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Better late than absent
Time was when being absent puts some one in a bind. You fail your class, you’re terminated from work, or you simply waive your right. This time, being absent could make a difference. Especially if you’re eight million strong.
This developed as the Philippine Congress vowed to pass the Absentee Voting Bill giving overseas Filipino workers and other foreign-based Filipinos the right to cast their votes, hopefully, in the 2004 national elections.
Earlier, the two chambers were in a deadlock on the passage of the bill as the lower house and other top government officials questioned the viability of absentee voting citing the exorbitant cost it would entail in its implementation.
During one of the official functions he has attended, Foreign Affairs Secretary Blas Ople cited the huge amount it would entail for the operation of the absentee voting system and the difficulties in implementing it especially in countries hosting too many Filipinos.
In his talks with Ambassador to Singapore Ernesto Llamas, Ople learned that the Singapore Embassy alone would need an initial $1.7 million to conduct an absentee voting. Singapore only has 124,000 Filipinos.
Among the countries with large numbers of Filipino expatriates are Hong Kong, Italy, Saudi Arabia, Spain and the United States. Over four million Filipinos work abroad, according to government statistics. Close to a million Filipinos work in Saudi Arabia alone.
Assuming the Philippines’ 60 embassies and 18 consulates would each need $1.7 million, Ople said a total of $132.6 million or P6.63 billion would be needed to conduct an absentee voting worldwide.
Filipinos abroad remitted $6.23 billion through official channels to the Philippines last year.
But while the legislators were busy rambling, the OFWs, becoming impatient themselves over the slow pace the bill is leading, openly joined the struggle to pressure the Congress for the passage of the law. And to their credit, a leading Church leader has joined them in their campaign.
In Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, a group of OFWs organized an ‘electronic’ lobbying campaign to pressure lawmakers in Manila to pass the AVB.
In a meeting held right at the Philippine Embassy, the convenors of the International Coalition on Overseas Filipinos Voting Rights (ICOFVR) Riyadh Chapter and community leaders called on all overseas Filipinos to act as one and fight for their right to vote.
As their campaign’s name Tutukan si Congressman! suggests, ICOFVR members who have access to computers were asked to send e-mails to their congressmen and senators to express their concern over the continued delay in the passage of absentee voting bills pending in the two houses of Congress.
ICOFVR organizers gave the telephone and fax numbers, e-mail addresses, and office addresses of all the members of Congress. They were provided a ready-made letter with a heading that reads: “Boto Ko, Karapatan Ko. Pass the Absentee Voting Bill Now! Itaguyod Mo Kabayan ... Panahon Na!” The full text of the letter is written in Pilipino.
One of the group’s leaders, Mike Bolos, informed that a group of OFWs in Japan had produced banners and streamers and sent them to the Philippines and have been draped from the buildings along the road leading to the Batasang Pambansa complex in Quezon City.
The group contends that the right of overseas Filipinos to vote in Philippine national elections is enshrined in the 1987 Constitution but an enabling law is needed for that right to be exercised. However, they admitted that it is the lack of action on the part of overseas Filipinos to assert their right that has enabled some unscrupulous and selfish legislators to deny them that right.
“Today,” the ICOFVR said, “overseas Filipinos are now being held hostage by some unreconstructed congressmen.” Overseas Filipinos would be allowed to vote only for the president, vice president, senators and party-list representatives.
These obstacles in Congress are also the target of the TALSIK portion of the campaign, which stands for “Tanggalin Ang mga Lintik at Sagabal at Inutil na mga Kongresista (Kick Out the Scums in Congress).
Among those given special mention in the TALSIK campaign were Gilbert Remulla of Cavite (2nd district), Celso Lobregat of Zamboanga City, Felix Fuentebella of Camarines Sur (3rd district), and Digaden Dilangalen of Maguindanao (1st district).
Perla Vega, one of the convenors and founding chairwoman of the group Mother, has brought with her copies of the 15,000 signatures gathered for the bicameral hearing in Riyadh last March to present to President Arroyo, Senate President Franklin Drilon, and House Speaker Jose de Venecia in hopes of getting their support.
The OFW group also threatened to stop remittances of their earnings through legitimate channels which could severely affect the country’s foreign currency reserve and the income of remittance agencies as the these remittances could end up in the black market. (See related story on page 21)
Also, a Roman Catholic bishop on Tuesday urged his flock to reject at the next elections Philippine legislators he blamed for denying millions of Filipinos working overseas the right to vote.
