Monthly Archives: August 2012

Important Notice

The contents of the book were uploaded according to their page starting from the very first one till the end so what is seen on the current blog page is the last article. I have received comments that the succession of articles should have been the other way round. As I try to figure out a way to categorize the pages in order for them to be easily accessible, may I suggest that you start reading by clicking the July 2012 Archive and locate the very first page. There are arrows which you can follow leading to the previous pages.

I am sorry for the inconvenience.

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One Messy OWWA

Author: Freda Editha O. Contreras
Originally Published on Suite101.com: December 30, 2002

 

OWWA stands for Overseas Workers Welfare Administration. It is one special government body under the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) which collects, among its various functions, US$25 from each overseas Filipino worker (OFW) leaving the country either to work for the first time abroad or as a returnee. Originally, as a rule, this US$25 was being paid for the OFW by his/her prospective employer at initial employment. Some employers paid and others didn’t. After a while it was offered as a voluntary contribution to OFWs interested in getting back something should accident or the inevitable happen to them. Then a few years back, the US$25 became mandatory and no OFW is allowed to leave the country without paying it!

Understandably, OWWA’s life depends on this US$25 contribution – be it paid for the first time by individual employer or otherwise. It uses the fund for its many welfare functions, so to speak, as well as its administrative duties. But what happens when the fund is used indiscriminately and outside its original purpose? A mess, it will be, of course, and that’s where OWWA is in right now!

Mid-May this year, DOLE Secretary Patricia Sto. Tomas was first reported exposing the mess in OWWA to the public. She said that OWWA lost some P1.2-B in fund as a result of bad investments entered into by then Administrator Wilhelm Soriano. Santo Tomas also revealed that OWWA’s administrative expenses in the past year far exceeded that of welfare assistance being given to OFWs. While welfare assistance pegged 22% only, administrative costs reached a high 77%, she said.

As investigation into the mess escalated, Soriano went on leave and was later replaced, in early November by Virgilio Angelo, previously of the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO). Soriano, according to Labor Secretary Santo Tomas, could be held liable in court for investing the OFWs’ money without approval of the OWWA Board of Trustees of which she sits as chairperson. Investigation is still going on . . .

Meanwhile, disgruntled OFWs could no longer contain their anger as to OWWA’s mishandling of their hard-earned contribution. The OWWA contribution entitles each OFW with welfare benefits, loan packages and scholarship programs for their children. The OFWs are now in the process of signing a Petition entitled “A Call to Action for OWWA Transparency and Restructuring” started on the Internet via the OFW Community of Lists. Spearheaded by Alfredo Ganapin of eLagda-Riyadh, he likewise collects and collates signatures, which as of his last report dated December 23, 2002, has now reached over a thousand signatories.

In order to get a better understanding of what the OFWs are clamoring for, I find it fit to include here below the full text of their ‘Call to Action’:

A CALL TO ACTION FOR OWWA TRANSPARENCY and RESTRUCTURING

WE, the Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) and our supporters, demand that the Overseas Workers and Welfare Administration (OWWA) submit itself to a full public management and accounting audit without delay, not only for collections and expenditures for year 2001 but also for previous years.

While millions of pesos continue to be collected from vacationing OFWs and first-timers, six (6) months have already passed and reports on the alleged misuse of funds have remained unresolved and services in areas of deployment are affected. A preliminary report on this has already been submitted by the Secretary of the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) on May 23, 2002 to the Presidential Anti-Graft Commission but we have yet to hear of any results. Senate and House Resolutions have also been introduced to look into the OWWA fund utilization but these have yet to be followed up.

We strongly believe that the restructuring of OWWA fund management and utilization towards improvement of services and greater OFW and civil society representation should be considered as urgent legislative agenda. The issue of whether the $25 OWWA membership fee is mandatory or voluntary and whether it is a trust fund or not should also be addressed.

We also urge our legislators to transcend political affiliations and loyalties and pursue with diligence and commitment the Senate and House Resolutions on the OWWA fund.*

The controversial investments, going as far back as 1983 with the P200-million advanced to Landoil Resources (majority owned by Speaker Jose de Venecia) and Greater Manila Land Corporation, were done without the approval of the board of trustees. More recently, in 1995, some P500 million in investments were made to the Smokey Mountain Reclamation and Development Project (SMRDP) certificates. Accumulated interest and principal of these investments reportedly remain uncollected to this date.

Considering the huge amounts involved in the Landoil and SMRDP investments, we find former Administrators Wilhelm Soriano and David Corpin’s decisions without the board’s approval, while invoking Memorandum of Instruction 008 issued in 1986 to cover such actions, as the height of imprudence.

Then OWWA Administrator Wilhelm Soriano said that he has the “binding authority as to where to invest the OWWA Fund, including how and how much.” http://www.inq7.net/nwsbrk/2002/jun/10/n… But the same article pointed out that “the lack of due diligence in evaluating investments is glaring. The superficial evaluation conducted by OWWA’s Acquired Assets and Investments Unit for the SMRDP investment was not an isolated case…the P500 million invested in SMRDP constituted a whopping 45 percent of the OWWA’s capital funds at the time, something that would have raised eyebrows among professional fund managers.”

The DOLE Committee report argued that the Presidential Decrees 1694 and 1809 are “the clear mandate that financial transactions as far as the workers money is concerned, were subject to the rules and regulations of the Board of Trustees.” PD 1809, issued in 1981, provides that all “transactions in the Welfund (workers welfare fund) shall be subject to such rules and regulations as may be formulated by its Board of Trustees.”

The report also said that the “MOI 008, issued by Administrator Salvador Bigay, mentions that the Capital Fund shall be administered and controlled through the Office of the Administrator. Even this MOI however does not deviate from what the PDs require as the administration and control is only through, and not by, the Office of the Administrator, and the investment shall still be within the guidelines set by the management.” http://www.manilatimes.net/national/2002…

“As authorized under PD 1809 which amended PD 1694, the OWWA board, as a matter of policy, requires that Soriano should utilize not more than 50 percent of the agency’s investment income of the previous year provided that a forced savings equivalent to 20 percent is imposed. On programs budget, the law has a restrictive provision where Soriano is not allowed to use more than 60 percent of the funds from the workers’ contribution and membership fees. Who allowed him to utilize up to 134 percent of the funds for operations could hardly be accuser Sto. Tomas. What makes Malacañang hesitant to open up the big can of worms is a valid administrative question the Labor chief should pursue.” http://www.tribune.net.ph/20020520/comme…

A study of OWWA’s expenses also shows its lopsided priorities. “From 1998 to 2001, OWWA’s expenses averaged 86 percent of its total income for the previous year. In 1998 and 2002, expenses actually exceeded the previous year’s income. The 2001 figures show P636, 588,140 in expenditures. Of this total, only P143,596,722, or 22.5 percent, was spent on benefits for OWWA contributors. The balance went to operating expenses, mostly salaries. Of the proposed P883 million budget for 2002, only P287 million, or 32.5 percent, will go to benefits, while the balance will be used for operations.” http://www.inq7.net/nwsbrk/2002/jun/10/n…

Also, during a campaign by the United Filipinos in Hong Kong in 1996, they presented a pie chart which showed that only 11% of the $25 membership fee actually goes to direct benefits for OFWs such as insurance claims, burial assistance, disability, welfare assistance, etc., while the rest of the amount goes to the overseas allowances of OWWA and DOLE in various countries, service delivery costs, rentals of office space, etc. [From OWWA Pie Chart, United Filipinos (UNIFIL) in Hong Kong; and the Migrant’s Focus Magazine: Issue #2 “A Feast in Government Fees”; provided by the Asia Pacific Mission for Migrant Filipinos]

In the light of the aforementioned, we therefore demand the following:

1. Immediately implement the US$25 as voluntary OWWA membership fee.

The original vision that the OWWA contribution must come from employers, as supposedly mandated by law, is already lost, especially for the Balik Manggagawa or returning Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) with renewed contracts. Although there are agencies that make sure that this fee is shouldered by employers and will not be deducted from the workers, this is usually only true for new OFWs. Compliance is difficult, if not totally non-existent, from employers of returning OFWs.

