Wednesday, April 30, 2014

DOH eyes teams in Middle East to monitor Pinoy MERS patients

The Department of Health may send medical teams to the Middle East to monitor the condition of Filipinos infected with the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV), a report on “24 Oras” said Tuesday.

This was following reports that three Filipino nurses were among the 14 new cases  of MERS-CoV in Saudi Arabia.

In Manila, the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) has already ordered labor attach├ęs in the Middle East to have overseas Filipino workers fill up basic information sheets to help in tracking possible cases.

According to the report, one of the nurses who tested positive for MERS-CoV in Saudi Arabia is at the intensive care unit of a hospital while the two others are in an isolation ward.

Meanwhile, Overseas Workers Welfare Administration head Carmelita Dimzon said they are in constant communication with the families of the affected nurses.

“Ang mga pamilya nitong mga OFW na ito ay nakikipag-ugnayan din sa OWWA at sa pamamagitan natin nakakakuha sila ng information,” Dimzon said.

She also gave some tips to avoid contracting the disease. “Huwag gaanong mag handshake, 'yung hugging, use face mask, regularly wash your hands and use hand sanitizers.”

There are currently 339 confirmed cases of MERS-CoV, including 26 new ones, in Saudi Arabia. Of this number, 102 had died.

MERS is a novel virus often referred to as the Middle East’s own version of the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS). Symptoms include fever, cough, shortness of breath, and even diarrhea.

Human cases of MERS have also been reported in other Middle Eastern countries, such as Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait, Jordan and Oman. Andrei Medina/KBK, GMA News

Japan denies visa policy for Pinoys already lifted

Japan has denied reports that it has already lifted its visa requirements for Filipino, Indonesian, and Vietnamese nationals.

In a statement, the Embassy of Japan in the Philippines said the Japanese government has not lifted any visa requirements for the three countries. It, however, said residents from all three countries are eligible for multiple-entry visas.

Details for multiple-entry visas are available at the Embassy of Japan's website.

Earlier this month, Japan's Kyodo News, citing "government sources," reported that the Japanese government is “making arrangements” to waive visas for tourists from the Philippines, Indonesia, and Vietnam.

The report said the proposed arrangement aims to draw more tourists from Southeast Asia, including the Muslim population in the region.  Rie Takumi/KBK, GMA News

Fil-Am appointed to Obama's advisory board on Asian-Americans

A Filipino-American has been appointed to US President Barack Obama's advisory board on issues relating to Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) announced Tuesday.

The appointment of Chicago-based Billy Dec and 13 others to the President’s Advisory Commission on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPI) was announced last April 24.
Chicago-based Filipino-American Billy Dec. DFA photo
“As Commissioners, they will serve as the eyes and ears of the AAPI Community for the Obama Administration,” the DFA said in a statement.

It said the commission is charged with working to improve the quality of life of AAPIs through increased participation and access to federal programs.

“These members will advise the President on innovative ways to engage AAPIs across the country and to improve their health, education, environment, and well-being,” the DFA said.

Dec, CEO and founder of Rockit Ranch Productions, a hospitality and entertainment development company, has been  involved in several charity groups, including the Make-A-Wish Foundation, Lookingglass Theater Company, and Maggie Daley's After School Matters, the DFA said.

He also co-hosted a fundraising event for Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) victims at Sunda, one of his restaurants, in 2013.

White House press statement said more than a sounding board for grievances among the community, the commission “will advise the president on appropriate programs which will advance the inclusion of the AAPI community and to uplift the community’s contributions to America.”

“I am pleased to announce that these experienced and committed individuals have agreed to join this Administration, and I look forward to working with them in the coming months and years," Obama said in a press statement last Thursday.

Other notable members of the AAPI commission include Maulik Pancholy, an actor and an LGBT advocate who is active in non-profit, social policy organizations; and Nina Ahmad, the first Bangladeshi appointee in the Obama administration. —Rie Takumi/KBK, GMA News

Noted American violinist, Glee star to join Washington concert for Yolanda survivors

Grammy Award-winning violinist Joshua Bell and Glee star Darren Criss will join other Hollywood celebrities who will come together for a benefit concert for the victims of Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) in the Philippines.

