaiting registration in Jordan, although thousands more have not signed up for assistance, according to the UNHCR.
"The refugees say that many thousands more are waiting to cross and violence around Deraa, which is not far across the border, is the reason," Fleming said.
In Lebanon, 54,142 Syrians have registered or are in the process of doing so, while nearly 16,000 refugees are in Iraq, where two of three crossings are open, according to the UNHCR.
Thousands more Syrians have fled to Jordan and Lebanon, but have not registered for now, she said. - with Stephanie Nebehay/Reuters, VVP, GMA News

Unusual outbreak of deadly rodent-borne virus in California infects two more people

The United States is home to some 3,166,529 Filipinos, based on the 2010 Stock Estimate of the Commission on Filipinos Overseas.

SAN FRANCISCO - Two more visitors to Yosemite National Park have been diagnosed with a deadly rodent-borne virus, raising the total number of people infected in the unusual outbreak to six, California public health officials said Thursday.
Two men died from the rare lung disease called hantavirus pulmonary syndrome, and four other people survived the rodent-borne illness. Most of the victims are believed to have contracted the virus while staying in tent-style cabins this summer in a popular camping area called Curry Village.
Park officials earlier this week shut down 91 insulated tent-cabins after finding deer mice, which carry the disease and can burrow through pencil-sized holes, nesting between the double walls of the structures.
Park authorities have notified 2,900 parties of visitors who rented the tent cabins from June through August that they may have been exposed to hantavirus.
Four who were infected at Yosemite this summer slept in the insulated tent cabins. One slept elsewhere in Curry Village, located in a valley beneath the iconic Half Dome rock formation, and the sixth case remains under investigation.
One man from northern California and another from Pennsylvania died. Three of the victims have recovered, and one remains hospitalized, the state Department of Public Health said in a press release.
Experts continued to investigate the outbreak, and the number of cases could rise as visitors who were exposed to the virus but have not yet shown symptoms fall ill, the agency said.
Nearly 4 million people visit Yosemite each year, attracted to the park's dramatic scenery and hiking trails. Roughly 70 percent of those visitors congregate in Yosemite Valley, where Curry Village is located.
Hantavirus is carried in rodent feces, urine and saliva that dries out and mixes with dust that can be inhaled by humans, especially in small, confined spaces with poor ventilation.
People also can be infected by eating contaminated food, touching contaminated surfaces or being bitten by infected rodents.
Flu-like symptoms
The virus starts out causing flu-like symptoms, including headache, fever, muscle ache, shortness of breath and cough. Initial symptoms may appear up to six weeks after exposure and can lead to severe breathing difficulties and death.
Although there is no cure for hantavirus, treatment after early detection through blood tests can save lives. The virus, which has never been known to be transmitted between humans, kills 38 percent of those it infects.
"The earlier it's caught and supportive care is given, the better the survival rate," said Dr. Vicki Kramer, chief of ve c t or-borne diseases at the state Public Health Department.
Dr. Charles Chiu, an infectious disease specialist at the University of California, San Francisco, said he made a habit of airing out his tent-cabin before occupying it as a precaution against possible virus-carrying dust particles when he stayed in Curry Village a few years ago.
But even Chiu said he was surprised to learn that a hantavirus had killed two people and stricken others who slept in the same structures this summer.
"It wasn't something even I had thought of at the time," Chiu, who studies hantavirus, told Reuters.
Hantavirus previously infected two Yosemite visitors, one in 2000 and another in 2010, but at higher elevations.
Melanie Norall of Palo Alto, California, is monitoring her 8-year-old daughter's every sniffle. They stayed in a cabin outside Yosemite's north entrance at the end of July and awoke to mice scurrying and eating nuts out of their luggage.
The vast majority of hantavirus victims are young and middle-age adults, Chiu said, probably because they are mostly likely to engage in activities that would readily expose them, such as chopping and carrying fire wood or sweeping the floors.
"The message should not be you should stop camping. The important thing is general awareness of this disease and to avoid wild rodents in general," Chiu said.
Since it was first recognized in 1993, hantavirus pulmonary syndrome has been diagnosed in 64 people in California. Nationwide, the virus sickened 587 people between 1993 and 2011, according to government data. - Reuters

After visiting Manila slums, European legislators call for passage of RH bill


Pregnant teenage girls. Young children being left to fend for themselves. Couples with 16 kids struggling to raise their families.

These were some of the images that greeted European legislators when they visited urban poor communities in Metro Manila this week.

