Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Immigrants to Britain should meet wage target: think tank

Agence France-Presse
Last updated 09:35am (Mla time) 08/29/2006

LONDON -- Britain should set an income target for immigrants and those who do not meet it should not be allowed to settle in the country, a think tank was set to propose Tuesday.

The Daily Telegraph reported that Migrationwatch would propose that migrants with an income of less than 27,000 pounds (51,200 dollars, 40,000 euros) a year not be allowed to permanently settle in Britain.

That income figure, which only one in five migrants reach, is the level at which a person begins making positive contributions whether measured by taxes paid or by contribution to gross domestic product, the think tank argues. Individuals with lower incomes put pressure on existing infrastructure.

The average wage in Britain last year was 28,210 pounds according to government statistics.

While low-income workers should still be allowed into Britain to work, Migrationwatch says they should not be allowed to settle permanently.

Immigration has returned to the forefront of public debate in Britain in recent weeks after the government released figures showing more than 427,000 people from the eight new eastern European EU member states have come to work in Britain since the bloc's enlargement in May 2004.

Those figures exclude self-employed workers, a category believed to cover many eastern Europeans in the building trade. Once those are also included, the overall number is closer to 600,000 by some accounts.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

OWWA Fund Juggling Confirmed by COA

Funds transferred to Smokey Mountain and PhilHealth, records show
OWWA fund juggling confirmed by CoA
By Angie M. Rosales

Charges of alleged juggling of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) funds held in trust by Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) dating back to the Ramos administration, was established yesterday by Senate investigators with two sectors, the Commission on Audit (CoA) and a non-government organization claiming the same findings, based on documents culled by the two agencies.

At least half a billion pesos was shown to have been illegally used when OWWA was made to engage in the Smokey Mountain housing development project while another P500 million or exactly P530 million of its funds was transferred to PhilHealth amid objections by some board members representing land- and sea-based migrant workers.

This piece of information corroborates an earlier expose made by Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago during a privilege speech a few years ago concerning a project undertaken by R-II Builders Inc. of businessman Reghis Romero.

Worth of the said project, to date, has already ballooned to at least P1 billion and the government, “technically” is yet to recoup both investments and interest earnings although the principal amount had been “reimbursed” to OWWA by another government agency, the Home Insurance Guarantee Corp. (HIGC).
The HIGC stood as the “guarantor” to the amount OWWA “loaned” to enable R-2 Builders to undertake the Smokey Mountain Development and Reclamation Project, in joint joint venture with the National Housing Authority as the land owner.

Alongside this development, Senate probers learned there is “available” P7.1 billion OWWA funds currently deposited in Land Bank of the Philippines (Landbank), P3.2 billion, in Development Bank of the Philippines (DBP) billion and P703 million in various banks.

Senators sitting as members in the panel chaired by Sen. Jinggoy Estrada, upon hearing the testimonies given by Connie Regalado of Migrante International, and attested by OWWA resident auditor Gemiliano Maloles, were at a loss on why there is a squabble over the availability of funds needed for the repatriation of OFWS stranded in Lebanon.

“This investigation occurred because during the height of the Lebanon crisis , the (Philippine) embassy (in Beirut) complained that there are no funds available…the rumors again on this issue that there’s no money came about recently and then here it shows that there is over P7 billion in funds. So OWWA has funds. Then why is it (it is) so parsimonious in giving funds?” asked Sen. Joker Arroyo.

Senators were told by Maloles that government actually can dip its fingers into these funds, if need be, but it would get a lesser amount because the account will be rendered pre-terminated.

“If they have such funds, why is Malacanang asking for a supplementary budget (for workers’ evacuation)?” Estrada commented before reporters during a briefing that proceeded after the hearing.

Senators were also told that the reported P530 million transferred to Philhealth, alleged to have been made without any consultation with migrant workers as provided by OWWA charter and existing laws, are yet to be “replenished” by the government, according to Rosemarie Trajano of Kanlungan Center, an NGO working for OFWs’ welfare.

Based on the presentation by Maloles, OWWA’s annual revenues, the latest of which was for the year 2005, totaled P1.3 billion coming from fees and taxes received from OFWs alone, excluding those from so-called investments and interests income while expenses incurred included benefits paid to migrant workers and overhead operations amounted to P673 million last year.

More or less, OWWA had P650 million net collections based on fees and returned interest income of P462 million last year.

Regalado claimed before senators that based on records they collated, a total of P8 billion to include that with Philhealth and the Smokey Mountain project were poured by the government to other agencies over the years.

