Items filtered by date: Wednesday, 10 January 2018

New York Police Union Sues to Stop Release of Body Camera Videos

Patrick J. Lynch, president of the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association in New York City, said the Police Department was violating state law by releasing footage from officers’ body cameras. Credit Gregg Vigliotti for The New York Times
When a New York City police officer shoots a civilian, should the public see video of the shooting captured on police body cameras? Or should that footage be shielded the same way that performance evaluations and disciplinary actions are?

The issue is at the heart of a lawsuit filed on Tuesday in State Supreme Court in Manhattan by the city’s largest police union, the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association. As the city moves ahead with its plan to equip all patrol officers with body cameras by the end of 2019, the union, which represents nearly two-thirds of the city’s 36,000 officers, is seeking to stop the Police Department from releasing the resulting footage without a court order.

The Police Department considers releasing body camera video of “critical incidents,” like police shootings, on a case-by-case basis. The police commissioner makes the final decision after consulting with the district attorney in the borough where the shooting took place.

So far, the Police Department, under Commissioner James P. O’Neill, has released edited footage of three police shootings, including two that were fatal. But in the lawsuit, union lawyers argue that the videos — raw or edited — are personnel records shielded from public disclosure by Section 50-a of the state Civil Rights law, a statute that also protects officers’ performance evaluations and disciplinary records.

Patrick J. Lynch, the union president, said in a statement announcing the lawsuit that the releases were arbitrary and illegal.

“This footage has serious implications not only for the safety and due process rights of police officers, but for the privacy and rights of members of the public, as well,” he said. He accused Mayor Bill de Blasio and the Police Department of showing "reckless disregard” for those concerns and for state law.

The issue of what the public is permitted to see runs through the national debate over body cameras, as police departments, officers’ unions, lawmakers and watchdog organizations wrestle over what makes for the best policy.

The 50-a statute was intended to protect officers from exploitation and abuse. The city’s interpretation has expanded under Mr. de Blasio, a Democrat elected on promises of police reform, and the state’s highest court has affirmed the broader interpretation.

The Police Department has cited the 50-a statute as the reason for refusing to turn over body camera video to journalists who have requested it under the state Freedom of Information Law. But in statements confirming that the city was reviewing the lawsuit, officials stood by the decision to release some videos to the public.

“The mayor and the police commissioner have spoken to the need for increasing transparency into the way our city is policed,” Austin Finan, a spokesman for Mr. de Blasio, said. “The release of body camera footage, when possible, is an important extension of that commitment.”

 

Robert J. Freeman, the executive director of the state Committee on Open Government, who has called for the 50-a statute to be amended or repealed, said the lawsuit was an attempt by the union to further shield police officers from public accountability.

“You have this myth that the disclosure of information relating to the performance of the duties of a public employee in some way relates to that person’s personal privacy,” he said. “Not so. Not so. The record that indicates my salary is about me, but it’s not personal. It’s about me as a public employee.”

The police union, like others in Boston and Seattle, has resisted body cameras for its officers. Officials considered taking legal action against the city during contract negotiations last year until the city agreed to give a raise for officers who would be required to wear them.

While the police union would rather not see the videos released at all, prosecutors prefer that decision to be made after they have completed investigations and decided if criminal charges are warranted. And police-reform advocates have pushed for a standardized process that would allow more videos to be made public.

Darius Charney, the lead lawyer in a 2008 lawsuit that challenged the Police Department’s stop-and-frisk tactics and led to a court-ordered body camera pilot, said the videos should be considered official reports, no different from what officers file each time they conduct a stop, arrest or other enforcement action.

Richard M. Aborn, the president of the Citizens Crime Commission of New York City, a criminal justice policy nonprofit, said that whether the statute applies to body camera video may depend on whether the Police Department plans to use it to evaluate officers’ performances or make disciplinary decisions.

“What is crystal clear is the right of the public to see these videos and hear reports from the government about what happened in these shootings is paramount, and the courts have got to find a way to expeditiously resolve any dispute and allow the dissemination of this information,” he said. “So to me, this is about speed.”

Getting video released quickly, or explaining why it is being withheld, is crucial to quelling public skepticism, he said.

Alain Delaquérière contributed research.