2. Resume the investigations on the alleged OWWA fund mess, specifically on the investments made in Landoil and SMRDP, and perform a full public management and accounting audit. If it has nothing to hide from the past, then OWWA should submit itself to a full and unhampered investigation. Appropriate administrative sanctions or charges should be placed on officials who erred.

3. Expose those who may wish to obstruct any investigation and charge them appropriately in courts.

4. Release the official audited reports on OWWA fund collections and expenditures for 2001 and previous years and publish these in an official website.

5. Restructure the OWWA and study how the welfare fund could be transformed for better services to members.

6. Review the OWWA administrative guidelines and provide a reasonable and specific cap on expenditures. Increase funding for direct benefits to members, which may come in the form of a provident fund.

7. Evaluate the history and functions of the different agencies that are involved in the welfare and protection of OFWs and determine if they are really responsive to the needs of the Filipino workers.

8. Craft laws that will provide greater OFW and civil society representation in policy-making bodies related to OFW concerns. In particular, establish clear, democratic and transparent criteria for the selection of the OWWA board and administrator, with more OFW representation in the board.

We have not forgotten the OFWs and their families who have benefited from OWWA assistance, such as for accidents and burials, but any assistance that OWWA has rendered in the past or any of its achievements should not be used to gloss over any irregularities in rendering of other services or the misuse of the funds.

We appeal to our kababayan who are employed in OWWA to understand our demands as not a personal attack on their livelihood and future but a necessary step to improve the services to OFW members, especially those who are in distress, and to protect from misuse the resources that we have contributed for OWWA’s existence in the first place.

We look forward to the new OWWA Administrator Virgilio Angelo to rise to the challenge of addressing the above-mentioned demands.

We also urge the government to review its mandate as expressed in Article V, Section 8 of the Migrant Workers and Overseas Filipinos Act of 1995 (RA8042), that “All fees for services being charged by any government office on migrant workers as of June 7, 1995 shall not be increased. All other services rendered by the DOLE and other government agencies in connection with the recruitment, introduction and placement of any assistance to migrant workers shall be rendered free.”

The paramount role of the state is to ensure protection and the well being of its citizens, wherever they are.

We are calling on all concerned kababayan, egroups, NGOs, government officials and legislators to act together for the welfare of all OFWs around the world.

THE TIME TO ACT TOGETHER IS NOW!

* Senate Resolutions:

Senate Resolution No. 59, introduced by Senator Ramon MAGSAYSAY JR., 23 July 2001, entitled: “RESOLUTION URGING THE SENATE COMMITTEE ON LABOR AND EMPLOYMENT, THE CONGRESSIONAL COMMISSION ON LABOR AND OTHER APPROPRIATE COMMITTEE/S TO CONDUCT AN INQUIRY, IN AID OF LEGISLATION, ANENT THE BUDGET UTILIZATION OF THE OVERSEAS WORKERS’ WELFARE ADMINISTRATION (OWWA) IN THE LIGHT OF THE NUMEROUS COMPLAINTS LODGED BY OVERSEAS FILIPINO WORKERS CITING OWWA’S LACK OF NECESSARY ASSISTANCE AND SLOW MOVING DELIVERY OF SERVICES WITH THE END IN VIEW OF FORMULATING REMEDIAL MEASURES TO ADDRESS THE ISSUE AND FOR OTHER PURPOSES” http://www.senate.gov.ph/bills_res/ibmon…

Senate Resolution No. 314, introduced by Senator Aquilino Q. Pimentel Jr., entitled: “A RESOLUTION DIRECTING THE SENATE COMMITTEE ON LABOR TO CONDUCT AN INVESTIGATION IN AID OF LGISLATION REGARDING THE REPORTED MISUSE OF OWWA FUNDS” http://www.nenepimentel.org/bills/PSR-31…

Senate Resolution No. 330, introduced by Senator Edgardo ANGARA, 17 September 2002 “…seeks the creation of a Senate ad hoc committee on government trust funds. The resolution states that the government trust funds, specially the reported mismanagement of OWWA’s multi-billion-peso trust fund, should be looked into so that reforms in the handling and management of the funds can be put in place.” http://www.silangan-shimbun.jp/Sept_upda… http://www.manilatimes.net/national/2002…

Selected Sources:

http://www.coa.gov.ph/COA_htm/1999_AAR/G… EXECUTIVE SUMMARY OF THE 1999 ANNUAL AUDIT REPORT ON THE OVERSEAS WORKERS WELFARE ADMINISTRATION

COA report above also published in: Arab News 9 June 2001 Accountants say OWWA loans, records questionable by Julie C. Javellana http://www.inq7.net/nwsbrk/2002/jun/10/n… Messing with Workers’ Money By Ricky Carandang Newsbreak President 24 June 2002 http://www.inq7.net/nwsbrk/2002/jun/10/n… Why Secede? By Aries C. Rufo Newsbreak Staff writer 24 June 2002

Group behind petition to transfer OWWA exposed By Romy Tangbawan Arab News, p. 6 12 May 2002 http://www.manilatimes.net/national/2002… Labor inquiry finds OWWA deal ‘irregular’ By Joshua Dancel, Correspondent 25 May 2002 http://www.manilatimes.net/national/2002… P1.2-B OFW funds ‘misused’ Labor, OWWA chiefs locked in feud By Joshua Dancel 15 May 2002 http://www.congress.gov.ph/press/02jul_0… MISMANAGEMENT OF OWWA FUNDS CONFIRMED BY LABOR OFFICIAL Press Releases 12th Congress, Regular Session No. 2 24 July 2002 http://www.gulf-news.com/Search/default…. Filipino body under fire for funds misuse By Jay B. Hilotin (Gulf News: 5/7/2002) 07 May 2002 http://www.inq7.net/nat/2002/may/18/text… OFWs demand better welfare fund handling May 18, 2002 http://www.tribune.net.ph/20020520/comme… DISTURBING OWWA FUND MESS J. C. M. Romero III, Tribune 20 May 2002 http://www.manilatimes.net/national/2002… Senators seek probe on OWWA trust fund mess By Karl B. Kaufman 18 September 2002 http://www.inq7.net/fil/2002/may/27/fil_… FUND MESS PROBE OWWA chief hits back at Sto. Tomas By Blanche S. Rivera Inquirer News Service 27 May 2002 http://www.cyberdyaryo.com/commentary/c2… Making OWWA work for OFWs By Jeremaiah M. Opiniano Institute on Church and Social Issues 01 February 2001 http://www.owwa.gov.ph/sothe.html

SO THE PUBLIC MAY KNOW “A clarification on the issues raised against the Overseas Workers Welfare Fund being administered by OWWA in headlines of the Manila Times and Daily Tribune on May 15 2002 and subsequent print and broadcast media releases.” http://kakammpi.manilasites.com/stories/… Kakammpi Reports 2000-2002 http://www.manilamail.com/archive/aug200… Postscript/PhilSTAR/Aug. 6, 2002/Tuesday FRITTERED OWWA FUNDS By Federico D. Pascual Jr. http://www.manilamail.com/archive/aug200… Postscript/PhilSTAR/Aug. 8, 2002/Thursday OWWA IN THE RED: SORIANO REACTIONS: By Federico D. Pascual Jr.

FOR GOOD GOVERNANCE, TRANSPARENCY AND ACCOUNTABILITY!

Editor’s Note: If you want to join the above Petition, please send an email to alfredjg@shabakah.com or a_ganapin@yahoo.com. Thanks for your cooperation.

 

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Overseas Filipinos fight for their right to vote

Author: Freda Editha O. Contreras
Published originally in Suite101.com on: September 30, 2002

A WORLDWIDE campaign and clamor to allow overseas Filipinos to vote in the Philippine national elections in May 2004, initially, is now actively taking place. In particular, campaigners are seeking for the passage of the Absentee Voting Bill (AVB) pending in the past many years in the Congress. Along with the AVB, overseas Filipinos are also seeking for the passage of the Dual Citizenship law.