It was Regalado who told senators the transfer of funds to Philhealth was not approved by OFWs’ representatives sitting in the OWWA board of trustees.

“In the P530 million OWWA medicare funds transferred to Philhealth, the first move was done in Feb. 2, 2004, OWWA board resolution 005 approving the transfer of said amount and based on the statement of OWWA, the transfer was made in 2005.

She then said that after President Arroyo signed EO 182 for the transfer of the fund, in Feb. 2, 2004, the OWWA board of trustees approved resolution No. 005 for the transfer of the P530 million.

She said after the amendment was sone, stated that the actual transfer wasmade in March 2005….they have the report, the OWWA. It was submitted to the House committee on overseas workers’ affairs during a hearing last March 29.

“It was, the OWWA Medicare funds, collected from each OFW of P900 per year…actually it accumulated up to P4 billion and P530 was transferred to Philhealth..the Medicare program of OFWs is now handled by Philhealth.

She said this was an illegal transfer because the money of OWWA is a trust fund and it is owned by the migrant workers and the transfer was done without proper consultations from the migrant workers themselves.
“We were raising the issue that before any transfer of funds or before the OWWA board of trustees should decide where the money should be spent, especially in matters like the Medicare funds, there should be a consultation with migrant workers but it was not really done.”

She saud she was in HongKong in 2003 when the former president of Philhealth Francisco Duque appeared in an OFWs’ forum in the Philippine consulate. He said it was a consultation but in reality it was not because he was already selling Philhealth (cards) to OFWs and during that time Mrs. Arroyo signed EO 182 on the transfer of funds. She charged rgar Duque was actually marketing it, explaining the benefits from income. It was not a consultation. It was in July 2003. I was still the chairperson of United Filipinos in Hong Kong….

“The proposed transfer of OWWA funds was actually in relation to the plan of President Arroyo to run in 2004 presidential elections,” she said.

As to the Smokey Mountain project, an initial investment was made in Feb. 6, 1995 of P93.1 million with a
face value of P100 million on the same month, she said citing documents from OWWA.

“On Feb. 9, 1995, the OWWA secretariat headed by then OWWA chief, followed by administrator Wilhelm Soriano who assumed office in may 23, 1005, facilitated the investment of P459.4 million worth of Smokey Mountain project participation certificates with a face value of P500 million.

“From October 1996 to the maturity value of the initial investment as of Oct. 2000 was P905.9 million or a 92 percent increase in five years.

“But based on CoA annual audit report on the OWWA for the year ending Dec. 2005, it was found out that the OWWA’s investment in the Smokey Mountain project participation certificate now has a face value of P664 million was made in violation of DoF circular 194-8 are not within the maturity date.

“And I have here a copy of the summary of the investment portfolio, it’s not only P664 million, in 2000 it says that from the OWWA main fund that comes from membership fee collection, there is a total of P664 million investment and from the Medicare fund of P171 million or a total of P835 million,” she said.

Regalado further testified that such undertaking was illegal, “because a private firm cannot own or acquire a land for public domain”, citing the ruling rendered by the CoA.

The matter, when pursued by Sen. Sergio Osmena III, yielded similar claims from Maloles who explained before senators that the P500 million investment or principal amount, technically speaking, has yet to be recovered by the government since another government office, the HGIC “refunded” the amount to OWWA.

The P500 million income from 8.5 percent annual interests has not yet been given, Maloles said.

“That’s another scam because the Filipino people paid who for it. the HIGC is another government corporation…we know they’re the guarantor but obviously there’s a scam there because it’s operating a port and yet they did not pay the interest so they used the money of the workers,” said Osmena.
Not even the principal has been returned, Maloles said.

“So OWWA invested and it’s in the nature of a loan…(with 8.5% interest)…and so R-2 Builders neither paid principal nor interest on that P500M,” Osmena said.

OWWA invested P500 million, of this, it is supposed to have earned another P500 million in interests over the years, roughly about P1 billion. Of the P1 billion, P500 million was paid back to OWWA by HIGC…representing the principal,” said Maloles.

“So R-2 still owes P500 million in accumulated interests,” the senator said.

“Technically sir it is already the HIGC that is assuming…this was paid in tranches, it’s not a one-time payment,” Maloles clarified.

Asked by Osmena to there were any earnings OWWA got from the said project, Soriano who is currently commissioner of the Human Rights Commission (CHR), explained that there was none because they merely assumed the role of being a participant in the project.

OFW remittances crucial, but ‘tend to spoil the government’

2 August 2006

Remittances of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) help strengthen the Philippine economy, but they also have the potential to hurt the country’s poorer families, an economist said.

