Medicine Donations Make Up for OWWA Inadequacy

Medicine Donations Make Up for OWWA Inadequacy
By: Bien Custodio (Arab News: 7/20/2003)

RIYADH, 20 July 2003 — The bad news is that the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) in Manila has been slow in releasing the monthly medical allowance for distressed Filipino workers abroad.

The good news is that here in Riyadh, there are plenty of companies and individuals who are willing to help.

Late last month, Al-Jazeera Pharmaceuticals donated 25,000 riyals worth of medicines for various ailments for OFWs housed at the Philippine Embassy’s “Bahay Kalinga” and other distressed workers.

Ambassador Bahnarim Guinomla, along with Labor Attaché Manuel Roldan and Dr. Ray Suanding, received the donation at the embassy from officials and representatives of Al-Jazeera.

“This will go a long way in helping alleviate the health conditions of our workers who need the medicines,” Guinomla said during a simple ceremony, as he cited the company’s executives for their “generosity and humanitarian concern.”

He awarded plaques of appreciation to Dr. Khader Muhammad Jarwan, Mohammad Erfan Othman Al Sheik Ali, Khalid Abdullah Hasoon, Riyadh Abu Yousej, Ahmed Qasim Basheer Zoubi, Hashem Ahmad Nazr, Imran Nazeem, Federico P. Saldivar and Raymundo V. Garcia.

Guinomla also commended Filipino community leaders who helped solicit the donations, especially those from the Pusong Mamon Task Force, Suportahan Ta Ka, E-Lagda and ICOFVR.

Among those present during the program were Madam Guinomla, Vice Consul Adrian Cruz and his wife Citadel, Cultural Attaché Carmelita Hidalgo, Cris and Marilyn Lavina, Rashid Fabricante, Rudy Elix, Ronnie Abeto, Bong Amora, Sanny Ingco and other officers of KAKAMPI.

Last October, the Saudi Pharmaceuticals Industry and Medical Appliances Corporation (SPIMACO) also donated 14 boxes of medicines to Bahay Kalinga, the temporary shelter for distressed OFWs.

Suanding, the doctor sent to Riyadh by the Philippine government to help distressed OFWs under an experimental project, said the donations are most welcome because the last time the OWWA main office in Manila released the $400 monthly medical allowance for OFWs in Riyadh was in December.

He said a good number of distressed or stranded workers whom he had seen have health problems.

Hypertension was common among those aged 50 and above “maybe due to age and aggravated by stress,” he said. Other health problems noted were respiratory, such as bronchitis and common colds. There are also a number of diabetics, he said.

He said he had informed Angel Borja, OWWA officer in Riyadh, of the discontinued provision of the health allowance and was told that the issue is under verification.
OWWA was created by the Philippine government to look after the welfare of distressed OFWs. It was not clear why the agency had been reported to be having financial difficulties even though it continues to extract $25 for every OFW leaving the Philippines for work abroad.

According to Labor Attaché Jainal Rasul, the outgoing chief of the Philippine Overseas Labor Office (POLO), Bahay Kalinga continues to receive an average of 3 to 4 runaways a day but there was no overcrowding.

He said there were 73 OFWs at the shelter as of Wednesday and eight were scheduled for repatriation in the next few days.

He admitted that there were delays in the repatriation of some who were waiting for their plane tickets to be provided by their former employers.

Some have opted to stay and wait for the release of their financial claims from their employers, he added.

In its midyear report which still under preparation, headed by Rasul recorded a total of 575 distressed female workers housed at Bahay Kalinga from January to June 2003. Of the number, 457 had been repatriated.

During the same period, the Philippine labor office had provided tickets to 163 stranded males, and “returned” 316 to their employers through amicable settlements, the report said.


Don’t Go to Iraq, Hostage Tells Fellow OFWs

Don’t Go to Iraq, Hostage Tells Fellow OFWs

Arab News

JEDDAH, 11 July 2004 — To Filipino workers who are still tempted to seek work in Iraq: Don’t.

This message came from Angelo dela Cruz, the driver from the northern Philippines who had been taken hostage by Iraqi captors while on his way to restive Fallujah from Saudi Arabia.

Dela Cruz reportedly worked as a truck driver for a Saudi company. “To my colleagues in the Saudi company, and all Filipinos who are coming to Iraq. I advise you not to come to Iraq, because there are a lot of problems, and the Iraqi police won’t be able to protect you, like what happened to me,” he was quoted in a video aired by Al-Jazeera network yesterday.

Dela Cruz was alone on the video, wearing a bright orange jumpsuit like that worn by American hostage Nicholas Berg and South Korean hostage Kim Sun-il when they were beheaded by captors. Their killings were videotaped.

Behind dela Cruz was a black banner that that identified the group that captured him as “The Islamic Army of Iraq — Khalid bin Al-Waleed Brigade.”

Dela Cruz, a father of eight from the town of Mexico in Pampanga province, also pleaded for President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, his province-mate: “Please, (President) Arroyo, withdraw your forces from Iraq.”

His voice was inaudible, but an announcer read an Arabic translation of his words.
The Al-Jazeera announcer said the video was intended as the hostage’s last appeal to his family, government and friends.

Please Release Him

Amid prayers for the dela Cruz’s safe release, Muslim groups and leaders in the Philippines came forward and joined appeals to the Iraqi captors to spare the victim.
“In behalf of the Muslims in this country, we are appealing to the captors to please free this man,” said Mahid Mutilan, vice governor of the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao in the southern Philippines and an Islamic religious leader.

Mutilan told the captors in Arabic that dela Cruz “is a mere truck driver struggling in Iraq … to feed his poor family here.”

“By this, maybe God will help them to realize their own struggle and free their own people if they will be kind to this poor man,” he added.