This year saw the most active and widely-participated campaign, so far, by overseas Filipinos for their right to suffrage. Assisting and working along with them are a few concerned Philippine-based non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and private individuals. While in the past many years the clamor to vote was concentrated only in Europe, it is now worldwide, made possible through the Internet. Through their coordinated effort, the Philippine government took considerable notice and for the first time since the 1987-amended Constitution provided for the inalienable right to suffrage to overseas Filipinos, a Philippine President, in the person of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, deemed it urgent that the Congress pass the AVB. In her State of the Nation Address (SONA), both last year and this year, President Arroyo asked the Congress to pass a law which will enable the overseas Filipinos to vote.

Senate consultations

Early this year, selected members of the Senate, held consultations in areas abound with Filipinos – in Hong Kong, Saudi Arabia, Europe and America – aimed at coming up with a comprehensive and practical provisions for the actualization of overseas voting. The group of Senators then was one in assuring the overseas Filipinos that the AVB will be passed into law no later than June 2002. The Speaker of the House even announced that he will resign from his post if the AV law won’t be passed by June. [Later he was heard saying “before the end of the year.”] As it came out, the bill is still pending as at this writing. Yes, it was passed alright by the opposition Senators during a “coup” session held last June 5, 2002, but the act was later negated with the mere fact that it was hastily and ‘unlawfully’ done.

By early March the International Coalition for Overseas Filipinos’ Voting Rights (ICOFVR) came into being, thought of by Manila supporters to act as an umbrella coalition that all interested groups could come under. The idea was then introduced on a mailing list, the OFW-Vote, owned and administered by the Overseas Filipinos WorldNet Foundation, Inc. (OFWNet). Soon enough, the most active Saudi Arabia-based Filipinos adopted the name and was used to unify their group during a one-day dialogue and consultation held between the visiting Senate members and the Filipino Community in Riyadh last March 2002. By June 2002, the ICOFVR expressed its solidarity move through a one-page paid advertisement in the widely-read Philippine Daily Inquirer (PDI) newspaper. Filipinos overseas, as well as in the Philippines, contributed from their pockets and within 48 hours were able to accomplish one unprecedented move and showmanship of unity. The act indeed showed that the overseas Filipinos are a force to reckon with!

OFW ‘Congress’

Also in June, a counterpart government dubbed as ‘OFW Congress’ was initiated by the OFWNet to add meat to the fight. Overseas Filipinos and their representatives acted as ‘senators’ and ‘congressmen’ and took part in interpellations over the controversial AVB, in the presence of a few Philippine Congress personalities. Although attended by very few OFs and supporters, the activity nevertheless played a significant role in the campaign to have that AVB passed into law. It specifically exposed some congressmen’s apprehensions and hesitations and most significantly their ignorance of the overseas Filipinos’ situation abroad and their stand in the fight for the right to suffrage. For a while one Congressman who acted as spokesperson was attacked and ridiculed via the Internet by some members of the worldwide AV advocacy group.

Another act to show concern for the Congress’ inability to pass an enabling law for AV has been the attendance in all the sessions held at the Batasang Pambansa (National Assembly) Hall religiously covered by representatives of Kakammpi or Kapisanan ng mga Kamag-anak ng Migranteng Manggagawang Pilipino (organization of relatives of Filipino migrant workers), eLagda Inc (that group which initiated the worldwide signature campaign to oust President Joseph Estrada in late 2000), the OFWNet Foundation and a few concerned individuals. Notable among the spectators is Ellen Sana of Kakammpi who also attended in the past special sessions held by the Senate Committee on Suffrage and likewise timely reported to the advocacy group via the OFW-Vote mailing list. She had been relentless and is recognized as the most active among the fighters. It was reported that during the last session of the Congress in September, she was brought to tears by her frustrations over the failure of the lawmakers to approve the AVB as promised.

In order to sustain the campaign after the Congress’ failure to pass the AV law this past session, the voting advocacy members started with their letter-writing campaign. Individual campaigners were requested to send letters to editors of a few leading newspapers in Manila. Showing coordination and ability to participate as requested, a number of overseas Filipinos diligently wrote, as assigned for the day, to certain newspaper editor or columnists. One letter, written by ex-OFW Rhoel Mendoza got to be published. As well, a number of letter-writers were mentioned by one columnist when he did a summary of all the letters he received. As spearheaded by Saudi-based Filipinos, letters were also sent to their respective Congressmen/women through its ‘Tutukan si Congressman‘ (Eye the Congressman) campaign, asking for their support to pass the AV law. A few letters got answered and subsequently shared via the OFW-Vote mailing list and other related egroups. Letters were also sent to Senators.

Campaigners of the AVB

Noteworthy is the OFW Net’s active role as one of the front liners in the fight, ably represented by Dr. Eduardo ‘Ka Edong’ del Rosario (chairman of the Board of Trustees), Dra. Rachelle ‘Chee’ Garcia (managing director, also an elected BOT official) and Cathy Ledesma (political division head). Based in Manila, the OFWNet advocates both political and economic empowerment of overseas Filipinos. Noel Esquela and Jun Aguilar of Filipino Migrants Workers based in Manila are also names which come to fore insofar as AVB campaign is concerned.

US-based EMPOWER’s Marvin Bionat, who initiated the call for voluntary contribution for the full-page PDI advertisement, is also worth mentioning. He very recently coined the unified statement for the final ‘stand and act’ to have the AVB passed this October session of the Congress. For the full text, please refer to this link: http://www.philippineupdate.com. The Europe-based Platform of Filipino Migrant Organisations in Europe, recognized as the initiator of the campaign for the passage of the AVB, is of course one group deserving merit for the efforts done in the overseas voting advocacy front. It may be recalled that it organized ‘Advocacy Visits’ to the Philippines in August 1998, August 2000 and August 2001 to express concern on the Congress’ inability to enact an AV law. (For related story, please refer to On Overseas’ Filipinos right to vote). Names which come to mind are Ding Bagasao, Leila “Lalay” Rispens-Noel, Grace Cabactulan, Basco Fernandez, Beth de Groot and Carlo Butalid.

The Federation of Philippine-American Chamber of Commerce (FPACC) has also made its dent in the AV advocacy by way of initiating a signature campaign through its ‘Filipino World Alliance for Dual Citizenship and Absentee Vote’ project. Signatures collected were handed over to the Congress last June by Ms. Yolanda Stern, the current FPACC president. Another group, the Association of Ilonggos of Metropolitan Washington, D.C., Inc. represented by its president, Pearl Garganera-Gauzon, Esq. is also an active participant in the worldwide campaign. A latest addition is Joe Garrido-led Ilocanos4AV, an organization of Ilocanos in California, USA. Other names notable as fighters for the passage of the AVB in the US are Robert Ceralvo, Cesar Torres, Gil Ramos, Ren Arrieta, Nat Duenas, Gerry Azusa, Perry Diaz and Jess Guim.

In Canada, one recognized fighter is Ms. Terry Olayta of the United Filipino Mothers Association (UFMA) of Toronto. As private individual fighters, both Winda  ‘Moonglow’ Lagumbay Pettila and Robert ‘Bob’ Gabuna are notable. In Japan, the names Yuko Takei and Antonina ‘Ka Tonyang’ Binsol surface and despite the cold treatment of Filipinos there on the subject, they managed to gather a few thousands signatures for the worldwide campaign. In Singapore, the most vocal advocator is Ofellia Mananquil-Bakker, known as ‘Tita O’ to the subscribers of the OFW Community of Lists of which OFW-Vote is subbed. Daphne Ceniza-Kouk of eLagda Hong Kong is another person identified with the AVB campaign. With ease, she can travel back to Manila whenever her presence is needed, just as in one of the advocacy group’s strategies of getting the support of Philippine press and media people.

Perhaps the most extensive and well-organized of all overseas groups in the fight for the right to vote, active members-wise, that is, is the ICOFVR-Saudi Arabia chapter. The group members, composed of strong-willed leaders such as Alfredo Ganapin, Mike Bolos, Rashid Fabricante, Tony Ranque, Isagani Manalo, Manny Lector and many more (prominent names too many to mention) have lately handed over to the Congress over three thousand signatures for the AV campaign. In a very strong statement, the signatories advocate, among others, ‘economic’ boycott which calls, if necessary, for stoppage of remittance to the Philippines should the AV law not passed this year. The statement also calls for an action of ‘No vote’ by their family members and friends for those Congress personalities who are unsupportive of their cause. In order to solidify the fight and other OFWs’ concerns, the Saudi group has lately formed an alliance composed of different organizational heads from the three recognized regions: central (Riyadh), western (Jeddah) and eastern (Al-Khobar).

