Dubai OFWs to ask Marcos about high prices of goods in PH during UAE visit

By Angel L. Tesorero

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates–President Ferdinand ‘Bongbong’ Marcos Jr. will arrive in Dubai on November 29 to attend COP (Conference of Parties) 28 and also to visit the huge Filipino community in the emirate. It will be the first time in 14 years that a Philippine president will come to the country and meet his compatriots.

Marcos shall participate in the United Nations Climate Summit, but there are other concerns his fellow Filipinos would also like to hear from him, including “effective response to economic issues besetting Filipinos back home, while underscoring the urgency for effective solutions towards a more environmentally-resilient Philippines.”

They would like to hear solutions to soaring prices of commodities as much as they would like to know the Philippine government’s stance on mining, decarbonization and transition to clean energy.

The reporter spoke to Filipino community leaders, entrepreneurs and long-time residents to capture the collective spirit of more than 600,000 Filipino expatriates and know their agenda and expectations during a meeting with the Filipino community on Wednesday (November 29) at Dubai World Trade Center.

More than a diplomatic trip

Rex Bacarra, Ph.D., university professor of Philosophy and Ethics, said: “As a Filipino expatriate living in the UAE for 16 years, I view the official visit of President Marcos as more than a diplomatic trip. It is set against the backdrop of the Philippines navigating through the turbulent waters of rapidly rising prices of everyday goods. I look with anticipation and scrutiny his engagement with the Filipino community would mean addressing the questions about pressing economic issues while underscoring the urgency for effective solutions towards a more resilient country.”

Rex Bacarra, Ph.D., university professor of Philosophy and Ethics. — Supplied photo
Rex Bacarra, Ph.D., university professor of Philosophy and Ethics. — Supplied photo

“As somebody who regularly sends money to the Philippines, the visit of President Marcos to the UAE presents a unique opportunity for critical dialogue to know and understand if there are clear, practical solutions to address the concerns of Filipinos in the Philippines and abroad,” he noted, adding: “Do we have long-term policies to ensure sustainable growth and stability of prices?”

Bacarra continued: “As Pres. Marcos will be participating in COP28, I also would like to know his administration’s stance on mining and environmental protection, as well as protecting our economic interests and border security in the West Philippine Sea.”

Better consular services

Streamlining immigration procedures for overseas Filipino workers (OFWs), broader protection abroad and better consular services are also among the pressing issues Filipinos want addressed.

Community leader Josie Conlu. — Supplied photo
Community leader Josie Conlu. — Supplied photo

Community leader Josie Conlu would like to hear from Marcos “ways to streamline and simplify the immigration procedures while ensuring the protection of Filipino workers’ rights and welfare. He should address concerns such as visa processing, employment contracts, and the prevention of human trafficking.”

Long-time Dubai resident Joyce Villalino-Alexander added: “To lessen the burden on OFWs, there should be consistent consular services on weekends at the Philippine missions and Migrant Workers Office (MWO) so we don’t have to take time off from work on weekdays. Charges for contract verification fees should abolished or at least reduced.”

Long-time Dubai resident Joyce Villalino-Alexander. — Supplied photo
Long-time Dubai resident Joyce Villalino-Alexander. — Supplied photo

Rights and welfare

Migrante Middle East, an organisation promoting migrants’ rights and welfare, would like to hear about sustainable job creation in Philippines. They noted “the lack of employment opportunities has resulted in unabated exodus of Filipino overseas workers.”

They also asked for more welfare officers at MWO to address the needs of distressed OFWs and effective response to unfair labour practices and human trafficking.

Boost to bilateral relations

Meanwhile, nurse and entrepreneur Junah Balungcas would like to see Pres. Marcos “fostering stronger economic ties with the UAE for the benefit of more Filipino entrepreneurs and businesses in the country.”

Nurse and entrepreneur Junah Balungcas. — Supplied photo
Nurse and entrepreneur Junah Balungcas. — Supplied photo

“As a business owner and healthcare professional, I appreciate the opportunities and support offered by the UAE. I am also fully supportive of Pres. Marcos and I appreciate the positive steps he is taking for the betterment of our country,” added Balungcas, founder and CEO of Baofriend Restaurant FZCO.

Rolly Brucales, managing director of Off The Hook restaurant. — Supplied photo
Rolly Brucales, managing director of Off The Hook restaurant. — Supplied photo

Filipino businessmen are also calling for the immediate passing of the Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA) which began in February 2022. Filipino restaurateur Rolly Brucales, managing director of Off The Hook restaurant, said: “We need to strengthen the trade relationship with the UAE. We also would like to see stricter implementation of trademarks and franchises.”

Climate action

For her part, Bobbie Carella, chairman emeritus of Philippine Business Council-Dubai and Northern Emirates, would like to hear Marcos “championing climate action by embracing renewable energy sources, managing forestry and natural resources, and strengthening and enforcing environmental policies, among others.”