The separatist Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) also urged the captors “to spare his (dela Cruz’s) life and instead resolve the issue through peaceful negotiations.”
MILF spokesman Eid Kabalu made the appeal in an interview over ABS-CBN television yesterday.

Kabalu said they made the appeal “in the name of humanity.”

The MILF, which had been fighting for an independent Islamic state in the southern Philippines, had helped in the past in freeing victims of kidnappings by bandit groups such as the Abu Sayyaf. It has also agreed to help government forces in a crackdown against the Pentagon kidnap for ransom gang in Mindanao.

Take Actor Instead

Meanwhile, popular movie actor Robin Padilla offered to take the place of dela Cruz in Iraq.

Appearing grim-faced, the ex-convict who joined the Balik Islam (Return to Islam) Movement while serving a sentence for illegal possession of firearms, said he Filipinos are not the enemies of the Iraqi people.

“We are traveling on the same road. Muslims and Christians should live under the light of peace,” Padilla appealed.

He said Islamic leaders have tried to build understanding between Muslims and Christians, and following decades of conflict in the Philippines, the majority Christians now are “listening to the message of Islam.”

“If you proceed with beheading Angelo dela Cruz, all our efforts will be wasted,” Padilla said.

Troop Pullout

In Riyadh, Filipino community leaders sent an open letter to President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo asking for the withdrawal of Filipino troops in Iraq so as not to place the lives of Filipinos in the region at risk.

“We believe the lives of the OFWs are at extreme risk,” community leaders said after a meeting at the Almutlaq Novotel in Riyadh on Thursday.

They not only called for the unconditional pull out of Philippine troops in Iraq and for the government to exercise caution when issuing any statement that openly supported the US occupation of Iraq.

Many OFWs in the Kingdom have long been worried by President Arroyo’s open endorsement of the United States invasion of Iraq, which has caused animosity by other Arabs sympathetic of the Iraqi people to be suspicious of Filipinos.
The meeting in Riyadh was called by the OFW Congress to discuss various pressing community concerns, including the plight of stranded workers.

Alex Veloso-Bello, president of the umbrella group, said they have formed a secretariat to form a group to unite all OFWs in the Saudi capital.

Dr. Mohd. Ali Carlito L. Astillero, laboratory services director at the Al Mishari Hospital, suggested Club Filipino as the tentative name of the group meeting every Friday.

The committee, chaired by Kalipunang Kaakabay ng Manggagawang Pilipino sa Saudi Arabia, Kakampi-ksa President Bong Amora, is composed of Astillero, Bello, Joey Badong, Rasheed Fabricante, Manny Lector, Francis Oca, and Richard Bautista.
In Manila, various migrant non-government organizations (NGOs) initiated separate prayer vigils for dela Cruz. A similar vigil was also held in Japan under the leadership of Filipino-Japanese Yuko Takei.

“We, the migrant Filipinos in Japan will not let any drop of blood of our compatriots go to waste especially in the US war against people of the whole world of which Filipinos are never been part of,” Takei said.

AMEND Convenor Florence May Cortina said that “this should bring the Arroyo administration to its right senses and decide in favor of our workers there. Ever since our government has thrown its support (behind the US) in this unilateral war of the US in Iraq, it already cost the lives and safety of our troops and migrant workers in that war torn country.” (Input from Mama Gubal, Julie Javellana-Santos, Rudy Estimo & AP)

Migrante International likened dela Cruz’ situation to that of Flor Contemplacion, a domestic helper wrongly hanged for murder in Singapore in 1995.

The non-government organization (NGO) said “President Gloria’s track record of subservience to US’ dictates means that in all likelihood, she is prepared sacrifice Angelo’s life for President Bush’s good graces.”

They plan a vigil that will last until tomorrow morning which they said “is an opportunity for the broad ranks of Philippine society to show that they too — want to save Angelo’s life. That they too, demand that President Gloria pull-out Filipino troops immediately.”

News, July 2004

Sports Tapped to Promote OAV

Sports Tapped to Promote OAV

By: Bien Custodio (8/16/2003)

RIYADH, 16 August 2003 — Amid a poor turnout by overseas Filipinos in the registration for absentee voters, the Philippine Embassy and organizations in Riyadh are looking into creative ways of stirring interest among community members in the Kingdom.

Embassy officials and community leaders have began visiting places where Filipinos usually gather for sports activities.

Last Friday, the opening ceremonies of the Inter-company Bonafide Basketball Tournament at the Saudi Ceramics compound at the industrial area was turned into a political awareness campaign as organizers and other community leaders took turns explaining why OFWs should register as absentee voters.

“We urge you to take this golden opportunity to exercise your right of suffrage and be responsible voters,” community leader Joey Badong pleaded with the players and their fans. Badong explained that the community leaders are neither supporting nor campaigning for any candidates.

Alex Bello explained that the Philippines needs good national leaders badly and that OFWs should participate in selecting these leaders.

Senators who pushed for absentee voting have said they believed overseas Filipinos could provide a “cleansing” effect on the fraud-ridden Philippine election system. This is supposedly because overseas Filipinos, being economically independent, are less prone to selling their votes to corrupt politicians.

For the first time, overseas Filipinos would be allowed to vote for the president, vice president, senators and party-list representatives in the Philippine national election scheduled in early May 2004.

Rashid Fabricante explained that for an OFW to be able to vote, he or she must first register.

The registration period, which started Aug. 1, will continue until Sept. 30.
Under the Philippine Overseas Absentee Voting law, however, registration could be done only inside the Philippine Embassy in Riyadh, the consulate in Jeddah, and at the International Philippine School in Alkhobar (IPSA).

“While there’s still more time to register, it’s better to do it now. If you wait for the last few days, you will encounter long lines,” Fabricante said.