Current stand

The overseas Filipinos and their partners in the Philippines have tried all means to lobby for the passage of the Absentee Voting law yet their pleas were again set aside by the Congress during its last session in August/September. It is now about to open this first week of October. Tireless and unrelented, the worldwide voting advocacy members are now making a stand. Should the AVB not passed into law, the following actions and measures will be done (as copied from the EMPOWER site):

1. NOW we ask ALL our families in the Philippines to show sympathy to our just cause: ACTIVELY SUPPORT politicians who push for immediate passage, and BLACKLIST AND BOOT OUT OF OFFICE those who directly or passively oppose absentee voting! We will provide a complete list of our political allies, as well as those who are blocking passage, and marshal all our resources to either ELECT THEM or KICK THEM OUT of office! For the most recalcitrant politicians, we will not wait until the next elections: We will partner with our allies in the mainstream Philippine media and use the tools of modern communications, including the Internet, to EXPOSE them for their anti-migrant politics!

2. NOW we appeal to members of the international community–including human rights organizations, aid agencies, foreign governments, and transnational businesses with conscience–to exert all their moral, political, and economic sway in our fight for a basic human right: PLEASE JOIN US IN URGING the Manila administration to finally demonstrate the political will to enfranchise overseas Filipinos! We are now launching a letter-writing campaign to expose the immoral political apartheid that has kept 7 to 8 million overseas Filipinos voiceless.

3. NOW we ask ALL overseas Filipinos and foreign nationals to make a hard but powerful choice to show solidarity in our now epic struggle for political inclusion: IF BY THE END OF OCTOBER THE ABSENTEE VOTING BILL IS STILL ROTTING ON THE CONGRESSIONAL SHELF, LET US SUSPEND UNNECESSARY VISITS to the Philippines UNTIL absentee voting becomes law! As much as we like to be home, we will dramatize the gravity of Congress’s colossal failure by staying away from a country whose government has continued to treat 7 to 8 million of its citizens as political outcasts.

4. NOW we call upon ALL overseas Filipinos who value their right of suffrage to use our ultimate economic leverage to bring the absentee voting issue to the fore: USE OUR REMITTANCE AS A WEAPON to urge Congress to get its act together!

·This is NOT a call to completely stop sending funds to our families back home. We cannot punish our families for the failure of politicians. It is a campaign to encourage overseas Filipinos to REMIT FUNDS OUTSIDE THE RADAR SCREEN of government until the administration realizes that we mean business. Currently, around 70 percent of all remittances go through banks, which are monitored and taxed by the government. Our contribution to the country’s foreign exchange reserves has been enormous. To prevent the government from laying its claim to our hard-earned dollars, we encourage ALL overseas Filipinos to send funds through non-bank channels, preferably through colleagues, friends, family, or private agencies. For gifts, we encourage ALL overseas Filipinos to send balikbayan boxes instead of cash.

·If our families have money deposited in banks in the Philippines, we encourage them to utilize those funds, as we make deposits in our banks abroad for their use AFTER passage. It is a temporary arrangement that will send a clear message to an administration that has so far paid lip service to our fight for political empowerment.

·IF BY THE END OF OCTOBER THE ABSENTEE VOTING BILL IS STILL LANGUISHING IN THE LEGISLATURE, WE WILL DESIGNATE A SPECIFIC PERIOD AT WHICH TIME WE WILL COMPLETELY REFRAIN FROM REMITTING FUNDS. WE ASK ALL OVERSEAS FILIPINOS TO BE PREPARED FOR THIS EVENTUALITY!

JUSTICE DELAYED IS JUSTICE DENIED!

IT’S TIME WE MAKE MEMBERS OF CONGRESS DO THEIR SWORN DUTY TO ALLOW THE 7 TO 8 MILLION OVERSEAS FILIPINOS TO EXERCISE THEIR INALIENABLE RIGHT TO VOTE!

LET US ALL TAKE A STAND! LET US ALL ACT TO PASS THE ABSENTEE VOTING BILL BY END OF OCTOBER!

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On to economic freedom

NEVER in their lives have the overseas Filipinos become active players in their own economic emancipation as now. The advent of the Internet has actually made it possible for many of them to come together to discuss ways to improve their lot, and to finally make a concrete move to realize their dream – that of establishing a bank which they can call their own.

What used to be just a dream is now coming into reality with the putting up of the Overseas Filipinos Worldwide International Holdings, Inc. (OFW Holdings) early this year. Some 200 staketakers or what is termed as charter founders risked their hard-earned dollars ranging from $220 minimum to $10,120 maximum from August 2001 until January 31, 2002. With their collective contributions, the OFW Holdings became a corporate body, officially registered at the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) on March 11, 2002.

Actually acting as the business arm of the Overseas Filipinos WorldNet Foundation, Inc. (OFWNet), the OFW Holdings serves as a vehicle for one of OFWNet’s dual objectives of economic and political empowerment for the millions of overseas Filipinos (OFs). In the political front, the OFWNet leads a campaign for the passage of the Absentee Voting (AV) bill still pending at the 12th Congress. Despite a promise of no less than President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, the move to pass a law giving the inalienable right of suffrage to the OFs, members of both the lower and upper chambers of the Congress are still undecided as to whether enact the law or not.

Establishment of a bank

A universal bank, to be called OFW Bank (already the name is reserved at SEC, along with OFW Microfinance Bank), is aimed to be established by year 2006. A very ambitious move indeed but one which the original 200 staketakers were all bent in putting into action. Hand-in-hand, they strove to increase their base and are now numbering to nearly 400 – and are still steadily increasing.

With their sheer number – more than seven million of them overseas Filipinos – the proponents of the OFW Bank project are optimistic that they will reach their goal by 2006, and even earlier as foreseen by the newly elected chairman of the Board of Directors Gil R. Ramos. Dr. Ramos is actually considered the brain of this ambitious project and through his direction, by way of creating the OFW Community of Lists via the Internet early last year, the idea and then plans of establishing a bank, slowly but surely emerged in the horizon.

One of the subscribers of the OFW-Bank list during the early days of the discussions described well the rationale behind the project:

We have the potential to be one of the biggest and strongest lobby blocks in the Philippines whose resources are not just financial but our physical number as well. We have seen how some big, “favored few” destroy an established institution in total disregard of the Filipino people’s pride and sentiments. It is high time that we harness our resources and tilt the balance in our favor and not just to be treated as a milking cow while those “favored few” are profiting from our hard earned dollars. Together we, the OFWs remit at least US$ 7Billion to our home country, an amount praised to high heavens by politicians.

First 200 staketakers

Discussions among the hundreds of OFs in both the OFW-Bank and OFW-Business mailing lists (only two of the many under the OFW Community of Lists) finally led to the existence of a unique group, the so-called first 200 staketakers. These first 200 people will now go down in the history of the establishment of the OFW-owned bank as those who initially risked and fully gave out their trust to their leaders without any qualm, directed only by their burning ambition and the vision to prepare for their children’s future. As conceptualized by the Incubation Committee members, the following is the group’s guiding vision:

Anak, kahapon ito’y pangarap lang. Ngayon ay nangyayari na. Bukas, naway kasaganaan at ginhawa ay makamtan. Mga anak, ito ang regalo ko sa inyo, ang inyong kinabukasan.” (My child, this used to be just a dream. Now it is happening. Tomorrow, may you only live in prosperity and comfort. My children, this is my gift to you, for your future.)

Sprouting of businesses

As part of the incubation period or fund accumulation scheme, the OFW Holdings has lately engaged in various businesses. In June this year, it started operating the “Rent-a-Car” service alongside a Travel and Tours business entity. At the same time, the company also started giving out loans and other financing needs to its hundreds of stockholders.

This August, a partnership with Pioneer Allianz Life Insurance has been forged and the first four clients were immediately named less than a week of announcing the signing of Memorandum of Agreement and only after a day of releasing the implementing rules and regulations.