Dubbed “After the Storm,” the concert will also feature multi-award-winning Broadway artist Lea Salonga, Filipino-American actor Lou Diamond Phillips, tenor Rodell Rosel, ballet dancer Christine Rocas, and singer

The concert will be held at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C. on June 15.

Before the concert, Criss launched his own campaign on behalf of the World Food Programme to support Yolanda victims. Specially-made postcards bearing the words “You're Not Alone,” a reference to one of his songs, were given to donors who managed to raise $100,000 for the WFP.

Bell, on the other hand, is a long-time concert violinist who performed six classical pieces at the L'Enfant Plaza Station in 2007 as part of a sociological experiment with the Washington Post. He also supports other charity causes, including WhyHunger and Education Through Music, Inc.

Ambassador John F. Maisto, President of the US-Philippines Society, said that with the world's attention no longer on Yolanda victims, fundraisers may be a necessity to draw back attention to the Visayas.

"As the world's attention is gradually drawn away from the devastation in the central Philippines, we are reminded that formidable challenges remain for millions of families displaced by the most powerful tropical storm ever to make landfall,” he said.

“'After the Storm' will help our people get back on their feet through the reconstruction of their homes, schools and health centers as well as the restoration of their businesses and livelihood businesses,” added US-Philippines Society co-chair Manny Pangilinan.

Interested parties may purchase tickets online through the Kennedy Center's box office, or by phone by calling (202) 467-4600. Sponsors or organizations who wish to support and underwrite the program may email or call +1.202.595.2880. —Rie Takumi/KBK/JL, GMA News

UAE army corporal faces court for allegedly raping Pinay

An army corporal in the United Arab Emirates faced a court on Monday over charges that he raped a Filipina housemaid in November last year.

The corporal insisted he was not guilty over the charges that he forced the Filipina to have sex with him after he asked her to clean his uniform, UAE news site Gulf News reported.

“Not guilty... I didn’t have sex with her,” Gulf News quoted the suspect, 37, as saying when he entered his plea before the Dubai Court of First Instance on Monday.

Presiding judge Ezzat Abdul Lat turned down the suspect’s request for bail.

Prosecutors said the incident occurred last November when the corporal allegedly handed his uniform to the Filipina, 29, and asked her to wash it.

But he allegedly dragged the Filipina into his bedroom, where he undressed her and forced her to have sex with him. He faces charges of having sex with the woman against her will and sexually molesting her.

His lawyer asked Judge Lat for permission to obtain a report about the exchanged phone calls and text messages between the claimant and the suspect.

The lawyer said this would “prove that the housemaid is the one who invited my client to her room."

He also claimed the Filipina "tried to extort money from him when she complained," adding she "blackmailed him and asked for money to waive her accusation.”

The Filipina told prosecutors she was washing her sponsor’s uniform when he arrived home and handed her his dress for washing.

“When he learnt that there was nobody at home, the suspect pulled me and forced me into his bedroom. He pinned me down to the floor, removed my clothes and had sex with me. He also had bizarre sex with me. As soon as he finished, he went to the bathroom to wash, so I rushed to my bedroom and locked myself inside. He came and repeatedly knocked the door... but I did not answer," she said.

She said the corporal apologized to her in English but she asked him to leave her alone. She then went to the Philippine consulate for help.

The Gulf News report cited court records indicating the consulate staff referred the woman to the recruitment agency that flew her into Dubai.

A Filipino staff member then rushed the woman to a hospital, where she was advised to report the incident to police.

The Filipina guided police to her sponsor’s residence in Oud Al Mutainah. The suspect refused at first to open the door, but one of the policemen climbed the villa’s wall and opened the door from inside.

"We examined the bedroom where the alleged incident took place. The suspect was taken into custody. During questioning, he admitted that he had sex with the housemaid,” said a policeman.

A separate report on Khaleej Times cited a police forensic report showing the DNA of the semen traces found on the woman matched the defendant’s. —Joel Locsin/KBK, GMA News

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

World Malaria Day and PhilHealth’s commitment to prevent death by malaria thru its case rates

April 25, 2014, Legazpi City: Today is World Malaria Day, and PhilHealth Regional Office V takes time to give Bicolanos a heads up about this mosquito- borne infectious disease.

