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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Contaminated water downs 56 in Benguet village

LA TRINIDAD, Benguet — Fifty-six residents of a village in Atok, Benguet were rushed to hospital during the fist week of the year in what was initially suspected to be a case of mass good poisoning but which health officials later attributed to contaminated water used for cooking.

The Benguet Provincial Health Office immediately responded, coordinating with the municipal government to ensure tanks used to store water are safe and remind residents about proper sanitattion.

Of those afflicted, all residents of Sito Inaba, Barangay Pasdong, 40 needed admission to the Atok District Hospital while one needed to be transferred to the Benguet General Hospital. The remaining 15 needed only out-patient treatment. Thirty of the patients were female, and 22 male, with ages ranging from 1.6 o 83 years old.

Dr. Nora Ruiz, the provincial health officer, explained that tests on samples showed the tank of the community church from which the water used to cook the chicken eaten by the victims had been drawn had been contaminated by amoeba.

Since the community draws its water from a running creek, Ruiz surmised that the tank itself was likely contaminated.

All confined patients had been discharged by Monday, January 8.

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Jail officer dies as Traslacion winds down

Devotee succeeds to make his way atop the carroza to kiss the cross of the Black Nazarene. Photographed by Bernard Testa, InterAksyon
MANILA, Philippines — A jail officer died early Wednesday morning, January 10, as he waited to worship the Black Nazarene as this year’s Traslacion, the procession to return the religious icon to the Quiapo Church, was winding down.

Friends who were with Senior Jail Officer 4 Ramil dela Cruz, who was assigned to the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology in the National Capital Region, said they were on Hidlago Street when he complained of a tightness in his chest and abdominal pain.

Dela Cruz was rushed to a first aid station and, eventually, to a hospital where he was, however, declared dead on arrival.

The jail officer’s companions claimed he could have been saved had medical personnel decided to rush him straight to a hospital instead of taking a half hour before doing so.

Dela Cruz’s wife and mother said he had been a devotee of the Black Nazarene for the past 30 years in the hope this would keep his family safe from harm.

The jail officer was a father of two.

This year’s Traslacion took 22 hours, from 5 a.m. Tuesday to around 3 a.m. Wednesday.

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Over 6 million join Nazareno 2018 procession – MPD

FILLED. Thousands of devotees try to come near the image of the Black Nazarene. Photo by Maria Tan/Rappler

MANILA, Philippines – The Feast of the Black Nazarene pulled in over 6 million people for its 2018 procession.

The figure was announced by Manila Police District Director Chief Superintendent Joel Coronel on Wednesday, January 10, a few hours after the iconic wooden image of a dark-skinned Jesus Christ concluded its journey to Quiapo Church.

"Based on our initial estimate beginning 4:57 am noong nag-start 'yung procession (when the procession started) in Quirino Grandstand and ending at 2:59 in the morning today, 6.314 million joined the procession alone," Coronel told reporters at Plaza Miranda.

They did not include participants of the 21 Masses held at the Quiapo Church and those who heard Mass and did the Pahalik at the Quirino Grandstand, the one-star general said.

More people attended in 2018 than the previous year. Coronel noted that 5.4 million attended the procession in 2017.

He added that the increase contributed to the delay of the image reaching back to Quiapo as the thick crowds delayed the image passing through narrow roads going to the Quiapo Church. – Rappler.com

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Presence of foreign terrorists remain a challenge in PH

BLACK FLAGS. A number of local armed groups in the Philippines have pledged allegiance to the Islamic State

MANILA, Philippines – The continuing presence of foreign terrorists remains a challenge in the Philippines months after its military defeated in Marawi City local armed groups linked with international terrorist network Islamic State (ISIS).

At least one faction of the Maguindanao-based Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) is coddling foreign terrorists, according to Mohagher Iqbal, peace implementing panel chairman of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).

"The BIFF has foreign elements in their ranks," Iqbal told Rappler on Tuesday, January 9.

BIFF, the breakaway group of the MILF, is the same group that coddled Malaysian bomber Zulkifli Binhir. Marwan, as he was more popularly known, was the target of a bungled police raid in Mamasapano, Maguindanao in January 2015 that killed 44 elite cops.

BIFF leaders have also pledged allegiance to ISIS, based on their recent video releases.