This October, preparations for the putting up of a small bank, a thrift bank or microfinance bank, will take off. According to Chief Operating Officer Norman Gacula, it will take a few months to one year before the small bank becomes operational. This OFW Microfinance Bank will be put up in one of the provinces outside Metropolitan Manila and is envisioned to branch out as the need arises.

A remittance service is also now under study and the OFW Holdings has recently partnered with Asia United Bank in order to actualize the business. Pilot area to initiate the project has been identified as Jeddah in Saudi Arabia and a special committee is now at work to study the project and is aiming for implementation before the year ends.

Other businesses which the OFW Holdings is planning to gradually engage with are all identified in a business plan painstakingly developed by Dr. Eduardo ‘Ka Edong” del Rosario, the current Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the OFWNet, and Norman Gacula, also an elected official of OFWNet’s Board of Trustees. These businesses are as follows: freight forwarding, manpower services (land and sea-based), apartelle/hotel, travel agencies, agro-industrial projects, health and medicare services, schools and training centers, technology transfer projects, marketing and product distribution, franchising and media companies. All these businesses will ultimately take the visionaries to its goal which is the establishment of the OFW Bank in 2006.

An open invitation

Quoted below, in parts, is an open invitation to join the OFW Bank project, as taken from the OFWNet website, to wit:

“Our Fellow Overseas Filipinos,

Bank ownership for Overseas Filipinos is now rising in the horizon. Imagine yourself where you are part owner availing of the services of the bank in remittances, loans, investments, and other financial services. Imagine the benefits this would bring to our families and the economy as well. How is this possible and how can we do this?

As a major contributor to the economy of the Philippines which is widely accepted by the past and present government administration we have not seen any considerable economic development and growth in our society. We are calling on all the entrepreneurial and all our kababayan Overseas Filipinos whose burning desire to act as catalyst to a sustainable economic endeavor to benefit not just the OF community but the nation’s economy as well. Join us in our effort to once again flex our collective muscle in a private sector effort in the formation of a Bank that would be owned mostly by OFs to service our sectors banking needs. You can explore the on-going process and be part of a historic pioneering effort by subscribing to the OFW Bank e-mail list.

You can either send a blank email to OFW-Bank-subscribe@yahoogroups.com or go to http://groups.yahoo.com/group/OFW-Bank/j…

The establishment of the ‘bank’ is at the centerpiece of the Overseas Filipinos effort for economic empowerment. Join us today and be part of the historic pioneering effort in our quest for economic emancipation. Your individual participation would help us strengthen our collective effort in our quest for economic emancipation in an organization that will change the way we do business for the better. Let us do our share towards economic empowerment of OFWs.”

 

Author: Freda Editha O. Contreras
Published on: August 30, 2002 

 

 

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Heroes or slaves?

THE estimated 4.2 million Filipinos working abroad, time and again, have been tagged by the Philippine government as ‘New Heroes’. This is so because of these workers’ great contribution in the country’s economy through dollar earnings remitted home to their families. The Philippines’ gross national product (GNP), which is the broadest measure of economic output, has continuously gone up and sustained in the past few years, and economists all agree that the contributions of overseas Filipino workers play a great role in this respect. It has also been recorded that the OFWs saved the country from going down the drains, so to speak, in the recent economic turmoil experienced in Asian countries and elsewhere around the world. The OFWs’ steady remittances had made the Philippine economy afloat!

Through the Philippine government’s recognition and outright admission of its reliance on OFWs’ dollar remittances, these so-called ‘New Heroes of the Modern Philippines’ have developed within themselves a new sense of honor and pride. They feel elated to be considered as one of the recognized players in the growth and sustenance of the Philippine economy.

Others may bask in the ‘borrowed’ glory of being termed heroes of the modern Philippines. But a few others, beginning to recognize that their toils abroad will come to nothingness in the end because of the Philippine government’s failure to provide a concrete program for their eventual return to the country, think of themselves not as heroes but as slaves! Economic slaves, as some of these unsatisfied workers have termed the OFWs.

This new line of thought – just now emerging out of overseas Filipinos’ frustrations in the government’s ‘playful’ attitude – has actually evoked an added idea, that of ‘New Freedom’. Freedom from the bondage of being treated as merely ‘milking cows’ by the government officials, especially those manning the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) and the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA). Freedom from unscrupulous employers and manning agency officials. Freedom from eventual feelings of despair and uselessness once retired from working overseas. Freedom from loneliness of staying long away from their loved ones. Freedom from recurrent dwindling of savings and resources. And the most important of all – freedom from poverty and neglect!

I would say that these OFWs should fight for their own freedom, a new freedom which will take them to an eventual atmosphere of economic stability. No longer dependent on their government but ON THEIR OWN.

A noble idea indeed and one which every OFW should consider and seriously think about.

 

Author: Freda Editha O. Contreras
Published on: July 30, 2002

 

 

 

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The fight continues, Part 3

OFFICIALS of the Philippine Claims and Compensation Committee Secretariat (PCCCS) will have something to explain regarding the report released by the Commission on Audit (COA) late last year. Said report stipulated that a total of US$1,200,779.19 was earned, as income, from the interest of the compensation money remitted by the United Nations Compensation Commission (UNCC) within a four-year period. Out of this interest earning only US$239,565.24 was reported spent for operational expenses.

According to Mr. Alecks Pabico of the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ), the COA report was submitted to Vice President and Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) Secretary Teofisto Guingona in October 2001. It is not clear, as of this writing, if COA findings were verified and acted upon as per recommendation of the government audit team.

The special audit report, of which copy was obtained by PCIJ and generously shared by Mr. Pabico to this writer, covered transactions and operations of the PCCCS from March 1997 to March 31, 2000. March 2000 was the time that the scam involving then Undersecretary Benjamin Domingo was exposed for the first time by leading journalists based in Manila.

For clarity and information of all claimants and followers of this series on Gulf War compensation payments to Filipino victims, a summary of the COA report is hereunder presented:

On accounting and reporting of funds

COA could not verify the financial transactions as well as balances of accountability of the funds received from UNCC because of lack of record. The PCCCS did not prepare and maintain financial records! Proofs of financial transactions presented by the PCCCS officials to the audit team comprised merely of bank statements and improvised claim vouchers with supporting documents for identification of claimants. There were no books of accounts to record the receipt and disbursement of funds!

Based on bank statements and the list of payees from May 1997 to March 31, 2000, total remittances from the UNCC amounted to US$126,673,018.88. Disbursements from the fund totaled only to US$39,316,146.95.

The most interesting part of the summary report provided by Mr. Pabico follows:

“Total interest income earned was US$1,200,779.19, and only US$239,565.24 was used to pay for operating expenses of the PCCCS.”

“However, veracity of the balances could not be made in the absence of financial records and supporting documents. A discrepancy in the balance of interest earned as reflected in the bank records was discovered, amounting to US$63,929.74 as of March 16, 2000. The PCCCS says the difference represents amounts inadvertently not considered by the audit team. But the auditors counter that it was a result of the unavailability of the PCCCS’ disbursement records during the audit.”

Accordingly, PCCCS officials submitted a well-prepared schedule of payments but the amounts of disbursements could not be verified by the audit team as “there were no underlying documents to prove their validity.”

On internal control

There was obvious disarray within the PCCCS as far as internal control is concerned. COA noted that the system of recording of funds received from the UNCC and the subsequent disbursements to claimants and the service charges against interest earned “needs improvement.” Furthermore, it concluded that “the organizational structure of the PCCC Secretariat does not provide for an adequate check and balance in the functions of custody and record-keeping or accounting.”

Disbursements pertaining to PCCCS’ operations were “not covered by duly approved vouchers and other supporting documents, such as approved requisition and issue voucher (RIV), purchase order (PO), inspection and acceptance reports, thus making it difficult to determine the legality, propriety and validity of payments.” Requests for operating expenses and authorization, the COA discovered, were all done verbally.

The report noted that “all other disbursements for the operating expenses were paid in cash by the designated special disbursing officer regardless of amount upon presentation of official receipts, invoices, payroll and acknowledgement receipts.”

Payments of claimants’ money, as earlier mentioned, were supported by claim vouchers and the required supporting documents for identification purposes.

