Friday, June 28, 2013

June 27, 2013 4:50pm 37 1 0 57 Tags: Cavite A team led by the Presidential Anti-Organized Crime Commission (PAOCC) on Wednesday rescued 29 Filipinas from a mail-order bride syndicate in Cavite servicing Korean men. The group arrested five suspects, including two Korean nationals and three Filipinos, during a raid conducted by police authorities. PAOCC Executive Director Reginald Villasanta said the raid was organized after the agency received a tip coming from the Commission on Filipinos Overseas which cited complaints from the victims. “We have rescued 29 Pinays who were duped into promises of an instant wealthy life through marriage with Korean gentlemen although in most cases, they ended up in the losing end after becoming victims of grave abuses,” Villasanta said. He explained that most of these syndicates trick Filipinas who are quick to accept marriage proposals in the hope of a better life in Korea. However, he said most of the Filipinas are abused after the marriage resulting in divorce, separation, and running away from their Korean husband. The Philippine Embassy in Seoul has issued repeated warnings to Filipinas not to fall prey to mail-order bride syndicates. The suspects are currently undergoing questioning about their involvement in the mail-order bride ring and will be facing charges for violation of Republic Act 6955. Republic Act 6955 or the Anti-Mail-Order Bride Law prohibits the matching of Filipino women for marriage to foreign nationals for business purposes. - Andrei Medina, VVP, GMA News Tags: Cavite 37 1 0 57 We welcome healthy discussions and friendly debate! Please click Flag to alert us of a comment that may be abusive or threatening. Read our full comment policy here. Related Stories Cavite food testing facility to ensure quality of region's exports South Korea president flags risks in engaging North North Korea wants to hold high-level talks with US 3 dead as Cavite cops foil robbery High-level North-South Korea talks called off More News Stories Top Stories Congressman Benaldo 'stable' in hospital with gunshot wound to the chest President Aquino asks China to spare Pinay convict from execution 29 mail-order brides rescued from Korean syndicate in Cavite Daughter says Mandela 'still there,' raps media 'vultures' advertisement Talk of the web Related Videos Reporter's Notebook: Ang maruming pagpag mula sa Cavite dumpsite, itinitinda at pinagkakakitaan News to Go: Paghupa ng baha sa ilang lugar sa Cavite, inaabot ng isang buwan Balitanghali: Babaeng nanloko ng daan-daang libong pisong halaga ng alahas at pera sa Cavite, pinaghahanap 24 Oras: Dalawang magkahiwalay na sunog, sumiklab sa Cavite More Pinoy Abroad Videos Related photos PNoy turns over 1,500 houses for AFP, PNP personnel More Photos advertisement advertisement

Tags: Cavite
A team led by the Presidential Anti-Organized Crime Commission (PAOCC) on Wednesday rescued 29 Filipinas from a mail-order bride syndicate in Cavite servicing Korean men.

The group arrested five suspects, including two Korean nationals and three Filipinos, during a raid conducted by police authorities.

PAOCC Executive Director Reginald Villasanta said the raid was organized after the agency received a tip coming from the Commission on Filipinos Overseas which cited complaints from the victims.

“We have rescued 29 Pinays who were duped into promises of an instant wealthy life through marriage with Korean gentlemen although in most cases, they ended up in the losing end after becoming victims of grave abuses,” Villasanta said.

He explained that most of these syndicates trick Filipinas who are quick to accept marriage proposals in the hope of a better life in Korea.

However, he said most of the Filipinas are abused after the marriage resulting in divorce, separation, and running away from their Korean husband.

The Philippine Embassy in Seoul has issued repeated warnings to Filipinas not to fall prey to mail-order bride syndicates.

The suspects are currently undergoing questioning about their involvement in the mail-order bride ring and will be facing charges for violation of Republic Act 6955.

Republic Act 6955 or the Anti-Mail-Order Bride Law prohibits the matching of Filipino women for marriage to foreign nationals for business purposes. Andrei Medina, VVP, GMA News

Tags: Cavite

DOLE: Labor exec in sex abuse raps to face probers after arriving from Saudi

The Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) said when assistant labor attache to Saudi Arabia Antonio Villafuerte arrives in the Philippines from Saudi on Thursday, he will face the investigation into the alleged "sexploitation" of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs).

In a report of radio dzBB's Rodil Vega, DOLE spokesman Nicon Fameronag said the DOLE will have Villafuerte air his side before deciding whether or not to present him to the media.

DOLE Secretary Rosalinda Baldoz said Villafuerte has been assured of due process.

"Kailangan thorough ang investigation. We have to satisfy requirement ng due process," she added.

Villafuerte had been linked by at least three OFWs to the alleged sexploitation mess. He has denied the allegations.

At least three alleged victims of the "sex-for-flight" scandal have released their sworn statements on the supposed sexual exploitation that occurred in Manila’s Middle East diplomatic posts.

