Friday, May 29, 2015

Pinay sues Philippine Airlines for $10M over ordeal after flight from NYC gets cancelled

A woman has filed a $10-million class action suit against flag carrier Philippine Air Lines (PAL) at a United States superior court after her flight to the Philippines from John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York was abruptly canceled due to mechanical problems on May 17. 
According to California-based news service Courthouse News, Cherilyn Darilag filed the case on Tuesday, saying she was bounced around various hotels and was never rebooked by PAL after the flight cancellation.
In her complaint, Darilag said she initially waited three hours inside the plane before being asked to get off because of the mechanical problem.
Darilag claimed PAL told passengers another flight would be available the next morning and that they would be booked at a hotel in the meantime.
But Darilag said no PAL representative met with her or the other passengers at the hotel they were told to go to.
Darilag also said in her complaint that morning and afternoon flights from PAL were unavailable despite the airlines' promise.
She added that PAL issued flight transfers to other airlines but that these were not accepted by the airlines since the forms allegedly lacked proper validation stamps from PAL.
Darilag said PAL has not contacted her since the incident.
PAL, for its part, said the mishap was due to a sudden maintenance check on their planes
Courthouse News said a PAL representative emailed them to say that while the airline empathized with the passengers it had a duty to ensure safety and cancel the flight. — Andrei Medina/JDS, GMA News

New laws mean Latin America’s domestic workers fare better than most

BOGOTA - A young, pretty girl from the countryside seeks a better life in the big city as a domestic worker.

She falls in love with her boss, or his son, and triumphs against the odds to overcome the class divide and lift herself out of poverty.

It's a recurring plot line in Latin American soap operas or telenovelas from Brazil, Colombia and Mexico, watched by tens of millions every day across the region.

Fairytales aside, Latin America's nearly 20 million domestic workers face long working hours, unpaid overtime and verbal abuse by employers, according to the International Labour Organization (ILO).

In general, however, they can expect wages and working conditions superior to their counterparts in the Middle East and Asia.

"I like watching the daily afternoon telenovela and following the love story," said Perla Reyes, a Colombian housemaid, wearing the typical white coat and trouser uniform.

"But I've never known any maid to fall in love with her boss and live happily ever after," she added with a chuckle, as she ironed a pile of clothes.

Given the lack of job opportunities for women and widespread poverty in rural areas, it is not surprising that one in every four women earning a wage in Latin America is a domestic worker.

They work in country ranches or the houses of affluent city families as nannies, cleaners, dog walkers, swimming pool cleaners and cooks.

In Colombia, a large proportion of the country's three quarters of a million domestic workers are displaced women, uprooted from their rural homes during 50 years of civil war.

The daily grind can be hard, but Latin America's domestic workers enjoy greater protection under the law than those in Asia and the Middle East.

New labor laws

Over the past decade, big strides have been made throughout Latin America in getting new laws passed to improve domestic workers' conditions and ensure they enjoy the same labor rights as other workers.

A domestic worker, particularly in Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Uruguay and Argentina, is more likely to be paid the minimum wage and be legally entitled to social security benefits, annual paid holiday, maternity leave and limits on working hours than elsewhere in the world.

"Latin America, along with Europe, is one of the regions where domestic workers are much better protected by the law," said Claire Hobden, an ILO expert on domestic worker labor conditions. "The next steps are ensuring there's compliance with the law."

As a minimum monthly wage exists in many Latin American countries, domestic workers have a better chance of demanding decent pay from their employers.

"Having a minimum wage allows domestic workers to speak up and defend themselves and gives them a sense of empowerment to know they are recognised and have rights under the law," Hobden told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in a telephone interview.

In Brazil, Latin America's biggest economy and one of the world's largest employers of domestic workers, the ILO says 7 million domestic workers should have benefited from recent rises in the minimum wage to around $310 a month.

Sources of exploitation

Unlike in Asia, the practice of using recruitment agencies to find domestic work is not widespread in Latin America.

"Latin America doesn't have systems of recruitment agencies where domestic workers can incur debt," said Hobden.

Asian migrant domestic workers often end up in a country where they don't speak the local language, making it harder for them to know and defend their rights.

Domestic workers in Latin America tend to migrate for jobs within the region and between rural and urban areas in the same country.

Their work visas aren't tied to an individual employer, as is common in the "kafala" or sponsorship system in the Middle East, which fuels labour abuse, according to the United Nations.

A strong tradition of organisations defending labour rights in Latin America - the region's first union of domestic workers dates back to 1901 in Argentina - has also played an important role in ensuring workers have a voice.

"Domestic workers in Latin America are relatively well organised compared to other places in the world. There are strong women who are organising themselves to defend their rights," said Hobden.

