Thursday, January 31, 2013

First sari-sari store opens in Spain's Canary Islands

MANILA, Philippines – The first-ever Filipino convenience store with free access to WIFI service opened to cater to the needs of the big Pinoy community in Las Palmas, Canary Islands in Spain.
Owned by Filipina Jenneth Karlsson, the Mabuhay Store is patronized by more than 2,000 Filipinos in Las Palmas.
“Galing kami sa Barcelona, nang malaman ko na malaki ang Filipino community dito sa Las Palmas naisip namin na magtayo ng Mabuhay Store. Kami ang nag-iisang store dito sa Canary Island,” said Karlsson.
Philippine products such as fresh and dried fish, vinegar, soy sauce, bagoong, sardines, are among the items sold in the store.
“Every time na pumupunta kami dito sa Mabuhay Store nagkakaroon kami ng relaxation. Nagpapahinga kami. Nagkakaroon kami ng peace of mind,” said seafarer Vicente Olviga.
The store also provides its clients, particularly the seafarers waiting to board their ships, with free access to WIFI service to easily connect with their families back in the Philippines.
“Naisipan din namin magtayo ng WIFI area sa mga passenger ship na pumupunta dito sa Canary Island,” said Karlsson. Report from Spainalyn Lucas, ABS-CBN Europe News Bureau correspondent

Korea reduces labor quota for the Philippines

The Philippines may eventually lose a favored destination of Filipino workers if the number of OFWs illegally staying in Korea continues to increase, the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration warned yesterday.
Administrator Hans Leo J. Cacdac said the Korean Ministry of Employment and Labor
(MOEL) has decided to reduce the number of newcomers that may be allowed to work in
Korea this year to 4,200 from 5,200 in 2012.

For 2013, only 7,900 names of OFWs would be included in the roster, a marked decrease
from 9,800 names in 2012, Cacdac added. However, Cacdac said the POEA is not disputing the decision of Korea to slash the quota on Filipino workers.

 “We have to abide with our contract with them. The memorandum of understanding
between the government of Korea and the Philippines provides that “the MOEL may  take
necessary measures such as reducing the number of jobseekers in the roster or suspending
participation in the EPS if the number of Filipino workers absenting without leave or staying
illegally in Korea exceeds the average for all sending countries."

In the registration for the first computer based Test for Proficiency in Korean (Topik), at the
OSHC in Quezon City, Cacdac thanked the EPS workers for observing Korean immigration
laws by not running away from their jobs and voluntarily leaving Korea after finishing their

“You make us proud in contrast to those who turn illegal, unmindful of the government's
forewarning and advice to return upon the expiration of their contract,” Cacdac said.

He also urged them to help preserve the positive image of the Filipino EPS workers to
continue to enjoy a good share of the demand for foreign workers in Korea and not ruin the
good chances of other Filipinos desiring to get jobs under the EPS.

“Let us reduce the number of Filipino irregular workers in Korea so we can have a higher
quota next year”, Cacdac added. The Philippines has deployed some 30,000 workers to Korea since 2004, mostly in its manufacturing sector.

Donations still needed to save OFW on Saudi death row

By Raffy A. Beltran, ABS-CBN Middle East News Bureau

DAMMAM, Saudi Arabia - A bank account for blood money donation was recently opened by the Saudi Government for Filipino death row convict Rodelio “Dondon” Lanuza.

Lanuza who has been in jail in Dammam since 2000 was sentenced to “qisas” or death by beheading for the death a Saudi National.

The Philippine Embassy in Riyadh has secured the bank account for blood money donation for Lanuza in coordination with the Saudi Reconciliation Committee in Dammam.

Two years ago, through the effort of the Saudi Reconciliation Committee (February 2011), an amicable settlement was reached between the victim’s family and the accused (Lanuza) with the payment of diyya or blood money amounting to 3 million Saudi Riyals or P32.5 million to save the overseas Filipino worker from beheading.

The embassy said the bank account was opened through the instruction of the Office of the Governor (Emir) of the Eastern Region. All donations to the account will be managed by the Office of the Governor of the Eastern Region and the Saudi Reconciliation Committee in Dammam.

To those who would like to help Lanuza may send their blood money donations to:
Name of Account : Emarah of Eastern Region
- Diyah (Blood Money) of Mohammad bin Saad
Name of Bank : Al Rajhi Bank
Account No. 50900-001-0006080000970
IBAN No. : SA9880000509608010000970

Filipino-American businesswoman and known philanthropist Loida Nicolas Lewis welcomed the move to open an account for Lanuza.
“Now, public fund raising can be done, because before the opening of this bank account, the family of the victim did not want any publicity,” Lewis said.

Lewis is at the forefront of the fund raising campaign in the United States and the Philippines to raise the needed blood money to save Lanuza’s life.

Lewis said they have so far collected $20,000 in the United States. There is also a total of P2.5 million in Letty Lanuza’s (Dondon’s Mother) account in the Philippines.

The donated money received so far is equivalent to 400,000 Saudi Riyals. According to Lewis, they will send the amount to the newly opened account for Lanuza’s blood money. The Philippine Government also pledged 400,000 Saudi Riyals.
In total, about 800,000 Saudi Riyals have been raised. Around 2.2 million Saudi Riyals still needs to be raised to complete the blood money.

Lewis and Lanuza’s family continue to appeal to everyone to send whatever they can to the bank account.
“I am calling on all Filipinos, especially those outside the Philippines, here is another OFW that needs your help to save his life.” Lewis said.

Israel hits Syria arms convoy to Lebanon - sources

(Update 4:49 a.m., 31 January 2013) BEIRUT - Israeli jets bombed a convoy near Syria's border with Lebanon early on Wednesday, sources told Reuters, apparently targeting weapons destined for Hezbollah in what some called a warning to Damascus not to arm Israel's Lebanese enemy.

Syrian state television accused Israel of bombing a military research center, at Jamraya between the capital and the nearby border, but Syrian rebels disputed that, saying their forces had attacked the site. No source spoke of a second Israeli strike.

"The target was a truck loaded with weapons, heading from Syria to Lebanon," said one Western diplomat, echoing others who said the convoy's load may have included anti-aircraft missiles or long-range rockets. Several sources ruled out the presence of chemical weapons, about which Israel has also raised concerns.

The overnight raid followed warnings from Israel that it was ready to act to prevent the revolt against President Bashar al-Assad leading to Syria's chemical weapons and modern rockets reaching either his Hezbollah allies or his Islamist enemies.

