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Monday, February 12, 2007

Failures in Govt Lending Project for OFW Groups Cited


QUEZON CITY—THE bankruptcy of roughly 200 government-funded livelihood groups of overseas Filipino workers and their families reveals major errors in a project that an OFW leader and a government report said was used solely for the 2004 elections.
“Their promise to us is that there will be an OFW Groceria loan, followed by OFW Botica, and thirdly, that each member will have a loan of P200,000. However, these did not reach us [except for the grocery] loan, which we even had difficulties [operating],” Lutgarda Zapanta, a leader of an OFW group, said.
Zapanta was referring to the micro-lending project for OFWs –called OFW Groceria– that is hobbled by the inability of beneficiaries like her to pay back the grocery products for re-sale loaned to them by government.
She received in October a notice from OWWA asking her, as president of her group OFW BZ Chapter, to pay a 22-month past due loan of P45,834.80.
The problem: she and other leaders of groups she organized and which tapped the lending program don’t have the resources to cough out the money –a total quarter of a million pesos (US$7,000)– they owe government.
“Chairman, pano na ito? Two years na, wala na ang grocery. Wala na’ng pera. Anong gagawin natin?” Zapanta cited her and the leaders’ worries. [How would we go about this, Madam chairman? Two years have passed and the grocery’s folded up, the money’s gone. What should we do?]
A recent report by Overseas Workers’ Welfare Administration, which now handles the two-year project, pointed to the 2004 election atmosphere as the source of debacle for Zapanta and the leaders.
A number of OFW families and dependents deliberately organized themselves just to avail of the project because it is election-time especially at the National Capital Region, the report dated June 30, 2006, noted.
It added that borrowers had a “shallow appreciation on [sic] the real objectives of the project, as they view [sic] the project primarily as an economic activity.”
“There was no clear orientation or direction of the project,” the report said .Zapanta’s predicament comes at a time when another poll event is just around the corner while government is rehashing a shuttered micro-lending scheme.

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Stranded Pinoys in Lebanon Still Traded, NGO Says


QUEZON CITY—FILIPINO workers, mostly women, in Lebanon are still being traded for new employees after getting sidetracked from work when fighting broke out in September, advocates said.
Echoing the report of Catholic congregation Daughters of Charity Sister Amelia Asiedu-Torres, nonprofit Kanlungan Centre Foundation Inc. said migrant workers unable to flee during the shooting war between Israeli and Hizbollah fighters are being sold to other employers.
“The agencies …still make business on them by selling them to another employer at a higher price,” Kanlungan staff Ma. Helen T. Dabu said in a forum here, quoting Sr. Asiedu-Torres of the Beirut, Lebanon-based nonprofit Afro-Asian Migrant Center.
Dabu revealed the results of Kanlungan’s policy research on Filipino women migrants in Lebanon after workers were caught in the middle of fierce fighting there last October, leading to frenzied evacuation of a tenth of an estimated 30,000 Filipinos in that territory.
The research results packaged in an 11-paged Powerpoint presentation was timed as the first topic in a lecture series honoring Kanlungan founder Ma. Virginia Alunan-Melgar. Alunan-Melgar founded the nonprofit group in 1989 when trends bare an increasing number of women going out of the country and the abuses employers heaped on them than male Filipinos’ mostly labor-related cases.
Dabu said they talked by overseas call to Sr. Asiedu-Torres November 28 on the eve of the presentation of the research in Quezon City.
She added the Roman Catholic nun said that the center receive telephone calls from a minimum of seven migrant women a day, expressing a gamut of problems at the hands of their Lebanese employers.
“They have finished their contracts but the employers would not let them go home,” Dabu said of what Sr. Asiedu-Torres told her.
She added that the salaries of Filipino women migrants there –at US$100 (P5,000 in US$1=P50 exchange rates) monthly– are withheld from a period of three months.
“Some employers bluntly tell them that they cannot go home because no one will replace them,” Dabu said.
“Most of these girls [sic] are very timid to discuss matteres with their employers so at one shout of the employers they just withdraw and cry,” Dabu quoted Sr. Asiedu-Torres as saying.