Vice Consul Adrian Cruz, the guest speaker, talked about the requirements for registration and encouraged them to provide him names and contact numbers of their employers so that the embassy could write and request for a day’s off for Filipino employees so they can register at the embassy.

Last Friday’s tournament was organized by the Kalipunang Kaakabay ng Manggagawang Pilipino sa Saudi Arabia (KAKAMPI-KSA) supported by International Coalition on Overseas Filipinos Voting Rights (ICOFVR), E-Lagda, and OFW Congress.

Industrial area-based companies like Al-Watania, Saudi Lighting, Saudi Ceramics, L’Azurde Jewellers, and Al-Suwaidi fielded their respective teams. Championship will be held on Sept. 12 at the embassy to “highlight more the objective of the tournament.”

The games are to continue today at the Saudi Ceramics Company grounds, on Aug. 22 at the Al-Sharq Factory-Villa, on Aug. 29 at the L’azurde — Jewellers, and back to the Saudi Ceramics Company grounds on Sept. 5.

According to Manuel Amora, KAKAMPI-KSA president and tournament chairman, there are about 39,000 Filipinos working in the industrial area which is comprised of 3 zones. Amora said the staging of the tournament is under the auspices of the embassy, Philippine Overseas Labor Office (POLO) and Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA).

Taken from:

Overseas Filipino Workers object strongly to taxation plan

Overseas Filipino Workers object strongly to taxation plan
By Julie Javellana-Santos
OFW Journalism Consortium

An Arroyo administration proposal to tax overseas Filipino workers has stirred criticism from overseas Filipino workers and migrants from all over.

Instead of taxing overseas Filipino workers (OFWs), “the government should be more creative and resourceful to tap the enormous potential that OFWs have to offer,” said Miguel Bolos, a telecommunications engineer who has been in Saudi Arabia for almost as long as the overseas employment program.

“We are damned if we do and damned if we don’t,” he wrote to an egroup on migrants’ issues. “Considering the fiscal crisis that the country is facing, it would appear very unpatriotic for the overseas Filipinos to just say no to taxing the Overseas Filipinos anew especially if the situation is indeed dire.”

The proposal to tax OFWs, which was first broached by Assistant BIR Commissioner KimLokin last April again surfaced in September, this time via Finance Secretary Juanita Amatong in an interview with the Philippine Daily Inquirer on Sept. 9.
Alternative proposal to increase revenues.

Amatong told the Inquirer it is time for everyone to share the fiscal burden. “They (OFWs) are Filipinos, therefore they have to help in efforts to ease the country’s fiscal problem.”

She said the DOF is studying a proposal to restore the gross income tax on OFWs, as an alternative in case Congress fails to pass the main revenue-enhancement measures proposed by the executive department to ease the budget deficit.

“We don’t know how many of our tax measures will be approved, so we have to look for alternatives,” Amatong said.

Before the Comprehensive Tax Reform Program was implemented in 1997, Filipinos working abroad, considered modern-day heroes for remitting the much-needed dollars to the country, used to pay a 2-percent gross income tax. However, the amendments to the old tax law have since exempted them from paying taxes.

Bolos said, “It took a long time and a lot of effort to get the tax exemption for the Overseas Filipinos passed and will probably remain even if the fiscal crisis situation comes to pass in the future. It is not that the Overseas Filipinos are not doing their part to alleviate the crisis, they are doing a lot. They are not just high-profile and clearly visible.”

“We are looking at this area to increase our revenues,” Amatong told the Inquirer, adding, “I’ve consulted with many of our ambassadors and even some overseas workers. They told me they don’t mind paying taxes.”

Amatong said the DOF would look into how much revenues were generated from OFW taxes before 1997 to estimate how much the government could collect should the gross income tax be re-imposed.

She said the possible tax collection from OFWs could be substantial for the government but not burdensome for OFWs. She also said the DOF study would help determine whether it would adjust or retain the 2-percent tax rate if the plan is ultimately implemented.

Voices from Saudi

Manuel Amora, a community leader in Riyadh, warned that the idea could backfire on the Philippine economy.

“They must be careful in making such proposals because it is an insult and it could scare us into withholding our remittances,” he said. “Blaming the low income tax collections on OFWs is a nonsense statement. Why not check and go after those multi-million peso companies in the Philippines who continue to evade paying their taxes?”

Hernan Obenita, a secretary at a mining company in Saudi Arabia, suspected that the government may be getting desperate because it may have used much of the government’s money for electioneering.

“Tiga-sagip o taga-takip ba ang mga OFWs ng mga gago sa gobyerno para huwag silang mapulaan sa kanilang mga tiwaling gawain (Are we again being made to make up for the irregularities committed by these fools in government)?” he asked.

Alex Asuncion, a Bagong Bayani awardee, also wondered why President Arroyo’s administration is trying to take back what was given to OFWs by the Ramos administration.

“Kaya nga inalis na yan sa atin dahil malaki na ang naitutulong natin sa pamamagitan ng ating remittances (That iswhy that burden was removed from us because we are already helping our country a lot through our remittances),” he said.

Most OFWs can’t afford to pay taxes

Grace Lardizabal, a domestic helper in Alkhobar, told the Saudi Arabian Arab News newspaper she is worried that nothing would be left of her meager pay should the tax be re-imposed.

“Ano pa ang matitira sa suweldo kong SR (Saudi Rial) 600 (about P5,000)? Hindi pa nga sapat ang pinapadala ko sa amin (What will be left of my SR600 monthly pay? I’m not even ending enough money home),” she said.

Virgilio de Jesus, a warehouseman at Rashid-Abetong, told the Arab News he receives a monthly basic salary of only SR1,200 a month (roughly P11,000), and his children and grandchildren are staying in his house.