A source among Syrian rebels said an air strike around dawn (0430 GMT) blasted a convoy near the border: "It attacked trucks carrying sophisticated weapons from the regime to Hezbollah," the source said, adding that it took place inside Syria.

Syrian state television said two people were killed in a dawn raid on a military site at Jamraya, which lies in the 25-km (15-mile) strip between Damascus and the Lebanese border. It described it as a scientific research centers "aimed at raising the level of resistance and self-defense".

It did not mention specific retaliation but said "these criminal acts" would not weaken Syria's support for Palestinians and other groups engaged in "resistance" to Israel.

Several rebel sources, however, including a commander in the Damascus area, accused the authorities of lying and said the only attacks at Jamraya had been mortar attacks by insurgents.

A regional security source said Israel's target was weaponry given by Assad's military to fellow Iranian ally Hezbollah: "This episode boils down to a warning by Israel to Syria and Hezbollah not to engage in the transfer of sensitive weapons," the source said. "Assad knows his survival depends on his military capabilities and he would not want those capabilities neutralized by Israel - so the message is this kind of transfer is simply not worth it, neither for him nor Hezbollah."

With official secrecy shrouding the event, few details were corroborated by multiple sources. All those with knowledge of the events - from several countries - spoke anonymously.

There was no comment from the Israeli government nor Hezbollah. Israel's ally the United States declined all comment. A Lebanese security source said its territory was not hit, though the army reported a heavy presence of Israeli jets through the night after days of unusually frequent incursions.

Such a strike or strikes would fit Israel's policy of preemptive covert and overt action to curb Hezbollah and does not necessarily indicate a major escalation of the war in Syria. It does, however, indicate how the erosion of the Assad family's rule after 42 years is seen by Israel as posing a threat.

Israel this week echoed concerns in the United States about Syrian chemical weapons, but its officials say a more immediate worry is that the civil war could see weapons that are capable of denting its massive superiority in air power and tanks reaching Hezbollah; the group fought Israel in 2006 and remains a more pressing threat than its Syrian and Iranian sponsors.

Israeli officials have said they feared Assad may be losing his grip on some chemical weapons, including around Damascus, to rebel groups which are also potentially hostile to Israel. U.S. and European security sources told Reuters they were confident that chemical weapons were not in the convoy which was bombed.

Wednesday's action could have been a rapid response to an opportunity. But a stream of Israeli comment on Syria in recent days may have been intended to limit surprise in world capitals.

The head of the Israeli air force said only hours before the attack that his corps, which has an array of the latest jet bombers, attack helicopters and unmanned drones at its disposal, was involved in a covert "campaign between wars".

"This campaign is 24/7, 365 days a year," Major-General Amir Eshel told a conference on Tuesday. "We are taking action to reduce the immediate threats, to create better conditions in which we will be able to win the wars, when they happen."

Jets over Lebanon

In Israel, where media operate under military censorship, broadcasters immediately relayed international reports of the strike. Channel Two television quoted what it called foreign sources saying the convoy was carrying anti-aircraft missiles.

Israeli jets routinely fly over Lebanon and there have been unconfirmed reports in previous years of strikes on Hezbollah arms shipments. An attack inside Syria could be diplomatically provocative, however, since Assad's Iranian ally said on Saturday that it would view any strike as an attack on itself.

There was no immediate comment on the incident from Tehran, which Israel views as its principal enemy and with which it is engaged in a bitter confrontation over Iran's nuclear program.

On Sunday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, set for a new term after an election, told his cabinet that Iran and turmoil in Arab states meant Israel must be strong: "In the east, north and south, everything is in ferment, and we must be prepared, strong and determined in the face of all possible developments."

The Israeli military confirmed this week that it had lately deployed two batteries of its Iron Dome rocket-interceptor system to around the northern city of Haifa, which came under heavy Hezbollah missile fire during a brief war in 2006.

Israel's refusal to comment on Wednesday is usual in such cases; it has, for example, never admitted a 2007 air strike on a suspected Syrian nuclear site despite U.S. confirmation of it.

By not acknowledging that raid, Israel may have ensured that Assad did not feel obliged to retaliate. For 40 years, Syria has offered little but bellicose words against Israel. A failing Assad administration, some Israelis fear, might be tempted into more action, while Syria's Islamist rebels are also hostile to Israel and could present a threat if they seize heavier weapons.

Israeli Vice Premier Silvan Shalom said on Sunday that any sign that the Syrian army's grip on its presumed chemical weapons stocks was slipping could trigger Israeli intervention.

But Israeli sources said on Tuesday that Syria's advanced conventional weapons, much of it Russian-built hardware able to destroy Israeli planes and tanks, would represent as much of a threat to Israel as chemical arms in the hands of an enemy.

Hezbollah fighters and the Syrian army have close relations and, while Damascus may have been reluctant to hand over key parts of its own arsenal to its Lebanese allies, some analysts suggest that if Syrian or Hezbollah commanders fear hardware is about to fall into rebel hands they might try to move it across the border - possibly even without formal government approval.

On Wednesday, Israel's Shalom would not be drawn on whether Israeli forces had been in action in the north, but described the country as part of an international coalition seeking to stop spillover from Syria's two-year-old insurgency.

Recalling that President Barack Obama had warned Assad of U.S. action if his forces used chemical weapons, Shalom told Israel Radio: "The world, led by President Obama, who has said this more than once, is taking all possibilities into account.

"Any development ... in a negative direction would be something that needs stopping and prevention."

Lebanon war

During the 2006 war in Lebanon, Israel's air forced faced little threat, though its navy was taken aback when a missile hit a ship. Israeli tanks suffered losses to rockets, and commanders are concerned Hezbollah may get better weaponry.

In what might have been a sign of seeking to reassure major powers, Israeli media reported this week that the country's national security adviser was dispatched to Russia and military intelligence chief to the United States for consultations.

Shashank Joshi of the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) in London saw any strike on Wednesday as intended to deliver a signal rather than heralding a major escalation from Israel.

"The Israelis are sending a message not just to Hezbollah but also to Assad's forces that they have no wish to get dragged in, but chemical weapons and certain types of missiles are a red line for them, and that regime forces ought to signal, in turn, to Hezbollah that they should proceed with caution," he said.

