Ma’asalama Joe!

A week ago I posted here in our blog a news item published in Saudi Gazette titled “Filipino Community Leader  in EP Honored” written by seasoned Filipino news correspondent Mr. Joe Avancena.  Today, in return, the whole Filipino community in Saudi Arabia honored him for making us proud as Filipinos in this country.  

Joe Avancena in heartbreaking news died apparently of heart attack, Thursday, March 8 at 5:20 PM at age 74.

He worked in Saudi Gazette, a leading English newspaper in the Kingdom for over 30 years, at first as a reporter and later as Bureau Chief.  He left Saudi Gazzette three years ago and took up a job as Editor at the Federation of GCC Chamber of Commerce and Industry in Dammam and kept on writing news articles with Saudi Gazette.

He earned his Master of Business Management/MBA degree at Philippine Christian University. He has spent much of his storied career in chronicling Filipino community events and OFW issues and concerns.

Joe witness the social and economic transformation of Saudi Arabia with deep understanding of their culture and history, the reason why he prefer to stay with his wife in the Kingdom rather going back home for good.  His widow,  Ana  is currently working as Administrative Assistant of Philippine Overseas Labor Office (POLO)  in Al Khobar. They have two sons and five grandchildren.

The Filipino Community in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, will miss Joe Avancena and our thoughts and prayers are with his family; Ma’asalama Joe!  

Labor disputes and unreasonable delay



One of the aims of enacting labor laws is to protect the rights of employees from any abuse of their employers. Additionally, forming a robust system to resolve disputes is a cornerstone to protecting the rights of employees. However, having a fragile system to resolve disputes may, in actual fact, hinder protecting the rights of employees.

3,000 workers demanding their rights (click image)

Saudi Arabia has endeavored to protect the rights of employees as well as employers. The new Labor Law of Saudi Arabia, which was issued by the Royal Decree No. M/51 dated Sept. 27, 2005, was enacted to regulate labor matters as well as disputes. Nonetheless, Saudi Arabia has a serious dilemma with respect to resolving labor disputes in a timely manner. As such, disputes may take up to two years or more to be resolved for no justified reasons.

In most cases, the dispute process initially commences by an employee filing a complaint before the labor office. The labor office then attempts to resolve the dispute amicably between both parties. However, in the event of an unreachable agreement, the dispute will then be referred by the labor office to the Preliminary Commission for Settlement of Labor Disputes. When the Preliminary Commission issues its decision, it is deemed preliminary and not final in most of the cases and may be appealed before the High Commission for Settlement of Labor Disputes by one or both parties within thirty days from the date of utterance of the decision issued in the presence of the parties or from the date of notification of the decision in other cases.

However, if the decision of the Preliminary Commission is not appealed by one or both parties within the aforesaid period, the decision is considered final and enforceable. Nonetheless, if the decision of the Preliminary Commission is appealed before the High Commission, then the High Commission will only review the part(s) of the decision that one or both parties are appealing and issue its decision accordingly.

The duration of the above process could take up to two years or more; which equates to an absolute nightmare for employees, in particular expatriates.

To read more >>>>>>>>  

Filipino community leader in EP honored

AL-KHOBAR — Engineer Ernesto N. Mapanao, a longtime Filipino worker in the Eastern Province (EP), was honored here last Friday for supporting distressed compatriots and working with various Filipino community organizations throughout the years.

Mapanao received a plaque of recognition from the Overseas Filipino Workers Congress in EP (OFWC-EP), a pioneering Filipino association established 12 years ago in the Kingdom.

Photo by:Joe Avancena (SG)

The simple ceremony was held at the resident of Mary Jane Tupas, president of OFWC and the director of nursing of Mohamad Dosary Hospital.

Mapanao is leaving to join his family in Canada after some 20 years working as an engineer for leading Saudi companies in the oil and gas industries. Active in community affairs, he had served as the Third President of the Overseas Filipino Workers Congress (OFWC) from 2005- 2007.

