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Home is ‘champorado with tuyo’ on a rainy day

Posted by on 11:44 am in Featured, Manila Times Column | 0 comments

Home is ‘champorado with tuyo’ on a rainy day

LIKE millions of other Filipinos, I belong to a “global” family. My eldest brother, Luis, is a Swiss citizen, having accumulated sufficient years in and knowledge of Geneva, Switzerland to pass that country’s stringent requirements. My other brother, Dionisio, is an American citizen and a longtime resident of Los Angeles, California. Every Sunday, we take to Viber to exchange our respective “chillax” photos. Of course, it is hard to top the entries shared by our two brothers and their families abroad. Yet even when my “chillax” photos feature mostly panoramic views of the nearest mall, nothing beats home. I remember leaving the country to study for a year in Cambridge, Massachusetts. I loved the snow at first, till it kept getting in the way of walking. Autumn was my favorite season, because of the flaming transformation of trees that line the expressways from Cambridge to New Hampshire and back. After I obtained my master’s degree from the prestigious Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, my goal was to enter an apprenticeship program at the World Bank in Washington D. C. or work for a publishing house in New York City. I was also itching to settle down somewhere in the east coast and try my hand at writing fiction. Those plans changed when my father said it was time for me to come home. Today, a year short of 55, I am quite happy to stay in the Philippines until the shade falls on my existence. This is where unhappiness tends to linger and yet quickly moves on, because there is always a member of the family willing to share the burden. This is where you criticize policies and people through Facebook and get instant feedback from both irate and concerned mutual friends. This is where we talk over food, about food, and take “selfies” to show the food that we keep talking about. This is where we laugh and share the same memes, and cry over the same sad stories depending on what trends on primetime news. This is where terrorism kicks our economy in the gut, kills our soldiers and innocent civilians, and lead children farther away from the brightest of futures. This is where we talk of peace across negotiating tables but never get to the point of obtaining it with permanence and progressive, irreversible gains. This is where we honor the sacrifices and courage of war veterans on special occasions yet ignore them for the most part because we now live in the age of the drones. This is where love is stored in “balikbayan boxes” sent by an overseas Filipino worker who keeps dreaming about the day when she can finally return home and retire. Nothing beats waking up to the usual confusion over cancellation of classes due to heavy monsoon rains. Every morning, we listen to radio anchors pull apart the adlibs of a popular yet tough and straight-talking commander in chief. We come home to a bowl of hot soup, steamed rice and fish, and bananas on the side. We sleep with a silent prayer for our angels to look over us, and for God to forgive our shortcomings of the day. This is our homeland, and the farther we are from it, the more we long for “champorado with tuyo”...

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Notice to the world: Robert Larga is gone