Interviewed by Ivan Mayrina at GMA News' "24 Oras", two of the victims have accused Villafuerte of sexually molesting them.

Earlier this week, Villafuerte granted an interview to Saudi-based news site Arab News where he said he is ready to face the charges against him.

"I have rendered my duties in a proper manner and believe that there are some people who are willing to come forward to bring out the truth,” he said, adding that he was concerned about the effect of the accusations on his family. - VVP, GMA News

DFA lists documents accepted for authentication at satellite offices in SM Megamall, SM Manila


The Department of Foreign Affairs came out with an updated list of the types of documents that can now be accepted for authentication in its Satellite Consular Offices in SM Megamall and SM Manila.
 
In a statement Wednesday, the DFA announced that the DFA-National Capital Region (NCR) East/SM Megamall and DFA-NCR West/SM Manila starting July 1 will accept the following for authentication:
 
(1)  NBI Clearance
(2)  Police Clearance
(3)  Barangay Certification w/ Mayor Certification (issued within Metro Manila)
(4)  NSO issued documents in security paper including CENOMAR
(5)  Affidavits of Employment, Trainings/Seminars, and Baptism/Confirmation w/ Regional Trial Court (RTC) Certification
(6)  Other Notarized Documents (special power of attorney [SPA], Affidavit of Support and Guarantee, Consent, etc.) with RTC Certification
(7)  Medical Certifications authenticated by DOH
(8)  PRC Documents
(9)  LTO License Certification (issued by LTO main office only)
(10) Foreign Documents authenticated by the Philippine/Consulate or documents authenticated by Foreign Embassies/Consulates based in the Philippines
(11) School Records (TOR, Diploma, Form 137, etc) w/ CHED, TESDA, or DEP-Ed Certificate of Authentication and Verification (CAV)
(12) School Records with CAV issued by State Colleges and Universities
 
The DFA noted that if a document needs further verification, applicants are advised to file at the Authentication Division in the Aseana Building, corner Bradco Ave., Macapagal Boulevard in Parañaque City.
 
It also reminded that liaison officers of recruitment agencies are not allowed to transact authentication services at any satellite consular office.
 
Applicants may also send authorized representatives to apply for authentication on their behalf, the DFA reminded.
 
These people must present a valid ID and an authorization letter or SPA from the applicant, a photocopy of the applicant's ID with his/her signature, and a photocopy of the authorized representative's ID. Gian C. Geronimo, VVP, GMA News

DOLE: PHL, Saudi officials helping 10,000 undocumented workers avoid arrest

Philippine and Saudi authorities are working to help more than 10,000 undocumented overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) avoid arrest in Saudi Arabia when the crackdown on undocumented workers resumes after the reprieve ends on July 3, Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) Secretary Rosalinda Baldoz said.

“Our understanding with the Saudi counterpart  officials is that part of our bilateral is to ensure that all 10,000 documents are already secured even after July 3,” Baldoz told reporters.
 
“I asked if that could be extended because July 3 deadline is very short considering 10,000 sila. But very politely they (Saudi government officials) said it is so difficult to get extension because its no less than Saudi King Abdullah  who will have to act on that,” she said.
 
She noted that the Philippine embassy "will continue to process the papers of OFWs and they are interested to keep the workers there.”

The Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA), an agency under DOLE, said Philippine Embassy officials in Riyadh are speeding up the processing of exit papers of undocumented OFWs in Saudi Arabia.

The  drive against illegal foreigners  is part of the Saudi government’s Saudization policy (nitaqat), which aims to put more Saudi nationals into private sector jobs.

The crackdown operations on undocumented workers began on March 28 this year, in keeping with the “Saudization” policy (nitaqat), or the policy encouraging the employment of Saudi nationals in private firms.

Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah on April 6 ordered a three-month delay on a crackdown on illegal migrant workers that has led to thousands of deportations.

The reprieve, which will end on July 3 this year, aims to give foreigners in the kingdom a chance to sort out their papers.

According to the migrant workers group Migrante, as of June 15, only 10 percent of undocumented workers have been cleared to leave, among them are at least 4,500 Filipinos.

“The PH Consulate issued over 4,500 travel documents and approximately 2,000 underwent fingerprinting procedures… but none of them has received exit clearances so far,” Migrante International chairman Garry Martine, quoting an Arab news report.

He said the Philippine embassy, Labor and OWWA  are  taking  whatever steps needed to address the needs of the OFWs who wanted to leave Saudi.” - VVP, GMA News

DFA inspects Saudi field office amid efforts to beat deadline on illegals

Tags: Riyadh , Saudi Arabia
A Department of Foreign Affairs official inspected the Philippine Embassy's field office in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia' Al-Hammam district this week, to gauge the embassy's efforts to help Filipinos beat the July 3 deadline for illegal workers.

