Philippines (see also Bahrain, Iraq, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, South Arabia, UAE, Brunei, Malaysia)

Senator seeks probe of trafficking of Filipino workers to Iraq

Senator Manuel Roxas II called on the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) and the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) to verify the reports concerning some 51 Filipinos trafficked into Iraq from Kuwait to work at the construction of the US Embassy in Baghdad. The reports came from the testimonies of two American private contractors on 26 July before the US oversight committee. Rory Mayberry, an American who worked as emergency medical technician, testified he was tasked to shepherd the 51 Filipinos in Iraq. According to him, the Filipinos thought they would work in hotels in Dubai. Roxas urged the DFA and the DOLE to immediately check which recruitment agencies have sent these Filipino workers to First Kuwait – the construction company building the US Embassy in Iraq. In 2004, the Philippine government imposed a deployment ban to Iraq after Angelo dela Cruz, a truck driver working for a Saudi trucking company, was abducted by Iraqi militants. Cruz was released only after the government pulled out its peacekeeping troops from Iraq.


Filipinos continue to go to Lebanon

In spite of the travel ban to Lebanon, Filipinos continue to sneak into the country from various entry points, said Sr. Amelia Torres of the Daughters of Charity, administrator of the Afro-Asian Migrant Center in Lebanon. According to Torres, at least a dozen Filipinos come to Lebanon on a daily basis. There are close to 25,000 Filipinos in Lebanon, 95 percent of which are female domestic workers. Torres called on the Philippine government to enforce the travel ban to Lebanon.


Filipinos warned of fake job offers in Nigeria

Philippine Ambassador to Nigeria Masaranga R. Umpa issued an advisory about unscrupulous persons victimizing Filipinos wishing to work overseas with fake job offers. He warned Filipinos not to entertain any job offer in Nigeria received via email, adding that fraudsters have lately begun using the letterhead of the embassy and names of legitimate companies to inform their intended victims that the offer is legitimate. The partial ban on the deployment to Nigeria is still in effect. The Philippine government is pursuing a voluntary repatriation program for the estimated 4,000 to 4,500 Filipino workers in the country.


OFWs warned against jobs in China

The Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) warned would-be overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) against accepting job offers in China because they would be likely to end up in jail, deported or enslaved in prostitution. POEA chief Rosalinda Baldoz said the POEA received information from the DFA about the arrest of Filipinos who went to China to work as domestic workers. Some Filipinos recruited as waitresses were forced into prostitution in Dalian City. The Chinese government has not relaxed its immigration policy regarding unskilled labor.


Filipino nurses in UK face deportation

More than a dozen senior Filipino nurses who have been working as carers in Cambridge, UK since 2003 are facing deportation because the Home Office refused to renew their work permits. The Home Office announced it would no longer issue work permits to foreigners for senior carer positions since the senior carer is not included on the shortage list. City assemblyman David Howard asked Liam Byrne, minister of state for the Home Office, to save the Filipino nurses from deportation. A Home Office spokesperson said they treat each work permit renewal on a case-by-case basis and cannot comment on individual cases.


Number of OFWs in Canada jumps 7 times

The number of Filipino migrant workers in Canada soared seven times from 500 in 2005 to 3,600 in 2006. Some 3,900 Filipinos went to Canada on either two- or three-year work contracts in the first half of this year. There are about 450,000 Filipinos living in Canada.  Filipinos account for one of the biggest immigrant groups in Canada, said Canadian Ambassador to the Philippines Peter Sutherland.


Filipino workers in CNMI back US immigration bill

Hundreds of Filipino workers in the US Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) staged a prayer rally on 18 July to support a pending immigration bill in the US Senate (the Northern Mariana Islands Covenant Implementation Act) that would allow long-term foreign workers in the CNMI to work and study in the US and its territories. They also launched a signature campaign asking the US to grant green cards, not a non-immigrant status, to long-term migrant workers. Some 1,000 signatures were collected during the first few hours of the launching of the campaign on 25 July. 


If the immigration bill passes, thousands of Filipinos who have been legitimately working in the CNMI for at least five years would be given the chance to apply for a five-year non-immigrant visa. The administration of CNMI Governor Benigno R. Fitial and the Saipan Chamber of Commerce are against the bill. However, key senators and human rights advocates are supporting the foreign workers.


DOLE launches Maritime Office

The DOLE launched a new Maritime Office with aims to ensure the country’s leadership in shipmanning and to enhance coordination among government agencies and other stakeholders in order to sustain the global opportunities for Filipino seafarers and promote their welfare. Labor Undersecretary for Employment Luzviminda G. Padilla said as of 2006 some 247,497 overseas Filipinos are involved in the maritime industry.