Carina Hägg, a member of the Swedish parliament, said she was overcome with emotion when she witnessed the plight of poor families living near dumpsites and under bridges in the Philippines’ capital region.

“I really wanted to cry. It was very sad to see that not every woman here has access to healthcare. It was depressing to see kids lose their mothers too early,” she said in a press briefing in Quezon City on Thursday morning.

At the same briefing, Portuguese lawmaker Ricardo Baptista Leite said that the situation in Metro Manila slums reminded him of the population situation in his country three decades ago.

“It was really [a] learning experience for me. Thirty years ago in Portugal, we had very similar health indicators as you have now. We had maternal death rates and extremely high newborn death rates,” he said.

The foreign lawmakers’ visit to urban poor communities in Metro Manila was part of their study tour organized by the European Parliamentary Forum on Population and Development.

The tour was locally hosted by the Philippines Legislators Committee on Population and Development, a group that supports the passage of the reproductive health (RH) bill.

‘Crucial legislation’

In a joint statement issued on Thursday, the European parliamentarians endorsed the passage of the RH bill, which they described as a “crucial” legislation “for the eradication of poverty” in the Philippines.

British parliamentarian Helen Grant said the enactment of a reproductive health law is “critical” for the Philippines to improve the lives of its citizens.

“If this bill is passed, the Philippines will be able to nourish social justice by allowing women and girls to have children out of choice and not out of chance,” she said.

Birute Vesaite, a member of the parliament of Lithuania, meanwhile said that the RH bill should be passed to make sure that economic development in the Philippines will trickle down to the poor.

“The implementation of the law would be a test of the strength of the public provision of health services. This law will cost money but you can be proud that the Philippines is a well developing country. The fruits of development should reach the people of this country,” she said.

The RH bill, one of President Benigno Aquino III’s priority legislations, promotes the use of both natural and artificial methods of family planning. It is being opposed by the Roman Catholic Church, which promotes only natural forms of family planning.

The measure has yet to hurdle second reading in both chambers of Congress.

‘Engage the Church’

Leite, who comes from predominantly Roman Catholic Portugal, said it is important for the government to continue engaging Church officials in discussions to be able to make them appreciate the merits of the RH bill.

“There is no greater act of Christianity than saving lives, and that is what you are doing with the RH bill… We should not use faith to block or misinform. It is important to engage the Church in discussions in all levels,” he said.

Leite however said that the leadership of the Roman Catholic Church in Portugal seem to be more “modern” in their views and more mindful of the separation between Church and State.

“In my country, the Church is actually an ally in providing good health. They disagree with some laws, but they do not try to block it. They give their faithful the freedom to choose,” he said.

In the Philippines, a country of 96 million people, eight out of 10 Filipinos are Roman Catholics.

Grant, for her part, dared Filipino lawmakers to be “brave, bold and fearless” in enacting an RH law.

“Please do not miss this wonderful opportunity to make this law a real mover, changer and shaker for the Philippines. It might be a long time before it comes around again,” she said. — BM, GMA News


PATRICIA DENISE CHIU, GMA News August 30, 2012 5:52pm

It's not always easy to answer a teen's questions about his or her body.

And when they do not know who to go to for answers — to questions on a range of topics, from the color of their ejaculate to the irregularity of their menstrual periods — adolescent reproductive health education becomes necessary, advocates said Wednesday.

“Questions like this you have to answer in a sex-positive way," Dr. Silvia Claudio, Director of the UP Women’s Studies Center, told reporters after a roundtable discussion with some 30 advocates and experts in Makati City. “Non-judgemental scientific information about sexuality in its broadest scope,” she added.

“If you look at reality, you can see that this [sex-negative] approach is not working," Claudio said, pointing to rape, hazing and bullying as possible consequences of a “lack of resonance in young people” of current methods of adolescent RH education.

“[Adolescents] have many different concerns, but there are common interests,” Claudio said. In a country where one in every 10 teenagers aged 15-19 will have given birth to their first child, the best thing to do is to arm them with knowledge, she added.

With the previous administration’s push for Natural Family Planning (NFP), live births by teenage mothers swelled to 195,662 in 2009 — a 55.25 percent increase from 126,025 in 2000, according to data from the NSO.

The Arroyo administration championed NFP and funneled some P50 million to the Catholic group Couples for Christ “for education and counseling in NFP.” Funds which have been misused, said Likhaan executive director Dr. Junice Melgar.

“We go a hold of the materials [used by Couples for Christ] that said ‘contraceptives are abortifacients,’” said Melgar. She also suggested that the funds may have been used by the religious organization to fund their assemblies.