DFA Undersecretary for Migrant Workers Affairs Jesus Yabes visited the facility on June 25, the embassy said in a news release posted on its website Thursday.

"During his visit to the field office... Yabes addressed several women with children who were being processed at the field office by a specialized inter-agency team from Saudi authorities," the embassy said.

Yabes is visiting the Kingdom from June 20 to July 5. With him in the visit was Philippine Ambassador to Saudi Arabia Ezzedin Tago.

So far, the Embassy has encoded 2,860 passport renewals and 4,972 replacement passports.

It has released 3,982 of these passports, and urged those who have not claimed their new passports to do so at the Um Al-Hammam Office.

The Embassy opened the field office to address the documentary needs of Filipinos correcting their status in the Kingdom.

Initially, the Embassy also extended services at the Elite International School and the International Philippine School in Riyadh.

Meanwhile, the Embassy said Filipinos who applied for lost passports at the Elite International School,  the IPSR, or at the field office should claim their new passport at the Um Al-Hammam Office.

They may check the availability of their passport on the Embassy’s website www.philembassy-riyadh.org. — DVM, GMA News

Tags: Riyadh , Saudi Arabia

U.S. Senate falls short of 70-vote goal on immigration bill

(Updated 4:40 a.m.) WASHINGTON - The U.S. Senate's vote passing a broad immigration reform bill fell two votes short of what some of its main backers had said was necessary to pressure the House of Representatives to act.

The Senate voted 68-32 for the bill, giving more than two-thirds support in the 100-member chamber. Earlier, backers said they were pushing to get 70 votes to help sway the more conservative House to consider it.

Republican Senator Charles Grassley of Iowa called the failure to hit 70 votes a strategic setback for proponents. Yet backers insisted that they were happy with 68-32 tally, saying it demonstrated broad bipartisan support, and eight more than the 60 that is traditionally needed to clear procedural roadblocks.  Reuters

VP Binay: Pinay death convict in China recruited by Nigerian to smuggle drugs

The 35-year-old Filipina sentenced to death penalty for carrying at least six kilos of heroin in China was reportedly recruited by a yet unidentified Nigerian to smuggle drugs, vice president Jejomar Binay said on Thursday.
 
In Kara David's report at "24 Oras," Binay said the Filipina was paid $3,000 to $4,000 per trip to smuggle drugs from Dubai to Hong Kong and China. 
 
"Ang report dito ay kinuha (sila) ng mga Nigerian na naman, eh. At ('yung drugs) ay nanggagaling sa Dubai," Binay said.
 
President Benigno Aquino III has written to Chinese president Xi Jinping to lower the sentence to a life imprisonment.
 
The Department of Foreign Affairs spokesman Raul Hernandez said that the "preponderance of the evidence was so large that the decision was to give her the death penalty sentence." 
 
"The court mentioned that she has been doing this for 18 times since 2008," Hernandez said of the Filipina.
 
He added that the Filipina was not an overseas Filipino workers but a tourist in China
 
The Filipina defended that she didn't know there was heroine in the luggage, Hernandez said. 
 
Foreign affairs secretary Albert Del Rosario said her family will accompany the Filipina in China.
 
The execution will take place anytime from June 27 to July 2, according to the Department of Foreign Affairs.
 
Hernandez earlier said the Filipina was arrested with a male companion who was caught carrying 6.171 kilos of heroine in his own luggage.
 
The Filipina's companion was granted a two-year reprieve, which means his sentence could be lowered to life imprisonment for good moral conduct in his prison quarters.
 
In China, possession of 50 grams of drugs is grounds for the death penalty, usually carried out through lethal injection.
 
Other Pinoys executed in China
 
At least 28 Filipinos were sentenced to death penalty in China with a two-year reprieve, according to the report.
 
A total of 107, meanwhile, had termed sentence while 67 with life imprisonment. At least 10 Filipinas have pending cases before the courts.
 
In March 2011, three Filipinos—Ramon Credo, Sally Ordinario-Villanueva, and Elizabeth Batain—were executed in China via lethal injection for possession of illegal drugs.
 
Credo and Villanueva were executed in Xiamen, while Batain was executed in Guangzhou on March 30 that year.
 
On May 24, 2008, Batain was caught smuggling 6,800 grams of heroin in Shenzhen.
 
Meanwhile, Villanueva was caught on December 24 that year smuggling 4,110 grams of heroin in Xiamen, while Credo was caught four days later smuggling 4,113 grams of heroin in the same place.
 
