Friday, April 29, 2016

Duterte to shut down Congress if threatened with impeachment


MANILA - Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte on Friday warned that he will close down Congress if he would face impeachment attempts as president.
Vice presidential candidate Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV, who alleged that Duterte has bank transactions amounting to P2.407 billion, has vowed to impeach the mayor right away if he wins in the May 9 presidential elections.
Speaking to reporters at his campaign rally in Olongapo City, Pampanga, Duterte denied hiding any ill-gotten wealth, reiterating that two of his bank accounts only hold P50,000 and P17,000 each.
He added that he will leave Trillanes with no avenue to unseat him from Malacañang.
"P*****, impeach mo ako dahil sa P17,000? Kalokohan, ipasara ko na lang ang Congress," he said.
Asked what he'd do if Trillanes wins as his vice president, he said: "Paalisin ko na lang siya sa tabi."
"Doon na lang siya sa mga kabarkada niya sa PMA (Philippine Military Acedemy). Doon siya magaling sa mga kudeta," he added, referring to the 2003 Oakwood Mutiny led by Trillanes.
Trillanes on Wednesday alleged that Duterte was keeping P211 million in a joint account with his daughter, Sara, at the BPI branch on Julia Vargas Avenue in Pasig City.
Duterte's spokesperson, Peter Laviña, denied the existence of the BPI account.
Journalist Ellen Tordesillas, however, posted on her Facebook account a photo of a deposit slip which proves that a joint account of Duterte and his daughter at BPI exists.
After the proof surfaced on social media, Duterte admitted that the account at the BPI branch on Julia Vargas does exist, but he insisted that it does not contain P211 million.
In a recent development, Trillanes claimed Friday that Duterte's accounts in BPI Julia Vargas and two other banks received P2.407 billion in total deposits, from 2006 to 2015.
Duterte told his supporters not to believe Trillanes, whom he dubbed as a "mercenary".
The PDP-Laban bet also said that he if he truly amassed hidden wealth, then he would not have run for the presidency but could have used this money to enjoy a comfortable retirement.

PERJURY

Duterte also warned that he would take necessary actions against Trillanes if the latter executes an affidavit stating that he has records of that account, and the manner and purpose with which the documents were obtained.
The tough-talking mayor said Trillanes can be charged with perjury if he cannot prove that undeclared wealth was indeed funneled into Duterte's alleged accounts.
He added that the senator's expose is illegal and violates the Bank Secrecy Law.
Trillanes and several presidential candidates earlier urged Duterte tosign a waiver allowing full disclosure of his bank accounts.

NPA TIES, REVOLUTIONARY GOV'T

Duterte also confirmed that he is in talks with Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) founder Jose Maria Sison to discuss initial plans for inclusive governance if he is elected as president.
Duterte said Congress will determine the parameters of such an agreement, but everyone will be included in the discussions, especially the Armed Forces.
Duterte also clarified an earlier statement that he would establish a revolutionary government, saying he only meant instituting reforms in government agencies, particularly the bureaus of Customs and Internal Revenue.

SORTIE BRAWL

Meanwhile, a slight scuffle also ensued between former Zambales Governor Vic Magsaysay and local security manning the stage of Duterte's Olangapo sortie.
Magsasay was reportedly denied access to the stage where Duterte was delivering his speech.
Piqued, Magsaysay allegedly hit the security men several times.

Pag-IBIG Fund Launches Pag-IBIG Service Desk in Canada

 Pag-IBIG Fund President and Chief Executive Officer Atty. Darlene Marie B. Berberabe met with the Filipino community (FilCom) leaders, members of the Filipino business community, and representatives from the local media in Vancouver and Toronto to present the programs and services of Pag-IBIG Fund, and to launch the Pag-IBIG Fund Members Services Desk in Canada.

 The said briefings were arranged by the respective Philippine Consulate Generals in the said cities where there is a concentration of Filipino workers and permanent residents. There are about 700 thousand Filipinos in Canada consisting of Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs), permanent residents and immigrants. Worldwide, Canada ranks 6th among countries with Filipinos in terms of Pag-IBIG housing loan availments. "With the sizeable number of Filipinos in Canada and their strong demand in Pag-IBIG housing loans, we deemed it opportune to open a Pag-IBIG service desk in Canada so we can provide better access for our members," Atty. Berberabe said.