“Despite all the money poured into it, NFP jumped all of 0.3 percent,” she said.

Attorney Elizabeth Aguiling-Pangalangan of the UP Institute of Human Rights said the government could be held accountable for the lack of an RH law, as it can be seen in a way as favoring one religious group over others.

“Human rights are not subject to political majority. It’s not right for government to pass laws that manifest the teachings of one church. Laws should be secular,” she explained, slamming the Catholic Church’s claim that because 85 percent of Filipinos are Catholic, the majority should be respected.

“For as long as there is one parent who wants their child to receive sex education, schools should provide this,” she added. — BM, GMA News

Thursday, August 30, 2012


by Paterno Esmaquel II
Posted on 08/29/2012 9:11 PM  | Updated 08/29/2012 9:56 PM

MANILA, Philippines – Scholarly opposition is perfectly normal.

The Catholic Educational Association of the Philippines (CEAP) supports Catholic bishops but respects professors who back the Reproductive Health (RH) bill, said a top official of the Philippines' biggest association of Catholic schools.

Founded in 1941, CEAP has over 1,200 members, including some of the most respected schools in the country.

CEAP national advocacy chair Fr Joel Tabora on Wednesday, August 29, explained that the association supports Philippine bishops in opposing any law that does the following:

*    includes provisions for “abortifacient” birth regulation

*    forces Catholics “to act against his or her conscience”

*    “usurps” parents' rights to educate their children on sexuality

“The CEAP supports the bishops in their official teaching, which is binding on all believers,” said Tabora, also president of the Ateneo de Davao University, in a press conference in time for CEAP's annual national convention.

But Tabora, a Jesuit priest, acknowledged not everyone is Catholic in a “plural” society.

“You have different groups of people who come together, advocating strong positions, but in the end, in a democratic, plural society, people have to come together and understand what is the demand of the common good, what is the demand of social justice. And I think, in a plural society, no one group can dictate on the other groups,” Tabora said.

“In a plural society, in a democratic society, this has to be the product of negotiation, open communication with one another, reason,” he explained.

'Conscientious' stance

Tabora, in particular, said there was nothing wrong with the 192 Ateneo professors' support for the RH bill.

“I certainly cannot say that they have done this unconscientiously; they declare it explicitly that they say this in conscience. In the context of the university, this is something which, I think, should be considered normal when people come up with a position, calling forth the positions of others,” he said. (Watch parts of Tabora's statement below.)

Tabora echoed sentiments in a document by the late Pope John Paul II, his Apostolic Constitution on Catholic Universities. It urges respect for Catholic doctrine but upholds academic freedom.

While telling Catholic school teachers to respect Church teachings, John Paul II also said the Church respects academic freedom based on scholarly disciplines – “so long as the rights of the individual and of the community are preserved within the confines of the truth and the common good.”

“Catholic teaching and discipline are to influence all university activities, while the freedom of conscience of each person is to be fully respected,” John Paul II said.

Tabora explained this is a Catholic university's mandate: faith (that) seeks understanding and understanding (that) seeks faith.

“If you stop the discussion, you kill the university. But if you kill the Catholic university, you hurt the Church. The Catholic university, I think, is where in openness, you search for truth. And our partners are the bishops,” Tabora said.

'Confusing' students

Questions on the Ateneo professors' statement surfaced after the CBCP president, Cebu Archbishop Jose Palma, expressed his concern about this earlier this month.

“If we are a Catholic school, we should not teach anything contrary to the official teaching of the Church,” said Palma, pointing out that professors who do so are “confusing” the students.

Speculations then arose that the CBCP could sanction the pro-RH bill professors. But another member of the CBCP, Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Socrates Villegas, quelled this fear.

“I fully agree with the statement of my brother bishop. There is no question about that,” said Villegas, chair of the CBCP Episcopal Commission on Catechesis and Catholic Education, referring to Palma's statement.

“But I just want to caution you that we bishops are not trigger-happy with imposing penalties, because we are first brothers by baptism, and we are first fathers, who need to guide and to correct,” Villegas said.

He added that the Church prefers to engage in dialogue first, then “if the dialogue does not work, then by law, there has to be a written reprimand, and then after the written reprimand, then we go on with the investigation.”

“If the child of the Church remains incorrigible, then that is when the sanctions are imposed. And the sanctions are not always excommunication. It is not always termination from the job. There are different degrees of sanctions,” Villegas explained.