“If I have to pay income tax it would be impossible for me to meet the requirements of my family, who totally depend on me,” he said.

Rudy Dianalan, chairman of the Kasapi Congress, which played a key role in lobbying for the abolition of the income tax on OFWs said in Arab News: “It’s unfair to us OFWs because we are earning our income outside our country not in the Philippines and we are not using government services. We are actually helping the economy through every dollar we send home to our families.”

Bioux Manilum, Bisaya president and Riyadh chapter commander of the Order of the Knights of Rizal (OKOR), added that his group members are against the tax.

Run after big tax evaders

Daphne Ceniza, a Filipino community leader in Hong Kong, said, “The huge fiscal deficit is mostly caused by the huge debt servicing fees we have to pay because of the government’s reckless borrowing without prudent management of our funds. OFWs do not have any idea how these funds were spent, they have not seen where these monies went and now the government is asking them to help pay up.”

She added, “The government’s failure to run after big tax evaders makes it more scandalous for them to impose tax on the people who have to shed blood, sweat and tears just for their families to survive. This insensitivity of the government to the feelings of OFWs demonstrate their lack of understanding on the issues confronting OFWs. The OFWs already paid their dues the moment they decided to risk the family unit by going abroad to support their families. Why add more to their load?”

Where are the benefits?

Edna Aquino, a Filipino community leader who runs the Center for Filipinos in the United Kingdom, said perhaps OFWs would not mind being taxed so much if they or their families received corresponding benefits.

“Pagkatapos manirahan sa UK nang mahabang panahon, nakikita ko ang kahalagahan ng taxation bilang isang instrumento ng pagmimintina ng civil society. Lalo’t kung ang lipunan ay iyong tinatawag na ‘welfare state’ katulad nang UK: libre ang medical services, edukasyon – libre lahat. (After having lived in the UK for a long time, I seethe value of taxation as an instrument for maintaining civil services, especially since it’s a ‘welfare state’ where everything medical services and education, is free)”

She said, “Hindi ako nanghihinayang sa buwis na binabayad ko (30 to 35% of my gross income) kinakaltas automatically sa sweldo (I mind paying taxes (30 to 35% of my gross income). This is automatically deducted from my pay).”

Absentee voting and taxation

Switzerland-based Cej Jimenez of the Geneva Forum for Philippine Concerns pointed out that overseas absentee voting should by no means be linked to taxation.

“The link between taxation and representation is not organic nor immutable,” Jimenez said explaining that one didn’t necessarily follow the other. “Many countries, including Switzerland, exempt their overseas nationals from income taxation but they retain their right to vote through their embassies or by post.”

She added, “Both voting laws and tax laws are separate and distinct aspects of citizenship. However, there is a difference: voting, including overseas voting for us who are abroad, is a consequence of the human right of citizens to political participation, enshrined in our very own Philippine constitution! Taxation, on the other hand, is a consequence of government functions with regard to its citizens as well as foreign residents.”

Are OFWs an easy target?

“This will be a problem for certain migrant workers here in the US, e.g. nurses and other professionals. They pay taxes to the US government,” said Ria, a nurse in Washington DC.

”I am not an expert on the tax system. But I think one of the issues is a tax system that is fair and equitable for all. I also do not know why the Philippine government should rescind the original policy. Will it really have an impact? Will it be sustainable? Or is this a knee-jerk reaction and OFWs an easy target?”

Linda Abad, who cleans apartments for a living, told Fil-Am newspaper Philippine News, “It will make the life of domestic workers more difficult. Nothing will be left from my salary.”

“Taxing the overseas workers is like extortion. They [OFWs] paid a lot before they could leave the Philippines and work abroad. The workers paid the Philippine Overseas and Employment Agency and Overseas Workers Welfare Administration Association, aside from other taxes.”

Ana Liza Caballes, board member of Damayan, the biggest advocacy group for Filipino domestic workers in the New York area, expressed in Philippine News her strong opposition to the reported plan.

She recalled that in the late ‘90s, when OFWs were still required to pay taxes to the Philippine government, workers in Canada mounted a protest action against the tax burden, and eventually won the exemption with the implementation of Comprehensive Tax Reform Program in 1997.

Warehouse worker Jun Rodriguez, said, “My income is not enough to support my three children. For one thing, I only earn minimum wage ($5.15 an hour). I won’t be able to pay taxes to the Philippine government. I’m struggling to pay a lot of bills. Life is difficult here in the US.”

Other Filipinos say okay

But other Filipinos polled by Philippine News said the proposed taxation is okay.
Tessa Rubio, who has been working as a nurse in New Jersey for 12 years, said she wouldn’t mind paying a small tax to the Philippine government if it will uplift the lives of disadvantaged Filipinos in her homeland. Rubio earns $60,000 a year.

Another high-income Filipino-American agrees with the plan. “I feel you have an obligation to give back to the Philippines. If you have money to share, then it’s okay to pay taxes to the Philippine government,” said Dr. Mel Lister, a general practitioner for the last 15 years who has been donating to charitable groups in the Philippines to feed and educate Filipino orphans. She declined to give her income, but physicians in the NY area earn an average of $120,000 a year.

“For me, it’s 50-50. We have a responsibility to help the Philippine economy. However, I’m reluctant to pay taxes in the Philippines because of massive corruption. You don’t know where your money would go. We sacrifice a lot and work hard to earn a living here, but our money might only go to corruption,” said Lilian Rabanera, a nanny in Manhattan.

Tax exemption for low-income earners?

The Bureau of Internal Revenue earlier proposed that only professionals and other OFWs with high-paying jobs would be taxed and low-income earners such as domestic helpers could avail of tax exemptions..