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Teacher handcuffed after questioning superintendent's pay raise

In this Monday, Jan. 8, 2018, image made from a video provided by KATC-TV, middle-school English teacher Deyshia Hargrave is handcuffed by a city marshal after complying with a marshal's orders to leave a Vermilion Parish School Board meeting in Abbeville, La., west of New Orleans. Hargrave was removed from the school board meeting, forcibly handcuffed and jailed after questioning pay policies during a public comment period.
KATC-TV via AP
LAFAYETTE, La. — A day after a Louisiana teacher was handcuffed and forcibly removed from a school board meeting for questioning the superintendent's pay raise, the school board received death threats, the board president said Tuesday.

On Monday, the Vermilion Parish (La.) School Board met to approve Superintendent Jerome Puyau's new contract. Deyshia Hargrave disagreed with the board's decision to give him a raise, saying teachers and other employees have not received raises in several years.

At one point, an officer with the Abbeville City (La.) Marshal’s Office approached Hargrave and told her to leave the room. A video showed Hargrave asking why she was being removed. The officer then escorts her out of the room. The video next shows Hargrave in handcuffs on the floor of the hallway, then being brought to a parking lot and placed in a police vehicle.

Hargrave, an English teacher at Rene Rost Middle School, was booked into the Abbeville City Jail on charges of resisting an officer and "remaining after being forbidden." She was later released on bond.

Nov. 25: Teacher arrested after students say she used cocaine in classroom

Sept. 27: Teacher reprimanded for saying students 'too dark-skinned' to play Lincoln

School board President Anthony Fontana said Tuesday that the board offices were temporarily locked down after it received death threats from across the world.

Fontana said the threats came from as far away as South America, Australia and England, as well as other U.S. states. The threats were reported to Vermilion Parish law enforcement and the FBI, Fontana said.

Fontana said the officer who arrested Hargrave acted appropriately and that he stands by him “100%.”

“His job is to make sure we have an orderly meeting,” said Fontana. “He knows what the law is. He knows what our policy is. … The officer did exactly what he is supposed to do.”

The American Civil Liberties Union of Louisiana condemned Hargrave's arrest.

April 20: Missing Tennessee girl found, teacher arrested after month-long search

Jan. 19: School board member's cleavage comments spark backlash

“Deyshia Hargrave’s expulsion from a public meeting and subsequent arrest are unacceptable and raise serious constitutional concerns," the ACLU said in a statement. "The Constitution prohibits the government from punishing or retaliating against people for expressing their views, and the fact that a schoolteacher was arrested at a public meeting of the school board is especially troubling.

"The ACLU of Louisiana will continue to investigate this incident and defend the constitutional rights of all Louisianans. We urge anyone whose rights have been violated to contact us.”

At least two board members are claiming the board treats women unfairly.

Women have several times been told to leave meetings, while men who speak out have not been removed, board member Laura LeBeouf told The Associated Press in a telephone interview Tuesday.

“When she realized she had to get out, she picked up her purse and walked out,” LeBeouf said. “Women in this parish are not getting the same treatment.”

Fontana disagreed saying he could recall two other times when a person was removed from a board meeting. One of the people is the husband of a board member, he said.

“This is not a women’s issue,” he said.

The Louisiana Association of Educators confirmed via its official Facebook page that Hargrave is a member of the group. Brian Blackwell, the Louisiana Association of Educators attorney, is working closely with Hargrave.

"As an organization that advocates for the dedicated school employees of Louisiana, we firmly denounce the mistreatment of Ms. Hargrave, a loving parent and dedicated teacher serving the students of Vermilion Parish. It is every citizen’s right to speak up for their beliefs. Any action that infringes upon this right is unlawful and unacceptable," the group said on its Facebook page.

Deyshia Hargrave was booked Monday, Jan. 8, 2018, into the Abbeville City (La.) Jail on charges of resisting an officer and "remaining after being forbidden." She was later released on bond.
Abbeville City (La.) Jail via The (Lafayette, La.) Daily Advertiser
Puyau said Tuesday that his new contract pays him an annual salary of $148,811, which he said would put him at No. 32 out of 69 superintendents in Louisiana in terms of salary.

His previous salary was $110,130, Puyau said. He added that he had not received a raise since being in the job. He was named Vermilion Parish superintendent-elect in July 2012. He took over the position permanently in January 2013.