High costs discourage Filipinos to apply for jobs in Spain

Filipino jobseekers are discouraged to explore job opportunities in Spain due to the country’s strict immigration requirements. Victor Fernandez, president of the Philippine Association of Service Exporters, Inc., said the high cost of recruitment fees, language proficiency lessons, among others, place a burden on Filipino workers, particularly caregivers. A Spanish language proficiency course alone costs P18,000. Job applicants are also charged an equivalent of a month salary for placement fee for local recruiters. In addition to the high recruitment costs, Spain imposes a tax on migrant workers. The POEA has accredited some 15 local agencies to recruit Filipinos deployed to Spain. However, no recruitment guidelines have been released even after the signing of a memorandum of agreement between the Philippines and Spain.


OFWs pay P197,000 for employment in Israel: survey

Filipinos pay recruitment agencies an average of US$4,303 (P197,000) in commission fees to work in Israel, according to a survey by Kav LaOved, an Israel-based NGO that provides consultation services and legal aid to workers. Kav LaOved, in cooperation with the Philippine-based Center for Migrant Advocacy, conducted the survey of 100 OFWs in Israel in 2006. Filipino workers pay US$1,928 to a recruitment agency in the Philippines and US$2,375 to its partner agency in Israel. Almost all respondents (90.5 percent) said they had to take out loans to pay the commissions; about a third of them paid monthly interest rates of more than 10 percent. In addition, 60.7 percent of the respondents said their actual working conditions were not in accordance with conditions stipulated in the contracts.


Curbing excessive recruitment fees

The Center for Migrant Advocacy held a forum on 31 July addressing the issue of excessive placement fees by recruitment agencies. In the forum, POEA deputy administrator Hans Cacdac said that some recruitment agencies collect exorbitant fees because there is no law strictly prohibiting such practice. According to POEA records, complaints regarding excessive placement fees have increased over the years: 290 in 2004, 285 in 2005, and 1,496 in 2006.


As of December 2006, there were 1,422 recruitment agencies, of which 1,374 were in good standing. Of the total, 1,029 deploy land-based OFWs and 345 were manning companies for ocean-going vessels.


Filipino nurses disadvantaged, vulnerable under JPEPA

Dr. Leah Paquiz, the president of the Philippine Nurses Association (PNA), warned that Filipino nurses will become second-class professionals in Japan under the Japan-Philippines Economic Partnership Agreement (JPEPA). The agreement drafted by Japan’s Ministry of Health and the Japanese Nursing Association requires Filipino nurses to work as trainees or nursing aides until they pass the national licensure exam written in Nihongo. Filipino nurses will be allowed only three years to pass the exam; if they fail, they will be sent home. Paquiz said Japanese nightclubs may begin recruiting Filipino nurses (or luring Filipino nurses into the sex industry) and their insecure status under JPEPA and Japanese nurses’ hostility may result in sexual exploitation.


NCLEX test center will open in August

According to the Trade Union Congress of the Philippines (TUCP), a total of 9,944 Filipino nurses wishing to find employment in the US have taken the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX) abroad from January to June, up 62 percent compared with 6,171 for the same period last year. Filipino nurses no longer need to travel abroad to take the NCLEX once an international test center for the exam opens in Manila next month. The TUCP said a total of 632,108 students are enrolled in more than 400 nursing schools.


Pre-employment seminars helpful to prospective OFWs

Loida Bernabe of Kanlungan said the POEA’s pre-employment orientation seminar (PEOS) is a big improvement over the pre-departure orientation seminar (PDOS). She said the practical tips provided by PEOS, such as telephone numbers and addresses of consulates or people whom OFWs can call or run to in times of need and emergency, are helpful. PEOS is useful because workers can get information while they are still looking for jobs, thus enabling them to make the right decision.


The DFA is checking a report that a Filipino engineer working on a road construction project in Paktia province, Afghanistan, was among the nine killed in bombing attacks by suspected Taliban rebels on 18 July. The Philippine Embassy in Islamabad, Pakistan, was instructed to verify the report. The government ban on the deployment of Filipino workers to Afghanistan is still in effect.


In the US, Arnulfo Diroy, a 52-year-old Filipino chief mechanic, was found beaten to death inside Tuloy-Kayo Auto Garage in Belleville, New Jersey on 19 July. Police currently have no suspects and investigators are not sure how long he had been dead. Diroy migrated to the US in 2005 and lived with his sister.


