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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

COVID: Distressed OFWs in Saudi Arabia seek PH gov’t help

A group of distressed female overseas Filipino workers in Damman, Saudi Arabia is seeking the Philippine government’s help to be repatriated after their employer stopped paying for their salaries since the corona virus lockdown has been imposed in the Kingdom last March 17.

In a video sent to Kodao by a Migrante International member, the workers also asked for food and other relief items as they grapple with what they described as “very difficult conditions.”

In an online interview, the group said that since they have posted their first video online, their employer got angry with them and even tried to block donations of personal hygiene items sent them by concerned individuals.

The OFWs said they have been kept within the confines of their dormitory since the lockdown started.

The group said they were recruited in the Philippines by Mission Way Manpower Agency that said they would be working for the Al-Ajeer Recruitment Company that in turn deployed them to Noura Foundation for house-school-hospital cleaning duties.

They added that they also worry for their families in the Philippines who rely on their remittances especially during the coronavirus pandemic.

The distressed OFWs call on the Philippine Embassy in Saudi Arabia, the Department of Labor and Employment, the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration and the Philippine Overseas Labor Office for help.

“We are no longer safe here,” the group told Kodao. # (Report by Raymund B. Villanueva/Video subtitling by Jek Alcaraz/Video by the OFWs)

INDIVIDUALS AND GROUPS WHO WISH TO HELP AND CONTACT THE GROUP MAY CALL ANNALYN LABANON (0542588065) OR MARY JANE MARFIL (0591511439)

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: Filipinos await aid from home country

Manila has promised Dh730 cash aid to Filipinos who have lost jobs.

By Angel L. Tesorero/Gulf News

Dubai: Filipinos in the UAE, who have lost their jobs or have been asked to go on unpaid leave, are asking their home country for cash aid after the Philippine Government last month promised a one-time financial assistance to overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) whose jobs were affected due to coronavirus (COVID-19)

Several Filipino expats told Gulf News they have been waiting for the US$200 (Dh730) financial assistance announced on March 25 by Philippine Labour Secretary Silvestre Bello III. They said the announcement was a welcome news.

Philippine labor secretary Silvestre H. Bello III (Photo by Raymund B. Villanueva/Kodao

Filipino expat Huey Rai Sta Ana, 26, a waiter at a Dubai restaurant, said: “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.”

Huey Rai Sta Ana

Another Dubai resident, Shiera lyza Fernando, 21, who is a service crew, added: “The Philippine Government, through POLO-OWWA (Philippine Labour Office- Overseas Workers Welfare Administration), has the means to help us, OFWs.”

Shiera lyza FernandoImage Credit: Supplied

Ana Marasigan, an office administration staff, echoed the same sentiments. She said: “The financial assistance must be provided to our distressed OFWs who are currently affected by the coronavirus pandemic. We appeal to the Philippine government to fulfill its promise urgently.”

Filipino expat, John Raymart, 25, said he has to rely on friends for some of his basic needs. “We have been working on a tight budget since last month after we were placed under leave. The solution that me and my friends have come up with is to pool our money and buy food for everyone. But our fund is now running low.”

John RaymartImage Credit: Supplied

‘Let us be patient’

Meanwhile, Joan Vargas, 33, a restaurant manager and Filipino community leader, advised her kababayans (countrymen) to be patient. “I think the (Philippine) government is doing its job. I’m sure the money will come.”

Joan VargasImage Credit: Supplied

“But I hope there will be no difficult requirements needed – just passport and Emirates ID would be enough when we collect the money,” added Vargas, who said 19 of them were asked to go on unpaid leave since March 23.

Josephine Sanchez, 46, sales staff at a freight forwarding company, said majority of OFWs are family breadwinners. If they lost their jobs or experience pay cuts, their respective families will also suffer.

Josephine SanchezImage Credit: Supplied

“We have our own expenses and we also need to buy our own food. If we lost our jobs, how then can we provide for our family back home? We really hope our government will take care of us in times of need,” Sanchez said.

No comprehensive plan

In a statement sent to Gulf News, the chairperson of Migrante International, a migrants rights group based in Manila, said the delay in cash assistance “revealed the lack of comprehensive plan by Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte in addressing the immediate and long-term effects of the crisis on OFWs.”

Migrante chairperson Joanna Concepcion said: “Up to now, the government has not provided any guidelines to disburse the funds they promised to distressed OFWs who were expecting the assistance since last month.”

The Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) and the various Philippine Overseas Labour Offices (POLOs) will start processing the release of financial aid for overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) who lost their jobs due to COVID-19 pandemic, the Philippine Department of Labour and Employment (DOLE) said in a statement sent to Gulf News on Thursday.