In December 2011, a 35-year-old Filipino was also executed in China for smuggling in 1.5 kilos of heroin. — VC, GMA News  

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Over 32,000 OFW Flexi-fund members get SSS annual incentive benefits

More than 32,000 qualified overseas Filipino workers with active accounts at the Social Security System’s (SSS) provident fund for OFW-members earned additional income totaling P12.54 million in the form of annual incentivesfor 2012. This is triple the amount of guaranteed earnings on their Flexi-fund savings from last year.
SSS Senior Vice President and International Operations Division Head Judy Frances See said nine out of every ten SSS Flexi-fund members qualified for the first-ever release of the annual incentive benefit (AIB), which is based on OFW-members’ personal Flexi-fund equity posted as of end of the applicable year.
"Flexi-fund members with no full early withdrawal claims or benefits filed in 2012 qualified for the AIB. They do not need to file an application for availment because the SSS automatically posts the AIB amount to their Flexi-fund accounts," she said. "The more Flexi-fund savings a member has, the higher the AIB amount will be. For 2012, the member with the biggest Flexi-fund equity received an AIB amount of P106,498."
See cited that the total AIB is taken from the Flexi-fund’s actual investment income at the end of the year minus the total guaranteed earnings already credited to the accounts of Flexi-fund members. The SSS approved higher interest rates as basis for Flexi-fund guaranteed earnings effective July 2012.
The prevailing low-interest environment encouraged SSS to revise the program’s policies last year to help OFW-members earn higher from their Flexi-fund savings. Previously, the computation of guaranteed earnings was solely based on the 91-day T-bill rate, with no incentive benefits.
"Under the enhanced Flexi-fund program, earnings are now based on whichever is higher between the 91-day T-bill rate and the average rate of SSS short-term peso placements. The rates are adjusted every quarter to keep the program aligned with current market conditions," See said.
The Flexi-fund program is open to all OFW-members paying SSS premiums at the maximum monthly salary credit. Any amount, not less than P200, paid in excess of the required maximum SSS contribution is automatically credited as Flexi-fund savings.
Members’ equity has grown to over P330 million at present since the Flexi-fund was launched in July 2001. OFW-members can get their Flexi-fund savings as monthly pension to supplement their benefits for retirement, disability and death under the regular SSS program.
"Early withdrawal of Flexi-fund equity is also allowed anytime. However, we introduced the AIB to motivate them to continue saving for the future, instead of withdrawing their account, so that they can enjoy the fruits of their hard work even until retirement," See said.
OFW-members can now check their Flexi-fund account, including the amount of their AIB, through the "My.SSS" portal of the SSS website (www.sss.gov.ph). Members enrolled at the website can also view online their other SSS records, such as contribution and loan payments.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Panawagan

Panawagan
ni Ma. Fe P. Nicodemus

Ang mga issue sa mga ofws ay hindi na bago para sa mga non-government organization tulad ng KAKAMMPI, dahil kung babalikan ang mga panahon marami ng hinawakang kaso ang grupo ng kakammpi,  na ganito ang sumbong, ngunit napakahirap ng maging isang biktima dahil na rin sa ayaw ng mga ofws ang ma-iskandalo lalong-lalo na nais pa nilang magtrabaho sa ibayong dagat… at sa mga naiulat…   tama rin ang mga bansa nabanggit tulad ng Kuwait , Jordan at ilan sa KSA.ito ang karanasan ng kakammpi.

Nakakalungkot kasi wala talagang magawa sila,(ofws) kung hindi sumunod nalang … hirap ang KAKAMMPI  na tumulong sa kanila dahil  na rin sa  ayaw ng lumantad ng mga naging biktima ... dahil na rin di umano  sa seguridad ng mga ofws at siyempre alam natin ang confidentiality.

Pero dahil sa may ganitong isyu… nanawagan ako sa lahat na naging biktima na sana ay lumabas tayo at magbigay ng testimoniya. Upang mabigyan ng kasagutan at hustisya  ang naging  biktima.

Nanawagan ang KAKAMMPI sa pamahalaan sa mga mambabatas para sa mas epektibong sistema at komprehensibong programa upang mapabilis na maiuwi sa bansa ang mga nagigipit na overseas Filipino workers (OFWs). Ito'y sa harap na rin ng iskandalo tungkol sa umano'y "sex-for-repatriation" na nagaganap sa Middle East.

 Sa gitna  ng shocking ng isyu sa   "sex for flight" scandal na ito kasama ang mga pinagkakatiwalaang, Philippine officials para sana sa pag-aayos ng  repatriation of  distressed overseas Filipino workers, hindi naman masyadong nababahala diyan ang KAKAMMPI , mas nababahala kami ngayon  dahil sa crackdown on undocumented workers in Saudi Arabia. Dahil nakikita na ang mangyayari …nandiyan na ang mga abusadong amo at embassy, at mga consulate officials ang makikinabang sa sitwasyon na ito. Ang nakikita  pa rin dito  mas titindi  ang exploitation.

