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INQUIRER.net MANILA, Philippines--Maria Cecilia Flores-Oebanda has been awarded the first Iqbal Masih award for the elimination of exploitative child labor, according to the United States Department of Labor. Deputy Undersecretary for International Affairs Charlotte M. Ponticelli said the US agency is giving this award to acknowledge Flores-Oebanda’s lifetime battle against the use of child domestic workers and the trafficking of women and children for domestic servitude and commercial sexual exploitation in the Philippines and internationally. Flores-Oebanda is currently the president and executive director of the Visayan Forum Foundation Inc. (VFF) based in Quezon City. "This award recognizes a true champion in the fight to end exploitive child labor," said Ponticelli in a statement. "Through her work, Ms. Flores-Oebanda has brought real change to the lives of thousands of children." The Iqbal Masih Award was established by the US Congress to recognize the work of an individual, company, organization or national government to end the worst forms of child labor. The award reflects the spirit of Iqbal Masih, a Pakistani child enslaved at the age of four who escaped his servitude and became an outspoken advocate against child slavery. In 1995 at the age of 13 and a year after receiving the Reebok Human Rights Award, Iqbal was killed in Pakistan. His dedication to ending child slavery, however, continues to inspire individuals around the world. Like Iqbal Masih, Flores-Oebanda was born into poverty. As a child, she helped to support her family by scavenging. Later as a teenager, she advocated for the rights of youth and farm laborers. Flores-Oebanda later founded and now leads the VFF, a nongovernmental organization that has rescued and provided assistance to more than 32,000 victims and potential victims of trafficking. According to the US agency, the VFF has helped to file more than 65 trafficking cases on behalf of more than 165 victims. Flores-Oebanda serves as the Southeast Asia coordinator for the Global March Against Child Labor and is active with other significant events to support work against child and exploitive labor. Since 1995, the US Department of Labor has supported efforts to combat exploitive child labor internationally. The agency has succeeded in rescuing more than 1.25 million children from exploitive child labor.
By Quay Evano Dubai, UAE -- For a devout Catholic Filipino like Cristy Atendido, Christmas won’t be complete without attending the traditional “simbang gabi” or midnight mass and completing all nine days of it. So, when she left the Philippines to work as an Overseas Filipino Worker in the Middle East last year, it was one of the things she thought she won’t be able to do since she was going to the world’s region of the Islamic religion. But last December she was able to go to the midnight mass although wasn’t able to complete it. This year, she is focused on completing it and last night she was able to attend the first celebration of the simbang gabi. By the way, she’s still in the Middle East. Cristy is just one of the hundreds of thousands of Catholic Filipinos and millions of Christians who are fortunate to be allowed to practice their faith in a Muslim country, which is a very rare occurrence especially in a war-torn region like the Middle East, where people of different religions and even of the same religion fight and kill each other in the name of God. Cristy lives and works in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, hailed around the world for its religious tolerance and interfaith openness. It is perhaps the only Islamic nation in the Gulf with the most Catholic churches, a total of seven (7): St. Mary’s Church (Dubai), St. Francis of Assisi Church (Jebel Ali, Dubai), St. Joseph’s Church (Abu Dhabi), St. Mary’s Church (Al Ain), St. Michael’s Church (Sharjah), Church of Mother of Perpetual Help (Fujairah), and St. Anthony of Padua Roman Catholic Church (Ras Al Khaimah). The church in Abu Dhabi is the UAE headquarter of the Apostolic Vicariate of Arabia which is being overseen by Bishop Paul Hinder O.F.M. Cap. Masses are held everyday and most churches have mass celebrations in different languages like English, Arabic, French, Malayalam (South Indian language), Tamil, Urdu (Pakistani language) and Tagalog. Majority of the Catholics and other Christians in the UAE are from the Philippines and South India and the others would be from European countries like the United Kingdom, Italy, and France and Gulf countries like Lebanon, Syria and Iraq. People of different faiths and religions work and live in peace and harmony in this open Islamic city and even celebrate each other’s important religious festivals. Christians greet Muslims “Eid Mubarak” during Ramadan, Eid Al Adha and Eid Al Fitr and greet Hindus “Happy Diwali” and “Happy Onam” during their festival of light. Muslims and Hindus in turn greet Christians “Merry Christmas” and “Happy Easter”. This is an amazing contrast to neighboring countries like Saudi Arabia, the seat of Islam, where celebrating even having a cross ornament could bring one to jail or in Iraq where Sunni and Shiite Muslims are engaged in an endless bloodshed. It is only Qatar which has lately allowed the construction of Christian churches in its city. Christmas is widely celebrated in the UAE as malls, hotels and other business establishments put up Christmas decorations all over the city. Christmas carols waft through the air and business establishments cash in on the Christmas fervor by offering endless sales. Although there are still minor restrictions like churches are not allowed to have a cross