Colombian Maria Roa, who set up the country's first union of black domestic workers in 2013, is one such example.

"In the past, I've had employers treat me like an animal. Racial discrimination against Afro-Colombians and sexual harassment by a boss or his male friends does happen," said Roa, 37, who started cleaning houses as a young girl.

"Today we have rights under the law. What we need now is to make sure domestic workers and employers know about these laws and that they are put into practice," said Roa, who had just returned from a conference at Harvard University where she spoke about labour rights.

"We still get complaints from domestic workers (about) being dismissed without notice by their employers, not being paid the minimum wage and given all their statutory holiday leave," said Roa, who is campaigning for domestic workers to get a yearly bonus, as most employees of Colombian companies do.

As for the soap operas, she said: "Television isn't real life. It's not reality." —Reuters

Britain’s tied visa rules fuel abuse of live-in maids, nannies

LONDON — When Susi, a single mother from the Philippines, left for a job in Qatar, she convinced herself it was a sacrifice worth making for her children at home.

For more than a year, Susi's sacrifice involved waking before dawn and working past midnight, cooking, cleaning and looking after a Qatari family. Once every two months, she was given a "day" off - in reality, it amounted to eight hours off.

Conditions deteriorated when Susi was brought to Britain by her boss. She was given no time off, forced to sleep in a storeroom which she shared with two other maids, and forbidden to leave her employer's house, even to go into the garden.

The ordeal continued until Susi, who requested anonymity, found her confiscated passport while cleaning one day, and escaped.

"I was prepared to do anything to provide for my children," Susi told staff from a London charity who later advised her.

Britain has been keen to present itself as a world leader in the fight against slavery, servitude and forced labor, and passed an anti-slavery law in March to help victims like Susi.

But critics say the law fails thousands of foreign domestic workers by imposing visa rules that tie them to their employer, making them vulnerable to abuse.

Tied visas have "unintentionally strengthened the hand of the slave master against the victim of slavery", according to a parliamentary committee scrutinizing the Modern Slavery Bill.

The rules have also been compared by Human Rights Watch with "kafala," a contentious visa sponsorship system used by Gulf states, which the United Nations says is a source of labor abuse that must be abolished.

"There's a significant amount of information showing that these types of visa facilitate abuse and make it difficult for people to access redress," said Izza Leghtas, a researcher for Human Rights Watch.

"It's very difficult for them to come forward and contact the authorities when their biggest fear is being deported back to their home countries and not being able to support their families," she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

"Completely unregulated"

There are 53 million domestic workers worldwide, 83 percent of them women, the International Labour Organization says.

Between 15,000 and 16,000 of them are brought to Britain every year - often to work as live-in cleaners, cooks, nannies, chauffeurs and gardeners for the wealthy.

A further 200 are given visas each year to work in diplomatic households, according to the Home Office (interior ministry).

Many, like Susi, are exploited by employers who lock them up, pay them a pittance and subject them to physical abuse and sexual harassment, campaigners say.

It has been harder to escape this kind of treatment since the British government introduced tied visas in April 2012 in an attempt to limit immigration, critics say.

"The private household is an odd employment place. You don't need to have a licence. There are no checks. It's completely unregulated," said Kate Roberts, who works for Kalayaan, a charity campaigning to improve domestic workers' rights.

"When you rely on your employer for everything - your immigration status, your visa, your job, knowledge of your rights - then you're in a particularly vulnerable situation," she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Under the previous system, domestic workers were allowed to change employer once they were settled in the UK. Now they no longer have the right to change employer, to bring dependants or to stay longer than six months.

If they leave, even to flee abusive conditions, they are in breach of immigration laws. For many domestic workers, the risk of becoming undocumented, coupled with the loss of income and a roof over their head is too much of a gamble to take.

"Some workers, unfortunately, make a miserable decision to endure seriously exploitative employment in order to send something home rather than nothing," Roberts said.

A spokesman for the Home Office said the abuse of any overseas domestic worker was unacceptable, adding that Britain's anti-slavery law included "protections" for workers who had been found to be trafficked such as leave to remain for six months.

"Victims of abuse should not be afraid to seek help - they will not be deported," the spokesman said in a statement.


Kalayaan, set up in 1987 by a group of domestic workers, operates out of a former school in affluent west London with its rows of elegant, wisteria-covered white houses.

In the three years since the visa rules changed, 590 workers registered with the charity, 184 of them on a tied visa. Most come from the Philippines, Indonesia, India, Thailand and Nepal.

Kalayaan said 14 percent of the workers on a tied visa reported physical abuse compared with nine percent of workers who entered Britain under a different visa.

Domestic workers on a tied visa were also more likely to report psychological abuse, being forbidden to go out unaccompanied, a lack of privacy and no time off.

