WHAT I am going to present here is of a very sensitive nature. It particularly concerns the compensation deemed worthy for payment by the United Nations Compensation Commission (UNCC) to thousands of Filipinos affected by the 1990-1991 Invasion of Kuwait. I know that I am not an authority to discuss the subject but being a victim myself of the recently discovered irregularities involving high ranking officials of the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) in the distribution of the fund, I feel obliged to share the information I painstakingly gathered in my search for truth.
From the time I submitted my claim papers to the Philippine Embassy in Kuwait in May 1992 up to the present, I have patiently waited and religiously followed up the payments. In early 1995 I was privileged to get hold of confidential papers from the UN when I wrote about the upcoming first ever payment by UN to a few hundred Filipino claimants. This happened during the time I was maintaining a special two-page section “Pinoy News” in Kuwait Times, one of the only two English dailies in Kuwait. I was then actively working hand-in-hand with the Philippine Embassy officials, headed by Ambassador Shulan O. Primavera (now head of Middle Eastern and African Affairs, DFA, Manila) in disseminating information to Filipinos in Kuwait and the Gulf. In April 1996, I was again entrusted with confidential papers by Ambassador Primavera containing full information, including names, of all 45 Filipinos given payment by the UN under Category B claims. The story I wrote then was published on the front page of the maiden issue of “Pinoy Expat News” or PEN, the first independent Filipino newspaper established in Kuwait and the Gulf. In February 1998, I got hold of another set of pertinent papers from the UN containing names of nearly 2,000 claimants earlier approved for payment. The story appeared in the third and last issue of Eye Catcher’s Pinoy News. It turned out to be the last story ever written about the UN claims as far as the Filipinos are concerned. It was not because I ceased writing and publishing newspapers in Kuwait neither because of unavailability of press media – it was simply because the Philippine government officials refused to divulge any more information!
The embassy officials in Kuwait even refused around that time to give out names, as they used to, each time concerned Filipinos inquired after reading in the local papers about a UN-disseminated general information on recent payments made. They reasoned that they were no longer supplied with the list of approved-for-payment names. They were given instead an order from Manila to inform those who approach the embassy to inquire directly at the Philippine Claims and Compensation Committee Secretariat. I particularly remember approaching Welfare Officer Ofelia M. Castro sometime in July that year to find out if my name was included among those recently approved for payment by the UN. She showed me a copy of a fax message from Manila dated June 24, 1998 and I’m quoting the full text here, as follows:
“REUR REQUEST TO FURNISH YOU WITH UNCC-APPROVED LIST OF 3RD BATCH CATEGORY “A” GULF WAR CLAIMS. PLS. BE ADVISED THAT WE ARE NOT AUTHORIZED BY DFA TO DISSEMINATE SAID LIST.
YOU CAN THEREFORE NOTIFY CONCERNED OFWS TO DIRECT THEIR FOLLOW-UPS/QUERIES TO THE PHILIPPINE CLAIMS AND COMPENSATION COMMITTEE (PCCC), DEPARTMENT OF FOREIGN AFFAIRS, PASAY CITY. ALL RECORDS ARE CENTRALIZED AT THE PCCC SECRETARIAT.”
When asked why the list of successful claimants was no longer available for viewing by the public, the embassy officials I talked to then explained that they were trying to curtail illegal activities of some “fixers” who as alleged, had victimized quite a number of claimants. Said fixers, after getting hold of names approved for payment, can actually claim the checks after presenting forged papers, they said. As of this writing, I still have to encounter an actual case of those fixers’ activities – if there really is such!
For the information of those who are not aware of the anomalies committed by the officials who are supposed to be protecting the overseas Filipino workers (OFWs), below are selected news captions I came across while doing my research.
“DFA exec involved in Gulf War fund scandal faces ax. . . Undersecretary Benjamin Domingo allegedly has a bank account under his name for $863,000 (roughly P34.5 million), consisting of bank interests of Gulf War payments remitted to the Philippine government by the United Nations and deposited with the Philippine National Bank (PNB). Domingo reportedly gained access to the money through his appointment as chief of Philippine Claims and Compensation Committee (PCCC) tasked to oversee the proper disposition of the funds. Siazon said Domingo has made three withdrawals totaling $60,000 from the account. The inquiry on the Gulf War fund mess also covered Philippine Ambassador to Indonesia Leonides Caday, Domingo’s predecesor at the Office of the Legal Assistant for Migrant Workers Affairs (OLAMWA), which handles the proper disposition of the Gulf War payments.” – by Aurea Calica, The Philippine Star.