He stressed, however, that Palma is “very happy” with the feedback of the Ateneo president and the Jesuit provincial superior on the pro-RH bill professors.

The CBCP on Tuesday, August 28, said bishops will meet next week to discuss the Ateneo professors' support for the long-delayed bill. –

Natural birth control method didn't succeed during Arroyo's term despite huge funding - group

By: Cher S. Jimenez,
August 29, 2012 7:06 PM

MANILA, Philippines - Inspite of its huge funding, natural family planning (NFP), the only birth control method implemented by the previous administration, rose to only a few points, according to the non-government Likhaan Center for Women's Health.

Dr. Junice Melgar, Likhaan executive director, said NFP during the term of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo had risen only from .1 to .3 percent "despite the money poured into" it.

According to Melgar, while the Arroyo administration was solely pushing for NFP and depriving Filipinos of modern reproductive health services, the unmet need for family planning rose from 15.7 percent in 2006 to 19.3 percent in 2011. The data is based on the latest Family Health Survey

In 2004, the government awarded P50 million to the Catholic group Couples for Christ (CFC) to promote natural family planning. Reproductive health advocates criticized the move after it was found out that the money was allegedly used by the CFC to fund its religious assemblies where reading materials containing anti-contraceptive messages were written.

“They have yet to account Couples for Christ for that,” Melgar told reporters on Wednesday after a roundtable discussion on adolescent sexual and reproductive health held in Makati City.

Lawyer Elizabeth Aguiling-Pangalangan, director of the University of the Philippines Institute of Human Rights, said the government could be held accountable for favoring one religious group over others.

“The Catholic Church always says that we’re 85 percent Catholic so we have to follow the majority. In the first place, human rights are not subject to political majority. It’s not right for government to pass laws that manifest the teachings of one church. Laws should be secular, these are not religious laws,” said Pangalangan during the same event in Makati.

The government, mandated by the Constitution  to make all health services and supplies available to the people, could likewise be held liable for giving in to pressures by Catholic bishops not to pass a reproductive health law, according to Pangalangan.

“This can be questioned and you can hold the government accountable,” added Pangalangan.

Advocates argue that the absence of a reproductive health law, which will force the government to make all family planning services and supplies available to Filipinos, has gravely affected young people.

One of 10 Filipinas aged 15-19 is already a mother. The unmet need for family planning among young people is now estimated at 37 percent according to the 2011 data from the National Statistics Office (NSO).

In 2000, live births by teenage mothers was 126,025. The figure ballooned by 55.25 percent in 2009, according to the NSO.

Likhaan Center for Women's Health, Inc.
88 Times Street, West Triangle Homes,
Quezon City  1104 Philippines
Tel: (63 2) 926-6230
Fax: (63 2) 411-3151


For more than five years, Jonas Burgos has been missing. He is a victim of enforced disappearance, a crime under international law. While James Balao abducted four years ago, has never been seen as well. Despite pleas by both their families, the truth about their whereabouts has remained a secret. The families continue to be kept in the dark, Amnesty International Philippines said in a statement.

“The cases of Burgos and Balao are only two among hundreds. The families of victims of enforced disappearances continue to be kept in the dark, still not sure of happened to their loved ones. The International Day of the Disappeared on August 30 is an appropriate time for the Philippine government to answer questions regarding unresolved cases of disappearances. We hope President Aquino will instruct the military, police and the justice department to improve and speed up the investigations of the cases of disappearances so that justice will be delivered,” said Dr. Aurora A. Parong, Director of Amnesty International Philippines.

Amnesty International said that very often, people who have been disappeared are never released and their fate remains unknown. Their families and friends may never find out what has happened to them – further compounding their suffering. The insecurity and fear generated by enforced disappearances affects not just the immediate victims and their relatives, but society as a whole.

“On August 19 this year, a brother of James Balao received a text message that James is dead and the family is seeking the truth. In 2011, the Commission on Human Rights reinvestigated the matter and concluded that the military had a hand in the disappearance and pointed to an Army Major Baliaga as Jonas' alleged principal abductor after witnesses identified him.  To date military and police officials never acknowledged the arrest and abduction of James and Jonas,” said Dr. Parong.

The horrors of disappearances have haunted the Philippines for decades already. According to figures released by FIND or the Families of Victims of Involuntary Disappearances, the years 1983 to 1985 during the Marcos dictatorship recorded the highest number of incidents of disappearances followed by years 1987 to 1989 during the Cory Aquino’s Administration.