Leading EP community leaders attended the event, including Dr. Gener Benter, Dr. Peter Marpa, Engr. Bong Dionisio, Martin Valenzuela, Chito Arcilla, Mulong Odsinada, George Palencia, Lito Tomas, Jun Mones, Charlie Rapanut, Ed Saballa and Orly Arcega.

taken from: Saudi Gazette-MARHABA 3 March 2012

Anxiety to repay biz loans may weaken DOLE program


Anxiety to repay biz loans may weaken DOLE program

by: JEREMAIAH M. OPINIANO (OFW Journalism Consortium)

PASAY CITY—A MONTHS-OLD program handing out business loans to returning migrant workers does not require collateral from borrowers, and a finance expert thinks borrowers might encounter uneasiness to repay these loans.

The P2 billion Reintegration Fund for returning overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) hands out loans ranging from P200,000 to P2 million to existing migrant entrepreneurs. But microfinance specialist Jun Perez is worried that required documents returning OFWs must present and frequently show might give borrowers hesitation to repay.

The context here, said the managing director of the microfinance network Seed Finance Corp., is the size of the enterprises vis-à-vis returning OFWs’ abilities to repay.

The loan range implies that borrowers run small and medium enterprises (SMEs). Meanwhile, lenders Land Bank of the Philippines (LandBank) and Development Bank of the Philippines (DBP) will require OFW borrowers to show documents related to their enterprises, such as purchase orders and titles to equipment purchased. There’s no collateral required for this loan program.

And this is where Perez’s view comes in about borrowers’ “compunction,” or a person’s strong uneasiness caused by a sense of guilt.

Borrowers running SMEs have to title their properties just to secure their loans, though the situation might not be applicable to those running sari-sari (small retail) stores or buy-and-sell ventures. Titling these properties entails costs, in the hope that with the titling the enterprise grows. With such growth the enterprise will now institutionalize having purchase orders (like sari-sari stores) like what usual businesses have.

Then the uneasiness comes in since running the business, producing the titles and business-related documents, and repaying the loans all come into play for the OFW borrower. In such a situation, the scheme of not requiring collateral for these SME loans “might be disadvantageous to the banks (DBP and LBP),” Perez said.

The Reintegration Fund represents the new scheme of the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) and the National Reintegration Center for OFWs (NRCO) to hand out livelihood loans to overseas workers. No less than President Aquino III ordered the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) to roll out this program.

But years of previous livelihood programs handled by OWWA, whether handled alone or in collaboration with financial institutions such as the National Livelihood Development Corp. (NLDC), have histories of high non-repayment rates by OFW borrowers.


THE fund has P0.5 billion each from Land Bank and DBP, as well as a guarantee amount of P1 billion from OWWA (the world’s largest migrant welfare fund whose resources come from US$25 membership fees that departing overseas workers pay on a per-contract basis).

Officials of Land Bank and DBP explained during the fund’s launch months ago that both banks will offer an interest rate of only 7.5 percent to each of the loans, payable from two to seven years.

The loans, said Land Bank’s Cressida Mendoza and DBP’s Brillo Reynes during the congress, will make up 80 percent of the total capital needed by the enterprise. There’s also a catch: The businesses to be financed by these loans “must be earning”.

That way, said Mendoza, the situation “will be mutually beneficial to the OFW and to the bank”.

NRCO director Vivian Tornea said in a DOLE release that while there’s no collateral, loan applicants must “guarantee the business enterprise… is viable and profitable —or earning, say, like P10,000 a month”.

Actually, Perez and another development finance expert, Hector de Pedro of the nonprofit Mandato Inc., think both LBP and DBP have proven track records in handing out these reintegration loans.

It’s just that the image of these banks as part of the “government” that worries both Perez and de Pedro. Government-run lending programs “fail,” de Pedro thinks, because “the (word) government is literally synonymous to the word dole out —and the approaches of some agencies do not breed entrepreneurs”.

Thus, Perez said the Reintegration Fund’s implementation “must maintain the discipline and conviction that it must be sustainable, thus must support clearly-viable or potentially viable (enterprises) with community impact”.

Not surprisingly, the Reintegration Fund leaves those OFWs planning to launch start-up enterprises by the wayside—similar to how banks offer loans to existing ventures (but not to start-ups).

The upside of this regulation by DBP and LBP is that government invests its loan resources on proven practices, and that means all figures are (easily) given. Still, new business models coming from OFW enterprise start-ups may not be developed “because there is no support,” said de Pedro.  