“I have a serious issue with a superintendent or any person in a position of leadership getting any type of raise,” Hargrave said, according to video of the meeting. “I feel like it’s a slap in the face to all the teachers, cafeteria workers, any other support staff we have.

"We work very hard with very little to maintain the salaries that we have, and as I’ve been teaching the last few years, I’ve seen class sizes grow enormously … I just want to say, I don’t care if the performance targets were met. You’re making our jobs even more difficult and we’re jumping through hoops and we’re continuously meeting those goals.”

Abbeville City prosecutor Isaac Funderburk said Tuesday that he would not press charges against Hargrave.

According to the Louisiana Department of Education, Vermilion Parish teachers made an average of $47,041 per year in 2015-16. The Louisiana average for teachers was $48,462.

Puyau said it has been several years since the parish’s teachers or other employees received a raise.

Puyau said he had been advised not to discuss the meeting itself.

In recent years, Vermilion Parish has consistently been one of Louisiana’s top-rated public school districts. Most recently, the Louisiana Department of Education awarded it an ‘A’ grade and an overall score of 106.3, signaling high academic test scores among many of its students and schools.

However, Puyau’s time as superintendent has not been without question as some board members publicly expressed concern about his management style, staffing, financial decisions and strategic planning.

Hargrave was not immediately available for comment Tuesday. But several people expressed support for her and her comments on social media.

Contributing: The Associated Press. Follow Amanda McElfresh on Twitter: @TDAMcElfresh

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Serena Williams says motherhood may make her better player

BEST TO COME. Serena Williams says the pressure is off her to play, which she feels could make her a better player. Photo by Nezar Balout/AFP

WASHINGTON, USA - Look out, women's tennis. Serena Williams isn't quite back on tour, but she says she wants more Grand Slam titles and may be an even better player after becoming a mother.

In an interview with Vogue magazine published Wednesday, January 10, Williams also recounts the harrowing medical ordeal she went through after giving birth to her daughter, Alexis Olympia Ohanian Jr, on September 1.

Williams, 36, played an exhibition match in Abu Dhabi in late December but pulled out of this month's Australian Open, saying she was "super close" but not yet playing at the level needed to compete.

She is now eyeing a return to the women's tour at the Indian Wells tournament in March.

Williams, a 23-time Grand Slam champion, told Vogue she is determined to win more major titles and surpass the record of 24 Slams held by Australia's Margaret Court.

"Maybe this goes without saying, but it needs to be said in a powerful way: I absolutely want more Grand Slams," she said. "I'm well aware of the record books, unfortunately.

"It's not a secret that I have my sights on 25," said the 36-year-old Williams.

Williams, who married Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian at a star-studded wedding in New Orleans in November, said being a mother may boost her quest.

"Actually, I think having a baby might help," she said. "When I'm too anxious, I lose matches, and I feel like a lot of that anxiety disappeared when Olympia was born.

"Knowing I've got this beautiful baby to go home to makes me feel like I don't have to play another match," she said. "I don't need the money or the titles or the prestige.

"I want them, but I don't need them," she said. "That's a different feeling for me."

Medical ordeal

Williams told Vogue she had an emergency cesarean section after the baby's heart rate fell dangerously low during contractions.

The surgery went well "and then everything went bad," she said.

Williams, who has a history of blood clots, suffered from shortness of breath the day after the birth and told her doctors she needed a CT scan.

Several small blood clots were found in her lungs, and Williams was put on an anticoagulant.

"I was like, listen to Dr. Williams!" she joked.

More complications followed as intense coughing caused her C-section wound to open and a hematoma was found in her abdomen.

After returning home, Williams said she was unable to get out of bed for 6 weeks.

In the interview, Williams also discussed her rivalry with her older sister, Venus.

"I know that her career might have been different if she had had my health," Serena said.

"I know how hard she works," she said. "I hate playing her because she gets this look on her face where she just looks sad if she's losing. Solemn. It breaks my heart.

"So when I play her now, I absolutely don't look at her, because if she gets that look, then I'll start feeling bad, and the next thing you know I'll be losing.

