Friday, October 30, 2015

Solon wants revamp of NAIA personnel over ‘laglag bala’ scheme

A lawmaker on Thursday called for a top-to-bottom revamp of the officials and personnel at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) in light of the so-called "laglag bala" extortion racket victimizing tourists and OFWs.

Davao City Rep. Karlo Alexei Nograles said the total overhaul should be done as NAIA has become a “source of disgrace and national embarrassment” because of the “laglag bala” scheme.

"The NAIA has become the biggest source of embarrassment for this administration, not only here in the Philippines and but in the entire world," said Nograles, chairman of the House committee on labor. "A top-to-bottom revamp is now necessary even just to prove that the government is taking this issue very seriously."

Nograles said the revamp should start with Manila International Airport Authority (MIAA) Jose Angel Honrado, who he said "has contributed nothing but shame and disgrace to the government."

The "laglag bala" scheme involved the discreet planting of bullets by unscrupulous airport personnel to airline passengers' bags. When the passenger got arrested, they would be asked to fork over money in exchange for their freedom.

Recently, 56-year-old overseas Filipino worker (OFW) Gloria Ortinez was arrested for allegedly carrying a bullet inside her hand-carry bag.

Ortinez, who has been working as a domestic helper for two decades, was apprehended before boarding her flight to Hong Kong on Oct. 25. She has denied the allegation, saying the bullet did not belong to her.

Although the Pasay City Prosecutors Office has ordered Ortinez’s release, she now faces the danger of losing her job in Hong Kong after the incident.

Nograles said he was appalled Ortinez’s apprehension not only because of the airport personnel’s supposed insensitivity, but also because of Honrado’s defense of the arrest.

“Instead exerting effort to get into the bottom of these rising complaints of evidence planting at the NAIA, administrator Honrado quickly dismissed these allegations as false and untruthful,” he said.

The lawmaker said Ortinez was clearly a victim of the “laglag bala” scheme since even the fiscal noticed that the supposed bullet that was seized from her was different from the bullet that was submitted to them as evidence.

In a separate statement, Valenzuela City Rep. Sherwin Gatchalian urged the MIAA to follow the example of the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines (CAAP) in redesigning their personnel's uniform.
The CAAP is set to do away with pockets for its employees' uniforms to discourage mischief among its ranks following incidents of pilferage.

CAAP spokesperson Eric Apolonio has said that removing the uniforms’ pockets would also make it more difficult for airport personnel to bring contraband items like bullets that could be used to extort money from passengers.

"CAAP's decision to change the design of its employees' uniform is laudable as a proactive approach to ensuring passengers' safety and security against its own scheming employees. Its example must definitely be followed by the MIAA, but more importantly, it must emulate CAAP's eagerness to initiate changes, no matter how small," said Gatchalian, senior vice chair of the House committee on tourism. —KBK, GMA News 

Pinay domestic helper dies in Saudi Arabia after month-long coma

The Filipina domestic helper in Saudi Arabia who underwent a delicate surgery to remove a blood clot in her brain in September died after being in a coma for a month, an online report said.

report on Arab News said the victim, Rehana "Rina" Lusay Bayan, died around 3 p.m. on October 23, based on information shared by her Riyadh-based cousin Henry.

Bayan was initially reported as a rape victim who was dropped off at the Saudi Social Welfare Agency (SWA) last September 19 by her employer in a weakened state.

The Arab News report said the Philippine Embassy in Saudi Arabia denied that Bayan was a victim of rape.

Despite this, migrants' rights group Migrante-Middle East is still calling for justice for Bayan, and urged the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) and the Department of Labor and Employment (DoLE) to conduct an investigation.

"We and her family in the Philippines demand justice," said Migrante-Middle East leader John Leonard Monterona in the Arab News report. "It is now in the hands of the embassy and POLO-OWWA officials to pursue a case against Rina's employer."

The group's spokesperson Francis Dungca had earlier told GMA News Online that Bayan was lucid enough when she was brought to the SWA to tell them that she was gagged with silicon and clay and sexually-abused.