Malaria is actually responsible for taking the lives of some famous people throughout history: Alexander the Great died of this disease in June 323 BC, at a very tender age of 32. Meanwhile, in the Philippines, April is incidentally the 115th anniversary of the death of Emilio Jacinto, the brains of the Katipunan, whose life was also cut short because of malaria. It probably took just one bite of an unassuming small mosquito which drove these famous people and several civilizations out of existence.
The good news is there is cure for it, and famous people have also been able to survive malaria: George Washington and John F. Kennedy, among them, and the latest: Anderson Cooper, who was hospitalized when he got bitten by a small mosquito during an assignment in Africa.
In the Bicol Region, based on Task Force Informatics data, PRO V was able to pay a total of P 47, 587 in benefits for only 5 cases of malaria admissions, from 2012- 2013, with an average value per claim pegged at P 9,500. These benefits were utilized by Sponsored and Overseas Workers Program members.
As they say, prevention is always better than cure, but in case of infection, PRO V assures members that there is a case rate for this disease. Thus, malaria should no longer be a health shock.
PhilHealth’s case rate of P600 for outpatient treatment covers diagnostic malaria smears and laboratory procedures, drugs, consultation and patient education and counseling for confirmed malaria- infected patients. Meanwhile, malaria requiring hospitalization has a case rate of as low as P 2,800 in primary care facilities, or up to P12,700 in accredited hospitals.

10-year-old Pinoy among members of pope's personal music choir

Any important ceremony in the Vatican seems incomplete without a musical accompaniment by the Coro della Capella Sistina or the Sistine Chapel Choir.

During the canonization of Pope John Paul II and Pope John XXIII last Sunday, for example, the group serenaded the devotees with their angelic voices.

A report on “24 Oras” Monday said two members of Sistine Chapel Choir are Filipinos, one of them is 10-year-old Dan Valenzona.

Born in Rome, Italy, to both Filipino parents who are overseas workers, Valenzona was once brought to St. Peter's Square by his parents when he was still an infant to attend a Mass celebrated by then-Pope John Paul II.

The report siad Valenzona's parents said they never once thought that their child would become a member of the Sistine Chapel Choir.

“I feel so proud and happy to be part of this choir,” Valenzona told “24 Oras” anchor Mel Tiangco through an interpreter.

Meanwhile, healing priest Fr. Fernando Suarez, who also attended the canonization rites last Sunday, shared the experience of being hugged by Pope Francis during the event.

“Sa mga Pilipino na nanonood, yung embrace sa akin ni Pope, embrace na rin sana sa inyo, sa mga nawawalan ng pag-asa, sa mga nanghihina, lalo na sa mga maysakit,” he said. Elizabeth Marcelo/KBK, GMA News

Court quashes suit vs. Pinay chairman of NJ-based NGO

JERSEY CITY — The Superior Court of New Jersey in Hudson County has dismissed theft charges against Lourdes P. Corrales, chair of the Community Development Center of the Philippine American Friendship Committee (PAFCOM).

Corrales was charged with allegedly depositing $11,016.86 in development grant from the Jersey City treasurer in her own separate account.

Edwin Solano, 2013 overall chair of PAFCOM, filed the complaint on July 24, 2013 with the Jersey City Police Department, West District.
Lourdes P. Corrales. Filipino Reporter photo
Solano alleged that the checking account opened by Corrales was separate and distinct from the organization’s community account.

On Nov. 21, 2013, a grand jury returned an indictment against Corrales on two counts of theft.

Superior Court Judge Joseph V. Isabella junked the complaint on March 17, 2014 as recommended by Assistant Prosecutor Steven Sciancalepore for “absence of evidence to establish that Ms. Corrales sought to deprive the PAFC of its property.”

“I’m glad justice was served and that my name was cleared,” Corrales said in a statement to the Filipino Reporter.

“I was falsely and unfairly accused of stealing money from PAFCOM,” said Corrales, who works as business development manager of Kwik Mortgage Corp. based in South Plainfield, N.J.