THE issue of repayment has haunted previous livelihood programs of OWWA, the most recent of which was the loans OWWA and the NRCO issued to OFWs displaced by the global economic crisis in 2009.

Previous OWWA and NRCO programs on reintegration saw OWWA directly providing these services, especially loans (even if OWWA is not a quasi-financial institution). OWWA also has a running Livelihood Development Program for OFWs (LDPO), in coordination with the National Livelihood Development Corporation —though information is not available on the nationally-run loan program’s repayment performance.

During a press conference after the fund’s launch, Labor undersecretary Danilo Cruz told the OFW Journalism Consortium OWWA “will exert extra efforts” to monitor borrowers’ repayment of their loans. Handling loans “is not OWWA’s forte,” Cruz adds, justifying DOLE’s partnership with LandBank and DBP. The partnership sees OWWA’s share to the Reintegration Fund as a guarantee fund in case of non-repayment, Cruz told reporters during a press conference.

LDPO has its own repayment woes. For example, officials of a cooperative in central Philippines that is a conduit of LDPO loans said there is a “high” non-repayment rate among their OFW borrowers. The conduit, the Philippine Cooperative Central Fund Federation, then conducted a financial education and business assessment seminar to some of its borrowers so that the latter are told how to handle the capital they have.

For migrant civil society advocates like Carmelita Nuqui of the Development Action for Women Network (DAWN), the reintegration fund’s regulations are “different from what the government says in public”. Loans for returning migrants, Nuqui says, are available “but why can’t overseas Filipino workers get them right away if these are really for them?”

Policing the religious police in Saudi Arabia

Recently, the Saudi government appointed a new president for the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice who is known to be a more open-minded and progressive thinker.

However, the problem is not so much with the individuals on the commission but with the institution itself and how it operates.

For example, its executive bylaws in many respects are vague and have allowed some of its members to violate basic human rights, including in some cases the physical and verbal abuse of Saudi citizens.

Unfortunately, the commission’s executive bylaws outlined its powers and functions in only a general way, allowing too much license in how its mission was to be achieved.

As a result, this has led to the violations that are committed by the commission’s members. Indeed, the commission seems to exercise its power in excess of proper limitations and in violation of individual freedom. But let me be clear: I am not talking about the ritual of Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice stated in the Qur’an which must be respected and followed by all Muslims, but about the unacceptable activities of the commission’s members.

Those acting on behalf of the commission have repeatedly shown that they do not respect the people’s right of privacy, and they engage in practices that are objectionable such as chasing and assaulting people and forcing segregation between men and women.   read more>>>>>

Open Reply to my Reader re: OWWA

Paano itinataguyod ng OWWA ang tinatawag na nasyonalismo sa aming hanay ayon sa 1987 Phil. Constitution?

Sa totoo po, wala po akong personal na hinanakit sa OWWA. Ngunit bilang isang lider komunidad ng mga mangagawang pinoy sa ibayong dagat, hindi ko po naramdaman ang tinatawag na nasyonalismo or patriyotismo ng OWWA sa aming hanay. Sa kadahilanang napakaliit lamang po ang nai-ambag ng OWWA sa pangkalahatang pakinabang ng isang OFW. Meron man, maramdaman lamang po namin ito kung kami ay nadisgrasya dahil sa karampot na benepisyong makukuha namin kung kami ay wala ng daliri, paa at hindi na makalakad. Yong iba naman po nating kahanay ay hindi napo naramdaman ang tulong ng OWWA kung nasa kahon na itong darating sa ating bayan. Iyan kung hindi po paso ang aming membership status, dahil wala kang matatanggap sa OWWA kung hindi ka nakapagbayad ng membership fee nito or expire na ang iyong membership.

Patriotism & Nationalism: 12-year old Janella Lelis of Albay after this picture of her was taken by Francisco Pena Lozano while she was saving the Philippine Flag & braving the flood waters brought by Typhoon Juaning.

Nasaan ang Nasyonalismo para sa mga OFWs na dugo at pawis ang pinuhunan para mabigyan ng kinabukasan ang pamilyang naghihikahos sa bansang sinilangan? Nasaan ang pagmamahal ng OWWA sa mga OFWs na naging bayani “kono” sa mga mata ng pamahalaan upang isalba ang ekonomiya ng bansa?

