Friday, May 30, 2014

US extends foreign worker program in Northern Mariana Islands until 2019

GARAPAN, Saipan – Some 10,000 foreign workers mostly from the Philippines will be able to continue working in the US Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) for an additional five years or up to 2019, based on US Labor Secretary Thomas Perez’s decision to extend the foreign worker program.

Without the US Labor secretary’s decision, some 10,000 foreign workers would have been forced to exit the CNMI after Dec. 31, 2014.

CNMI Governor Eloy S. Inos and the CNMI’s delegate to the US House of Representatives, Gregorio Kilili C. Sablan, along with businesses owners and employees, said failing to extend the program would be catastrophic to the local economy.
This is because there are still not enough qualified US workers to take over the jobs held currently by foreign workers.

Overseas Filipino workers are a major economic driver in the CNMI, working as nurses, engineers, architects, teachers, certified public accountants, mechanics, reporters, hotel and restaurant employees, caregivers, housekeepers, and farmers.
“This is good news for Filipinos here in the CNMI.  It means we can still work and help the CNMI, and earn for our family back home for five more years. My son would be a marine engineering graduate by then,” Elmer Barrogo, 57, told GMA News on Thursday, hours after the US government decision.
Barrogo has been an overseas Filipino worker since 1991.  He said if he were in another Us territory, he would more than likely be a green card holder or even a US citizen by now

But this is not the case in the CNMI, the immigration of which became federalized only under a 2008 law and the transition period has just been extended by five years or up to 2019.
Luis Cagamba, a licensed civil engineer in the Philippines and now a production supervisor at a construction firm in the CNMI’s capital island of Saipan, said the CNMI still cannot afford to lose skilled and professional workers from the Philippines who have taken on most of the specialized or skilled jobs in the Commonwealth.

“Construction projects won’t be started and completed without workers from the Philippines mostly,” the Davao City native said.

This US territory has an estimated population of around 54,000 based on the 2010 U.S. Census. It is some three hours away from Manila.

The CNMI governor said the extra five years provides the CNMI more time to educate, train and hire as many US workers as possible, to take over the jobs of foreign workers after 2019.

“This is certainly welcome news for the CNMI,” Inos said hours after receiving the US Labor secretary’s letter announcing the five-year extension of the so-called Commonwealth-only worker or “CW” program.

He said many CNMI businesses were holding back from making any long-term strategies and foreign workers were uncertain about the future of their employment status pending the US Labor secretary’s decision.

Inos said he will take the necessary steps to effectively train and prepare US citizens and other lawful permanent residents “to meet the workforce needs of legitimate businesses in the CNMI.”

This comes at a critical juncture as the CNMI is rebuilding its tourism-based economy.

The five-year extension will also help keep families together.

Jennycka Bery, an 18-year-old US citizen daughter of two Filipino workers, said she’s happy and relieved to know that her parents won’t be forced to leave the CNMI after Dec. 31, 2014.

She said this will also provide ample time for her 19-year-old brother, now serving in the US Marine Corps, to petition their parents for better immigration status.

But Filipinos and other foreign workers do not necessarily have to exit the CNMI after the CW program expires in 2019.

If they qualify for an H visa that their employer would have to apply for them, then they can still continue working here beyond the immigration transition period.

Bong Malasarte, a businessman and a former president of the United Filipino Organization in the CNMI, said he hopes his compatriots would use the additional five years to pursue their goals, save money and prepare for when the program ends.

Many Filipino workers in the CNMI are also hoping that within five years, US Congress would have already passed a national immigration reform bill that would also grant legal, long-time foreign workers in the CNMI a pathway to US citizenship. — JDS, GMA News

Pinoys in Libya urged to leave as DFA raises alert level 3

The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) is encouraging the over 13,000 Filipinos in Libya to leave the country as soon as possible due to the worsening security situation there.

Under Crisis Alert Level 3, which the DFA raised on Thursday, the government will shoulder the repatriation cost of those who will return home.

Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario went to Tripoli, Libya on May 28 to meet with Philippine Embassy officials and the Rapid Response Team there to implement the government's contingency plan. 

"In view of the worsening security situation in Libya where an estimated 13,122 Filipinos reside, Crisis Alert Level was raised from Level 2 (Restriction Phase) to Level 3 (Voluntary Repatriation Phase) effective Thursday, May 29," the DFA said in a statement.