“Release Gulf War claims. . . Senate President Blas Ople is urging the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) to facilitate the payment of some P34.5 million in Gulf War claims which a DFA official, he said, has allegedly kept in a bank deposit to earn interest. Ople said the fund was released by the United Nations to the Philippine government through the Philippine Claims and Compensation Committee (PCCC). He said Foreign Affairs Secretary Domingo Siazon has directed the DFA official to go on leave after initial reports showed that the Gulf War fund has, indeed, been earning interest in the personal account of the official. “I don’t see any reason why such a huge account could accumulate if there is a conscious effort to immediately distribute the war claims payment to their respective beneficiaries,” Ople said.” – by Perseus Echeminada, The Philippine Star.
“Diplomats worried over picket at DFA . . . Foreign diplomats expressed concern over prolonged demonstrations at the Department of Foreign Affairs, saying these were hampering normal operations of the DFA. Members of the militant group Migrante International have been camping there since Wednesday to denounce the alleged ineptitude of the Estrada administration and the DFA in addressing the concerns of overseas Filipino workers — the so-called modern-day heroes. Migrante members are demanding the resignation of President Estrada, DFA Secretary Domingo Siazon Jr. and DFA Undersecretary for Migrant Workers Benjamin Domingo for Domingo’s opening of a separate interest account for Gulf War compensation funds in the Philippine National Bank. This, even after Siazon and Domingo assured OCWs that principal Gulf War funds were not affected by the interest account under the name of the Philippine Claims and Compensation Committee with Domingo as sole signatory.” – by Aurea Calica, The Philippine Star.
“Calls mount for resolution of Gulf War fund mess. . . Clamor for a speedy resolution of the Gulf War fund scandal mounted as various sectors feared that the mess would delay compensation for the victims who have been waiting for it for the past 10 years. Some 100 Gulf War victims, joined by supporters from the militant group Migrante, picketed the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) offices in Pasay City yesterday to demand the immediate release of their claims and the ouster of DFA officials involved in the scandal. Earlier, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines’ (CBCP) Episcopal Commission for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People and the Overseas Filipino Workers’ sector at the House of Representatives also voiced out serious concern over the alleged misuse of the funds. This developed even as President Estrada ordered a full-dress investigation into the fund mess involving the allegedly irregular deposit and withdrawal of interest earnings of the Gulf War payments. Foreign Affairs Undersecretary Benjamin Domingo, who heads the Office of Legal Assistant and Migrant Workers’ Affairs, was cited as having deposited the interest earnings of the funds under his own name. Domingo admitted that the Philippines has been delayed in settling the claims of the war victims, and that the United Nations has already directed the DFA to speed up processing of the claims.” – by Aurea Calica, The Philippine Star.
“Ople urges Senate probe on delayed payment of ‘Gulf war’ claims. . . When the Senate resumes regular sessions on May 8, the foreign relations committee will immediately start an inquiry on the failure of the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) to release $l28 million intended for the 32,000 overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) who were evacuated from Kuwait and Iraq during the l99l Gulf War. Senate President Protempore Blas Ople said the inquiry will coincide with his takeover of the foreign relations committee from Francisco Tatad who became the Senate majority leader. The delay in a separate DFA inquiry was apparently due to charges that DFA Undersecretary Benjamin Domingo, head of the claims and compensation office, deposited the money to a bank account under his name. Domingo explained he transferred the fund to protect it from the Y2K bug.” – by Macon Ramos-Araneta, The Manila Times.
The news which surfaced in the past one and a half months have finally confirmed a suspicion “that something was really amiss” which I, and those other claimants I have been in contact with lately, have kept far too long. We confirmed a number of hunches, particularly concerning those who received less than the UN-prescribed $2,500 minimim. We finally understood why there are a lot of claimants who still didn’t receive notification and why those who already received partial payments have been notified late. Take for example my case: the notice sent by the DFA was received two weeks past the scheduled date I was to go to the DFA. The letter was actually undated and the instruction noted I was to personally appear on June 14, 1999. Two dates appeared, though, in the envelope. Stamped in front was Jun 3 1999 and at the back Jun 7 1999, both originating from Manila. I received the envelope only on June 30! In answer, I sent an email dated July 5 to Domingo and I would like to share the contents, as follows:
“I received five days ago an undated letter informing me of UNCC’s approval of the release of the PARTIAL payment of my Category C Gulf War claim. Said letter instructed me to personally appear on 14 June 1999.