She has been a longtime CDC chairperson of PAFCOM, as well as its volunteer executive director.

Under its bylaws, CDC “manages and direct activities and finances of PAFCOM” aimed at providing community service to underserved populations in New Jersey, including Asian-Americans.

PAFCOM receives a yearly grant of $60,000.

In his dismissal memo, the prosecutor said evidence established that Corrales, as CDC chair, “had the authority to create and deposit monies into separate checking accounts so as not to commingle grant monies with general funds.”

The memo was endorsed to the court by Hudson County Acting Prosecutor Gaetano Gregory.

The Filipino Reporter tried to get a statement from Mario Garcia, PAFCOM president and overall chair, but he refused to issue one. –Filipino Reporter

Kuya, Pinoy band of brothers in Canada, reunites for new single

Two pairs of Filipino brothers are creating R&B music in Canada.

Samuel and Bobby Gerongco from Toronto and Johann and Jayson Camat from Montreal are the artists behind Kuya, a Filipino word for “older brother.”
Samuel and Bobby Gerongco from Toronto and Johann and Jayson Camat from Montreal are Kuya. The FilAm photo
Kuya was originally formed in May of 1993. Sammy and Johann met when they were part of the original Canadian cast of “Miss Saigon.” During rehearsals, they would find time to share musical ideas, and soon would have their younger brothers Bobby and Jayson singing along.

Bobby went to school for music production, and soon the group started writing, producing and releasing their own songs. Kuya became quickly known as a powerhouse R&B vocal group.

As described by Sammy, “Johann carried the group with his strong raspy vocals and incredible stage presence. Jayson brought a soulful edge with deep lyrical content, and Bobby set the tone with his next level beatmaking.”

What about Sammy? The group believed he complemented Johann’s singing style with his smooth vocals and strong sense of melody.

Kuya began to take meetings with major record labels and had recording demo deals with RCA records and EMI Canada. They travelled from Los Angeles to New York, working with the top producers in the industry hoping that one day they would be discovered.

Through their journeys, Kuya’s music captured the attention of such industry moguls like Pharrell Williams, Andre Harrell, Wyclef Jean and music icon Clive Davis. However, through personal circumstances, Kuya disbanded tentatively in 2004 with questions of when they would reunite.

During the hiatus, Sammy and Bobby went ahead with their musical journey forming Kuya Productions.

“We became a successful Grammy nominated hit-making production team,” said Sammy. Their discography includes such artists as Nelly, Jesse McCartney, Ginuwine, Nicole Scherzinger, Big Time Rush and more.

Kuya Productions recently released a new video, “Stay Here,” featuring Kuya reunited performing Sammy’s song.

His mother’s struggle with cancer was the inspiration behind “Stay Here.”

Recounted Sammy, “My mom died of cancer two years ago. My brother and I cared for her right to the very end. It was a tough time for our family. We had to take it one day at a time. Right to her last breath.

“When I wrote this song I was reflecting on that time and what really matters most in life. I thought about my wife. My family. My friends and my dreams. I thought about Kuya and our music and how much my mom wanted us to sing again. So here we are with this new single. This song is a reminder of how short life really is. Our message is do what you love and surround yourself with the people and things that matter the most. Stay here.” –The FilAm

Non-Muslim Pinoys in UAE urged to prepare wills

Lest they risk a forced inheritance distribution, non-Muslim Filipinos in the United Arab Emirates were urged to make wills for their families.

UAE legal consultant Barney Almazar said that without a will, assets of non-Muslims will likely be distributed based on a forced-heirship setup that favors male heirs.

“Because in our culture we find these things (writing wills) off, just like when we talk about death, even if you’re in the Philippines, it’s like a taboo subject,” Almazar told Gulf News on the sidelines of the Marriage and Family Laws legal aid seminar at the Philippine consulate last Saturday.

Almazar noted many Filipinos do not bother to execute a will because they assume Philippine laws are applicable in the UAE.

“Having a will is very important for [expatriates] here in the UAE because there is a provision in the UAE Civil Code that the national law of the deceased will be applicable. But at the same time, there is also a provision in the same civil code that UAE Law should apply. So there is apparent conflict,” he said.