Libya has been plunged into turmoil since its 2011 uprising ended Muammar Gaddafi's one-man rule.
Many Libyans have grown frustrated with the government and parliament's failure to contain Islamist fighters and other militias who took part in rebellion and who have since openly defied the authorities to demand more oil wealth and power.

Earlier this week, heavy fighting involving anti-aircraft machine guns mounted on trucks broke out near an army camp in Tajoura, an eastern suburb. At least two people from Mali died in the fighting, according to a Reuters report.

Filipinos in Libya are further advised to contact the Philippine Embassy in Tripoli to coordinate their repatriation.

The Embassy's address is in KM 7 Gargaresh Road, Abu Nawas, Tripoli. Its hotline number is (+218) 918244208, telephone number (+218-21) 483-3966, and official e-mail addresses:; —KBK, GMA News

Pinoy couple in UAE seeks help for premature baby’s treatment

A Filipino couple in the United Arab Emirates is seeking help for the treatment of their daughter, who was prematurely born last April, a UAE news site reported Thursday.

Nijel Dela Cruz, 29, and wife Josie, 32, said their combined monthly earnings of Dh8,000 (P95,971) cannot cover daughter Mikaela Luciana's medical expenses, Gulf News reported.

“Our backs are against the wall. She is our little angel, our first born,” said Cruz, a worker at a fashion outlet in Dubai.

He added the hospital has asked them to deposit at least Dh20,000, as well as blank checks and original passports to continue treatment.

Mikaela Luciana, originally due in August, was born last April 16 at Belhoul Hospital. She was considered “extreme pre-term” and was rushed to Zulekha Hospital.

Weighing just 650 grams at birth, the infant suffered from respiratory distress syndrome, neonatal sepsis, apnea and anemia of prematurity.

She is now on a ventilator and is suffering from conditions including deranged renal function, anemia, jaundice and even a “grade I” hemorrhage of the germinal matrix.

For her part, Josie said they had approached several charities, “but [we] are yet to get any help.”

The new parents also noted an insurance company refused to pay for costs over and above Dh250,000, the amount specified in the infant’s policy. Joel Locsin/KBK, GMA News

‘Broken-hearted’ family mourns Pinay murdered in NZ

WELLINGTON - The husband of a Filipina killed in a seemingly random attack in New Zealand said Thursday that his family was "lost in darkness" after her death.

Blessie Gotingco, a 56-year-old mother-of-three, disappeared on Saturday night on her way home from work in central Auckland.
Her body was discovered in a cemetery not far from her home two days later and police on Wednesday charged a 27-year-old man with murder. The cause of death has not been revealed.
The killing has shocked New Zealand, where such attacks are relatively rare, and Gotingco's husband Antonio said he had been overwhelmed by the outpouring of support from across the small South Pacific nation.
He said he had known his wife of 30 years since they attended primary school in Cebu City, describing her as his best friend.
"She is the light of our home and without her we will be lost in darkness," he said in a statement released by New Zealand Police.
"Right now we are just trying to pretend that everything is OK but deep inside we are broken hearted. We have been robbed, she is gone too soon."
The accused man, who has been granted interim name suppression, was remanded in custody at an Auckland court on Wednesday to reappear on June 18. — Agence France-Presse

25 more Pinoys repatriated from strife-torn Syria

Twenty-five Filipino workers will arrive from strife-torn Syria on Thursday at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) as part of the government's mandatory repatriation program.

The batch, which will arrive via Emirates Airlines EK 332 at 3:55 p.m., will bring the total number of repatriated Filipinos from Syria to 5,361. Of these, 2,332 crossed through Lebanon with the help of the Philippine Embassy in Beirut.

Airline fare by the repatriates were provided by the International Organization for Migration (IOM) in Damascus, according to the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA).

Refugees from Syria  are pouring into neighboring countries as the conflict within the country intensifies. Some 3 million refugees have fled abroad while 6.5 million remain displaced within the country, half of whom have minimal access to essential services.

Within three years of Syria's civil war, a total of 140,000 out of the country's 23 million people have died.

