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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.)

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)