Worries about Syria and Hezbollah have sent Israelis lining up for government-issued gas masks in recent days. According to the Israel post office, which is handling distribution of the kits, demand roughly trebled this week.

"It looks like every kind of discourse on this or that security matter contributes to public vigilance," its deputy director Haim Azaki told Israel's Army Radio. "We have really seen a very significant jump in demand." — Reuters

Human trafficking and its intricate web

It begins with a painful, all-too-familiar story. The friend of a friend promises a young girl from an impoverished family a high-paying job abroad as a waitress. The amount being offered both astonishes and delights her, and she responds with a resounding yes. How can she not want to help her family, after all? Magically, the paper work is prepared in the blink of an eye.

She is to be sent to the Middle East, but must first pass by Malaysia as a stowaway. So she boards a motorized banca as the dusk begins to fall, hoping to evade roving coast guards on her way from Tawi-tawi in the southern part of the Philippines to Sabah in Malaysia. Before long, she finds herself in a cramped, dark space, her wrists encrusted in cold metal. She is handed a large box of condoms and is blithely informed that this will have to be her daily quota from now on — that is, if she hopes to eat at all. By then, it’s too late, as we witness the plight of yet another trafficking victim.

Human trafficking is the world’s third largest criminal enterprise, generating $15 billion last year alone. There are thousands of victims of human trafficking in the Philippines every year.

At home, things are not so different. One woman I spent hours with recently — let's call her the sad and beautiful "D," so thin she was almost like a wooden Balinese statue — was telling me how she had been raped at the age of three by her uncle (shockingly, with the consent of her mother) and sold by her into a local brothel by age of five. By 13, when she was old enough to fight, they decided to shackle both of her ankles, until she finally developed gangrene on both legs.

How did you go to the bathroom, I asked? The chains were long enough for me to walk a few feet to wash myself, she said. And food? Some days, there was food, Ma'am; others, nothing at all.

Eventually, she escaped while her mother and uncle were drunk, and found the key to her chains. She couldn’t read or write, nor could she speak any Filipino, but she somehow managed to make her way to the big city. The bus drivers were so disgusted by the smell of her gangrenous legs that they gave her a free ride all the way to Manila — right in front of Quiapo church. Eventually, she gave birth right outside it — painfully alone and bereft of any human contact.

Luckily, a woman took pity on her and took her in. Had the woman not helped her, it is hard to say what would have happened to D and her newborn child. Today, she has three children. She sleeps with two of them on the streets of Cubao; one is in a foundation.

She has a 2nd grade education. She also happens to be a wonderful cook. But we live in a country that often requires high school degrees even of our street cleaners, which is not always practical, as you can see. So she's reduced to sleeping right outside a cafeteria, cleaning it, getting free food from it and turning tricks with a few johns just to get a little cash. Of the $7 she makes with every john, around $2.50 has to go to the pimp; the rest she spends so her family can use a toilet and shower since they live with no running water at all.

As we talked, cockroaches scurried around the children’s bodies. Already, her 5-year-old daughter, winsome and equally beautiful, has begun to catch the roving eye of countless men roaming the streets at night.

How do I help this woman, I had to ask myself? She wanted a high school degree at all costs, which meant that she would have to turn tricks for years in order to be able to do so. Unless new programs were put into place for those who have not had the benefit of a grade school education — such as victims of trafficking, abuse and war. Training and capacity building for alternative forms of livelihood are now being negotiated with the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority, which helps those without high school and college degrees in the country. Perhaps she will not need a high school degree and can instead be trained and given a certificate as a cook. But there are thousands upon thousands like her, and recently I witnessed how disrespectfully they are often treated by policemen, even when they aren’t committing any crimes — simply because they are guilty of being female vagrants.

The government is already working on her case. But the rage at her mother? Her uncle? Does she feel rageful at her children, I quietly wondered? At what point does a perennial victim break and eventually go amok?

Listening to her story, I felt deeply sad for her — at the loss of a childhood, at the betrayal of a mother, at the nostalgia for a relationship that could never, ever be.

Today, there are thousands of victims of human trafficking in the Philippines every year. From 2005 to 2012, there were 1,693 human trafficking cases officially recorded in the country, 364 of which took place in 2011 alone. Needless to say, the unrecorded cases are countless.

Still, despite the massive planning and surveillance costs these clandestine rescue networks entail, at least 16,814 people have now been rescued by different government agencies. Regrettably, only 100 traffickers have been convicted — 70 of whom have been prosecuted during the current administration alone. If these numbers seem demoralizing to many, the fact remains that, in his little time in office, Aquino has prosecuted more traffickers than his predecessor did in nine entire years. Indeed, this is why the country was upgraded to solid Tier 2 Status last year, no longer in the notorious Tier 2 Watch List.

So what is the nature and context of human trafficking in the Philippines? Is it fundamentally different from what happens in other parts of the world, including the United States? What are its origins, and how has it evolved in recent years? What is the socio-political ecology that encourages trafficking, and what is the nature of this geography? Finally, how has the Philippine government responded to the problem, and what are the challenges it continues to face?

I’d now like to address these questions in the hopes that the case of trafficking in the Philippines might help shed light on the problem of trafficking in other parts of the world.

A brief historical background

The most accepted definition of human trafficking is that it is a form of forced labor in the contemporary context. In the Philippines, there is a long history of slavery (which is distinct but belongs to the same social continuum) dating back to the pre-colonial period. Unlike the United States, slavery in the Philippines usually on took the form of debt bondage, where persons were forced to enter into servitude to pay off debts – usually under the employ of relatives.

In a pre-modern context, slavery became characteristically flexible. Enslaved persons as debtors had a variety of options to negotiate their way out of servitude, either through inter-marriage with free persons or through acts of extraordinary service and bravery. Indeed, it was not uncommon for enslaved persons to have their own debt slaves, and for the latter to have their own servants.

Alongside debt bondage, chattel slavery also existed in pre-colonial times. Lowland Christianized populations, who have made up the national majority since the seventeenth century, were known till the end of the nineteenth century to buy and sell non-Christian highland or forest-dwelling minorities, usually to perform domestic work. This form of trade, however, remained small and highly local, never taking on any regional significance.

At the same time, Muslim polities in the Philippine south have engaged in large-scale raiding and the trading of humans from colonized Christian settlements in the north since the seventeenth century.

Until the late nineteenth century, Muslim datus (chiefs) were able to resist colonial incursions precisely in – and through – their ability to traffic in slaves. Many of these captives were sold abroad, while others were eventually integrated into local societies, inter-marrying with free persons, converting to Islam and becoming slave raiders themselves.