However, she was unable to identify her attackers before she fell into a coma on September 24. Rie Takumi/KBK, GMA News

Qatar complicit in ‘modern slavery’ despite reforms —unions

Qatar has announced modest plans to reform its labor laws for foreign workers, but rights groups said on Wednesday that the 2022 World Cup host remains complicit in "modern slavery."
Foreign workers employed in Qatar, making up nearly 90 percent of the population, still need permission to leave the country, keeping them at the mercy of their employers, said the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC).
"Promises of reform have been used as a smokescreen to draw in companies and governments to do business in Qatar as the Gulf state rolls out massive infrastructure developments to host the 2022 FIFA World Cup," ITUC General Secretary Sharan Burrow said in a statement.
"The tragedy of 1.7 million migrant workers trapped in Qatar defines modern day slavery," Burro said.
Legislation signed by Qatar's Emir Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani on Tuesday will give foreign workers the ability to appeal to a government committee if their employer will not sanction their exit, local media reported.
Qatar is one of only a handful of countries including Saudi Arabia and North Korea which force workers to obtain approval from their employer or the state before being allowed to travel.
Businesses in Qatar lobbied to prevent major changes to what was previously known as the "kafala" system of labor sponsorship, fearing lost productivity and workers changing jobs frequently.
The changes do not take effect until next year, an official with Qatar's Ministry of Labor said.
Under the reforms, foreign workers on open-ended contracts can change jobs without their employer's permission after five years with a company but still need government approval, the official said.
The Ministry of Labor could not be reached for further comment after the close of business on Wednesday.
Foreign workers are prohibited from forming unions in Qatar.
The country plans to spend $200 billion on infrastructure related to the World Cup and has imported hundreds of thousands of construction workers for ambitious building projects.
Officials from Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch both dismissed Tuesday's reforms. A representative of Human Rights Watch in the Middle East tweeted that Qatar's reforms "send the message loud and clear: we don't care about workers." —Thomson Reuters Foundation

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Reporter’s 74-year-old mother falls victim to NAIA ‘extortionist'

A showbiz reporter has accused a porter at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) of trying to extort money from his wheelchair-bound mother, a report on "24 Oras" said Wednesday.

The reporter, Ruel Mendoza, said instead of bringing his 74-year-old mother, Dalisay Mendoza, to the airport's designated waiting area, the porter with a nameplate identifying himself as A. Barra brought her to an isolated part of the airport and asked for money.

"Habang nagbabantay, humingi siya ng pera. Humingi siya ng load sa kanya. Panay parinig pa na malapit na po ang Pasko," Mendoza told GMA News' John Consulta, citing his mother.

At the time, Dalisay Mendoza just arrived from the United States.

"Binibiktima niya 'yung naka-wheelchair para walang laban? My mommy's seventy-plus. Kailangan niyang uminom ng gamot, gutom na siya, kahit ako gutom sa kaka-antay, Mommy ko galing pang LA, Korea, tapos Manila," Mendoza said.

The incident occurred Tuesday night, the report said.

Sought for comment, Manila International Airport Authority (MIAA) spokesperson David de Castro said all NAIA porters are outsourced.

He also reminded the public that passengers are not required to get the services of porters.

"Kung nilapitan kayo, offering their services, you always have the option to decline. So if you would want to carry your own bag, then do so," De Castro said.

The reports said investigation was ongoing to identify the porter who allegedly tried to extort money from Dalisay. —KBK, GMA News -

Comelec: Only 1.4 million OFWs registered as absentee voters

Only 1.4 million of the estimated 8 million to 9 million overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) have registered as absentee voters, the Commission on Elections (Comelec) said Wednesday.

Comelec Commissioner Arthur Lim said the biggest number of registrants for overseas absentee voting (OAV) came from the Middle East, with 300,000 OFWs signing up to vote, followed by the United States with 200,000.

Some 105,000 migrant workers, meanwhile, registered as absentee voters in Hong Kong.

Although less than 20 percent of the estimated number of OFWs abroad signed up for the OAV, the Comelec considers breaching the 1-million mark as a milestone since it began registration activities on May 2014.

“The 1 million mark was our Holy Grail when we started the registration way back in May [2014],” Lim said.

At the sidelines of the hearing at the House of Representatives, Lim noted that only around 700,000 OFWs signed up for the OAV in the 2013 midterm polls.