Over the last decade, 200 cases of disappearances were documented in the Philippines. During Arroyo’s administration, FIND records show 339 cases of disappearances, including James Balao and Jonas Burgos. In the current administration, seven individuals are reported disappeared and this figure includes torture victim Darius Evangelista.

“The International Day against Enforced Disappearance is also an opportune time for the President to sign the UN Convention against Enforced Disappearance which aims, among others, to prevent enforced disappearances taking place, uncover the truth when they do occur, punish the perpetrators and provide reparations to the victims and their families. This will certainly not replace a domestic law against enforced disappearance but shall be a concrete proof of PNoy’s political will to respect, protect and fulfill human rights in the Philippines,” said Dr. Aurora Parong.

In December 2006, the UN adopted the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance. Amnesty International is calling states including the Philippine government to ratify the new convention.

Together with the members of the International Coalition against Enforced Disappearances, Amnesty International believes that for the convention to be effective, a legislation to implement it must follow suit. The convention is considered to be one of strongest human rights treaties ever adopted by the UN. Some of its provisions appear for the first time and introduce important new standards.

In a letter sent by Amnesty International asking for the enactment of the Anti - Enforced or Involuntary Disappearance Bill, the House of Representatives through the Office of the Speaker of the House replied with enthusiasm that the House Bill passed during the 3rd reading in March 2012 adopts the UN definition and expands the applicability not only to state actors but non-state as well.

“Amnesty International is concerned that while the UN Convention is not ratified and the bill not enacted, enforced disappearance cases will remain unresolved and lives of human rights defenders in the country, continue to be at risk. PNoy’s third year in office should be marked by concrete actions for human rights of Filipinos by denouncing enforced disappearances and their use through the ratification of the UN Convention and enactment of a law on enforced disappearances. Families of victims must be supported in their search for their loved ones. Justice must be rendered. ” concluded Dr. Parong.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Abused OFW returns from Kuwait

KUWAIT - After spending more than 3 weeks in the hospital in Kuwait, a Filipina household service worker finally returned home to Manila.
Margie Pontillas was injured after escaping from her abusive employer by jumping off a two-storey house. With the help of officers from the Philippine embassy and POLO-OWWA, Pontillas finally boarded a flight to Manila last Saturday.
"Sa awa ng Diyos, masaya po ako, nagpapasalamat po ako sa ABS-CBN, at lalong-lalo na po sa POLO-OWWA... Maraming-maraming salamat po," she said.
She also thanked her agency in the Philippines for helping expedite her return to the Philippines.
The 33-year-old Pontillas, a native of Carmen, Davao, is separated from her husband and has 5 children. She arrived in Kuwait on February 2, 2011 to work as a household service worker.
She escaped from her abusive employer last July 16. Aside from a fractured right foot and broken toe nail, Pontillas had bite marks on her left arm and right forefinger.

Despite the abuse she suffered under the hands of her Kuwaiti employer, Pontillas said she still wants to try working in another country for the sake of her children's future.
"Mag-aabroad ako pero hindi na po dito. Magpahinga po muna ako ng ilang buwan kung kaya ko na po saka na po ako babalik," she said. - Report from Maxxy Santiago, ABS-CBN Middle East Bureau

OFWs may soon file claims online for bills abroad - Philhealth

MANILA, Philippines - Overseas Filipino workers may soon be able to file their claims online so they can be reimbursed for hospital bills incurred abroad.
The Philippine Health Insurance Corp. (Philhealth) is exploring strategies to provide better service to its OFW members.
"We want covered OFWs to receive immediate financial relief in the event they become ill and seek hospitalization in their host countries... Our plan is to install by next year a system that will allow OFWs to simply submit online their individual claims for repayment," Dr. Eduardo Banzon, Philhealth president and chief executive officer, said in a statement.
Philhealth is mulling the possibility of contracting primary care physicians abroad to care for its OFW members.

"We hope to start doing this in selected foreign cities with large concentrations of OFWs," Banzon said.

At present, covered OFWs hospitalized abroad may file claims for reimbursement only by submitting hard copies of the necessary paperwork inside six months to the Philhealth office nearest their Philippine residence.

The papers to be submitted are Philhealth Claim Form 1; a photocopy of the claimant's latest Member Data Record, or contribution payment receipt; a medical certificate with complete diagnosis, period of confinement and services rendered; and a hospital statement of account and/or official receipts with itemized charges and other supporting documents in English.

Philippine-based dependents of OFWs may readily avail of benefits via accredited local hospitals and outpatient service providers.