The group is one of the threats that the government cited when it asked Congress to extend martial law in Mindanao. (READ: End martial law? Lorenzana warns vs another Marawi)

Reports from Malaysia, Indonesia

What is not clear is if the foreign terrorists are new arrivals or they have been staying in the Philippines even before the Marawi siege erupted in May 2017.

Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said foreign militaries have warned the Philippines against the continuing entry of foreign terrorists.

"There are reports coming from other countries. Malaysia ang Indonesia are reporting that there's an increase of foreign terorrists in our southern back door. We are trying to verify that," Lorenzana told reporters in an interview on Tuesday.

"We are conducting continuous intelligence gathering," he added.

The BIFF has been the target of persistent military operations – including air strikes – in Cental Mindanao.

Different roles for foreigners

Philippine Army chief Lieutenant General Rolando Bautista said foreigners provide different kinds of assistance to local armed groups.

"Sa ngayon hindi namin ma-quantify. They just come in. Hindi mo alam kung talagang foreign fighter in terms of sasama sa actual engagement or they will just provide technical support other than the armed component," Bautista said.

(As of now, it's hard to say how many foreign fighters there are. They just come in. It's hard to tell if they are foreign fighters in the sense that they will participate in actual engagements or they will just provide technical support other than the armed component.)

Bautista said they are also continuing work to make sure that the local armed groups do not have access to resources from foreign fighters abroad.

"Mayroon na tayong mga means kung paano natin mapuputol o ma-cut off ang support. Ang solution kasi ngayon is not more on the tactical operation. We already leveled up. Ang solution is strategic. Hindi ko na pwedeng i-expound 'yun," he said.

(We have the means to cut off the support. The solution now is not more on the tactical operation. We already leveled up. The solution is strategic. I can no longer expound on that.) – Rappler.com

 

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Batangas town mayor orders probe of P10-M rice purchase

SUBSTITUTE. Bags of rice stacked in the old city hall office to replace those being returned by residents. Photo from the Facebook page of the Tanauan City's Hope

BATANGAS, Philippines – Tanauan City Mayor Antonio Halili has formed a fact-finding committee to look into complaints on the quality of rice that the city government distributed to thousands of households during the Christmas holidays.

Under Administrative Order No. 1 Series of 2018, Halili appointed City Legal Officer Ferdinand Perez as chairman of the investigating team, which is tasked to submit an official report and make recommendations to the local chief executive on the issue.

“The Committee is hereby authorized to call upon any individuals and/or group of individuals, organizations, any department, bureau, office, agency or any instrumentality of the government, for all assistance or information as it may need in the performance of the duties and responsibilities reposed on it,” the order read.

The other members of the committee are Rebecca Javier of the Gender and Development Office, Jorge Valenzuela of the General Services Office, Lorna Cabrera of the City Social Welfare and Development Office, and Gina Juntilla of the City Accounting Office.

Halili said the creation of the committee stemmed from numerous complaints his office received on the poor quality of rice distributed to Tanauan residents under the city government's "Pamaskong Handog" program last Christmas.

He personally checked the rice and found it unacceptable.

Residents expressed their outrage on social media, criticizing the local government for supposedly considering the recipients as “patay gutom (destitute)” by distributing what they described as nearly inedible rice.

Halili’s office quickly contained the outrage through an announcement on December 29 that the supplier would replace the rice. City Information Officer Gerardo Laresma said the replacement process was still ongoing.

Laresma also confirmed that it was the General Services Office that procured the rice through the Bids and Awards Committee, and that the Senior Citizens Cooperative of Tanauan won the contract.

Under the P10.4-million “Pamaskong Handog” project, 5 kilos of rice were given to 42,000 households in the city.

Halili assured his constituents that he will not spare anyone, especially if it is established that there was connivance among officers involved in the procurement.