The audit team also discovered that compensation payments, in the form of a cheque, was signed only by Domingo. No countersignature was found anywhere in the copies of cheques given out to payees. Domingo also approved underlying documents such as notice of approval of claim, checklist and transmittal letter to the bank.

It is very interesting to note that at the time of the report “cash advances amounting to P96,044.60 granted to various officials (including former Undersecretary Benjamin Domingo) have not yet been liquidated.”

Procurement process

Disbursements made by PCCCS from December 24, 1999 to March 14, 2000, as reviewed by COA, showed “that purchases of various equipment amounting to P821,305.00 did not go through the regular and proper procurement process such as bidding of canvass from at least three bona fide dealers.”

It was also discovered the absence of documents such as requisition and issue vouchers and purchase orders to show that the equipment were acquired at the most advantageous prices.

Staff benefits

The COA report discovered “double-payment in the granting of benefits to the PCCC Secretariat personnel. Employees from the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA), Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA), Department of Justice (DOJ), Central Bank of the Philippines (CBP) and PIA assigned to the PCCCS office received 13th month pay, clothing allowance, cash gift, performance incentive pay even when they already received the same from their mother agencies.

COA, at the end of the report, has recommended a follow-up audit of the missing financial statements.

Author: Freda Editha O. Contreras
Published on: June 30, 2002

 

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The fight continues, Part 2

PART 1 of this series was published November 30, 2001. Part 2 is published only today, six months later. It is out of the norm, I admit, but natural and circumstantial events followed one after another in my ‘not-so-ordinary life’ since November 2001 that writing a follow-up story on time was not just possible.

A lot has transpired in the Gulf War comp payments scenario itself that it will take two to three series more in order to fully cover the current status. I can of course summarize everything in one go but that would mean a longer-to-read page for you readers and followers of this series. I would guess you would prefer shorter versions. (Not too short though as I am required to at least write each time a story of no less than 400 words.)

In the previous story, I shared the official response of DFA Supervising Undersecretary (of PCCCS) Merlin Magallona to the letter of complaint sent to President Gloria M. Arroyo by a number of Filipino claimants in August 2001. Along with the response came “Payment History” by category and date of remittance from the UNCC and claims status of the initial 65 signatories of the complaint letter.

I would say that the Philippine Claims and Compensation Committee Secretariat (PCCS), headed by Secretary General Bayani Mangibin was too generous to reveal the information. I couldn’t believe my luck at first, especially when I read and discovered the dates of remittance coming from the UNCC from the first batch in March 1997 up to August 2001. Right there in front of my eyes and then were the missing links to and dates of the UNCC payments to the Philippines, outside those published by the UNCC itself on its website! The missing data which I repeatedly looked for in the past many years!

It might be recalled that the very first payment released by the UNCC to the PCCCS was in late 1995 or early 1996 (?), for the 45 successful claimants of Category B (serious injuries or death). Actual date of release of payment by UNCC of the approved fund, in the total amount of US$155,000, was not identified anywhere in UNCC’s press releases posted on the web. As previously informed, fund release by UNCC was initially reported online on April 22, 1999. I found it strange that only once – on February 17, 2000 – was the Philippines included among the many countries paid by the UNCC.

With the PCCCS payment history generously shared to me last September 14, 2001, I discovered, to my amazement, that the UNCC remitted twice a year to the Philippines beginning in 1997! Under Category A claims which were divided into six installments by the UNCC, it was reported that remittances were received within a period of two years commencing on March 12, 1997 and ending on October 28, 1999. Category C payments, on the other hand, were reported received by the PCCCS between October 8, 1997 and October 28, 1999, also within a period of two years. All the above belonged to the first batch of UNCC payments of compensation.

Second batch of payments, as noted, was initially remitted by UNCC on the same day – October 28, 1999 – that the first batch concluded. On that day, the PCCCS received US$ 46,021,600.00, the highest single remittance ever received so far! Please take note that the over-all total of approved claims by Filipinos is US$174.9 million!

My contention in my previous stories that compensation payments to the Philippines had been suspended by the UNCC ‘numerous’ times now seemed to be incorrect. I have come up to the original conclusion because of the gross delay of payments to rightful claimants. With the figures in hand, I observed that UNCC indeed regularly sent money to the PCCCS, but whether those were paid out promptly to the claimants was not very clear.

Of course, as experienced by the claimants themselves – my self included – there really was a gross and deliberate delay in payments of the compensation money. The PCCCS officials were obviously keeping the money in the bank for quite a long period of time! For interest earning, of course, because after all, as repeatedly claimed, the PCCCS was sanctioned by the UNCC to derive their operation expenses from the interest of the money as a whole – not from the individual claimant. As ruled by the UNCC, service fee equivalent to no more than 1.5% of the total claims amount, shall be borne by individual claimant.

An official report from the Commission on Audit (COA) released early this year has proven that the PCCCS officials have earned interest of over a million US dollars from its operation from May 1997 to March 31, 2000!

Alecks Pabico of the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ) who has been working hand-in-hand with me in the past year in exposing the Gulf War comp funds mess, when he sent the COA report, had this to say:

“i feel vindicated that my own report’s findings, as well as freda’s and what all of us have been suspecting all along, correspond to what the coa’s findings are. coa has also recommended a follow-up audit of the missing financial statements.”

Should I say more?

Author: Freda Editha O. Contreras
Published on: May 30, 2002

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Coping with death

DEATH is inevitable. It can happen anytime, anywhere and whichever condition – either good or bad – we are in. Understanding this basic fact is one thing. But confronting death itself . . . ah. . . we just could not cope!

Hardly, if at all, does one cope with the loss of a loved one. And I believe everyone would agree with me.

But cope we all must. Citing from a very recent experience with this life’s most dreaded and avoided phenomenon, I would like to highlight a few ways to consider when faced with death.

The first thing to remember is to allow your self the time to mourn or grieve. But by doing so, you should be careful not to stay long in this your temporary despair. Cry all you can and never control the tears whenever an opportunity comes along. Crying will actually free yourself of that heavy thing in your chest.

Think of the good death has given to your loved one. In the case of my mother’s passing away, it helped me a lot in overcoming my initial grief by realizing that her death actually ended her suffering. Cancer, as you know, in its terminal stage, uses up whatever energy left in a person because of the characteristic pain. We wouldn’t want of course to see our loved one suffer.

It is a big boost to know the stages of grief – denial and isolation, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance – and realize that you are not exempt from undergoing each one of them. You may not go through the full stages in order, or one stage may be lacking, but as proven time and again, each one of us experiences the pattern.

When I was first confronted with my mother’s death last February 19, I remember telling myself that this thing happens only to other people. I’ve been hearing in the past about relatives’ and friends’ death in their family and in those times, I never was able to reconcile with my own impending reality. I was actually undergoing the denial stage as early as then, as I was aware that my mother may soon pass away. I was seeing the signs yet I kept on denying it up to the last moment when death itself confronted me!

Anger was mostly directed towards my self. Yes, I was angry for not being able to take care of my mother during her last hospitalization, 11 days before she died at home. I was mad at my own health problem as it prevented me from running to her at the time she needed me most. I needed to meet an appointment for a full body CT scan at the Kuwait Cancer Control Center last February 12. I felt the more angry and guilty when I learned that my mother was continuously looking for me in the hospital. She must have wondered why I was not around. Had it not been for that pre-scheduled appointment, I could have been with her even before she was rushed to the hospital last February 4.

Bargaining stage was experienced way before the death of my mother. I remember praying fervently to God that last night, while I was dressing her breast lesions, to prolong her life. I promised God I will not leave my mother again until the end. I was bargaining for more time – maybe to make up for those lost times I was unable to stay with her in the past many years of working overseas.

Depression has been my constant companion since my own cancer diagnosis in the later part of year 2000. Acknowledging its on and off occurrence is something I have been accustomed to and I was ready when real depression set in as a result of losing my mother. I just allowed it to take its course. It took longer than I expected but I really didn’t mind. I actually basked in its healing action, fully aware that it, too, shall pass.

I can’t claim that I’ve fully accepted my mother’s death. Not yet. But, one day soon, I know, I will successfully pass that final stage.

