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Filipina mom flees Gaza with 7 children, hopes to reunite with Palestinian husband

By Angel L. Tesorero / Khaleej Timesby Angel Tesorero

Marlene and her seven children successfully evacuated war-torn Gaza last November and are back in her home country. Like other evacuees, they were given $1,400 in cash aid by the Philippine government and were housed in a hotel for a couple of days upon arrival in her home country.

While safe from the rockets and bullets of the zionists, Marlene finds its hard to take care of her children aged  15, 13, 11, 9, 7, 5 and 3 years old alone. Her Palestinian husband Amjad is in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) as an expat who wishes to bring the entire family to join him soonest.

Money running out

When the Philippine government’s temporary shelter to Gaza evacuees ended, Marlene was assisted by the Philippine-Palestine Friendship Association (PPFA) to look for accommodations elsewhere. They are renting a room in Cavite Province and the aid money they received is already running out.

“Worse, the children are still traumatized by the war,” added Marlene, noting, “Even the sound of the metallic electric fan brought my young sons to tears at night because it sounded like drones. My second child also wakes up in the middle of the night and cries. They are afraid of fireworks and the sound of airplanes.”

The children and their mom were living with Marlene’s in-laws in Deir Al Balah (a city in central Gaza Strip) when Israel escalated its attacks. Escaping heavy bombardment, they hurriedly left the house with nothing but the clothes they were wearing, mismatched slippers, and a bag containing their passports.

Emergency kit

“The bag was our emergency kit – I had prepared it a long time ago because, in the past two years, I have experienced four intermittent conflicts and airstrikes, and I was told by neighbors to put all our passports in one bag and run whenever we hear a warning siren,” she added.

No one died in the shelling, but Marlene was hit by a shrapnel near her abdomen. Marlene and the kids sought refuge in Rafah, southern Gaza, on October 15. The in-laws, aged 75 and 73, decided to stay behind.

The situation in Rafah was no different and after two weeks, they moved back to Deir Al Balah, only to experience another airstrike. Marlene and the kids were again lucky and escaped alive. They then moved back to Rafah until the border with Egypt was opened and the first batch of refugees were evacuated.

Marlene and her seven children arrived in the Philippines on November 10 last year. Her in-laws decided to remain in Deir Al Balah because even the 20-km journey to Rafah was too much for them.

Marlene shared: “My in-laws said they were ready to face any fate that befell them. When our house was bombed for the third time, my 73-year-old mother-in-law just lay down on the floor in fear. She could not run, her body was trembling. She laid down and prayed. Thankfully, my father-in-law arrived and dragged her safely out of the house. The five-floor building was leveled to the ground with only one room remaining, where the two of them are now staying.”

Schooling disrupted

The schooling of the six younger children was entirely disrupted by the punitive war, that has so far claimed more than 22,000 lives and displaced 90 per cent of the Palestinian population.

Marlene and Amjad’s children, except the eldest, were born in the UAE, and have studied in Ajman’s Al Hikmah School (except for the 5-year-old and 3-year-old, who have yet to enter school). The family lived in Sharjah until 2020, when they visited Gaza and got stranded there because of the pandemic. Their UAE residence visas lapsed and only Amjad was able to return after finding work in the country in 2021. Since the kids can only speak Arabic and English, they cannot attend a Philippine school.

However, it was not all bad news for Marlene. Her eldest daughter, who is a very bright student, bagged a scholarship at a university in Switzerland, where she will continue her senior high school education until college.

Return to homeland

“But living in Gaza turned out good for my family, because it was there that my children truly found a home,” Marlene said poignantly, adding: “They felt they belonged, they were happy living with their cousins, they went to school and made new friends. They were happy. Until the war happened.”

Amjad is now working on bringing his entire family to the UAE. He said he sought assistance from charity organizations and school authorities to help send his children to school.

He is also praying that one day the family will be able to return to their homeland. #

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This report was original to the Khaleej Times where the author is a senior deputy editor.

720 New Zealand OFWs lose jobs over Christmas

MANILA–Hundreds of overseas Filipino workers in New Zealand lost their jobs just before Christmas and are asking the Philippine government for continuing financial assistance as they look for new jobs this New Year.

About 720 Filipino construction workers were shocked to learn they were suddenly out of work last December 20 and have since greeted 2024 jobless and stranded abroad.

The workers were employed throughout New Zealand by labor contractor ELE Group that figured in a corporate collapse, surprising the entire country, especially its foreign workers.

Dennis Sarmiento, barely eight months as an aluminum fabricator in Hamilton City, said he was preparing to send money home to his family in General Trias, Cavite for the Christmas and New Year holidays when he received notice he could no longer go to work as the company was closing.

“We had no inkling the company was closing down. We were just told to no longer report for work,” Sarmiento told Kodao.

“I had to explain to my family back home our unexpected predicament. We spent the Christmas and New Year as beneficiaries of other OFWs and migrant rights organizations, finding ourselves without means to celebrate on our own,” he added.

Migrante-Aotearoa, among the first organizations to come to the aid of the beleaguered Filipinos called on the Philippine government to give immediate cash aid to the laid off OFWs.