“Now you know who are the villains and traitors,” Bishop Ramon C. Arguelles said in a statement, telling the families of overseas workers not to vote for the unnamed legislators.
Addressing the overseas workers, Arguelles, who heads a commission for the pastoral care of migrants and itinerant people, said, “How can you entrust (congressmen) with the future of your country and of your children?” “Tell your relatives to junk them” in elections, he added.
It is at the lower house where the bill has been experiencing rough sailing as local officials including congressmen do not stand to benefit from the bill.
But apparently, the OFWs’ ploy paid off. Earlier this month senate president Franklin Drilon announced that both the lower and the upper chamber have agreed to pass the AVB within this month. This, he said, would be the Arroyo administration’s ‘greatest gift to the OFWs.’ The senate recently passed its own version of the bill.
Well, all’s well that ends well. Sana lang, wag maranasan ng mga kababayan natin sa abroad ‘yung nararansana natin dito sa Pilipinas. Na ‘yung pangalan ng botante sa Saudi ay mapunta sa listahan ng mga botante sa Hong Kong.
Migrant workers see no glory under Gloria
There’s more to it than meets the eye.
While President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo continues with her propaganda blitz declaring an all-out war against criminality and most especially, against poverty, she expects stiff opposition from migrant workers who view her to be the most anti-migrant worker president by far.
According to Migrante International, not only has the Philippines’ economic situation worsened under the Arroyo Administration, but also the president herself has started what could be dubbed as the biggest sellout of the country’s migrant workers.
Citing a recent Pulse Asia survey indicating that one out of every five Filipinos want to leave the country because they are losing hope in the country, Migrante said that 2,700 Filipinos leave the country everyday due to lack of job opportunities locally. Every year, hundreds of thousands of Filipino workers are pushed abroad to work due mainly to the failure of the government to generate long-term economic opportunities and jobs for the people, they added.
“For Gloria - the systematic export of Filipinos abroad through the government’s Labor Export Program, is among the hallmarks of her administration. In the spirit of globalization, she prostitutes and enslaves overseas Filipinos through the LEP. Abroad, Gloria engages in the wholesale sell-out of Filipinos for cheap wages as part of her aggressive marketing drive for Filipino workers,” Migrante said.
The militant migrant workers organization scored Arroyo for referring to overseas Filipino workers as “Global Filipinos,” saying this is a euphemism that hides the reality of modern slavery.
“Since the start of her term, she blatantly attempts to export one million Filipinos per year in exchange for inhumane wages, physical and emotional abuse,” Migrante deplored. “It would be more appropriate if she calls us ‘the Global Filipino Slave.’”
Recently, Arroyo signed an agreement calling for a 30% wage cut for domestic helpers in Hong Kong. However, she was prevailed upon when faced with strong anti-wage cut protests led by the Asian Migrant Coordinating Body, United Filipinos in Hong Kong and Migrante International.
In addition to these, Arroyo has also agreed to the lowering of the wages of overseas Filipinos through the implementation of the “trainee system”. In Korea and Japan, the trainees afford the foreign capitalists a cheap alternative to “migrant workers”. As trainees, the Filipino workers are given only “allowances” and are not entitled to any rights as workers even if the work they do is similar to that of other workers.
The group also criticized the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration rules on the new Standard Contract for Sea-Based Workers, implemented under Gloria illustrates policies which, according to them, clearly serve the interests of manning agencies, insurance firms and the government instead of the sea-based workers.
“Gloria also dismissed the rights of seafarers by validating the practice of blacklisting by manning agencies and implementing a POEA watchlist of seafarers who speak out against oppressive working conditions,” Migrante added. Under these schemes, all seafarers who complain may be placed on the blacklists or watchlists.
The group also condemned the president for her alleged inactions on the reported human right s violation against Filipinos abroad mostly on justifications that these are part of global war against terrorism being spearheaded by the United States.
Cases of human rights violations documented by Migrante include:

• The unjust detention of almost 30 Filipinos and their children in Belgium without a    warrant of arrest;
• The deportation of 63 Filipinos in handcuffs and chains from the US; The detention of    almost 30 immigrants in Texas and the unjust assumption that the Filipinos in the    group may have ties to the Abu Sayyaf;
• The possible mass unemployment of 1,000 Filipino immigrant baggage screeners    because of the ultra-nationalist US Aviation Security Act that calls on all baggage    screeners to be US citizens;
• The suspension of almost 30 Filipino nurses in California because of their walk-out    over racist policies that gave them lower wages than their counterparts;
• Crackdowns on undocumented workers in Malaysia, Korea and the US; and,
• The death of a Filipino child due to the inhumane conditions Malaysia deports    Filipinos from Sabah.