Moveable, immovable assets

The Gulf News report said that in the UAE, the distribution of inheritance classified as moveable assets will be based on the deceased national's laws.

Moveable assets include cars, jewelry, shared stocks, cash and bonds.

However, immovable assets such as real estate properties are governed by Sharia law, it added.

Gulf News cited a 2013 report of the Ministry of Interior’s monthly publication 999 Magazine showing only one to two out of 10 expatriates in the UAE take legal steps toward asset distribution.

Non-Muslim expatriates were advised to make sure all assets, including their end-of-service benefits and joint bank accounts, are included in their will to avoid paralyzing the surviving spouse and children.

Civil registration matters

Philippine Statistics Authority interim national statistician Carmelita Ericta reminded Filipinos to be careful with civil registration matters such as applying for birth or marriage certificates.

Ericta told Gulf News one wrong letter or wrong name mean foregone benefits from insurance, "and your identity is questioned.”

“So if you have an inheritance, there are financial implications,” she said. Joel Locsin/KBK, GMA News

Monday, April 28, 2014

3 Pinoy nurses contract MERS-CoV in Saudi Arabia

(Updated 3:03 p.m.) At least three Filipino nurses in Saudi Arabia have reportedly contracted the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV), a Saudi news site reported Saturday.

The three were among 14 new cases that included seven in Jeddah, four in Riyadh and three in Makkah, according to a report on Arab News.

"Of the nurses who have contracted the virus, one was a 28-year-old female Filipino working at Dr. Sulaiman Al-Habib Hospital in Riyadh, but the bulletin said she hasn’t developed any symptoms," the report said.

It added two other Filipino nurses working at Al-Noor Hospital in Makkah contacted the virus.

While the report also did not name the nurses at Al-Noor, it described one as a 40-year-old female who has been in contact with a confirmed case. She has not developed any symptoms, it added.

The third was described as a 30-year-old male, who also got in contact with a confirmed case and developed mild respiratory symptoms. However, his health status is stable.

"The new confirmed cases has brought the total in the Kingdom to 313 since the virus was first discovered by health scientists in September 2012," the Arab News report said.

Meanwhile, the report said the Saudi Ministry of Health announced five more MERS-CoV deaths, bringing to 92 the MERS-CoV death toll there.

It said three of the new deaths included two males and a female. Prince Sultan Military Medical City in Riyadh and Al-Noor Hospital in Makkah each reported one death.

Arab News said the five who died included two elderly Palestinians and a Bangladeshi woman in her 40s, while the other victims were Saudis.

It added MERS is considered a deadlier but less-transmissible cousin of the SARS virus, which broke out in Asia in 2003 and infected 8,273 people.

However, the Foreign Affairs Department said it has yet to verify the Arab News story.

In a text message on Sunday afternoon, DFA spokesman Charles Jose said: "We have to get [a] verified report from our Embassy in Riyadh."  Joel Locsin and Rouchelle R. Dinglasan/LBG/BM, GMA News

PHL consulate general in Hong Kong closed May 1, 6

The Philippine Consulate General in Hong Kong will be closed on May 1 and 6, in observance of holidays in the Philippines and Hong Kong.

In an advisory, the Consulate General said it will be closed on Labor Day, May 1, considered a regular holiday in the Philippines.

But it also said it will be closed on May 6, Tuesday, to mark Buddha's birthday.

Hong Kong observes Buddha's birthday on the eighth day of the fourth lunar month.

The Hong Kong Tourism Board said the holiday traces its roots to a legend where nine dragons sprayed water to bathe the baby Buddha at birth.

"To commemorate this, at Buddhist temples across the city, devotees gather to pay their respects to this revered deity by bathing statues of him in bowls of water. The ritual is believed to aid in the purification of one’s soul. One of the grandest ceremonies is held at the Po Lin Monastery on Lantau Island, home of the Big Buddha," it said.

It added celebrants before and after the Birthday of Buddha eat bitter special green cookies. "(E)ating them represents passing through hardship to enjoy better things," it said.

No overseas employment certificate will be issued on the two dates, the consulate general said.

