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Filipino victim at Abu Dhabi gas explosion was on his way to a medical check

Clark Gasis’ wife Elna says he was a loving husband and a doting father

By Angel L. Tesorero

ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates: One of the two Filipinos who died following a gas explosion at an Abu Dhabi restaurant on Monday was on his way for a medical check ahead of his visa renewal, a family said.

Elna Villason Gasis, 32, wife of the deceased Clark Gasis, 38, said: “My husband seldom left the house as he was working from home. On that day (August 31), he dropped me off to work at 8am. Then he went to his office to get some papers and proceeded for his medical check-up.”

“At around 10.30 am, our office chat group was abuzz with news of the restaurant blast. I immediately messaged my husband because we used to live near the restaurant – a family favorite – along Rashid Bin Saeed Street. When I did not get any reply, I decided to call him but his phone was off. I called him four more times but his phone was not ringing. At 1pm, during lunch break, I decided to go to the clinic to check if my husband was still there. I had no cash with me, so I borrowed Dh50 from a friend for a taxi. I was very anxious and my fears were growing.”

Elna said she called her husband’s office but a workmate told her Clark had not returned. She said she then went to the restaurant area and from afar, could see her husband’s car.

Elna with her husband and kids in happier times. (Gulf News photo)

“I found a way to get nearer and saw the car was empty. There were only papers, some bread and a half-empty water bottle,” she recalled.

She said her worst fears came true. In the evening, her friends broke the news to her.

“My friends prepared me dinner as I hadn’t eaten the whole day. Gently, they broke to me the heart-breaking news – my husband was one of the confirmed casualties. The following day, I also got a call from the Philippine Embassy. They assured me that they will provide all necessary assistance,” Elna added.

Loving husband, doting father

Elna said she still could not believe his husband is gone.

She described Clark as a “very loving husband and doting father”.

“Very kind, patient, hardworking, considerate and thoughtful – that was my husband,” Elna said. “Even if he was busy working, he would find time to cook and do other household chores. And after a day’s work, he would spend time with our kids – aged five (girl) and four (boy) – and do Zumba. He was also very focused on our kids’ online classes,” she said.

Elna with her husband and kids in happier times. (Gulf News photo)

“He was just caught in the wrong place at the wrong time,” she continued.

Elna described Clark as her best friend and confidante. They came from the same province of Surigao del Sur in southern Philippines. They became friends in 2008.

In 2013, Clark decided to come to the UAE to find work and Elna followed afterwards. They got married in 2014 and soon had two kids who were born and raised in the UAE.

Clark worked as an Autocad draftsman while Elna has been employed as an office staff at a vehicle insurance company.

The couple just celebrated their son’s fourth birthday on August 29.

Bleak future

With two young kids, Elna, who is under her husband’s visa, said “the future suddenly looks bleak”.

“My husband always had a plan. We had started building our family house in Surigao and I don’t know how it will be finished, now that’s he’s gone,” Elna shared. “My two young kids still can’t fully absorb what happened to their father. My daughter, who has seen me crying these past two days, tells me: ‘Don’t worry, Ma. Just go to the hospital and hug Dad’.”

Despite the tragedy, Elna said she is mustering enough courage for the sake of her two kids.

“My husband’s death was tragic, but I would rather choose to celebrate his life,” she said. “But I still don’t know how I will be able to raise my kids alone. I need all the help I can get to ensure my kids will have a good education,” she added.

Elna said the immediate task before her was to take her husband’s remains to the Philippines. #

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This report is original to Gulf News.

Love in the time of coronavirus: Weddings back on in Dubai at Philippines Consulate

After weeks of delay, Dubai couples finally got to say ‘I do’

By Angel L. Tesorero

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates–It was not how they planned their big day. But, at least, all’s well that ends well for two pairs of lovebirds who finally professed their marriage vows on Monday, after weeks of delay due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

Love in times of coronavirus: Weddings are back on in Dubai (Video by Irish Eden Belleza and Angel Tesorero)

Filipino expats Vanessa Panotes, 32, and Fretch Brian Pagaduan, 28, were supposed to tie the knot on April 30 in a civil wedding ceremony, followed by a big celebration attended by around 100 guests and a trip to Georgia for their honeymoon.

The second couple, Glaiza Mae Gevero, 27, and Prince RJ Paraico, 31, also planned a big gathering after their wedding that was initially set on April 2.

