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Some 50,000 Filipinos left Dubai since June amid COVID-19 pandemic

By Angel L. Tesorero

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates: Around 50,000 Filipinos from Dubai and the Northern Emirates have left for home since June for various reasons brought about by the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, Philippine consul general to this city Paul Raymund Cortes said during a press briefing on Monday.

Cortes added the Philippine Consulate in Dubai has also provided free tickets and assistance to more than 2,600 distressed Filipinos, including 143 Filipinos who were repatriated on Saturday (October 31).

“Repatriation started in June and the Philippine Consulate has facilitated the return of Filipino workers and their families who were affected by the pandemic. Most of them returned home after they lost their jobs or were asked by the employers to go on a long furlough. Some decided to go home for good — after spending several years in Dubai — while others were stranded Filipino tourists and some took advantage of the amnesty programme by the UAE,” Cortes said.

The Philippine Embassy in Abu Dhabi have yet to provide the number of Filipinos who have left the UAE since the outbreak of the pandemic.

PhP68.5M spent for tickets

Cortes recalled three repatriation flights were chartered by the Philippine government back in June and August while majority returned home via commercial flights by Emirates, Philippine Airlines and Cebu Pacific.

According to Cortes, the Philippine Consulate has spent around PhP68.5 million (Emirati Dirham 5.2M) for the tickets of over 2,600 Filipinos who went back home. The money was sourced from the Assistance to Nationals (ATN) funds of the Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs.

Swab tests

Philippine Labor Attaché Felicitas Bay said returning overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) and their families were given free COVID-19 swab test upon arrival in Manila.

Bay clarified the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) did not discriminate whether or not returning Filipinos were members of OWWA.

“They (OFWs) were just asked to show a proof of employment or their working visa,” Bay explained.

Those who were not employed as migrant workers were required to pay for the swab test.

Aside from the free swab test, returning OFWs and their families were also provided free hotel stay and meals during the quarantine period while they were waiting for the COVID test result. Those who had to return to the provinces were also given free transportation.

Speaking during a virtual forum in Manila on Monday, OWWA administrator Hans Leo Cacdac Sadi: “We want to emphasise that the swab test being conducted by the Philippine Coast Guard at the airport is free. The specimen being brought to government laboratories is also free. The OFWs who are there (airport) need not pay anything.”

He advised arriving OFWs not to patronize those offering swab testing at the airport in exchange for a fee. “We advised our OFWs not to engage the offer at the airport to pay for the test,” he added.

According to Philippine media reports, returning OFWs were being charged up to Php20,000 for the immediate release of their test results. Cacdac said there are still 5,200 OFWs who are still in hotel quarantine accommodations while waiting for their swab test results.

Left to right Melvin Caseda, welfare officer; Renato Duenas, deputy consul-general; Paul Raymund Cortes, Philippine consul general; Felicitas Bay, Philippine labour Attache (supplied photo)

Assistance to OFWs

Meanwhile, Bay said the Philippine Labor Office in Dubai (POLO-Dubai) has disbursed a total of PhP208.2M (Dh15.8) as cash aid to 21,625 Filipinos in Dubai whose jobs were affected by COVID-19.

The cash assistance is part of DOLE-AKAP (Department of Labor and Employment-Abot Kamay Ang Pagtulong), a one-time financial assistance amounting to Dh730 for each Filipino benefeciary.

Bay noted around 98,000 Filipinos have applied for the cash aid since April 10. Her office is still evaluating some of the application but Philippine government has allotted a budget for only 22,000 recipients, she added.

Livelihood assistance

Bay added OWWA members who have returned to the Philippines for good can avail of a livelihood assistance program amounting to maximum of P20,000 (Dh1,520) while non-OWWA members who were lost their job can also avail of the National Re-Integration Center for OFWs program that can provide cash assistance up to P10,000 (Dh760). “They just need to show their displacement/ termination letter,” Bay noted.

Meanwhile, Cortes advised Filipino expats who lost their jobs “to work closely with their respective HR (human resources) personnel to ensure that they will get their end of service benefits (EOSB).

“Due diligence must be done by the workers and they must make arrangements with their HR. They (OFWs), may, however, avail of free legal consultation from the Philippine Consulate,” Cortes added. #

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This report is original to Gulf News.

Filipinos in UAE concerned about new travel rule by Philippines immigration

By Angel L. Tesorero

DUBAI/ ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates (UAE): Filipino expats expressed their concerns after the salary threshold for securing a supplementary travel document mandated by Philippine Immigration for a Filipino to bring a family member over to the UAE was revised.

