BEFORE anything else I would like first to mention a lesson in life which I FINALLY learned recently. It maybe just a case of coincidence but the message was clear enough for me, that is: not to foretell a definite action! Allow me please to explain further . . .
In my May 2, 2000 published article “On Gulf War comp claims” I wrote that I will continue to give pertinent information “in the next couple of days.” Two days after that I was on my way home to the Philippines to attend to my ailing mother whose right leg needed to be amputated. Then in my previous article “Pinoy Gulf War claims, an update” I also mentioned that I’ll present the information I gathered from the two other sources “within the following two weeks.” On the day I was scheduled to write the story – armed actually with fresh news gathered from another DFA official through a telephone interview conducted two days earlier – I had an appointment with my doctor and learned that I need to undergo surgery. Three days after, I was confined in the hospital and went through a major operation!
Actually these last two incidents (the only times, in fact, I foretold something in all my other previous published articles) were not the only ones I had in my life. The previous ones – although I realized each time that I was being taught a lesson – were simply ignored. Maybe because the “reasons” why a planned or foretold action was not done were not too serious ones like having a bout of migraine or diarrhea or suddenly having an unannounced visitor or receiving bad news from home and ending up crying myself out. But wait, I now remember that the only time I had my lower leg in plaster cast for a month (October 1992) was after I promised a friend of mine to join her in ice skating lesson. Funny, I actually broke my ankle while bowling and it happened just a day before the scheduled skating activity!
Well, enough for lessons in life! I just hope that I really learned this last one. I hope too that whoever reads this article will learn a lesson from my experience.
And having said that – just now I thought of telling that this piece on UN compensation claims will be the last one I’ll write for Suite101! Here I go again . . . .
The other sources
Not only two, as previously mentioned, but three more sources of information will be presented hereon in connection with the 40,200+ claims for compensation by Filipinos from the UN as a result of Iraq’s invasion and seven-month occupation of Kuwait. The first two sources from where I gathered new information are UNCC’s latest press releases and a news item published online by ABS-CBN’s Pinoy Central, specifically under its OFW-related news. The third source is from another DFA official through a long distance telephone interview I conducted last October 13.
I would like to mention first the ABS-CBN news which was published online last week of September. Headlined ‘Senate panel seeks faster settlement of Gulf War damage claims’ the report focused on the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee’s recent discovery that “about 24,000 overseas Filipino workers (OFW) have not received any compensation for losses and damages they suffered after they were displaced from their job in Kuwait” prompting Sen. Aquilino Pimentel, as chair of the body, to urge the PCCCS “to speed up the processing and approval of claims.”
Pimentel was quoted as saying that “the affected OFWs, represented by Migrante International, have a valid reason to complain about the gross delay in the processing of damage claims by the PCCCS.” It also reported that the Blue Ribbon panel found out that “of the 45,000 claims filed by displaced Filipino workers, only 21,172 claims with a total value of $55 million have been settled and paid by PCCCS.”
In order to verify the report, I tried to contact Mr. Sinforiano Mendiola but he was out in a meeting when I telephoned the PCCCS office last October 13. I talked instead to Mr. Dalidig “Jack” Tanandato, assistant to Mr. Mendiola. Interviewing Jack gave me a feeling of the old days. It was like going back to the time when I was still actively writing for Kuwait Times way back in 1994/95 when he used to be the source of majority of the news item I wrote about the Philippine Embassy’s activities in Kuwait. Jack used to be assigned, among many others, to the Gulf War Compensation section of the Philippine Embassy in Kuwait.
He confirmed that indeed the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee conducted an investigation on the reported misuse of the Compensation Fund. Twice, in fact, the officials of PCCCS, headed by DFA Undersecretary Benjamin Domingo, were called to the Senate hearing.
The ABS-CBN reference to the 21,172 claims so far settled and paid by PCCCS, Jack said, was not the latest figure as it was contained in a report dated April 2000. As of September 30, 2000, the total number of claimants given compensation has already reached 27,898 with a total value of US$67 million, Jack reported. The figure covers only those claimants under Categories A and C.
“Just recently, on October 10 to be exact, we sent out nearly one thousand notices to claimants whose compensation money has been received by the PCCCS from the UNCC,” Jack said. This now covers the second phase and includes full payment of claims under Categories A and C. Those notified were claimants initially given partial payments in 1997.
“The process will now be faster than before because the claimants have all been officially identified, with updated addresses and status,” Jack emphasized.
Before the end of our conversation, Jack reaffirmed Mr. Mendiola’s claim that there was (and is) no anomaly involved whatsoever in the Fund distribution or payment to the claimants by the PCCCS. He added that “whatever received from the UNCC for distribution to claimants as contained on a provided list is paid within the time-frame, with a few exceptions of those whose whereabouts are difficult to determine.” Any unclaimed money, he said, is being returned to the UNCC, as per rules and regulations followed. He likewise announced that the PCCCS headquarters will be relocated on November 2 to the PNB Financial Center, occupying the whole first floor of the building.
The UNCC report
According to a UNCC press release dated September 6, 2000, the second phase of payments has now concluded with its concurrent release of US$825,177,061.61 to some 30,951 successful claimants. Second phase payments, which prioritized individual claimants in Categories A and C while also providing meaningful compensation to claimants in Categories D, E and F, totaled all to US$4,860,461,112.60 made available to respective Governments for distribution to 870,816 individual claimants.