Overseas workers, both land-based and sea-based, who have been displaced by a lockdown in a foreign country will be given a one-time financial assistance amounting to US $ 200 (Dh730), under DOLE’s AKAP programme for OFWs.

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.

DOLE-AKAP will cover regular/documented OFWs as defined in the 2016 Revised Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) Rules and Regulations.

“Regular or documented OFWs are those who possess a valid passport and appropriate visa or permit to stay and work in the receiving country; and whose contract of employment has been processed by the POEA or the POLO,” Philippine Labour Secretary Silvestre Bello III said.

The assistance programme, Bello added, “also covers qualified undocumented OFWs or those who were originally regular or documented workers, but for some reason or cause have thereafter lost their regular or documented status”.

Bello said the assistance is part of DOLE’s COVID-19 Adjustment Measures Programme (DOLE-CAMP) that the department had initiated to extend financial support for Filipino workers displaced by the pandemic.

Bello underlined: “The coverage is generous since it will cover not only documented workers but also undocumented ones as long as they have “undertaken” actions toward regularisation or they are active members of OWWA.

Bello said OWWA and the POLOs will now start the processing and evaluation of the qualified DOLE-AKAP recipients, especially in countries heavily affected by the pandemic.

Requirements and guidelines:

According to DOLE, OFWs must submit the following documents to their respective POLO:

a. Accomplished application form for the special cash assistance which is downloadable at their respective POLO website or social media account;

b. Photocopy of their passport and/or travel documents;

c. Proof of overseas employment, such as a valid OEC, residence ID, visa, reentry-visa etc.

d. Proof of loss of employment on account of the COVID-19 disease; and

e. Proof of a pending case that have caused their current “undocumented status, such as case reference number, case endorsement stamped by the POLO, etc.

Those who are already in the Philippines or repatriated OFWS will be covered by Balik Manggagawa. They must submit the following documents to their respective regional or local OWWA offices:

a. Accomplished application form for special cash assistance downloadable at www.dole-akap.owwa.gov.ph website;

b. Copy of passport or travel documents;

c. Proof of overseas employment, sch as valid OEC, residence ID, visa/re-entry visa, etc. and

d. Proof of loss of employment due to the COVID-19 disease.

For further details, please check http://www.polodubaiportal.org #

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This article originally appeared on Gulf News.

OEC is gone, but UAE Filipinos have to wait for new OFW IDs

By Angel L. Tesorero / Repost from Khaleej Times

DUBAI, United Arad Emirates–Filipino expats in the UAE will have to wait for a couple of months before they can avail of the eagerly anticipated OFW (overseas Filipino workers) ID launched in Manila today.

Felicitas Bay, Philippine Labour Attaché to Dubai and northern emirates, told Khaleej Times: “We have not received any instructions or operational guidelines yet from the main office” (in Manila) regarding the OFW ID that will replace the Overseas Employment Certificate (OEC).

An OEC is a travel document or exit pass that has to be presented at international ports of exit in the Philippines before an OFW can return to the country of his/ her employment. The OFW ID, also called iDOLE (ID of the Department of Labor and Employment), is set to replace the OEC starting July 12.

No less than Philippine president Rodrigo Duterte is expected to grace the launch event on Wednesday.

Aside from serving as an ID for migrant Filipinos, the OFW ID can also be used in lieu of other Philippine government IDs, including Social Security System, Pag-IBIG Fund, and Philippine Health Insurance Corporation cards. Eventually, Filipino expats can also use the OFW ID for other government transactions like getting a police clearance or  as an ATM or debit card to send money back home via the proposed OFW Bank.

Philippine Labour Minister Silvestre Bello III announced last week that the OFW is free of cost. “All we need is to conduct an inventory of all the bonafide OFWs based on the list of the POEA (Philippine Overseas Employment Administration), in conjunction with the Department of Labor, then we will start processing the IDs,” he said.

Filipino expats in the UAE welcomed the move by the Philippine government. “Replacing the OEC with an OFW ID is good news,” former FilCom (Filipino Community) president Alan Bacason said. “It will be an all-in-one ID, much like the Emirates ID. It is also a good way to properly monitor the OFWs not just in the UAE but around the world.” (OFWs worldwide number around 10 million, according to Philippine official records).

“In the meantime, for those who will take a break or will attend to some concerns in the Philippines and will return to the same employer (in the UAE), you may wish to apply online for your OEC as this will facilitate your exit from the Philippines,” Bay told Khaleej Times.

Bay also advised her kababayans (countrymen) to regularly check www.polodubaiportal.org for updates on the OFW ID.

“Should there be any official pronouncement/ guidelines, we will post them at the POLO-Dubai (Philippine Overseas Labor Office) portal,” she noted. # (angel@khaleejtimes.com)