However, Filipinos in an emergency can call the consulate general at 9155-4023, 6080-8323 (labor), and 6325-9324 (OWWA).

They can also contact it via email ( or fax at 2866-9885.  Joel Locsin /LBG, GMA News

Comelec, DFA want number of overseas voters doubled for 2016 polls

The Commission on Elections and the Department of Foreign Affairs want to double the number of overseas voters for the 2016 elections.

"The number of Filipinos abroad is nearing 12 million but we only have 1 million registered voters for OAV. Our target for 2016 is to at least bring it to 2 million," Comelec Commissioner Grace Padaca said on her Facebook account.

She added, "Foreign Affairs Undersecretary Rafael Seguis wants his DFA partners all over the world to have one mIllion more overseas Filipinos register as voters."

Earlier, the Comelec reported a low Overseas Absentee Voting turnout in the May 2013 midterm pollswith only 117,383 participating out of 700,000 registered voters.

Comelec Commissioner Lucenito Tagle, chairman of the OAV committee attributed the low number of participants abroad to the lack of interest of Filipinos abroad.

“According to our ambassadors and consuls general, even when they went out of their way to entice the voters, maraming ayaw. They’re not so interested,” he said.

According to government records, there are 737,759 registered overseas voters worldwide, excluding the 238,557 voters who were supposed to be delisted for failing to vote during the 2007 and 2010 elections. However, they were later reinstated by the Comelec.

The registration for qualified Filipino voters abroad will resume on May 6, 2014 and will run until October 31, 2015. — JDS, GMA News

PHL foreign service posts in Middle East, Africa brace vs. MERS-CoV threat

Philippine foreign officials in the Middle East, Africa and other neighboring countries met on Thursday to discuss the government's response to the threats posed by the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome-Coronavirus and other viruses.

In a statement on Saturday, the Department of Foreign Affairs said the special meeting, which was ordered by Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario, was held on the sidelines of the agency's regional workshop on curbing trafficking in persons helo in Ankara, Turkey.

It added that the officials were briefed on the MERS-CoV and other viruses and how these affect the Filipinos there. They have also reviewed individual and regional contingency plans in the event of a pandemic, the statement said.

"The DFA's goal is two-fold: To safeguard the health and safety of our countrymen who are in the affected countries and to ensure that these communicable and fatal viruses do not spread," Foreign Affairs Undersecretary for Migrant Workers Affairs Jesus I. Yabes said.

Among the critical points raised during the meeting are:

* securing access to health treatment for overseas Filipino nationals;
* enforcement of adequate protective measures for members of the Philippine Foreign Service and other government personnel at Posts;
* strategies to contain the spread of such illnesses; and
* efficient coordination with the World Health Organization (WHO) and other relevant agencies of the Philippine and host governments.

It added that while there are reports of some Filipino medical workers tested positive for MERS-CoV in the United Arab Emirates, the DFA said it will not prevent OFWs from returning to the Philippines.

"Instead, the DFA reiterates its advice to all those traveling to the Philippines, who are originating from or transiting in high-risk areas and who were identified to have been in close contact with somebody suspected to be infected with MERS-CoV, to undergo testing and wait for negative test results before pushing through with their travel plans," the statement said.

"They should also practice self-quarantine if warranted, be aware of the symptoms, maintain proper hygiene and adopt other preventive measures," it added.

Meanwhile, it said there are no travel restrictions imposed for any country where the virus has been reported.  Amanda Fernandez /LBG, GMA News

PHL places third in int'l cheerleading tilt

The Philippines scored anew in the international stage on Saturday, with its team bagging the bronze in an international cheerleading competition in Florida.

Screenshot of a video of Team Philippines' performance in the annual World Cheerleading Championships' All Girl Elite tilt, as posted on the International Cheer Union website. International Cheer Union website

The International Cheer Union said the Philippine team copped the bronze in the All Girl Elite competition of the 2014 ICU World Cheerleading Championships.

Cheerleaders from New Zealand won the gold while Team Chile copped the silver.

On the other hand, the Filipinas managed to beat teams from Mexico, Slovenia, Puerto Rico, Ecuador, Switzerland, Colombia, and Wales.