Posted by on 11:57 am in Featured, Manila Times Column | 0 comments

Notice to the world: Robert Larga is gone

LAST Saturday, the soil parted to welcome the casket that bore the body of a man named Robert Larga. He was “Obet” to family, friends and associates. A young lawyer of 48, Larga served as one of the directors of the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA). He was also an expert on forced labor trafficking, having single-handedly written a manual on the subject matter for the Inter-Agency Council Against Trafficking (IACAT).He worked for the Department of Justice, and also served at the International Labor Organization. Wherever Obet placed himself, there is value-added because he was a man in constant search for answers and solutions. Greed was an alien word, and corruption was as attractive to him as the bubonic plague. I miss having him around. When he headed the licensing division of the POEA and was in charge of the anti-illegal recruitment campaign,Larga kept his smile, his baritone coolness, while strictly enforcing rules and regulations. I write this tribute for his family – for his wife and two daughters — that they may know how much Obet was appreciated as an honest, hard-working public servant. I remember how for the first time ever,Larga held a Skype conference to talk to a group of stranded OFWs in Saudi Arabia, while his staff took down notes. When we had an urgent case at the Blas F. Ople Policy Center, I would pull him in, include him in online chat groups, just so we could have a definite opinion on what the POEA can do to help the distressed overseas workers. He always said yes. Every single chance he got to talk about the dangers of human trafficking, he’d say, “Yes, of course.” The non-government organizations that are active in the labor migration front saw him as a friend and ally. He had no airs. You’d never hear him speak ill of anyone. I miss hearing him laugh. Because when he laughed, it was spontaneous, generous, and infectious. It was the laugh of a person that you instantly liked, just because. He never intended to hurt anyone. Yet, it was an open secret among his colleagues that he himself was hurting. In a reshuffle of officers, Director Larga was moved to a unit that handled government-to-government placement of workers. His director-rank had been maintained. Nevertheless, a few insiders at the POEA knew why he had to be removed from the licensing division. Perhaps, the qualities that endeared him to us, failed to impress others. Sometimes, you don’t like a person not because of what he or she did, but what that person refused to do. Before he died, he expressed concern over the operational aspects of the proposed OFW ID card to people close to him. He loved his work. Director Larga cared so much for the POEA that it bothered him that the agency was in such a state of flux. It has been more than a year and the POEA still has no permanent administrator. Surprisingly, some people seem to prefer it that way. There is talk about corruption within the POEA, and rumors about the fixing of cases and bribery persist to this day. Yet, within that vital institution are people like Director Larga who would never tolerate mercenary pursuits disguised as public service. Not over their dead bodies....

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What we know so far about the OFW ID card

Posted by on 2:08 pm in Featured, Manila Times Column | 0 comments

What we know so far about the OFW ID card

Social media went agog last week over the soft launch of the soon-to-be-issued OFW identification card, which is intended to replace the Overseas Employment Certificate (OEC). The OEC is a receipt issued by the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) as proof that its holder is an overseas Filipino worker who underwent the government’s standard procedures. An online test site that some OFWs were able to stumble upon listed the cost of the ID card at P501 with an additional P200 charge for PhilPost delivery. This turned out to be bogus amounts. Why do OFWs need an OEC? It differentiates them from other outbound passengers. A worker presents his OEC at the airport together with the passport to assure immigration officers that they went through the POEA. The OEC also serves as proof of one’s OFW status thereby enabling the work to avail of travel tax and terminal fee exemptions. During the soft launch held last July 12, Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III said that the i-DOLE ID card for OFWs would be free. He has since clarified that the card is free to OFWs because its cost will be charged to the foreign employers. How much is the OFW ID card? In a recent interview with Assistant Secretary Mocha Uson, Secretary Bello said the cost would not exceed a thousand pesos. The current OEC costs only two hundred pesos. How will the government make sure that the worker will not pay for the card? Secretary Bello said that this is a matter between the DoLE and foreign employers. Repeatedly, the secretary said: “This is the President’s gift to our OFWs. No OFW should pay for the card.” When will the OFW cards be issued? The target date for the official, global launch of the I-DOLE card is August 2017. Starting August, an OFW can avail of the card from the embassy, or when on vacation, in any of the POEA regional offices and at the DoLE Building in Intramuros, Manila. Meanwhile, all government agencies from the POEA to the immigration bureau and beyond will still use the OEC as basis for its OFW services. An OFW, therefore, need not worry about not having an I-DOLE card from now until such time that the labor department declares the card to be fully activated and internationally available. I won’t be surprised if the card is mentioned in the second State of the Nation Address of President Duterte, in line with his directive to cut lines and red tape. The OFW card is a laudable initiative. DoLE has to deliver an efficient and glitch-free OFW ID card considering the enormous trust and love that our OFWs have in and for the President. I learned that the ACTS OFW party-list donated the software and basic hardware needed by the government to develop the OFW ID card. The party-list, however, has no role in the manner by which DoLE intends to issue millions of these OFW cards. According to labor undersecretary CiriacoLagunzad, the department has a 90-day window to pilot-test the OFW ID card and make sure that the databases are in sync, all necessary inter-agency agreements are signed, and enough personnel and machines are available. The POEA Governing Board will meet tomorrow to agree on the cost of the card. On Wednesday, the...