Kin of Filipino migrants in Syria are asked to contact the Philippine Embassy in Beirut to provide information on their loved one's whereabouts. They may be contacted through 00963-11-6132626, 00963-949155557 and 00963-934957926. —Rie Takumi/KBK, GMA News

Poet-activist Maya Angelou tells her Pinoy florist: ‘Oh, I love Filipinos’

There was never a tangled Christmas tree light in the many years – since 1998 – that florist Dennis Josue had been decorating the Harlem home of Maya Angelou.
Author, feminist, civil rights activist and literary immortal Maya Angelou. The FilAm photo
But one time was embarrassingly memorable. Dennis of Fantasia Floral Design on the Upper East Side, was called back to Angelou’s house. The Christmas tree had toppled over from the heavy ornaments he used to adorn her 15-foot fir.

“I rushed back the following day,” said Dennis recalling with a laugh that singular time when the poet, best-selling author, feminist, civil rights activist and literary immortal asked him to fix her tree. “She did not get angry. Dr. Angelou was a very nice lady, a very gentle woman.”

Dr. Angelou. That’s how Angelou would ask people who was not family or she was not intimate friends with, to address her. And that’s how Dennis paid her the ultimate respect.

Dennis met Angelou through a friend, Gary Warren, then a window display artist at Bloomingdale’s. He and Gary went to the same church.

One day, Gary asked Dennis if he would like to decorate a friend’s apartment for the holidays. That would signal the start of him doing Angelou’s Christmas décor year after year up until about three years ago when she began – perhaps for reasons of health — to stay longer in North Carolina even spending the holidays there. Angelou, 86, passed away May 28 in North Carolina.

She also had a townhouse down Harlem’s Malcolm X Boulevard, where, he believed, Angelou’s son Guy lives. Dennis and his assistant would decorate its three floors, two fireplaces, railways, doors, bedrooms and kitchen.

“She liked decorations that are whimsical and playful because she liked having family and grandchildren over for Christmas,” he told The FilAm.
Dennis Josue. The FilAm photo
And Dennis was only too happy to oblige. One time, he adorned the kitchen fireplace to look like a gingerbread house using real gingerbread confections. The family gathered around the fireplace enjoying bites from the baked decor.

He recalled, too, how in the Christmas after September 11, 2001 Angelou requested a red-white-and-blue color theme. “We did her a patriotic Christmas. The tree was all white, including all the ornaments.”

She loved the color white. Dennis recalled scattering white amaryllis plants around the house that year. Blue is another favorite for its calming quality.

Dennis said Angelou was not always around while he worked, but she would give Gary instructions on what she would like her Christmas theme to be. One time, actress Cicely Tyson came to visit, and so Dennis avoided working in the kitchen where Angelou entertained her.

He recalled, in one of their brief pleasantries, mentioning that he is Filipino, from the Philippines. Her face lit up, saying “Oh, I love Filipinos,” enough to make Dennis feel even more enamored of this lovely, gentle African-American artist.

When he learned of her passing, Dennis turned to Facebook to join in the national mourning:“Dr. Angelou, you’re in my thoughts and prayers. I remember the happy times I had decorating your house.” —The FilAm

Follow cough-sneeze etiquettes, POEA reminds OFWs in Saudi

With the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus (MERS-CoV) still a threat in Saudi Arabia, Filipinos in the Kingdom were reminded Thursday to observe proper coughing and sneezing etiquette there.
The reminder came from the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA), whose head Hans Leo Cacdac urged OFWs there to be careful.
"To our dear Saudi OFWs: Cough and sneeze etiquette from the Saudi Ministry of Health web site. Mag-ingat po tayo!" Cacdac said in a post on his Twitter account.

To date, five Filipinos have died due to MERS-CoV in Saudi Arabia.

Symptoms of MERS-COV, according to the World Health Organization, include fever, cough, shortness of breath and even diarrhea.

Public awareness campaign
At the same time, Cacdac posted a screenshot of an awareness publication by the Saudi Ministry of Health suggesting that people:
  • cover their mouths and noses with a tissue when coughing or sneezing; and
  • putting used tissue paper in the wastebasket and washing hands thoroughly.
The Saudi Ministry of Health publication also warned against coughing or sneezing into one's hands.
"If you don't have a tissue, cough or sneeze into your upper sleeve or elbow, not your hands," it said.
Earlier, the Philippine Embassy in Saudi Arabia reminded Filipinos there to follow basic health practices to avoid getting MERS-CoV.
The Philippine Embassy in Riyadh also clarified MERS-CoV testing for Filipino workers is voluntary, including those who plan to return to the Philippines.
But the embassy, in a news release, "strongly encouraged" Filipino workers in the health care sector and those who may have had contact with known MERS-CoV patients to voluntarily undergo MERS-CoV testing at least 14 days before travel abroad.
Also, it urged Filipinos in Saudi Arabia to strictly follow basic protection measures issued by the Department of Health in the Philippines and the Saudi Ministry of Health:
  • Wash hands properly, especially after coughing, sneezing and using toilets.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands.
  • Maintain good hygiene and have plenty of sleep, drink plenty of fluids and eat nutritious food to boost body resistance.
The embassy also offered hotlines where the public can relay information on possible MERS-CoV cases involving Filipinos and for clarifications on the official guidance:
Philippine Embassy in Riyadh: +966 51 504 6362
Philippine Consulate in Jeddah: +966 55 521 9613.

