OFWs in distress slam RP envoys for negligence, incompetence
By Veronica Uy
Posted date: January 03, 2008
MANILA, Philippines — A group of overseas Filipino workers has criticized some members of the Philippine diplomatic corps for “bad attitude, negligence, and incompetence” in dealing with OFWs in distress.
In a letter to Senate President Manuel Villar, Ellene Sana, executive director of the Center for Migrant Advocacy, cited five such instances — Teresita Santos, who was gang-raped in Saudi in August 2005 by five men; Julian Camat, Hermilo Ramos, and Napoleon Fabregas, who spent more jail time than their sentence provided; and Esnaira Angin, an irregular OFW from Maguidanao who was denied help at the embassy in Dubai.

dubai.jpgVillar thus demanded that these embassy and consular officials be identified and punished. In Senate Resolution 248, he urged the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations to look into these allegations.

“The seeming insensitiveness and indifference of a number of our diplomatic and consular officials and personnel have been reported and they are destroying the image and dignity of a larger, more committed, devoted and excellent public servants in foreign service,” he said in a statement.

In the case of Santos, she accused consulate personnel in Jeddah of depriving her of proper legal advice that almost caused her to lose claim to her private rights. This after the perpetrators were found guilty and were sentenced to four years imprisonment and 500 lashes each. In a letter-complaint submitted to the DFA, Santos said fellow OFWs helped her file a case to claim for her private rights and accused Assistance to Nationals personnel of blocking the hearings.

Camat, Ramos, and Fabregas, who worked for a cargo handling company in Jeddah, were sentenced by the Saudi court of one and a half years imprisonment for stealing computers in January 2003, but they ended up serving four years and four months in detention due to the negligence of the Consulate General in Jeddah.

Angin, on the other hand, accused the assistant labor attaché of denying her help and shelter at the Philippine Overseas Labor Office, allegedly for lack of money to pay for necessary fees. An undocumented OFW, Angin was one of the four migrant Filipinos in Dubai whose house was broken into by three Emirati and an Omani national in November 2005. She was stabbed on her chest and back while trying to resist their attackers.

“The mindset and thinking of our corps of foreign service must be changed to realize that their existence in countries where they are detailed and stationed is a gift to our citizens, particularly the OFWs,” Villar reminded Filipino diplomats and labor officers.

In his statement, the Senate President also said he has filed Senate Bill 1879, which seeks to amend Republic Act 8042 or the Migrant Workers and Overseas Filipinos Act of 1995, by imposing penalties on Philippine consular officials and other government personnel who fail to act on complaints of, or to give assistance or render service to migrant workers, especially those in distress, and their families.

Under the proposal, officials and personnel who fail or refuse to render service and/or assistance will be punished with suspension from office of not less than 30 days to dismissal from the service with forfeiture of retirement and other benefits depending on the gravity of the offense, and shall be disqualified from holding any other government office in the future.

Sana expressed support for the Villar bill. “We join you in upholding the dignity of the Philippine foreign service corps and in upholding government’s commitment to the rights and welfare of our OFWs and their families,” she said.

Earlier, Villar also filed Senate Resolution 189 urging the Senate Committees on Labor and Employment and Foreign Relations to conduct an urgent omnibus inquiry on the plight of detained Filipino workers in various countries so that remedial measures and a package of assistance to protect OFWs may be devised.

Big Bucks from corruption at NAIA Immigration
Posted date: April 24, 2007

To all fellow-OFWs who wish to bring their loved ones on visit visas to the United Arab Emirates:
This is not a joke – if you have a weak heart it could give you an attack, feeling you committed a crime no matter that you complied with Philippine laws – until someone gave you clue on what the problem is and what the solution could be.

I have been one of the victims of the shameful acts of people whom we thought should guide us, but didn’t. Buksan ang inyong isipan (Open your minds) – let’s unite to stop unscrupulous acts by those mercilessly giving us a hard time.

In my experience, UAE visit visa holders have only two options:

1. Don’t ask Immigration officers too many questions, instead just give money under the table and you can leave as though nothing fishy had just happened.

2. Don’t give the money and the Immigration people will ask you for more papers. You won’t be able to board the plane on time or leave the Philippines at all.