But Bolos countered, “Considering that about 90 percent of OFWs would fall under the category of low-income earners and are thus tax-exempt, not much will be achieved by the proposal to tax them.”

Instead, he said, it would only “expose them once again to abuse and fleecing by unscrupulous tax officials and embassy staff in their place of work” which was the practice in the past before the OFWs tax exemption was granted.

Bolos said what the government should do is to make sure that tax payments are not diverted to the private accounts of some crooks in the department, and go after the smugglers who are depriving the government of substantial amounts of tax revenues.

Migrante’s point

Migrante International said Filipinos abroad are not to blame for the fiscal crisis and poor tax collection.

“President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo is courting the ire of overseas Filipinos by pushing OFWs to pay taxes despite the absence of adequate government services and protection here and abroad. This administration is propagating a big lie by indirectly blaming us for the fiscal crisis and poor tax collection in advocating for taxes on OFWs,” Migrante Sectoral Party Chairperson Connie Bragas-Regalado said.
Migrante said that, “The annual remittances of overseas Filipinos are more than the combined value of the top five merchandise exports in 2003. The $7.639 billion (roughly P4.2 billion) remitted last year is also almost 100 times the figures of foreign direct investments, almost half the Gross Domestic Product and one-fourth (1/4) of the Gross National Product in 2003.”

“Both the dollar remittances and government fees on OFWs help keep the economy afloat. How can this administration even think that ‘OFWs are not helping the country Bragas-Regalado said.

Cyberdyaryo 9/24/04

Overseas Absentee Voting in Riyadh

Overseas Absentee Voting in Riyadh

Boy Macion, Bong Amora, Jun Petite,
Bagong Bayani Awardees Cesar Saavedra and
Rene Caseda with Mar Vera Cruz

Bong Amora received OAV Certificate of Appreciation
from Ambassador B. Guinomla with Alex Bello
& Bogs Bolor

Absentee voter list-up a success: Comelec, DFA
Posted: PDI 8:40 PM (Manila Time) | Sept. 30, 2003
By Veronica Uy News
Saudi Arabia’s First English Language Daily

DESPITE the low registration turnout, registration for absentee voters for the 2004 national elections was a success, according to the Commission on Elections and the Department of Foreign Affairs.

Registration for absentee voters ended Tuesday.

The latest count of 302,360 overseas Filipinos who registered for the exercise was “relatively good” for the first year of implementation of the Overseas Absentee Voting (OAV) Act, Department of Foreign Affairs OAV secretariat vice chairperson Catherine Maceda said on Tuesday.

“Anything that allows the expansion of the democratic space is good for the country,” Maceda told “This allows more Filipinos to participate in nation-building.”

The 302,360 registered absentee voters represented 37 percent of Comelec’s expected turnout of 800,000. “That’s good enough,” Maceda said, citing that other countries’ first-time implementation of absentee voting law had lesser registrants.

For his part, Comelec Commissioner Florentino Tuason Jr. likewise called the registration a “success.” “Even with the low turnout, it is not a failure,” he said. “This is the first time we’re implementing it and we had time and budgetary constraints.”

Tuason added that during the 61-day list-up, there were no reports of spurious or double registration.

Presidential Adviser on Overseas Filipino Communities Heherson Alvarez further said that votes of overseas Filipinos were less prone to election fraud.

Alvarez also said a 300,000-strong vote could already constitute a decisive factor in the election of the country’s public officials.

However, OFW organizations indicated that the low turnout was inherent in the law. At most 800,000 registrants could be accommodated due to the law’s required personal visits to Philippine consular offices and embassies, they said. The Center for Migrant Advocacy originally lobbied for registration and voting by mail, which would have made it easier and more convenient for the 1.7 million potential voters scattered all over the world to register and vote.

Meanwhile, Kakampi-Kingdom of Saudi Arabia spokesperson Bong Amora blamed the low turnout to “a general cynicism of the Philippine political process.”

“We can’t deny that current electoral system in the Philippines is not one that fosters voter participation, but instead often discourages voting altogether,” Amora said. “For many OFWs, the realization that their vote is likely to have little impact on the outcome of elections, not surprisingly, others don’t want to be involved in the electoral process altogether.”

However, Amora said he believes it is possible for the OFW vote to make a significant difference in the coming election.

The Overseas Absentee Voting Act was signed into law last February 13. However, preparations for the implementation of law, including the all-important registration, did not start right away because the funding for the exercise was not released until June.

Group formed to help build Pinoy database in Riyadh

Group formed to help build Pinoy database in Riyadh
By Roland Blanco, Special to Arab News

RIYADH, 28 November 2002 — A new Filipino community organization is inviting volunteers to help build a database for Filipinos working in Riyadh and to also help in the awareness campaign on developments concerning Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs).

Known as the Kalipunang Kaakabay ng Manggagawang Pilipino sa Saudi Arabia, or Kakampi – KSA, the group has just been recognized as an accredited community partner (ACP) of the Philippine Embassy.

Manuel Amora, the group’s organizer and spokesman, said their target are OFWs in the first, second, and third industrial areas. Thus far, the has group has a total of 208 members representing 13 companies.

“The main objective of Kakampi-KSA is to work closely, as strategic partner, with other non-government organizations and envision a direct link with Philippine government bodies in Riyadh for welfare and protection of Filipinos working in the industrial area,” Amora said. He clarified that his group is not affiliated with the Manila-based Kakammpi.

Amora said the group’s first undertaking is its primary project, which is to make a database of all Filipinos working in the three industrial areas in Riyadh. He explained that in each company in these areas, a coordinator has been assigned to gather all the information details of Filipino employees.

