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COVID-19 takes toll among Fil-Canadians

By Ysh Cabana

TORONTO, Canada–Several people were reported to have died from coronavirus in Canada, including Filipinos.

With the Canada death toll at 1,580 deaths, according to Public Health Agency of Canada as of April 19, the Filipino community is hard hit.

Many Filipino-Canadians are working in the health sector in roles including nurses, care aide, facility maintenance and as “front-line essential” workers during the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic.

Marie Christine Bacalocos Mandegarian, 54, succumbed to the virus on April 15 less than 24 hours after testing positive.

“I am a little bit scared, but duty calls,” she wrote on her Facebook account last month. “I can’t stay home, I’m a healthcare worker” she said. For 31 years, Mandegarian, worked as a personal support worker at Altamont Care Community, a long-term care center in Scarborough, Toronto.

Mandegarian was the first health worker in Toronto and second in the province of Ontario to die of COVID-19.

On April 9, Brampton Civic Hospital mourned the loss of their environmental services associate Ronald V. David. Uncle Ronald, 58, as he was fondly called, is believed to be the first known Ontario health-care worker to die after getting sick with the highly contagious respiratory disease.

Health-care staff make up about 11% of all reported COVID-19 cases in the province but make up only about three% of Ontario’s population.

The province is also reporting outbreaks of COVID-19 at long-term care homes where nearly half of total coronavirus-linked deaths in Canada happen according to chief public health officer Teresa Tam.

“We know that close to half of the deaths that we’re tracking are linked to long-term care facilities, but that ratio is actually different in different provinces,” Tam told reporters during her daily ministerial update on the virus.

Other Filipino victims of COVID-19 in Canada include Victoria Salvan, 64, who as a patient attendant. She immigrated to Canada from the Phillipines, and worked with senior citizens for 25 years.

Salvan, or Vicky to her colleagues, passed away April 17 just weeks away from retirement. She is survived by her husband and two children. One of Salvan’s sons said that she cared deeply for the elders in her care working overtime up to her final days of work at the understaffed Grace Dart Extended Care Centre, where nearly a quarter of the residents have been infected with COVID-19, according to public health records.

Warlito Valdez, 47, had been a residential worker at Pendleton House run by the Richmond Society for Community Living helping people with intellectual and physical disabilities.

Valdez died April 5 despite being in self-isolation following a positive COVID-19 diagnosis. According to a GoFundMe page that Valdez’s co-workers started, he was a “tireless provider” who worked multiple jobs. His wife Flozier Tabangin, who also works as a frontline care worker, described her husband as “a hero”

According to the Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA), the total number of COVID-19 cases among overseas Filipinos across 42 countries rose to 990. The number of overseas Filipino fatalities is now at 143 as of its April 20 report.

“The DFA remains committed to ensure the welfare of our people and stands ready to provide assistance to the COVID-19 positive Filipino nationals as needed,” it said.

A number of others continue to fight for their livelihood where Covid-19 is believed to have been on an outbreak making a hard job perilous.

In the province of Manitoba, the first presumptive case of COVID-19 is a woman in her 40s from the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority. The province says she was exposed to the virus through travel to the Philippines.

More than 850,00 people of Filipino descent are living in Canada, with settlement primarily in major urban areas, according to the 2016 census.

The country’s supply of health care workers is impacted by government’s reliance on immigration making the Filipino community one of the major sources of Canada’s health care providers who may be registered nurses or unregulated workers, such as nursing aides and orderlies.

Some Filipino workers, however, have raised concerns of being discriminated against and unprotected from the virus due to a shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE).

In the province of Alberta, Cargill Meat Processing Plant is vital to a bourgeoning immigrant community of Filipinos. Workers there tell Canadian media of poor working conditions and fears of viral transmission in an overcrowded “elbow-to-elbow” facility.

Meanwhile, advocacy groups, including Tulayan Filipino Diaspora Society, Sulong UBC, and Migrante BC, have penned an open letter calling on all levels of the Canadian government for “increased and timely resources” to be available for Filipino workers.

“The general feedback we are getting from our community is the lack of accessible information regarding the pandemic in Filipino languages. While we are doing our best as a community to translate and offer support to each other at this difficult time, we would like to ensure that Filipinos in Canada are getting direct and accurate information from the proper health authorities,” the groups said in the letter. #

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This report also appeared on The Philippine Reporter.

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.)

OFWs in Europe press gov’t for assistance and mass testing for all Filipinos

By Ian Dexter R. Marquez

PARIS, France – Various organizations throughout Europe are urging the Philippine government to provide social assistance and mass testing to all Filipinos, including overseas workers.

A number of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) throughout Europe may have lost their jobs due to the coronavirus pandemic and need assistance from the Philippine government, Migrante International chapter Nagkakaisang Pilipino sa Pransya (NPSP) said. 

“Filipinos in Europe are also largely affected by this pandemic,” NPSP spokesperson Seyra Rico said, pointing out that so-called undocumented OFWs are most vulnerable during the crisis that has also hit the world’s most prosperous region. 

“Most of them (undocumented OFWs) do not qualify for social welfare due to the nature and status of their work,” Rico said. 

Aside from fears of deportation, undocumented Filipinos have no access to health services and financial assistance from their European host countries, she explained

The organizations urge the Philippine embassies and consulates to provide financial assistance to nationals without access to health care and social services in their host countries.

They also appeal to host countries to provide health care for undocumented Filipinos and to ensure the safety of Filipino health workers in foreign hospitals.

In France, NPSP said there are an estimated 65,000 Filipinos, 60% of whom are undocumented. 

About 106,200 persons have already been infected by the virus in the Western European country with 17,167 deaths, including seven Filipinos. 