Both Spanish and US colonial regimes sought to put an end to these forms of slavery, but could never quite extinguish forms of debt bondage. Today, practices of servitude and relations of dependency between the rich and poor bear traces of this history of slavery and trafficking prior to, and in the midst of, colonial rule. We see this, for example, in the situation of domestic and factory workers within the country. While many are voluntary migrants, there is also an unknown number who are compelled by violence or deception to move from impoverished rural areas or urban slums to seek employment. They are forced to live under conditions not of their choosing, often subjected to harsh treatment and abuse.

The history and processes of slavery, debt bondage and forced migration in the Philippines form the backdrop for understanding the workings and effects of larger global processes in the country.

As my opening stories suggest, the international traffic in humans is predicated upon, and elaborated from, practices of domestic trafficking and labor exploitation as migrants move from impoverished rural areas to more developed urban centers.

It goes without saying, of course, that imperialism, colonization and globalization — with their implicit power differentials between core and periphery — introduced an international market eagerly willing to invest in the trafficking and consumption of Filipino bodies.

But there is an important difference between the traditions of slavery and debt bondage in previous centuries and those that have arisen in contemporary times. Where traditional forms of servitude were mitigated by personal, quasi-kinship relations between masters and servants, more contemporary practices have been based on the structural nature and economic imperatives of an inexorably globalized capitalist marketplace. It is to these structuring features of globalization informing human trafficking — what we might think of as its socio-political ecology, if you will — that I now wish to turn to.

Structural features: the socio-political ecology

It is not surprising that most trafficking victims are poor, lacking in education, and desperate for employment opportunities elsewhere. Most are victimized by illegal recruiters and sent to countries banned to Filipino workers. Tragically, all remain unprotected by an entire social continuum — parents, friends, schoolteachers, immigration officials, and airport/port authorities — that should never have turned a blind eye on them in the first place. The system, at some level, had irrevocably let them down.

To understand this chronic failure, it is necessary to get a sense of the structural forces underlying human trafficking.
Poverty, unemployment and underemployment have no doubt played a significant role. The bleak prospects for gainful and creative employment have made people vulnerable to the lure of illegal recruiters offering better prospects abroad. Additionally, poverty brought on by civil war, as we see in parts of rural and southern Philippines -- where polygamy is common -- create rich breeding grounds for trafficking, leading to sexual and labor exploitation. Already violently displaced, refugees of civil war tend to look upon forced migration as an improvement upon their present situation.

In the Philippines, civil strife and massive unemployment on a national scale led the Marcos dictatorship to adopt a policy of encouraging overseas migration throughout the 1970s. Given the urgent need for skilled and unskilled workers in the oil-rich Middle East, the booming economies of East Asia, and the aging populations of Western Europe, North America and, lately, Israel, huge markets opened up for Filipino labor.

Succeeding administrations have sought to capitalize upon the global demands of what has increasingly become the Filipino brand: that of “caring labor”— i.e., domestic workers for households, elderly care, doctors, nurses, and even primary school teachers — to encourage the migration of Filipino workers.

Overseas employment as a national policy has served the dual purpose of defusing political tensions, especially from an educated and expectant middle-class faced with discouraging prospects at home, and boosting economic development by way of domestic consumption through recession-proof remittances — close to $18 billion in 2012, for example — from abroad. In addition, the relative absence, until very recently, of population control policies in this predominantly Catholic country, has resulted in the steady increase of surplus labor available for export to global markets.

What we have seen in the Philippines, then, is a combination of growing global demands for caring labor, sophisticated policies for cultivating and marketing Filipino labor overseas, and the concomitant dependence upon remittances to fuel domestic consumption, real estate booms, and economic growth.

Such an environment inevitably opens up multiple pathways for the workings of human trafficking.

While the globalization of labor promises to improve economic prospects, it also paves the way for the proliferation of illegal recruiters, as well as local and transnational pimps, seeking to capitalize upon the inflated expectations of Filipino workers and their families.

But the illegalities of trafficking can only thrive, given socio-political institutions tolerant of (or at least indifferent to) the commodification of human beings. The relentless search for profits characteristic of globalization means that institutions often pursue “investment opportunities” rather than seeking the protection of migrant workers. Corruption both high and low is but symptomatic of the ways that greed and the profit-seeking motives of trafficking tend to contaminate the very institutions that are dedicated to fighting them.

Just as cops can’t keep up with sophisticated crooks who are better armed and better funded, so, too, are state agencies often unable to enforce otherwise good laws in the face of traffickers who are able to bribe and pay their way into, and out of, the legal systems of migration and recruitment.

It is also important to say something about the very structure of trafficking as a socio-economic activity.

As many others have remarked, traffickers never work in isolation, but always in concert with others — from illegal recruiters to corrupt police, to an entire panoply of service providers in the finance, communications and transportation industries. Trafficking, in this sense, is a networked phenomenon: its operations are de-centralized, with shifting locations and shadowy agents. It works as much on the level of violent coercion as on artful dissimulation, which creates complicated relations between perpetrators, victims and the latter’s families, making it difficult to detect — much less prosecute — human traffickers.

Finally, we should note the difference between early modern and contemporary versions of chattel slavery. The former was characterized by the careful supervision and harsh discipline of slaves by masters. Slaves were regarded as a scarce and expensive property that was racially inferior. In contrast, the slavery that is the product of contemporary trafficking practices is much more global and less racially particular. Anyone can potentially be trafficked, given the right conditions, regardless of color or creed, gender or age. And given advances in communications, transportation and computerized banking, government policies that encourage migration, along with rising global demands for certain kinds of labor, traffickers can take advantage of larger supplies of humans, turning them into cheap and disposable -- but eminently renewable – commodities.

Modern trafficking thus exposes workers to harsh conditions and great degrees of exploitation, while depriving them even more systematically of any sense of identity and community. Slaves in older systems were situated in particular places — the plantation, household or factory — and grouped together according to a particular racial identity. These conditions made it possible for them to come to the degree of self-knowledge necessary to engage in acts of individual and group resistance. In contrast, modern-day slaves are even more victimized and separated from any sense of commonality and community.