Bride and Groom get an unusual entry welcome to the consulate
Image Credit: Ahmed Ramzan, Gulf News

But the pandemic happened. Movement restrictions were imposed and big gatherings were banned to curtail the spread of the virus. Weddings at the Philippine Consulate in Dubai were canceled and the couples had to postpone and scale down their plans.

But then again, ‘true love waits’, as the saying goes, and the couples said they actually utilised the downtime to build a stronger bond and ponder on their future.

“During the lockdown, we actually had more time to know each other,” said Mr and Mrs Pagaduan. “Unlike before, when we were both busy at work, we had more time to talk about things and plan our future,” they added.

The Paraicos also were able to draw up concrete plans and set priorities for their married life because of the ‘new normal’ ushered in by the pandemic.

Social distancing and a limit of numbers makes for a more solemn affair – here Prince RJ Paraico and Glaiza Mae Gervero tied the knot
Image Credit: Ahmed Ramzan, Gulf News

Here comes the bride

The wedding day, however, was no less exciting for the two couples. Both brides wore the traditional white dresses and each one carried a bouquet of roses. The grooms too came in white, symbolising their pure intentions.

There were ‘selfies’ but no photographers were allowed, except for the two companions each couple brought with them to bear witness to their wedding, as prescribed by Philippine law.

Precautionary measures were also strictly observed. Everyone was checked by the guard at the gate for their body temperature before entering the consular premises. Face masks and hand gloves were required to be put on throughout the ceremony, and physical distancing was observed – except for the couples, who were allowed to sat, shoulder to shoulder, beside each other.

Only four chairs were placed in the hall; there was no other furniture aside from the small table in front of the couple, where they signed the marriage contract. A rostrum was set for the solemnising officer, who was at least three metres away from the couple. There were the Philippine and ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) flags and only the portraits of the Philippine president and vice president served as the other witnesses to the ceremony.

Prince RJ Paraico with Glaiza Mae Gevero: Awkward moments came when the bride and groom decided not to put the ring on the glove hand and whether to kiss with the mask on or off.
Image Credit: Ahmed Ramzan, Gulf News

Simple and more solemn

Civil weddings are now done one at time at the Philippine consulate, unlike before when Rizal Hall, where weddings took place, was filled to the brim with at least 20 couples and their witnesses.

Solemnising officer, Philippine deputy consul-general Renato Dueñas Jr., said: “The difference now is we do the wedding one couple at a time. It is actually quieter and more solemn as it should be.”

“Before, the hall was crowded with more than 20 couples – because we had weddings only once a week. Now, we had to observe physical distancing but the good thing is the ceremony has become more solemn and more meaningful to the couples,” he further explained.

He added: “As for my advice, I hope they will be stronger in facing the challenges in life and have a real, lasting relationship as husband and wife.”

Solemnising officer Renato Duenas Jr prefers the decorum of less people and less couples
Image Credit: Ahmed Ramzan, Gulf News

Start of a new life

Each ceremony was over in under 15 minutes. There were a few awkward moments during the wedding. At one time, one of the brides can’t decide whether or not to put the wedding ring with the hand glove on. One of the grooms also can’t decide to remove the mask before kissing the bride.

The couples also had simple receptions after their wedding, with only immediate family members and a handful close friends attending. Honeymoon plans were postponed and bigger celebrations will take place some other time.

But the marriage itself, according to the couples, was an indication that things will return to normal soon.

“Our weddings symbolised hope and the start of new life in the time of COVID,” the couples agreed. #

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This article was first published by Gulf News.

Filipino medical frontliner in UAE ran, cycled for 19 days to raise COVID-19 awareness

By Angel L. Tesorero

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates: An Al Ain-based Filipino medical frontliner has distributed relief goods and medical supplies to his home country and a few workers accommodations here in the UAE after completing his COVID-19vs19 Project, where he ran and cycled for 19 days.

Romeo III Tumayao Puncia, 33, who works as an emergency medical technician at the Emergency and Public Safety Department, Al Ain, is also an international athlete. Last year he became the first Filipino male and first UAE resident to complete the 517.5km Ultraman Florida. He swam 10-km in open water, rode the bike for 423-km and finished an 84-km-ultra-marathon in three days.

Puncia ran 361-km on a running machine (Image Credit: Supplied)

This time, while preparing for the Ultraman World Championship-Hawaii in November, he and his team came up with a project “to promote awareness on the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic and distribute relief goods as well as masks and personal protective equipment.”