The minimum salary required to acquire an Affidavit of Support and Guarantee (AoS), an attested letter issued to Filipino tourists as a proof that they have the support of their family during their stay in the UAE, was raised from Dh3,500 to Dh10,000 with effect from August 24, 2020.

The AoS is presented to Philippine immigration officials before travelers can fly to the UAE. It is, however, not required by UAE immigration authorities upon entry to the Emirates.

Revised policy

The Philippine missions in the UAE announced the new requirements for AoS on their website.

The Philippine Embassy in Abu Dhabi and the Philippine Consulate in Dubai have yet to respond to requests for additional clarifications on the revised rule.

According to the revised policy, a Filipino residing in the UAE can execute an affidavit to sponsor a relative only within the first and second degree of consanguinity or affinity.

Aside from the proof of relationship, an expat who is single must show proof of having a Dh10,000 monthly income before he or she can sponsor a relative to visit the UAE.

Married couples or a family of two (either husband and wife or single parent and child) should have a combined income of Dh14,000; while a family of four (either a husband and wife with two children or a single parent with three children) should have a total income of Dh18,000.

The AoS stipulates that a Filipino sponsor is “gainfully employed or engaged in business” and holder of a valid UAE residence visa.

Other documentary requirements include sponsor’s employment contract duly issued by the Ministry of Human Resources and Emiratisation or employment contract verified by the Philippines Overseas Labour Office showing monthly income and salary pay slip issued during the last six months.

The Filipino sponsor should also submit a tenancy contract from the municipality under his/her name; or if tenancy contract is not under the name of the sponsor, a hotel booking duly stamped by the hotel or travel agency is needed.

Manila’s main gateway, the Ninoy Aquino International Airport. (Image is for illustration purposes only.) Image Credit: File photo

What is AoS?

The document was introduced in 2002 by Philippine authorities to curb human trafficking. But it has been removed and reinstated several times following allegations of falsification and redundancy.

As per the AoS, a Filipino expat who is planning to bring a family member to the UAE is tendering a “guarantee that (he/she) shall provide all financial support to pay for the food, accommodation and travel, including airfare for the return journey, medication and hospitalization and other expenses, debts and obligations incurred including but not limited to immigration fines and penalties of the (visitor).”

Moreover, the AoS is a “guarantee that the (visitor) is visiting the UAE entirely for tourism and recreational purposes and is not visiting the UAE for (1) employment (2) seek employment (3) to transit via the UAE to another country where deployment of Filipino nationals is restricted or where deployment requires clearance or endorsement of relevant government departments and agencies in the Philippines.”

According to Sid Rivera, marketing manager at Al Qadi Tourism in Dubai, Philippines immigration officials routinely check the AoS of anyone travelling to the UAE. “But based on our experience, if you travel with a family member who is a UAE resident or you travel as a family, you need not show the AoS, which would cost the sponsor around Dh100,” he noted.

Rivera said they facilitate tourist visas for those who don’t have relatives in the UAE and those who earn less than Dh10,000. “Visitors like doctors and lawyers can travel even without AoS,” he added.

Travel infringement

Barney Almazar, director at the corporate-commercial department of Gulf Law and an expert on Filipino migration, said that “the AoS is an infringement on a Filipino’s right to travel.”

“The only valid requirements to travel outside Philippines are passport and visa. It is up to the host country if they need proof that you have capacity to travel — like the United States does, which is very strict when it comes to issuing a visa,” Almazar pointed out.

Malou Prado, managing director of MPQ Travel & Tourism, said the revised requirement for AoS would affect her business.

“The salary requirement is very high and not many Filipinos will qualify for the threshold,” said Malou, adding: “But I also understand why our officials implemented it (AoS). Some Filipinos come here not for tourism, but to look for jobs and if they fail to find one, they would end up being stranded and it would become the responsibility of the Philippines government to bring them home.”

“But my business will definitely be affected as 90 per cent of my clients are Filipinos. So, I hope it (AoS) will be removed,” she added.