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How can we make PDOS seminars more effective for OFWs?

Posted by on 2:26 pm in Featured, Manila Times Column | 0 comments

How can we make PDOS seminars more effective for OFWs?

I SAW an old video on YouTube that featured a bank employee talking before a small audience of overseas Filipino workers. The lecturer, Mr. Teteng, transformed the room into a comedy bar, as he shared his personal observations about an OFW’s life, having been stationed previously in Spain and other parts of the world. The hyperactive Mr. Teteng used a book as a metaphor for vagina. “Do not open your book to just anyone,” he told the women in the audience, drawing laughs and giggles. Somewhere in the middle of his talk, he also joked about the application process for his bank’s ATM card. “You can give us a photocopy of any of these documents but make sure your P100 is original.” Banks are an example of commercial establishments that sponsor pre-departure orientation seminars for OFWs, commonly referred to as PDOS. They invite accredited PDOS providers to use their facilities and would even offer to shoulder the costs of food. In exchange, every participant goes home with an ATM card for future bank transactions. Insurance companies are another source of sponsorships for PDOS seminars. In the amended Migrant Workers’ Act, a recruitment agency is mandated to pay for the insurance coverage of the deployed newly hired worker. Once that worker renews his contract, the mandatory insurance coverage becomes optional. The number of re-hired OFWs represents a huge potential market for insurance companies. The OFWs are aware of how PDOS seminars have evolved into commercial endeavors, given the number of company tarpaulins, fliers, and personnel stationed at the seminar venue. The PDOS fee must not exceed P100 to P150 and ought to be paid by the foreign employer or the recruitment agency on behalf of the worker. A PDOS provider, especially if it is an NGO, has overhead to pay, and the P100 fee alone would not be enough to sustain its operations. There has to be a way for an NGO to keep its dignity intact while it pursues the goal of welfare protection through the conduct of PDOS seminars. It is also an open secret that in many instances, it is actually the worker who pays the P100 seminar fee. OWWA Administrator Hans Leo Cacdac has recently directed the accredited PDOS providers to directly bill the recruitment agencies, to make sure that the OFWs are spared the fee. He should also look into the alleged “rebate” system, where a PDOS provider gives back P20 to P50 as a “rebate” to the unscrupulous recruitment agency that referred its workers to attend the former’s seminars. That such a practice even exists should be considered an embarrassment to all concerned. OWWA conducts its own PDOS for skilled workers in various regions outside Metro Manila, for OFWs bound for Canada and Japan, for domestic workers awaiting deployment to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and health workers bound for Germany. OWWA also handles PDOS seminars for OFWs recruited by the government placement branch of the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration or POEA, as well as for OFWs who belong to the “name-hired” category. Yet, some of OWWA’s PDOS seminars are conducted in facilities provided by a certain bank. Aside from OWWA, there are six accredited agency associations that provide PDOS seminars to workers recruited by the member-agencies of these different associations. For example, one...

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Digital transformation in the public sector