“During the movement restrictions, we came up with a challenge which we called THE COVID19vs19 PROJECT, an indoor activity where I ran 19-km for 19 days and cycled 19laps x 19km,” Puncia said.

At his home in Al Ain, Puncia slugged it out on the treadmill for a total of 32 hours and 32 minutes, covering a distance of 361.34-km and, using a stationary bike, cycled 19-km laps for a total of 370.29-km in over 13 hours. The total distance he covered was 731.63-km in 19 days.

Puncia cycled 370-km on a bike (Image Credit: Supplied)

“The reason why I did the challenge was to inspire people that they can make a huge difference to somebody else’s lives while they are in the comfort of their home,” Puncia said.

“By completing the challenge, my team was able to raise funds which we used to buy goods to help frontliners, laborers and employees who were placed under no-work no-pay scheme. We were able to send 3,500 pieces of surgical masks, 100 pieces of face shield, 100 pieces of KN95 masks, 15 pieces of thermal scanner, and Dh3,000 worth of food items to the Philippine General Hospital and tribal and indigenous communities in Palawan, Philippines,” he added.

He admitted “the challenge was quite exhausting because I had to balance work, family and training. But because of the motivation and support of my team, I reached my goal.”

Relief goods like masks were sent back to Philippines and to some Workers Accommodations (Image Credit: Supplied)

Moving forward

Puncia said he is now gearing up for the upcoming Ultraman World Championship in Kona, Hawaii, where only top athletes are invited to participate in the competition that requires 10-km swim, 423-km bike, and 84-km run. He is also warming up for the Ironman 140.6 in Kazakhstan and Ironman 140.6 in the Philippines.

An athlete with a mission, Puncia said he participates in various grueling international competitions to raise funds for his Katribo Charities Inc., which he helped set up back in 2005 in the Philippines.

Relief goods being boxed up and sent back to Philippines (Image Credit: Supplied)

He and his friends visit the ndigenous and tribal communities in Palawan once or twice a year to conduct feeding and medical programmes, education and sports activities, training and leadership skills and more.

More information on his charity work is available on www.romeopuncia.com and www.katribocharities.com.

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This report was first punlished by Gulf News.

Terminated UAE OFWs told to ask return tickets from employers

By Angel L. Tesorero

Dubai: The Philippine missions in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) told overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) wanting repatriation to demand from their employers return tickets to the Philippines.

In an advisory issued Monday, April 13, the Philippine Embassy in Abu Dhabi and Philippine Consulate in Dubai told terminated OFWs due to the corona virus disease (Covid-19) it is the obligation of their employers to purchase their return ticket to the Philippines.

“This is pursuant to the UAE labor laws,” the advisory reads.

Addressing the employers, the two missions said: “We are calling on the employers for their understanding and cooperation.”

The employer can book a flight via Emirates of Etihad Airlines, which have been permitted to fly to the Philippines, the diplomatic posts said.

A travel agent confirmed there is a special Emirates repatriation flight available on April 15 and 16. A one-way flight to Manila starts from Php13,800 (Emirates Dirham2,550).

“There is no need to call the Embassy or Consulate on this because they have been given special flights permission to land in Manila despite the lockdown in Metro Manila and Luzon,” the advisory adds.

A joint advisory from the Philippine Embassy and Consulate in Dubai. (Photo by Gulf News)

 The missions clarified however that only documented OFWs may avail of the benefit while “undocumented” ones may need to seek the help of their family, friends or their travel agencies.

 “If you have no employer or job contract and has arrived to the UAE to look for a job through the help of family and friends or through a sponsoring travel agency, you need to get their assistance to buy a ticket,” the advisory says.

“For those with no employer, relative or friend to help them and would like to go home for good, they should get in touch with the Embassy or Consulate to help assess their situation,” it adds.

The Embassy or Consulate will ask the Philippine government to purchase the return ticket for an undocumented OFW “if there is an available fund.”

Philippine consul general Paul Raymond Cortes. (Photo by Gulf News)

Fund is available

Philippine Consul-General Paul Raymund Cortes said the total budget of the Philippine government for its Assistance to Nationals (ATN) is PhP 1 billion pesos annually for overseas Filipinos globally.

Cortes noted the ATN fund was instrumental in helping overstaying Filipinos in the UAE during the 2018 Amnesty Repatriation programme.