Meanwhile, Filipino expat Carlo Santos, who works as an office clerk, said: “Based on my salary, which is Dh5,000, I’m qualified to sponsor my wife who is in the Philippines, but the stipulation for AoS has now made it difficult for me to bring her over.” #

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This report is original to 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

1.5-year-old baby boy youngest Filipino in UAE to survive coronavirus

Baby Zaine was born 3 months pre-mature in October 2018

By Angel L. Tesorero

Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates: An 18-month-old baby boy, who was born premature, became the youngest Filipino coronavirus (COVID-19) survivor in the UAE, the Philippines Embassy in Abu Dhabi announced on Tuesday.

“Baby Zaine has tested negative for COVID-19, three weeks after both he and his mother were informed they were COVID-positive. This makes Zaine the youngest Filipino COVID-19 survivor in the UAE,” the Embassy said in a statement sent to Gulf News.

Baby Zaine looking at his mother during the quarantine period for COVID-19 patients. (AL Tesorero/Gulf News)

Zaine’s mother experienced very mild symptoms during isolation, while Zaine did not exhibit any symptom but tested positive seven times with Seha (Abu Dhabi Health Services Company).

Philippines Ambassador to the UAE, Hjayceelyn M. Quintana, said: “I have known Zaine since he was born three months pre-mature, in October 2018, and have been personally praying for him since then. I thank God for granting Zaine another miracle.”

“All Filipinos in the UAE, including us at the Embassy, feel and suffer the effects of COVID-19. We rejoice in the recovery of Zaine and join family members of other Filipino COVID patients in the UAE in celebrating the recuperation of their affected loved ones. At the same time, we join the families in mourning the loss of those Filipinos in UAE who succumbed to the virus, “ Quintana added.

Quintana also reminded her compatriots to stay safe at all times.

“While mobility restrictions are starting to ease, now is the time for continued caution and not for complacency. I therefore urge all Filipinos in the UAE to remain vigilant in exercising COVID-19 precautions such as hand-washing, wearing facial masks, social distancing and avoiding going outside one’s home unnecessarily,” she underlined. #

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This report was first published by 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.

IN NUMBERS

-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

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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.)

415 Filipino sailors stranded in UAE flown home

Sailors had been stranded for six weeks aboard three vessels.

By Angel L. Tesorero

Dubai: A total of 415 Filipino seafarers stranded in the UAE for six weeks returned home to the Philippines on two chartered flights on Saturday and Sunday.

The first batch of 207 Filipino crew members were repatriated to the Philippines on Saturday and have already arrived in Manila. Another batch of 208 Filipino seafarers on Sunday boarded a special Emirates flight, EK334, bound to Manila, expected to arrive at 9.05pm (Philippine time or 1.05am Monday, UAE time.)

The stranded Filipino crew members, who are not UAE residents, worked on international vessels MV Norwegian Jade, SS Nautica, and SS Voyager which are still docked at Port Zayed in Abu Dhabi and Port Rashid in Dubai, Philippine Consul-General Paul Raymund Cortes told Gulf News.

415 Filipino seafarers depart from Dubai terminal 3 (Image Credit: Supplied)

The repatriation was coordinated with UAE authorities who allowed them to disembark and take a chartered flight arranged by their employers through local manning agencies.

“All expenses were shouldered by the Norwegian Cruise Lines Holdings, Ltd, which owns and operates MV Norwegian Jade, SS Nautica, and SS Voyager,” said Cortes, adding: “The seafarers are still employed and also part of the DOLE-AKAP Program.”

415 Filipino seafarers depart from Dubai terminal 3 (Image Credit: Supplied)

DOLE-AKAP (Department of Labor and Employment-Abot Kamay ang Pagtulong) Program is a one-time financial assistance amounting to US $200 (Dh730), given by the Philippine government to overseas workers, both land-based and sea-based, who have been displaced by a lockdown in a foreign country, according to Philippine Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello.

Philippine Ambassador to the UAE Hjayceelyn M. Quintana oversaw the repatriation of the Filipino crew members who have been stranded for six (6) weeks at Port Zayed in Abu Dhabi and Port Rashid in Dubai.

The sailors had been stranded in the UAE for six weeks aboard three vessels. (Image Credit: Supplied)

In a Facebook post by the Philippine Embassy in Abu Dhabi, Quintana “thanked the UAE authorities for assisting the Embassy in ensuring that these Filipino seafarers arrive home safely by allowing two special flights to leave for Manila despite flight suspension still being in effect.”

The Embassy added the Philippine Department of Health Bureau of Quarantine will ensure that upon arrival, “the seafarers will undergo proper screening procedures. Representatives from Depart of Foreign Affair’s Office of the Undersecretary for Migrant Workers Affairs (OUMWA) and counterparts from the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) and Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA), will meet them upon their arrival in Manila.” #

This report was originally published in Gulf News.