Bobbie Carella, chairman emeritus of Philippine Business Council-Dubai and Northern Emirates. — Supplied photo
Bobbie Carella, chairman emeritus of Philippine Business Council-Dubai and Northern Emirates. — Supplied photo

“This isn’t solely about today; it’s about ensuring a vibrant, cooler, greener, and sustainable world for future generations. After all, there is no planet Earth B,” she added. #

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This report is originally published on Khaleej Times where the reporter is a senior deputy editor.

First lady bus drivers in UAE who feel like ‘rock stars’ in Dubai

Filipinas Ailen Francisco and Marygold Cez de Castro talk of their exemplary empowerment

By Angel L. Tesorero

Dubai: It has been almost two years since two Filipinas got behind the wheel to become the first lady bus drivers in the UAE. The novelty hasn’t worn off as they continue to elicit smiles from passengers, and more importantly, inspire women to excel.

Dubai’s Roads and Transport Authority (RTA) first deployed Ailen Pueto Leaño Francisco, 46, and Marygold Cez de Castro, 34, in the city’s internal bus network back in July 2020. A third one, a Kenyan expat named Gladys, also joined them.

Employing female drivers was actually something not new as the RTA at that time already had 165 female taxi drivers, 41 female limo chauffeurs, and one school bus driver.

Marygold Cez de Castro and Ailen Pueto Leaño Francisco say what men can do, they can do too. (Gulf News)

But seeing a woman behind the wheel of a long public transport vehicle – a bus that could carry between 30 to 50 passengers or more – which was exclusively driven by men, was not only trailblazing, it also sent a strong message of “empowering women and achieving gender balance across various jobs”.

Breaking the glass ceiling

“It was unprecedented,” Francisco and de Castro told Gulf News, adding: “We felt like we broke the glass ceiling and removed the prejudice against women.”

“This pioneering effort of employing female bus drivers is compatible with RTA’s principle of empowering women and achieving gender balance across various jobs… It creates job opportunities for women in a field dominated by men and promotes the culture of using public transport,” Ahmed Hashim Bahrozyan, CEO of RTA’s Public Transport Agency, earlier had said.

‘We can do too’

The size of the bus they are driving has also increased. Recently, Francisco and de Castro said they just finished their training on a double-decker bus.

Marygold Cez de Castro and Ailen Pueto Leaño Francisco were recently trained to drive double-decker buses. (Gulf News)

“Imagine someone like me who is barely five feet and weighing around 54kg driving a 40-feet-long, 15-feet-high and 6.5-feet-wide two-storey bus,” De Castro told Gulf News. “It only proves that what men can do, we women can do too.”

“Almost every day, we (de Castro and Francisco) encounter passengers smiling and giving us a thumbs-up sign. We made women proud and, as Filipino expats, we also made our kababayans (compatriots) proud,” added de Castro, who is also a mother of two girls – a teenager and a six-year old.

Tackling misconceptions

“During the first days and weeks I was on the road, motorists would always give me a thumbs up sign and my colleagues and fellow drivers at the RTA would always say ‘hi’ and wave at me,” said de Castro.

Francisco said, “I think commuters are used to seeing a woman behind the wheel of a standard bus now.”

Thomas Edelmann, founder and managing director of RoadSafetyUAE, meanwhile, asserted women drivers are generally safe drivers and gender prejudice should be erased. He noted: “Female drivers often don’t receive the due appreciation of their driving behaviour. Gender prejudice still seems to play a role. However, an overall more careful attitude can be observed as female drivers have been less involved in road accidents than male drivers in the last seven years.”

Heart-warming reactions

On another bright note, up until now, passengers are still taking photos and selfies with de Castro and Francisco in their blue RTA uniforms – amazed and in awe of their profession.

Francisco said: “Just recently a 74-year old man approached me and introduced himself. He gave me two thumbs up and he said it was the first time he saw a lady bus driver.”

“There was also a heart-warming reaction from an Arab woman who crossed the street with her children. She proudly pointed me to her kids and they all waved at me,” shared Francisco, adding: “Another woman stopped her car near me and as she pulled down her window she extended her hand offering me a cash gift. I almost blushed and told myself: Wow! What a generous way showing her appreciation of hard-working women like me.”

Francisco, a widower and mother to two grown-ups, said she felt like a “rock star.” She added: “I’m already a middle-aged woman but there is always this spring in my step that makes me feel energetic and happy because of the positive reactions I receive from people.”

Maternal instincts

More than being trailblazers, both Francisco and de Castro said they are proud of their road safety records. “It must be because we are both mothers and those maternal and caring instincts are also reflected in the way we drive on the road. We think of our passengers as our children – we want them safe always,” they said.

Ailen Pueto Leaño Francisco with her family. (Gulf News)

At home, Francisco and de Castro steer their respective families with motherly care. They are also home makers who wake up early to prepare breakfast and would always check on their children – even while at work – if they had eaten or needed anything.