Filipino-Kiwi activists supporting laid-off OFWs. (Migrante-Aotearoa photo)

“The closure of giant labor hire ELE Group has left hundreds of Filipino migrant workers in a state of uncertainty, grappling with the challenges of unemployment and financial instability during what should be a festive time of year,” the group said.

Migrante-Aotearoa said it sent a petition to the Philippine Embassy in Wellington asking to give financial aid within 48 hrs to assist OFWs in hardship.

“We know that emergency aid for OFWs is totally possible, if only the billions of pork barrel funds and confidential funds that have been pocketed and unaccounted for by the Philippines’ most corrupt politicians have been allocated to support OFWs and their families instead,” it said in a statement.

First Union secretary general Dennis Maga said their intervention compelled the Philippine government to offer the equivalent of Php30k to the beleaguered workers but have yet to receive information how many actually received the amount.

First Union also called on New Zealand authorities to allow and expedite the process of the jobless workers’ transfer to other employers so they spend as little time as unemployed migrants.

Unpaid wages and benefits of the laid off workers should also be paid, First Union added.

Over Christmas and New Year, Migrante-Aotearoa, Gabriela-Aotearoa, Union Network of Migrants (UNEMIG), First Union, church organizations and migrant Filipinos distributed food packs to as many laid off OFWs as they could.

They also formed teams to assist the workers in navigating the maze of in-country job applications.

Sarmiento said he and ELE colleagues are grateful for the migrant rights activists and unions who act as their guardian angels in one of their saddest Christmases ever.

“I did not know anything about unions and activists before this ordeal. Now I know better and I thank them,” Sarmiento said. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

Hong Kong cases expose shortcomings of gov’t interventions to protect OFWs from debt burden

Harassment against Hong Kong migrant workers imperils their employment opportunities and prompts them to incur more debt. Governments are aware of the problem, but advocacy groups say regulations and enforcement are not enough.

BY CHERRY SALAZAR / Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism

(Last part of the series)

Many Filipinos working in Hong Kong are hounded by their lenders from the Philippines, who even hire debt collectors to threaten and harass their employers.

The Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ) found that Hong Kong employers have received threatening calls and visits from the debt collectors demanding payment for the Filipinos’ mounting debts. 

In extreme cases, the employers would receive snakes or photos of their pets with eyes crossed out in their mailboxes or find their door with red paint.

Marami pong kasong ganyan (There are many such cases),” Dolores Balladares-Pelaez, chair of the United Filipinos in Hong Kong, an alliance of Filipino migrant groups, told PCIJ. “Of course, the employers get angry and are stressed out.’’ 

Some Hong Kong employers have since required applicants to have no standing debt. For good measure, some confiscated the worker’s passport and contract on arrival that otherwise could be used as loan collateral, an act that is prohibited by Philippine and Hong Kong laws.  

In the Philippines, applicants take out loans at interest rates higher than eight percent per annum — from lenders specifically referred by recruiters — to pay for a raft of excessive fees, including placement fees that are lumped with training and medical examination fees.  

As their debts pile up, they’re forced to take out new loans to pay for old ones in an endless cycle of indebtedness. 

“The worker’s pay is small. A month’s worth of salary isn’t enough to pay off a loan,” Pelaez said, noting that a migrant worker had to divide the monthly pay between loan payments, family expenses back home, and personal expenses. “So it’s not really enough.’’ 

In China’s special administrative region, migrant domestic workers are paid a minimum monthly salary of HK$4,730 or P33,000. 

The problems are clear, but the solutions are not.

1. OFWs need more guidance during the recruitment process so they do not fall victim to unscrupulous recruiters. 

2. Not all violators are punished, promoting a culture of impunity among recruitment agencies and third-party services.

3. Some lenders impose high interest rates.

4. Some lenders shirk responsibility when the debts are sold to partners that harass OFWs to collect payment.

 Hong Kong reports 11 convictions 

The Hong Kong government, which has allowed foreign domestic helpers (FDHs) to work in the region since the 1970s to meet the shortage of live-in helpers, acknowledged the risk of debt bondage among migrant workers, but has no data on this.

In the past five years, it has prosecuted and convicted 11 employment agencies for overcharging commissions pegged at 10 percent of a worker’s monthly wage. It has also ensured that employers shoulder the workers’ medical examination and visa fees, among others.  

But the authorities there said governments should do their part, too, to address the issue of excessive placement or training fees. 

In a joint response to PCIJ, the Hong Kong Labour Department, Immigration Department, and Police said the problem lies with “the indebtedness of the FDHs in their home countries before coming to Hong Kong.’’

The Hong Kong government could not tackle this alone, they added.  

“We have repeatedly appealed to the governments of FDH-sending countries to address the problem of excessive placement or training fees charged by intermediaries in the FDHs’ home countries so as to tackle the problem of debt bondage at source,” they said.

Migrante International pointed to the Department of Migrant Workers’ mandate and responsibility “to coordinate with the other government agencies that can also put a stop to these cases.” 

“But still walang (there’s no) strong enforcement and regulation on these lending agencies and further investigation,” said Joanna Concepcion, chair of Migrante International, a global network of Filipino migrant organizations. 

DMW Undersecretary Bernard Olalia admitted that there were regulatory “gaps” concerning agencies that collect illegal fees. He said even some compliant agencies bend the rules “just to find a way to charge the OFW” even if the law clearly prohibits it.  