Posted by on 3:43 pm in Featured, Manila Times Column | 0 comments

Digital transformation in the public sector

THE chief of the Overseas Workers’ Welfare Administration (OWWA), Hans Leo Cacdac, would read messages aloud from his computer screen posted by OFWs from different parts of the world. He replies to questions regarding scholarships and business loans, while also taking the time to greet overseas workers who are happy to see the OWWA administrator waving to them online. By leading his institution in its digital journey, Cacdac has transformed OWWA into a modern, responsive agency, much to the delight of many of its members. Unfortunately, we don’t see similar initiatives in other agencies, including departments that have so many services that few people know or understand. Hopefully, this will soon change based on the presentation given by Assistant Secretary Alan Silor of the Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT) during a recent conference on “Digital Transformation for the OFW Sector” organized by the Blas F. Ople Policy Center. Silor said that the DICT is mandated to promote open governance through digital transformation of processes. To achieve this mandate, the DICT will embark on the development and implementation of an e-Government Masterplan 2017-2022 for “One Digitized Government.” This means that all a citizen needs to do is visit www.gov.ph to gain access to all departments. The DICT, he said, aims to promote a citizen-centric digital roadmap for the public sector. As we await the full implementation of this master plan and the government’s comprehensive national broadband program, we note and commend the forays into social media by the following public servants and government agencies: 1. President Rodrigo Roa Duterte, Office of the President – He may yet be the “Best Selfie President” considering how ordinary Filipinos are able to get their “selfies” taken with the President during non-formal events. I have seen this up close when President Duterte visited Qatar where more than 200,000 Filipinos live and work. Despite the strict security protocols imposed by the Qatar government, the President himself would stop for a minute or two while walking or getting down from the stage to accommodate “selfie” requests. Taking its cue from the social media-friendly President, the Presidential Communications Office led by Secretary Martin Andanar has a very aggressive social media engagement, using podcasts and Facebook live-streaming capabilities to build a global audience. 2. Secretary Mark Villar, Department of Public Works and Highways – The DPWH secretary has an active personal Facebook account (@SecMarkVillar) that posts “before” and “after” photos of completed infrastructure projects. With more than 200,000 Facebook followers, the secretary is assured of thousands of shares and “likes” per post. A recent video about the Cavite-Laguna Expressway garnered 640 comments and 341,000 views. The downside is that the DPWH Facebook account has no new entries since October 2016. 3. Philippine Ambassador to Moscow King Sorreta – He maintains an active Facebook page, which has endeared him to many Filipino workers in Russia. One of his recent posts on illegal recruitment was extensively shared by OFWs. It is rare to find a top diplomat interacting with Filipino workers through Facebook. Hopefully, more of our diplomats will learn to embrace the use of social media to reach out to their OFW constituents in real time. 4. DSWD Secretary Judy Taguiwalo – She (@sec_judy) is gaining popularity across social media platforms, and was even invited to deliver...

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A prescription for peace

Posted by on 12:24 pm in Featured, Manila Times Column | 0 comments

A prescription for peace

June 19, 2017 UNDER the scorching sun, people were on the move, whether on foot or inside crawling vehicles, wanting to get out of Marawi City. Suddenly, a beat-up van came out of nowhere, threatening to hit cars right and left, with its driver clearly out of control. When the van finally stopped, Kim Edres decided to accost the driver. Edres, who is from Marawi City, is the regional director of the National Commission on Muslim Filipinos (NCMF) for the National Capital Region. The irate Edres quickly held his temper in check, struck by what he saw. The driver was a young boy, barely in his teens, frightened by the prospect of causing harm to others. “Why are you driving this van?” the perplexed Edres asked. The boy, frozen with fear, pointed to his passengers. It turned out that the boy had taken the wheel for the first time in his life to bring his Christian passengers to safety. And the first-time driver did not even know their names. Amid the rubble, you hear of such remarkable stories. Muslims taking good care of Christians, shielding them from the bullets, bullying and beheading done by extremists out to paint Islam in the darkest possible hues. That young boy who drove the van was scared out of his wits. Yet, he swallowed his fear to press on the gas pedal, not knowing the perfect timing on when and how to shift gears and put on the brakes. These are the stories of genuine humanity that the Maute Group failed to take into consideration. They probably thought it would be easy to turn Muslims against Christians and vice versa, like it was during the imposition of martial law in the Marcos era. Today’s battles are clearly different, whether in the physical or spiritual sense. Love for strangers, especially for Christians? That was not in their recipe book for violent extremism. Yet, isn’t Islam the profession of peace, love and mercy? I asked Director Edres about the modus operandi of the Maute Group. How do they recruit people? He said, unlike the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), the Maute Group is intentionally targeting young Muslims. They offer money and the promise of a better life. The Maute Group understands social media. They wrongly interpret religious verses to ramp up anger, ignoring the basic principles in the Koran that teach love not just for people, but also for the entire universe. If they are targeting the youth, then shouldn’t the government and civil society embark on programs that would enlighten the youth and inoculate them from indoctrination programs geared towards violent extremism? Yes, Director Edres said. Unfortunately, the National Commission on Muslim Filipinos lacks the necessary funds and manpower to spearhead such programs throughout the nation. The commission has an annual budget of about P500 million, 85 percent of which goes to personnel expenditures. Based on our conversation, Kim and I listed down some measures that various government agencies and civil society could work on to ensure that young Muslims do not fall for the false promises and evil intentions of the Maute Group: • Create special programs for the Muslim youth including those based in Metro Manila to boost education and work opportunities including jobs in...