De Castro said she is proud that she is an inspiration to her two girls. “I’ve shown my kids how to be courageous and bold. I’ve failed in my first attempt to get the bus driver’s licence but I did not give up; I’ve undergone hours of rigorous training and proven myself as a pioneer in my chosen field,” she underlined.

“As a woman, don’t ever doubt yourself,” added Francisco. “Yes, it was really ‘weird and awkward’ at first working in a male-dominated world but eventually the bias will be gone, especially when we stay focused and determined.”

The duo added: “We also would like to thank Dubai and RTA for giving us the opportunity to work here in the UAE. We know that every day we are on the road, we do not only carry passengers, but we are also out there to prove that women are strong partners in steering the community and driving the nation.” #

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This article was originally written for and was published by Gulf News, the UAE’s largest English language newspaper where the author is a senior reporter.

Love in the time of coronavirus: Weddings back on in Dubai at Philippines Consulate

After weeks of delay, Dubai couples finally got to say ‘I do’

By Angel L. Tesorero

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates–It was not how they planned their big day. But, at least, all’s well that ends well for two pairs of lovebirds who finally professed their marriage vows on Monday, after weeks of delay due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

Love in times of coronavirus: Weddings are back on in Dubai (Video by Irish Eden Belleza and Angel Tesorero)

Filipino expats Vanessa Panotes, 32, and Fretch Brian Pagaduan, 28, were supposed to tie the knot on April 30 in a civil wedding ceremony, followed by a big celebration attended by around 100 guests and a trip to Georgia for their honeymoon.

The second couple, Glaiza Mae Gevero, 27, and Prince RJ Paraico, 31, also planned a big gathering after their wedding that was initially set on April 2.

Bride and Groom get an unusual entry welcome to the consulate
Image Credit: Ahmed Ramzan, Gulf News

But the pandemic happened. Movement restrictions were imposed and big gatherings were banned to curtail the spread of the virus. Weddings at the Philippine Consulate in Dubai were canceled and the couples had to postpone and scale down their plans.

But then again, ‘true love waits’, as the saying goes, and the couples said they actually utilised the downtime to build a stronger bond and ponder on their future.

“During the lockdown, we actually had more time to know each other,” said Mr and Mrs Pagaduan. “Unlike before, when we were both busy at work, we had more time to talk about things and plan our future,” they added.

The Paraicos also were able to draw up concrete plans and set priorities for their married life because of the ‘new normal’ ushered in by the pandemic.

Social distancing and a limit of numbers makes for a more solemn affair – here Prince RJ Paraico and Glaiza Mae Gervero tied the knot
Image Credit: Ahmed Ramzan, Gulf News

Here comes the bride

The wedding day, however, was no less exciting for the two couples. Both brides wore the traditional white dresses and each one carried a bouquet of roses. The grooms too came in white, symbolising their pure intentions.

There were ‘selfies’ but no photographers were allowed, except for the two companions each couple brought with them to bear witness to their wedding, as prescribed by Philippine law.

Precautionary measures were also strictly observed. Everyone was checked by the guard at the gate for their body temperature before entering the consular premises. Face masks and hand gloves were required to be put on throughout the ceremony, and physical distancing was observed – except for the couples, who were allowed to sat, shoulder to shoulder, beside each other.

Only four chairs were placed in the hall; there was no other furniture aside from the small table in front of the couple, where they signed the marriage contract. A rostrum was set for the solemnising officer, who was at least three metres away from the couple. There were the Philippine and ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) flags and only the portraits of the Philippine president and vice president served as the other witnesses to the ceremony.

Prince RJ Paraico with Glaiza Mae Gevero: Awkward moments came when the bride and groom decided not to put the ring on the glove hand and whether to kiss with the mask on or off.
Image Credit: Ahmed Ramzan, Gulf News

Simple and more solemn

Civil weddings are now done one at time at the Philippine consulate, unlike before when Rizal Hall, where weddings took place, was filled to the brim with at least 20 couples and their witnesses.

Solemnising officer, Philippine deputy consul-general Renato Dueñas Jr., said: “The difference now is we do the wedding one couple at a time. It is actually quieter and more solemn as it should be.”

“Before, the hall was crowded with more than 20 couples – because we had weddings only once a week. Now, we had to observe physical distancing but the good thing is the ceremony has become more solemn and more meaningful to the couples,” he further explained.

He added: “As for my advice, I hope they will be stronger in facing the challenges in life and have a real, lasting relationship as husband and wife.”

Solemnising officer Renato Duenas Jr prefers the decorum of less people and less couples
Image Credit: Ahmed Ramzan, Gulf News

Start of a new life

Each ceremony was over in under 15 minutes. There were a few awkward moments during the wedding. At one time, one of the brides can’t decide whether or not to put the wedding ring with the hand glove on. One of the grooms also can’t decide to remove the mask before kissing the bride.