The competition was held at the Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, Florida on April 24 and 25.

ICU was established April 26, 2004, and is the recognized world governing body of cheerleadingJoel Locsin and Amanda Fernandez /LBG, GMA News

PHL officials in USA check if Pinoys affected by NJ forest fire

Philippine officials in the United States are now checking on the safety of Filipinos in parts of New Jersey, in the wake of a forest fire there.

The Philippine embassy in Washington D.C. said the Philippine Consulate General in New York has so far not received any report of Filipinos affected by the fires in Ocean County.

"Consulate checking on Filipinos living near fire-affected areas to ascertain their well-being. There are 5,000 Filipinos in Ocean County," the embassy said on its Twitter account before dawn Saturday, PHL time.

It also posted a link to an NBC New York story indicating the New Jersey forest fires forced residents to flee their homes, and schools to close.

The NBC news report said firefighters in New Jersey had to deal with five forest fires Thursday in Ocean County.

It said the first fire began Thursday morning at Grand Central Parkway and Berkeley Avenue near the Berkeley Township border Thursday. The fire razed more 300 acres and threatened homes but was contained Thursday night.

Four other brush fires occurred in Ocean County, with the largest razing some 569 acres in Franklin Township.

Another fire broke out about five miles from the initial blaze Thursday afternoon, while two smaller fires occurred in Lacey and Jackson.  Joel Locsin /LBG, GMA News

Fil-Am composer of ‘Let It Go,’ wife among Time’s Most Influential People

Filipino-American composer Robert Lopez and his wife Kristen Anderson-Lopez, the couple behind the Oscar Award-winning song “Let It Go,” were among Time Magazine's 100 most influential people for 2014.

The couple were joined under the artist category by comedians Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele, actor Kelly Washington, and director Steve McQueen.

“They are both completely steeped in the traditions of Broadway musicals, but they’re really smart and would never be happy just regurgitating what’s come before," said “South Park” and “Book of Mormon” creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone on the Lopez couple.

They added the song “Let It Go”—used in the hit Disney animated movie “Frozen”— is “catchy and familiar and yet new.”

“It’s that perfect mix where a songwriter can get a song you’ve never heard before stuck in your head in 30 seconds,” Parker and Stone, who had worked with Robert Lopez in “Book of Mormon,” said.

Robert Lope recently performed “Let It Go” with fellow Filipino-American Jessica Sanchez at a benefit concert in New York for the victims of super typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) in the Philippines.

“Let It Go” won Best Original Song in the recent Academy Awards.

Also included on Time's list are US President Barack Obama, Pope Francis, and pop singer Beyonce, who is on the cover of the magazine's latest issue. Rie Takumi/KBK, GMA News

Pinay fined for chewing gum at Dubai bus stop

A Filipina commuter was fined for chewing gum inside an air-conditioned bus shelter in the United Arab Emirates, a UAE news site reported Friday.

The Filipina claimed she was not aware that chewing gum was covered by the Roads and Transport Authority (RTA) rules banning eating, drinking and smoking inside the shelters.

“I have been using public transport for six years and I usually chew gum as a habit. I never thought that even chewing gum could attract a fine. I know it is not allowed in the bus and on the Metro, but I didn’t know there is an eating ban in the bus shelters and I am not sure if chewing gum amounts to eating,” Gulf News quoted the Filipina saleswoman as saying.

But a senior RTA official said the ban has always been there, adding the inspectors were just doing their work.

“Under offence No 29 of the offence list for the bus passenger, chewing gum is deemed to be eating. It is an offence and the fine is Dh100,” said Tareq Al Gaith, Director of Franchising and Enforcement, at RTA’s Public Transport Agency.

On the other hand, the Filipina also questioned the behavior of the inspector who informed her of the fine in the incident last Tuesday. She said he spoke to her as if "I am a criminal," adding the experience "was really humiliating."

"The inspectors should show some respect to people. I was more put off by the way he treated a young mother who was eating because she needed energy to suckle her baby. She pleaded and informed him about her situation but he wouldn’t listen. They should at least have shown some humanitarian considerations,” she said. Joel Locsin/KBK, GMA News
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