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Why is there a steep decline in OFW contributions to PhilHealth?

Posted by on 11:20 am in Featured, Manila Times Column | 0 comments

Why is there a steep decline in OFW contributions to PhilHealth?

All overseas Filipino workers are required to contribute to PhilHealth by virtue of Republic Act No. 7875 on the creation of a National Health Insurance Program. The law should have been enough to assure a healthy percentage of OFWs in PhilHealth’s membership rolls considering how essential affordable health care is to every Filipino family. Alas, the opposite is true. In 2016, the premium payments of OFW PhilHealth members amounted to only P823 million compared to more than P1.7 billion pesos in 2014 and P1.2-B in 2015. This represents a drop of P490-million in premium payments. The assumption is that this whopping decline also represents a huge drop in OFW memberships. Why the sharp decline? And how can PhilHealth check and reverse it? In 2014, collections of mandatory contributions for OWWA, PhilHealth and Pag-IBIG of OFWs were tied up with the process of obtaining an Overseas Employment Certificate (OEC) that only the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) can issue. Why is the OEC important? It is proof that the holder is an OFW and therefore entitled to certain privileges under the law, such as exemptions from paying the airport terminal fee and travel tax. It also enables the POEA to maintain a database of OFWs that have gone through legitimate channels of deployment to include the name and location of its private recruitment agency, foreign recruitment agency, and foreign employer. Thus, every OFW that passed through the POEA automatically became a member of PhilHealth, Pag-IBIG Fund, and OWWA, because of that single collection process.Walang hirap ang tatlong ahensya sa pagkolekt ang kontribusyon noon dahil sa POEA. In April 2015, to address the clamor of OFWs complaining about the process and costs of obtaining their OECs, the POEA decided that it would no longer serve as the collecting arm of Pag-IBIG Fund and PhilHealth. It was the POEA’s way of telling the two GOCC giants, “Market your services on your own.” Since OWWA also belongs to the labor department’s official family, the POEA had no problem collecting membership contributions in OWWA’s behalf. Being untethered should have spurred PhilHealth to come up with its own aggressive marketing and awareness campaign for OFWs, in the same way that Pag-IBIG Fund and OWWA continue to reach out to OFWs, their families and various stakeholders. But it hasn’t, and many OFWs still lack in-depth information about PhilHealth’s programs, packages, and services. Yet, we look at OFW contributions to Pag-IBIG Fund and see a healthy annual rate of P2-billion, slightly higher in 2016 compared to the year before. So it can’t just be the delinking of collection efforts by the POEA that has sunk OFW membership levels in PhilHealth. There is another reason behind the decline and it is putrid. Based on reliable sources, it seems that for quite some time, certain liaison officers of private recruitment agencies were pocketing the premium contributions of OFWs, without the knowledge of the owners and the workers themselves. These unscrupulous agency staff whose main role is to facilitate the processing of OFW clients, have been issuing fake PhilHealth receipts to unsuspecting migrant workers. Such cases involve millions of pesos and are now under investigation. Why hasPhilHealth not issued any warning about this scam nor has it met with the different recruitment associations to seek their help in stopping it?...