"I think that's when the turning point came in our rivalry, when I stopped looking at her," she said. – Rappler.com

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The contradictions of the Black Nazarene

Outsiders accuse it of many things.
For some it is idolatrous. For others still it is mindless fanaticism. The privileged think of it as hooliganism. In their view, its devotees, many of whom are urban poor, destroy everything in their path.
Whatever they say, there's no denying that the Black Nazarene continues to attract an increasing number of followers. Many will attest to its miraculous interventions. Young people are also present, which means that devotion is passed from one generation to another.
What explains its popularity?
Whether miracles really happen are debatable. We have no idea what divine power gets transmitted through the towels that reach the image.
Of course some people are convinced. That there are devotees who have been faithful to the image for many years is a result of a miracle they encountered long ago.
But the endurance of a religious tradition lies not just in the existence of these miracles. Many others are still waiting for the answers to their prayers and yet they are there.
Solidarity
For sociologists, the power of a religious moment lies not in the stories about it but in the solidarity that people find in it.
At one level, its devotees find solidarity with the very image of Christ. The Black Nazarene is the God who suffers. It is black, the color of death. It carries the cross, symbol of the burdens of life. It is exposed to the elements, which speaks of human vulnerabilities.
And yet at the same time, people find solidarity with one another. Yes, they are in competition for the attention of the suffering Christ. It is after all the kind of devotion not meant for the faint-hearted.
But they are all there as devotees. They are all there seeking a miracle. They are all there with an unwritten affinity with one another by virtue of their shared experiences of illness and defeat.
It is for this reason that their solidarity with the suffering Christ is in fact solidarity with one another. The procession affords them what sociologists call collective effervescence, a sensation of belongingness. Only those who are part of the ritual will understand it.
In this light, what is chaotic to the outsider is in fact full of order to the insider.
Contradictions
But this is not to say that the entire procession is heaven on earth. A closer look reveals problematic contradictions.
The first is that it all takes place in Manila, a city once described as the "gates of hell". The problem is not whether the streets of Manila are supposed to be secular and therefore spared from any religious event. The issue is that alongside a compelling religious moment exist corruption and poverty.
They manifest themselves in the ills of urban decay: homelessness, informal settlements, the underground economy, and even the proliferation of illegal drugs.
The second concerns devotees' desire for healing and the inadequacies of the healthcare system. While people's decision to seek God for healing should not be judged, we must be bothered when public health fails to address their needs.
Although strides have been made, healthcare remains expensive and prohibitive in the Philippines. Middle-class Filipinos can enjoy private healthcare, but the same cannot be said of the wider population.
Let me be clear: turning to religion is a choice that an individual makes. But there is a problematic contradiction when, in the midst of medical breakthroughs, all the poor could afford is a religious option. No wonder Karl Marx described religion as "the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions."
Desire for life
At its core the devotion to the Black Nazarene is a desire for better things. And so is it still surprising that its most fervent followers are the urban poor?
In this light, the procession is an assertion of the people's right to the city – and its offerings of the good life.
Thus, the popularity of the Black Nazarene witnesses against the popularity of the war on drugs, the main victims of which are the urban poor. By the same token, the annual procession calls into question the merits of the Philippine economy's success that continues to benefit only the privileged.
In the Black Nazarene, contradictions accompany solidarity.
These contradictions, however, are sidestepped by the assumptions of the outsider. The devotion to the suffering Christ is neither idolatrous nor fanatical. These are simplistic remarks ignorant of the struggles of the faithful insider.
The rest of us who do not participate in this devotion need to be a little wiser – and compassionate.
We may not agree with their piety. But at the very least we can struggle with them in their hope for liberty. – Rappler.com
Jayeel Cornelio, PhD, is a visiting professor at the Divinity School of the Chinese University of Hong Kong. He is on leave from the Ateneo de Manila University, where he is the director of the Development Studies Program. He has written on religion and urban space. You can find him on Twitter @jayeel_cornelio.

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Bacolod school stripped of Catholic status aims to get it back

QUEEN OF PEACE PARISH. The iconic Queen of Peace Parish Church is located within the premises of St John's Institute in Bacolod City. Photo by Marchel P. Espina/Rappler

BACOLOD CITY, Philippines -- A school here that was stripped off its Catholic status is looking to get it back after it gained support from the Catholic schools association, which elevated the case of St. John’s Institute (SJI) to the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines (CBCP).

Fr. Joel Tabora, president of Catholic Educational Association of the Philippines (CEAP), said he informed Bishop Roberto Mallari, chairman of the Episcopal Commission on Catechesis and Catholic Education, about the issue through a letter that was sent early this week, as he questioned the move of Bacolod Bishop Patricio Buzon last year.