A sign on a bus in Seattle to raise awareness of human trafficking has a Filipino translation. Photo by Vince Rafael

Such conditions make it extremely difficult for them to resist their conditions in any organized and sustained fashion, much less access the aid of states and NGOs. At the same time, the dispersed and de-centralized network operations of trafficking thriving upon computerized money laundering adds to the difficulties in prosecuting traffickers, given the difficulties of tracing the money trail and establishing criminal responsibility.

Geography and political economy of trafficking

What about the geography of trafficking as it is shaped, and continues to shape, its political economy? As I have said, it is important to make a distinction between domestic and international trafficking in the Philippines. But where international and domestic trafficking are concerned, Muslim Mindanao continues to remain a rich source of supply (given the long history of trafficking in the area, easy access to the seas, proximity to Malaysia and therefore the Middle East and Europe, not to mention coastlines that are impossible to police and regulate). However, it should be noted that Filipino power brokers — many of whom are politically well-connected — appear to find it more logistically convenient to engage in the trafficking of Filipinos domestically. In contrast, the heads of syndicates profiting from the trade of Filipino bodies overseas tend to be the owners of clubs and bars from the host countries themselves.

Naturally, Filipino middle-men and women (surprisingly, so many Filipino traffickers are women) play a significant role in both contexts, but they themselves are not usually owners of overseas properties where trafficking takes place, nor are they generally economic power brokers with genuine institutional and infra-structural power.

That Filipino power brokers tend to stick with domestic trafficking operations may be due to the fact that the costs of owning clubs and bars overseas remains generally prohibitive, as are the legal and administrative requirements they have to adhere to as foreign nationals. Hence, the rhetoric of combating international trafficking heard frequently in the Philippines often tends to gloss over the infinitely more corrosive problems of domestic trafficking.

Where the domestic trade is concerned, the nodal points of trafficking can be readily found at an intra-city level. There, young men and women are forced to work in clubs located in areas zoned for tourists. Such clubs are established with the active collaboration of certain members of the police and law enforcement, including the occasional involvement of high-ranking government officials.

There are also sweat shops and incarceration in homes — where forms of abuse and coerced labor take place among migrants — but remain difficult to prove or measure, and therefore hard to prosecute.

Government responses to human trafficking: the Aquino administration

I’d now like to shift to the current Aquino administration. What are the challenges it faces and what are some of the solutions it has sought to enact to combat human trafficking?

Human trafficking is after all the world’s third largest criminal enterprise, generating $15 billion last year alone — behind only the international drug and arms trades. Prevention will have to begin in countries of origin, putting all of us in the front lines in the fight against human trafficking. So why do trafficking numbers remain so high? How do the traffickers do it? Take a country like Syria. Word on the ground is that applicants apply for a visa using a fake affidavit of support for vacation from a fictitious person there and “go for a visit.”

Now, the Bureau of Immigration is supposed to scrutinize each transaction carefully but some handlers invariably tend to be corrupt, money may exchange hands and — voilĂ !— the paper work is complete.

Over 3,310 Filipinos have been repatriated from Syria since March 2011. Alarmingly, the Jan 2012 mass repatriation of 204 Filipinos from Syria revealed that 90 percent of them had been irregular or undocumented; 99 percent had been trafficked; 93 individuals were not in the Bureau of Immigration database; and 29 out of 95 passports had counterfeit Departure Border Stamps.

Abroad, prosecuting foreigners for having abused Filipinas has been next to impossible. For example, in Saudi Arabia — where we send a high percentage of our overseas workers — domestics are not even covered by the labor code. Prosecuting overseas criminals — given the burden of proof required — is notoriously expensive, and embassies are already saddled with huge expenses even without them.

Issues pertaining to national territory are also fairly complicated, and depend upon the host country’s laws: in general, embassies cannot simply raid a dwelling where abuse is allegedly taking place. When there is strong evidence, however, the Philippine Overseas Labor Office can sometimes intervene. Otherwise, many have had to escape on their own to get to the embassy before earning the plane fare home. At home, the problem of human trafficking remains deeply entrenched. Powerful national syndicates bribe and sow fear among employees in government agencies. The discreet, but no less widespread, involvement of a number of local and national politicians, along with members of the Philippine National Police — given the profitability of human trafficking itself — makes it difficult to eradicate without more thorough-going reforms. What these reforms might look like, and how they are to be made, would be the subject of a separate paper.

For now, what remains to be said is that traffickers target the most vulnerable sectors of society. Among victims, women still comprise the most significant percentage. They are generally trafficked for the purpose of sexual exploitation, which includes sexual tourism, forced labor and domestic servitude.

Indeed, violence is arguably inherent in the experience of being trafficked. In 2010, there were 190 reported cases (the highest since 2004, according to the Philippine Commission on Women) on the violence against women in the context of trafficking. Still, it is heartening to note that, in 2011, the number went down to only 62 reported cases.

There is also the challenge of finding adequate funds to combat trafficking. Despite the significant increase in funding for the Inter-Agency Council Against Trafficking (IACAT) from approximately $230,000 in 2010 to $1.5 million in 2011, there is still much work to be done on the enabling environment that allows trafficking to happen in the first place. Like genocide, human trafficking takes place in a socially-incremental continuum — where teachers, bus drivers, immigration officials, airport and embassy officials, not to mention law enforcement — routinely turn a blind eye.

Finally, there is the challenge that emerges from the political process itself. Different state agencies tend to pursue their specific agendas and programs. For example, the Human Development and Poverty Reduction Cabinet Cluster, which covers 26 government agencies dealing with poverty and development, is often the site of vigorous debates regarding government priorities.

Where one agency, for instance, may be more preoccupied with growth at the expense of other variables (strengthening agricultural infrastructure by spending funds on farm machinery, say), another one might be more concerned with the provision of labor. Some agencies want jobs to be provided at all costs (even if this means Filipino nationals will have to work abroad), while still others are preoccupied with possible human rights violations. Like other countries, political decisions in the country are a matter of lengthy and complex negotiation.

How, then, has the Aquino administration responded to the challenges posed by the workings of human trafficking?

In view of its avowed commitment to reform, it is not surprising that the administration has been far more aggressive than its predecessors in dealing with the problem, working in concert with the United States, the United Nations and other partners. Today, it addresses transnational crime in cooperation with other countries, adopting the “4Ps” — the international approach to anti-trafficking: Partnership, Prevention, Prosecution and Protection.