Olalia, however, said the department wasn’t treating these agencies with kid gloves.  

Erring agencies with valid licenses are charged with administrative cases and violations of recruitment laws. Other agencies with expired or invalid licenses face criminal cases, he said.

From 2018 to 2022, a total of 35 recruiters operating without a license were convicted and 5,099 agencies were charged with recruitment violations, according to DMW data.

High interest rates 

High interest rates in Hong Kong could also be a factor in migrant workers’ debt bondage. 

Based on Migrasia’s research, a third of surveyed overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) took on debt that “was larger than their annual household income in order to finance costs associated with migrating overseas.”  

“And then you’re talking about interest rates that in Hong Kong often exceed 100 percent. We’ve seen them over 300 percent, which means that if you made the minimum payment you would never get out from underneath that debt. So what do you do? You go borrow more money, right? And then you have a debt cycle that you can’t get out of,” it said.

Lending agencies based in the Philippines have also grown wiser. Instead of running after their Filipino clients, they outsource debt collectors to do the job for them. In cases of “bad debts,” they sell loans to their counterparts in Hong Kong.

Advocacy groups said this was one way to collect excessive fees.

Nolivienne Ermitaño, assistant director of the Securities and Exchange Commission’s Financing and Lending Companies Division, said Philippine lenders and their third-party service providers “should be jointly liable, solidarily liable for that.”

“That won’t work. You (lender) are still part of it because you were the one who talked to the borrower in the first place. You can’t say you’re not responsible for that anymore,’’ he said. 

On average, OFWs would take more than nine months and spend a fifth of their monthly salary for debt repayment. But some reported a repayment period of as long as three years, a year longer than the contract of household service workers, according to Migrasia data. 

 OFWs need more guidance 

Officials said migrant workers need to do their due diligence before processing pre-employment papers and verify the legitimacy of licenses of recruiters and lenders with the regulatory authorities.

The DMW website lists licensed recruitment agencies for both land-based and sea-based overseas jobs. The list includes agencies that were closed or permanently banned, and agencies with canceled or suspended licenses.

The SEC website also lists lending companies and financing companies that were issued Certificates of Authority.

Ermitaño acknowledged that OFWs’ circumstances may “induce (them) to suspend their financial prudential thinking.”

But he said that migrant workers have to be “discerning” and “skeptical” to preempt predatory practices and debt bondage.

The Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA), now absorbed by DMW, had identified fees to be shouldered by household service workers and by employers. This should serve as a guide to Filipino applicants. 

Olalia stressed that expenses that may be charged to the employer are neither reimbursable nor deductible from a worker’s pay.  

Not all violators are punished 

Advocacy groups identified several mechanisms for migrant workers to seek redress for their grievances.

They noted that DMW offers legal assistance and conciliation services; SEC accepts complaints on unfair lending practices; the Department of Labor and Employment processes money claims, and courts hear illegal recruitment complaints.  

Workers living in far-flung areas can request assistance from the Public Employment Service Office, a multi-employment service facility maintained by local governments, community-based organizations, and state universities and colleges.

But here lies the problem: Not all migrant workers are aware of their options.

“They are not informed, they are not aware, and if you’re not aware of your rights, you cannot invoke your rights,” DMW’s Olalia told PCIJ.  

The undersecretary said the OFW could file a complaint; otherwise, the department could launch an investigation on its own.  

DMW can provide legal aid to the worker, from the preparation of his affidavit to the prosecution of the case. Otherwise, it can investigate his complaint on its own, requiring the worker to serve only as a witness, Olalia said.    

But based on the SEC’s experience, many workers do not push through with their complaint once the issue comes out in the media and the harassment from the lenders or recruiters stops.  

Mabilis ba? (Is the action fast?) What will it take from my (OFW’s) end? Gaano ba katagal ‘yan? (How long will it take?)” said Ellene Sana, executive director of Center for Migrant Advocacy (CMA), a Quezon City-based non-profit organization promoting the welfare of OFWs and their families.

She pointed out that the bureaucratic process would also require time, energy, and money from complainants. Besides, she added, there’s a host of issues that “will make the worker think twice or thrice whether to pursue [a case] or not.”  

Sana also agreed that many workers were aware of recruitment violations but sometimes went along with these out of “desperation to get the job.” END

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Illustration by Luigi Almuena

This story was produced as part of the Trafficking Inc. investigation by journalists from the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, The Washington Post, NBC, WGBH Boston, Arab Reporters for Investigative Journalism, the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism, and the Investigative Reporting Program at the University of California, Berkeley.

This new PCIJ series follows a two-part report on the fight of Filipino migrant workers for equal pay abroad. 

OFWs are harassed — Jessica got jail time — over loans they’re forced to make to get jobs abroad

PCIJ’s investigation underscores the urgency of a comprehensive government solution to address the rampant fleecing by recruitment agencies of Filipinos who are desperate to find overseas jobs amid lack of opportunities in the country.

BY CHERRY SALAZAR / Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism

(First of two parts)

In 2022, Jessica* tried to apply for a local job and went to a police station to request a clearance certifying she has no criminal record. But she was arrested and thrown in jail right then and there. 