 Joel Locsin/RSJ, GMA News

Thursday, May 29, 2014

OWWA Recognizes its Scholars with Latin Honors Anew

OWWA releases assistance package to kin of OFW scalded in Saudi Arabia

Philippine labor officials this week extended an assistance package to the family of an abused overseas Filipino worker who was scalded with boiling water in Saudi Arabia earlier this month.

Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) head Carmelita Dimzon released an initial financial assistance of P15,000 to the relatives of Fahima Alagasi, 23, MindaNews reported Wednesday.

“We will do everything we can to assist (Alagasi) and her family while they go through this ordeal,” the report quoted Dimzon as saying in a press conference in Koronadal City.

Dimzon also said the OWWA will provide scholarships to Alagasi’s two children, aside from livelihood assistance to her family.

Alagasi, who hails from Pikit town in Cotabato, was reportedly abused by her employer in Riyadh, and suffered burns when she was scalded with boiling water.

Returning home soon?

Dimzon said her office has coordinated with the Department of Foreign Affairs and other concerned agencies to let Alagasi return home as early as within this week.

MindaNews quoted Susan Ople of the Ople Center as saying Alagasi is staying at a safe house of the Inter-Agency Council Against Trafficking,

Also, Dimzon said the agency has suspended the license of the recruitment agency that deployed Alagasi. It has also blacklisted her employer.  Joel Locsin /LBG, GMA News

Waves of immigrant minors present crisis for Obama, US Congress

WASHINGTON - Tens of thousands of children unaccompanied by parents or relatives are flooding across the southern US border illegally, forcing the Obama administration and Congress to grapple with both a humanitarian crisis and a budget dilemma.