Locally, there are 14 government agencies involved in anti-trafficking efforts throughout the country: the Philippine National Police runs Women & Children’s Complaint Desks and has trained about 3,000 of their personnel in victim identification. The Department of Labor and Employment has shut down “entertainment spots” exposing young people to prostitution.

Overseas, the Department of Foreign Affairs deals with host country governments and overseas Filipinos, including those who have been illegally recruited or trafficked. The Bureau of Immigration oversees travel requirements, apprehends suspected traffickers in places of arrival and departure, and is attempting to establish patterns of deployment used by trafficking syndicates. The Commission on Filipinos Overseas also has a 24/7 hotline that assists victims of human trafficking.

As of September 2012, a total of 13,129 calls were received, and 186 cases served by the 1343 Action Line on Human Trafficking. For the rescued, the Department of Social Welfare and Development maintains 42 shelters all over the country to provide safe residential recovery and psychosocial reintegration.

The government's strategic stance on curbing human trafficking has resulted in considerable improvement in the trafficking situation throughout the country. Cases are now being strictly monitored, while the response to victims and their families has improved and become more effective. Incidents of human trafficking have decreased, thanks to a sustained campaign to disseminate information about the problem.

The prosecution of trafficking criminals continues, as courts are encouraged to take action. While the attempts of the Aquino administration to address the problems of international trafficking have been laudable, it has yet to carry out more concrete steps to eliminate the deeply entrenched patterns of domestic trafficking: for one thing, victim identification skills among government personnel could be strengthened. Such problems, as I have indicated above, are far more politically delicate and explosive to deal with than those of international trafficking, and are often more difficult to track since they don’t require the same amount of paperwork.

Meanwhile, government agencies such the Department of Social Welfare and Development, the Department of Foreign Affairs and the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration have sought to focus on educating Filipino migrant workers about the hazards of working abroad and dealing with false labor recruiters.

Practical advice comes with some basic resources. Those applying as domestic helpers are urged to avoid countries where Filipina domestics are routinely mistreated. They are also advised to avoid countries banned by the Department of Foreign Affairs and check the licenses of recruitment agencies to make sure they are certified by the Philippine Overseas Employment Agency. Finally, they are warned against 8 dealing with "fixers" claiming to provide visas, paying excessive placement fees to shady recruiters, and to be wary of ads requiring them to send payment for processing papers to a Post Office Box.

More recently, the government has sought to expand and strengthen the Anti-Trafficking of Persons Act (R.A. 9208) for the added protection of trafficking victims in the country. In the wake of recent catastrophes like typhoon Pablo, which has devastated parts of the Visayas and Mindanao, many have been invariably drawn to seek jobs overseas. The government is seeking to ensure that they are protected against human traffickers who may take advantage of the situation.

Ultimately, the government will have to face the deeper problems underpinning the ongoing migration of Filipinos abroad: employment and underemployment within the country itself. Successful efforts have been made to jump-start the economy – resulting, I'm happy to say, in a GDP growth rate of 7.3 percent in the last quarter alone. We are trying to close down diploma mills, where graduates have remained incapable of passing certification exams in fields like nursing. Indeed, significant mismatches between education and jobs has also been a problem, with students still expecting to study nursing in contexts where demand has gone down, unlike in fields like marine science, where the job prospects are much better. The Technical Education and Skills Development Authority can also help those without high school or college degrees; ideally, they will also be able to assist those who do not have these degrees, ideally in the near future.

We are also trying to increase our manufacturing sector so the economy is not only buttressed by the services sector alone: this will not only increase GDP growth but will also improve the quality of jobs in the country, thereby increasing our average earning capacity.

Finally, there is the international context of "recipient countries," that is, countries where Filipinos are most heavily trafficked to. These include such regions as: North America, Malaysia, Japan, Korea, the Middle East and Europe. Sustained cooperation from such countries in the fight against human trafficking would be most welcome. Filipinos routinely return home from the Middle East in body bags, after having been brutally abused, with little hope of redress.

One exception, however, continues to stand out: the United States. We are deeply grateful that the US, as a major recipient country, continues to actively combat human trafficking, providing considerable support to the Inter-agency Council Against Human Trafficking. For a developing country like the Philippines, the assistance of international partners has been critical, given the transnational nature of the problem itself. It is precisely for this reason that US aid has been so welcome.

My participation in this conference, which takes place on the tenth anniversary of the passage of Washington State's first law to criminalize trafficking—thanks to the eminent leadership of Velma Veloria—is a small testament of the Aquino administration's commitment to combat this form of modern “slavery.”

This was the keynote speech delivered in Seattle by Lila Ramos Shahani on January 11 at the conference on "Human Trafficking in an Era of Globalization: Forced Labor, Involuntary Servitude, and Corporate and Civic Responsibility." It was sponsored by the University of Washington (UW) School of Law, the UW Women's Center and the Seattle School of Law. 

Lila Ramos Shahani is an assistant secretary in the Aquino administration and head of Communications of the Human Development and Poverty Reduction Cabinet Cluster, which covers 26 government agencies dealing with poverty and development.

Anti-trafficking seminars set in 10 PHL provinces with rampant illegal recruitment

The Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) will conduct anti-human trafficking Pre-Employment Orientation Seminars (PEOS) in 10 Philippine provinces where illegal recruitment is rampant.

During the Forum on Forced Labor Trafficking at the POEA headquarters in Mandaluyong City on Wednesday, POEA Director Lucia Villamayor said the PEOS aims to educate Filipino job seekers about human trafficking and other job issues.

Among the provinces where the POEA intends to hold the PEOS are Isabela, Quirino, Batangas, and Pampanga.

Human trafficking, also known as "modern-day slavery," affected 20.9 million people globally in 2012, Villamayor noted.

The PEOS is a three-hour seminar that provides aspiring overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) basic knowledge about illegal recruitment, forced labor, and human trafficking as well as how to avoid these.

The PEOS is being conducted daily at the POEA headquarters. It is also held in schools across Metro Manila such as the De La Salle-College of Saint Benilde.

Villamayor urged the public to avail of the POEA programs, especially against illegal recruitment and human trafficking.

“Kung mayroong pre-employment orientation seminars na kinoconduct sa school or sa local government units, umattend sila doon,” she said.

“'Yun naman ay for free, para maging aware sila kung ano ang overseas employment program at kung ano ang nararapat nilang gawin kung sial aya magkaroon ng problema tungkol dito,” she added.