The couples also had simple receptions after their wedding, with only immediate family members and a handful close friends attending. Honeymoon plans were postponed and bigger celebrations will take place some other time.

But the marriage itself, according to the couples, was an indication that things will return to normal soon.

“Our weddings symbolised hope and the start of new life in the time of COVID,” the couples agreed. #

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This article was first published by Gulf News.

Coronavirus: Parents of premature babies face extra fight during COVID-19 pandemic

Unpaid leave and salary cuts compound issues for struggling parents.

By Angel L. Tesorero

DUBAI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES: They are little brave warriors born prematurely who are putting up a good fight to survive in a world that is also struggling against the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

Their parents meanwhile, on top of worrying for the health of their babies, have also been struggling with their jobs and source of income. Some were put on unpaid leave while others received salary cuts because of the slowdown in economic activities brought about by the pandemic.

The babies are COVID-free. Their eyes and faint smiles reveal a resilient spirit but they need financial or material support to carry on. Their parents are seeking help to raise their children in a safe and healthy environment.

The first little warrior is Baby Rain Kristoff, who is now seven months old. He has grown and gained weight – now 2.3-kg, up from a mere 490-grams when he was born prematurely in October last year.

Baby Rain Kristoff (Image Credit: Supplied)

Baby Rain has survived two surgeries in his tummy but still has to be treated for pulmonary hypertension, sleep apnea, and bronchopulmonary dysplasia, a breathing disorder because his lungs were not yet fully developed, his parents Kim Chester and Roselle de la Vega told Gulf News.

“Our baby turns blue whenever he cries excessively and to treat the hypertension, he needs a high flow oxygen therapy (HFOT) machine, which we could not afford to buy,” the de la Vega couple added.

“The doctor suggested to modify a ventilator but we still could not afford the cheapest one which is around Dh30,000,” they added.

The Filipino couple also has unpaid hospital bills amounting to Dh220,000, after using their savings and health insurance.

“We have been out of work for over two months now because of the pandemic. We reached out to Gulf News in the hope that some kind readers would be able to help us. We’re really struggling to raise the money and we’ve exhausted borrowing from friends and family,” they added.

“Our baby was very small, looking so weak and very fragile when he was born but he has proven his fighting spirit. He wanted to live and we hoped to give him the best medical care,” they continued, with high hopes that their plea will be heard by Good Samaritans.

Sri Lankan baby girl

Another premature baby whose parents are seeking help is Adrielle Naomi Fernando, born on May 7.

The father, Sri Lankan expat Luckwin Fernando, wrote to Gulf News: “My wife (Tharushanaa) delivered our baby a month premature on the May 7 at Thumbay Hospital in Ajman. Due to low birth weight, our baby was placed in Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU). The per day charge was between Dh4,000 to Dh5000.

Adrielle Naomi Fernando (Image Credit: Supplied)

“Our baby is now home but our hospital bill has reached around Dh65,000. And on top of this, we also don’t know where to find money to pay for our house rent,” added Luckwin.

He continued: “I saved money to pay for a normal delivery but it was not enough for the emergency. Worse, I lost my job due to the pandemic and I have spent all my savings for the miscellaneous hospital expenses.”

Double bundle of joy

Another doting father has reached out to Gulf News to seek help for his twin bundles of joy.

Egyptian national Mahmoud Zakria Aid, 31, who is married to a Filipina, said their babies (Sabila and Saja) are now in the pink of health but their financial situation is in dire red.

Mahmoud said: “My wife (Filipina Ocampo, 33) gave birth one month early on March 2 and unfortunately I cannot pay the hospital bill after our health insurance expired.”

Twin sisters Saja and Sabila (Image Credit: Supplied)

Mahmoud said: “My wife (Filipina Ocampo, 33) gave birth one month early on March 2 and unfortunately I cannot pay the hospital bill after our health insurance expired.”

“Our babies are already at home after I issued a cheque for Dh28,000 that is due on June 7. Until now, I haven’t raised any money after I was put on unpaid leave and I don’t know when my company will advise me to go back to work” added Mahmoud, who is a graphic designer for an events company.

“The babies are healthy – thanks to God – but I don’t know what will happen in the coming days, weeks and months. There are no events and I’ve been out of work. Whatever savings I have, I used it to buy milk for my babies and food for me and my wife,” he added.

He continued: “The babies are our bundle of joy – they are gifts from God – but, to be honest, there were times I felt helpless and I worried about the future of our babies. This is why I mustered enough courage to ask for help.” #

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This report was first published by Gulf News.

Filipino medical frontliner in UAE ran, cycled for 19 days to raise COVID-19 awareness

By Angel L. Tesorero

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates: An Al Ain-based Filipino medical frontliner has distributed relief goods and medical supplies to his home country and a few workers accommodations here in the UAE after completing his COVID-19vs19 Project, where he ran and cycled for 19 days.