She had no idea she was facing charges over a loan she had taken out over a decade ago, and that a warrant had been issued for her arrest. 

Iyak ako nang iyak. First time kong pumasok sa kulungan (I cried and cried. It was my first time to be jailed),” she told the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ). She was released after posting bail. 

In 2010, she took out a P80,000 loan from money lender Nittan Capital Finance, Inc. (NCFI), a company referred to her by the recruitment agency when she applied for work as a domestic helper in Hong Kong. She needed the money to pay for the job requirements.  

Hong Kong didn’t work out. She was terminated after 10 days. “Walang explanation (There was no explanation),” she told PCIJ. 

She later found another job in Taiwan and worked there as a domestic helper for two years, which helped her pay off the bulk of her Hong Kong loan. 

Initially, she managed to pay P60,000 or 75 percent of the entire loan before interest. Then, she stopped paying and then totally forgot about it — until that day she was arrested.

Jessica’s story is a cautionary tale for Filipino overseas workers, who are forced into debt even before they leave the country.    

It’s a problem crying for a comprehensive government solution. It demands the attention of the year-old administration of President Ferdinand Marcos Jr., according to migrant workers’ groups, who are banking on his promise to protect migrant workers.

“Workers should not be required to take on debt to secure their job placement, as these fees are the responsibility of the employer, who should cover these costs,” said Migrasia, a Hong Kong-based non-governmental organization which has helped migrant workers file complaints and seek legal recourse against possible exploitation. 

 Forced to issue post-dated checks 

Failure to pay a debt is not a crime. But, like Jessica, one can land in jail for issuing post-dated checks.  

Jessica had a standing arrest warrant for five counts of alleged violation of the Batas Pambansa Blg. 22 (B.P. 22), or the Anti-Bouncing Checks Law. She said she was not aware of the charges and did not receive court summons. The law, enacted in 1979, penalizes a person who issues a check knowing that the bank account has insufficient funds to cover the amount. 

Some workers sign blank checks without reading them, while others are coerced by their recruiters and lenders into doing so, according to migrant workers’ groups. 

Forcing workers to issue post-dated checks for loan payments, “either personally or through a guarantor or accommodation party,” is prohibited under Republic Act 10022, which amended the Migrant Workers and Overseas Filipinos Act.

But the recruiters and some lenders know the law more than the workers, and have used it to their advantage.  

So when the workers fail to meet monthly payments, they are brought to court for violation of B.P. 22. Even their family members, who are their co-borrowers, are also charged in court.  

“It definitely is a tool that is very intimidating for migrant workers. Would agencies and lenders find some other way to intimidate clients if they couldn’t use B.P. 22? Probably,’’ Migrasia told PCIJ.

“But it’s an effective tool that benefits lenders and agencies, who are well resourced and understand the legal system better than the migrant workers they are intimidating,” it added.

In her case, Jessica said she didn’t know Nittan Capital filed a case against her in court. She missed notices of court hearings and skipped them, leading the court to issue a warrant for her arrest. 

Nittan is a subsidiary of Nittan Capital Holding Company Limited Hong Kong. The Hong Kong-based firm is part of a group operated by Central Tanshi Company Limited, a financing company in Japan.

PCIJ reached out to Nittan Capital, but the money lending company refused to be interviewed. Apart from Jesscia, PCIJ confirmed at least three other OFWs who faced B.P. 22 charges filed by Nittan. 

 Predatory lending and labor abuse 

A comprehensive government solution is needed to address why Filipino overseas workers are forced into debt in the first place. 

A placement fee equivalent to a month’s worth of salary may be charged against an OFW. But in 2006, the Philippine Overseas Employment Agency (POEA) resolved to make an exception for domestic workers “in recognition of the nature of their work and their vulnerability to exploitation and abuses.” 

POEA is a government agency that monitors and regulates overseas employment of Filipinos. It has now been absorbed by the new Department of Migrant Workers (DMW).

There are recruiters, however, that circumvent POEA policy by lumping the placement fee with payments for training center and medical clinics, according to Ellene Sana, executive director of the Center for Migrant Advocacy (CMA), a Quezon City-based nonprofit promoting the welfare of OFWs and their families.

The acceptable training fee is around P11,000, but many OFWs are being charged between P80,000 and P90,000, she said.

“It’s very common for OFWs to think that training is required because that’s what they’re told in the Philippines. It’s important to know that payment for training is where the majority of debt comes from, so OFWs should know whether it’s actually required in the first place,’’ Migrasia said. 

“For example, if migrant domestic workers are required to take training, their employer or agency is supposed to pay for it, which rarely happens. It’s frustrating that so much of the debt originates from a service that often isn’t required, and is something OFWs aren’t supposed to be paying for,” it added.

Two in five OFWs reported “either feeling that they had no choice at all or were pressured” to use a medical clinic, training center, or lending firm, according to Migrasia data.

“OFWs go abroad wanting the best for their families, and often are willing to do whatever it takes to care for them. The agencies who are supposed to help them take advantage of that, and make them pay,” Migrasia said.

In many cases, the workers are aware of the agency’s illegal requirements, but still go ahead because they believe “there’s no other way for them to migrate,’’ it added.