 Ang sex for flight ay isang isyu na hindi isolated, pero ang aking concern ay ang matatapos na palugit ng Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, ano na ang mangyayari malapit na ang july 3, isang bangungot na isyu ito para sa Aquino Government.

Sana ay huwag masyadong palakihin ang isyu sa ‘ sex for flight… at mag-imbestiga dapat…  pero huwag  na huwag kalimutan ang 6,000 na libong stranded workers na ngayon ay nasa KSA. Sila ang mas bulnerable ang kalagayan sa ngayon. Habang nag-iimbestiga kayo ehh,, dapat naiisip ninyo ang kalagayan ng mga ofws sa KSA. Tandaan din na iba ang batas sa naturang bansa.


Sex-for-flight scheme just ‘tip of the iceberg’

MANILA, Philippines – The political party Bayan Muna said the alleged sex-for-flight scheme by Philippine embassy officials in the Middle East is “just the tip of the iceberg" and must be fueled by the crackdown of host countries on undocumented overseas Filipino workers (OFWs).
Bayan Muna Rep Neri Colmenares said on Monday, June 24, that undocumented OFWs, especially in Saudi Arabia, are “getting desperate” especially with the resumption of the crackdown efforts on July 3.
The Saudi government ordered a 3-month grace period for "illegal" workers “in breach of the labor and residency regulations in the kingdom to clarify their status.” Foreign Affairs Secretary Raul Hernandez said the Philippine embassy in Riyadh and the consulate in Jeddah will not likely finish processing the amnesty applications of many undocumented Filipino workers in time for the July 3 deadline.
Colmenares said around 6,000 OFWs have set up "Tent Cities" in Jeddah and Riyadh. Instead of getting help from the embassies, “the opposite is happening.”
“Aside from sexual favors, migrants are being asked to pay for their own tickets and use the ‘back door’ procedure,” Colmenares said.
On Tuesday, June 18, Akbayan Rep Walden Bello divulged details of embassy officials allegedly promising distressed OFWs in the Middle East that they will be prioritized in repatriation in exchange for sexual favors.
Labor Secretary Rosalinda Baldoz ordered an all-woman, all-lawyer investigative team to "get to the bottom" of the sex-for-flight activities.
But Colmenares said what is needed “is an independent comprehensive probe on all the Philippine missions in the Middle East and the immediate repatriation of our countrymen in the Tent Cities.”
“The Department of Justice (DOJ) can spearhead the investigation and migrant groups and legislators can be part of the team,” Colmenares said.
Colmenares added “the situation of our undocumented countrymen in Saudi is indeed very difficult” but “our own officials are doubly exploiting our Filipino women.” – Rappler.com

DOLE recalls official tagged in 'sex-for-flight' scheme in Riyadh


 14  95 googleplus0  2 
MANILA, Philippines - The Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) has ordered the recall of the assistant labor attaché in Riyadh amid an alleged 'sex-for-flight' scheme perpetrated by Philippine officials against overseas Filipino workers (OFW) in the Middle East.
In a radio interview on Monday, Lea Fortuna, head ofthe DOLE investigating team, said there is already an advisory ordering Assistant Labor Attache Antonio Villafuerte to come home to answer allegations mounted against him.
The accusations sprang from a group of OFWs in Riyadh who implicated Villafuerte in the alleged scheme.
Three OFWs based in Riyadh formally gave their respective sworn statements regarding the sexual abuses they experienced in Saudi Arabia. The group earlier met with Department of Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert Del Rosario before giving their sworn statements.
The migrant workers filed their affivadit before Fortuna and Ophelia Almenario of the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration.

Malaysian police rescue 10 Pinays forced to work as GROs — PHL Embassy


Malaysian police rescued 10 Filipino women who were forced to work as guest relations officers (GRO) for a karaoke bar in Sarawak state, the Philippine Embassy there said over the weekend.

"[The Filipinos] were recruited to work as service crew in Baila Me Karaoke Bar in Bintulu, Sarawak but ended up working as GROs," the embassy in Kuala Lumpur said on its website, citing information from one victim.

The victims, who were illegally recruited on February 6, were forced to work beyond regular hours without regular salaries.

They only earned from the "commission" on top of the drinks for the customers, the embassy added.

Meanwhile, the Chinese-Malaysian operator was arrested for possible violation of Malaysia's Anti-Trafficking in Persons and Anti-Smuggling of Migrants Act of 2007.

According to Section 13 of the law, those involved in human trafficking through force, deception, abuse of power, among others, are penalized with an imprisonment ranging from three years to 20 years, plus a fine.

The embassy got wind of the incident via an e-mailed tip on May 13 from a concerned Malaysian citizen who forwarded the contact details of one of the victims.

The Filipinos are now at a shelter home after the raid, the embassy said.

Meanwhile, the embassy said they will work for the Filipinos' immediate repatriation.