Remedial measures

The PEOS, a preventive measure program of the POEA, is paired with the agency's remedial measures against human trafficking such as counselling and assistance during the preliminary investigation of cases.

Villamayor said the POEA intends to give greater focus to information dissemination, law enforcement, and prosecution in the government's fight against human trafficking.

She mentioned that the agency partnered with headhunter site Jobstreet to facilitate PEOS during its major job fairs. The POEA likewise sends “e-blasts” to job seekers via Jobstreet.

The POEA is also coordinating with various government and non-government ogranizations such as the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration, Department of Justice, the National Bureau of Investigation, and Blas F. Ople Training Institute in addressing human trafficking.

Human trafficking a global problem

Meanwhile, POEA Deputy Administrator Amuerfina Reyes, citing data from the International Labor Organizations 2012 Global Estimate of Forced Labor, said 11.7 million out of the 20.9 million people affected by human trafficking worldwide in 2012 are from the Asia-Pacific region.

Globally, about three in 1,000 people are in forced labor, Reyes said, adding that 12.4 million or 55 percent are women and girls while 8.5 million or 45 percent are men and boys.

ILO consultant Atty. Robert Larga, a speaker during the forum, noted that 5.5 million children aged 17 and below, make up roughly 25 percent of human trafficking exploitees.

Larga added that about 68 percent of the human trafficking victims are in forced labor while 22 percent are suffering sexual exploitation.

Reyes said forced labor was a form of slavery, an act of stripping one's basic human dignity through involuntary servitude.

“Imagine being forced to work against your will,” she said.

Two recent convictions

Larga cited the two "small victories" in the fight against human trafficking: the two recent convictions of human traffickers in Cagayan de Oro and Zamboanga.

The 2011 Cagayan de Oro case involved a group picking up children to become street beggars.

The 2010 Zamboanga case was about a Filipina who was supposed to work as a domestic helper in Malaysia but ended up as a waitress who was sexually abused. - VVP, GMA News

PHL embassy in Washington closed Feb. 18

The Philippine Embassy in Washington will be closed on Feb. 18 in observance of former US President George Washington's birth anniversary.
In an advisory, the embassy said Feb. 18, a Monday, is considered a federal holiday in the United States.
"The Embassy will be closed on Monday, February 18 in observance of Washington’s Birthday, a US federal holiday," it said.
But it said those with emergency cases requiring assistance from the embassy may contact telephone numbers 202-368-2767 or202-467-9300.
Washington's Birthday, also known as President's Day, is held on the third Monday of February.
It honors all the presidents of the US, with Washington as the first president.
However, said some states pay attention to Abraham Lincoln, whose birthday also falls on February. —KG, GMA News

Donors meet target of $1.5B aid for stricken Syrians - UN

KUWAIT - Donor countries have pledged more than $1.5 billion to aid Syrians stricken by civil war, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said on Wednesday after warning that the conflict had wrought a catastrophic humanitarian crisis.

In a pointed message for Syria's leader, Ban told a fund-raising conference that President Bashar al-Assad bore primary responsibility to stop his country's suffering after nearly two years of conflict that have cost an estimated 60,000 lives.

"Every day Syrians face unrelenting horrors," Ban told the gathering in Kuwait, adding these included sexual violence and arbitrary killings. Sixty-five people were shot dead execution-style in Aleppo on Tuesday, opposition activists said.

"We cannot go on like this.... He should listen to the voices and cries of so many people," Ban said.

"I appeal to all sides and particularly the Syrian government to stop the killing ... in the name of humanity, stop the killing, stop the violence."

Ban said the one-day conference had exceeded the target of $1.5 billion in pledges. About $1 billion is earmarked for Syria's neighbors hosting refugees and $500 million for humanitarian aid to Syrians displaced inside the country.

The $500 million would be channeled through U.N. partner agencies in Syria. and the entire aid pledge would cover the next six months, Ban said.

But in the Syrian capital Damascus, the thud of artillery drowned out any optimism on the streets. Asked about the aid promises, Damascenes were uninterested or despairing.

"Where's the money going to go to? How does anyone know where it's going? It all seems like talk," said Faten, a grandmother from a middle-class family in the capital.

Another middle-class Damascene, a woman in her 70s who asked not to be named, said the money would not make it to Syrians.

"Tomorrow all that money will get stolen. (The middlemen) steal everything. If they could steal people's souls, they would. I wouldn't count on the money," she said.

The oil-rich Gulf Arab states of Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates each promised $300 million at the meeting. Its 60 participants included Lebanon, Jordan, Iran, Tunisia, the United States, Canada, Russia, China, Japan, South Korea, Turkey and a number of European countries.

But relief groups say that converting promises into hard cash can take much time, and one of them said on Tueday that aid now reaching Syria was not being distributed fairly, with almost all of it going to government-controlled areas.

'Getting worse every day'

Ban said that much more remained to be done to address Syria's humanitarian emergency. "The situation in Syria is catastrophic and getting worse every day."

Four million Syrians inside the country need food, shelter and other aid in the midst of a freezing winter, and more than 700,000 more are estimated to have fled to countries nearby.

U.N. humanitarian chief Valerie Amos said that Syrian agriculture was in crisis, hospitals and ambulances had been damaged and even painkillers were unavailable.

Freezing, snowy winter weather had made matters worse, and people lack warm clothes, blankets and fuel, with women and children particularly at risk, she said, adding: "We are watching a human tragedy unfold before our eyes."

Kuwait's emir, Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah, told the meeting "horrifying reports" of violence had raised questions about Syria's future and relief efforts had to be redoubled.

Syrian opposition activists said at least 65 people were found shot dead with their hands bound in the embattled northern city of Aleppo on Tuesday, the latest reported massacre over the course of 22 months of conflict.

They blamed militiamen loyal to Assad, while the government blamed the Islamist rebel Nusra Front. It was impossible to confirm who was responsible given Syria's restrictions on access for independent media.

More than 60,000 people have been killed in all, according to a U.N. estimate, since the conflict began as a peaceful movement for democratic reform and escalated into an armed rebellion after Assad tried to crush the unrest by force.

Diplomacy to halt the war has been stymied by deadlock in the U.N. Security Council between Western powers, who want Assad to quit as part of a democratic transition, and Russia, a close Assad ally that rejects outside interference in Syria.

And the fighting is largely stalemated in Syria, with rebels holding swathes of the north and east but unable to take key cities because of the government's air power and superiority in heavy weapons.