The death of overseas Filipinos has raised some questions and concerns. Elsa Silvano, the sister of Anelyn Sayson who died in Lebanon, had asked Philippine authorities to investigate her death. Lebanese authorities said Sayson committed suicide on 30 June by jumping off the building owned by her employer. Silvano said the body of Sayson bore bruises and contusions and her hands bore rope marks. The family also wants to know who sent Sayson to Lebanon amid a government ban on deployment to that country


In another case, the wife of Reynaldo Cortez, an overseas Filipino Workers (OFW) beheaded by the Saudi government on 13 June, complained that she had not received any assistance promised by the government. According to the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA), a welfare officer has been assigned to facilitate Mrs. Cortez’s claim. OWWA, however, cannot extend financial assistance other than the Tuloy-aral program. Reynaldo’s employment was through direct hiring process and he was not a member of any government insurance and benefits system. 


The family of Evelyn Torres, 26, who died of an illness in Timor Leste, is seeking help in bringing her home with them. She died on 12 July several days after she slipped into a coma due to a brain tumor. Torres brought her entire family to Timor Leste in the hope of providing them a better future.


The Philippine Consulate in Ontario, Canada reportedly refused to assist the repatriation of the body of Elenita Pailanan, 25, who was a member of OWWA. Pailanan died at York Central Hospital in Ontario on 5 July after undergoing an emergency surgery to remove her gall bladder. Pailanan arrived in Canada on 17 April on a working visa as a live-in caregiver. At the time of her death, Pailanan was applying for a new working visa under a new employer. Beginning 19 September 2003, OFWs can avail of OWWA benefits only when they have a current contract. Siklab-Ontario, an advocacy group for Filipino migrants’ rights, and Migrante International are raising funds for the repatriation of the remains of Pailanan and to help the family with their expenses.    


Missing, ill seafarers

Eight Filipinos are still missing from the South Korean freighter MV Orchid Sun that sank off Ras al Hadd, Oman, at about 2:40 am on 12 July. Four Filipinos rescued hours after the incident are recovering from minor injuries in Muscat. The body of one Filipino, identified as Elbert Binabon, 29, was recovered by the Royal Oman Navy on 15 July. The vessel was sailing to Iran from Hsinkan, China carrying 42,000 tons of steel products.


A Filipino crewman identified as Leonardo Mangosing was missing from a ship carrying iron ore at the Paradeep port in Orissa near the east coast of India. The ship’s captain was quoted as saying that Mangosing fell down from the ship while testing a pilot ladder.


In another case, Relomono Tamas fell ill with suspected appendicitis on board a Panamanian bulk carrier cruising the sea in South Africa. He was airlifted to a Cape Town hospital where he is in stable but serious condition.


Filipina detained for killing husband and son in Italy

A mentally unstable Filipino, Teresita Aguila Lleva, is under the custody of the Italian police for allegedly murdering her husband Wilson and 10-year-old son Brian and seriously injuring her 8-year-old daughter on 13 July, DFA Undersecretary Esteban Conejos. The daughter was rushed to the hospital and is now in the intensive care unit. According to the OWWA, Lleva attempted twice to commit suicide. The Philippine government is requesting medical treatment for her and seeking dismissal of the criminal charge against her.  


Filipino family permitted to stay in UK

The Home Office eventually allowed the stay of Aldrin Quibuyen, a 36-year-old Filipino, who was ordered to leave the UK because he submitted an out-dated form to re-register for permission to remain in the country. He has lived in Ammanford, Carmarthenshire, South Wales, with his wife and two children for the past four years, after being recruited from the Philippines to work in Wales. He was recently employed at a nursing home in Llanelli.


Teachers, deans, lawyers victimized by illegal recruiter

Some 100 deans, lawyers and teachers from Leyte were victimized by an illegal recruiter. They were promised jobs in schools and hotels in Italy for which they paid the suspect P10,000 to P13,000 each as processing fee.  Thirty of the applicants went to the National Bureau of Investigation on 30 July to file a complaint against Elisa Viernes, also known as Elisa Balaguer, Nelia Cionela and Nelia Cinco. The victims were told to come to Manila on 27 July for a medical check-up scheduled on 30 July.


Three charged with illegal recruitment

The owners of Ren-glo Enterprise Placement Agency, Renato Tomas, Gloria Tomas and Albert Apostadero, are charged with illegal recruitment. Sarah Velasco filed a complaint after Ren-glo failed to send her abroad despite continued promises of immediate employment as a hotel worker in Spain in exchange for a placement fee of P80,000.