An estimated 60,000 such children will pour into the United States this year, according to the administration, up from about 6,000 in 2011. Now, Washington is trying to figure out how to pay for their food, housing and transportation once they are taken into custody.
The flow is expected to grow. The number of unaccompanied, undocumented immigrants who are under 18 will likely double in 2015 to nearly 130,000 and cost US taxpayers $2 billion, up from $868 million this year, according to administration estimates.
The shortage of housing for these children, some as young as 3, has already become so acute that an emergency shelter at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas, has been opened and can accommodate 1,000 of them, Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said in an interview with Reuters.
The issue is an added source of tension between Democrats and Republicans, who disagree on how to rewrite immigration laws. With comprehensive legislation stalled, President Barack Obama is looking at small, administrative steps he could take, which might be announced this summer. No details have been outlined but immigration groups are pressing him to take steps to keep families with children together.
The minors flooding over the border are often teenagers leaving behind poverty or violence in Mexico and other parts of Central America such as Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala. They are sometimes seeking to reunite with a parent who is already in the United States, also without documentation.
"This is a humanitarian crisis and it requires a humanitarian response," Senate Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Barbara Mikulski said in an interview. The Maryland Democrat, a former social worker, has likened the flood of unaccompanied children to the "boat people" of past exodus movements.
Senator Richard Shelby of Alabama, the senior Republican on Mikulski's committee, said, "The need is there, you know the humanitarian aspect of it, but we're challenged on money."
Immigration groups lobbying for comprehensive reform argue that children are being hit hardest by the political deadlock.
Blame game
With an even bigger funding challenge looming for 2015, Mikulski worries corners might be cut. She said children could end up being placed in federal holding cells meant only for adults and that funds might have to be shifted from other programs, such as refugee aid, to help cover the $252-per-day cost of detaining a child.
Mark Lagon, who coordinated the George W. Bush administration’s efforts to combat human trafficking, tied the sharp increase in unaccompanied minors to both US economic factors and escalating violence in Central America.
He noted that there was a decrease in migration to the United States in the period 2008-2010 that reflected the US economic downturn, and that has been reversed.
"Now, it is again seen that there is a better life to be had in the United States and it’s worth the risk" of parents encouraging their children to make the perilous journey from countries like El Salvador and Honduras, said Langon, now a professor at Georgetown University and a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations.
Also, with drug wars raging in Mexico, those fleeing Central American countries are less likely to make Mexico their destination and instead continue onto the United States, he said.
The budget and border-security implications of the problem could spill into campaigns for the November congressional elections, especially in Senate races in states with significant immigrant populations, such as North Carolina and Colorado.
Republican Representative John Carter of Texas blamed Obama for what he called a "nightmare at the border" with "tens of thousands of children" being smuggled into the United States.
In an opinion piece in The Hill newspaper last month, Carter said Obama's policies had created an "invitational posture for illegal immigrants." He said the administration helped to fuel the crossings with a 2012 decision to give temporary relief from deportation to certain children brought to the United States illegally by their parents.
Immigration advocacy groups point out that the unaccompanied youths coming to the United States since 2011 would not qualify under that program.
Lagon criticized the "political canard from my fellow Republicans" who suggest the tide of unaccompanied minors is the result of Obama policies, especially given Obama’s aggressive deportation policy since he became president in 2009.
A report by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, based on interviews of 404 children aged 12-17 who left their home countries, found that 70 percent did so because of either domestic abuse, or violence "in the region by organized armed criminal actors, including drug cartels and gangs or by State actors."
Harrowing journeys
Minors sometimes endure horrific conditions to get to the United States, immigration groups say.
Suyen G, who asked that her full name not be published, said she left her native Honduras two years ago aged 16 after securing $9,000 to pay a smuggler to get her into the United States. "I didn't know it was illegal because a lot of people come. I thought it was something that normal people just do," she said through a translator.
Suyen has a quick smile and looks like a typical American teenager in her sandals and fashionably-torn blue jeans. But she recounts a harrowing journey, saying she left home to escape a father who was beating her, and that along the way she was raped by a "coyote" or migrant smuggler. She endured 24 hours with no food as she sat atop a slow-moving freight train through Mexico and made an overnight trek by foot.
When she struggled to pull herself over a wall at the Mexico-US border, Suyen said, "I thought I was going to die" after being shoved over by a coyote, plunging down the other side and landing atop a man below.
Unlike most kids, she entered the United States undetected, only to end up in a stranger's house in Houston. There, she said she was forced to work without pay for a month before being transferred to a vineyard, where she cooked meals, also without pay, for 300 migrant workers. Reuters has not verified the details of her journey but Suyen told a similar story in a sworn deposition to an immigration court.
Finally, Suyen said, she was allowed to travel to northern Virginia where she was reunited with her mother.
Rebecca Walters, a lawyer in the northern Virginia office of Ayuda, which provides assistance to immigrants, helped Suyen win protective status and eventually a "green card" that allows her to work legally in the United States.
Walters said she typically juggles up to 60 cases at a time involving unaccompanied minors. A lot of her cases were boys who said they had friends who had been murdered for refusing to join gangs at home, she said.
Walters told of a boy from El Salvador who lived with an abusive, alcoholic father. The boy had to stop going outside to avoid getting beaten by gang members trying to recruit him.
In 2011, the boy and his brother, aged 16 and 15, arrived in the United States after walking for days in the desert. They were caught by US authorities just inside border.
If not for the father's abuse, "it would have been almost impossible" to prevent the brothers' deportation, Walters said.
Minors who escape domestic abuse in their countries have a good chance of winning a special protective status from US immigration courts, even if they are caught at the border. But the law does not recognize gang activity as a reason to protect immigrant children.  Reuters

DFA apologizes to Saudi embassy over arrest of diplomat’s wife

The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) has apologized to the Embassy of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia over the arrest of the wife of one of its attachés for alleged illegal recruiting.

According to an exclusive report on “24 Oras” on Wednesday, the DFA issued the apology after the diplomat's status was verified with the embassy.

“We issued a diplomatic note addressed to the Embassy expressing regret for the incident,” said DFA spokesperson Charles Jose at a press briefing.

Under the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, diplomats and their families cannot be arrested in the country where they are assigned.