 Atty. Berberabe also paid a courtesy call on Consul General Neil Frank Ferrer of the Philippine Consulate in Vancouver, and Consul Shirley Banquicio of the Philippine Consulate in Toronto, to present the program for overseas Filipinos. "We are honored to be here with you and excited as well to share with you the products and services that the Fund offers to Pag-IBIG members all over the world," said Atty. Berberabe.

 She said that the total number of Pag-IBIG members as of December 2015 already reached 15.9 million, 30% of which or around 4.4 million are OFWs. The Pag-IBIG President also explained that the reforms implemented by the Fund in the last five years made possible the doubling of benefits, including doubling of loanable amount from P3 Million to P6 Million, and reducing interest rate by half from 11.5% to now 5.5% per annum.

Pag-IBIG is currently one of the best performing Government-Owned and Controlled Corporations in the Philippines with P398 Billion total assets and a net income of P20.52 Billion in 2015. In the same year, Pag-IBIG declared P14.24 Billion in dividends, which will be proportionately credited to the accounts of Pag-IBIG members at a dividend rate of 4.8% – significantly higher than the interest rates of other savings products. "With Pag-IBIG's robust financial standing and transparent fiscal management, you can be assured that your savings with Pag-IBIG is secure and grows faster.

OFWs are mandatorily covered by Pag-IBIG while Filipino immigrants and permanent residents are welcome to become voluntary members," Atty. Berberabe added. She also said that Pag-IBIG offers online services to provide convenience to payment transactions with the Fund. Pag-IBIG's website is capable of processing online membership registration and can accept payments for membership dues using MasterCard and Visa credit cards.

Tracking of a member's savings is also possible via the site's online verification system for membership savings. Atty. Berberabe also met with Mr. Evan Siddall, President of the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC).

 In the said meeting arranged by the Philippine Embassy in Ottawa, Mr. Siddall and Atty. Berberabe exchanged best practices in their respective institutions to address the concern of providing affordable housing to its members. The Members Services Desk will be set up in Toronto. Overseas Filipinos may now avail of the Pag-IBIG services and benefits by getting in touch with our Information Officer Ms. Elizabeth Borres at (647) 642-3694 or poptoronto@pagibigfund.gov.ph

Assist WELL Reaches out to OFWs


Assist WELL Reaches out to OFWs
OWWA Deputy Administrator Josefino I. Torres and NCR Director Emma Sinclair guide OWWA personnel as they assist OFWs during the DOLE-led Assist WELL job fair activity which takes place on 10 March 2016 at OSHC in Quezon City. The Assist WELL Center maintains a centralized data base to monitor and coordinate with participating DOLE-attached agencies and other offices on the applications filed by the OFWs concerning assistance they need.

PhilHealth Holds 1st Kapihan for 2016


PHILHEALTH STATEMENT: NHIP Implementation in the Province of Davao

Marcos to formally ask Comelec why his OAV votes going to Gringo

Vice presidential candidate Sen. Ferdinand Marcos Jr. on Thursday said his lawyers are preparing a complaint to be filed before the Commission on Elections (Comelec) over the issue of discrepancies in vote receipts during the Overseas Absentee Voting (OAV).
 
 “We are in the process of collating all complaints, all data in preparation for the filing of a complaint before the Comelec regarding the controversy. We will exert all efforts to get to the bottom of this,” Marcos said in a statement.
 
Marcos issued the statement amid the reported incidence of discrepancies between actual votes on the ballot and the printed voters’ receipts during the ongoing Overseas Absentee Voting (OAV) particularly in Hong Kong, Dubai, Kuwait and Japan.
 
In an earlier statement, Marcos claimed that based on the reports reaching his office, the votes that were supposed to be credited to him were being credited in the receipts to fellow vice presidential candidate Sen. Gregorio “Gringo” Honasan.
 