A 2022 Migrasia study showed that four out of every five surveyed OFWs, or 80.5 percent, went into debt to finance their job placement abroad. 

“Although the recruitment fees or placement fees specifically were banned in 2006, there was really a shift in fees from agencies to other migration intermediaries like training centers. Migrant workers are required by the agencies to go to specific training centers and medical clinics, who charge fees that far exceed what those services should cost, and which are often unnecessary in the first place,” Migrasia said.

“Even though the Philippines government outlawed most recruitment fees many years ago, OFWs are being required to pay to migrate. To finance these illegal fees they are referred to money lenders who grant excessive interest loans. When they are unable to repay these loans, workers and their families face all forms of harassment from both Philippines and Hong Kong money lenders, and collection agencies. In the most egregious cases on the Philippines side, we’ll see migrant workers that are directed by the agency and money lender to a bank, required to open a bank account and sign a number of blank checks, which will be held over their head as a threat — to be cashed with the intention of triggering a B.P. 22 violation — if they’re unable to pay back an installment of their loan.”

The same study stated that a third of them “took on debt that was larger than their annual household income.” 

A substantial part of this debt, it read, went to training and medical examination fees. Training fees contributed to more than half of the debt incurred by OFWs, according to the study.

OFWs surveyed by Migrasia also reported being “required” by recruiters to get services from preferred facilities. Their study found that 44 percent of OFWs reported being mandated to use a specific training center, while 53 percent reported the same for the medical clinic.

The imposition of “a compulsory and exclusive arrangement” requiring OFWs to avail of a loan, undergo health examinations, and join training is prohibited under the POEA rules.  

Even so, the prevailing overseas employment system traps OFWs in debt before they even depart for their work abroad.  

 Drowning in debt 

Jessica was released from jail after her husband posted P12,500 bail, an amount that her family borrowed and that exceeded her gross monthly income. 

She’s now forced to make monthly payments or risk future jail time. 

Her case is pending in court. For the arraignment in May, Jessica had to travel more than 22 hours by sea from Leyte, a province about 1,000 kilometers south of the Philippine capital. She had to borrow money for her fare. 

Lugging one suitcase, one duffel bag, and a backpack, Jessica was in tears as she walked along the hallways of the court in Pasig City. The rain did not let up that afternoon, as if to sympathize with the 41-year-old mother of five. 

She knew no one in the city. She came without any means of going back home.

This has been a familiar scene in courts.  END

*Not her real name

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This story was produced as part of the Trafficking Inc. investigation by journalists from the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, The Washington Post, NBC, WGBH Boston, Arab Reporters for Investigative Journalism, the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism, and the Investigative Reporting Program at the University of California, Berkeley.

This new PCIJ series follows a two-part report on the fight of Filipino migrant workers for equal pay abroad. 

UAE: How Filipina nanny, who started on a Dh750 monthly salary, educated her 7 children and gave them a good life

She is the proud mother of a lawyer, civil engineer, teacher, accountant, agriculturist and aspiring architect and doctor

By Angel Tesorero

Long-time Filipina nanny Helen Mata Adducul was recently hailed as ‘Household Manager of the Year’ for her loyalty and dedication to work. However, that was just a bonus. The real prize, she said, was that through years of hard work, she was able to send all her seven children to school.

One became a lawyer, the next a civil engineer; then there is a teacher, an accountant and agriculturist. The young ones who are still studying are aiming to become an architect and doctor.

It is the type of success story that many – if not all – overseas Filipino workers (OFW) aspire for. Back home, they are called ‘mga bagong bayani’ or modern-day heroes because they had to leave their homes to secure their family’s future. For them, working abroad was not a matter of choice but a necessity for the welfare of their family.

It is more painful and sacrifices are greater for mothers like Adducul, who are forced to leave their own children to work abroad and take care of another family.

However, all the years of labor and being away from their loved ones will be gone once their children graduate from college, or they have a small piece of land or house, or a micro-business to support a decent living.

Tears of joy

Adducul broke into tears as she walked up the stage to receive the award from Michelle Quinto Guinto, managing director of CMG Cargo & Balikbayan Store, creator of Gawad Kasambahay, which is now in its second edition.

She bested 34 other finalists from a pool of 1,500 nominees across Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Northern Emirates to win the Household Manager of the Year award.

Guinto said the award is given to household service workers “who work diligently behind the scenes, often without recognition.” They are the “unsung heroes who selflessly dedicate their time, skills, and love to ensure the smooth running of households across the UAE. Their efforts deserve our utmost respect and appreciation, and we applaud and honour all of them.”

Adducul’s back story

After the awarding ceremonies, Adducul spoke with this reporter to share her story. Her family is from Bagu, a barangay in the municipality of Pamplona, in the province of Cagayan, around 430 kilometers northwest of Manila.

She first came to Dubai 13 years ago, in 2010, to work as a nanny for the same Indian family she is still employed with. She was a daycare teacher back in her hometown, receiving a salary of around P3,500 (Dh250) that time. Her husband was a farmer and his income was irregular and insufficient.

They have seven children and the eldest was one was in third year college, studying to become a school teacher. Their second child (Frankneil) was about to enter college.

“He graduated from a science high school. He was a bright student and he wanted to become a lawyer but we didn’t have the resources to support him. I didn’t want his talent to go to waste and all his siblings were also doing well in school. So, that’s when I decided to work abroad,” Adducul said.