"Having a system like this, that ties workers who are vulnerable by the nature of their work, to employers sets a very bad example and reduces its (Britain's) credibility," said HRW's Leghtas, noting that Britain has yet to sign an ILO convention concerning decent work for domestic workers.

The government has commissioned an independent review of visa arrangements for overseas domestic workers.

The review, which will examine whether there is evidence the tied visa has led to the trafficking or slavery of domestic workers, is expected to report back by the end of July.

Despite being identified by the authorities as a victim of trafficking, Susi was told to make arrangements to leave Britain, Kalayaan said.

Had she entered the UK before the tied overseas domestic worker visa was introduced, she might be working for another employer now, and able to send money home for her children, the charity said. Reuters

Pinoys in Nigeria warned vs. visa scam

Filipino workers in Nigeria have been warned against a supposedly visa scam being perpetrated by Ghanian nationals targeting migrant workers and Nigerian nationals seeking Australian work visas.

According to the Philippine Embassy in Abuja, a group of Ghanian nationals was tricked into traveling to the Philippines to have their Australian visa processed after paying $5,000 for each visa and $2,000 for their tickets.

These individuals were lured by scammers promising jobs in Australia through social networking sites and telephone lines in the Philippines, according to a news release from the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA).

In light of this scheme, Filipinos were urged by the embassy to exercise caution in communicating with strangers through social media.

Filipinos were also advised to avoid providing sensitive information and responding to telephone or Internet offerings involving financial transactions. Rie Takumi/KBK, GMA News

3 jailed Pinoy ‘spies’ in Qatar reportedly coerced into confessing crime

The three Filipino workers who were jailed in Qatar for allegedly committing espionage were reportedly coerced into confessing the crime, information reaching the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said.

One of the three, an employee of state-run Qatar Petroleum, was sentenced to death by a lower court, while the two others, both technicians at a military base, were meted life imprisonment. Their case is on appeal and a decision is expected on May 31.

The Filipinos have been detained in Qatar since 2010 for allegedly committing the crimes of espionage and economic sabotage.

They were charged of passing along Qatar’s military state secrets to the Philippine government, an accusation vehemently denied by Manila.

International human rights watchdog Amnesty said the three were tortured into owning up the crime by Qatari authorities.

“Our embassy in Doha is aware of these allegations of human rights violations and we have raised these concerns in several high-level meetings with the Qatari government officials as well as within the national human rights committee in Qatar,” Foreign Affairs spokesman Charles Jose told a press briefing in Manila.

“I think some coercion was involved in trying to get confessions,” Jose said.

Asked to confirm if the Filipinos were physically abused, he said: “Let’s leave it at that, that there are allegations of human rights violations and we have already raised this.”

Qatar human rights commission, Jose said, assured the Philippine government “that they would take the embassy’s concerns seriously and they will call the attention of relevant authorities.”

Such allegations of human violations were also brought up by the Filipinos’ legal counsel during the appeal for their case, Jose said.

The men, according to reports, were charged of providing information “to intelligence officials in the Philippines about Qatar’s aircrafts, weaponry, maintenance and servicing records, as well as specific details about the names, ranks and phone numbers of staff members.”

Jose did not provide the identity of the Filipinos.

Manila has repeatedly denied that the Philippine government is engaged in espionage.

While their case is on appeal, Jose said representatives from the Philippine embassy in Qatar have been communicating with the legal counsel of the accused and their families.

Since the beginning of the case, he said Philippine officials have been conducting jail visits to the accused Filipinos.

“Our Embassy in Doha has been tireless in its efforts to extend the necessary assistance to the Filipinos,” Jose said. “We will continue to closely monitor this case and extend assistance to them and their families.” —KBK, GMA News

Mary Jane Veloso ready and eager to debunk recruiter’s affidavit –lawyer

Mary Jane Veloso, whose execution in Indonesia for drug smuggling was put on hold a month ago, is eager to testify and debunk the claims of her alleged recruiter in the Philippines, her counsel said Thursday.

Lawyer Edre Olalia of the National Union of Peoples' Lawyers (NUPL) told GMA News Online that Mary Jane became more anxious to testify against Ma. Cristina Sergio after Sergio “twist[ed] the details of the incident” in the affidavit that she submitted to the Department of Justice (DOJ).

“She said she is ready to stand by her word anytime and anywhere and that she is absolutely innocent and that her version of the events has changed not one whit since 2010,” Olalia said.

Veloso's role in the Philippine investigation on her alleged recruiters was cited as reason for the temporary reprieve granted to her by the Indonesian government. At present, the Indonesian and Philippine governments have yet to decide on how Veloso can testify against her recruiter, who is now detained in the Philippines.