“Arroyo’s inactions on the human rights violations committed against our compatriots abroad clearly manifest her continued to be a fanaticism as a puppet to foreign and US dictates,” said Migrante.
In the face of her ‘crimes’ against the country’s migrant workers, Migrante International concluded that Arroyo had already dug her own grave as some sectors are already calling for her ouster, them included.
Man! And all the while I didn’t think she could dig that deep!
For whom the bell tolls
At the height of the Filipino-American War in 1901, Filipino patriots waylaid a troop of American soldiers patrolling a small town in Samar killing five of them in the process. In retaliation, Brig. General Jacob Smith of the US Army ordered that town of Balanggiga, burned to the ground with no one above 10 years old to be spared and no prisoners to be taken. Not contented, they plucked out all three bells from the bell pry of the Balanggiga Church as trophies to their savagery. One of the bells was used by the locals to signal the attack on American troops on Sept. 28, 1901.
Now, a century later, the Bells of Balanggiga still tolls every morning. But not in its rightful place at the entrance of the Francis E. Warren Air Force Base in Cheyenne, Wyoming and at the 9th Infantry Regiment Museum in Camp Red Cloud in South Korea. Negotiations conducted in the past for the return of the bells bore no fruits as the US Government consider them as war mementoes confiscated on a legitimate war operation and that it had been used by the Filipino revolutionary forces in furtherance of their attacks against the US troops then. In fact, the marker on Warren Air Force Base states, "These bells came from a church in Balangiga, Samar, located in the Philippine Islands. The ringing of these bells signaled the attack by bolo tribesmen on Sunday morning, the 28th of September, 1901, in which a company of the Ninth U.S. Infantry was massacred."
While many downplay the significance of the bells and are hesitant to pursue further negotiations for their return, nationalists believe otherwise. Not only do they contend that the bells symbolize the courage and patriotism of Filipinos, but also the barbarism of Americans. Furthermore, the taking of the bells are considered sacrilegious. In a 'religious' country like the Philippines, church bells are the foremost symbols of all communities. Church bells toll the baptism, wedding and death of every individual in a Catholic community.
Recently, Environment Secretary Heherson Alvarez, Senators Aquilino Pimentel and Loren Legarda, and former Makati Mayor Jejomar Binay asked the Arroyo administration to resume formal negotiations with the United States for the return of the bells. And with the present dispensation toeing every whims of the US, it is hoped that they could persuade US authorities to return what is not rightfully theirs.
Legarda said time has healed the pain of a most savage conflict between two nations that have become the best of friends and the bells should serve as a memorial to the thousands of Filipinos ordered killed in retribution by Smith.
Pimentel invoked a United Nations resolution dated Nov. 2, 1993 calling for the return of cultural property by the countries in which it is found, to the countries of origin.
'Stop deployment of OPAs to Korea'
Sen. Francis "Kiko" Pangilinan told this to the Department of Labor and Employment to prevent more Filipino Overseas Performing Artists (OPAs) from falling prey to white slavery syndicates in South Korea. The Philippine Overseas Labor Office in Seoul unilaterally banned the deployment of Filipinos to Korea, but Pangilinan said this would only be effective if the POEA reciprocates the POLO's act.
Pangilinan also reasoned that it is illegal to deploy Filipino workers to Korea since the Manila has no standing labor agreement with Seoul. He said the lack of a bilateral labor agreement between the Philippines and South Korea jeopardized the welfare and safety of OPAs. If this is so, why is POEA deploying OPAs to Korea?
Shopping bonus for balikbayan
Congress is teasing balikbayan to spend more on pasalubong by dangling a $1,500 duty-free shopping privilege. The proposed $500 additional shopping privilege in all government-owned duty-free shops got the nod of the bicameral conference committee on tourism.
Likewise, balikbayan will have a longer time to shop -- within 15 days upon arrival in Manila during ordinary days and within 30 days from arrival during the Christmas season (Nov. 15 to Jan. 15). The previous shopping time is 12 days.
The committee also introduced a Kabuhayan program that lets a balikbayan buy tax-free $2,000 worth of livelihood tools. Sen. Noli de Castro, chairman of the Senate panel, said the Kabuhayan program intends to enable the balikbayan and OFWs to be economically self-reliant upon their return to the country.