“Obviously enough, the scheduled date has already passed. What do I do now? Should I wait for another schedule or should I come anytime? And if I do come, should I be entertained? I presume you have claimants coming over everyday as scheduled.
“Please understand that I would not want to undergo the same experience I had when I went to the DFA last March 26, 1999 (a Friday) to inquire. One lady sitting behind a table just outside the glass door was so busy she practically avoided me. I had only one request then – to check my name on the newly released list. She said that the complete list will be posted on the bulletin board in April and I could come back then. I tried to explain that I’m going to my home place (in Antique) the following day and would be flying off back to Kuwait on April 8 straight from the domestic airport in Iloilo City to NAIA. I had only 15 days leave then.
“I did practically beg her but she completely ignored me. I understand of course that you have rules to follow and that lady must be simply following instructions. But was it very difficult for her to go over the list and check my name knowing my circumstance?
“How I wish your people could be more helpful and considerate to those coming to inquire – especially those who are coming from abroad. Relating to you the above incident has somehow relieved me of my hidden frustration. I hope you could consider relaxing some of your rules.
“I really would appreciate it very much if you could advise me on what I should do now. I’m now arranging for another trip to the Philippines and most likely, I’ll be there on or before the 20th of this month. You could either send your helpful advice through email or through Vice Consul Wilfredo Santos. And by the way, he promised he’ll get in touch with you to advise you of my predicament.”
I did receive a reply three days after and I was told that I could come any day (Monday to Friday) within the next six months!
Come to think of it: had that lady looked into the list, I could have arranged to claim my compensation right there and then. Then I could have been saved from going on another trip to Manila! Sadly, it was not supposed to be the case. The instruction was to check the list in April or to wait for a notification! No more, no less! Or she will be in trouble with Domingo and his cohorts. Obviously enough, those officials involved were doing all their best to delay notifying the claimants so that the well-deserved and long-overdue pay of the poor OFWs could still stay in their personal accounts to earn interest for themselves!
In the past two weeks, I was on holiday and I spent most of my time reading through the UNCC Resolutions, Decisions and Recommendations, including all press releases (from December 12, 1997 to March 17, 2000) open for scrutiny on its website. I have learned so much and I am now armed with the truth. Somehow, I feel brave to face anybody, especially those Philippine government officials who keep on telling lies! And I feel daring enough to approach anybody, including the UNCC itself. Please read on . . .
“Warm greetings from Kuwait!
“We are a small group of Filipino Gulf War claimants interacting through a mailing list created in response to the recent anomaly involving some high ranking officials of our Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA). We still couldn’t believe that the money which should have been given to us claimants in the fastest way possible have been misused by our very own government officials.
“We need help as we don’t know whom to trust anymore. We strongly believe that in the light of what has happened the UNCC should intervene.
“To be honest with you, we are very much confused and hurt. It seems that what we all have gone through were not enough. We all suffered during the long life-threatening ordeal and when we were deemed worthy for compensation by the UN, we didn’t only suffer the long wait of getting our much-earned and long overdue claims, we were also denied of the right and just service we all deserve!
“Please, help us.
“For and on behalf of the Pinoy Gulf War Claimants,
“Freda Editha O. Contreras, Administrator, Pinoy Gulf War Claimants Club http://globelists.theglobe.com/society_c…
“Contributing Editor, Overseas Filipino Workers-Suite101.com http://www.suite101.com/welcome.cfm/over…“
The above letter was sent last April 14 through the email address provided at the UNCC website. I still am awaiting a response and I hope that it will come soon. Meanwhile, please bear with me, dear readers, as I provide you with more enlightening information. More will come your way in the next couple of days. I am supposed to submit only one story a month but because of the importance of the subject to all concerned OFWs, I am willing enough to spend extra time in providing you all with accurate and up-to-date information. So, keep watch, please!
Author: Freda Editha O. Contreras
Published on: May 2, 2000