It maybe recalled that the first phase of payments involved an initial payment of US$2,500 to each successful individual claimants in Categories A and C, as well as payment of the full amount to all successful claimants in Category B. UNCC reported that US$3,252,337,997.09 were made available to 1,498,119 successful claimants under the first phase of payments.
In its latest press release, dated October 26, 2000, as read on its website, UNCC has “today commenced the third phase of payments by making available a total of US$1,275,020,540.47 to 38 Governments and one international organization for distribution to 1,538 successful claimants.” To date the overall amount of compensation made available by UNCC totals to US$9,414,912,436.73!
Based from the data I gathered from the UNCC website, I am now compelled to give my analysis of the issue. I could be wrong but the figures given by the UNCC supercede whatever data provided by the DFA officials and other sources. What could be more official and reliable than the UNCC itself?
It may help to better understand whatever conclusion I’ll present shortly if I summarize the claims made by Filipinos and consequently approved for payment by the UNCC. The figures will speak for themselves, I would say.
All six categories (A,B,C,D,E,F) were filed by Filipino nationals and the Philippine government. Category A claims approved for payment total to 34,454 with UNCC recommended amount of US$135,528.000.00; Category B – 45 claims – US$155,000.00; Category C – 5,709 claims – US$31,115,480.67; Category D – 8 approved claims so far (12 in all according to Jack Tanandato) – US$498,860.67; Category E – 2 claims – US$55,104.00; and Category F – 3 claims – US$7,567,327.00. The over-all total of approved claims came up to 40,221 with recommended amount of US$174,919,772.66.
As mentioned earlier, the UNCC, as of September 6, 2000, has already completed the second phase of payments which involved full payments to all Categories A, C and D individual claims as well as E (claims by corporations) and F (claims by Governments). It has been reported that US$25,000 has initially been made available to claims reaching the US$100,000 limit under Category C then followed by releases of US$75,000.00 thereafter. This means that if a Category C claim is US$25,000.00 or less, the full remaining amount (minus the initial payment of US$2,500.00 made into effect during the first phase of payment) should be received by each individual claimant as approved. Please note that the UNCC is now on its third phase of payments, which commenced October 26, 2000, and involves initial payment of US$5 million, in the order in which the claims have been approved, to claimants in Categories D, E and F. Within this phase, payments of US$10 million will also be made, depending on the availability of funds, which as reported before, are derived from the “Oil for Food” mechanism of the United Nations.
I find it strange though that in the last 10 reported releases of Fund by the UNCC (from April 22, 1999 to October 26, 2000) only once – on February 17, 2000 – was the Philippines included among those Governments paid. And while the first reported release of Fund on April 22, 1999 involved payments under the sixth installments of both Categories A and C, the February 17, 2000 release of Fund to the Philippines and 49 other countries reported payments made available under the fifth installments of Categories A and C!
Try as I may to find a valid explanation to this occurrence, the same hunch as I had before – that the Philippines might have been suspended by the UNCC for its failure to distribute on time the Funds initially released in 1997 – continues to surface. Proofs which I can give are the following:
a) one out of 10 successive releases of Funds (within the past 18 months) by the UNCC was all the Philippine government has had;
b) while the UNCC completed the second phase of payments last September 6, 2000, which, by the way, commenced last September 23, 1999, only this October 10 the PCCCS sent out notices to nearly 1,000 claimants due for full payment under the second phase of payments;
c) the reported 27,898 Filipino claimants already given initial payments of US$2,500 (which also includes those who already received full payments with some receiving less than US$1,000.00) are way below the actual figures provided by the UNCC on its website, taking into consideration that the first phase of payments had already been concluded. Remember that approved claims for Category A alone totals to 34,454! If all had been paid initially as dictated by UNCC under the first phase of payments, then why only 27,898 had been reported paid as of September 30, 2000? And what about the 5,709 Category C approved claims?;
d) the DFA reported US$67 million paid out to successful claimants as of September 30, 2000 is too low a figure basing from the over-all US$174.9 million recommended amount for payment by UNCC. Categories A and C approved claims alone make up US$166.6 million of the over-all total; and –
e) as there was no UNCC-reported release of fund prior to and after the February 17, 2000 payment made to the Philippines, you may agree with me in claiming that what is now being – or maybe still to be – distributed by PCCCS (it’s nearly a month now since the October 10 sending of notices) comes from the US$15,559,311.09 reported release of fund by UNCC last February 17, which, by the way, has been identified in the UNCC press release as falling under the second phase of payment.
If I were to believe UNCC’s claim that payments under Categories A, B and C had all been paid as of September 6, 2000 I will sure wonder where the bulk of the Filipino claimants’ compensation money is. It’s not with the PCCCS – that’s clear enough according to the 9 out of 10 UNCC-reported releases of fund since 18 months ago. The UNCC, of course, can’t be quiet about its release of fund to the Philippine government, can it? Oh my, what am I heading to this time?
Will someone please give me the correct analysis of this very confusing issue?
Author: Freda Editha O. Contreras
Published on: November 7, 2000