"There will be no whitewash. No sacred cow. The culpable will be dealt with accordingly," he said. – Rappler.com

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77% drop in firecracker-related injuries vs 5-year average

MANILA – The Department of Health (DOH) recorded 191 firecracker-related injuries nationwide as the country welcomed 2018, 77% lower than the 5-year average.
Health Secretary Francisco Duque III said in a news briefing on Monday, January 1, that the cases were recorded between December 21, 2017, to January 1.
"The DOH today declared a 68% decrease in fireworks-related injuries from December 21, 2017, to January 1, 2018, compared to the same period of previous year," Duque said in a press conference held at the East Avenue Medical Center in Quezon City.
Duque apparently compared the number of cases as of January 1 to the 630 cases recorded from December 21, 2016, to January 5, 2017.
His predecessor, Paulyn Ubial, reported 350 firecracker-related injuries on January 1, 2017. Compared to the numbers on January 1, 2018, the reduction is at 45%.
"I would say we are relatively pleased – relative because there are still injuries but pleased because of the substantial reduction or decrease in fireworks-related injuries from December 21, 2017, to January 1, 2018, compared to the same period of the previous year. And this is also 77% lower than the 5-year 2012 to 2016 average," Duque said.
Majority of the injuries were recorded in the National Capital Region (NCR) with 115 cases, followed by Western Visayas with 15 cases. Central Luzon, Calabarzon, and Bicol each reported 13 firecracker-related injuries.
In NCR, 63 of the cases were recorded in Manila, 14 in Quezon City, 11 in Pasig, and 6 in Valenzuela City.
In the Cordillera region, there were 4 reported cases of firecracker-related injuries. One had eye injuries and other parts of his face while the other 3 damaged their fingers. None were amputated.
The piccolo remains the top cause of the injuries or 94 cases. This is followed by kwitis with 14 cases, unknown firecrackers with 12 cases, fountain with 10 cases, and boga with 9 cases.
He said there were no reported deaths due to firecrackers, fireworks ingestion, or stray bullets, based on reports from the police.
Duque said the DOH had been expecting a “downward trend” of injuries this year because of President Rodrigo Duterte’s Executive Order (EO) No. 28, which restricts the use of firecrackers and the staging fireworks displays.
Duque had inspected the emergency rooms of East Avenue Medical Center and Jose R Reyes Memorial Medical Center and the Philippine Orthopedic Center in Manila to check their readiness to accept patients injured due to the New Year’s Eve festivities.
During the news briefing, health chief thanked President Rodrigo Duterte for issuing Executive Order 28 restricting the use of fireworks and firecrackers, and the cooperation of the Department of the nterior and Local Government, Bureau of Fire Protection, Philippine National Police, EcoWaste Coalition, among other partners.
In June, President Rodrigo Duterte signed EO No. 28, banning private citizens from using firecrackers or staging their own firecracker displays at their homes.
The EO also mandates "community fireworks displays" instead as designated places for the use of firecrackers under supervision of the PNP.
Three people, including a village councilor, were arrested in Iloilo City for violating EO 28.
The fireworks and firecrackers surveillance of the DOH began on December 21 and will end on January 5. – Rappler.com

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Frenzy over Bitcoin and the Filipino ‘biglang yaman’ mentality