1987 Constitution Section 29.(3) All money collected on any tax levied for a special purpose shall be treated as a special fund and paid out for such purpose only. If the purpose for which a special fund was created has been fulfilled or abandoned, the balance, if any, shall be transferred to the general funds of the Government.

Nasaan ang Nasyonalismo ng OWWA, at ng mga Board of Trustees mismo noong sila ay pumayag o sumang-ayon na mailipat ang milyon-milyong peso ng OWWA Medicare Fund sa Philippine Health Insurance Corporation?

Malinaw po na ang paglipat nito ay illegal at hindi po para sa kapakanan at kagalingan ng OFW ang rason ng paglipat nito. Ayon sa Section 29 ng Saligang Batas: Lahat ng pera na nakolekta sa anumang buwis para sa isang espesyal na layunin ay dapat na itinuturing na isang espesyal na pondo at ang perang ito ay dapat gastosin lamang para sa inilalaan nito.

Sa talumpati ni Pangulong Noynoy nitong nakaraang Bagong Bayani Awards 2011 aniya “Manalig po kayong tinitiyak ng gobyerno na ang pinaghihirapan ng ating mga OFWs ay may pinatutunguhan at hindi nababalewala”. Sana ang namumutawi sa kanyang bibig ay hindi po ningas cogon lamang dahil simula ng kanyang panunungkulan ay hindi pa po namin naramdaman ang totoong serbisyo ng OWWA which is to addressed the needs and concerns of distressed OFWs documented or undocumented ayon sa nakasaad sa Magna Carta R.A. 8042 as amended.

Panghuli, dapat pong magkaroon ng pampolitikal na representasyon o partisipasyon ang aming hanay upang mapakinggan ang aming boses at mabigyan ng pagkakataong makasali sa paghimok at paggawa ng batas o polisiya ayon sa aming tunay na pangangailangan, tungo sa isang makatotohanan, kapakapanibangang serbisyo para sa OFW at sa pamilya nito. Kabilang kami sa sektor ng lipunan at dapat lamang na may karapatan kaming magsalita tungo sa iisang mithiin pangkabutihan para sa aming hanay. -end- By: BongA

Philippine Ambassador Ezzedin Tago visits KACST

1 February 2012/RIYADH :  As part of  the Philippine Embassy’s effort to enhance bilateral relations with the host country,  the new  Philippine Ambassador, His Excellency  Ezzedin Tago  met  with  officials of  the King Abdulaziz City for Science and Technology-KACST,  the Saudi Arabian national science agency and its national research laboratories.

His Excellency Dr. Mohammed Ibrahim Al-Suwaiyel, the President of KACST welcomed the visit and the meeting. The new Philippine envoy was accompanied by  Vice Consul, Atty. Paul Saret, the mission’s  Political and Economic Officer.

H.E. Ambassador Ezzedin Tago with KACST Directorate of International Cooperation, Director Mohammed Al-Badrani

The main purpose of the visit is to promote bilateral technical cooperation under the aegis of the Philippine Saudi Arabia Cooperation Agreement on Economic Trade, investment and  Technical Cooperation.

The  Philippine Embassy wishes to discuss possible areas for joint research programs on the basis of earlier discussions made between KACST and the Philippines, Department of Science and Technology-DOST  at the technical levels.

During the meeting the KACST President, Dr. Mohammed Al-Suwaiyel  directed the KACST-Directorate of International Cooperation to identify specific areas of mutual interest in selected fields for joint collaborative  research  programs.

PhilEmb Political and Economic Officer, Vice Consul Paul Saret, KACST-DIC Director M. Al-Badrani & Phil. Ambassador Ezzedin Tago

The Department of Science and Technology in the Philippines submitted  list of Philippine Institutions responsible in their Research and Development such as in the field of Computer Electronic Research, Petroleum and Petrochemicals and Energy ResearchAstronomy and Geophysics, Food Irradiation and Medical and Bioethics.