In all the above phases, you need someone who will stay with you all the time, someone who is ready to listen to you and to understand when it’s time to hug you or just leave you alone. You also need friends who can tell you they care for you, who never fail to ask about you. And most importantly, you need work, to keep you busy and productive.

 And last but not the least, you need God’s comforting presence.

 

Author: Freda Editha O. Contreras
Published on: March 22, 2002

 

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The holiday that never was

AS I was thinking of what interesting subject to write about – I already missed the December slot – an idea popped up! I was actually reading through one of the copies of a posting I sent last Friday to a number of mailing lists I subscribe to when the idea came about. Why not, indeed? What I related to the group describes exactly the difficult yet challenging life of an OFW (overseas Filipino worker), the very topic of this page I maintain at Suite101.com!

Let me just mention a brief background. December 3, 2001 it was when I received an email from one of my sisters, mentioning, among others, that my mother, who had been lately declared a terminal case (she was diagnosed to be suffering from invasive ductal carcinoma of the breast in April 2001, less than a year after her right leg was amputated) was repeatedly asking for me. I couldn’t immediately ask for a leave of absence from work as I already missed months of working time in the past year because of my twice hospitalizations and the subsequent quarterly follow-up checks at the Kuwait Cancer Control Center and the Daiya Diabetic Clinic. I needed to wait for the Christmas holiday.

December 12 was the last day of work at The English School where I work as a School Nurse. That night, I took a plane trip to Manila and was with my mother in the afternoon of December 14. I felt the time was moving very slow then. Had my most uncomfortable trip ever as I was forced to stay outside the terminal of Philippine Airlines anxious to catch the early 5 am first trip to Iloilo.

My mother’s condition was really bad when I arrived. I thought she was dying. A week prior, one of her breast lesions burst out and she lost a lot of blood. She was white as a paper and she could hardly move. It was too much for me to take and I almost cried in front of her. Five days later, she asked to be taken out for a ride in her wheelchair! And that was after two bags of whole blood were transfused into her body, arranged to be done at home. I didn’t want to take her to the hospital as I was afraid she won’t leave the hospital alive!

When I left the Philippines back to Kuwait on January 3, 2002, my mother was much much better than she was on the day I arrived. I even took her for a trip to the capital town of San Jose (of the province of Antique) for a promised sumptuous lunch in the morning of my night departure to Kuwait.

I would like now to share that posted message I mentioned earlier.

“Dear folks, all friends in the OFW Community of Lists, as well as my special cyberkada in the OFW Club and Pinoy Claimants Club: warm greetings to one and all!

“Please bear with me as I tell you a little ‘story’ – my way of sharing with you my ‘accomplishments’ during my very recent HOLIDAY in our beloved Philippines!

“It could have been one memorable HOLIDAY of a lifetime – what with the ideal timing of Christmas and the New Year – save for the lack of proper sleep and rest, which are, of course, major ingredients of an ideal HOLIDAY!

“Primarily, I went home because of my ailing mother. That, I already related in my previous posting. Attending personally to my Mom at the verge of a near-death condition is a privilege I will always cherish in my career as a nurse. What could have been more fulfilling than to care for your very own mother? I’m lucky in that I also had the good chance of nursing my Mom back to health during her ‘leg amputation’ experience in May 2000.

“Why should you leave? That was Mama asking me when I kissed her goodbye on the day I was to return to Kuwait. I have to go back to work, I said, so you may continue to get well and live long enough to see the fulfillment of my dream of making all your children’s life better! You once dreamed about it, remember? I’m here now to fulfill that dream.

“In-between attending to Mama, I was also busy doing so many things all at the same time. I accomplished the following:

– gathered all my siblings together (six of us) for Christmas eve. It was one celebration we will all cherish in our lifetime. With Mama still weak but happily beaming as she sat in her wheelchair, surrounded by all of her children and grandchildren (only the children of my eldest sister in Marikina were not able to come), she distributed gifts to everybody. I made sure that everybody got his/her gift, specially and patiently wrapped by me. Aside from the exchange gift, which I also practically financed, even those working for me, and those nieces and nephews (from first cousins) residing near our compound, received their share – all handed over by Mama. At one point, there was one she fancied and before the rightful owner came near, she already opened the box! We all laughed! She must have thought that there was not something coming for her for a long while! The funniest part was when I threw coins! You should see how everybody ran after the coins. I enjoyed it the most as I was the one seeing everybody scampered for a catch. My old Nanny (who’s paralyzed from waist down) was overheard saying: “what a wonder! coins are coming from heaven!” She even asked me if I got some!;

– finished the tiling of a beach house (which my hubby and I will finally occupy in July 2002 for a real holiday). The outside wall and terrace, plus the waterbreaker, are still to be finished;

– changed the bathroom door and toilet bowl/wash basin of the house;

– fixed the outrigger of the pump boat which was destroyed last typhoon time and fine-tuned the engine ready for a trip out in the sea come “moonless’ night;

– started the improvement of one rice paddy into a “tilapia” culture habitat;

– refinanced the fencing of the end-part of the land (original fund was ‘used’ by my sister) to protect the animals. One cow was boloed when it grazed a neighboring grassland – already a loss as the proceeds of the meat sale (happened a month prior to my trip home) went ‘everywhere’. Lost two of the goats to ‘grass poisoning’, had eaten Mahogany leaves, according to the caretaker (I didn’t know that Mahogany leaves are poison to animals!);

– renovated the boutique-cum-dress shop (which I opened May 2001) by adding more glass cabinets, glass encasement for the mannequin, glass wardrobe and glass stands. It gave the shop a “classy” look afterwards;

– fired the shop manager (one of my parents’ 2 adopted daughters who went back to her biological parents when she was 15) as I discovered she was stealing money from me;

– fired my personal assistant, as, she, too, was discovered to have stolen a lot of money from me. She’s the one entrusted with my checkbook;

– assigned my sister (next to me) as new shop manager and personal assistant, and needed to “fix” her. Gave her one of my hearing aids (as she’s also hard of hearing), financed her visit to a dentist, bought her a mobile phone, hired a nanny for her 6 children, bought her husband a welding machine, bought her a TV set, financed a cable connection and added more features to her new house which I built for her last year. Her humble nipa hut was washed away by the sea during that worst typhoon which hit Antique last year;

– increased salaries of all people under my employ. Hired two new people, one for the shop and another for the house, as regulars. Hired 2 part timers for the shop: a bookkeeper and an accountant;

– increased the personal allowance of my youngest sister who again had a relapse after confinement in a private asylum last May 2001. She gets “better” if she keeps cash with her, huh!;

– closed one of my two checking accounts, dollar account and joint account (with my adopted son) at the Philippine National Bank last December 28. Closed also my two sons’ ATM accounts;

– attended the “Layas nga Antiqueno” night held December 27 in the capital town of San Jose and was honored to meet the “Bugal kang Antique” awardees, with Bishop Tomas Millamena (of the Aglipayan Church) as one of those. Was tipped by one organizer to get ready as I will be one of the awardees in December 2002 Binirayan Festival celebrations;

– organized the families of the OFWs in Mapatag, my homeplace. My way of making up for my inability to attend the OFW gatherings in Manila;

– sponsored a basketball team led by my eldest son (he’s one hell of a basketball player, mind you!) and witnessed the team’s first win game. Was challenged afterwards to treat all team members and friends to a snack after the game. I didn’t watch anymore the succeeding games. Was afraid to be ‘challenged’ again by my youngest son to spend more money, LOL!

– ‘blessed’ quite a number of godchildren, nieces and nephews who all came to ask for their ‘Pamasko’;

– financed the doctor’s visit and medications of my adopted son’s father who’s suffering from gastric ulcer;

– received quite a number of carollers, all with advanced letters asking for special contribution to this project and that, whew!

– received solicitation letters for renovation of the church and elementary school in Mapatag, including a few coming from neighboring barrios; and

– paid salary advances of my Mom’s caretaker (to finish her house started from a previous cash advance), our house helper (for her daughter’s tuition fee), the pump boat’s operator and two of its workers, my two sisters (as shop’s personnel) and dressmaker.

“Reading the above, can someone argue with me re my earlier pronouncement that life of an OFW is a difficult one? Surely, I’m not the only one experiencing this difficult life!