Philhealth helps pay for the room and board, medicines, laboratory exams, as well as operating room and professional fees for every hospital confinement of not less than 24 hours of the OFW's spouse and other dependents.

Qualified dependents of OFWs who are active Philhealth members are entitled to a separate coverage of up to 45 days confinement per calendar year. The 45 days allowance is shared among all dependents.

Eligible dependents include the OFW's legal spouse who is not a Philhealth member, or whose membership is inactive; the OFW's children below 21 years of age, unmarried and unemployed; and the OFW's parents who are 60 years old and above.

The spouses and children of male OFWs also receive ample medical subsidy in the form of prenatal, maternity and newborn care benefits.
A 1995 law requires all citizens of the Philippines "to enroll in the National Health Insurance Program in order to avoid adverse selection and social inequity."

"We at Philhealth are duty-bound to carry out the law, which mandates compulsory membership and coverage of all Filipinos, including to our OFWs... Even if we wanted to, we are not in a position to exempt our OFWs from compulsory coverage and contributions. Otherwise, we will be remiss in the performance of our duties," Banzon said.
Philhealth now covers some 2.52 million OFWs plus 2.48 million of their dependents.
To enlarge benefit payments and cope with the rising cost of hospitalization and out-patient services, Philhealth has adjusted annual premium contributions.
In the case of OFWs, their more than 10-year-old annual premium of P900 (or P2.50 per day) has been revised in phases to P1,200 (or P3.30 per day) effective January 1, 2012, and to P2,400 (P6.55 per day) starting January 1, 2013.

"The cost of all goods and services has drastically gone up over the years. This includes the cost of health care paid for by Philhealth," Banzon said.

"The fine-tuning is long overdue and reasonable, considering it merely reflects over a decade of health care cost inflation, and in view of the expanded benefits Philhealth has been rolling out as we speak," he said.
However, Philhealth's plan to increase annual premium contributions has sparked protests from OFWs.

American found guilty of raping Pinay in US 41 times


PORT TOWNSEND, Wash. — A Jefferson County jury has found a Brinnon man guilty of 41 counts of rape and assault against the Filipino woman he brought to his home with the promise of marriage.
The Peninsula Daily News reports that 49-year-old Patrick John McAllister was arrested on Aug. 5, 2012 and had been free on a $100,000 bond since that time.
His conviction was handed down on Aug. 10 by a five-woman, six-man jury after five hours of deliberation that began the day before.
The trial opened last Monday at Jefferson County Superior Court.
“I’m very pleased about the verdict,” said Prosecuting Attorney Scott Rosekrans.
“Obviously, the jury didn’t find the defendant’s story credible, and they reached a decision in less time than in many other similar cases.”
Rosekrans said the standard sentence range for these counts was 210 to 280 months behind bars, but McAllister’s sentence could be more severe because of the jury’s ruling that he showed “deliberate cruelty” in all of the counts.
Court documents say that McAllister was introduced to the Filipina when she was 22 by her brother-in-law, who lives in Jefferson County.
He began a long-distance relationship with her, phoning her for several months and eventually visiting her in the Philippines on March 15-28, 2008.
Upon his return to the U.S., McAllister told her that “he would give her a good life, be a good husband and her loved her and wanted her to be his wife.”
The Filipina arrived in Seattle on March 14, 2010, and was brought to McAllister’s home on Seamount Drive in Brinnon, Wash., where she was locked up and abused almost daily, often multiple times a day — between March 18, 2010, four days after the Filipina arrived in America, and April 26, when she was able to escape his house and sought police.
It took 15 months to file charges because the woman spoke a Filipino dialect for which no certified translator was available, court documents say.
The woman, who became fluent in English in the time leading up to the trial, testified for two hours last Tuesday afternoon, according to the Peninsula Daily News report written by Charlie Bermant.
Jury foreman Rick Hansen said her testimony was convincing and was the major factor in the jury’s verdict.
“She was completely credible and the defense witnesses were pretty lame,” Hansen said.
“There wasn’t a lot of physical evidence, so we had to rely on what people said but she was convincing.”
The Filipina was not present when the verdict was read but came in shortly afterward, crying and embracing family members and victim assistance personnel who were in the courtroom.
McAllister and members of his family and friends also were crying after the verdict was read.
McAllister was led away in chains.
The Filipina, who has lived in the Port Townsend area during the trial preparation time, told the Peninsula Daily News that she had no future plans but said she intended “to relax for a while.”
McAllister’s attorney, Lance Hester, says they will appeal. Filipino Reporter
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