The 30-year-old Veloso has accused Sergio of tricking her into bringing a bag with 2.6 grams of heroin to Indonesia from Malaysia in April 2010.

Sergio has denied this in her affidavit, blaming instead two “African-looking men” who she said befriended them in Malaysia for what happened to veloso.

The National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) had earlier said Sergio and her live-in partner Julius Lacanilao — both facing illegal recruitment and human trafficking cases — have been connected with a notorious West African drug syndicate since 2010.

Asked on Veloso's current condition in the Indonesian jail, Olalia said she is doing well and has the full support of Indonesian prison authorities, guards, and even cellmates.

She is also in constant contact with her family through phone calls, Olalia added.

“Family spoke to her after the last preliminary on May 25 at the DOJ (Department of Justice),” Olalia said. “I also spoke to her and updated her of the cases. She thanked everybody of their support and trust.”

He also said non-government organizations will take custody of Veloso's ex-husband, who is now under  protection by the NBI following suspicious visits by unidentified men in his residence in Talavera, Nueva Ecija.

“What her ex-husband was subjected to was temporary protective custody by NBI because of the series of recent threats and harassment pending delivery to NGOs and church groups who will provide him sanctuary which he and his family prefers,” Olalia said. —KBK, GMA News

Pinoy singer cites late father as inspiration: ‘We both like videoke’

Inspired by his father, a 24-year-old Filipino singer would bring music to foreigners and locals alike in Japan, Malaysia, Singapore, and even as far away as Canada.

“Nakuha ko ang hilig sa pagkanta sa yumao kong Papa. Pareho kaming mahilig mag-vidoeke. Ganun din ang ilan sa mga kapatid ko,” Anthony Rosaldo shared in an email.

Recalling his experiences when he was 8 years old, Anthony said, “Nung bata pa ako, Papa would visualize me in the future as his Atty. Anthony Rosaldo or an architect maybe. Kasi lahat noon gusto kong gawin. Lahat noon gusto kong salihan.”

Anthony joined Pinoy Pop Superstar, GMA Network's year-long talent search for amateur singers, in 2007. Although he was unsuccessful, it did not stop him from pursuing a career in singing.

In 2009, another break came, and this one brought Anthony to other countries to showcase his talent.

“Noong November 2009, nabuo ang grupo kong Fahrenheit at ako ang naging band leader nila. We toured Asia—Malaysia, Japan and Singapore.”

Life's challenges

But young and inexperienced, Anthony was unprepared to life's many challenges, especially those that come to someone working in another country.

“There are times that I almost gave up. Andiyan yung kailangan ka ng family mo, nagkasakit yung dad mo and he passed away but you're not there because of your work abroad,” he said.

“You've missed out a lot back home but you stay kasi you see the goodness of being with these wonderful and talented people that you also call ‘family’,” Anthony added.

Eventually, Anthony was offered to go solo. “My manager, Ms. Claire Aguilar, offered me to be a part of her team as a solo artist,” he said.

He had been the guest performer during Sarah Geronimo's Perfect 10 Concert held in Vancouver, Calgary, and Toronto, earlier this month, as well as in A Benefit Show With Gabby Concepcion last March 15 and in The Acoustic Night With The Soloistas last February 28.


“Masasabi kong blessed ako dahil simula nung kinailangan ko nang mag-work, singing would always be the source of my income,” Anthony said.

Also a source of income, singing and performing are still a passion for Anthony.

“I cannot say that I've earned a fortune through this profession, but what's important is you're passionate about what you do. Iba pa din yung masaya ka sa ginagawa mo. If you do what you love for a living, you'll never work a day,” he said.

Just five years ago, Anthony started investing for a townhouse in Cavite. He was able to share financially to his older brother’s education as well as in some household expenses.

Social media

Aside from working hard, Anthony is also maintaining accounts online to keep a social media presence.

“Mahalaga kasi na malawak yung reach mo and social media helps a lot para makilala ng tao. And makakatulong din ito ‘pag linaunch na yung album,” said Anthony, who has accounts onFacebookTwitterYouTube, and Soundcloud.

“Kapag may tao na pumupuri sa akin after ng performances ko, lagi kong sinasabi na ‘Thank you, gift ito ni God’. Para sa akin, as long as I am still capable of inspiring people through my craft, hindi ako titigil kumanta,” he said.

“There's a purpose kung a bakit binigay ni God itong talent na ito sa akin. And I'll be so happy to share this talent to everyone for the rest of my life,” Anthony added.

Anthony would get to perform again on May 29 during the Gabby Concepcion + Mi Canada Tour in Calgary and on August 23 and 29 during The Stylistics Canada Tour in Edmonton and Calgary, respectively.

