First batch of OFWs victimized in Syria successfully repatriated

* Bong Go calls on gov’t to protect Filipinos from human trafficking, renews push for DOFil

After a grueling battle for repatriation, six Filipino migrants who were victims of human trafficking in Syria, safely returned to the Philippines on Saturday, February 7, following support and assistance from President Rodrigo Duterte, Senator Christopher “Bong” Go, the Department of Foreign Affairs, and other concerned government agencies.

“Nagpapasalamat po kami kay Pangulong Duterte at Senator Bong Go dahil napakalaki ng tulong ng ibinigay nila para sa pagsisimulang muli namin ng buhay sa bansa,” said one of the migrant workers whose name could not he disclosed at this time given the ongoing case.

“Maliban po sa tulong, naramdaman naming hindi kami iniwan ng pamahalaan, lalo na nina Pangulong Duterte at Senator Go,” they added.

Aside from official government aid, Go’s office also extended additional assistance to the OFWs and their families.

“Parte po ito ng kalinga at malasakit programs para sa ating OFWs na suportado namin ni Pangulong Duterte,” said Go.

He also said that the Inter-Agency Council Against Trafficking or IACAT is working with the victims so trafficking cases can be filed against the perpetrators.

“Dapat lamang po na papanagutin ang mga human traffickers na ito dahil mga salot sila sa ating OFWs. Hirap na hirap na nga ang mga kababayan natin, may mga nangsasamantala at nambibiktima pa,” he said.

“Ayaw ko talagang makitang merong mga OFWs natin na naaabuso, lalo na nasa malalayong lugar sila. Sa mga nang-aabuso ng kapwa tao, dapat sa inyo putulan ng…!,” he exclaimed.

The IACAT has launched last year the digitized Integrated Case Management System to manage and ensure coordinated government action against the trafficking of OFWs.

The OFWs, repatriated through Etihad Airlines, included six out of 35 migrant workers in Syria who were victims of human trafficking. They were welcomed by the Department of Foreign Affairs, Office of the Undersecretary of Migrant Workers Affairs, the Presidential Management Staff, the Department of Social Welfare and Development and the Office of Senator Go.

The Office of the President and DFA provided financial and other forms of assistance to the repatriated OFWs. The Office of Senator Go also extended aid and vowed to provide additional support.

According to the information posted by the Philippine Embassy in Syria, the services of Syrian lawyers were already engaged to file cases against the individuals reportedly behind the trafficking of OFWs in the country. Other victims are being processed at this time so they can also be repatriated back home.

The embassy also expressed its concern on several matters related to the repatriation of trafficked Filipinos, such as securing an exit visa from their ‘kafeel’ or employer even after paying already for their flight and fines imposed by the Syrian immigration office.

Some of the victims, according to reports, have been in the embassy facility for as long as two years because they cannot secure exit visas and airfares back to the Philippines.

Meanwhile, the DFA is currently conducting an administrative investigation against certain officers and personnel of the embassy who reportedly failed to act on the concerns of the trafficking victims. DFA Secretary Teodoro Locsin, Jr. sent a new team to Syria to overhaul the personnel at the embassy.

Earlier, Go has expressed his grave concern over the reported trafficking of some Filipino women forcibly taken to Syria and abused by their employers, saying that this is one of the reasons why he is bent on pushing for the passage of a bill that will establish the Department of Overseas Filipinos (DOFil) that will better protect their rights and advance their welfare.

“Bagong bayani kung ituring natin sila na halos sampung porsiyento ng ating populasyon. Sana naman ay suklian natin nang mas maayos at mas mabilis na serbisyo ang kanilang sakripisyo para sa kanilang pamilya at sa bayan,” Go said in a statement.

The bill creating the DOFil is one of the priority measures of the present administration as mentioned numerous times by President Rodrigo Duterte, including in his last two State of the Nation Addresses. The President recently certified this most recent version filed by Go as urgent. It is also one of the top twenty priority measures identified by both houses of Congress this year.

“One of the main features of my proposed DOFil bill is the one country-team approach,” Go noted, stating that this requires all officials in Philippine diplomatic posts to act together as one team, regardless of their mother agencies, in the country of assignment, in protecting the rights and advancing the welfare of Filipino migrant workers there, with guidance from the Department of Foreign Affairs and the Philippine Foreign Service Posts.