Ambassador Jose Eduardo Malaya III said they are "grateful to the Malaysian police authorities for their immediate action on our request."

"Cooperation between police and other authorities, as well as vigilance among the general public, is essential in combating human trafficking,” he said.  Marc Jayson Cayabyab/BM, GMA News

Monday, June 24, 2013

Sex for flight' scandal linked to Saudi crackdown on illegal workers — Migrante

Amid the alleged "sex for flight" scandal involving Philippine officials facilitating repatriation of  distressed overseas Filipino workers, a migrant workers' group said the problem has "intensified" since the beginning of the crackdown on undocumented workers in Saudi Arabia.

Migrant workers group Migrante International in a statement on Friday said Philippine government's failure act on the immediate repatriation of illegal OFWs in Saudi Arabia has  resulted in the exploitation of women migrants by embassy and consulate officials in the kingdom.

“The bottom line here is abusive embassy and consulate officials are taking advantage of the desperation of OFWs... a further exploitation of the exploited," said Migrante International chairman Garry Martinez.

"This is not an isolated matter that has nothing to do with the overall condition of stranded OFWs seeking immediate repatriation... due to the crackdown that started last March,” he said.

King Abdullah declared a three-month reprieve in April to give time for workers to correct their statuses. The reprieve is set to end on July 3.

On Friday, the Department of Foreign Affairs said about 6,000 OFWs in the kingdom are expected to return to the Philippines soon as the deadline of the reprieve nears.

Following the exposé of the alleged "sex for flight" scheme perpetrated by Philippine embassy and labor officials in the Middle East, the DFA had ordered envoys and staff members of foreign offices there to return to the Philippines and face an investigation.

“Failure to repatriate our OFWs before the deadline will be a bigger nightmare and the Aquino [administration] knows this," Martinez said.

"If they cannot repatriate the stranded OFWs in time it will definitely result in more and graver human rights abuses against our stranded OFWs," he added.  Gian C. Geronimo /LBG, GMA News

To win passage of immigration bill, a flood of Federal agents to be deployed at US borders

By Richard Cowan and Thomas Ferraro

WASHINGTON - A flood of new federal agents and high-tech surveillance devices would be dispatched to the southwestern U.S. border with Mexico under a deal aimed at winning passage of an immigration bill in the U.S. Senate, congressional sources said on Thursday.

The proposal, which could be formally offered as an amendment to the sprawling immigration bill as early as Thursday, would double the overall number of U.S. border patrol agents, according to senior Senate Democratic aides.

That would mean assigning 21,000 new officers to the southwestern border in an attempt to shut down future illegal crossings by foreigners.

The bipartisan bill, which was crafted by a group of eight senators and is supported by President Barack Obama, currently calls for adding 3,500 Customs and Border Protection officers by 2017.

The plan also calls for building an additional 50 miles (80 km) of fencing to complete a 700-mile (1,130-km) border barrier, Senate aides said.

At a price tag of around $40 billion to $50 billon, the amendment, if passed, would represent a potentially massive investment of federal resources in securing the border.

While the legislation would authorize these security programs, it would be up to Congress in the future to actually appropriate the money for them.

The deal represents a significant win for Republicans who have been clamoring for tougher border security measures. But Democrats could also claim a victory in fending off Republican attempts to delay legalizing 11 million undocumented residents until new border security measures were in place.

However, one of the aides said that the newly legalized residents would not get "green cards" allowing permanent resident status until the border security measures were in place. Gaining permanent resident status would take 10 years under the bill, giving the federal government a decade to install the added border manpower and equipment.

During debate of the bill by the Senate Judiciary Committee last month, some lawmakers were skeptical that such a huge investment would be a smart use of federal dollars and they questioned whether 700 miles of new fencing was even practical.

But supporters of the legislation are hoping to capture the votes of more undecided Republican senators with this deal, improving chances of a major rewrite of immigration law in the more conservative House of Representatives, which is controlled by Republicans.

Besides the additional agents and fencing, the measure also calls for employing large amounts of unmanned aerial drones, radars and other surveillance devices to catch or deter illegal crossings.

The plan brought a harsh reaction from at least one civil liberties and human right group.

Christian Ramirez, director of the Southern Border Communities Coalition, said the huge buildup in agents, surveillance hardware and fencing "is expensive and extreme."

In a telephone interview with Reuters, Ramirez expressed fears that adding so many more armed officers would compound problems already being experienced involving fatal shootings of bystanders on either side of the border.

"The current force on the U.S.-Mexico border is already excessive. What makes matters worse is that there are no checks and balances" on border patrol activities, Ramirez said.

Border patrol officials were not immediately available for comment. Reuters

Pinoys complaining of difficulty in breathing in smog-covered Singapore

, GMA News

As Singapore continues to be enveloped by smog from slash-and-burn activities in Indonesia, Filipinos in the city-state have been complaining of difficulty in breathing.