With all his success, Anthony only has one wish:

“I wish nandito pa din siya kasama namin. I know he will be very proud,” he said, referring to his father, who passed away last year. —KBK, GMA News

Thursday, May 28, 2015

PHL choir, Singapore orchestra wow audience in joint performance

Photo from the Philippine Embassy in Singapore
A Philippine choir and a Singapore orchestra made beautiful music together as they shared the stage in Singapore last weekend, the Philippine embassy there said Wednesday.

The embassy said the Kabataang Silay Rondalla Ensemble (KSE) and Marsiling Chinese Orchestra wowed a big audience at the “Love Across the Ocean II” at the Star Theatre in Singapore last May 22.

The Philippine embassy said the performance was "well received" by an audience of more than 4,000 people including Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, the guest of honor.

It added the joint performance "is very significant as it coincided with Singapore’s celebration of its golden anniversary this year."

The embassy said the joint performance is the brainchild of Singapore Member of Parliament (MP) Hawazi Daipi, Senior Parliamentary Secretary, Ministry of Education and Ministry of Manpower, and MCO founder.

Daipi proposed the idea to then Philippine Ambassador to Singapore Minda Cruz during the turnover of relief goods for victims of super Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) in November 2013.

Cruz's successor and incumbent Philippine Ambassador to Singapore Antonio Morales then made efforts to realize the project.


KSE performed Bahay Kubo; The Flight of the Bumblebee; Cuerdas II Visayan Medley – with dance interpretation by Kultura Performance Pte. Ltd. dancers led by Celia Defato; Let It Go (theme from Frozen); Pirates of the Caribbean (sound track); and the theme of NDP 1998, “Home” with vocals by Philippine soprano Stefanie Quintin.

MCO’s repertoire included Singapore’s National Day Parade (NDP) Medley, a compilation of NDP songs from 1984 to 2014; La Reine de Saba (Orchestra); Liang Wen Fu Medley; and the popular Filipino song, “Dahil Sa Yo”, with vocal rendition by Nur Fateha Binte Muhamad.

Both groups then rendered a joint rendition of the Spanish Medley (La Bamba, Sway and Quizas) and Mother’s Love Medley (Anak, Ibu and Mama Hao) and encore pieces including “Mambo No. 5.”

Before the concert, a pre-concert was held by Kultura Performance Arts Pte. Ltd. dances and Stefanie Quintin.

A reception was also held for officials and representatives of the People’s Association, Marsiling Citizens Consultative Committee, the Philippine Embassy in Singapore, sponsors and the Prime Minister.


Meanwhile, the embassy said an exhibit of instruments of KSE and the Philippine rondalla in general was displayed at the main entrance of the Star Performance Arts Centre.

Also last May 20, KSE held an initial pre-concert performance in front of teachers and students of the Woodlands Secondary School to introduce rondalla music to locals in Singapore.

KSE left Singapore on May 23.

Meanwhile, MCO will travel to the Philippines for a joint performance with the Philippine rondalla group possibly in March 2016.


KSE was founded in 1993 with 36 primary school students. It has expanded repertoire from folk and traditional music to classical, contemporary, pop and modern under conductor Jegger Anjao.

It won regional and national musical competitions and has represented the Philippines in several international music festivals.

MCO, initiated by MP Daipi, was inaugurated in 2004. It had 209 musicians under conductor Low Cher Yong.

The MCO has delivered seven well-received concerts including the “Love Across the Ocean” series.  Joel Locsin/BM, GMA News

California psychologists honor Fil-Am peer

SAN DIEGO - A San Francisco Bay Area community leader and a Filipino-American pioneer in his profession has added another feather in his hat.

Dr. Jei Africa, director of the office of diversity and equity at San Mateo County Behavioral Health and Recovery Services (BHRS), received the 2015 Distinguished Humanitarian Award from the California Psychological Association.

The award is conferred on an individual whose "voluntary and career efforts have directly and significantly improved the quality of life for a broad range and large number of persons in society," according to the announcement from the guild.  

The award aims to highlight members of the psychology profession who transcendprofessional interests.

"I just want to do my part to make this world a better place for all of us," Africa told Philippine News after receiving the award.  "Injustice surrounds all of us and I do not want to be part of that by being a bystander. I do not want to give consent to racism or homophobia or hatred by being silent. We can all do something – no matter how small it may be – to fight inequality. We should all be strong advocates for other people."

Africa, who attended Alliant International University and California School of Professional Psychology after earning his undergraduate degree at the University of the Philippines, was honored for his achievements at the April 24 Open Plenary Session at the 2015 CPA Convention San Diego.  