Anglican Church launches drive against illegal recruitment

The Anglican Church launched a drive against illegal recruitment after one of its members died abroad under suspicious circumstances. Esteban Digmo, 29, was recruited by the Step Up Agency based in Singapore through its representatives in the Philippines. Digmo flew to Singapore on a tourist visa on 23 January and was sent from there to Taiwan by the agency which is not accredited by DOLE and the POEA. Digmo boarded a Taiwanese fishing vessel and his family received a text message on 2 June that Digmo had died. According to Ambassador Bienvenido Tejano’s report to the DFA, Digmo allegedly died while on board the Chien Cheng after killing two Chinese crewmen on 25 May. The vessel later sailed to Fiji.  However, Tejano ordered the medical doctor who conducted an autopsy, to ask Fiji authorities, not to cremate the remains of Digmo.


US backs counter-human trafficking efforts

The US has pledged to continuously help the Philippines combat human trafficking. US Ambassador to Manila Kristie Kenny said at the launch of the Bahay Silungan sa Daungan, a halfway house in Manila for trafficked women and children, the US government is joining forces with local authorities and civic groups to help victims of human trafficking in the country. The Visayan Forum Foundation Inc. will manage the shelter with the US Agency for International Development funding. This is the fourth facility provided by the Philippine Ports Authority, followed by the shelters in Batangas, Sorsogon and Davao.

Remittances rise despite deployment slowdown

Despite a 4.4 percent drop in the deployment of Filipino workers, there has been a 21.92 percent year-on-year increase in total remittances from P17.83 billion to P21.74 billion for the first five months. The Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas said the government deployed a total of 457,531 workers from January to May 2007.


In related news, the money Filipino workers in Dubai sent to their families back home during the first five months of this year reached P534.44 million, up 76.48 percent compared to P302.84 million for the same period last year, according to BSP. Remittances from Filipino workers in Abu Dhabi rose by 61 percent from P189.92 million to P305.77 for the same period. Total remittances from the Middle East increased by 48.64 percent from P2.4 billion to P3.57 billion. 


Meanwhile, a senior DOLE official said that the increase in total remittances between January and May this year does not necessarily increase the spending power of the recipients because of the strength of the peso against the US dollar.


In view of the peso’s strength, the TUCP advised OFWs and their families to save their money in pesos. At the same time, TUCP president Democrito Mendoza urged the government to push down remittance charges to help OFWs cope with the strong peso.


Philippine Overseas Workers Bank proposed

Senator Jinggoy Estrada has proposed the establishment of the Philippine Overseas Workers Bank in order to help them save on costs of remittance transactions and manage their money more effectively. Estrada quoted the government estimate that remittances this year are expected to reach US$14.1 billion, up from the US$12.8 billion in 2006. Estrada said that the bank will grant loans and other financial assistance preferably to OFWs, their spouses and children for the development of agriculture and small- and medium-sized commercial and industrial enterprises and to workers applying or reapplying for overseas employment to cover the placement fees and other expenses.


Migrant workers’ groups support open skies

An alliance of NGOs and unions of OFWs has begun a campaign seeking a liberalized air policy at the Diosdado Macapagal International Airport (DMIA) to benefit OFWs in Central and Northern Luzon. The Affordable Air Access Alliance (4As), which includes four NGOs, a seamen’s union with 50,000 members and the Hong Kong-based Asian Domestic Workers’ Union, urged President Gloria Arroyo to sign a proposed executive order opening DMIA to low-cost foreign airlines. According to the group, the opening of DMIA would allow OFWs to make frequent visits and thus reduce the social costs of labor migration.


Internet test vote for OFWs in Singapore

The Internet test vote for the estimated 15,000 overseas Filipino workers will start on 20 July and end on 8 August in Singapore, said the Commission on Elections. Commissioner Florentino Tuason Jr., in charge of the Overseas Absentee Voting (OAV), said that Filipino migrant workers who had returned home or were working in other countries but whose names were still on the Singapore OAV voters’ list could vote in the Internet test elections. If the test vote proves successful, Internet voting might be adopted for all overseas absentee voters throughout the world. 


21% rise in visa extensions

More foreign visitors tend to stay longer. The Bureau of Immigration’s (BI) visa extension office approved a total of 196,172 applications from January to June this year, up 21 percent or 34,188 compared to the same period last year. Commissioner Marcelino Libanan said many of the foreigners visited not only for pleasure but also to explore possible investment and business opportunities. A total of 468,281 foreigners arrived from the first semester, compared with 439,526 for the same period last year.