Buzon stripped the Catholic status of SJI following a dispute over the ownership of the property on which the iconic Queen of Peace Parish Church stands.

The church is located inside the premises of the school, also known as Hua Ming.

Tabora, in a phone interview, said he, along with other CEAP officials, met with Buzon in Bacolod City on January 5 to talk about the matter.

He said they asked for an explanation as to why the Catholicity of SJI was no longer recognized. He added Buzon’s answer was “a bit vague” due to the latter’s contradicting account.

Tabora said Buzon recognized that SJI continue to operate as Catholic school and even encouraged CEAP to continue its programs with the school so there is “intrinsic recognition,” but on the other hand, there is extrinsic non-recognition of the school due to bishop’s decree of relegation.

He added it’s not the board who pushed out the parish, but the bishop who pulled out the diocese.

He claimed the move of Buzon was “unjust” and “abusive of the power of the bishop” as the latter is arbitrarily punishing the school at the expense of the students, teachers and parents.

The punitive action is aimed at the board for a crime he didn’t specify, Tabora added.

Tabora is appealing to the Bacolod bishop to change his stand.

Canon law

Moreover, CEAP has sought the opinion of canon lawyer Fr. Adolfo Dacanay of Ateneo de Manila University.

Dacanay said a parish is a public juridical person. “Consequently, it may acquire, administer, and alienate property in its own name. A parish that does not own the land and the structure which constitute anomaly.”

Dacanay, citing the canon law, said that the diocesan bishop alone can establish, suppress or alter parishes. “He is not to establish, suppress or notably alter them unless he has consulted the council of priests. However, before acting, the law obliges the bishop to consult the presbyteral council. Any such action taken without its (council) advice would be invalid.”

He also said that Buzon’s decree on the relegation of the Queen of Peace Parish Church which ceased to be a parish church and a Diocesan shrine is “canonically flawed.”

He explained that those who could lawfully claim rights for themselves in the church would be the judicial person or persons who own the church property.

“A physical person might also be able to claim rights, example: a major donor to the church who donation was accepted on condition that the church would continue in use as a sacred place.”

He stressed that his comments are strictly from a canonical point of view.

For his part, Buzon said he met with the CEAP officials last January 5 and that he gave them the same answer expressed in our decision, though, he said he is open for reconciliation.

“We've always said we never closed the door,” he said.

On the claims of Tabora there was an abuse of power, Buzon said “that is the allegation Fr. Joel Tabora brought out in his letter after having heard from SJI. And that is why he came to get our side and I told him the same reasons which we have always maintained.”

Meanwhile, Benjamin Lopue Jr., president of SJI Board of Trustees, said they will bring the matter to the Vatican.

He said the action of the Diocese is "unjust" and "detrimental" to the development of the spiritual growth of the 1,600 students of the school, their respective parents, families, and the community being served by the school. – Rappler.com

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Rimando of PMA '86 named new 5th ID commander

PERFECTO RIMANDO JR. A shot of Brigadier General Perfecto Rimando Jr. Photo from https://www.facebook.com/801stInfantryBrigade/photos

TUGUEGARAO CITY, Philippines – Philippine National Police’s (PNP) chief Director General Bato Dela Rosa’s classmate in the Philippine Military Academy (PMA) was assigned as the new commander of the Philippine Army’s 5th Infantry Division.

Brigadier General Perfecto Rimando Jr of PMA Sinagtala Class of ’86 officially assumed the position during the turnover ceremony in Camp Melchor F. Dela Cruz in Gamu, Isabela.

Rimando succeeded Lieutenant General Paul Atal, who served the army division from August 2016 to December 2017. Atal is now the new Central Command (CentCom) chief in Visayas region.

Prior to his new assignment, the army division chief served as the Deputy Commanding General of the Eastern Mindanao Command based in Davao City.

Rimando was hailed from La Union province and was married to a woman from Ilagan, Isabela.

As the 5th ID commander, Rimando will head 8 battalion units and 3 brigade units. The 5th ID, also known as the “Star Division,” is focused in counter-insurgency in Cagayan Valley and Cordillera regions.

In his speech during the turn over ceremony, Rimando said he will intensify the counter-insurgency operations in the area.