A long-time friend who lives in California asked what I thought about Bitcoin. I replied with a laugh, “You too?”
I have read how many people, especially in Asia, are both intrigued and enamored by this digital currency. Across the Philippines and Hong Kong, Bitcoin has become an enchanting game of chance, no different from the lottery, the slot machines or the stock market. Some have actually parted with their savings just to test what Bitcoin is all about; more people are about to do the same. With very little information, that would be like plunging into the unknown.
Let me tell The FilAm readers what I told my friend. I am not an expert but, as a financial journalist, I know a little bit to serve caution to would-be investors.
Bitcoin is a digital currency supposedly created by one Satoshi Nakamoto. The name is not necessarily Japanese and may not necessarily be of one person. The real identity of the creator/creators remains a mystery.
In Bitcoin, there is no physical currency like a $1 bill. The currency exists only in the digital universe. It is created through a long series of numbers that are linked on a mathematical encryption algorithm that can be found in the cloud. There is a public key similar to your bank account number which is published to the world and can receive Bitcoins for whatever transaction. Then there is a private key that is like your pin number to an ATM. If something happens to your Bitcoin, you can’t run to any central bank for protection. Literally, you’re on your own.
The online site 99bitcoins.com lists several online as well as brick-and-mortar companies – from airline booking companies to political fundraisers to a pizza parlor in Jersey City – that accept Bitcoins. More than 100,000 merchants and vendors worldwide accept it as payment.
With Bitcoin, transactions are recorded in a public ledger called the blockchain. Several countries, from the U.S. to Europe and Japan, are warning about the dangers of investing in Bitcoin. South Korea has said it may crack down on Bitcoin, while China has banned it.
Bitcoin has been around since 2009 but not a lot of people took it seriously then. It acquired some notoriety for being the currency of drug gangs and money launderers because of the anonymity of the transactions.
It was only recently that people began to do a double take after it was reported that the Winklevoss Twins made $1.3 billion from buying $65 million worth of Bitcoins. Some investors are now emerging from behind their computers and outing themselves as “Bitcoin millionaires.”
Investopedia came up with a reason why Bitcoin is so popular. “There are many Bitcoin supporters who believe that digital currency is the future. Those who endorse it are of the view that it facilitates a much faster, no-fee payment system for transactions across the globe.”
Some financial trends seem to foster acceptability of Bitcoin. Two exchanges – the Chicago Board Options Exchange and the Chicago Mercantile Exchange – decided to begin trading in Bitcoin futures in December 2017.
There is a catch though. They are demanding large margins for transactions. For example, an investor putting up $1,000 to play the Bitcoin market will need to come up with an additional amount of at least $440 as a guarantee or insurance fund to the exchange. The amount of the margin is quite large compared to other financial markets.
Goldman Sachs, which is supposed to start a trading desk for cryptocurrencies in June 2018, is requiring a 100 percent margin for Bitcoin transactions. So a $1,000 investment will need an additional $1,000 as a guarantee for the transaction.
These and other developments are a signal Bitcoin is slowly entering the mainstream financial markets.
There remains widespread skepticism though. An official of the U.S. Federal Reserve has warned that speculation was driving the frenzy and creating what many financial regulators call a “dangerous bubble.”
The Bank of Japan governor, Haruhiko Kuroda, described the behavior of Bitcoin as “abnormal” and pointedly said it is not a currency. He added that “speculation” was driving the movement of Bitcoin.
The price of Bitcoin, which entered 2017 around $1,000, hit nearly $20,000 on December 18. By December 22, the price nearly halved and was trading close to $10,000. The rebound took Bitcoin back to nearly $15,000 a few days before Christmas. It is this kind of wild swings in prices that has become the norm in this virtual currency.
The question going into 2018 is whether Bitcoin will start another rally that would lift it past the $20,000 level.
For Filipinos, the attraction of Bitcoin could well be psychological. The “biglang yaman” (meaning: sudden wealth) mentality and a gambler’s instinct are the drivers. My friend asked if I was willing to put some money down.
I said: “Too rich for my blood.”

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First Pinay councilor in NZ wants more recognition for migrants

The first Filipina to be elected councilor in New Zealand has promised to push for policies geared toward cultural integration of migrants, including Filipinos.
"I would like more recognition for migrants and more migrants to actively be involved in the community," said Thelma Bell of Ashburton Ward on GMA News TV's "Investigative Documentaries" that aired on Thursday.
"It doesn't have to be Filipinos. It would be lovely to have another Filipino to come and join, but any migrants: Come and participate."
Bell had been a resident of Ashburton Ward for 23 years before she was elected councilor in 2016 on a platform of representing the migrant community and cultural diversity. Her advocacy is rooted in her own experiences of being a migrant.
Then a fresh graduate of BS Nutrition and Dietetics at the Western State University in Zamboanga City, Bell moved to New Zealand in 1987 and got married to her husband, Brian, in 1989.
As she adjusted to her new life, she decided to move on from being a stay-at-home mother to her two children to teach early childhood education or kindergarten at various schools.
She then decided to run for councilor as she believes Filipinos and migrants in general should be more visible in the community and inject new life into the local government.
Her children, Natasha and Liam, remain supportive of her career as is her husband, who Bell credited for his encouragement and support despite her position putting her on-call at all times.
"Brian has got the personality that gives you freedom to let you decide, to choose, which is really appreciated. I've done so many things because he would just [say], 'You can do it, it doesn't matter to me'," Bell said.
Bell is one of 12 Ashburton councilors under Mayor Donna Favel, who was impressed with the Filipina's standing in the local Filipino community.
"I was talking to a Filipino person yesterday who said that everyone was so proud of Ate Thelma and the way that she is representing the Filipino community at council," Favel said. — GMA News

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