In related news, more foreign nationals are now seeking employment in the country. According to data from the DOLE’s Bureau of Employment (BLE), the past five years have seen an almost 100 percent increase in the number of foreigners seeking employment in the country. Foreign nationals with alien employment permit almost doubled from 6,858 in 2001 to 12,335 in 2006, said Vic Oliver, chief of BLE’s Employment Standards and Regulation Division. Majority are from Japan, Korea and some European countries.


Korean Embassy resumes visa processing of OFW visas

The South Korean Embassy resumed its visa issuance to Korea-bound Filipino workers on 19 July following a meeting between Korean consul-general Hong Sung Mog and BI chief Marcelino Libanan on 18 July. Hong did not disclose the details of the meeting but said the BI promised to look into the Koreans’ complaints. On 16 July, the Korean Embassy stopped processing Filipino workers’ visas in reaction to the alleged extortion activities of Korean businessmen by immigration officials. As a result, the applications of Korean-bound Filipinos piled up at the POEA: 126 permits for release were withheld; 77 visa applications were left pending. After a discussion with DFA officials on 16 July, Hong apologized for not coursing his action through diplomatic channels. Senators Manuel Villar Jr. and Manuel Roxas II urged the Korean Embassy to immediately lift the suspension in the interest of fairness. Villar also urged the BI to immediately address the Korean Embassy’s concerns.


In related news, the BI said it will crack down on foreign retailers violating the retail trade liberalization law. The law requires foreigners to put up a minimum capital of US$2.5 million to engage in retail in the country. Immigration Commissioner Marcelino Libanan, however, clarified that the move was not intended to target Koreans following South Korea’s suspension of visas for OFWs. Libanan asked the Korean Embassy to identify immigration officials allegedly involved in harassing and extorting money from Koreans instead of suspending the issuance of visas to OFWs. He has tasked Immigration Associate Commissioner Roy Almoro to investigate the complaints.


The BI said that more than 100,000 Koreans are illegally staying in the Philippines. Some 11,000 Koreans are currently holding working visas and special work permits while 29,000 have been issued with special study permits and student visas, according to BI Intelligence and Investigation Division. In addition, close to 85,000 Koreans have pending applications for visas and study or work permits.  In light of the large presence of Korean nationals in the Philippines, SMART Communications Inc. disclosed its new plan to provide text messages in Korean-characters to Korea-based numbers. 


93 foreigners barred from entering the country

The Bureau of Immigration (BI) has barred entry of 93 “undesirable" foreigners from 24 June to 15 July for reasons such as using fake documents, absence of entry visa, failure to present return tickets and arrogance to immigration officers.


Irregular migrants arrested, deported  

Eight undocumented Chinese migrants were arrested on 17 July by the BI’s intelligence operatives who raided their workplace on Iglesia St. in Marilao, Bulacan. They were working at a clandestine aluminum plant without the required visa. They are now detained at the BI detention center in Bicutan, Taguig City.


The BI deported 27 irregular migrants in order to decongest its detention center in Bicutan, Taguig. Some of the deportees had been staying in Bicutan for the last two to three years even though they were already issued deportation orders for violating the immigration laws. The deportees include six Chinese, three Americans, three Koreans, three Nigerians, two Lebanese and one each from Sudan, India, UK, Sweden, Japan, Sri Lanka, Namibia, Ghana, Singapore and Botswana. 


Foreign protesters will be deported

Philippine immigration authorities warned foreign activists who join rallies during the meetings of Southeast Asian foreign ministers in Manila that they will be arrested and deported. The warning came after dozens of foreign activists, mostly Belgians, along with Filipinos marched in Manila against President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’s State of the Nation address in Congress. Gani Abunda, a spokesman of the Free Burma Coalition, said some Burmese activists plan to stage a rally near the venue of the ASEAN meetings at Manila Bay to call for the release of Nobel peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi and other political prisoners. 


DFA stocks on machine-readable passports

The DFA is coordinating with the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas for the continued production of the machine-readable passports, according to Foreign Assistant Secretary for Consular Affairs Domingo Lucenario Jr. As soon as the DFA secures enough stock of booklets, the new passports will be issued to the general public, Lucenario said. The passports are initially being issued to government officials, senior citizens and migrant workers. 


In related news, the new machine-readable passport may be issued to Filipinos in Hong Kong soon under a pilot-testing scheme.


New rules on visa applications for Japan

Beginning 30 July, the Consulate-General of Japan at Manila and the consular offices in Cebu and Davao will no longer accept visa applications directly from applicants. All visa applications except for diplomatic or official purposes should be made at the Consulate-General of Japan at Manila through the agencies accredited by the Consulate-General. Under the new procedure, applicants may be requested to appear in person for an interview to the designated consulate or consular offices. 


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