However, Jose noted that the diplomatic immunity clause in the convention was put to help diplomats carry out their official work and “cannot be used as a cover to do illegal activities.”

The diplomat and his wife have already been released, but the Saudi Arabia embassy still protested the arrest.

“The Government of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia... hopes that within this action necessary legal procedures would be undertaken against the perpetrators of this incident and to prevent its occurrence in the future,” it said in a statement.

Jose said it is up to the law enforcement agency — in this case the National Bureau of Investigation — to determine if it has a strong case against the suspect.

A source told GMA News that the NBI could bring the issue to the DFA it has sufficient evidence against the diplomat's wife. The DFA then may file a complaint with the Saudi Arabia embassy and request that the immunity on the diplomat be removed.

According to the “24 Oras” report, among those seized from the couple's home were passports and biodata of applicants who wished to go to the Middle East to work as domestic helpers.  Rie Takumi/KBK, GMA News

OFW from Saudi accused of raping 2 daughters in Pangasinan

What could have been a happy reunion with their OFW father turned out to be a nightmare for two sisters in Pangasinan.

An exclusive report on “24 Oras” on Wednesday said the 50-year-old OFW repeatedly raped his 12-year-old daughter for one month during his three-month vacation in the Philippines.

The report said medical findings showed that the victim's five-year-old sister was also sexually abused.

The victims' grandmother said she only learned about the incident when the elder sister told her about it after their father returned to Saudi Arabia.

She said she also learned that the incident was first reported to the sisters' aunt, who reportedly told the elder sister not to tell anyone about what her father did to her.

“Anong sabi ng tiyahin mo? [Ang sabi raw], 'Maski sino wag mo sabihan kasi tutal aalis na si papa mo. Pagdating na lang ng mama mo, dun mo na sabihin',” the grandmother said.

The victims' mother was also an OFW who works in Lebanon, the report said.

The report said the matter has already been brought to the attention of the National Bureau of Investigation. Once a warrant of arrest is issued against the suspect, his passport will be canceled.

“Binaboy niya mga apo ko kaya gusto kong makauwi na siya para pagbayaran ang mga ginawa niya,” the victims' grandmother said.

The report said the victims' mother supports the filing of complaints against her husband. —KBK, GMA News

House panel finds govt action vs. ‘sex-for-flight’ scheme lacking

A House panel that investigated the “sex-for-flight” scheme in the Middle East has scored the government for allegedly not doing enough to hold the perpetrators of the “prostitution, racketeering and extortion ring” accountable.

In its report, the House committee on overseas workers affairs particularly chided the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) and the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) for supposedly failing to use all of their resources to bring justice to those victimized by the scheme.

“If both agencies are truly committed to hold erring officials accountable and restore our OFWs’ trust in these institutions, they would have exhausted all avenues and used every resource to secure the victims’ testimonies and gather sufficient evidence to hold their officials liable,” said Akbayan party-list Rep. Walden Bello, the committee chairman, in a letter attached to the report.

“Sadly, we did not see such efforts,” he said.

The panel said DOLE's decision to mete out a one-month suspension without pay to Labor Attaché Adam Musa was a “slap on the wrist” for his offenses. Musa was one of the three labor officials allegedly involved in the sexual abuse of distressed OFWs in the Middle East. According to the House panel, all three officials have yet to be charged in court.

The other two officials allegedly involved in the sex for flight scheme are Labor Attache Antonio Villafuerte and OIC Labor Attache Mario Antonio.

Former OFW Grace Victoria Sales claimed in her testimony she was nearly raped by Musa's driver, Jojo Casicas, during her stay in the Filipino Workers Resource Center or Bahay Kalinga in Saudi Arabia. Instead of handling the case personally, Musa allegedly ordered his staff members to give her a settlement worth SRA 10,000 (over P110,000).

According to the committee, Musa should no longer be posted abroad after the incident and should be meted a penalty “that is more commensurate to the actual offenses committed.”

Labor Secretary Rosalinda Baldoz was quoted in the committee report as saying to the media that the penalty given to Musa was already final and executory since there was no motion for reconsideration filed by any party involved in his case.

One of the recommendations made by the House panel was for all concerned government agencies to administer a specially-designed psychological examination and character background checks to applicants to ensure they do not hire individuals who are likely to commit sexual offenses against Filipinos abroad.