Through GMA's citizen journalism arm YouScoop, Lovely Diana Reynante, a Filipina residing in Pasir Ris in Singapore, shared a video showing the fog brought about by smoke blown from Indonesian illegal forest fires to clear out land in Sumatra island.



“This afternoon I went to school and na notice ko na a lot of people na nandito naka mask na tapos sa school po wala ng mask kasi they're running out of stocks na po,” Reynante said on Thursday night's “Saksi” newscast.

The video showed a fog-covered Singapore similar to what Filipinos see after New Year's Eve.

Reynante also shared a photo showing the the fog's thickness, which brought the city-state to almost zero visibility.

Reynante described the fog as having a burnt smell that sticks to one's clothes.

“Nahihirapan na po kami huminga and yung sa throat namin sobrang makati,” she said.

She noted how the fog was now dangerously on ground level compared to when it started to form in Singapore on Tuesday.

The Philippine Embassy in Singapore has urged Filipinos to stay indoors to protect themselves from the dangerous haze that blanketed the city-state.

In an advisory posted on its website, the embassy said Filipinos should close their doors and windows and clean their air conditioning filtering system to clear their house of the smog.

The haze was caused by illegal forest fires in Sumatra island, Indonesia, to clear space for palm oil plantations.

Difficult to breathe

Meanwhile, Lhes Hugo, an OFW who resides in Hougang, Singapore, told GMA News Online how the smog made it difficult for him to breathe.

“Ang hirap huminga, nakakahilo yung effect. Nakaka dry sa mata at yung tipong lagi kang uhaw [ang pakiramdam],” Hugo said.

He noted that the Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) levels on Friday reached 400 which was considered hazardous.

“Yung level na yun delikado sa bata at mga elderly,” Hugo said, adding that now the PSI levels seemed to have lowered.

He said the Singaporean government is having talks with Indonesia to resolve the problem.

The government of Indonesia has already vowed to extinguish the fire causing the haze in Singapore.

Hazardous levels

Meanwhile, a Reuters report on Saturday said Singapore's pollution index climbed back to "hazardous" levels and air quality deteriorated in the Malaysian capital on Saturday as Indonesia came under heavy pressure to bring fires from slash-and-burn land clearing under control.

Indonesia has deployed military planes to fight the blazes on Sumatra island from illegal burning that typically takes place in the June to September dry season to clear space for palm oil plantations. The fires are unusually widespread this year and the smog is the heaviest in Singapore's history.

Companies behind the fires would find no refuge in Singapore, Foreign Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam said on Saturday, even as he acknowledged limits in international law to deal with firms that operate outside the city-state.

Indonesia blamed eight companies for the fires on Friday, including Jakarta-based PT Sinar Mas Agro Resources and Technology (SMART) and Asia Pacific Resources International (APRIL).

The Indonesian government, which said it would take action against anyone responsible for the disaster, is expected to name the rest of the companies on Saturday.

Diplomatic tension

Singapore warned that the "haze" - which has fuelled fears about health problems and raised diplomatic tension in Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia - could last for weeks, or even longer.

On the sixth day of the thick smoke, Singapore's pollution index returned to the "hazardous" zone with readings above 300. It hit a record of 401 on Friday afternoon, a level considered potentially life-threatening for the ill and the elderly.

The smell of burned wood filled the air and visibility was poor, with buildings shrouded in a grey gauze. Streets in the clean and green city-state, which usually enjoys clear skies, were far less crowded than on a typical Saturday when people go out to shop, meet in outdoor cafes and have fun at the park.

The cost of the smog for Singapore, a major financial center and tourist destination, could end up being hundreds of millions of dollars, brokerage CLSA said in a report.

In Malaysia, the haze spread north. Air quality in Kuala Lumpur, the capital, and in several surrounding areas worsened into the "unhealthy" zone. The air quality was now "unhealthy" in 17 areas of Malaysia and "very unhealthy" in one area.

$20-million budget

Indonesia has earmarked around 200 billion rupiah ($20 million) to handle the disaster. Seven military aircraft were deployed for water bombings and cloud seeding.

"The majority of hotspots in Riau are inside APRIL and Sinar Mas concessions," senior presidential aide Kuntoro Mangkusubroto told Reuters on Friday. - with a report from Reuters, VVP, GMA News

3 Pinoys, 1 Pakistani hurt in freak accident in UAE

Three Filipinos and a Pakistani were injured after a vehicle reversed into them in the United Arab Emirates.

report on Khaleej Times said the three Filipinos, who included a nine-year-old boy and his parents, suffered moderate to minor injuries.

Also injured in last Wednesday's accident at Al Fisht was a pregnant Pakistani woman, the report said.

The four are under supervision at a nearby hospital.