King Abdullah of Jordan told the donors' meeting Syrians had taken refuge in his country in their hundreds of thousands but Amman's ability to help was at its limits. "We have reached the end of the line, we have exhausted our resources," he said.

Iran, a staunch supporter of Assad, said the blame for the humanitarian crisis lay with rebel fighters who had come to Syria from abroad.

Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi said the government and its Syrian opponents should "sit and talk and form a transitional government".

"Those who are causing these calamities are mercenaries who have come to Syria from outside the country," he said. — Reuters

DFA belies report Syria's Assad sought asylum, financial assistance from PHL

A Department of Foreign Affairs official on Thursday belied a newspaper report saying Syria President Bashar Assad had sought asylum and financial assistance from the Philippines.

As a reaction to the banner story of The Philippine Star on Thursday, DFA Spokesman Raul Hernandez told GMA News Online the report's claims “aren't true.”

Hernandez said President Benigno Aquino III, with DFA officials, met with Assad's adviser Bouthaina Shaaban earlier this week in Manila to discuss possible political solutions to the two-year Syrian conflict.

“The political solution is in contrast to a military armed intervention which Syria is avoiding,” said Hernandez.

He also said the discussion aimed to get the opinion of the Philippines on the Syrian situation, and that it was normal for troubled countries to ask for help from the international community.

Also, Hernandez said there was a letter from Assad handed personally to Aquino by Bouthaina.

The letter, he said, was also about Syria's efforts to find political solutions to the conflict, but Hernandez did not elaborate on it.

Hernandez said Aquino took the opportunity to express his gratitude to Bouthaina for the instrumental help the Syrian government has extended to Filipino repatriates.

The Philippine government has imposed forced repatriation of Filipinos from Syria due to the worsening armed conflict there.

Several batches of Filipinos have since arrived home from Syria, the latest was the batch of 78 OFWs who arrived at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport Thursday morning.

The recent arrivals have brought the number of those who have returned from Syria to over 3,000.

Based on the 2011 stock estimate by the Commission on Filipinos Overseas, there were  some17,000 Filipinos in Syria.

The armed conflict between the Assad's Ba'ath party loyalists and rebels which started 22 months ago, has already claimed some 60,000 lives.— LBG, GMA News

New batch of 78 OFWs arrive from war-torn Syria

(Updated 8:45 a.m.) Another batch of overseas Filipino workers who availed of the government's repatriation efforts arrived home from strife-torn Syria Thursday morning.

The latest batch of OFWs numbering 78 arrived at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport aboard an Emirates flight before 7 a.m., radio dzBB's Rodil Vega reported.

Many of them were relieved to be home, the report said.

Expected to welcome them were officials of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Overseas Workers Welfare Administration, the report said.

The report also quoted Labor Department officials as saying they are targeting some 3,000 more Filipinos for repatriation from Syria.

Last week, a new batch of 22 OFWs returned home aboard a Qatar Airways flight.

Earlier, the OWWA said the returning OFWs will be given assistance in getting to their home provinces. Those who could not immediately go home will be allowed to stay at a halfway house.

For its part, the DFA continues to convince OFWs in Syria to avail of repatriation program. — LBG, GMA News

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

PHL Embassy in Singapore bares new workweek schedule starting March 17

Starting March 17, the Philippine Embassy in Singapore will adopt a new workweek schedule where it will cease Sunday operations and revert to its Monday-to-Friday setup.

In an announcement on its website, the embassy said this is part of its efforts to upgrade its services and to facilitate the conduct of the Overseas Absentee Voting in April and May this year.

“Consular service hours have been revised so that applicants can submit and collect documents throughout office hours, without lunch break. The Embassy has instituted online appointment systems for key services, particularly for the issuance of passports and Overseas Employment Certificates (OEC), in which the applicant can choose a specific date and time that is most convenient to him or her,” it said.

The embassy added that it is ready to devote Sundays to more initiatives that will promote the welfare of Filipinos in Singapore.

It plans to focus its weekend operations to livelihood and entrepreneurial skills training and supporting the usual Filipino community social and cultural events.

This is in line with the start this year of the Singaporean government’s policy of requiring a weekly day-off for household service workers.

Meanwhile, the embassy advised applicants to apply for their passport renewal in advance, such as around nine to 12 months before expiration of validity or earlier, if a longer validity is required for work pass renewal or when their passports only have a few remaining blank pages.

“We also encourage our OFWs to avail of multiple-entry OECs in order to avoid having to make repeated visits to the Embassy,” it said. - VVP, GMA News

DFA: No Pinoys hurt in Brazil night club fire

There were no Filipinos among the 200 people killed in a night club fire in Brazil on Sunday, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said.
“Per report of our embassy in Brazilia, so far there are no Filipino casualties in the night club fire that hit Brazil,” DFA spokesman Raul Hernandez told GMA News Online via text on Tuesday.

The fire started around 2:30 a.m. at the Kiss nightclub in the southern city of Santa Maria, an earlier report of the Reuters news agency said.

A flare allegedly lit by a member of the band or its production team set the ceiling of the night club ablaze where an estimated 500 people were present, police official Luiza Sousa said.

Most of the fatalities either died due to asphyxiation or from being trampled on.

On Tuesday, Reuters reported that the Brazilian police investigating a nightclub fire that killed 231 people detained the owners of the club and two band members whose
pyrotechnics show authorities say triggered the blaze.
No charges were filed against the four men, but prosecutors said they could be held for up to five days as police press them for clues as to how the fire early Sunday morning could have
caused so many deaths.
Stunned residents in the southern city of Santa Maria attended a marathon of funerals beginning in the pre-dawn hours.

The tragedy comes as Brazil prepares to host the 2014 World Cup soccer tournament and 2016 Olympics, putting its safety standards and emergency response capabilities in the
international spotlight.

President Dilma Rousseff, who cut short a visit to Chile to fly to the scene of the disaster on Sunday, called for a minute of silence before addressing a meeting of newly elected mayors
in the capital, Brasilia.  
The Brazil fire is the worst to hit an entertainment venue since a fire on Christmas Day in 2000 engulfed a mall in Luoyang, China, killing 309 people.

Brazil will be the host for two world events; 2014 World Cup soccer tournament and the 2016 Summer Olympics.

There are 720 Filipinos in Brazil based on the 2011 Stock Estimate of the Commission on Filipinos Overseas. - with reports from Reuters/Andrei Medina, VVP, GMA News
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