structure on its façade (but other Christian symbols are allowed in the interior) and proselytizing, the UAE has showed the world that in diversity, there could be some form of unity wherein peaceful living could be achieved. The country’s leaders from the ruling family of Dubai, the Maktoums and the ruling family of Abu Dhabi, the Al Nahyans, have been called visionaries not only for making their country one of the richest countries in the world in only a span of 37 years, but for their vision of creating a society wherein Muslims, Christians, Hindus, Buddhists and people from other religions could live as one without hatred and fear. It is actually the late leader of Dubai, Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed Al Maktoum who donated the land where St. Mary’s Church was built and donated funds for its completion. Most of the priests in the seven Catholic churches in the UAE are from India and the Philippines. St. Mary’s Parish Priest is Father P.M. Peter and its famous Filipino priest is Father Zacarias Parra who is endearingly called Father Zaki by most parishioners. Along with other priests and sisters, they are responsible for holding masses and other Christian services like baptisms, weddings, catechisms and confessions. As thousands and thousands of Filipinos arrive in the UAE daily, the churches have become a refuge for OFWs as they fight homesickness and loneliness and live with the everyday struggles of living in a foreign land. Especially now as Christmas approaches, homesickness is at an all time high. But the “simbang gabi” keeps Filipinos and other Catholics with the renewed vigor and optimism they need to survive another year of being away from their loved ones. After hearing the midnight mass, they are even treated to “kakanin” being sold by fellow Filipinos. There are bibingka, suman and other Filipino native delicacies being sold inside and outside the church premises, really making Dubai and the other emirates their home away from home. For Cristy, she said, the only thing missing is to see small children singing Christmas carols in the streets and houses and to have her one and only son Adrian, a college student back home, to be with her this Yuletide season. But aside from this, she feels that the spirit of Christmas and the Catholic faith is very much alive in the UAE.
By Quay Evano FOR the first time in the history of overseas employment for Filipinos and perhaps a first in the Middle East and the rest of the world, a foundation has been created by the OFWs (in the UAE) for the OFWs (in the Middle East) -- to aid them during harsh financial times. The foundation was also created to promote entrepreneurship, to engage in fundraising activities, to give scholarships to children of low-income Filipino families and provide money to Filipinos stricken with life-threatening illnesses or who are victims of calamities and natural disasters. “The Filipino Expatriates in the UAE Foundation Inc., also known as FILEX Foundation was established so that in our own moments of personal need, we have a foundation we Filipino expats can easily go to for help. No one else can really help the OFWs but the OFWs themselves, so it is high time we start preparing ourselves for our future and supporting ourselves. Even if we are abroad, or back home in the Philippines, the foundation will become the common interest we will work for, to gather and to sustain and proudly say that it is our own charitable organization. There are so many charitable organizations in the Philippines but there is really none for the OFWs. Finally, there is one now,” Dick Orense, Chairman of the Interim Board of Trustees, said. The FILEX Foundation, which is a non-stock and non-profit corporation under the laws of the Philippines, was duly registered at and approved by the Securities and Exchange Commission in Manila on June 25, 2008. Membership is open to all Filipinos with a payment of a one-time fee of AED (Dirhams) 30 or US$ 8. Overseas Filipino Workers with a UAE residence visa need to pay a yearly fee of Dhs 15 for the group accident insurance security which covers accidental death, total accident disability, payment for medical fees and repatriation of remains to the Philippines. “We really aimed to have the lowest membership fee we could possibly have and the lowest insurance fee so that it will easy for our fellow Filipinos to become members because we know they work blood, sweat and tears for every dirham they earn here,” Orense said. One of the main purposes in creating the foundation is “to establish a funding facility whose capital fund, which to be known as the Foundation Capital Fund or FCF, is designed to grow and expand through time, with only its interests or earnings, to be known as the Foundation Disposable Fund or FDF, are utilized to assist the Filipino expatriates in the UAE or those who are no longer in the UAE and who are in great need for financial aid or help. This premise is what started the realization of a foundation for OFWs to happen. About five years ago, as the newly-appointed Philippine Ambassador to the UAE, Libran Cabactulan was approached by a Filipina, who had a terminal illness, asking for financial help. The Philippine Embassy and the whole Filipino community rallied to help her as much as they can but eventually and unfortunately, the Filipina died. But out of her death, the FILEX dream was born. “We ran out of time. That was our main problem. It took us a lot of time to get the money she required for her operation, it took time to make the Filipino community raise more funds, and time was something she didn’t have. I thought, if only we had enough money stored somewhere that will only be accessible