Weekly noise barrages

To demand immediate action and highlight the plight of compatriots throughout the continent, Filipino organizations in Europe will hold weekly noise barrages starting on April 18.

The weekly protests, held in Filipino homes across Europe, are scheduled every Saturday at 12 noon central Europe time (6 PM in the Philippines) and will culminate on May 1.

NPSP poster

The culmination will coincide with International Worker’s Day as a tribute to all Filipino migrant workers and front-liners at home and abroad, the Filipino organizations announced.

The protests are spearheaded by Migrante International, Anakbayan Europa, European Network for Justice and Peace in the Philippines and International Coalition for Human Rights in the Philippines. 

In France, NPSP shall lead the protests, “in solidarity with our compatriots in the Philippines and abroad,” Rico said. 

Rico said the noise barrages shall also call for an end to the autocratic and “dictator-like” tactics of the government in implementing its lockdown in the Philippines.

They also demand social assistance and food distribution for the Philippines’ most vulnerable sectors, instead of military actions and state violence. 

“Since President Rodrigo Dutere placed Luzon under lockdown in March, millions of workers have been displaced and out of work; communities left in need of assistance; medical workers dying from lack of PPEs; and government critics muzzled, arrested, or even killed,” Rico said. 

Rico said that the government response against the virus, including the Php 285-billion package announced by Duterte, has proven to be grossly inadequate to sustain the needs of families in Luzon affected by the lockdown. #

2 detained babies and their mothers arrive back in PH

The two babies detained by Malaysian immigration officers in Kuala Lumpur arrived back in the Philippines with their mothers Wednesday night, ending nearly three weeks of ordeal in a foreign jail.

Arriving at the Manila International Airport on board Malaysia Airlines flight MH804 at 9:40 in the evening the babies, both of whom are under two years old, looked exhausted, Migrante International said in a statement.

“After spending weeks trembling in fear and torment, they are relieved to finally get back home and be reunited with their loved ones. The four children were clearly gripped by exhaustion,” Migrante reported

With them are two other toddlers, both under five years old, and their mothers, who were also detained at the Bukit Jalil Jail in the Malaysian capital, the group added.

Migrante said the four mother-child pairs appeared unsure after stepping out of the airport terminal and were relieved when approached by their staff and Churches Witnessing With Migrants (CWWM) volunteers who introduced themselves as colleagues of Malaysian migrant center Tenaganita that campaigned for their release.

“With almost all of their belongings looted by wardens and immigration officers at Bukit Jalil, they only managed to carry with them small shoulder bags,” Migrante said in a statement.

WHAT WENT BEFORE: Malaysian immigration holds 2 Pinoy babies ‘under tormenting conditions’

The mothers and their children upon arrival at the NAIA late Wednesday night. (Migrante International photo)

Horrific ordeal

The deported mothers revealed they suffered humiliation under the hands of their Bukit Jalil Immigration Detention Centre custodians.

Ralyn (not her real name) said they underwent routine inspections every five minutes by “barking detention wardens and spiteful immigration officers” from 7AM to 12AM midnight the next day everyday.

Detainees were fed with “stale and burnt food good for swines,” she told Migrante.  

Enny and Anita (real names withheld) also told Migrante that their cells were “cramped and filthy.”

The detainees said they were made to lie down on the cold floor surface and nobody was allowed to use any sleeping mats.

Detainees had only one set of clothes which they had to wash and wear every other day, the mothers told Migrante.

“Our rights as humans were violated! The female wardens acted as if they are not mothers themselves. They were vile and mean, treated us like animals. All the children always get terrified when they’re around,” Raly told Migrante.  

The mothers complained that non-married or single detainees are constantly in handcuffs and any detainee inside the facility that is seen by immigration wardens as misbehaving is dealt with severely.

They recalled how a female detainee from Kenya who has been showing signs of psychosis was tied to the wall with both hands and was made to stand the whole day. 

Even the children are not spared from verbal abuse by growling wardens and immigration officers, the detainees said, adding many of the young detainees were in need of medical attention.

“Almost all of the detainees are from poor countries,” Anita told Migrante.

According to Ralyn, most of their fellow detainees are from countries like Myanmar, Philippines, Indonesia, Vietnam, Thailand, Kenya and Nigeria. 

Malaysian Immigration Department director-general Datuk Khairul Dzaimee Daud, for his part, said his office provided “basic facilities” for the children detained at the centre and showed Malaysian reporters of children playing at the detention centre’s nursery.

Successful campaign

The Filipinos homecoming was started by Tenaganita whose press statements triggered an outcry for the release of the babies.

“[Our] press statement triggered a blast of anger and outrage from the Malaysian Public, Member of Parliaments and some Ministers who are our allies in the New Government,” Tenaganita executive director Glorene Dass told Kodao.

Dass said that both mainstream and alternative journalists in Malaysia, some of whom are Filipinos, picked up the story and published Tenaganita’s articles on the plight of the young detainees.

They also kept calling the immigrations authorities for statements, she said.

The social media scene was also lit up by the campaign “that helped tremendously,” Dass added.

Tenaganita, Migrante International and CWWM are active members of the International Migrants Alliance.

Uncertain future

When asked for their future plans, the mothers told Migrante that going back overseas is still in the offing since they are not expecting to get decent paying jobs in the Philippines. 

“Coming back to the Philippines presents the same problems of instability and peril to returning OFWs and migrant children,” Migrante International chairperson Joanna Concepcion said. 

Migrante said the all but one of the mothers and their children boarded provincial buses headed to their respective hometowns in Bataan and Laguna.

Ralyn chose to stay overnight in Manila at a place offered to her by CWWM before travelling to Bulacan this morning, Migrante said. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)