“Malaki na ‘yan,” he said, referring to the 1.4 million new registrants.

The Comelec has extended the period for the reactivation of registration of overseas absentee voters to Dec. 9, while the registration will be until Oct. 31. The option to reactivate will be for voters who have failed to vote for two consecutive elections.

Lim earlier said that for the 2016 elections, voting for overseas absentee voters will be extended to areas with a large number of OFWs, and certain designated ports for registered seafarers in a bid to increase voter turnout.

Meanwhile, the commissioner said the Comelec will ask presidential candidates to accomplish a form outlining their platform of government and stand on issues affecting OFWs for the overseas voters’ information.

The candidates response should not go beyond 1,500 words.

Lim said the move aims to encourage more OFWs to vote in the upcoming polls.

“[Ito ay gagawin natin] para maipakita natin sa mga OFWs natin na tinatawag nating modern day heroes na ang eleksyon ay talagang hindi lang para sa mga Filipino dito sa loob ng ating bansa. Kasama din sila (OFWs) sa halalan,” he said. —KBK, GMA News 

CamSur-based choir wins gold at Busan choral fest

After three days of competing at the Busan Choral Festival and Competition in South Korea earlier this month, the Filipino group Baao Children and Youth Choir came home emerged victorious.

A report on "Unang Balita" said the Camarines Sur-based choir won the first or gold prize in the youth category, besting other choirs from South Korea, China, Indonesia, England, Russia, and Taiwan. The group also won the audience prize awards.

the Baao Children and Youth Choir also received the silver prize for the ethnic category of the competition for non-professional choir groups.

The report said the Baao Children and Youth Choir was formed in 2004 and has joined other international competitions.

Other Filipino groups also placed in the 11-year-old Busan Choral Festival and Competition.

Los Cantantes de Manila snagged the gold prize for the classical mixed category and silver for the pop or accapella segment, where Koro Ilustrado won the bronze prize.

Koro Ilustrado also claimed silver for classical equeal and took home the special judge prize. Meanwhile, Anna Tabita Abelada-Piquero of the University of the East was named the best conductor of the competition.

Over 1,000 participants or 28 choirs joined the 11th Busan Choral Festival and Competition. Rie Takumi/KBK, GMA News 

PHL consulate: 30% of detained OFWs in Jeddah due to drug cases

Some 30 percent of OFWs in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia jails have cases related to illegal drugs.
A report on "Unang Balita" on Wednesday said the Philippine Consulate there has expressed concerns over the high incidence of drug cases involving Filipinos in the Kingdom.

Records from the consulate showed that 60 of the over 200 Filipinos in Jeddah detention facilities were involved in illegal drugs use, sale, or smuggling.

Moreover, the report said that the consulate has reported one OFW on death row, and another one is due for deportation.

Most of the OFW cases there are still on trial, the consulate noted.

Next to drugs, the most number of cases that led to OFW detention include immorality and theft. — LBG, GMA News - See more at:

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Pinoys in Qatar warned vs. paluwagan-style investment scam

Filipinos in Qatar have been warned against an investment scam allegedly being operated by a group in Doha who promises high interest rates.

The Philippine Embassy in Doha issued the warning after it received complaints from the victims of the supposed scam known as "Invest Your Money and Earn Double" and "Fastline," according to the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) in a news release Tuesday.

The DFA said the scam, which started in March 2015, is being operated like a paluwagan in where interest rates could go as high as 600 percent.

"The Philippine Embassy in Doha wishes to inform the public and all overseas Filipinos in the State of Qatar that it received complaints from the public who were victimized by an investment scam known as “Invest Your Money and Earn Double” (paluwagan) and “Fastline” which is operated by a group of individuals in Doha," the DFA said.

The DFA said the first batch of investors collected their invested money with an interest of 600 percent in the span of two to three months.  