He also urged the communities to support the government's campaign for peace and development, and the fight against terrorism.

The Duterte administration recently branded the New People's Army (NPA) rebels as terrorists, making them one of the main targets of the Army. – Rappler.com

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Money, properties seized by PDEA should be given to PDEA – Aquino

FOR PDEA'S USE. Director General Aaron Aquino wants to spend money seized from drug operations. File photo by Rambo Talabong/Rappler

MANILA, Philippines – If he can have his way, Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) chief Director General Aaron Aquino wants all the cash and the properties they seize be given to their agency.

"Ang gusto ko, ang lahat ng seizure namin, 'yung mga pera, 'yung mga properties, 'yung mga vehicles sana, ibigay na lang sa PDEA for our use," Aquino told Rappler in an interview Thursday, January 10.

(What I want is that from all our seizures – the money, the properties, the vehicles, I hope these are given to the PDEA for our use.)

Aquino talked about his "wish" while explaining one of PDEA's thrusts in 2018: strengthening financial investigations against drug lords. (Rappler Talk: PDEA on leading the drug war without the PNP)

"'Yung pera ituturnover siguro sa treasury, pero seized operations ng PDEA 'yan bakit 'di kami ang may karapatan para gamitin 'yun, 'yung pera? (The money gets sent to the treasury perhaps, but they were seized during PDEA operations, why don't we have the right to use them?)" Aquino added.

As for the equipment and properties, he explained that these are better off used by a law enforcement agency, than just being stored unused and left to degrade.

The PDEA chief added that their agents needed cars for their operations. He also wanted to convert into their additional headquarters the houses and buildings they seize from drug lords.

Aquino said he wanted to push this practice especially because PDEA needed more money. Of the P2.3 billion he asked for Congress for 2018, only P1.2 billion made it to the final signing.

He said he has already ordered their lawyers to find out how they can legally retain the seized cash, equipment, and property, hoping that the Bureau of Treasury and Congress would allow them.

He assured the public that should they be allowed to keep the seized money and properties, they will use these with prudence. – Rappler.com

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PH mulls talks with UAE over 'good conduct certificate' requirement

DOLE secretary Silvestre Bello III said that they will be talking with the UAE government after it released a Cabinet resolution requiring a 'good conduct and behavior certificate' from expats. File photo by Ben Nabong/Rappler

MANILA, Philippines – The Philippine government is mulling talks with the United Arab Emirates (UAE) after it released a Cabinet resolution requiring those aspiring to work in the UAE to provide a certificate proving that they have no substantial criminal record.

“This is not included in our bilateral agreement with the UAE government as regard hiring of Filipino migrants… I wished we had been informed first before they issued this rule so that we could talk about it since we have an existing bilateral agreement with them,” Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III told The Filipino Times.

“The certificate is a new addition. But without talks, this means it is a unilateral decision only. Both parties should agree with any addition to our existing agreement to make it binding,” he added.

Good conduct certificate

The UAE’s Cabinet Resolution No. (1/8#) for 2017 will require aspiring overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) to submit a ‘Good Conduct and Behavior Certificate’ as a requirement for receiving a working visa, starting February 4, 2018.

The certificate should be issued from the applicant’s home country or the country of their residency for the last five years, the resolution said. It must also be certified by the state’s mission, as well as the UAE Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation.

When asked which government agency in the Philippines would issue the said certificate, Bello said that he will get in touch with the UAE ambassador to the Philippines to clarify the matter.

The Philippine government, he said, is yet to issue an advisory on the new UAE Cabinet Resolution. However, if both parties can’t build a common ground for the extra certificate asked by the UAE government, Bello said: “I can also inform them that we can suspend the deployment of our workers there.”

– Rappler.com

This story was republished with permission from The Filipino Times of the United Arab Emirates.

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'Trafficked' OFW sues for forced labor and abuse in U.S.

MANILA, Philippines – A Filipina victim of human trafficking filed a lawsuit against her employers for allegedly forcing her into “involuntary servitude for almost 3 years,” while suffering from “extreme verbal abuse” and overwork.

According to the Asian Americans Advancing Justice - Los Angeles and Jenner & Block LLP, who filed a lawsuit in federal district court on behalf of the victim, Edelynne Bergado was lured by Marlon and Nelle-Ann Velonza to the United States with promises of a well-paying job and a green card.

