UAE: Some residents to mute New Year’s Eve celebrations as Gaza burns

The call for ceasefire and scaling up of humanitarian aid has resonated louder among the residents

By Angel L. Tesorero / Khaleej Times

UNITED ARAB EMIRATES (UAE)–Celebratory fireworks will be muted across Sharjah this New Year’s Eve. This is among the latest decisions to scale back festivities in the UAE in solidarity with the Palestinians and as calls for an end to the hostilities in Gaza are amplified.

From cancelling Diwali celebrations in some schools early last month, to foregoing elaborate Christmas celebrations this week, the call for ceasefire and scaling up of humanitarian aid has resonated louder among UAE residents.

“The situation in Gaza is tragic, and I cannot remain indifferent,” Evgheni Pogonii, from Moldova, said as some Christians decided to forego the usual Christmas festivities.

Evgheni Pogonii.

Evgheni Pogonii.

“When you think of it, it is hard to celebrate New Year with fireworks when you know deadly missiles are raining on the Palestinian population,” Filipino expat Michelle Oribello reacted, adding: “Imagine the deafening sound of Israeli missiles and you can already predict the many lives that will be lost.”

Almost 21,000 people – seventy per cent of them women and children – have been killed in the Gaza Strip and there is no end in sight for the dire conditions of the civilians as the death toll is expected to rise further as Israel recently said there would be “no peace” until Hamas is destroyed.

Michelle Oribello.

Michelle Oribello

Nowhere to go

Amjad, 44, a Palestinian expat living in Ajman whose family has been evacuated to safety in the Philippines, said: “There is now no safe place in Gaza.”

“We, Palestinians, usually welcome New Year with a greeting, ‘Kul am wa antum bi khair’. But Gaza has been razed to the ground. Our own house has been hit by missiles three times – twice when family was there and once after they left for Rafah before crossing Egypt and seeking refuge in the Philippines.”

Away from his family, Amjad said he has no “appetite to welcome 2024”, adding: “The situation in Gaza is worse than anyone can imagine. We are besieged from all sides and the occupation has destroyed almost everything.”

Amjad is working on bringing his family to the UAE soon. Five of his children were born here before they moved to Gaza in 2020. “My kids have actually seen and really enjoyed the fantastic fireworks in the UAE. But now, suppose they were here, I don’t think they will enjoy any of the fireworks. They will only remember the rockets fired day and night that destroyed our house and killed our relatives, friends and neighbours,” he emphatically said.

“But I have also seen how the world has stood for us. I highly appreciate the move by Sharjah. This strong solidarity will definitely help our cause and we pray that soon we can say: ‘May you be well with every passing year’ (Kul am wa antum bi khair),” Amjad added.

Solidarity and unity

Egor Sharay, Dubai-based Russian journalist and cultural analyst, added: “The solidarity and unity will definitely play a crucial role in ending the hostilities and fostering a progressive society. The tragic events in Gaza underscore the need for peaceful efforts to address such challenges. The famous Russian writer Leo Tolstoy’s perspective on non-resistance to evil resonates with the importance of this solidarity.”

Egor Sharay.

Egor Sharay

Salute and respect

For now, the ban on fireworks only applies to New Year’s Eve activities in Sharjah, including the annual spectacular show at Al Majaz Waterfront that has been confirmed cancelled this year.

Netizens have expressed their admiration for the emirate’s “sincere expression of solidarity”. “Salute and huge respect for them for this huge decision. We can see humanity here,” were common remarks on social media posts.

Olga Gafurova, a Dubai resident for 17 years and executive editor of Aviamost Russian Magazine, said: “I totally support Sharjah’s decision to ban New Year fireworks in solidarity with people in Gaza. We can’t simply say it doesn’t concern us and live with eyes wide shut. Love and compassion are necessities – without them humanity cannot survive.

Olga Gafurova.

Olga Gafurova

“Instead of fireworks, let’s spark hope in each other’s hearts and think of what we can do to help those who are in need. Of course, we cannot help everyone, but everyone can help someone. For instance, some Muslims in Russia welcomed Palestinian refugees and also banned the fireworks to avoid the loud noise that can cause additional trauma to Palestinian people. Let’s create a better world for generations to come.”

Pause and think about Palestine

Other religious and secular celebrations have earlier been limited in solidarity with those suffering under the deadly military campaign in Gaza.

As reported early last month, on-campus celebrations for Diwali festivities were muted. Students were encouraged to celebrate Diwali by donating towards the Emirates Red Crescent campaign.

Abhilasha Singh, principal of Shining Star International in Abu Dhabi, noted: “The scale of the catastrophic devastation in Gaza is beyond imagination. (I told my students) they must pause and think of the children in Palestine.. We are collectively praying for peace. The humanitarian crisis should end soon.”

‘We are here for them’

Following the UAE’s ‘Tarahum – for Gaza’ (Compassion for Gaza) campaign, residents immediately responded to call to provide urgent humanitarian relief to the Palestinians caught in the war.

People bought baskets of groceries like canned goods, baby diapers, feminine hygiene products, rice, pulses, biscuits and other essential items that were sent to Gaza. “We are here for them,” said Dubai resident named Sana, who served as a volunteer in the packing of goods.

March for Peace

At the recent COP28 hosted in Dubai, the world saw about 2,000 climate activists who marched not only demanding for climate justice but also the protection of human rights.

Carrying a huge black banner emblazoned with “Ceasefire Now” in bold letters written in English and Arabic, the protesters shouted their call while marching around the UN-controlled Blue Zone during the climate summit.

Silent protest

UAE residents have also joined the call to boycott international brands that are deemed supportive of the ‘genocide’.

Haya Issa, an American expat with Palestinian-Jordanian roots, said” “We are boycotting brands that are openly supportive of the genocide in Gaza,” she said. “And many of our favourite fast-food, sodas and coffee brands are on this list. So we have changed our routine and habits quite a lot. I don’t think you need to be Palestinian to see the need to stay away from brands that actively support or condone the level of violence in Gaza.”

Diplomatic arena

The UAE has been leading the international call to end hostilities in Gaza. Last week, the UN Security Council approved the UAE-drafted resolution to boost aid to the besieged enclave. The adopted text calls for “urgent steps to immediately allow safe and unhindered humanitarian access, and also for creating the conditions for a sustainable cessation of hostilities.”

Hundreds of injured and cancer patients have also been evacuated from the Gaza Strip to receive urgent medical treatment at various hospitals in the UAE, as part of the country’s humanitarian initiative ordered by President His Highness Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan. Several tonnes of food, medical and relief aid have also been delivered to Gaza. #

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

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

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

By Angel L. Tesorero

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

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

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

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

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

Breaking the glass ceiling

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

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

‘We can do too’

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

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

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

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

Tackling misconceptions

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

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

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

Heart-warming reactions

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

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

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

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

Maternal instincts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.” #


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.


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

= = = = =

This report was first published by Gulf News.

Bello suspends misbehaving welfare officer

By Angel L. Tesorero

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This led Parafina to contact Flores.

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

Parafina alleged Flores blew his top and called her ungrateful.

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

Flores suspended

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

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

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

(This report first appeared on Gulf News.)

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 [email protected] for proper advice,” he added. #

(This article originally appeared on Gulf News.)