for OFWs at any given time to help them, then we could stop this scenario from ever happening again. And there are so many of these kinds problems OFWs face everyday,” explained Ambassador Cabactulan. In 2004, Ambassador Cabactulan convened a meeting of Filipino community leaders in Abu Dhabi signifying his vision to form a body that would become an institution which every Overseas Filipino in need could access for support and assistance. In 2005, Filipino community leaders submitted their respective proposals and copies of their existing constitutions and by-laws followed up with regular meetings with the Ambassador. In 2006, Ambassador Cabactulan selected 21 Filcom leaders who were responsible for initiating and shaping the foundation. In 2007, the election for the Board of Trustees was held at the Ambassador’s residence and in 2008, FILEX deposited one million pesos as trust fund at the Land Bank of the Philippines as a requirement for registration as a non-stock and non-profit organization. “Assistance given by the government is not enough, especially with the fact that the numbers of Filipinos in the Middle East is growing by leaps and bounds. Five years ago, there was around 200,000 Filipinos in the UAE. Now we are more than 350,000. In Saudi Arabia, there are almost more than one million Filipinos now. I realized that there’s a great urgent need for adequate extra sufficient assistance to be accorded to the OFWs. I just felt that it was required for us Filipinos abroad to do something,” Ambassador Cabactulan said. “What we’re launching with FILEX is a process, a system that will evolve into an institution that’s long lasting, self-sustaining and durable. I conceived it but it now belongs to all Filipino expatriates. My dream is that every Filipino who will go abroad will become a member of FILEX so that they will have some sort of protection for we don’t know what lies in our future and what will happen to our lives in a foreign land. Filex Foundation is a “pader na masasandalan mo” in times of need,” Ambassador Cabactulan stressed. At present, the Filex Foundation has 1,600 members since the official launch in August but the officers’ goal is to reach 100,000 members within a year. The FILEX Foundation has already been praised by the UAE’s Minister of Social Affairs, Mariam Mohammed Khalfan al Roumi for its initiative in helping Filipinos in the country. The foundation has also created its own website. (Photos by Quay Evano)
By Quay Evano Bayanihan is one of the most powerful, strongest and nationalistic word in the Filipino language. It is one of those words that define the Filipino -- a must for his “Filipino-ness” to be complete. It has no literal counterpart in the English language but it can be defined as “working together towards a common goal for a compatriot or for the country.” The word evokes the image of camaraderie, responsibility, unity and sacrifice all done in the spirit of fun and nationalistic pride. And this imagery is precisely what was seen during the first-ever Bayanihan Festival organized by the leaders of the Filipino community in Dubai and the Northern Emirates headed by Engineer Orandantes Delizo, who has lived and worked in the UAE for more than two decades. It was held on December 6, 2008 at the Megabowl Amphitheater, Zabeel Park in Dubai with around 5,000 Filipinos from all over the UAE taking part including Filipino clubs and organizations, Filipino schools, and Filipino companies who helped the organizers in many aspects of the event. The whole day and evening affair started with a grand entrance of the national flags of the Philippines and the UAE and singing of the two country’s national anthems and followed by a parade of banners of the participating Filipino clubs and organizations, opening of the tiangge, and military, giving out of the Bayanihan Festival souvenir program, cheering squad, military silent drill and majorette exhibition performances. By afternoon several competitions were held, such as the kids chess, kite flying, lantern-making, group tent, kids ballroom and Palarong Pinoy contests. By nightfall onwards, there were a lot of song and dance performances such as cultural dances, Latin dance numbers by two Filipino dance clubs and a Christmas carol performance by the Christian Voices Chorale. Much-awaited also was the appearance of Filipino celebrities Mark Herras, Jennylyn Mercado and Mang Mike who were the invited guest stars near the end of the show. One of the highlights of the festival was the second job fair organized by the University of the Philippines Alumni Association UAE Chapter (UPAA UAE) for Filipinos who are looking for jobs, especially for those who have just arrived in the country on visit visas. Thousands of Filipinos arrived in Dubai everyday looking for greener pastures, one that they cannot find back home in the Philippines. But with the global recession happening in the world right now, many OFWs in the UAE were also affected with the downsizing of manpower in several construction companies, thus losing their jobs. So, several Filipinos who have been laid off from their companies headed to the job fair to be able to transfer to a new company before their work visa runs out, forcing them to return to the Philippines. Five Dubai-based companies participated in the job fair and these are Careertunity, Royal and Sun Alliance Insurance, Modern Freight, Wilbursmith Associates and Staff United. The Bayanihan festival opened at 9 a.m. but even as early as 6 am, people were already lining up for the job fair with around a total of 400 people handing out their CVs and applying to these companies at the end of the event. The first-ever Bayanihan Festival in