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OWWA Exec Says Religious Ties Can’t Protect Women


MANILA—A LINE in the International Declaration of Human Rights wasn’t able to protect her from a rapist, nor could the teachings of the Qu’ran: Adela is as Muslim as the Arab employer who she said repeatedly raped her until she got pregnant.“Religious affiliation, whether Muslim or Christian, does not guarantee your exemption,” Amy B. Crisostomo of the Overseas Workers’ Welfare Administration said of Adela’s fate at the hands of her Muslim Arab employer in Kuwait.
Such is the sad twist of reality at the 58th year of the commemoration of a document guaranteeing equal protection of rights of peoples, whether they are of the same or different faith or of gender.
Likewise, the case of Adela (not her real name) slings mud on the international commemoration of Migrant Workers’ Day December 18: there are still many others –at least more than half of a million Filipinos leaving the country every year are women– needing state protection.
“No one is exempted from being raped or being maltreated [while working abroad],” added Crisostomo, officer-in-charge of OWWA in the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (OWWA-ARMM).
It is from ARMM where Adela came from and gave birth to a weak premature baby who Crisostomo said the employer who raped her tried to get aborted.
Her baby symbolically led her to freedom since the Arab employer was forced to repatriate Adela before his family discovers using the Filipino Muslim from Sultan Kudarat, Maguindanao as his own personal sex slave.
Adela bared the details of her horrifying experience to Crisostomo who, being a woman herself and a government employee, documented and gave the story to reporters to emphasize the danger Filipino women migrant workers face.
Data from OWWA-ARMM showed that last year, it received a total 181 welfare cases, nearly all of it (178) involving women, all working as domestic helpers.
The cases that the regional office handled involved maltreatment, unpaid salary, run-away, sexual molestation and abuse, rape, contract violation, death, overload of work, sickness, and no communication with the relative abroad among others.
Of five cases of sexual molestation/abuse/rape reported in OWWA-ARMM office, Adela’s case was so far the most serious since she bore a baby, Crisostomo said.
The baby, she added, is a testament to the cruelty of men, whether Catholic or Muslim.
The official expressed belief that violations and abused against Muslim overseas Filipino workers could be higher since there could be those who did not bother to file any complaint before the OWWA.

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Firms tap signing-frenzy OFWs for biz expansion


MANILA—BOXER Manny Pacquiao’s endorsement of a portable music-video microphone proves the Filipinos’ penchant for singing and reflects the market is deep and wide.
But Butch Albarracin remains unimpressed. He said revenues from the domestic market is proving to be unreliable for his entertainment-focused business.
Albarracin, founder of the Center for Pop Music Philippines Inc., is setting his sights on 8 million overseas Filipino workers who, despite temporarily or permanently living or working abroad, shares one dream: becoming the next big pop superstar.
Began in 1984, Center for Pop emerged as the country’s top music training school, aiming to develop a curriculum to incubate the next superstars in the entertainment industry.
It has outlived other music training schools set up by other top musicians and composers in the country, after the Center, Alabarracin said, took the marketing part of the business seriously.
We balanced our focus on the music and selling the Center’s services, he added.
That strategy paid well for Albarracin, who was recognized last month by a local marketing group for his success in medium-scale entrepreneurship.
Today, the music school has 21 branches and extension classes in about 20 schools in Metro Manila.
But instead of moving towards the provinces, Albarracin said he’s more inclined to expand outside the country. He said he has received an offer from an investor in Daly City, California, but Albarracin said he’s setting the stage for entry in Hong Kong.
”If we can go there and teach them how to sing, they can contribute to the growth of the [Filipino] community [there]. They can have a skill, and they won’t be shameful [of their jobs],” he added.

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Paroled Pinoy’s Past, Present Polish Parol Parade


SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA, USA—PAROLED convict Rico Reimigio’s hands grip different sets of bars symbolizing a freedom only he could taste: bamboo strips for his first parol, the Filipino Christmas lantern.
On his face is a genuine smile, also the first time this reporter sees on Reimigio, the former thug feared while stomping the streets of San Francisco.
He is back again on the streets, as the lantern he finished in 90 minutes would be displayed proudly along this city’s South of Market (SoMa) area as the Filipino-American neighborhood here holds its fourth parade of Filipino lanterns on December 9.“I can’t describe the happiness I feel,” the 45-year-old Reimigio said, his inch-thick thumb and forefinger deftly slipping the paper-thin bamboo slits to tie a knot holding the five-pointed lantern.
He holds it up against the light, silently proud of what his work reflects and giddy with excitement at his first Christmas outside prison.
Reimigio is grateful for the opportunity given to him by the sponsor of the parade and the materials for the lanterns, a nonprofit Filipino-American neighborhood group in San Francisco’s SoMa area.
Now out on a five-year parole program, Reimigio is also grateful to having rediscovered his being a Filipino in the United States, which has tided him over for 25 years at the San Quentin Detention Center in San Rafael, California.
Jail riots, he narrated, are common occurrences in the 150-year-old San Quentin where the US government initially imprisoned most hardened and violent criminals.
After acknowledging his Filipino roots, which his mother reminded him of after his first three years in San Quentin, Reimigio said he took a different tack than slugging it out with fellow detainees during riots.
“Talking things over worked and inmates from other races respect Filipino inmates for that.”
That respect is what Reimigio has been bringing since stepping out of prison in January this year.
ToughHE smelled the marijuana before he saw the pot smoker, a Filipino nurse.
Reimigio wasn’t surprised to have felt déjà vu walking the streets of SoMa. It was here when drugs and violence was part of his everyday life since arriving from the Philippines in 1973.
He was only 12 then, he says, but SoMa became his little “Tondo”, a gangster’s haven in the Philippines during the 1960s.Gangsterism among high school students like him became his folly in 1980 when a fellow gang member killed two African-American males. Reimigio was 19 then and, together with three other gang members, were sentenced to life imprisonment.The courts said we were guilty “by association,” Reimigio said.
Going to San Quentin, he said, never liberated him from the environment of illegal drug abuse: prison itself was flooded with drugs and alcohol. How these substances flowed in and out of the penal system there, Reimigio couldn’t tell.
But his mother saved him from entering the bowels of hell.
“When she visited me in prison, I just felt this sadness within that was so deep I couldn’t shake it off. I then asked myself, ‘Why am I doing this to her?,” Reimigio said.
“It was then that I’ve realized it is never late to do something.”
The smell of pot grew stronger and whacked Reimigio from the reverie.
“Stop taking drugs, man,” he tells the nurse.
He said he would walk this particular street and say the same thing over and over again until the nurse comes to his senses.“He won’t change overnight,” Reimigio said.
This is what he do –gang and drug prevention work in SoMa– as a tribute to his mother, who had long hoped for the son’s exit from prison bars.
SoMaSOMA is an area adjacent to Market Street in downtown San Francisco where most foreigners and first-time immigrants have been settling, Filipinos including, since the 1920s.
Its Mission Street is a prism of lives in paltry and plenty. The street with its chic buildings and parks links SoMa to the city’s financial district. People would come out of high-rise and medium-rise housing projects to buy something from dollops of grocery stores or shops selling sex toys and videos that splotch the street. Along the way, they would cast eyes on the homeless or consciously or unconsciously bump into drug addicts.
This is the street Reimigio returned to pounding with his soft-soled shoes and brain cells honed inside San Quentin.“Now I am guarding SoMa from violence.”
This self-appointed task was a trek that began in the late 1980s when Reimigio went back to books while inside prison.So starting the late 1980s, Reimigio was in a mode of personal reform.
He finished some general education equivalency subjects leading to a high school diploma, and earned an Associate in Arts degree at Hartnell College; the prison bars just a physical barrier.
The toughest challenge was within himself, especially during jail riots: Reimigio wielding his tongue rather than his fist.Holding dialogues among inmates helped him develop leadership qualities. Prison officials noticed the changes when they appointed Reimigio to lead incoming Filipino inmates serving life sentences –lifers, as they were called.
I’d tell them first “to be always conscious about their surrounding environment,” Reimigio said.
He would also incessantly remind inmates to master their addiction to illegal substances that filter through the prison bars.“If you want to get high, take drugs in your room. But I suggest you stop taking drugs,” he continuously told Filipino inmates.Lifers would lose hope and regress towards accepting the fate of never again getting outside prison.
A lifer himself, Reimigio’s hopes always pointed to the opportunity that things could change “if we do good always.”“I always tell the Pinoy inmates doing good will boost chances to shorten time in prison when parole opportunities come our way,” Reimigio said.
He proved that when that chance came in 2005: he applied for parole.

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