Life as a nanny

Adducul was a direct hire from the Philippines and the salary that was initially given to her was Dh750 monthly. “There was no day off – I did not complain,” said Adducul, adding that she “came here to work and not to take a rest.”

Her employers used to live in Bur Dubai and she was tasked to take care of their two kids – an 11-year old boy and a 20-month old baby girl.

Adducul is still working for the same family until now and her salary has gone up more than three-fold to Dh2,500 plus other benefits, the employer-nanny relationship did not get off on the right foot.

She was not familiar with Indian meals, she said. “So, one day I only had fresh milk and I got an upset stomach. I was rushed to the hospital. The doctor asked what happened and I told him I was only given leftover food. The doctor admonished my employer and told her I should be given proper meals.

Adducul continued: “Another issue I had with my employers in the first few months was that my salary always came late. I could not complain because I was afraid that I could be fired. So, I devised a plan: One day, I acted like I had fainted and intentionally dropped the phone that I was holding which my employer picked up.”

“I had arranged for someone to be on the other end of the line who spoke about my employer not giving my salary on time and I had to borrow money from everyone. My madam heard all of it and she told me: ‘Helen, you didn’t have to borrow next time. Just tell me if you need money.'”

The following months, Adducul got along with her employers. She also got their trust and eight months later, her salary was increased to Dh1,200 per month, which was five times more than what she was receiving when she was a daycare teacher.

But being a teacher was not taken away from Adducul. She noticed there were many kids in the neighborhood, so she arranged for an afternoon after-school class for them. She was praised not only by her employers but the entire neighborhood as well for her initiative. Being sociable paid off for Adducul because, when her hometown was ravaged by a powerful storm, everyone rallied to support her family in the Philippines.

‘Tiger mum’

Adducul has never complained about working as a nanny. Being away from her family for so long, there is one question that has been on everyone’s mind: ‘How was she able to raise her own children?’

Open and proper communication, she said was key. “My madam gave me access to the internet and when it was not available, I had the landline or mobile phone to regularly call and monitor my children. I always made sure they were doing well in school,” Adducul said.

“My children even quipped that I was a long-distance ‘tiger mum.’ I was not really a very strict parent who was only invested in her children getting excellent grades. For me, getting high grades was just a bonus. It was the value of education that I instilled in them, and I was successful in this, even though I was away from them all these years. It was also a blessing that all my children studied in state universities and their tuition were free.”

“I cultivated their passion for learning and now five of my children are professionals and have stable jobs. The two young ones who are still in school are also aiming high to become an architect and doctor someday,” she added.

Going home soon

Adducul will be celebrating her 56th birthday on July 4, and after being away from her family for more than a decade, it’s now time to go home for good.

She said she had saved enough to have a stable and relatively comfortable live back home. Her husband has become an entrepreneur who is involved in running a home-based food processing business. They have also purchased a farm where they are planning to retire.

“I’m just planning to finish the remaining few months of my contract and I will go back home,” she shared, adding: “But it will also be hard for me to leave my employers and their kids because they have actually become my family too.”

To ease the anxiety, Adducul’s family – her seven children and husband – are planning to go to Dubai in September to bring her home. She said: “My family wanted to be with me when I go home to ease the pain of saying goodbye.”

“I will say goodbye not only to the family who has supported me and my family all these years but also to all my friends here – who have become blessings to me – and to Dubai that is like a paradise to me. I found my luck and happiness here.” #

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This article is original to the Khaleej Times.

OFWs in HK press DMW’s Ople for response to demands

Migrant workers in Hong Kong (HK) are demanding a response to a list of complaints they submitted in a dialogue with Department of Migrant Workers (DMW) and Philippine Consulate officials last April.

More than a month after their FilCom(Filipino Community) Leaders Meeting in the Chinese territory, Migrante-HK said they have yet to hear migrant workers secretary Susan Ople’s official response to their complaints, prompting them to write another letter to the DMW.

The migrant workers pressed their demand for the scrapping of the Overseas Employment Certificate (OEC) they need to secure to be allowed to exit the Philippines.

They also wanted a stop to the mandatory payment of PhilHealth, Social Security System (SSS) and Philippine Home Mortgage Corporation (Pag-Ibig) contributions.

The OFWs said these payments, increased during the Rodrigo Duterte administration, must only be voluntary

They also demanded the continuation of Covid assistance payments to OFWs sick of the virus, as well as prompt assistance by consulate and Philippine Overseas Labor Office personnel to Filipinos in distress abroad.

Migrante-HK said Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) deputy administrator Honey Quino has already committed to continuing assistance to OFWs sick with Covid as well as to Filipinos in distress.

DMW undersecretary Patricia Yvonne Caunan announced the review of the OEC, the group added.

But the OFWs said they need to hear from Ople herself, especially the assurance of receiving help from the OWWA for both members and non-members.

“It is not enough that additional payments (to PhilHealth, SSS and Pag-Ibig) are suspended. We want the total scrapping of the OEC,” the group said. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

OFW contract substitutions rising in UAE; migrant groups accusing PH government of ‘slacking’

A migrant’s organization accused the Philippine government of negligence in protecting the rights of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), reporting rising cases of contract substitutions and other labor rights violations.