“The government, particularly the DOLE and the DFA, must resolve the issue of how to prevent similar cases fro reoccurring in the future to provide the highest form of protection for our OFWs, especially those in the Middle East,” the report stated. —KBK, GMA News

GMA International joins PHL Independence Day celebration in NY

The Philippine Independence Day Council, Inc. (PIDCI) partners with GMA International to further enrich the parade, street fair, and cultural festival in New York that is the Philippine Independence Day Celebration, through the presence of top Kapuso primetime artists Tom Rodriguez and Heart Evangelista.
The Philippine Independence Day Celebration showcases the best authentic Philippine cuisine, customs, and products. It draws crowds of around 100,000 Filipinos and Filipino-Americans coming from the Greater New York area and the Northeast region. Mainstream Americans are expected to attend the event on June 1, 2014 at 38th Street to 23rd Street on Madison Avenue.
The event is spearheaded by the PIDCI, which is a non-profit organization responsible for conceiving the biggest Philippine Independence Day celebration outside the Philippines. Prior to Philippine Independence Day, PIDCI supervises affairs such as galas, pageants, and balls leading to the festival.
GMA International, the business unit that manages the operation and distribution of GMA Network’s international channels – GMA Pinoy TV, GMA Life TV, and GMA News TV International – is all set to make the Philippine Independence Day Celebration even more memorable by a performance from Tom and Heart that will leave their fans overseas swooning. Attendees will also have the rare opportunity to take pictures and have a “Heart-to-Heart with Tom and Heart” in the GMA booth.
Tom has left a lasting impression on Filipinos in the Philippines and abroad with his stellar portrayal of the controversial character “Vincent” in “My Husband’s Lover”. Heart, on the other hand, has never left the limelight and currently serves as a host in Sunday noontime variety show “Sunday All Stars” and talk show “Startalk”.
The Philippine Independence Day Celebration will start at 8:30 a.m. and end at 6:00 p.m. Admission is free so all interested parties near the area can join the festivities.
For more details on events abroad, visit the GMA International website, Facebook pages,, and, Twitter pages @GMALifeTV, @GMA_LifeTV, and @GMANewsTVIntl, and Instagram page @GMAPinoyTV. —GMA International

Pinoy soldier among fallen peacekeepers honored by UN

A Filipino soldier will be among the over 100 fallen peacekeepers who will be honored posthumously in New York on May 29 during the celebration of International Day of United Nations Peacekeepers.

Sgt. Benson Angot, who died of malaria in October last year while serving in Liberia, was one of the 106 peacekeepers who died while on duty in 2013.

“We grieve with their friends and families and we recommit ourselves to ensure that their contributions to the cause of peace will never be forgotten,” said Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in a statement Wednesday.

A total number 3,200 personnel have been lost since the first UN peacekeeping mission, the United Nations Truce Supervision Organization (UNTSO), at Palestine in 1948.

Angot and other peacekeepers, composed of police, UN, and international volunteers, will be commemorated at the UN's headquarters in New York, with Ban himself presenting the Dag Hammarskjöld Medal.

The Dag Hammarskjöld Medal was established in 2000 as a standard award to personnel who lost their life during active service with the UN.

“Our courageous peacekeepers who made this ultimate sacrifice did so so that others could have a better life,” Ban said.

“I express my deepest and most sincere condolences to the families and friends of those we honor today,” he added. “We honor their memory and pay tribute to their dedication.”

A total of 676 military and police personnel from the Philippines are deployed to peacekeeping missions in Cote d'Ivoire, Haiti, India-Pakistan, Liberia, and the Middle East.

Currently, there are 85,000 military personnel, 12,500 police officers, 17,000 international civilian and national staff serving in 16 UN outfits on four continents.  Rie Takumi/KBK, GMA News

Employer of scalded OFW in Saudi released, placed on third-party custody

The female employer of the scalded Filipino maid in Saudi Arabia was temporarily released from detention, but was placed under the custody of a third-party sponsor, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said Wednesday.

In lieu of bail, a defendant in Saudi can file for temporary release to a third party, Foreign Affairs spokesman Charles Jose said.

The Philippine Embassy learned about the release of the employer on May 27, Tuesday, when her Filipino victim, Fahima “Candice” Alagasi, appeared before the Prosecutor’s Office in Riyadh to give a formal statement on the incident.

“Our embassy found out from the prosecutor’s office that the employer has already been arrested but temporarily out of detention under the custody of a sponsor,” Jose told a press briefing.