“Philippine authorities shouldered not just the airfare of amnesty seekers, but also their out-pass clearances and other administrative fees,” Cortes pointed out.

“We will facilitate your return to the Philippines,” the advisory notes. “(We are) ready to assist our compatriots and will do everything possible to help them weather this crisis,” it adds. #

152 OFWs get Dubai exit pass; 88 home by August 15

By Angel Tesorero in Dubai / Raymund B. Villanueva in Manila

Dubai, UAE – A total of 152 overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) were given an exit pass in the first three working days (August 1, 2 and 5) of the 90-day immigration amnesty program, Philippine consul-general to Dubai Paul Raymund Cortes said Tuesday.

An estimated hundreds of thousand dirhams of overstaying fines were waived by the UAE government while the Philippine Consulate paid for the exit permits, including the Dh221 for an outpass and Dh521 fee for lifting of the absconding case to clear the name of the overstaying expat from the immigration list and letting the person return to the UAE without travel ban.

The Philippine Consulate also booked one-way tickets (DXB-MNL) for the returning Filipinos.

“Out of the 152 amnesty-seekers, 93 were given free tickets; the rest were not aware that we are providing them with free tickets. Some of them have both tickets a month before. Unfortunately, we cannot refund the fare due to restrictions in the Philippine government auditing rules,” Cortes said.

He explained that booking should be done by the Philippine Consulate.

OFW Fernando Pacheho holding his UAE exit pass. (Photo by Angel L. Tesorero)

Cortes added that out of the 93 who were given free tickets, five are minors who will travel with their respective guardians and the travel expenses of the guardians will also be shouldered by the Philippine government.

The first batch of 88 returning Filipinos will fly out of Dubai on August 15 via Philippine Airlines flight PR 659 which will take off from DXB Terminal 1 at 7:35pm and arrive 8.15am the following day (Manila time) at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport Terminal 2, where they will be met by officials from the Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA).

Cortes pegged the cost of sending home an overstaying Filipino at Dh2,200 each, including the cost of air fare and exit permits.

Dubai newspaper Khaleej Times earlier reported that, according to a source at the Philippine Consulate, around 5,000 overstaying Filipinos are expected to avail of the amnesty program and would probably go back home.

At a cost of Dh2,200 (fees and plane ticket) per person, the Philippine government is set to shell out at least Dh11m, which will be taken from the Assistance to Nationals (ATN) funds.

Cortes added that an undisclosed amount of welfare assistance will be provided to the returning Filipinos while the DFA officials in Manila will assist them in their travel from the airport to their respective hometowns or provinces.

“We are glad that the first of batch of Filipinos are finally going home and will be reunited with their loved ones and respective families. We are very happy that the UAE government has given them a chance to return to the Philippines through the amnesty program by waiving the overstaying fees. We at the Philippine Consulate are also happy to be part of bringing our kababayans (compatriots) back home through the DFA funding,” Cortes said.

He added: “We want to assure our kababayans that all assistance will be given to them to the fullest extent. And for those who will prefer to stay in the country and rectify their residency status, we will also provide them with utmost assistance in the documentation of their papers. But we would like to remind them to fulfill the necessary documents such as birth certificate to get a passport.”

PH government welcomes amnesty

In Manila, the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) claimed 100,000 overseas Filipino workers would benefit from UAE’s amnesty declaration for overstaying foreign workers.

An expected 87,706 undocumented and overstaying Filipino workers are expected to apply for amnesty in Abu Dhabi and around 14,400 in Dubai, DOLE reported.

The amnesty program is effective from August to the end of October.

Those who wish to rectify their illegal status may be given assistance at the Philippine Embassy in the UAE as well as at Philippine Overseas Labor Offices in Abu Dhabi and Dubai, DOLE said.

DOLE said there are 646,258 documented OFWs in UAE, 224,572 of whom are in Abu Dhabi while 421,686 are in Dubai.

In light with this, Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III called on overstaying as well as beleaguered OFWs to rectify their status in the Emirates or seek voluntary repatriation back to the Philippines.

“Our government is ready to help them if they wish to go back home,” Bello said.

OFWs who will seek voluntary repatriation will receive assistance from Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA), including airport at cash assistance as well as overseas or local employment referral, livelihood assistance, legal at conciliation service, competency assessment at training assistance under DOLE’s Assist WELL (Welfare, Employment, Legal and Livelihood) Program. # (Photo by AL Tesorero)