In the information data is the OFW’s passport number with corresponding details such as issuance and expiry date, day of arrival in the Kingdom, tenure of contract, name of employer and company with address and phone numbers, status of employment, contact phone numbers in the Kingdom and in the Philippines.

“All of the above is necessary to update the lists of OFWs who are moving from one place to another, those who are going exit or for good, and the new recruits from the Philippines,” Amora said.

The coordinator then submits the information sheets to the Central Data Base Lists (CDBL) office of the group for computer encoding.

OFW rights

Amora also said that the group has distributed to its members updated primers on the Absentee Voting Bill provided by International Coalition for Overseas Filipinos Voting Rights (ICOFVR).

“However, we would like to stress that Kakampi–KSA is a non-partisan organization and will not support any political party or individual candidate in 2004 and future elections. Kakampi–KSA will exercise solely our individual right to vote,” he said.

Amora also claimed that Kakampi–KSA is actively involved in the information campaign on the OFW Bank.

“Our organization pledges support to the plan designed by OFW Holdings Inc. and OFW Net Foundation Inc., for the creation of a banking institution that is owned generally by the OFW’s around the globe,” he said.

According to Amora, Kakampi – KSA primarily upholds the well-being of fellow OFWs in the Kingdom, and one of the group’s missions is to educate fellow Filipinos on their rights and obligations as workers.

“Right now we are distributing the OFW Guide to Saudi Labor Law by Jainal Rasul, Jr., labor attaché, and our coordinators are helping us to explain to our members the importance of this primer,” he said.

“Our goal is to give advice to our fellow OFWs on how to deal with problems following the proper procedure, asking for legal claims appropriately without putting at risk the status of our members, and protecting the dignity and integrity of the working Filipinos in the kingdom,” Amora said.

As stated in Kakampi–KSA’s constitution and by-laws, the following are the specific objectives of the group:

o to review and advocate changes in the Migrant Workers Act, and its effective implementation;

o to review and recommend changes to the charter and structure of OWWA in response to the needs of its members;

o to review, study and recommend OFW social welfare benefits such as health and insurance, education and training, out of work pension plan, housing and retirement; and

o to study and propose reintegration programs particularly on investments and entrepreneurship.

For more information, the contact persons are Joel Calimlim at 052-129562 for the 1st Industrial Area, Ronnie Ortillo at 056-976049 or 498-4590 ext. 301 for the 2nd Industrial Area, and Marben Caesar Delgado at 057-161622 or 498-5054 ext. 14 for 3rd Industrial Area.

Plan to Revive Tax on Overseas Filipinos Opposed

Plan to Revive Tax on Overseas Filipinos Opposed

Bien Custodio & Julie Javellana-Santos, Arab NewsRIYADH/MANILA,

— A proposal to restore the tax on the incomes of Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) has come under fire from migrant workers and other advocates, some of whom have decried it as “an effort to bleed OFWs” hard-earned income dry.”

“Before the BIR even cast their glance once again on OFWs for fleecing, they better clean up their acts first,” said Mike Bolos, an overseas absentee voting advocate in Riyadh.

He said the proposal to restore the tax on OFWs appears to be a “short cut and an easy way out of the problem of sagging tax revenue.”

Manuel Amora, a community leader in the industrial areas also of Riyadh, warned that the idea being floated could backfire on the Philippine economy.

“They must be careful in making such proposals because it is an insult and it could scare us into withholding our remittances,” he said.

“Blaming the low income tax collections to OFWs is a nonsense statement. Why not check and go after those multi-million peso companies in the Philippines who continue to evade paying their taxes?” Amora added.

Hernan Obenita, a secretary at a mining company in the Kingdom, suspected that the government of President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo may be getting desperate because it may have used much of the government’s money for electioneering.

“Tiga-sagip o taga-takip ba ang mga OFWs ng mga gago sa gobyerno para huwag silang mapulaan sa kanilang mga tiwaling gawain? (Are we being made again to make up for the irregularities committed by these fools in government?” he asked.

Alex Asuncion, a Bagong Bayani awardee, also wondered what’s wrong with President Arroyo’s administration that it is trying to take back what was given to OFWs by the Ramos administration.

“Kaya nga inalis na yan sa atin dahil malaki na ang naitutulong natin sa pamamagitan ng ating remittances (That’s why that burden was removed from us because we are already helping our country a lot through our remittances),” he said.

Deputy Commissioner Kim Henares of the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) first floated the proposal on Friday amid a drop in the government’s revenue collections, which he blamed on the OFW tax exemption law.

Filipino migrant workers used to pay one to two percent on income earned abroad.In 1997, Congress revised the Tax Code and scrapped the tax, saying the country’s 4.6 million or so Filipino contract workers needed a break.

The dollar remittances of overseas Filipinos, placed last year at about $7.6 billion, has become one of the pillars of the Philippine economy. The amount includes only those remittances made through the banking system. There are still many who send their money home through the “illegal” door-to-door services.

“The exemption of OFWs from income tax payment is well-grounded due to the sector’s huge influx of dollar remittances to the economy plus revenues government collects from OFWs who pay fees to process their certificates, clearances, passports, artist record books, seaman’s books and other travel documents,” said John Monterona, vice chair of the Migrante Party-list group.“Domestic helpers, engineers, ship captains, entertainers and all types of OFWs should not be burdened by the government to pay taxes. The contributions and sacrifices from the overseas Filipino sector is more than enough to keep the country’s floundering economy afloat,”
Monterona asserted. “It is enough that OFWs suffered wage cuts in Hong Kong, Saudi Arabia, Taiwan and elsewhere,” he added.

Monterona also chided the Arroyo government for not being satisfied after “forcing every OFW to pay $25 for OWWA membership fees per contract that do not redound to full services and benefits to their families.”