the UAE proved that the Filipinos abroad can be one. Is a true testament to the Filipino expatriates’ resilience in the most trying of times and the never-ending belief that there is strength in national unity. The festival was supported and attended by Philippine Embassy officials in the UAE headed by Ambassador Libran Cabactulan and Consul General Benito Valeriano along with former Caloocan City Mayor Rey Malonzo who visited Dubai to talk about Philhealth. The proceeds of the festival will be going to the distressed wards at the POLO-OWWA in Dubai, the Filipino Expatriates in the UAE Foundation (FILEX), Gawad Kalinga 777, and the conflict-affected people in Mindanao. The festival was also held in celebration of the Muslim celebration Eid Al Fitr (December 7 to 9) and Christmas Day and New Year’s Day which are all celebrated in this liberal Islamic country. (Photos taken by Quay Evano. For more info and photos, you may visit www.bayanihanuae.org or http://quaynova.multiply.com/photos/album/17/UPAA_UAE_Job_Fair)
By Marjorie Gorospe Whatever is happening in America affects everyone. This is a bitter sweet reality of the globalization. This is also the reason why the world stopped to watch the US elections and subsequent victory of President-elect Barack Obama. Benjamin Pimentel, a reporter and Filipino immigrant in America, is one of the millions of Filipinos who got interested in the US elections. Seeing the possibility that for the first time in history an African American would be ruling the America, Pimentel wrote a book aptly titled, “Pareng Barack, Filipinos in Obama’ America.” Pareng Barack is a book about the reactions of Filipinos residing in America. The book is also a collection of stories Pimentel gathered from fellow Filipinos in America during the US Presidential campaign. Pimentel felt uncertain while writing the book. “It is a gamble whether he would win or not,” said Pimentel. It was also a challenge putting all the stories together and using the narrative style of writing. If Obama did not win the US Presidential elections, he would have just scratched the book project. Pimentel said “Pareng Barack” was the fastest book he has ever written, putting it all together in three weeks. His enthusiasm was boosted mainly by watching Obama’s campaign and his potential victory. Pareng Barack is a man of color and a representation of race precisely not of the dominant one. Many awaited his victory since his winning also means equality of races in America. Although race has always been tackled in other books, Pareng Barack’s discussion of race is filtered though the Filipino’s experience and his own experiences, Pimentel said. Pareng Barack’s victory is also seen as hope for everyone and Filipinos abroad. “A person of color, African American winning the presidency is something significant. As a Filipino immigrant and father of 2 Filipino-Americans; it is exciting in terms of how this change affect my sons' future,” Pimentel confessed. “There is this barrier, now a shattered wall which many people think would be shattered for many years,” he added. Pimentel’s book is now out in the bookstores nationwide.
By Marjorie Gorospe INQUIRER.net TAGUIG CITY, Philippines – A group composed of children of Filipino war veterans continue to fight for the benefits due them. Joining the celebration of Veteran’s Day at American Cemetery, the Philippine Veterans Legion (Sons and Daughters) (PLV) Laguna Chapter said they will persist on helping beneficiaries of the veterans during the World War II. The group was established in the 1980s but was only formally recognized last January 30, 2008. “We aim to unite the sons and daughters of veteran and so together we can combat for our benefits because of the sacrifices of our parents during the war,” said Carmelita Bumatay, president of the PLV Laguna Chapter. Bumatay recalls her father who served during the World War II. During the liberation in Laguna, her father, Lt. Jose Rodriguez Sr. was raising the flag not knowing that there were still enemies in the location. He got shot but managed to live. He later died of a disease. Bumatay now receives pension through the help of US Embassy and her organization but the fight is not over. “I only had mine but what about the others?” she added. Bumatay lamented that many people have already forgotten the Filipinos who fought with the American during the World War II. For the relatives of these war veterans, their bravery will never fade. Many relatives, however, are losing hope in getting the benefit they deserve. Bumatay said that due to the delay in the processing of benefits, some are falling to fixers who offer to facilitate the processing. Bumatay advised her fellow beneficiaries not to give up their right and join their organization.
By Marjorie Gorospe INQUIRER.net TAGUIG City, Philippines -- United States Ambassador Kristie Kenney together with some American and Filipino military dignitaries celebrated the Veteran’s Day at American Cemetery. “If not for their sacrifices, our nations will never be free. They are the reason why we can vote peacefully, freely and with excitement actually,” said Kenney who joined the honoring of the war veterans. Kenney said she appreciated the enduring friendship between Filipino and Americans, as she acknowledged Filipinos who served the Americans during the World War II. “My grandfather and father is also war veteran,” Kenney said, as she disclosed why this day was also close to her heart. In an interview with reporters, Kenney shared her excitement about the new government under President-elect Barack Obama. However, she stressed that she is waiting until January when Obama finally settles into the White House.