But instead, the Velonzas allegedly confiscated her passport and forced Bergado to "work over 14 hours a day and 7days a week, for virtually no pay, for almost 3 years.”

Abuse and overwork

Bergado also claimed to have suffered from “extreme verbal abuse” and that she was forbidden from leaving her employers’ apartment without supervision, prohibited from speaking to anyone outside, and was monitored through security cameras when left alone.

“Edelynne was treated like a slave,” said Laboni Hoq, Advancing Justice-LA’s Director of Impact Litigation. “The defendants in this case knowingly benefited from human trafficking. It is illegal to lure someone into the country, keep them effectively imprisoned, and make them work for pennies an hour.”

Bergado claimed that she had to cook and clean for the couple, their two children, and Mrs. Velonza’s brother, who lives with his family in an adjacent apartment.

Bergado also worked for a skin bleaching and facial business that Mrs. Velonza runs out of their apartment, where she "was regularly used as a guinea pig to test the skincare products made out of household cleaning products.”

Trafficking

According to her complaint, Bergado worked at a cosmetics factory operated by relatives of the Velonzas in Bani, Pangasinan. The couple asked her to accompany and care for Mr. Velonza’s elderly mother on a trip to the United States.

Bergado agreed and signed the contract to be the elderly’s caregiver for the duration of her trip, after being promised a Php 9,000 (177USD) salary and school tuition for her children. They also promised to help her obtain a green card, if she ended up working for them in the United States for at least a year.

Despite wanting to go home, the Velonzas allegedly refused to let Bergado return to the Philippines even after Mr. Velonza’s mother was already sent home.

Through intimidation and confiscation of belongings, Bergado said she felt compelled to continue working for them despite the inhumane conditions. In January 2017, Bergado escaped her traffickers when she was rescued by the police.

Edelynne Bergado is suing the defendants for violations of the federal Trafficking Victims Protection Act, the federal Fair Labor Standards Act, the California Trafficking Victims Protection Act, the California Labor Code, and other violations of the law.

“We have seen that many Filipinos in the United States endure human trafficking, deceptive recruitment practices, and other forms of labor exploitation,” said Christopher Lapinig, Registered Legal Services Attorney at Advancing Justice-LA. “It is encouraging when, after escaping their traffickers, survivors like Edelynne stand up and seek justice. We hope that Edelynne’s bravery inspires other survivors to do the same.”

Rappler tried to reach out to Marlon and Nelle-Ann Velonza on Facebook for a statement and have yet to receive a response. – Rappler.com

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'Walk with Jesus' kick starts Sinulog 2018 activities

Devotees of the Holy Infant Jesus gathered at the Fuente Osmeña Circle in Cebu City at dawn on Thursday to participate in a foot procession, as shown in the video posted on GMA News' Balitang Bisdak Facebook account.

Walk with Jesus, which is the first religious activity that leads up to the Sinulog, is an annual tradition in which devotees and Augustinian friars take the route that is more than a kilometer long Fuente Osmeña, through Osmeña boulevard leading to the Basilica Minore del Sto. Niño Basilica.

A mass was held at the basilica's Pilgrim Center that will be presided over by Fr. Pacifico Nohara Jr., OSA on Thursday morning, the first of the nine-day novena mass in honor of the Sto. Niño or the Holy Infant Jesus.

The fiesta triduum starts on Jan. 19, Friday and end on the feast day on Jan. 21, 2018.

Earlier, the Augustinian community announced some changes in the annual activities.

For the Traslacion on Jan. 20, Saturday, instead of going straight to the Ouano wharf, the Sto. Niño will be brought to the National Shrine of Nuestra Señora de Regla in Lapu-Lapu City where a mass will be officiated by Cotabato Archbishop Orlando Cardinal Quevedo.

After the mass, the Sto. Niño will be brought to the Navforcen or Naval Forces Central in Lapu-Lapu City where the fluvial along the Mactan Channel will kick off and end in Pier 1 in Cebu City.

The miraculous image will then be returned to basilica where a reenactment of the first mass, baptism, wedding will be conducted at the Pilgrim Center.

In the afternoon, the 7-kilometer foot procession around the main streets of the city will take place.

On Jan. 21 the feast day of the Sto. Niño, Cebu Archbishop Jose Palma will preside over the first mass of the day at the basilica. — BAP, GMA News

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