IN a bid to formalize complaints arising from delayed distribution by a special Philippine government body of compensation approved for payment by the United Nations Compensation Commission (UNCC), a small group of overseas Filipino claimants sent last August 19, 2001 a letter to President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. Timed purposely with the Advocacy Visit to the Philippines by selected overseas Filipino workers and migrants, the complaints were made public during a dialogue held last August 21 at the premises of the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) in Manila.
Present during the dialogue were officials of the main Philippine government departments and agencies involved in the affairs of the overseas Filipinos. These officials were Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) Secretary Patricia Sto. Tomas, DOLE Undersecretary Manuel Imson, DFA Undersecretary Merlin Magallona, Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) Administrator Rosalinda Baldoz, Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) Deputy Administrator Delmer Cruz and Commission on Filipinos Overseas (CFO) Executive Director Jose Molano.
Tasked by the claimants to represent them was the Overseas Filipinos Worldwide Net Foundation, Inc., through its Managing Director Dr. Rachelle Garcia. Dr. Garcia, fortunately, was given a special time to read the letter. In an email she sent to the group – Pinoy Gulf War Claimants Club – Dr. Garcia related the following:
“Anyway, everyone listened intently to your letter. Be assured that I did not edit it nor “soften” any of the words used. I read it the way it was written (and the people present congratulated me after as they thought I was “brave” to read it as is). Well, I did so because it is high time that the issue is discussed with both parties present (with our group representing our ‘kababayans’ in Kuwait). Fortunately, Mr. Bayani “Bani” V. Mangibin, the Secretary-General of the Philippine Claims and Compensation Committee Secretariat (PCCCS), was there. He answered your allegations point by point (but didn’t delve into specifics as he didn’t have some documents with him). However, he gave everyone present tabulations of the update on Gulf War claims (for the First and Second Phases of Payments, as of July 31, 2001).”
For information, the full text of the letter, addressed to Philippine President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, is hereunder presented:
August 19, 2001
Dear President Arroyo:
Warm greetings from Kuwait!
We are a small portion of the over 40,000 claimants of the Gulf War Compensation approved for payments by the United Nations Compensation Commission (UNCC). We have been victims of corrupt practices of certain government officials manning the Philippine Claims and Compensation Committee Secretariat (PCCCS) under the Department of Foreign Affairs. Our efforts in the past to curtail the anomalies committed to us had all been fruitless and we continue to suffer while the officials concerned remain untouched and unabated in making use of our money which should have been given to us years before. For this reason, we come to you now, believing in your honest pronouncement that you will curb graft and corruption within the government bodies.
The deliberate delay of payments of our claims is the main injustice we suffer from the corrupt PCCCS officials. All the rest of our problems stems from this anomalous practice. The officials are holding the fund for as long as they can, which, had actually resulted to the Philippines being suspended by the UNCC. The last release made by the UNCC, the only one, in fact, the Philippines got in the past 28 months – in the amount of US$15.5 million – was February 17, 2000. PCCCS personnel started sending out notices in October 2000 and majority of the claimants, until now, are not in receipt of the notices. Notices of those whose claims amount to high figures are being held while those with lesser figures had been sent ahead of schedule. UNCC has ruled that payments are to be distributed to claimants in order of approval by the Panel of Commissioners.
Lately, the PCCCS officials resorted to scheduling payments in batches. Despite their confirmation of names as among those recipients of the latest UNCC fund release, they still refuse to pay until the claimants receive their respective notices. Yet these notices the officials regularly claim to have been sent are nowhere to be found! Please know that there are cases where claimants can attest to the fact that their notices were found lying idle in their trays! These incidents happened between 1997 to 2000, during which time the PCCCS distributed in a turtle-like-pace the UNCC release of the first batch of payments to Filipino claimants!
Claimants have been, and still are, easy preys to fixers proliferating unabated within the PCCC vicinity. Some of these fixers are from the PCCCS itself and PCCCS Secretary General Bayani Mangibin admitted, in an interview with the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism, that one staff member had been lately terminated when discovered.
There are those cases of claimants not receiving any single penny until now because their checks are nowhere to be found. The PCCCS officials are always quick to answer that the checks had all been returned to the UNCC because of the payees’ failure to claim the checks! How can you claim a check when you didn’t receive any notice?
Some rightful claimants are now doomed to “non-compensated status” because of their checks having been claimed by others. A lot of cases even go as far back as 1993 to 1995 when claimants’ papers had been kept unattended by the DFA officials. Those files were returned by the UNCC for completion of some paper requirements and would have been consequently approved had the DFA officials informed the claimants. More than 5,000 claimants are affected by this unfortunate incident.
A lot more were either uninformed or misinformed by the DFA officials of their privilege to seek compensation from the UNCC. The people affected are those who were immediately absorbed for employment by other countries. Nearly 50,000 Filipinos were evacuated then and most of them found new employment in Asia, America, Europe and other areas in the Middle East not affected by the Gulf War. They never got the chance to claim for their losses, a privilege only enjoyed by Filipino workers who returned to Kuwait after the Invasion. Yet, even those who were in Kuwait were not all timely informed as most had filed claims past the January 1, 1995 schedule of non-acceptance of individual claims by the UNCC!
We would not want to go further into lengthy recounts of our sufferings, our dear Madame President. Suffice it to say that what we have been through in the hands of our government officials are no less cruel than what we had been through the hands of the Iraqi invaders! We are indeed twice victims!
It is not only the desire to get what we rightfully own from the PCCCS – a reality which actually drove us to seek your assistance – it is also now the conviction that those officials responsible for the misuse of the compensation fund be punished. These officials are only added smear to your relentless effort in freeing our government from corrupt practices. We would want them removed from their office so they may no longer spread their corrupt wings!
We thank you for hearing us and we all look forward to a positive intervention by your good self. You are now our only hope and we would like to wake up one day with the realization that for once in our OFW lives, a President of our beloved Philippines, has finally come to our rescue!
Please, Madame President, do not deny us that right, that privilege and allow us to add to your SONA’s endearing end pronouncement our own motto: “Let us do what is right. Let us do what is best. Let us leave to God the rest . . . then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo will sure act in haste!”
We are attaching herewith helpful information for your easy reference. The UNCC data presented have all been carefully researched and now actually serve as our only weapon against the lies and misinformation that the PCCCS officials have been subjecting us, and other people, into in the past six years or so.
Author: Freda Editha O. Contreras
Published on: September 7, 2001