The National Tax Research Center (NTRC), the original proponent of restoring OFW tax, however, said it was only aiming at highly paid Filipino workers abroad, such as engineers and ship captains.

It said low-income earners such as domestic helpers could have their tax exemption retained.NTRC Deputy Director Dante Sy was quoted as saying that exempting all OFWs from income tax was unjust because some of them could afford to pay taxes and help the government in its revenue generation efforts.

But Bolos of Riyadh countered: “Considering that about 90 percent of OFWs would fall under the category of low-income earners and are thus tax-exempt, not much will be achieved by the proposal to tax them.”

Instead, he said, it would only “expose them once again to abuse and fleecing by unscrupulous tax officials and embassy staff in their place of work reminiscent of the days in the past before the OFWs tax exemption has been granted.”

Bolos said what the government should do is to make sure that tax payments are not being diverted to the private accounts of some crooks in the department, and go after the smugglers who are depriving the government of substantial amount of tax revenues.

Philippines Names Vice President Adviser for Migrant Workers

Philippines Names Vice President Adviser for Migrant Workers
Bien Custodio, Arab News

RIYADH, 12 August 2004 — Vice President Noli de Castro was named presidential adviser for Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) yesterday, and the supposed beneficiaries and advocacy groups want to know the implications.

“What does this mean? What are the implications of this?” Ellene Sana of the Central for Migrant Advocacy (CMA) asked after President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo announced de Castro’s new post at a town hall meeting (“pulong bayan”) in Sta. Rosa town, Laguna.

“There will be lot of things to discuss,” said Sana, adding that she received a text message from Labor Secretary Patricia Sto. Tomas yesterday saying that de Castro will also supervise Overseas Workers Welfare Administration and the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration.

Sana threw these questions to migrant workers in the Internet.

Bong Amora, a community leader in the industrial areas in Riyadh, could not recall of a presidential adviser in the past that was given “significant functions that influence OFW affairs.”

Ang UPAW Vow....

“Though, if he (de Castro) is the right one for the president, then, the first thing for him to do is to study and recommend to the president social welfare benefits such as out-of-work pension plan and possible retirement benefits for OFWs,” said Amora.

 Rashid Fabricante, another community leader in Riyadh, advised colleagues to be “pro-active this time,” referring to past advisers who were alleged to have done no significant contributions to OFW affairs.

He wanted to know the scope and duties of a presidential adviser for OFW and community affairs, aside from becoming the “ear of the president.”

“Can he (presidential adviser) influence the appointment of labor attachés, welfare officers, and foreign service officers in line with the recommendations of the Filipino community?” Fabricante added.

As OFW adviser, de Castro will concentrate on the needs of the workers abroad, including their families, according to Arroyo. She said Labor Secretary Patricia Sto. Tomas would manage the concerns of the domestic workers.

Robert Sangil of the Saudi Arabian Mining Company in Riyadh was skeptical about the new appointment, saying de Castro has no profound experience and sensitivity to deal with diverse problems confronting OFWs.

“I don’t think he’s going to be tactful and sympathetic to all the troubles OFWs have,” said Sangil, without detailing one.

Hernan Obenita, also in Jeddah, said de Castro was just the right man for the job considering his vast experience as a broadcaster.

Jerome Marana suggested “lighter” responsibilities for de Castro, mentioning that the office of the vice president is already “too overloaded” to attend to the problems and grievances of migrant workers.

“We have more competent personalities who can effectively do the job,” said Marana, preferring OFW party-list representatives who can give better advice as “they were once among us.”

Fritz Arthur Armada, who works in a law firm, said that he would support de Castro 100 percent in his new job “if he will let us know what his definite programs are for OFWs and their families, and his plans on how to achieve such programs.”

Arroyo Tops Mock Poll Among Riyadh Workers

Arroyo Tops Mock Poll Among Riyadh Workers
Bien Custodio, Arab News

RIYADH, 12 April 2004 — Incumbent President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo won a convincing 32 percent of the votes cast in a mock election held for a five-day period among Filipinos in the industrial areas of Riyadh.

Conducted by the Kalipunang Kaakabay ng Manggagawang Pilipino sa Saudi Arabia (Kakampi-KSA), the poll involved 406 workers from the Saudi Lighting, Al Essa Refrigeration & Air-conditioning, Al-Ajial, Saptex, Al-Sharq Plastic, and other companies.

Sen. Panfilo Lacson, a former national police chief, was a far second to Arroyo with 24 percent of the votes, while actor Fernando Poe Jr., who is neck and neck with Arroyo in Manila’s poll opinion surveys, tied with Marxist-turned-evangelist Eddie Villanueva and former Education Secretary Raul Roco at 17 percent.

In the senatorial race, old faces made it to Top 12.

Topping the list was Sen. Robert Barbers with 256 votes, followed by former Manila Mayor Alfredo Lim with 255, Sen. Rodolfo Biazon with 254, former Sen. Miriam Santiago with 201, and former Sen. Orlando Mercado with 197.

The others were former Tourism Secretary Richard Gordon, 188; ex-Sen. Heherson Alvarez, 188; actor and Pampanga governor Lito Lapid, 180, Sen. Aquilino Pimentel, 176, former Sen. Ernesto Herrera, 165; former Sen. Francisco Tatad, 162; and former Trade Secretary Mar Roxas, 160.

Migrante topped the votes for party-list with 145 votes, whereas Gabay OFW got 121. Migrante and Gabay are among the six overseas groups seeking to corner a slot or two in the House of Representatives.

Absentee voters will vote president, vice president, senators, and party-list representatives.
According to Manuel “Bong” Amora, Kakampi-KSA founder and organizer, the mock poll was in no way meant to represent the entire Kingdom but rather to gauge the sentiment of the working class OFWs.