In his latest statement, Marcos said a similar incident also occurred recently in California in the United States.
 
"When the voter in California complained to the election officers, he was scolded by the Board of Elections Inspectors (BEIs) who ordered him to just go home. The BEI even allegedly tore his vote," Marcos said.
 
"What is disturbing is that I am the only one losing votes!" he added.
 
Marcos had earlier called on the Comelec to issue an explanation over the alleged incidence of discrepancies during the OAV as well as definite guidelines on what the voters should do in case they encounter discrepancy problems. — APG, GMA News

Mother identifies Mary Jane Veloso's alleged recruiters in court

On the eve of the first anniversary of Mary Jane Veloso's near execution in Indonesia, her mother positively identified in court the two alleged recruiters blamed for sending her to Yogyakarta Airport with heroin in her luggage.
On Thursday, April 28, Celia Veloso took the stand for the prosecution during the trial for the human trafficking case filed against Maria Christina Sergio and Julius Lacanilao at the Baloc Regional Trial Court Branch 37 in Nueva Ecija.
She followed daughter Maritess, who testified as the prosecution's first witness on a hearing on March 29, according to the National Union of People's Lawyers.
The NUPL said both Celia and Maritess positively identified Sergio and Lacanilao, who the group said "kept a cocky poise while side commenting, snickering and shaking their head" during the trial.
"[Celia] vividly recalled, while sobbing copiously, the miserable fate that gripped her youngest daughter. Celia bellowed that what happened to Mary Jane and their whole family cannot be assuaged by anything in this world," NUPL secretary general Edre Olalia said.
Veloso was arrested at the Yogyakarta Airport in 2010 and sentenced to death after Indonesian authorities found 2.6 kilograms of heroin inside the lining of a suitcase Sergio allegedly handed her in Malaysia. She was given a last-minute reprieve on April 29 last year.
The trial for the human trafficking case against Sergio and Lacanilao will resume on June 14 at 1:30 p.m., the NUPL said.
Olalia claimed earlier that the prosecution lined up 12 witnesses in the qualified human trafficking, simple illegal recruitment and estafa cases filed against Sergio and Lacanilao.  Rie Takumi/KBK, GMA News


Thursday, April 28, 2016

MIAA, PAL probe 'laslas-bagahe' incident at NAIA

The Manila International Airport Authority (MIAA) has vowed full cooperation in the investigation on the alleged theft of P50,000 worth of valuables from a Pinay balikbayan from Hong Kong.
At the same time, MIAA spokesperson Dave de Castro said passengers who have valuables missing from their check-in baggage should contact the concerned airline immediately.
"We encourage them to get in touch right away with the airline," De Castro told GMA News' Jiggy Manicad in an interview on QRT. "'Pag napansin niyo pa lamang sa airport na meron pong problema pagdating sa inyong bagahe, lapitan na po natin yung airline personnel." 
De Castro said they are coordinating with the Philippine Airlines regarding the investigation on Nabor's complaint.
"Yung investigations natin ay primarily launched by the airline. Nakikipag-ugnayan tayo with the airline and any updates sa kasong 'to would have to come from them," he said.
He added that MIAA provided PAL with CCTV footage and witness accounts to help with its investigation.
While he expressed confidence in the capacity of their airline partners, De Castro said airport personnel are always on standby along with airline employees to address all passenger concerns.
"We are very concerned sa welfare ng ating mga pasahero at sa kanilang mga gamit as they transit through NAIA especially kasama na diyan si Mrs. Nabor. Kaya anumang tulong ang maibibigay natin sa pasahero, ibibigay naman natin," he said. Rie Takumi/KBK, GMA News