"Most of the early batches of investors re-invested their money to earn more," it added. "This news that the early batches of investors collected their shares in the investment with high interests spread among workers at different malls in Doha."
However, the investors later found out that the money they invested were gone, and that the operators whom they called leaders could no longer be contacted, possibly already out of Qatar.
"The Philippine Embassy therefore advises all overseas Filipinos in Qatar to avoid participating in any investment and business transactions that are not duly registered with the Governments of the State of Qatar and the Republic of the Philippines," the DFA said. --KBK, GMA News

MIAA head defends arrest of 56-year-old OFW at NAIA

Manila International Airport Authority (MIAA) General Manager Jose Angel Honrado on Tuesday defended the apprehension of a departing overseas Filipino worker (OFW) who was allegedly found carrying a bullet in her bag at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport.

At a Senate hearing on terminal fee refunds, Honrado said the police had to arrest the OFW, a 56-year-old woman on her way to Hong Kong, as the bullet had all the components of live ammunition.

"Kumpleto po 'yung component niya as an ammunition. Kaya sabi ng PNP (Philippine National Police), we're basing our judgement on the ammunition. Let the court, let the fiscal court decide [whether] to let her go or not," Honrado said.

Pro-OFW groups, however, said the OFW, identified as Gloria Ortinez, has been working as a domestic helper in Hong Kong for 20 years and did not fit the profile of someone who would smuggle live ammunition abroad.

Susan Ople of migrants' rights group Blas Ople Policy Center said the woman's travel history made it unlikely for her to bring live ammunition to the airport.

"Ito po ay beterana nang OFW. Alam niya na bawal magdala ng ammunition sa Hong Kong," said Ople, who was present at the hearing presided by Sen. Cynthia Villar.

Ople suspected Ortinez may have been a victim of the "laglag bala (bullet planting)" extortion racket at NAIA.

Honrado, however, insisted that the police had no choice but to file a case against the OFW because of the evidence. "Yung police po, they had no choice but to file the case kasi may ebidensiya po," he said.

Ople requested the MIAA to consider Ortinez's age and livelihood and asked them to curb the alleged extortion racket which she said victimizes mostly OFWs.

"Na-destroy na 'yung buhay ng tao. May potential na baka hindi pa siya maka-pasok ng Hong Kong not because of the employer but because naging security risk siya," she said.

Ortinez was given temporary freedom pending the result of the investigation, a report on State of the Nation said.

Villar, for her part, has called for an inquiry on complants against personnel of the Office for Transport Security (OTS), the group being blamed for the "laglag bala" extortion racket. 

"May nagsasabi... na palagi raw ganyang klaseng bala, pare-pareho daw ang nahuhuli sa airport. Kaya nagkaka-[idea] sila na talagang may modus operandi," she said.

Honrado said the OTS is not under the MIAA. "They are single authority, na hindi under sa MIAA," he said.

"But being the general manager [of MIAA], I accept the responsiblity," Honrado added.  —KBK, GMA News 

Qatar to implement e-contract system for foreign workers

Starting March 2016, Qatar will implement an electronic contract system for migrant laborers working to ensure transparency and lessen cases of contract substitution, according to the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA).

“This will be the first of its kind in Qatar,” the DFA quoted Mohamed Ali Al Meer, a senior official at Qatar's Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs, as saying in a news release on Tuesday.

Citing information from the Philippine Embassy in Doha, the DFA said under the new system, laborers will be able to access a government website where, by entering personal details such as their name, ID or visa number, they will be able to view their work contract.

The DFA said this would enable workers to see what they have signed up for in Qatar for the first time in their own language since the service will be initially offered in 10 languages.

Although the scheme will not be compulsory, Meer said that he expects many companies to sign up.

Officials said that the electronic contract system is part of an overall reform package that includes the introduction of a wage protection system (WPS) in November and changes to the “kafala” system, or the system used to monitor migrant laborers, working mostly in the construction and domestic sectors, in Lebanon, Bahrain, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE.

“The implementation of electronic contracts for migrant workers is a positive step towards lessening cases of contract substitution as this will ensure transparency,” said Philippine Ambassador to Qatar Wilfredo C. Santos. —KBK, GMA News 

55 pass Civil Engineer Licensure Exam in Middle East –PRC

The Professional Regulation Commission (PRC) announced Tuesday that 55 out of 255 passed the Civil Engineer Licensure Examination in the Middle East last month.

[Click here for complete list of passers.]