Romeo III Tumayao Puncia, 33, who works as an emergency medical technician at the Emergency and Public Safety Department, Al Ain, is also an international athlete. Last year he became the first Filipino male and first UAE resident to complete the 517.5km Ultraman Florida. He swam 10-km in open water, rode the bike for 423-km and finished an 84-km-ultra-marathon in three days.

Puncia ran 361-km on a running machine (Image Credit: Supplied)

This time, while preparing for the Ultraman World Championship-Hawaii in November, he and his team came up with a project “to promote awareness on the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic and distribute relief goods as well as masks and personal protective equipment.”

“During the movement restrictions, we came up with a challenge which we called THE COVID19vs19 PROJECT, an indoor activity where I ran 19-km for 19 days and cycled 19laps x 19km,” Puncia said.

At his home in Al Ain, Puncia slugged it out on the treadmill for a total of 32 hours and 32 minutes, covering a distance of 361.34-km and, using a stationary bike, cycled 19-km laps for a total of 370.29-km in over 13 hours. The total distance he covered was 731.63-km in 19 days.

Puncia cycled 370-km on a bike (Image Credit: Supplied)

“The reason why I did the challenge was to inspire people that they can make a huge difference to somebody else’s lives while they are in the comfort of their home,” Puncia said.

“By completing the challenge, my team was able to raise funds which we used to buy goods to help frontliners, laborers and employees who were placed under no-work no-pay scheme. We were able to send 3,500 pieces of surgical masks, 100 pieces of face shield, 100 pieces of KN95 masks, 15 pieces of thermal scanner, and Dh3,000 worth of food items to the Philippine General Hospital and tribal and indigenous communities in Palawan, Philippines,” he added.

He admitted “the challenge was quite exhausting because I had to balance work, family and training. But because of the motivation and support of my team, I reached my goal.”

Relief goods like masks were sent back to Philippines and to some Workers Accommodations (Image Credit: Supplied)

Moving forward

Puncia said he is now gearing up for the upcoming Ultraman World Championship in Kona, Hawaii, where only top athletes are invited to participate in the competition that requires 10-km swim, 423-km bike, and 84-km run. He is also warming up for the Ironman 140.6 in Kazakhstan and Ironman 140.6 in the Philippines.

An athlete with a mission, Puncia said he participates in various grueling international competitions to raise funds for his Katribo Charities Inc., which he helped set up back in 2005 in the Philippines.

Relief goods being boxed up and sent back to Philippines (Image Credit: Supplied)

He and his friends visit the ndigenous and tribal communities in Palawan once or twice a year to conduct feeding and medical programmes, education and sports activities, training and leadership skills and more.

More information on his charity work is available on and

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This report was first punlished by Gulf News.

Filipino volunteer dies of coronavirus in Dubai

By Angel L. Tesorero

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates: A Filipino volunteer who helped in the distribution of free meals passed away in Dubai due to complications from coronavirus, his nephew and the Philippines Consul General have confirmed.

Melchor Corpuz Mandac, 48, originally from Jones, Isabela, in northern Philippines, was part of the group of volunteers featured in a Gulf News article just one month ago.

He was one of the first to respond to the UAE government’s call to serve as volunteers.

One of the tasks of Mandac and his group was to go from house to house to distribute free meals from the government and socio-civic organisations. They also asked residents what they needed and actively disseminated information on COVID-19, while referring needs of the residents to relevant authorities.

Mandac’s death came as a big blow to his family and friends.

Melchor Mandac seen here distributing food packs in areas of Dubai. (Photo supplied)

Always on guard

“He was very careful while doing his duties as a volunteer,” said Ibrahim Robel Beltran, one of the team leaders of Filipino volunteers.

“As a frontliner, he was armored, weapons up – so to speak. He never took off his mask or removed his gloves. He never got close contact with anyone. There was always a distance and arms were stretched before he handed any food or items to anyone,” Beltran said.

“He followed the protocol not to interact with anyone who had no face mask or hand gloves. He did not enter any house. He was very cautious. After every duty, he would disinfect himself before driving back home,” Beltran added.

Ruben Jojo De Guzman, 52, the team leader in Mandac’s group, said Mandac’s last duty as a volunteer was on April 30.

“He had to report back to work on May 2, after the movement restrictions were eased. He worked in an industrial area in Dubai, where he was a senior machine technician,” said De Guzman.

De Guzman recalled Mandac was always in top form. “He was the first to report to duty and he also served as a trainer in our group, although he had complained of mild coughing back in January and February.”

“After going back to work, Mandac called me and said he ran a fever so I advised him to go to the hospital,” said De Guzman, adding: “He (Mandac) felt better after a few days but he felt sick again on May 8; so I told him to go back for a medical check-up.”

De Guzman said Mandac at first dismissed his sickness as a common flu brought by his UTI (urinary tract infection) but on May 10 he complained of difficulty in breathing.