More than 190,000 Pinoys cast ballots overseas

A total of 191,427 registered Filipino voters abroad have cast their ballots as of Wednesday morning, 18 days into the month-long overseas absentee voting. 
This accounts for 13.91 percent of some 1.3 million voters registered abroad. 
Data from the Commission on Elections' Office for Overseas Voting show this is higher compared to the turnout within the same period in previous elections—13.4 percent in 2010 and 7.12 percent in 2013. 
While noting that they have a "bigger base" to cover given the record-high registration for the May 2016 polls, Comm. Arthur Lim said they appreciate the turnout so far. 
"It is heartening to say the least because voter participation is crucial to political maturity and political awareness. Dahil kung mga tao ay bumoboto, ibig sabihin niyan nakikialam, nakikilahok sa halalan," he told reporters Wednesday. 
Lim, commissioner-in-charge for overseas absentee voting, said they expect the numbers to spike as May 9 nears. 
"We still have 11 or 12 days and we already have accounted for close to 200,000 votes. Malaki na rin po 'yon and in these last remaining days before May 9, we are expecting to double this number, so we are hoping—at the very least—we would reach 400,000. This would be a good threshold already for future elections," he said. 
The Department of Foreign Affairs set an 80-percent target turnout for overseas voting. But Lim said they would be happy if they reach 50 percent, or more than 650,000 voters. 
"It will affect easily a close race, like in the senatorial race, for example, sa eighth to twelfth places," he said. 
There is a total of 82 posts for OAV, 30 of which are using the automated election system.
The rest of the posts are using manual or postal voting.
OAV ends at 5 p.m. of May 9, as polling places are scheduled to close here in the Philippines as well. — RSJ, GMA News

Number of Pinoy students in NZ up 73% in 2015

The number of Filipino students studying in New Zealand has increased from 2014 to 2015 and is expected to rise further this year, according to Education New Zealand, a crown entity.
Citing data, ENZ general manager Peter Bull said 2,964 Filipino students studied in New Zealand in 2015, a 71-percent increase from the 1,734 recorded in 2014
Because of this, New Zealand considers the Philippines as an emerging key market.
To sustain this growth, Bull said New Zealand implemented a new Code of Practice for the Pastoral Care of International Students that aims to provide better support and care to foreign students.
"Not only does it set the standards of care that education providers need to provide but this new code also highlights the importance that New Zealand places on international students having a positive study experience," he said.
The code, which will take effect on July 1, will also provide students a new dispute resolution scheme for any contract and financial disagreements between students and study providers.
“With the new Code, international students, including a number of incoming Filipino learners who choose New Zealand as an education destination, can be confident that their well-being is a top priority,”  Bull said.
New Zealand was among the first countries to adopt a Code of Practice in 2002. Rie Takumi/KBK, GMA News

DFA confirms PHL envoy to China hospitalized

The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) on Wednesday confirmed that Philippine Ambassador to China Erlinda Basilio has been hospitalized.
GMA News Online was the first to report that Basilio, 71, underwent tracheostomy - a surgical procedure where a pipe is inserted into the trachea to provide an airway and to remove secretions from the lungs.
"We confirm that Philippine Ambassador has been hospitalized," DFA spokesman Charles Jose said in a text message. "She is under the care of a team of good doctors."
Basilio's medical confinement came at a crucial time when relations between Manila and Beijing may be further strained by an upcoming decision by an international tribunal in The Hague on the South China Sea disputes.
Philippine officials said the tribunal’s ruling is expected sometime in May. The case was filed by the Philippines in January 2013, a move that has angered China, but earned praises from the international community, including the United States.
"She is currently in a hospital in Beijing. She can not travel. She will be out of circulation for a month or more," a Filipino diplomat earlier told GMA News Online.
"The concern is that there is no functioning ambassador to Beijing when the tribunal rules on our case," the source said.
Basilio, a retired career diplomat turned political ambassador, was appointed as Manila’s top envoy to Beijing 2012. She steps down when President Benigno Aquino III ends his term on June 30.
In the absence of Basilio, Jose said her deputy, Minister Elizabeth Te, will be the embassy's charge d'affaires.
Te is no stranger to China since she was first assigned there as a junior officer, the source said.
"The personnel at the embassy are competent to temporarily handle the affairs until a new ambassador is appointed," the source said.
"Alternately, the DFA can send a senior chief of mission as Charge d’Affaires until Ambassador Basilio recovers or until the arrival of the new ambassador under a new administration," the source added.
The Philippines will not have a new ambassador until the new president appoints one and goes through the bicameral Commission on Appointments and receives approval from the host country, which is China.
"That takes three months minimum," the source said. —KBK, GMA News