The examinations were given by the Board of Civil Engineering in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates; Al-Khobar, Jeddah and Riyadh, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia; Doha, Qatar; and in Kuwait.

The PRC said the result of examination with respect to one examinee was withheld pending final determination of his liabilities under the rules and regulations governing licensure examination. —KBK, GMA News 

Fast, simplified way of terminal fee refund for OFWs sought

The Philippine Overseas Employment Agency (POEA) on Tuesday offered to share its database of OFWs to the Manila International Airport Authority (MIAA) in order to expedite and simplify the refund of terminal fees.

"We have a standing offer to MIAA for a database sharing arrangement so that they can verify those who are buying tickets online if they are seeking for exemption, if they are legitimate OFWs," POEA Deputy Administrator Liberty Casco said duiring a hearing in the Senate on Tuesday.

The database would allow MIAA to separate online ticket sales from OFWs  and to possibly create a system for automatic refunds.

"It is very feasible to do it. In fact, we might even go so far as to refund it through an ATM. So it could be convenient for everybody, including the OFW and the MIAA itself," said Undersecretary Louis Casambre of the Department of Science and Technology (DOST).

Casambre estimated that the database would cost P1 million to P10 million to implement and may take up to three months to develop.

When later asked on the possible source of funds for the database, Sen. Cynthia Villar, who presided over the hearing, told GMA News Online that any concerned government agency may back the project.

"Any government agency, I can work on that, to pay that. Even POEA or whoever. They're paying din, ng fees. I think they're amenable to paying. I think the Department of Labor is amenable to paying," she said.

MIAA General Manager Jose Honrado, who was present at the hearing, invited the DOST to join the technical working group (TWG) formed last August to review the integration of the terminal fee.

Under the law, OFWs are exempt from paying the P550 terminal fee. However, since February 1, the fee has been integrated in airline tickets, with the OFWs encouraged to seek for a refund. MIAA said the move aims to decongest airports and minimize human traffic.


Honrado said from Feb. 1 to August 31 this year, they had refunded some P173,960,600 in terminal fees collected from OFWs.

He added that the amount came from 1,414,311 exempted passengers out of 4,090,922 paying passengers.

However, when Villar asked how many of these were from tickets bought online, Honrado said technical limitations prevented them from determining such information.

"Hindi namin malaman kung ilan pa ang hindi nagpa-refund. Nobody knows. In fact, hindi natin malalaman kung ilan ang bumili ng abroad at ilan ang bumili ng online... there is no technology to tell us whether ilan ang bumili na exempted online," he said.

This prompted Villar, chair of the Senate committee on government corporations and public services, to order Honrado to come up with a plan for a simplified process of giving refunds to OFWs.

"It's their money. It's not the money of the government. We have to be clear on that... It cannot (remain in a trust) forever. If they continue doing this, then we have to file legislation on the use of the money if not refunded," she said later in an interview.

MC No. 08

The integration of terminal fee in airline tickets, or the International Passenger Service Charge (IPSC), is mandated under MIAA Memorandum Circular No. 8, which is being opposed by OFW groups.

OFW party-list Rep. Roy Señeres particularly criticized Honrado for his alleged inability to provide pertinent details regarding the implementation of the integrated terminal fee.

He also requested for the scrapping of the terminal fee integration as MIAA fixes the infrastructure and system for its implementation.

"Please consider the suspension of this memorandum circular. Hindi lang po kami ang umaapela sa 'yo kung hindi ang milyon-milyong mga kababayan namin," he said.

Both MIAA and OFW groups are waiting for the Pasay City court to rule on the motion for preliminary injunction filed by the latter last year against the implementation of the IPSC.

The court proceedings were delayed after the MIAA asked the judge to inhibit from the case.

"Yun po yung legal option na binigay sa amin ng OSG," Honrado said, referring to the Office of the Solicitor General, which represents the government in court cases.

Villar told GMA News Online later that neither the committee nor the OFW groups knew how the inhibition pushed through.

"OSG. Siguro malakas, ewan ko. 'Di ko naman maintindihan why i-inhibit pa. Sana pinag-decide na lang para wala nang problema," she said.