Migrante Middle East said it is disturbed that Philippine-based manpower services and UAE employers are increasingly substituting and revising master contracts of Filipino cleaning services workers without their consent.

 “It is dismaying to know this is happening despite the numerous, cumbersome requirements most OFWs have to go through and abide by which, the state claims, are supposed to protect Filipino migrant workers,” the group added.

Migrante Middle East said it had noticed a rise in contract substitution complaints since early 2020.

Majority of OFWs victimized by the violation are directly hired in the Philippines through Philippine Overseas Employment Administration job orders, it said.

“In all cases, the cleaners suffered multiple labor malpractices. Grueling extended working hours without overtime pay and proper rest, unjust salary deductions, and other unlawful company policies superseding the local labor law were imposed upon the employees,” the group reported.

“In addition, the service workers endured verbal and mental abuse and sexual harassment. Needless to say, these conditions had adverse effects on the employees, both physically and mentally. Sadly, some have even resulted in death,” it added.

The Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) said there are an estimated 1.83 million OFWs worldwide in 2021, 60.2 percent of whom are women.

The UAE is host to 14.4 percent of OFWs, the second biggest country of work for migrant Filipino workers worldwide after Saudi Araibia.

The PSA added that 40 percent of jobs given to OFWs are “elementary occupations” that involve, among others, cleaning and basic maintenance in households and hotels.

Migrante Middle East said it calls upon the Philippine government and its local representatives to take a hard look at the plight of the OFWs in the cleaning sector and take immediate action against the ​​“unscrupulous agencies” involved. 

“Holding guilty parties liable is only but a part. We also challenge the respective Philippine authorities to devise preventive and long-lasting solutions to ensure and uphold the rights and welfare of Filipino migrant workers,” the group said. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

‘Bring Mary Jane home,’ advocates urge Marcos

Groups say President should make Veloso’s release a priority in first-ever state visit

Migrant rights advocates urged President Ferdinand Marcos Jr to appeal for clemency for jailed Filipina Mary Jane Veloso when he meets with Indonesian counterpart Joko Widodo next week.

On the occasion of Marcos Jr’s first ever state visit to a foreign country, Migrante International (MI) and the Church Task Force to Save the Life of Mary Jane Veloso (CTFSLMJV) said the new president should take the opportunity to bring Veloso home.

“[We urge] President Marcos to prioritize the case of Mary Jane Veloso, a victim of human trafficking who has been imprisoned and in death row in Indonesia,” both groups said in a statement Friday, September 2.

The groups added that Marcos should heed Veloso’s family’s ongoing petition for the Philippine government to appeal to Widodo to grant her clemency and release her on humanitarian grounds.

The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) announced on September 2 that Marcos chose Indonesia and Singapore as the first countries he would visit as president to “strengthen ties” with two of the Philippines’ geographically closes neighbors.

“As close neighbors and founding members of ASEAN (Association of South East Asian Nations), the Philippines enjoys active engagement with Indonesia and Singapore in (a) myriad of areas including security and defense, trade and investment, people-to-people exchanges, and more,” DFA spokesperson Ambassador Teresita Daza said in a briefing.

In the case of Indonesia, Daza pointed out that both the Philippines and its closest neighbor are both archipelagic states that share an extensive, porous border and are close partners in maritime cooperation, a priority issue to be discussed by Marcos and Widodo.

Marcos is scheduled to meet Widodo from September 4 to 5 in the Indonesian capital of Jakarta for a series of discussions, including the renewal of a defense and security agreement between the two countries first signed in 1997.

Marcos’ chance

Both MI and CTFSLMJV however said Marcos should not forget about Veloso who had been on Indonesia’s death row in the last 12 years.

Arrested and convicted in April 2010 for smuggling 2.6 kilos of heroin into Indonesia in a suitcase, Veloso maintained she was unaware of the contraband and was only a victim of human trafficking.

Veloso’s execution by firing squad was stayed in 2015 pending the resolution of her appeal.

Meanwhile, her traffickers Maria Kristina Sergio and Julius Lacanilao were found guilty of illegal recruitment and estafa by a Nueva Ecija court in January 2020 and are sentence to life imprisonment.

Bringing Veloso home would foster a message of hope to all overseas Filipinos who have fallen victims to human traffickers, Rev. Homar Distajo of the CTFSLMJV said.

“We continue to appeal for clemency or any other appropriate remedies that will allow Mary Jane to come home to the Philippines. Mary Jane can bring hope that there can be rescue for those used and abused through the trickery of traffickers, while also amplifying a strong message for migrant workers to be careful,” Distajo said.

MI meanwhile pointed out that Marcos mentioned about his government’s campaign against human trafficking in his first State of the Nation Address last July.

 
“If he is truly genuine in his commitment to combat the problem of human trafficking, he should exert all efforts to appeal to President Widodo to release Mary Jane under humanitarian grounds,” MI chairperson Joanna Concepcion said.