“He was rushed to the hospital by a friend. He was confined and put on an IV (intravenous drip). He was still okay and he even sent me his photo at the hospital ward on WhatsApp,” De Guzman said.

“But everything went south so fast. Doctors said his lungs collapsed after being infected by the virus and his vital organs deteriorated. On May 12 (Tuesday), at around 1.25pm, we received a message in our group chat, that he breathed his last,” De Guzman told Gulf News.

Melchor Mandac during a food handout in Dubai. (Photo supplied)

Volunteering in the DNA

Volunteering has always been in the blood of Mandac, his nephew, Sherwin Achivara, 40, said.

Achivara said Mandac had four kids – all grown ups and one is currently a police officer in the Philippines.

Mandac was a member of Sangguniang Masang Pilipino International Incorporated (SMPII), a non-government organisation that serve as a force multiplier to national and international government agencies.

Mandac served as special task force director, training and operations director and VIP security director, who provided security to Philippine government diplomats and leaders during Filipino community events.

Philippine Consul-General Paul Raymund Cortes said Mandac was the 28th Filipino to have passed away from coronavirus in Dubai.

Cortes added that Mandac was “a quiet volunteer who didn’t mind doing whatever was asked of him. He did not look for glory or anything that would highlight him as a leader. One of his tasks was to accompany me during Filipino community events.”

As for the group of Filipino volunteers, they said they would take the week off from volunteering work and would undergo COVID-19 testing.

Beltran said: “Our morale was hit. COVID has taken away one of our friends. We will rest for a couple of days but we will go back on the streets by Sunday to live the legacy left by Mandac.” #

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This report first appeared on Gulf News

Coronavirus: Philippine labor office in Dubai suspends cash aid

By Angel L. Tesorero/Gulf News

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates: The Philippine Overseas Labor Office (POLO) in Dubai on Tuesday suspended the application process for the US$200 (Dh730) cash aid to Filipinos whose jobs were affected by the coronavirus.

“The public is hereby informed that pursuant to the directive of the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE), the Philippine Overseas Labor Office Dubai and Northern Emirates will temporarily suspend acceptance of applications for the DOLE one-time financial assistance for displaced OFWs due to COVID-19,” reads a statement sent to Gulf News.

“The link for the submission of applications will no longer accept responses effective 12:01AM, 21 April 2020. We appeal for your full understanding,” added the memorandum.

According to POLO-Dubai the suspension was made “pending evaluation of applications received and subject to availability of funds.”

The DOLE-AKAP (Abot Kamay ang Pagtulong) for overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) was announced by Philippine Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III on March 25 as a one-time financial assistance by the Philippine government to be given to displaced OFWs – both sea-based and land-based – around the world, due to COVID-19.

Also eligible are OFWs infected by the virus, provided that they have not received any form of financial assistance from their host government or employer.

The cash assistance for OFWs who lost their jobs was earmarked from DOLE-CAMP or DOLE COVID-19 Adjustment Measures Program fund amounting to PhP1.5 billion (Dh108.5 million).

Over 25,000 applicants in Dubai

Philippine Labour Attaché Felicitas Bay told Gulf News: “As of 12.01 am, April 21, the total applications we received have reached 25,733. These are all subject to evaluation – whether the request will be approved or denied. We have so far evaluated 4,732 applications.”

Philippine labor secretary Silvestre Bello III. (Photo by R. Villanueva/Kodao)

The first batch of recipients will receive the assistance on Tuesday.

“Around 250 Filipinos will receive the Dh730 (Php10,117.39) cash assistance through a remittance centre today,” Bay said.

Many Filipinos in Dubai, who are still employed but whose income has been adversely affected by COVID-19, meanwhile felt they had been left in the lurch.

Advisory from the Philippine Overseas Labour Office Dubai and Northern Emirates. (Gulf News photo)

Dubai resident Edwin Costales told Gulf News: “What will happen to us who have been placed under a ‘no-work, no pay’ scheme? Are we not going to receive any assistance from our government? I hope they have also considered us.”

Filipino expat Huey Rai Sta Ana, 26, a waiter at a Dubai restaurant, earlier told Gulf News: “Our employer told us to go on unpaid leave but we still have bills to pay. Losing a month’s salary will have a big impact on our wallets – we have not enough savings to pay for our rent and utility bills. Whatever assistance we can get from our government would really be a big help.”

False hope

Gabriela-UAE, a group of Filipino expats in the UAE advocating for workers and women’s rights has condemned DOLE for suspending the applications for financial assistance it promised to OFWs.

In a statement sent to Gulf News on Tuesday, the group said: “DOLE and the Philippine government gave many OFWs hope when they promised the financial assistance. By suspending the acceptance of applications for assistance, they have crushed our hope.”

“The excuse given by the DOLE for the suspension, that the submitted applications and the existing funds will be evaluated, is simply unacceptable. OFWs are running low on food and basic necessities, and the financial assistance is urgently needed now,” the group added.