He has been an advocate for social justice and health equity. He helped create the BHRS Office of Diversity and Equity, establishing an infrastructure to strategically address diversity issues and help communicate its commitment to promoting healthy communities.

“To have a bigger impact, we must influence system changes and need more people to be involved in our work, that’s why the Office of Diversity and Equity was created within the county Health System,” said Africa. “We are shifting policies and practices to take into account social justice, but more importantly, help individuals and communities become part of the solution.”

Africa, 45, has been a champion for underserved communities. He is a founding member of the San Mateo County Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual,Transgender and Questioning Commission launched last year.  The first such body in the country to advise the County Board of Supervisors, members give recommendations on policy, bring greater visibility to the LGBT community, and provide a forum for individuals to air concerns.  (San Francisco LGBTQ Advisory Committee advises the S.F. Human Rights Commission.)

Africa co-founded the San Mateo-based Filipino Mental Health Initiative and is clinical director of ALLICE Alliance for Community Empowerment based in Daly City, California.  Both organizations are nonprofits dedicated to violence prevention through education.

"In the three years I've known him, I have observed and appreciated his sense of welcoming especially tomembers of the LGBTQ community.  Given the negative stereotypes and lack of role models in said group, it's great to see that there are people who bring a positive side to this community," said Jose Antonio, immediate past president of ALLICE.

"In ALLICE Jei has reinforced the values of inclusiveness and acceptance of individuals of different backgrounds including sexual orientation and gender identity," added Antonio, a vice president with Union Bank.  "Because ALLICE promotes healthy communities and relationships, these values are at the core of our mission.  He has been a proactive in promoting change as our clinical director."

Marriage and family therapist Paulita Lasola Malay, 2015 president of ALLICE, lauded Africa, who preceded her in 2009.

"We are very proud to be affiliated with Dr. Jei," said Lasola Malay.

Africa will lead annotation of the roleplay on healthy family dynamics at ALLICE's 9th annual Our Family, Our Future, 1-3:30 p.m., Saturday, May 30, at Our Lady of Mercy Church on #1 Elmwood Drive, Daly City.  Consul General Henry S. Bensurto Jr. and OLM Pastor Fr. Domingo Orimaco will keynote the event that will focus on elder care and elder abuse prevention.  Lloyd LaCuesta and Frances Dinglasan will co-emcee.  The event is presented in collaboration with the OLM Knights of Columbus and Legion of Mary. —Philippine News

P10,000 cash assistance awaits OFWs repatriated from Yemen –OWWA

Filipino workers repatriated from strife-torn Yemen may claim a cash grant of P10,000 from the Financial Relief Assistance Program (FRAP) by the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) within six months of their return to the Philippines.

Qualified OFWs can avail of the grant at any OWWA Regional Offices by submitting the following requirements:

-- passport or travel documents indicating the date of entry to Yemen
-- date of exit from Yemen and date of arrival in the Philippines
-- any government-issued ID with address or barangay certificate

"FRAP aims to provide immediate relief to OFWs while they are undergoing economic and social adjustments in their communities as a result of sudden displacement from their jobs," OWWA said in a statement on Wednesday.

A total of 337 OFWs out of 482 workers repatriated have already availed of the cash grant as of May 25, 2015, OWWA said.

The government has provided at least P3.37 million in financial assistance to OFWs who will be repatriated from Yemen due to worsening security conditions there.

"As per Memorandum of Instruction No. 004 Series of 2015, workers from Yemen who were repatriated after the government declared Alert Level 4 Status requiring mandatory repatriation on February 16, 2015, are entitled to the one-time financial assistance," OWWA said.

On May 11, Yemen's Houthi militia and Saudi forces traded heavy artillery and rocket fire in border areas on Monday, residents said, a day before a five-day humanitarian truce was due to take effect.
The Houthis said they fired Katyusha rockets and mortars on the Saudi cities of Jizan and Najran on Monday, after the Saudis hit Saada and Hajjah provinces with more than 150 rockets.
Saudi planes also struck positions of the Iranian-allied Houthi group in the central city of Taiz and in the oil-producing Marib province east of the capital Sanaa.
More than six weeks of air strikes by Sunni Muslim Gulf monarchies' jets have failed to push back the Shi'ite Houthis and militia and army units loyal to the Houthis' ally, ex-president Ali Abdullah Saleh. Rie Takumi with Reuters/KBK, GMA News

NBI: Mary Jane Veloso’s husband, kids to be placed under WPP

The family of Mary Jane Veloso will be placed under the government's Witness Protection Program, following reports of "visits" from "unidentified armed men" in their residence in Nueva Ecija, National Bureau of Investigation Dir. Virgilio Mendez said Wednesday.