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Gino Basas, 28, beaten to death

Posted by on 10:42 am in Featured, Manila Times Column | 0 comments

Gino Basas, 28, beaten to death

Pope Francis sent out this tweet yesterday: “The road from love to hate is easy. The one from hate to love is more difficult, but brings peace.” This papal message is apt given the many acts of senseless violence that have engulfed us. One particular case involves two groups of young people, drinking and hanging out with friends in a Quezon City bar that ended in the brutal and senseless killing of a 28-year-old OFW. Fritz Mohammed, Cyril Rada, Earl Grande, and a certain Jammil are the main suspects in the murder of seafarer Abigail Gino Basas. I met Gino’s father, Agapito, a few minutes before his son’s casket was brought to Mass and then onward to the Himlayang Pilipino Memorial Park in Quezon City. ACTS OFW party-list representative John Bertiz, whose stepson was also beaten and shot to death several years ago by members of a frat gang, joined OFW advocate Luther Calderon and myself in paying our respects to Gino on the day he was buried. We saw Gino’s weeping friends and relatives; his father kept saying that he wanted to guard his son, be with his son, stay with him. The father told us that Gino had just come home from a six-month contract aboard an Australian cruise ship where he worked as a photographer. His son was excited about the future, and absolutely loved his job. More than anything else, the young man was looking forward to helping his family more as an OFW. One must understand that a seafarer, especially when hired by an international cruise ship, has a good chance of being promoted, especially when the customers provide favorable reviews. Gino was a likable kid, and an artistic one as well. He had a full career as a seafarer ahead of him. But his killers didn’t know that. Fritz Mohammed only felt someone touch or perhaps even push his elbow, which was provocative enough for Fritz to call his gang so they could teach the “enemy” a lesson. The beating didn’t even last two minutes. I saw the video. Gino never stood a chance. When people close to us die, it’s not just the body that we lay down to rest and cry our hearts for. It’s the absence of that special person in our lives, in our future. It’s the opportunity to love and be loved by that special person. In the case of the Basas family, Gino was their only son. He had yet to start a family of his own. He will no longer be in family photos every Christmas hence, and in all special occasions. He won’t be walking down the aisle, or witnessing the birth of his firstborn. His parents won’t see him grow old as they grow older. He won’t be able to take care of them as they did of him when he was just a little boy. No more “selfies” as he sails the high seas. People die all the time but not because their elbows touched someone else’s. If the Quezon City police fail to arrest these suspects, that arrogance and self-entitlement will grow like giant boulders crushing the little pebbles of conscience that they used to have. People close to him say that Gino Basas was a good kid. The bereaved family shared...

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The story of Em & Mark: When love conquers all

Posted by on 2:10 pm in Featured, Manila Times Column | 0 comments

The story of Em & Mark: When love conquers all

EMMELINE Aglipay-Villar, congresswoman and gender equality and labor rights advocate, walked through the door of the coffee shop, in full bloom, her slender frame occupying the seat across from me. We used to meet frequently at her house in Pasig City whenever I needed to consult my Nacionalista partymate Mark Villar about the 2016 senatorial race. That morning, Em, as friends call her, impressed me as a woman with a mission. She has lupus, a lifelong disease wherein the individual’s defense system attacks various organs of the body. Her mission is to help people with lupus come to terms with managing the disease. I asked her to describe lupus in non-medical terms. Em said: “Imagine if there were very bad people in your community and you ask the police to come in but the police cannot distinguish the bad people from the good people. The police end up attacking places where there are no bad people to be found. It’s something like that because when you have lupus, your immune system which is supposed to defend you, attacks your organs.” Despite decades of research, the exact cause of lupus has yet to be discovered. It is predominantly found in women between the childbearing ages of 15 and 44. The most distinctive sign of lupus – a facial rash that resembles the wings of a butterfly unfolding across both cheeks – occurs in many but not all cases of lupus. While there’s no cure for lupus, medical treatments are available to control its symptoms. “Lupus is also called ‘the great imitator’ because it’s easy to attribute the symptoms to other ailments. I thought the stiffness in my hands and my ankles were due to my exercise routines. I went to a physical therapist thinking that the pain in my joints were nothing really serious and would just go away.” In June 2007, the pain was so bad that she had to go to the emergency room of Makati Medical Center, which was close to the law firm where she worked. It was not a good time for Em. Her party-list group, DIWA, had lost the mid-term elections and she was emotionally drained from combining a tough nationwide campaign with her professional obligations as a lawyer to the firm and its clients. “My blood counts were down, my kidney was badly damaged, and I had to be confined. That was the first time that I heard about lupus. I accepted the results and simply asked, ‘so what do I need to do?’ My first doctor told me not to leave the house, and if you really do need to leave the house, you must wear a mask. I changed doctors. I can’t just be at home because I wanted to do so many things.” Then finally, in 2010, DIWA party-list won and Representative Emmeline Aglipay found herself immersed in work, dealing with constituents, and loving it. She observed that Congress was the last place to find the right guy for her. “If I wanted to get married, I thought, I can’t find that right guy in Congress.” Las Piñas Representative Mark Villar asked Em out for lunch and they had occasional group dates from time to time. “I was pushing him away. I told him that I had lupus and maybe...