Pinay gets life in Dubai for drug trafficking

A Filipina saleswoman was sentenced to life imprisonment in the United Arab Emirates after the Dubai Court of First Instance found her guilty of drug possession.
report on Gulf News said the 25-year-old Filipina, identified only through her initials A.M., was sentenced and fined Dh50,000 after the court ruled that she owned the methamphetamine found in her home in Satwa by anti-drug officers.
A.M. insisted that the drugs were her roommate's though she admitted to prosecutors that she peddled the drugs and earned the money that was seized from her.
Officers raided her home following a tip in January that A.M. had been "promoting and selling drugs to addicts."
"We obtained prosecutors’ search and arrest warrant and raided her house. A policewoman did not find any drugs upon searching the Filipina. Then when we searched her house, she guided us to a cotton wool jar that she had put on a shelf … she opened the jar and took out the nylon sacks that contained the banned substance. She was taken into custody immediately after that," the Gulf News report quoted an anti-narcotics policeman as saying.
An earlier report on Gulf News stated that A.M. pleaded not guilty before presiding Judge Urfan Omar and denied any connection to the eight nylon sacks of shabu found in the cotton wool jar.
The Filipina has 15 days to appeal the court's decision. Rie Takumi/KBK, GMA News

Pinay from HK loses P50,000 worth of valuables at NAIA

A Filipina balikbayan from Hong Kong has lost P50,000 worth of valuables to suspected thieves upon her arrival at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) on Tuesday.
A report by GMA News' Susan Enriquez on State of the Nation with Jessica Soho on Tuesday night said Maria Melencia Nabor found the fabric on her luggage torn and held together with tape at carousel number five of NAIA Terminal 2.
When Nabor inspected the luggage, she saw that the zipper was damaged and that some of her jewelry, shoes and gifts for her newborn child were missing.
"Nung pagkita ko, wala na 'yung gamit ko, mga accessories ko, nanghihina na po ako. Ilang beses na akong bumabiyahe papunta dito, papunta doon so Hong Kong, walang nangyayari, tapos ngayon lang 'yan nangyari sa 'min," Nabor said.
Nabor took a picture of her taped-up luggage and approached an airport employee seated in front of the carousel to ask for help.
"Hinarap ko po sa kanya 'yung bag, 'yung luggage, kinuhanan ko po ng picture bago ko po siya binuksan tapos meron pong isang staff ng NAIA na lumapit, tapos tinanong po niya kung anong nangyari. Sabi ko, bukas na po bag ko, sira na," she said.
Authorities at the airport told her that the pilferage most likely happened in Hong Kong and advised her to call her airline, Philippine Airlines (PAL).
PAL spokesperson Cielo Villaluna said they already began the process of tracing Nabor's luggage from Hong Kong to the ground handling facility of PAL using CCTV footage.
Meanwhile, Manila International Airport Authority (MIAA) spokesperson David de Castro stated that the safety of passenger baggage is the responsibility of the airlines.
MIAA has offered assistance to PAL in investigating the incident. Rie Takumi/KBK, GMA News

EWS DFA exec admits 80% overseas voting target 'unrealistic'