At a hearing at the House of Representatives on Wednesday, Director Virgilio Mendez of the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) said Mary Jane's husband and two children "will be turned over to the NBI and will be covered by the Witness Protection Program to ensure their safety."

The turnover is expected within the day, he said.

Mary Jane has been sentenced to death in Indonesia for drug smuggling, but her execution was put on hold last month after the Philippine government said it wants her as witness in the case against her recruiters in the Philippines, who are facing illegal recruitment and human trafficking cases.

In her affidavit, Mary Jane claimed she was tricked into bringing 2.6 kilograms of heroin to Indonesia in April 2010 by her recruiter, Ma. Cristina Sergio, who is now detained in the Philippines together with her live-in partner Julius Lacanilao.

Mendez said Veloso's family reported to them that "there were men trying to approach them."

"There were unidentified armed men who visited the residence," he said. "Wala naman pong nangyari. We're still verifying who they are."

On Tuesday, Justice Secretary Leila de Lima said she has sent an NBI team to Nueva Ecija to check the premises of the Velosos' residence in Talavera town.

She said authorities are still trying to identify the three men who visited the Velosos to determine their motive for the visit.

Mary Jane could have been the sixth Filipino executed in Asia on drug-related charges since 2011. A total of five convicted Filipino drug couriers were killed through lethal injection in China – four in 2011 and one in 2013.
Unfazed by the executions, many Filipinos continue to engage in drug trafficking.
In exchange for huge payments, Filipino women and even men are reportedly being hired by West African drug syndicates to transport drugs mainly in Asia and South America. —KBK, GMA News

DFA: More than 1,000 Pinoys in jail abroad for drug-related cases; 41 on death row

A representative of the Department of Foreign Affairs on Wednesday said there are 1,288 Filipinos in jail abroad for drug-related cases. 
At a House hearing, Francisco Noel Fernandez III, special assistant to the DFA's Office of the Undersecretary for Overseas Workers Affairs, said these include 41 who are on death row. 
Aside from Mary Jane Veloso, who was granted temporary reprieve from death via firing squad, there are 18 Filipinos facing death sentence in Malaysia, 21 in China, and one in The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Fernandez added. 
The 21 Filipinos on death row in China were all granted a two-year reprieve, which will likely turn into a commutation to life sentence if they exhibit good behavior in prison, he also said.

Meanwhile, according tot he DFA, 47 other Filipinos are on death row in other countries for murder, including 26 in Saudi Arabia, 17 in Malaysia, two in the US, one in Kuwait, and one in Thailand with additional charges of rape and theft.

DFA spokesperson Charles Jose named the Filipino in Kuwait as Jakatla Pawa and the Filipino in Thailand as Mark Alvin Antonio.

Seven Filipinos have been executed since 2010, with five put to death in China and two others executed in Saudi Arabia. —with Rie Takumi/KG/KBK, GMA News

Mary Jane Veloso may be saved from death if proven she was a victim —De Lima

Justice Sec. Leila de Lima on Wednesday said Mary Jane Veloso may be saved from execution if it is proven that she was a victim of drug trafficking.

"If it is proven in the ongoing investigation that she's a victim, maybe there's a chance that she will be saved from death sentence. But that's an aspiration. We're looking at a possible executive clemency, but we don't want to be repeatedly saying that at this point because we don't want the Indonesian government to be pressured about it," she told lawmakers during a House committee hearing.
De Lima added: "Ang usapan is magtulungan tayo to solve the drug trafficking problem in the region, particularly [regarding the] West African syndicate."

De Lima told the House committee on dangerous drugs that the Philippine government has requested the ASEAN Mutual Legal Assistance from both Indonesia and Malaysia to help in their investigation, as the country does not have such bilateral agreement with either countries yet.

While she said she cannot disclose which particular areas of assistance they are asking for, the De Lima said, "It has something to do with how to build up the cases against (Veloso's) recruiters."

It's also "to verify Veloso's claim in her March 31 sinumpaang salaysay (sworn statement)," where she said she is "a victim of a drug syndicate, that she didn't know the contents of the luggage she brought to Indonesia."

De Lima pointed out that a similar request was made to Malaysia "because it served as the transiting point of the apparent drug trafficking."

The MLA may allow the prosecutor of the case in the Philippines, of which Veloso is the complainant witness, to request to conduct clarificatory questioning with the Filipina in Indonesia.

Veloso 'needed in trial'

No definite time has been set on the temporary reprieve granted to Veloso, the DFA said in the same hearing.

For their part, De Lima said they have an internal deadline for their investigation, which will be followed by filing of a case with the court, and then the trial.

She added that Veloso will definitely be needed in the trial.