Manila’s opinion polls have said Poe, despite his lacking any experience in public office, was popular among the so-called Classes D and E, or the working class and poorest of the poor.
But the Riyadh mock poll was interpreted by some to mean that given the proper awareness, these from the D and E classes could also avoid voting on the basis of popularity.

Ronny Lawas, administrative officer of Al Sharq Plastic, also said the mock election allowed the voters to ventilate the issues and concerns regarding the qualifications of the candidates, particularly those running for presidents and vice-presidents.

He noticed the prevalence of inexperienced and unqualified candidates who seek elective posts merely on the basis of popularity and not on platform of good governance.

Kakampi-KSA is a non-partisan organization which had been active in conducting voter education among Filipinos in the industrial areas.

Some of those who did not vote for Poe said that while they like him as an actor, they were afraid he was being used by “trapos,” or “traditional politicians.

One commented that Arroyo won in the mock poll because of a “considerable number” of Pampague–os in the industrial area. President Arroyo’s father, the late former President Diosdado Macapagal, is from the town of Lubao in Pampanga.

Lacson’s strong showing, however, was seen to be consistent with the sentiment voiced by many OFWs in Saudi Arabia, who believe he has shown his competence as a leader when he put a tight rein on the graft-ridden Philippine National Police.

At least seven organizations in Riyadh had earlier come forward to endorse Lacson’s candidacy, saying he had shown that he honors his word when he fulfilled his promise to donate to the Barya Mo Buhay Ko (BMBK) fund put up by community groups to help distressed Filipinos in the Kingdom.

Amora said the ballots were counted with all the voters present.

“I have a primary responsibility to myself and to my country by making myself a responsible citizen by casting my vote, a wise one. Then, and only then, will I have something worthwhile to share,” Amora said.

27 New Organizations Sign Partnership Agreement With Philippine Embassy

27 New Organizations Sign Partnership Agreement With Philippine EmbassyBien Custodio, Special to Arab News

Ambassador Bahnarim Guinomla met with the so-called Accredited Community Partners (ACPs) at the Philippine Embassy last weekend and told them that their assistance was most needed.

RIYADH, 15 May 2003 — A total of 27 professional, sports, advocacy, and civic groups in the community have signed up to become “partners” of the Philippine Embassy.

He said their signing up was “very timely, because we are in a way buffeted with so many concerns and issues…”

Guinomla noted that with almost a million Filipinos in the Kingdom, the Philippine mission needs as many partners to deal with these concerns.

The newly registered organizations in the Central Region as ACPs have been classified into four groups: crisis intervention and welfare assistance, reintegration, sports and cultural, and advocacy and reform groups.

The first group includes United Capampangan Association (Unicap), Bicol Saro nin Riyadh, (Filipino Nars Atbp. sa Saudi Arabia (Nars), Maguindanaoan Overseas Workers Association (MOWA), Western Mindanao Overseas Workers Association (Wemowa), Madja-as Federation, Grupo It Aklanon (GIA), Ugyon Antique?o, Dabawenos Overseas Association (Dabaw), Triskelion, Bicol Integrated Community Organization and Leaders, San Miguel de Mayumo and Friends (San Miguel), Filipino Expatriates Society (FES), Philippine Integrated Alliance Society (PINAS), Filipino Nurses Association in SA (Filnasa), Philippine Guardians and Brotherhood, Philippine Overseas Organization for New Advancement (POONA), Kilusan Para sa Bayan (Kiluspasabay).

Under the reintegration group are the OFW Investors Society (Ofwins), Institute of Integrated Electrical Engineers (IIEE-Riyadh Chapter), Institute of Computer Engineers-Riyadh (ICER),
Only the Filipino Expatriates for Sports, Socio-Cultural Organization in Riyadh (FESSCOR) belongs to the sports and cultural category.

The advocacy and reform groups are the International Coalition on Overseas Filipinos Voting Rights (ICOFVR), E-Lagda, Sangguniang Masang Pilipino International Inc. (SMPII), and Kalipunang Kaakabay ng Manggagawang Pilipino sa Saudi Arabia (Kakampi-SA).

Also formed during the meeting was the ACPs Consultative Forum Secretariat, which outgoing Labor Attaché Jainal Rasul said would provide for a consultative mechanism so that ACP members could actively participate in the generation and formulation of ideas and policies.

The forum secretariat will be assisted by the POLO and the embassy, with the labor attaché and the welfare officer as forum facilitators.

Among other tasks, the secretariat is to conduct a regular ACP forum or dialogue among the “partners”; organize working committees to tackle vital issues and common concerns affecting OFWs; organize seminars or conferences on reintegration, professional advancement, OFW information dissemination, crisis management, skills upgrading, policy and legislative concerns; and assist the POLO and the embassy in the delivery of various services to distressed OFWs particularly in remote areas in the kingdom.

From the 20 community leaders who were nominated during the assembly, according to Rasul, 15 will be selected to compose the members of the ACP forum secretariat.

However, Rasul said that during the initial period of 3 months, an interim forum secretariat would be designated to thresh out the mechanics and pave the way for the nomination or election of the members of the regular secretariat.

Leaders of the various organizations said their signing up as ACPs was motivated by their desire to become effective in helping compatriots who need help.

“We are glad that we are now formally accredited as community partner with the embassy and POLO. We can now move on and exert more efforts to reach our objectives,” said Manuel Amora, the interim president of Kakampi-SA, which has 548 members. The group was organized in the industrial area in November 2002.

Ambassador Guinomla commended Rasul and Welfare Officer Angel Borja for their efforts in expanding the number of the ACPs, which now total 83 in the central region.

Rasul was responsible in introducing the ACP program in the Eastern Province in 1999.