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 atn.abudhabi@gmail.com for proper advice,” he added. #

(This article originally appeared on Gulf News.)

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.

Changing face, fortunes of Filipinos in the UAE

By Angel L. Tesorero of Khaleej Times for Kodao Productions

DUBAI, UAE—Filipinos have helped shape the UAE for years now. A vital force in nation-building, their presence can be found across almost all industries – from the service sector to construction, health, education, media, entertainment, and so on.

As of last year, around 620,000 Filipinos were living and working in the UAE, up from 525,000 at the end of 2013. According to official figures provided by the Philippines Consulate in Dubai, around 12 to 15 per cent of Filipinos in Dubai and the northern emirates belong to the professional sectors. These include doctors, nurses, architects, engineers, accountants, and others.

Some 45 to 50 per cent are semi-skilled, working as office and administrative assistants, sales and retail personnel, hotel staff and in other related industries. The rest of the OFWs (overseas Filipino workers) in the UAE belong to the low-skilled category, such as household service workers, nannies, and cleaning personnel.

But the image of a migrant Filipino is constantly changing – from doing household chores to making their marks as competent professionals. Moreover, an increasing number of Filipinos are now running their own businesses. “A growing number of Filipinos are into the creative industries business. These include fashion designers, artists, musicians, web designers, animators, and the like,” Philippine Consul-General Paul Raymund Cortes said.

“The growing number of Filipino professionals in the UAE is definitely a reflection of the trust and confidence of the UAE business community in their skills and expertise. Construction companies, trading offices, financial operations, and many other Dubai-based companies increasingly rely on the expertise and work ethic of the Filipino,” he adds.

Another growing segment is human resources professionals. The Filipino talent and skill in managing human resources is legendary, Cortes notes.

However, despite their large numbers here and their famous hardworking image, big establishments owned by Filipinos are a rarity in the UAE.

Filipino education consultant Dr Rex Bacarra says: “It is unfortunate that despite our talents and potential, we (Filipinos) are mostly related to and known for only the hospitality/service sectors. We are capable of becoming captains of the industry.”

One Filipino tech entrepreneur has shown that Filipinos are not only labour exporters. Mannix Pabalan, CEO of Hashtag Digital FZ LLC is a pioneer in digital commerce, one of fastest rising industries in the world, particularly in the Middle East.

He says: “There is an unprecedented growth of digital marketing in the region, but there are only a few professionals who can claim expertise in the wide spectrum of digital commerce, so we decided to penetrate the GCC market in 2014 and put up our digital marketing firm.”

Another burgeoning industry that Filipinos are making their mark in is education, according to Bacarra. “The Filipino diaspora make up a sizeable number of teachers and professors in the UAE,” he says.

“I can think of three reasons why Filipino educators are – or strive to be – excellent. Firstly, there is the drive to succeed. An innate desire to prove that being away from our own country means avoiding failure at all costs. As professors, we look at the classroom as the core and an extension of this desire to succeed, so we innovate in our teaching styles and find ways to connect with students.

“Secondly, we have very good foundations in the Philippines. We were taught that teaching is not just a profession, but a vocation. As educators, we went through rigorous trainings on the philosophy and principles of genuine education. We were taught that we are forming the young and we need heart to understand the full extent of that responsibility. Money is secondary; the genuine love for the future of the young generation is a priority.

“Thirdly, we are Filipinos, and we proudly wear that badge which we swore to uphold. We have values that we impart. In the Philippines, we consider students as our own children, and we impart to them the same values we give our own kids.”

Filipinos also love food. In fact, they have helped changed the gustatory landscape in Dubai, where we see many Filipino restaurants sprouting left and right.

One ‘hot’ Filipino restaurant right now is Hot Palayok in Karama, an area once dominated by Indian and Pakistani restaurants. It’s just one of the many Filipino restaurants in the area that are doing well.

“I think it’s not just for tastes of home or nostalgia that people come here, because we have customers from other nationalities as well,” says Hot Palayok chef de cuisine Michael delos Santos. “In fact, we have customers coming in from all over the UAE – from Abu Dhabi, Fujairah and Al Ain.

“Other nationalities are also now being introduced to Filipino cuisine and this is a big market,” he adds. # (Originally published in The Khaleej Times)