“In the UAE alone, there is an estimated 650,000 OFWs, most of them are employees who were laid off from work, whose wages have been delayed, whose wages have been cut by 25 to 50 per cent; and who have been put under “no work, no pay” arrangements. With a budget of PhP1.5 billion, it turns out that only 150,000 OFWs or less around the world would be able to avail of the financial assistance,” the group noted.

A Filipino expat shares a picture of the the Dh730 cash aid she received on social media. (Gulf News photo)

“Do top (Philippine) government officials think that OFWs are virus-proof and immune from COVID-19? We reiterate our appeal to the Duterte government for immediate, sufficient and systematic distribution of financial assistance to OFWs,” they added.

Not enough budget

Filipino community leader Jason Roi Bucton, chairman of Kalayaan 2020 Organizing Committee, said: “We have to understand that all budget allocated is for the entire OFW around the globe. The overwhelming numbers of more than 25,000 applicants (in Dubai and Northern Emirates alone) is subject to POLO-OWWA’s evaluation and approval with their limited staffs and funds.”

“We have to accept the fact that this is not enough to cater the number of Filipinos displaced in this pandemic. We hope that our Philippine government will be able to assess further and find means to sustain the Filipinos’ needs. Otherwise, it should be better to just prepare for a massive repatriation globally,” he added.

Bayanihan during hard times
Another OFW advocate, Barney Almazar, director at the corporate-commercial department of Gulf Law, told Gulf News: “Since President Duterte signed the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act last March 24, much has been publicized on the provision of emergency subsidy to OFWs. In the UAE, the allocated fund for OFW, unfortunately, is just not enough to solve the problems of everyone in need.”

“The solution is clearly written in the name of the law itself: Bayanihan, a Filipino virtue of collective heroism for a common cause. The government has kick-started amelioration efforts, and it is now high time for fellow OFWs to help each other,” he explained.

Almazar noted: “We have no control over the funds but we can very much rely on each other. We should not forget that Filipinos are creative, resourceful and ingenious. We may lack funds but certainly we do not have a shortage of talented Filipino professionals in the emirates.

“There should be a close coordination with volunteer groups. For example, those who do not qualify for the financial assistance from the government should be endorsed to Filipino volunteer groups instead of being refused outright. With this, we eliminate duplication of efforts and ensure scarce resources are allocated efficiently especially for the sick, children and other vulnerable groups,” he added.

Almazar reiterated: “We can improve, because we are more than this (COVID-19). What the government cannot provide, we OFWs ca fill up by volunteering our services, by being vigilant that no resource is wasted. It is crucial to evaluate needs, assess available resources and set priorities to protect the lives of our people, while maintaining their dignity, mental and social well-being.”

“We also want to see the preparedness and advanced capabilities of government staff assigned to assist the OFWs. Planning and managing the response is as important, if not, more important than the funds,” he concluded.


-PhP1.5 billion (Dh108.5 million) – allocated to overseas Filipino workers displaced by COVID-19 worldwide
-US$200 (Dh730) – financial assistance promised to Filipino workers who lost job due to coronavirus pandemic
-25,733 – Filipinos in Dubai appplied for cash aid
-250 Filipinos to receive the Dh730 from POLO-Dubai on Tuesday

= = = = =

This report was first published by Gulf News.

Bello suspends misbehaving welfare officer

By Angel L. Tesorero

Dubai, UAE: A welfare officer at the Philippine Overseas Labor Office (POLO) in Dubai was suspended after allegedly insulting and cursing over the phone a Filipina who asked explanation where the food aid given by POLO came from.

In a directive issued on Friday, Philippine Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III has ordered the immediate suspension of Danilo Flores, a welfare officer at POLO-Dubai.

The labour chief also ordered a swift investigation to determine Flores’ culpability for alleged misbehavior in dealing with overseas Filipino workers (OFWs).

The investigation followed an incident that transpired on April 16 between Joy Parafina, a Dubai resident, and Flores.

Parafina recounted the incident on a Facebook post that went viral.

Angry OFW Joy Parafina in her Facebook video narrating her spat with Welfare Officer Danilo Flores.

In the video, an angry and distressed Parafina alleged that Flores called her names after she asked whether there was a receipt for the food packs being distributed.

Parafina said she is aware that the Philippine government has earmarked a $200 (Dh730) cash aid to Filipino expats affected by the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

She inquired if the food pack, containing two bags of rice and several canned goods, was part of the relief package.

She first asked a staff at a local grocery where the food packs were distributed but the staff was not knowledgeable of the arrangement and advised Parafina to contact officers from POLO-Dubai.

This led Parafina to contact Flores.

Parafina said she didn’t want to claim the food pack as there was no receipt and explanation where the goods came from.

Parafina alleged Flores blew his top and called her ungrateful.

Flores also used expletives, Parafina said in her FB Live video.

Flores suspended

Bello said Flores is suspended from performing his duties as Welfare Officer pending investigation of the incident.