Bilmoko nyon, bilmoko nyan, ha.
Be a nurse for P14,000 a month
Among the amendments that Sen. Edgardo J. Angara is proposing for the Philippine Nursing Act of 1991 is a minimum monthly salary of P14,000 for government nurses. That's P5,000 more than the current entry-level pay of P9,000.
As the US and Europe are on a hiring binge for nurses, the amount hopes to keep local nurses from working abroad. Angara noted that last year, 14,000 nurses left for jobs overseas. The figure was more than double the 6,000 average graduating size of nursing schools from 1999 to 2000. From January to May this year, a total of 4,700 nurses left the country. They represent 85% of the nursing students to graduate this year.
Angara proposed a P14,000 starting salary because this is the amount that police and soldiers are getting now. Let's hope the salary is attractive enough.
By the way, skilled Filipino nurses can earn as much as P300,000 a month abroad.
So take your pick.
Cheaper house from housing dep't
That's what Speaker Jose de Venecia Jr. said so when the Department of Housing and Urban Development (DHUD) is eventually created. House Bill 4517, which was approved on second reading, will enable millions of Filipinos to acquire houses at affordable prices by creating a social housing fund that would be used solely for building houses for low-income groups.
Under the bill, all agencies of the Housing and Urban Development Coordinating Council (HUDCC) will be under one roof. DHUD will absorb the Home Guaranty Corporation, National Housing Authority (to be renamed National Housing Corp.), National Home Mortgage Finance Corp., Home Development Mutual Fund, and the Housing and Land Use Regulatory Board (to be renamed Real Estate Arbitration Commission). The HUDCC will then cease to exist.
Bill 4517 also mandates the Public Estates Authority to develop new towns with complete basic facilities to decongest urban communities.
War vets' kids... grandkids to get gov't posts
So much for veterans' pension. It's the veterans' dependents' turn to get favors in recognition of their father or lolo's war heroics.
House Bill 785, which gives government and GOCC jobs to any veteran's child or grandchild, was approved on second reading. If finally passed into law, it mandates all appointing government personnel to grant preference to the child or grandchild of a veteran among the crop of qualified applicants for a position in any government office or government-owned or controlled corporations.
Las Piñas Rep. Cynthia Villar, author of the bill, believes that offering veterans' children and grandchildren a place in public service serves to value the contributions of World War II, Vietnam, Korean and other war veterans to the formation of national consciousness on freedom and independence.
Let's hope that the bill's beneficiaries are more qualified and more competent than other prospective applicants for government posts.
Rep. Solis wants maritime department
Rep. Jose G. Solis (2nd Dist., Sorsogon) is out to prove Rep. Harry C. Angping (3rd Dist., Manila) wrong. Contrary to Angping's radio pronouncement that his colleagues are not in favor of creating a Department of Maritime Affairs that will help simplify the documentation and deployment of seafarers abroad, Solis' House Bill 4728 is scheduled for floor deliberation this month.
HB 4728 aims to integrate into the DMA existing government bureaus, offices and agencies managing and developing the shipping, shipbuilding and crewing industries. The proposed DMA will have a National Seafarers Administration, which will promote, develop and monitor the education, training, welfare and deployment of Filipino seafarers and other maritime workers abroad. Among the tasks of the NSA are the issuance of seaman's books, maintenance of a seafarers registry and job placement.
Angping said congressmen are not inclined to create another department because they have just passed a law creating the DHUD. However, Angping said he is in favor of creating a National Seafarers Commission, which will serve as a one-stop shop for seamen's concerns.
Drilon meeting kasimanwas in Damman
Senate President Franklin Drilon is gracing the 9th Filipino Community Day 2002 on October 25 in Dammam, Saudi Arabia. The Saudi Arabia Hiligaynon Inc. (SAHI), a community group of Ilonggo-speaking Filipinos, invited Drilon, their kasimanwa, to be the guest of honor of the event.
SAHI also invited singers Rey Valera and Karding of the former Reycard Duets, as well as teen artist Lance Raymundo to perform before the Filipino community in the Eastern Region.
Drilon's hosts are expected to ask the Senate leader to expedite the passage of the Absentee Voting Bill, which will allow overseas Filipinos to vote in the 2004 national elections. Fine. Just don't ask him to take his shoes off.
SEX BOMB GIRLS. Fourteen boob-tube babes would like to help fight lawlessness and evil in our crime-infested communities. How are they going to do it if they have superpowers?

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