Unafraid to share with all authorities concerned, I will admit, that, yes, I was one of those asked to give money. And I gave the equivalent of 6,000 pesos in foreign currency. Can you imagine that? Try and calculate the total from 700 UAE visit visas leaving the Philippines everyday.

The modus operandi: simply insert the money in your passport and follow the Immigration officer’s instruction after handing over your passport for him to give to the counter for your approval stamp to leave the Philippines.

It was my third departure via NAIA, but the first time to be on a UAE company visit visa, only to be victimized by shameless, unscrupulous Philippine Immigration personnel. I was ready with all the requirements, but they asked me to get the passport and visa copy of the company owner/s (even if it’s a multinational company) who issued me the visit visa. The reason: Baka daw magpuputa ako. (I could be off to become a prostitute.)

What shocking words from one of the officers who asked me to comply! I was in business/corporate attire, as I am each time I come in or fly out of the Philippines! Hearing that, I felt like vanishing or going unconscious. I couldn’t believe they said that, no matter how professionally and courteously I dealt with them.

So I spoke to some officers and their lady superior, asking for the Immigration telephone and fax numbers. They refused to give the telephone number or talk to anyone from the UAE. They gave the fax number but said the machine was not working (What a good excuse not to receive the documents they themselves asked for from the UAE. They also only advise visit visa holders about the defective fax after departure time.)

In short, I had no other recourse but pay the amount in dirhams and become the last person to board the plane, delayed because of me. Shaking after that unbelievable experience, unable to believe this was really happening in the Immigration Dept. of the Philippines, I made a public apology and thanked the crew for looking for me to find out whether I was boarding or not.

I’m not the only victim!

Meeting many other passengers with the same experience, one old lady got my attention. She worked in the UAE as a seamstress for almost 15 years and was blessed with good employers who treated her well. When she retired due to eye problems, her sponsor insisted several times for her to return to her a job if she wanted, or just to visit at the sponsor’s expense. She was also invited by a previous sponsor to watch the biggest clothing design collection to be worn by the big sheikhas.

A very humble, simple old lady she was, and still very calm after going thru the same experience I did, though she didn’t give any money. She just checked in and out four times, complying with the “requirements.” Can you imagine the hassle, the time and money she wasted coming and going from the airport and re-scheduling her flight? Her relatives were shocked to see her coming back home the same day she left. Even the taxi driver wondered why she was taking a cab from departure area.

When we were in the plane, she didn’t know exactly what was going on and why she had to go thru so many hassles. Poor lady, she was even shouted at and scolded by one Immigration officer, telling her same thing they told me. Like me she was not fully aware why it happened. No matter how smart, intelligent, experienced, aware of the law and law-abiding you are, no matter how diplomatically you deal with them, they’ll try to find a loophole to force you to give money.

I pity those overseas Filipino workers trying to work and save money from clean, honest living, and try to bring their parents and families to the Gulf just to be with them even for a short time, only for their money to be taken by these shameful people just like that.

After that happened to me, I discovered a lot more anomalies going on in NAIA Immigration, not only from people I met in the plane but also here in the UAE. I’m pretty sure this money-milking activity has been going on for a long time.

I wondered why we don’t report these things to the media to put an end to this and put a stop to victimizing our poor kababayan. I’m just a humble worker with a good job by the grace of God. What about those who’re just starting out, looking for livelihood to fend off hunger for their families by looking for work in decent, clean and honorable ways?

Where is your dignity, Immigration officials? Where is your heart? It’s not too late to stop your conscienceless theft of the fruits of the labor of others without their suffering. May your families not suffer what you’re doing to our countrymen who go to the UAE to work for themselves and their families. If, after all these years, you’re happy and comfortable from mulcting UAE visit visa holders, God will be your judge.

Honesty is all we ask from those tasked with serving our nation. What does real and honest public service mean to those working in BIR, Immigration, Ports Authority, Budget and Management, Education and the Comelec?

Isabel Saguinsin II
Fluor MidEast Ltd. – TRS
MENA Regional Head Office
Al Obaidly Tower, Office 5
Abu Dhabi, U.A.E.