The head of the country's absentee voting secretariat on Wednesday admitted that the government's 80-percent target of Filipinos casting their ballots overseas for this year's elections is no longer attainable.
Foreign Affairs Undersecretary Rafael Seguis, the concurrent chairman of the Overseas Voting Secretariat, lamented that out of the 1,376,067 registered Filipino absentee voters, only 184,327 or 13.40 percent have voted since the balloting started abroad on April 9.
"To be realistic, as of today the total average of turnout is 13.40 percent so it might be unrealistic to hope for 80 percent and we only have two weeks left. We will be happy to at least have a 50 percent turnout," Seguis said in an interview.
This year's registered overseas voters is the highest ever since overseas absentee voting was first implemented in 2004.
As of April 26, Middle East had the highest turnout of overseas Filipino voters with 85,176, followed by Asia-Pacific with 68,730, Europe with 18,399, and the Americas, which include the United States and Canada, with 12,022.
Hong Kong and Singapore still topped the list of areas with the most number of voters in Asia since April 9 with 23,646 and 22,338, respectively. In the Middle East, Dubai had 18,053, Riyadh 12,131, Abu Dhabi 12,043, Jeddah 9,507 and Doha 8,831.
Rome leads in Europe with 3,050, followed by Madrid 2,364, Milan 2,510, and London 2,027.
In the Americas, Washington had the highest turnout so far with 2,925, followed by San Francisco 1,942, and New York with 1,900.
Last-minute voting
Seguis said he expects a surge of voters in the final stretch of voting, but the figures will still be below the government’s 80-percent target.
"I’m a bit disappointed because we have more than 800,000 plus new registered voters but only 180,000 plus have so far voted so there’s a really huge difference," he said.
He said he is anticipating more voters in the last two remaining weekends before the May 9 deadline – Friday and Saturday in the Middle East and Saturday and Sunday in other regions – because these are the designated days-off for Filipino workers.
"Usually it's last minute voting. We hope that by the end of next week we will have a higher voter turnout. It could get higher by May 9," he said.
"We will be very happy if we get at least 50 percent. At this point in time, the situation is not that bright. It’s hard to get the 80 percent target," he added.
Location problems
Seguis said he has seen a great interest among Filipinos for this year’s national elections, but time and the location of the voting centers have prevented many of them from casting their ballots, resulting to a dismal voter turnout.
In some areas, particularly in the Middle East, field voting or voting outside the Philippine Embassy is prohibited.
"They are allowed to vote only in embassies or consulates which are far from there they are located," he said.
But Seguis believes more cities abroad will be able to catch up like in the United States, where the Commission on Elections is implementing postal voting.
"Probably they will have a high turnout," he said.
Apart from transport accessibility, mobility of Filipino workers, specifically the seafarers, is also a problem.
Game-changers
With two more weeks left, Seguis urged more Filipinos to go out and vote, saying overseas Filipinos are considered “game-changers” in the country’s political and democratic process.
"I appeal to you to please exercise your right to vote," he said.
"Don’t wait for the long lines at our embassies and consulates because we have limited vote counting machines," Seguis added. "Don’t wait for the last minute. You went through great lengths just to register so you might as well vote." —KBK, GMA News

PHL envoy to China ill, is hospitalized in Beijing

The Philippines' envoy to China is afflicted with a serious ailment that led to her hospitalization at a crucial time when relations between Manila and Beijing may be further strained by an upcoming decision by  an international tribunal in The Hague on the South China Sea disputes.
According to Department of Foreign Affairs sources, Ambassador Erlinda Basilio, 71, has undergone tracheostomy - a surgical procedure where a pipe is inserted into the trachea to provide an airway and to remove secretions from the lungs.
“She is currently in a hospital in Beijing. She can not travel. She will be out of circulation for a month or more,” a Filipino diplomat told GMA News Online.
Sources separately interviewed by GMA News Online said Basilio was in Manila this month and complained of a sore throat.
“She had a growth in her throat, but it was benign. But she underwent tracheostomy,” another source said.
Currently, Basilio’s deputy, Minister Counsellor Elizabeth Te, is the Charge d’Affaires of the embassy.
Te is no stranger to China since she was first assigned there as a junior officer, the source said.
“The personnel at the embassy are competent to temporarily handle the affairs until a new ambassador is appointed,” the source said.
“Alternately, the DFA can send a senior chief of mission as Charge d’Affaires until Ambassador Basilio recovers or until the arrival of the new ambassador under a new administration,” the source added.
Basilio’s medical confinement came at a time when a crucial  arbitral tribunal decision that seeks to invalidate China’s massive claim over the South China Sea will be handed down anytime. The case was filed by the Philippines in January 2013, a move that has angered China, but earned praises from the international community, including the United States.
“The concern is that there is no functioning ambassador to Beijing when the tribunal rules on our case,” the source said.
Basilio, a retired career diplomat, is a political ambassador and was appointed to the post in 2012. She steps down when President Benigno Aquino III ends his term on June 30.
“We won’t have a new ambassador until the new president chooses one and goes through the bicameral Commission on Appointments and agrement from China. That takes three months minimum,” the source said. — RSJ, GMA News