However, he said the investigation of the case by the Saudi prosecutor will continue.

“Normally, [it’s] out on bail, but in this system somebody has to sponsor so she will not flee,” Jose said.

The sponsor, he explained, is responsible for ensuring that the defendant will attend the hearings and all required legal proceedings.

Alagasi, 23, suffered second-degree burns on her body after the mother of her lady employer scalded her with boiling water.

Prior to that incident, her employers also allegedly subjected her to verbal and physical abuse. Alagasi had only been working for them for only two months.

Alagasi was able to escape her employers and now under the care of the Philippine Embassy.

The Philippine Overseas Employment Administration has issued a preventive suspension order on Alagasi’s recruitment agency, A-M Phil Professional Services Corporation, following the incident. The suspension order bars the firm from sending Filipino workers to Saudi Arabia. —KBK, GMA News

Qatar court junks bail bid of 3 Pinoy ‘spies’ – report

The Court of Appeals in Qatar has junked the petition for bail filed by the three Filipinos convicted of espionage and economic sabotage there, a report on GMA News' News TV Live said Wednesday afternoon.

The report quoted the lawyer of the three as saying that the Filipinos should be allowed to post bail as the verdict on them is not yet final and that they have been in jail for the past five years.

He also reportedly said that the three — one sentenced to death and two meted with life imprisonment — could not leave Qatar as there is a travel ban imposed on them.

The petition for bail was filed on the first day of hearing before Qatar’s Court of Appeals.

The News TV Live report said the next hearing is set in October.

The three were convicted last April 30 for allegedly passing along Qatar security and defense information to the Philippine government and allegedly committing economic sabotage.

The Philippine government has denied any involvement in the case. —KBK, GMA News

Pinay maid jailed, fined for biting colleague in UAE

A United Arab Emirates court has ordered a Filipina maid jailed for two months and fined Dh1,500 for beating and biting a fellow housemaid, all over a quarrel over household duties last April.

The Misdemeanors Court in Ras Al Khaimah imposed the penalties on the 28-year-old maid, UAE news site Gulf News reported Wednesday.

Judge Fat’hi Al Qal’a announced the verdict on Monday morning, Gulf News quoted a judiciary official at Ras Al Khaimah as saying.

Court records showed the Filipina and an Ethiopian colleague were working at their sponsors' house when they squabbled over household duties.

The squabble turned violent when the Filipina bit the Ethiopian in the lip and scratched her body, prompting their Emirati sponsor to take them to the police.

Medical reports showed the Ethiopian maid sustained wounds and scratches on her body. —Joel Locsin/KBK, GMA News

Battle-scarred Pinoy corpsman becomes US Marine officer

For Marine 2nd Lt. Jefferson Talicuran, it was the fulfillment of his “American dream.”

On May 23, 2014, Talicuran, who immigrated to the US from the Philippines in 2005, was among the 1,000 who graduated from the Naval Academy to become an officer of the US Marines.
Marine 2nd Lt. Jefferson Talicuran. Photo from the Navy Times
In a press release by the academy, the 25-year-old Talicuran said working with the Marines was the “best thing that happened” to him. This, despite the incident in 2008 that almost cost him his life.

Before entering the Naval Academy four years ago, Talicuran was deployed with the 2nd Battalion, 7th Marines, to Sangin, Afghanistan, where he was hit by an improvised explosive device attached to a bicycle.

Narrating the incident to the Navy Times, Talicuran said: “I was probably the fourth person to pass the bicycle and by the time I passed it, when I was about six feet away from it, it exploded. We never thought that a bicycle could be used as an IED.”

The incident resulted in a scar on his left arm — and a Purple Heart medal and Combat Action Ribbon. Though he was set to be discharged for his injuries, his persistence restored him to full-duty medical status, allowing him to apply to the Naval Academy.

“I guess you just have to realize that there are things that are out of your control, there are things that are in your control; things that are in my control are to move on," Talicuran told the Navy Times.

He entered the Naval Academy in 2010 at the age of 22, older than those in his plebe year. Though he managed to deal with the physical aspect of his training, the academic requirements posed a tougher challenge.

“I graduated [high school] in 2006 and then I came here in 2010, so that’s a while to be out of school. I wished I went through preparatory school, because that would’ve helped me in academics,” he said.Rie Takumi/KBK, GMA News
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