A separate report on Gulf News said the driver has been arrested and reportedly admitted negligence.

An investigation showed the driver of the car was reversing but did not notice the four standing behind the vehicle.

The confused driver stepped on the accelerator and hit the four.

Police Captain Abdul Rahman Khatir, director of Media and Traffic Awareness at the Sharjah Police, reminded drivers to be careful in busy public and residential areas. — LBG, GMA News

Over 1.5M foreign workers, Pinoys among them, change status before Saudi crackdown

Tags: Saudi Arabia
RIYADH  - More than 1.5 million foreign workers in Saudi Arabia have changed their residence status since April ahead of a planned crackdown on illegally registered expatriates in the world's leading oil exporter, the labor ministry said on Saturday.
 
Saudi Arabia is trying to reduce a black market in labour among the estimated nine million foreigners in the country, which the government says makes it harder for Saudi citizens to find jobs and economists say fosters inefficiency.
 
Unemployment among Saudis is officially estimated at 12 percent, but is seen as being higher among young people, something concerning to the authorities after joblessness contributed to Arab Spring protests in other countries.
 
Remittances from millions of workers in Saudi Arabia are important to the economies of countries including Yemen, the Philippines, Sri Lanka, India and Pakistan.
 
Huge crowds of foreign workers have queued for long periods in sweltering heat outside government offices and their own consulates in recent weeks, fearing fines and possible deportation if they fail to legalize their status before July 3.
 
More than 180,000 have also left the country, the passports authority said last week.
 
Registering foreigners properly has become important for the labor ministry after it imposed a new system of quotas last year that stipulate how many employees in particular types of position should be Saudi nationals.
 
Under Saudi law, foreigners must be sponsored by their employer and must work only in the field registered on their residence papers. In practice, many work for other companies and in different jobs.
 
Raids on companies earlier this year to inspect expatriates' documents prompted press reports of labour shortages as workers stayed at home to avoid being caught.
 
In April, King Abdullah announced a three-month grace period for foreigners to resolve their statuses, waiving fines and other fees for visa violations while expatriates changed their sponsorship to reflect their real work, or left the country.
 
The sudden announcement provoked massive queues outside government offices as millions rushed to address their status. In Jeddah, Indonesian workers rioted outside their consulate last week, angry over bureaucratic delays.   Reuters

Tags: Saudi Arabia

Palace exec: No 'deadline' for DFA to finish sexploitation probe

Deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte said President Benigno Aquino III did not give the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) a deadline to finish its probe on the alleged "sexploitation" of overseas Filipino workers at some Philippine embassies abroad.

However, Valte said Aquino wants the probe to be thorough.

“Wala namang naibigay. The president does not like giving timetables (pero) laging bilin ng Pangulong Aquino, conduct a thorough investigation with speed in mind but we’ll not sacrifice the quality of the investigation,” she said.

She also reiterated the government’s assurance of a fair probe, with punishments to be based on the evidence gathered.

“According to the DFA, pinabalik ang consuls general sa Middle East at ambassador natin para makabigay ng information. Dapat narito na sila para magbigay ng information to assist in the fact-finding investigation ,” Valte said on government-run dzRB radio on Saturday.

Arrival of envoys

A separate report on "Balitanghali" said some ambassadors started arriving at the DFA on Saturday.

The report emphasized that the ambassadors did not return to the Philippines as accused persons but merely as sources to shed light on the mess.

On Friday evening, DFA spokesman Raul Hernandez said on his Twitter account that Philippine ambassadors and consuls general will be in Manila this weekend to help in the probe.

“Philippine ambassadors and consuls general from Middle East will be in Manila this weekend to help DFA's fact-finding exercise on reported sex-for-fly scheme,” Hernandez tweeted.

The envoys were asked to return to the Philippines after Rep. Walden Bello on Tuesday linked some Philippine officials to the supposed exploitation of distressed OFWs in the Philippine shelter in Amman.

Bello, chairman of the House committee on overseas workers' affairs, said three Philippine embassy and labor officials in the Middle East have been accused of sexually abusing (OFWs) in exchange for repatriation.

These alleged cases of exploitation were uncovered when Bello's committee investigated the reported "sex-for-flight" activities where overseas Pinays were allegedly offered repatriation by officials in exchange for sex.

On GMA News TV on Thursday, Bello revealed that the sources of his allegations were DFA and labor department officials in Manila, some of whom held senior positions.
 
However, Bello also admitted that he has yet to talk to any victims of the alleged overseas sex rings.

DFA hotlines

Also on Thursday, the DFA announced hotlines where overseas Filipino workers can report incidents of "sexploitation."

"Any complaint re sexual abuses committed in Philippine embassy or consulate, pls call 0928-8363756 / (632)834-4955 or email to contact@dfa.gov.ph," Hernandez said.
- VVP, GMA News

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