The labor secretary also assured the public of DOLE’s continuing welfare and assistance programs for OFWs.

According to its website, POLO serves as the Philippine Department of Labor and Employment’s (DOLE) overseas operating arm in the implementation of the Philippine labor policies and programs for the protection of the rights and promotion of the welfare and interests of Filipinos working abroad. #

(This report first appeared on Gulf News.)

Terminated UAE OFWs told to ask return tickets from employers

By Angel L. Tesorero

Dubai: The Philippine missions in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) told overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) wanting repatriation to demand from their employers return tickets to the Philippines.

In an advisory issued Monday, April 13, the Philippine Embassy in Abu Dhabi and Philippine Consulate in Dubai told terminated OFWs due to the corona virus disease (Covid-19) it is the obligation of their employers to purchase their return ticket to the Philippines.

“This is pursuant to the UAE labor laws,” the advisory reads.

Addressing the employers, the two missions said: “We are calling on the employers for their understanding and cooperation.”

The employer can book a flight via Emirates of Etihad Airlines, which have been permitted to fly to the Philippines, the diplomatic posts said.

A travel agent confirmed there is a special Emirates repatriation flight available on April 15 and 16. A one-way flight to Manila starts from Php13,800 (Emirates Dirham2,550).

“There is no need to call the Embassy or Consulate on this because they have been given special flights permission to land in Manila despite the lockdown in Metro Manila and Luzon,” the advisory adds.

A joint advisory from the Philippine Embassy and Consulate in Dubai. (Photo by Gulf News)

 The missions clarified however that only documented OFWs may avail of the benefit while “undocumented” ones may need to seek the help of their family, friends or their travel agencies.

 “If you have no employer or job contract and has arrived to the UAE to look for a job through the help of family and friends or through a sponsoring travel agency, you need to get their assistance to buy a ticket,” the advisory says.

“For those with no employer, relative or friend to help them and would like to go home for good, they should get in touch with the Embassy or Consulate to help assess their situation,” it adds.

The Embassy or Consulate will ask the Philippine government to purchase the return ticket for an undocumented OFW “if there is an available fund.”

Philippine consul general Paul Raymond Cortes. (Photo by Gulf News)

Fund is available

Philippine Consul-General Paul Raymund Cortes said the total budget of the Philippine government for its Assistance to Nationals (ATN) is PhP 1 billion pesos annually for overseas Filipinos globally.

Cortes noted the ATN fund was instrumental in helping overstaying Filipinos in the UAE during the 2018 Amnesty Repatriation programme.

“Philippine authorities shouldered not just the airfare of amnesty seekers, but also their out-pass clearances and other administrative fees,” Cortes pointed out.

“We will facilitate your return to the Philippines,” the advisory notes. “(We are) ready to assist our compatriots and will do everything possible to help them weather this crisis,” it adds. #

Coronavirus effect: Hundreds of Filipinos in the UAE want to go back home

By Angel L. Tesorero

Dubai: A few hundred Filipino expats are seeking to be repatriated soon, a source within the Filipino diplomatic community said Saturday, March 11.

Flights to Manila from this city, however, are still suspended, following the Philippine government’s directive on extending the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) in Luzon.

Philippine Airlines (PAL) and budget airline, Cebu Pacific – have also extended the suspension of all flight operations between Dubai and Manila until April 30.

Moreover, the decision to suspend passenger and transit flights to and from the UAE – as a preventive measure to curb the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19) – is still in effect.

Meanwhile, around 200 seafarers have been repatriated to the Philippines on Saturday.

The repatriation of the stranded Filipino crew members, who are not UAE residents, was coordinated with UAE authorities who allowed them to disembark and take a chartered flight arranged by their employers through local manning agencies.

In an earlier Gulf News report, Marford Angeles, Consul-General and Deputy Head of Mission at the Philippine Embassy, said they have been working on the repatriation of Filipino crew members stranded in various ports in the UAE.

The Filipino diplomat also clarified, as per POLO-OWWA (Philippine Overseas Labor Office – Overseas Workers Welfare Administration), “employers are responsible for their employees’ repatriation, based on their contract.”

Angeles added the Philippine Embassy in Abu Dhabi has been closely coordinating with the UAE Ministry of Foreign Affairs on cases of stranded Filipino nationals. “These cases are subject to compliance with both Philippine and UAE laws and regulations, including a mandatory 14-day quarantine period upon arrival in the Philippines being coordinated with the Philippine Department of Health and OWWA,” he earlier told Gulf News.

Angeles also clarified the Embassy’s programme of repatriating those with visa problems and immigration offences and victims illegal recruitment is still on hold due to the suspension of exit pass processing and suspension of UAE flights.

“This programme is also subject to availability of funds. Those who need help with their exit pass processing may call +971508584968 or +971508963089, or email [email protected] for proper advice,” he added. #

(This article originally appeared on Gulf News.)