OFW remittances have made the government lax in working for the improvement of the domestic economy and will eventually make the economy sink with the decline in exports, resulting in loss of jobs, he added.

Dr. Ernesto Pernia of the School of Economics of the University of the Philippines Diliman raised these points in his talk on the “Diaspora, Remittances and Poverty in RP’s Regions.”

The Department of Economics and the Carolinian Economics Society of the University of San Carlos in Cebu City organized the talks last Friday night.

“Remittances tend to spoil the government,” he said, adding that the deployment of OFWs should only be temporary. Economic policies must be formulated to generate more local employment.

“The phenomenon should be transitory to allow the government to do its homework in making the economy stronger,” Pernia said.

The government’s complacency is one of the “moral hazard effects” of the increase in OFWs, aside from raising the number of broken Filipino families.

Although remittances have contributed to the decline in poverty incidence and improved the economy through higher gross domestic product (GDP), consumer spending and employment opportunities, they also have created an imbalance in the regions.

In a study on OFW contributions from 1995 to 2004, Pernia revealed that Southern Tagalog, the National Capital Region and Central Luzon, where about half of OFWs come from, also got 50 percent of the OFW remittances during the period.

Since working abroad and migration require money, poor regions have fewer workers leaving for jobs abroad.
However, the trend is now changing. Pernia noted that in 2004, the Autonomous Region for Muslim Mindanao, one of the poorest in the country, got 1.4 percent more in OFW remittances than the rest of the country.

This may indicate that OFWs from poorer regions had a “higher altruism” toward their more deprived families, Pernia noted. This could also mean they are simply remitting more.

Central Visayas, which ranked first in 1995 with a 1.6 percent higher annual average remittance, is now third.
However, he believes other factors, such as the increase in the deployment of highly skilled workers who earn more, could have contributed to this.

The Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas expects OFW remittances to rise 10 percent this year, from a record $10.7 billion in 2005.

From January to May this year, remittances coursed through banks reached $4.85 billion, up 14.8 percent from the same months last year.

The bulk of remittances continues to come from the US, Saudi Arabia, Italy, United Kingdom, Japan, Hong Kong and United Arab Emirates.

There are over eight million Filipinos working abroad.

In a comparative study on the 15 regions in 1994, 1997, 2000 and 2003, Pernia noted that while the increase in remittances meant higher spending for 20 percent of the country’s poorest families, it also meant a higher purchasing power of the higher income groups.

“The richer households are benefiting more than the poorer households. There is an increasing income inequality. In time, it will worsen,” Pernia said.

However, while the migration of more OFWs is ongoing, Pernia recommended that the government should protect OFWs from unscrupulous recruiters, assist them in signing “fair and decent” employment contracts and lower the cost of remitting their income.

He also urged USC’s faculty to educate good leaders.

“I think what’s going to help us are good leaders,” he told them.

“The Filipinos have been letdown so many times from President Ferdinand Marcos to President Arroyo,” he added. By Charmaine Y. Rodriguez

IOM to evacuate 450 filipinos from Beirut

International Office of Migration (IOM) is to airlift some 450 Filipino workers from war-torn Beirut, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said Wednesday.

The Filipinos are to be taken by bus across the Syrian border to Damascus, where they will board an aircraft for Manila, the DFA said.

The Filipinos are expected to arrive in Damascus in two batches on Saturday and Sunday. They will board the chartered flight for their journey back home next Monday.

The 450 Filipinos are currently huddled in a crowded evacuation center run by the Catholic church amid fierce Israeli raids targeting the militant group Hezbollah.

"All associated costs will be covered by the IOM. Individuals will also be provided with temporary accommodation at the IOM shelter in Syria," the DFA quoted Vincent Houver of IOM Beirut as saying.

Contingency plans are also being prepared for Filipinos in northern Israel, parts of which have been targeted by Hezbollah missile fire. Some 30,000 Filipinos work in Lebanon, with roughly the same number working in Israel.

President Arroyo had earlier issued an appeal to the international community for help with the repatriation of Filipinos in the conflict zone.

The IOM, an inter-governmental organization, seeks to provide humanitarian assistance to migrants in need.
Some 37 Filipino evacuees from Beirut arrived in Manila from Damascus Wednesday.

DFA spokesman Gilbert Asuque and Angelo Jimenez, Overseas Workers' Welfare Administration Deputy Administrator, met the evacuees at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport Terminal 1 before noon.

Asuque said another batch of 119 evacuees will arrive Wednesday night at NAIA Terminal 2 from Hong Kong.