Aside from overseeing the welfare and protection of the estimated 1 Million OFWs in the Kingdom, the major task of the Philippine mission is to undertake bilateral agreements that will benefit both countries in the field of commerce, agriculture, engineering, science and technology. All of the mentioned areas can be achieved through collaborative means covered by the umbrella Memorandum of Agreement  signed by the two countries in 1994. –end- By: BongA

Extension of the Amnesty Period for Overstayers

Advisory No. 2012-006 (10 January 2012)

Extension of the Amnesty Period for Overstayers of Hajj, Umrah and Visit Visa Until 9 March 2012

The Embassy of the Philippines in Riyadh informs all Filipinos in the Kingdom that the amnesty period for those who have overstayed their hajj, umrah, and visit visas has been extended by another six months starting from 16/10/1432-H (corresponding to 14 September 2011). All concerned Filipinos are strongly urged to avail of the amnesty before the deadline on 16/4/1433-H (corresponding to 09 March 2012).

On 02 January 2012, the Embassy received Diplomatic Note No. 8/4/365161 dated 30/1/1433-H (25 December 2011) informing the Embassy of the Royal approval of the extension period for amnesty for violations of hajj, umrah and visit visas for another six months starting from 16/10/1432-H (14 September 2011). The six-month extension period will end on 16/4/1433-H (corresponding to 09 March 2012).

The Note did not include any mention of those with expired iqamas; those who came to the Kingdom for employment with a sponsor and have stayed beyond the validity of their iqama; or those who absconded from their original employer and seek repatriation. It is therefore clear that absconding workers or “ TNTs” are not included in the Royal Pardon or “Amnesty”.

The Embassy strongly advises all concerned Filipinos who have overstayed their hajj, umrah or visit visa to avail of the amnesty. According to the authorities, all overstaying nationals, including those availing of the Royal Pardon, will be blacklisted from returning to the Kingdom. Overstaying foreign nationals apprehended after the deadline will be required to pay a heavy penalty and may be subject to imprisonment.

The Embassy advises all Filipinos against dealing with “fixers” of any nationality, who claim that they could facilitate repatriation in exchange for fees. All concerned Filipinos are advised to proceed to the Saudi Immigration Office (Jawazat) in their region and complete the processing of their repatriation as soon as possible and before the deadline on 09 March 2012. ###

PhilEmb and OKOR commemorate 115th Anniversary of Martyrdom of Dr. Jose Rizal

The Philippine Embassy in Riyadh, together with the Riyadh Chapter of the Order of the Knights of Rizal (OKOR), ended 2011 with a commemoration of the 115th anniversary of the martyrdom of Dr. Jose Rizal, the Philippine National Hero.

Ambassador Ezzedin Tago during the Event

In Riyadh, Ambassador Ezzedin Tago led the Philippine Embassy staff and family in joining the officers of the Order of the Knights of Rizal with simple program to commemorate the event starting with a wreath laying to honor the Philippine National Hero, Dr. Jose Rizal. Ambassador Tago and OKOR President Jun Nacion led the ceremony, with the Embassy staff and OKOR member paying respect to Dr. Rizal who was shot on 30 December 1896 in Bagumbayan, now known as Luneta, Manila.

In his remarks, Ambassador Tago expressed hope that the Philippine community in Saudi Arabia could emulate Dr. Rizal and put into action his teachings and ideals. Calling Filipinos overseas and in the Kingdom as the true ambassadors, he stated that the patriotism showed by Dr. Rizal should inspire everyone to act for the good of the nation. Ambassador Tago also exhorted the OKOR to work with the Philippine schools in the Kingdom to instill the Rizal’s teachings in the hearts of the next generation to ensure that the legacy he left behind would not be forgotten.

The program included a screening of Pluma, a documentary by the Philippine network GMA on the life of Dr. Jose Rizal.

The Filipino community in the Eastern Region of Saudi Arabia also commemorated Dr. Rizal’s martyrdom. Labor Attaché Adam Musa represented the Philippine Embassy in the commemoration organized by the Eastern Region Chapter of the Order of the Knights of Rizal held at the International Philippine School in Al-Khobar (IPSA). The program featured a wreath-laying, a reenactment of the death of Dr. Rizal by students from IPSA, and a recital of Mi Ultimo Adios (Last Farewell), Rizal’s farewell poem penned before he was executed.