She added they were also not informed of the TWG created last August. —KBK, GMA News

21 Pinoy seafarers rescued from sunken ship off Northern New Guinea

Twenty-one Filipino seafarers were rescued by a Chinese vessel early this month after their ship sank along Vitiaz Strait in Northern New Guinea, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said in a news release Tuesday.

The seafarers, led by Captain Jonathan Montel, were crewmembers of MV Foxhound, which sank October 17 due to inclement weather in the area.

"After experiencing inclement weather which led to the sinking of MV Foxhound, Captain Montel and his crew sent a distress signal and later boarded a lifeboat," the DFA said.

The call reached MV COSCO Shanghai, a UK-registered and Chinese-owned vessel, which came and retrieved the Filipino seafarers from the lifeboat.

According to the DFA, MV COSCO Shanghai, owned by China Ocean Shipping Company Group or COSCO Group, arrived in Port Botany in Sydney, Australia, on October 22.

"The Filipino seamen were met onboard the ship by Consul Marford Angeles and Assistance-to-Nationals (ATN) Officer Erlinda Albay of the Philippine Consulate General in Sydney to ascertain their condition," it said.

The DFA added that in coordination with HWL Ebsworths, the insurance agent in Sydney of MV Foxhound, the Consulate made arrangements for a team of Filipino-Australian doctors and a psychologist to conduct medical and psychological examination of the 21 Filipino seafarers.

According to Montel, all his crewmembers’ needs were attended to by the crew of MV COSCO Shanghai, including its captain, Shen Xiao Xing.

"Captain Montel related that Captain Shen even asked them if the food given to them onboard his ship was to their liking as he wanted to ensure that they were satisfied and comfortable," the DFA said.

The DFA also said HWL Ebsworth made arrangements for the return flight of the 21 seafarers to the Philippines within the month. —KBK, GMA News 

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

EU opens doors for Pinoys eyeing post-graduate degrees

The European Union is set to hold in November its annual education fair in a bid to provide more opportunities for Filipinos who wish to pursue higher studies in European universities.

The one-day fair, set on November 7, will feature more than 20 universities and colleges from Belgium, Denmark, Czech Republic, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Netherlands, Spain, Sweden, and the United Kingdom.

Formally known as the European Higher Education Fair (EHEF), this year's fair will have the theme “Quality. Mobility. Innovation.”  

In its fourth year, participating educational institutions at the EHEF are eyeing the inclusion of mobility opportunities across the EU and a better platform for dialogue to further strengthen partnership between the European Union and the Philippines.

EHEF Philippines 2015 also includes lectures on the European educational system and way of life to prepare applicants who aspire to enroll in any of the participating educational institutions.

"By enrolling in a European-based educational program that offers diversified and high quality program, Filipinos can further establish themselves to be among the most qualified individuals in the global arena," the EU said in a statement.

The EU Delegation to the Philippines states that European Union is the leading higher education destination for individuals looking to pursue their Master's and Ph D degrees as a means to further their career in whatever industry they are involved in.

The November 7 fair will be from 12:30 p.m. to 6 p.m. at the Dusit Thani Manila. Admission is free.

Further information and pre-registration, interested parties are encouraged to log on to—KBK, GMA News

PHL consulate still checking if Pinoys among hurt in HK ferry collision

Philippine officials in Hong Kong are still checking with authorities to find out if a Filipino was among the 130 passengers hurt when a ferry returning from Macau collided with an unknown object Sunday night.

In a report aired on “Balitanghali” Monday, GMA News stringer Azon Cañete said there is still no word from the consulate on whether a Filipino has been injured in the accident.

Based on the information she received from Hong Kong authorities, Cañete said 60 men and 70 women were hurt in the ferry’s collision with an unidentified object. Their ages ranged from 6 years old to 86 years old.

According to a Reuters report, the injured were taken to five different hospitals in Hong Kong for treatment, though the nature and extent of injuries were not immediately known.

The report quoted local media group RTHK as saying that the vessel supposedly took in water and lost power after the collision.

Cañete said police have yet to identify the object with which the ferry collided near the island of Lantau.

Despite the accident, ferry operations going to and from Macau are still ongoing, she added. —Xianne Arcangel/KBK, GMA News 
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