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Why can’t the govt stop Winston Q8?

Posted by on 12:10 pm in Featured, Manila Times Column | 0 comments

Why can’t the govt stop Winston Q8?

THE Embassy of South Korea was quick to deny that a Korean mafia operates in the Philippines and was behind the murder of Korean businessman Jee Ick-joo. Understandably, embassy officials would come under fire from its own diplomatic headquarters and the South Korean government as a whole for failing to monitor and report the activities of this alleged mafia. Linking the gruesome killing of Jee Ick-joo to an alleged shakedown by his own compatriots is something that even the victim’s widow was insistent on dispelling. I really don’t know if a South Korean mafia does exist in the Philippines. However, all signs point to the existence of a Kuwaiti-run business that has all the makings of a syndicate out to victimize our overseas Filipino workers, with the full support of the Embassy of Kuwait and perhaps even the government of Kuwait. I refer to the owners and associates of a Manila-based company known as Winston Q8, which has the power to choose which among the Department of Health-accredited clinics should service OFWs bound for Kuwait. I wonder why despite the very clear monopoly enjoyed by Winston Q8 and its accredited clinics, neither the Department of Foreign Affairs nor the Department of Labor and Employment through the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration as well as the Department of Health has been able to stop this excessive and illegal scheme. ACTS OFW party-list Representative John Bertiz presented before his colleagues the syndicated manner by which Winston Q8 and another Kuwaiti-owned company known as MARAWED operates. Here are some details from that presentation and from other sources as well: In 2016, the Kuwait Embassy outsourced its medical certification and visa services to two private companies, Winston Q8 and MAWARED, respectively. This means that no Filipino worker bound for Kuwait can leave without passing through these two companies. Both companies are not accredited or recognized by the POEA, the DoH and the DFA. The average medical pre-employment tests based on the DoH’s circular shall not go beyond P2,200 per OFW and that every overseas job applicant has the freedom to choose where to get tested. For all other countries, this is followed, except for Kuwait. Because, unless the job applicant pays an additional P5,800 to Winston Q8 through a bank deposit, he or she cannot obtain medical tests from the only eight clinics, all based in Metro Manila, that Winston Q8 recognizes. The freedom of choice accorded by law to every prospective OFW has been taken away by a Kuwait-owned and Kuwait Embassy-sanctioned company known as Winston Q8. Yet, our own government is unable to stop this company. The same holds true for MARAWED. MARAWED and Winston Q8 operate like sister companies; one reinforces the profits of the other. You cannot get your visa stamped unless you go through Winston Q8. Why? Because the Kuwaiti Embassy says so. By the way, the visa stamping fee that was less than P500 before, has now been jacked up to P3,457. So, here are two Kuwaiti companies based in Manila, pocketing P5,800 and P3,457 per OFW bound for Kuwait, in uncontested monopolies. To disguise its clearly money-making motives, Winston Q8, speaking through its lawyer and accredited clinics, said that its certification service is needed because many OFWs were sent home from Kuwait due to shoddy medical screening...

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