The proposed department can also initiate and help prosecute human trafficking cases in coordination with the Department of Justice. Go added that overseas Filipinos in distress may swiftly be provided with assistance due to the one country-team approach.

“Kung in distress ang isang Pilipino abroad, kadalasan, hindi nila alam kung saan lalapit para humingi ng tulong. Minsan sa radyo, meron sa Facebook. Pero kung merong one country-team approach tayo, alam ng mga kababayan nating humihingi ng tulong kung saan pupunta,” he said.

Bong Go expresses support for wider regional cooperation to fight COVID-19 and climate change

Senator Christopher “Bong” Go lauded President Rodrigo Duterte for his pronouncements during the 37th Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Summit and Related Summits on Thursday, November 12 that showed the country’s integral role in fostering stronger collaboration in the development of the region.

During the virtual ASEAN Summit, Duterte also defended the country’s arbitral victory over the South China Sea saying no country, no matter how powerful, should ignore the ruling. He added that the Philippines’ victory in the arbitral tribunal is a sound and authoritative interpretation of the application of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, or UNCLOS.

“It is now part of international law. And its significance cannot be diminished nor ignored by any country, however big and powerful,” the President said during the high-level meetings.

Go has expressed his support for Duterte’s pronouncements, saying that the rule of law must always be respected and that any dispute must be settled peacefully by involved parties. He also emphasized the importance of collaboration among ASEAN neighbors in overcoming crises.

“Sang-ayon ako sa sinabi ni Pangulong Duterte. Sa tagal ng samahan namin, kilalang kilala ko na ang Pangulo na palaging uunahin niya ang interes at kapakanan ng mga Pilipino,” Go said.

Duterte also discussed with his counterparts in the ASEAN crucial issues on public health emergency, climate change, and disaster risk reduction management, among others.

“Sinisigurado ng Pangulo na hindi mapapabayaan ang mga Pilipino, lalo na ngayon na sunod sunod na suliranin ang hinaharap natin,” he said.

“Sisiguraduhin niya na mapoprotektahan ang buhay ng bawat Pilipino kung kaya’t ipinaglalaban niya na magkaroon tayo ng access sa COVID-19 vaccines. Pinaalala rin niya ang importansya ng pagtutulungan ng mga karatig na bansa laban sa epekto ng climate change,” he added.

Go has also been an advocate for better disaster management and response in the country, filing a bill which seeks to create a Department of Disaster Resilience. The department is eyed to have an empowered, highly specialized department with clear unity of command and primarily responsible in ensuring safe, adaptive and disaster-resilient communities.

Earlier, Go emphasized Duterte’s independent foreign policy and reaffirmed stronger regional cooperation with the country’s ASEAN neighbors, such as Vietnam, especially on the common fight against the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic and in ensuring stable long-term rice supply for the country.

“Naniniwala ako na sa mga hakbang na ito, hindi lamang napapatatag ang ating ugnayan sa ibang bansa, nangunguna rin tayo sa kolaborasyon upang magdala ng sustainable development sa buong rehiyon,” he emphasized.

He also expressed his support for Duterte’s commitment to continue nurturing strategic mutually beneficial relationship with neighboring countries while maintaining an independent foreign policy.

“Malaki ang ating papel sa kagustuhan ng ASEAN na pasiglahin muli ang ekonomiya at mapalakas ang laban kontra COVID-19 at iba pang security threats na hinaharap ng rehiyon,” Go added.

In line with this, Go also urged the government to further promote stronger ties with other neighboring countries in the region, especially on the need to boost production of vital medical equipment and supplies to overcome the health crisis brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic.

During the summit, Duterte also urged his fellow leaders to cooperate against the pandemic, saying “We must work together to ensure that all nations — rich or poor — will have access to safe vaccines. No one is safe until all of us are safe.”

On several occasions, both the President and Senator Go stressed that the poor and vulnerable should be given priorities when a safe COVID-19 vaccine is already available.

“Kami ni Pangulong Rodrigo Duterte, uunahin namin ang lahat ng mga mahihirap, lahat ng mga vulnerable sector para makabalik na tayo sa normal nating pamumuhay. Basta safe na ‘yung vaccine. And, rest assured, as the Senate health committee chair, palagi kong ipaglalaban ang kalusugan ng bawat Pilipino,” he stressed.