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Filipino domestic workers in Hong Kong vote to clean up back home

Twerking, selfie-taking, picnicking and performing impromptu dance routines -- Hong Kong's 180,000-strong community of Filipino workers fill the city's public spaces on Sundays, their day off, to relax and party.
But for the past few weeks the colourful gatherings have turned political, as the Philippines heads towards an election in which its migrant workers could swing a tight race.
Bands thrash out rock ballads backing their favourite candidates in the walkways and public squares of Hong Kong's financial district, and campaigners wear t-shirts bearing political slogans to drum up support.
"It's important to vote for change," said 49-year-old Winnie Blaza, a domestic helper who has not lived in her home country for 20 years.
"I became a migrant worker because of poverty. We migrants are supporting candidates who want to help."
The majority of Hong Kong's Filipino workers are domestic helpers, an often-abused underclass in the wealthy city, whose plight has been highlighted by several recent legal cases.
But there is a sense of empowerment now, as they form part of a key demographic candidates are keen to corner: the 1.3 million Filipinos who are registered to cast absentee ballots.
Blaza is backing controversial candidate Rodrigo Duterte, who leads the polls despite remarks about the rape and murder of an Australian missionary that sparked protests from diplomats, the Catholic Church and women's groups.
Likened by some to controversial US Republican candidate Donald Trump, he is held up by supporters as a maverick with a solution to corruption and crime.
'Every vote counts'
For Filipina voter Madeline, 26 -- who has a nursing degree but gets a higher salary working as a maid in Hong Kong -- the ballot box is a chance to clean up politics.
"Crime is very rampant, especially corruption in the government," she said, without specifying her favoured candidate.
Filipinos working overseas –- primarily in Asia, North America and the Middle East –- sent more than $25 billion in remittances home to their impoverished country last year, giving them extra political clout.
"The votes of migrant workers can be a game-changer," added Eman Villanueva, an activist for Migrante, a political party that campaigns for the rights of foreign workers.
"This is a close fight and every vote counts."
Duterte's son visited Hong Kong as part of the campaign, as did rival candidate Mar Roxas.
US-educated investment banker Roxas and Grace Poe, a movie star's adopted daughter, are among those taking on Duterte, a tough-talking mayor who has been accused of running death squads in his city.
Voting started earlier this month in Hong Kong, where more than 93,000 Filipinos are registered to vote, and ends on election day in the Philippines, May 9.
But, whichever candidate they favour, most simply want to make a living back home.
"The long term goal is to have jobs available in the Philippines so we don't have to leave our country to survive," says Villanueva.
For Blaza, return is the ultimate aim. "I really want to go back to my family," she said. —Agence France-Presse

Pinoy with rare brain disease undergoes free surgery in Australia

A Filipino with a rare neurological disease that causes him to suffer uncontrolled rigid movements recently underwent free surgery in Australia to prolong his life.
Gerhard Infante, 49, underwent deep brain surgery (DBS) at Mater Private Hospital in Brisbane to mitigate symptoms of his Lubag Syndrome or X-linked Dystonia-Parkinsonism (XDP), a report on ABC News said.
Dr. Sarah Olson, the primary neurosurgeon, said DBS involved placing fine wires inside Infante's brain to change some of the electrical signals that caused dystonia or involuntary muscle spasms and other symptoms of Parkinson's disease.
According to neurologist Dr. Alex Lehn, the surgery alleviated some of Infante's pain and prolonged his life but would not cure his condition.
Two of Infante's four brothers died because of XDP while his uncle, Von, underwent DBS five years ago.
“He’s a young man with a young wife. Two of his brothers have died from this, with another brother also affected. We’d love to give their family hope again,” Olson said of Infante in an article on Mater's website.
Dr. Virgilio Gerald Evidente, a Filipino doctor, explained in a paper dated 2005 that XDP primarily affected men with a known family history of the condition.
Evidente said XDP originated from the Panay Islands in the Philippines as a "genetic founder effect," or a mutation "observed in high frequency in a specific population due to the presence of that gene mutation in a single ancestor or small number of ancestors."
There is no known cure for XDP but DBS and botox injections are recognized as temporary treatments for the condition. Rie Takumi/KBK, GMA News