“As President Marcos journeys to Indonesia, we truly pray that the case of Mary will be a priority issue. It is now time to bring Mary Jane home,” Concepcion added. # (Raymund B. Villanueva) 

Quake victims complain of difficulties in receiving assistance

DMW: OWWA teams will make distribution ‘a bit faster’

Victims of the earthquake in northern Luzon last July 27 face difficulties in receiving the P3,000 (US$54) financial assistance from the Department of Migrant Workers (DMW), a group of overseas Filipinos revealed.

Members of the Abra Tingguian Ilokano Society-Hong Kong said many of their families are not included in the list of beneficiaries released by OWWA (Overseas Workers and Welfare Administration) for the financial package.

DMW secretary Susan Ople earlier announced that the new agency has allocated a financial package of P20 million for families of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) hit by the intensity 7.0 earthquake last week.

The OFW group reported however that not all of their families are eligible for the assistance based on the criteria released by the OWWA.

“The OWWA clarified that only its active members are eligible for the P3,000 assistance. But what about those who are active but have been left out of their list?” the Society asked in Filipino.

“And how about OFWs who have become inactive members but whose family are also victims of the earthquake,” the group added.

The group also complained about the “most terrible” list of requirements in order for their families to claim the amount, including the following:

1. Authorization Letter from the OFW

2. Photocopy of pages 2 and 3 of the OFW’s passport (with signature)

3. 1 2×2 inch ID picture of claimant

4. Proof of relationship with the OFW

* Birth certificate of the OFW and claimant (if claimant is a sibling)

* Birth Certificate of the OFW (if claimant is a parent or child)

* Marriage Certificate (if claimant is a spouse)

5. Photocopy of Government Valid ID of Claimant

The Society said their families have started claiming the package on Wednesday in different municipal halls around Abra Province but were frustrated by the requirements.

“We learned that our families need to have the requirements printed at the cost of P10 to 15 per page. Also, is it really necessary for them to submit ID photos?” the group asked.

Many beneficiaries have to apply for birth and marriage certificates from the Philippine Statistics Authority as well as barangay and police clearances in order to present valid government identification documents, it added.

“It seems they would be spending more than the amount they are supposed to receive in order for them to claim the assistance benefit,” the group said.

Society president Ludy Guinaban said their families have yet to return to their homes and badly need the assistance.

“They should not be making it difficult for our families to receive help, given the terrible crisis they face. They need immediate help, not a list of requirements that they also need to pay for,” Guinaban said.

OWWA teams to adjust

Asked for comment, a DMW official said it will assist as much it could in order for the beneficiaries to receive the amount “a bit faster.”

“We understand their apprehensions. They have families in distress and they are near powerless to physically help,” DMW spokesperson Toby Nebrida told Kodao.

Nebrida said that the difficulties faced by the beneficiaries may be explained by the fact that it was the distribution’s first day on Wednesday.

A total of 449 initial beneficiaries were given the assistance package yesterday, he said.

“The OWWA regional and provincial teams will adjust to make the distribution a bit faster given the challenges in the earthquake affected areas,” Nebrida said.

Nebrida added that if there is difficulty with presenting or bringing the needed documents, the OWWA teams may consider photographs of passports as well as birth and marriage certificates sent through social networking services such as Viber.

The OWWA teams may also take photographs of claimants who could not present ID photos, Nebrida said. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

HK OFWs protest mandatory fee increases

Migrant workers held a protest action in front of the Philippine Consulate in Hong Kong on Wednesday against additional fees in government health, insurance and housing program fees.

The United Filipinos in Hong Kong (UNIFIL-MIGRANTE-HK) led the picket protest against the new and mandatory fee increases it said it said are “undemocratic, unscrupulous, and unnecessary.”

They were joined by members of Bagong Alyansang Makabayan-HK, Gabriela and Filipino Migrant Workers Union.

In a statement, UNIFIL said the Consulate General prohibited them from entering the Consular office to properly register their opposition to the new impositions but failed to stop them from conducting a rally in front of the building.

UNIFIL chairperson Dolores Balladares Pelaez said the event on Wednesday was the first in a series of protest actions around the world as collection of fee hikes started.

“Imposing fees on a population who can ill afford it is undemocratic. Overseas Filipinos budget their salary to the last cent. Imposing more fees will mean a reduction in their family’s quality of living,” Balladares-Pelaez said.

“For OFWs, this is heart-breaking as we work overseas so that our families can be given a good life,” she added.

READ: OFWs oppose new order on mandatory Pag-IBIG membership

The outgoing Rodrigo Duterte government ordered a monthly Philippine Health Insurance premium increase of Php1,200 as well as an expanded mandatory insurance premium of Php8,000 per contract for OFWs.

A recent joint advisory between the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration and the Home Development Mutual Fund (Pag-IBIG) also made securing Pag-IBIG Membership Identification Numbers and paying the monthly contribution of Php2,400  through the POEA’s system mandatory for migrant workers.

Balladares-Pelaez said they suspect that the new increases will again be misspent following the Php15 billion controversy involving PhilHealth as well as dubious purchases made by the Social Security System.

“With no moves to ensure that our hard-earned money will be taken care of, can anyone blame us for refusing to cough up these fees? If you multiply that by millions (of OFWs), just imagine how much that will amount to,” she added.

‘We demand that the mandatory fees be revoked. These should not be pre-requisites for getting an overseas employment certificate (before deployment),” Balladares-Pelaez said. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)