“Relating to you the above is aimed at inspiring fellow OFWs to stay steadfast in their enforced responsibility over immediate and extended family. Remember always that we are here for a purpose. It is difficult alright but it’s what which keeps us going, di ba?

“I also pray that with this open announcement of my responsibilities in life, my job will stay. FYI, I’m now facing the danger of losing my job and God forbid . . . if I lost my job . . . what would become of my loved ones and those under my employ?

“Hope I didn’t bore you with my litany. And sorry if, to others, my post is out of the context.

“Your humble friend and co-OFW,

Freda in Kuwait.”

 

Author: Freda Editha O. Contreras
Published on: January 14, 2002 

 

 

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The fight continues, Part 1

IN my ‘Too many a fight’ article published August 24, 2001, I mentioned that “there’s another major struggle brewing up, but I would like to discuss it separately.” Time really flies, and how FAST, and one would really miss noticing it if faced with a lot of challenges in life, as I am. That particular fight is on the rights of Filipinos affected by the 1990-1991 Gulf War to their compensation awarded by the United Nations Compensation Commission which was denied far longer than necessary.

Followers of the OFW-Suite101 topic are aware of the Gulf War compensation mess which I boldly exposed and relentlessly followed up in the past 18 months or so. The seven related stories I wrote since May 2000 – this now will be the eighth – will prove to this claim. Those interested to learn more may visit the following links:

On Gulf war comp claims – published on May 2, 2000 http://www.suite101.com/article.cfm/over…

Pinoy Gulf War claims: facts and figures, Part 1 – June 6, 2000 http://www.suite101.com/article.cfm/over…

Pinoy Gulf War claims: facts and figures, Part 2 – July 4, 2000 http://www.suite101.com/article.cfm/over…

Pinoy Gulf War claims, an update – October 3, 2000 http://www.suite101.com/article.cfm/over…

UNCC completes payments to Pinoy claimants – November 7, 2000 http://www.suite101.com/article.cfm/over…

Worse than Iraqi invaders – published on August 2, 2001 http://www.suite101.com/article.cfm/3728…

Pinoy claimants air grievances – September 7, 2001 http://www.suite101.com/article.cfm/3728…

PCCCS responds to complaints

Following the public reading last August 21, 2001 of the Filipino claimants’ letter of complaint addressed to Philippine President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo during a dialogue between key government officials and a small group of representative overseas Filipinos at the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) premises in Manila, an official response from the Philippine Claims and Compensation Committee Secretariat (PCCCS) was received. The response was religiously followed up, on behalf of the Filipino claimants, by the Overseas Filipinos Worldwide Net Foundation, Inc., based in Manila, in particular, by Dr. Rachelle Garcia. For clarity, I am taking full liberty of publishing the letter, as follows:

14 September 2001

Madam:

With reference to your joint letter to her Excellency President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo dated 19 August 2001 concerning the payment of the Gulf War compensation, I wish to clarify on the following concerns you mentioned in the said letter.

A. “Deliberate delay of payment of our claims …” Please be informed that PCCCS never intentionally delayed the release of the Gulf War compensations to the bonafide claimants. The Office started paying war compensations in May 1997 when it first received a fund remittance from the UNCC. Subsequent tranches were expeditiously released to the claimants after the processors/representatives from the Department of Justice, Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas, Overseas Workers Welfare Administration, and Philippine Information Agency have established the identity of the claimant.

The claimants who are able to present the required documents are paid the amount authorized by the UNCC accordingly. However, in many instances, some claimants cannot readily submit to the processors valid documents (passports, travel documents used during the Gulf War) or other documents to establish that they are indeed the rightful owners of the war compensation. This delays the release of the check payments.

Attached are copy each of the UNCC payment history to the Philippines by category and by date of remittance to indicate the continuous remittance of payment of Gulf War claims. Also, enclosed is the updated status of the first two phases of payments on Gulf War claims.

For your information, the average number of claim checks being released per day starting August and September 2001 ranges from 300 to 400 compared to the previous 100 to 150 per day. PCCCS starts its service exactly at 8 A.M. to 5 P.M. without lunch break and many staff members work overtime up to 8 P.M. everyday to ensure that the attached “Tentative Schedule of Appointments” is achieved with a hope that phase 2 of the Gulf War payment will be finished by mid-October 2001 and PCCCS could be moved up to phase three for the full payment of categories “D”, “E”, and “F”. PCCCS also hopes to locate the more than 7,000 Gulf War claimants under category “A” Installments 4 and 5.

Attached is the status of the Gulf War claims of the persons who conveyed their concern through a letter to Her Excellency President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.

B. “Claimants have been, and still are, easy preys to fixers proliferating unabated within PCCCS…” The PCCSC is not aware of the existence of “fixers” in the office. PCCCS Secretary General Bayani Mangibin must have been misquoted in his interview with the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ), that one staff member had been lately terminated when discovered. There was not a single staff member who has been found guilty of any irregularity much less dismissed from the service. There is, however, one representative from one of the five participating government agencies who is presently under investigation as a result of a complaint under oath filed by one claimant. It would be appreciated if your group could help us identify any corrupt official or employee in the PCCCS in order to take immediate action.

C. “There are those cases of claimants not receiving a single penny until now because their check are nowhere to be found.” There was not a single check lost in the PCCCS. The payment checks are prepared after the beneficiary has been duly identified. The PCCCS has not lost a check since it started paying the war compensations. Rest assured that the PCCCS always does its best in discharging its mandate.

Very truly yours,

(Signed) MERLIN M. MAGALLONA Supervising Undersecretary, PCCCS

Denials

After reading the above letter and going through the attachments, I remember feeling the more angered. The outright denial of the claimants’ pronouncement that the PCCCS officials resorted to ‘deliberate delay of paying the compensation’ was that which made me mad. Mr. Magallona’s statement contradicted the ‘Payments History’ he sent as attachment. I can see no reason why a claimant would take six months to one year, as shown in the table, to produce the necessary documents if he/she was informed immediately of the availability of compensation funds. If you were a claimant, aware that the UNCC has started paying compensation since six to seven years back, will you not be prepared to present your papers when notified early or immediately of your approved claims? I, for one, when notified, nearly one year from PCCCS’ receipt of the fund from the UNCC as I noted in the PCCCS attachment, immediately flew to Manila. And this despite my earlier trip, three months back, to the Philippines!

The delay of payments was admitted alright by the PCCCS official but that it was claimed to be “never intentionally” delayed. He should tell this to the most stupid and dumb person but not to those who actually experienced, and still are, the gross delay of its release of payments.

Mr. Alecks Pabico, the reporter of the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ) has this to say on Mr. Magallona’s denial of the ‘fixers’ activities within the PCCCS:

“pls find below the transcript of my interview with sec-gen mangibin. this is to dispel the notion that he was misquoted, as claimed by usec magallona, and reveals other pertinent issues the pccc has not been able to explain thoroughly. the fact is, he’s also been recorded on camera (abs-cbn) saying such things. now the dfa tries to cover up his statements by seeking refuge under trite excuses of being misquoted or taken out of context.

alecks”

Here’s that part of the interview as taken from the transcript sent by Alecks:

Alecks: How about yung mga fixers daw within the PCCC? [How about those alleged fixers within the PCCC?]

Bayani Mangibin: Well, please give me the name. As long as under oath, by the way, meron na kaming isa na pinatanggal… [by the way, we already have one dismissed]

A: Masud daw… [Masud, I gathered]

BM: I don’t want to give the names kasi may karapatan din yung tao. [I don’t want to give names because that person has also rights.]

A: Is he still under investigation?

BM: Wala na yung taong yun. Kasi nga under oath. So we are requesting the public, the claimants, please put it under oath para maaksyunan yan. Kasi may karapatan din naman yung mga tao, huwag naman natin basta sila akusahan. Meron din tayong due process na sana masunod natin. [That person in no longer here. Because under oath. So we are requesting the public, the claimants, please put it under oath so it can be acted upon. We have the due process which I hope we can all follow.]

You will read more about the issue as I continue with the fight . . .

 

Author: Freda Editha O. Contreras
Published on: November 30, 2001

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