PHL overseas field voting begins in Saipan

Filipinos began casting their votes on Saipan as the field voting for the overseas absentee voting began Monday.
Registered voters came in trickles and were accommodated by batches.
“The turnout is fast paced, the voters arrived in successive waves and we haven’t had a break. We haven’t been able to keep track of the numbers but we will count the total ballots claimed by overseas voters this evening,” said consul Mark Hamoy of the Philippine Consulate General-Guam and the chair for the Special Ballot Reception and Custody Group.
Hamoy was deputized by the Philippine Commission on Elections to conduct the field voting in Saipan, which will last until April 28 at the Pedro P. Tenorio Multi-Purpose Center in Susupe.
The four-day field voting will be open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
There are about 11,900 registered Filipino voters in the PCG-Guam’s jurisdiction, which includes Guam, CNMI, Republic of Palau, Federated States of Micronesia, and the Republic of Marshall Islands.
In the CNMI, there are 5,768 registered voters, which is even more than Guam’s 3,000-plus voters.
As field voting cannot be conducted in the islands of Tinian and Rota, ballots have been mailed to the registered voters already, which they can submit until May 9.
Before receiving their packets, the field voters are to watch an instructional video on how to fill in the ballots properly and how to seal it in the provided envelope so that it will not be rendered invalid.
The packets contain their ballots, paper seal for the ballot, envelope for the ballot; list of candidates; and instructions for voters. According to Hamoy, they were the ones who sorted and put the packets together.
“If you are not a registered voter, if you’re not appearing anywhere on the certified list of voters, even if we believed you 100 percent that you registered, if you are not on the Comelec list, there’s nothing we can do. Only the people on the list have voting packets,” Hamoy said.
Voters had a choice to vote on the spot or take home their ballots to submit at a later date. Most of them opted to take home the ballots.
“That was to be expected because it’s a weekday, all the people here have work. I hope that all of them will return it to us before we end our operations here on Thursday. Otherwise they will have to send it to Guam themselves,” Hamoy said.
PCG-Guam has in its custody the automated vote counting machine. As the machine itself will not be brought to Saipan, the ballots with the sealed and signed return envelopes will be brought back to Guam where the officers will be the one to feed it to the machine.
“As the SBRCG, we will retain custody of the return ballots, bring these back to Guam and then these will be turned over to the Special Board of Election Inspectors. It’s a special body deputized by the Comelec, also consulate officials, and they will be the ones who will feed the ballots individually into the vote counting machine,” Hamoy said.
Asked how they can guarantee that the ballots will not be tampered with before it gets fed into the machine, Hamoy said he “cannot give that guarantee.”
“I personally cannot give that guarantee, we are just part of the massive system that has been implemented to give out voters abroad the right to vote. Everybody has the duty to be vigilant and make sure they report or at least the deputized officials of our embassies and consulates or deputized Comelec representatives, they can immediately register any complaint that they will have,” Hamoy said.
“I can assure you as far as the foreign service posts are concerned, we are trying to implement the mandate that was given to us for this elections in as transparent and as honest and as full integrity as possible,” he added.
For those who have yet to vote or claim their ballots must bring with them proper identification document such as valid IDs or their passport.
To ensure that they are qualified to vote, Filipinos are encouraged to check if their names are included in the Certified List of Overseas Voters (CLOV) for GUAM, which can be found in philippinesguam.org or in the Comelec website. —Saipan Tribune
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