"She's practically the private complainant, so kailangan siya in the course of the trial," she said. "That is why we just send regular updates to the Indonesian government para maintindihan nila why kailangan si Mary Jane."  —KG/KBK, GMA News

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Autopsy report bolsters kin’s suspicion of foul play in deck cadet’s death

An autopsy report of the National Bureau of Investigation has bolstered suspicions of foul play in the death of a deck cadet last March aboard a vessel in Brazil.

Relatives of Felipe Borra III vowed to file charges against those responsible if there was indeed foul play, GMA Iloilo's Nenita Hobilla reported Monday.

The autopsy results were presented at a House of Representatives inquiry last May 20 by NBI head medico-legal officer Dr. Wilfredo Tierra.

In the report, there were supposed signs of "ante mortem hematoma (swelling of clotted blood before death)" on Borra's body, particularly on the head and face.

Borra's sister Marfe Esmeralda told GMA News they will pursue charges against those who may be involved.

Borra, 21, was found dead aboard the M/V Sanko Fortune while it was heading for Singapore from Brazil last March 20 (PHL time).

He was a fourth-year marine transportation cadet of John B. Lacson Foundation Maritime University and would have graduated this year.

Borra's relatives still could not believe the claim of M/V Sanko Fortune's shipping company that he hanged himself.  Joel Locsin/LBG, GMA News

Saudi executes 88th person this year, topping 2014 total

Saudi Arabia on Tuesday carried out its 88th execution so far this year, surpassing the total for all of 2014 despite activists' concerns that trials are not conducted fairly.
The interior ministry identified the latest to be put to death as Saudis Awad al-Rowaili and Lafi al-Shammary, who were convicted of smuggling amphetamines.
They were executed in the northern region of Jawf, the ministry said in statements carried by the official Saudi Press Agency.
Another Saudi, Mohammed al-Shihri, was separately put to death in the southwestern region of Asir for murder.
The conservative Islamic kingdom executed 87 people in 2014, according to an AFP tally.
Those beheaded this year include Siti Zainab, an Indonesian domestic worker convicted of murder despite concerns about her mental health, according to the Indonesian newspaper Kompas.
Jakarta summoned Riyadh's ambassador over her case, a rare diplomatic incident linked to Saudi Arabia's executions, around half of which involve foreigners.
Also among this year's dead are at least eight Yemenis, 10 Pakistanis, Syrians, Jordanians, and individuals from Myanmar, the Philippines, India, Chad, Eritrea and Sudan.
Saudi Arabia ranked among the world's top five executioners in 2014, according to rights group Amnesty International.
Under the Gulf nation's strict version of Islamic sharia law, drug trafficking, rape, murder, apostasy and armed robbery are all punishable by death.
Executions are carried out in public, mostly by beheading with a sword.
A surge in executions began towards the end of the reign of King Abdullah, who died on January 23.
It accelerated this year under his successor King Salman, in what Amnesty has called an unprecedented "macabre spike."
Activists are unable to explain specific reasons for the surge, and officials have not commented.
One activist said the death penalty is carried out only with the king's final approval.
"So if the king is strict he will sign this paper," said the activist, asking for anonymity.
‘Secret’ trials 
Salman has adopted a more assertive foreign policy, and in April promoted his powerful Interior Minister Mohammed bin Nayef to be crown prince and heir to the throne.
The Berlin-based European Saudi Organisation for Human Rights said in a report that the death penalty in the kingdom is "often applied to powerless individuals with no government connection."
Ali Adubisi, the group's director, told AFP that economic factors could be leading to a rise in drug crimes. Many are turning to the illegal business "because they are poor," he said.
Drug and murder convictions account for the bulk of executions in Saudi Arabia.
But according to London-based Amnesty, only crimes of "intentional killings" meet the threshold for use of the death penalty under international human rights standards.
It said court proceedings in the country "fall far short" of global norms of fairness.
"Trials in death penalty cases are often held in secret. Defendants are rarely allowed formal representation by lawyers" and may be convicted solely on the basis of "confessions," Amnesty said in a report.
With the number of beheadings soaring, the civil service this month advertised for eight new "executors of retribution."
In a country where government officials are not known for their openness, all executions are publicized by the official press agency, and the interior ministry has cited deterrence as a reason for the punishment.
The number of executions will rise even higher if death sentences are carried out against nine people who activists say were convicted after demonstrations that began in 2011 by the minority Shiite community.
Among them is Shiite cleric Nimr al-Nimr, a driving force behind those protests. Adubisi said three teenagers, aged 15-17 at the time of their arrests, are also among the condemned.
Although death sentences can be appealed to higher courts, he said there is "no transparency at all" about which stage the cases have reached, in what can be a lengthy process.
"It's a type of torture for these people and their families," he said. —Agence France-Presse

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