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Israeli flag carrier plane lands in the Philippines for the first time in seven years

The El Al Israel Airlines Ltd. with Flight No. LY 063 landed at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) this morning, 14 October 2020, at 6:25 AM. Ambassador Rafael Harpaz said that this historic flight symbolizes the good relations between Israel and the Philippines.

 

It was in November 2013 when two Israeli planes carrying humanitarian aid first touched the Philippine soil via Cebu airport to assist the Philippines in wake of Typhoon Yolanda. It was one of the biggest relief operations that Israel has ever conducted. The Israeli delegation of doctors, nurses, and paramedics and Israeli Foreign Ministry and Defense personnel provided a field hospital and helped repair damaged infrastructures such as schools and water facilities particularly in Bogo, Cebu.

 

Onboard the El Al plane were 250 Filipino students from different agriculture universities and colleges in the Philippines who completed their 11-month on-the-job training course of combined academic learning and practical work in the latest farming techniques and technologies in Israel. The program offered the students the opportunity to study at specialized agricultural academic centers and work in modern farms throughout Israel. Approximately 5,000 Filipino students already participated in this Agro Studies program. Another batch of flight from Israel to the Philippines is scheduled later on month.

 

The Embassy looks forward that after the COVID-19 pandemic and through the existing visa-free agreement, more Filipino tourists will come to visit Israel and vice versa; and hopefully, the direct flight services between the two countries will be implemented soon. 

  

Sara Duterte in the US for month-long US-sponsored exchange program

Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte is now in the United States of America for a month-long tour as part of an exchange program sponsored by the US State Department for selected young leaders all over the world.

In a post on her official Linkedin account, Mayor Duterte said that she is with Zamboanga City Mayor Beng Climaco for the International Visitor Leadership program.

Duterte said the program is an initiative to combat the rising threat of terrorism in Southeast Asia.

“I am delighted to be part of International Visitor Leadership program led by the US Department of State. Joining with me is Zamboanga City Mayor Beng Climaco, we will be in the United States for an initiative to combat the rising threat of terrorism in Southeast Asia,” Duterte said.

The International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP) is the U.S. Department of State’s premier professional exchange program.

Through short-term visits to the United States, current and emerging foreign leaders in a variety of fields experience this country firsthand and cultivate lasting relationships with their American counterparts.

Professional meetings reflect the participants’ professional interests and support the foreign policy goals of the United States.

Each year nearly 5,000 International Visitors come to the U.S. on the International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP).

More than 200,000 International Visitors have engaged with Americans through the IVLP, including more than 500 current or former Chiefs of State or Heads of Government.

There is no application for IVLP. Participants are nominated and selected annually by the staff at U.S. Embassies around the world.

Philippines to bar 2 US lawmakers

On the provision on entry in the US 2020 Budget

The United States (US) 2020 Budget contains a provision which authorizes the US Secretary of State to ban government officials in the Philippines from entering their territory about whom he “has credible information have been involved in the wrongful imprisonment of […] Senator Leila de Lima.”

While some media outlets have been twisting this information in their headlines as an outright ban against Philippine officials involved in the case of Senator de Lima from travelling to the US, the Palace has explained that the subject provision is inefficacious given that the Filipina Senator is not “wrongfully imprisoned” and therefore, the impossibility for the US Secretary of State to receive “credible information” with regard thereto.

Should a ban from entry into US territory be enforced against Philippine officials involved in – or by reason of – Senator de Lima’s lawful imprisonment, this government will require all Americans intending to come to the Philippines to apply and secure a visa before they can enter Philippine territory.

Meanwhile, the President is immediately ordering the Bureau of Immigration to deny US Senators Dick Durbin and Patrick Leahy, the imperious, uninformed and gullible American legislators who introduced the subject provision in the US 2020 Budget, entry to the Philippines.

The case of Senator de Lima is not one of persecution but of prosecution. In fact, it is already being heard by our courts. The Philippine Supreme Court, the highest court of our land, has affirmed the incarceration of Senator de Lima as valid and lawful. No other state can dictate upon our officials, judges, and justices the method upon which we enforce or interpret our laws vis-à-vis those who are believed to have committed a violation against the same.

We reiterate that the Philippines is an independent and sovereign state. It stands in parity with all other states, including the US, and any form of pressure that is tantamount to an interference into its established justice system shall be reciprocated in accordance with our municipal law, as well as public international law or the law of the nations.

Salvador S. Panelo
Chief Presidential Legal Counsel
& Presidential Spokesperson