Saturday, August 30, 2008

Eugenia and Evelyn: Fellow OFWs

Eugenia Baja and Evelyn Milo were both Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs).

According to a Bulatlat news report, Eugenia Baja, 24, left the Philippines for Saudi Arabia on May 6, 2007. She went back home on June 12, 2008 in a cargo box. She was deployed by Aisis International Manpower, Inc. as a domestic helper although she had signed a contract as a patient server.

The cause of Eugenia’s death was uncertain. First, it was reported by the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) of the Philippine government that she had died of an illness. But later, the DFA claimed that she had committed suicide by hitting her head with bathroom tiles.

A Philippine Daily Inquirer report headlined its story that the family of Evelyn Milo, 24, did not believe her alleged suicide in Abu Dhabi, UAE on August 9, 2008. Her remains were flown back to the Philippines on August 19, 2008.

Evelyn, a saleslady in Abu Dhabi, allegedly jumped off from a building to her death. But her family told reporters that her body bore marks of foul play. They pointed out that if she had really jumped off from a tall building, her body wouldn’t be intact any more.

Mrs. Thelma Milo, Evelyn’s mother, protested indignantly that Bright International Manpower, the agency which recruited Evelyn, added insult to injury by offering her three hundred pesos!

Senator Manny Villar heard and immediately heeded Mrs. Thelma Milo’s heart-rending appeal for help on QTV Channel 11 so that she could bury her daughter. By inference, one could conclude that the DFA and the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) had been sleeping on the job. It is a reputation both offices do not endeavor to change.

Evelyn will be buried today, Saturday, August 30, at the Makati South Cemetery.

As an OFW myself, my heart goes out to Eugenia and to Evelyn. As a mother, I feel Mrs. Thelma Milo’s grief, indignation, and unspeakable pain.

If we had known one another, what would I have told Eugenia and Evelyn? What could I tell other women out there in Saudi Arabia, Abu Dhabi, Lebanon, Japan, Italy, Singapore, Israel, Hong Kong, etc.?

What must I tell everyone back home in the Philippines?

The OFW dream is not for everyone. For some, the OFW dream is a nightmare which choke them in their sleep. A new day never dawns for them. They leave the Philippines dreaming of a good life, but they come back with battered bodies, broken spirit, and shattered dreams.

Stop being a victim!

Stop being a victim of recruitment agencies, government offices, and foreign employers. Stop working as domestic helpers or whatever euphemism it’s called.

Stay in the Philippines!

Better be a poor mouse in your own country than a slave or an object in a foreign land!

Sunday, August 24, 2008

The Real Cha-cha Goal

by Artemio V. Panganiban
First Posted 20:12:00 08/16/2008
Former Chief Justice Artemio V. Panganiban has given Barangay OFW his kind permission to re-publish this article. You may reach CJ Panganiban at
“ALL SYSTEMS GO FOR CHA-CHA,” SCREAMED the headlines a few days ago.
“We advocate federalism as a way to ensure long-lasting peace in Mindanao,” President Macapagal-Arroyo told visiting Swiss President Pascal Couchepin.
Federalism Cha-cha? Obviously, the Palace is using the Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) negotiated in secret by the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) as the bogey to revive Charter change.
It is riding on the crest of Joint Resolution No. 10 sponsored by Sen. Aquilino Pimentel Jr., calling for the convening of a constituent assembly (Con-ass) to create 11 federal states in the Philippines.
Press Secretary Jesus Dureza said GMA was fully supporting federalism as the way to implement the GRP-MILF MOA creating the so-called Bangsamoro Juridical Entity (BJE). The BJE would be proposed as one of the 11 federated states. He flatly denied the “naughty insinuation that she is going for Charter change because she wants to extend her term of office.”

This denial is deceptively clever. Technically, GMA does not want a new term under the present presidential system. If, as sitting president, she were allowed by a Charter change to seek another term, she would then have to run a nationwide campaign for reelection. Given her abysmal public approval rating, she has no chance of being reelected even if she called 10 “Garcis.”

Parliamentary Cha-cha. Significantly, Dureza did not deny that GMA has long ago lusted for the parliamentary system. In fact, in 2006, her minions launched a rather crude people’s initiative for it. This was however rejected by the Supreme Court as a “gigantic fraud” on our people. Now, her surrogates are going for it again via the Con-ass. The parliamentary objective is the same, but the mode to achieve it has changed.

Understandably, GMA wants the parliamentary system so she could run in a much smaller constituency, a parliamentary district, and then retain power as prime minister of the Republic. Compared to a nationwide presidential vote, the parliamentary option is the much easier route for her to remain in reign.

Thus, in my columns on July 20 titled “Can GMA reign beyond 2010?” and July 27 titled “Can GMA win the Cha-cha war?” , I explained how the Con-ass could be convened, how the constitutionally required three-fourths vote could be skirted, how the counter-checking role of the Congress, Supreme Court and Commission on Elections could be surmounted, and how a two-year timeline could be attained.

If (a big if ) the parliamentary Cha-cha succeeds, the election in May 2010 would no longer be held to choose GMA’s successor as ordained by the present Constitution but to elect members of Parliament under the revised Charter. GMA would run for a parliamentary seat in Pampanga and then become prime minister.

Overzealous supporters may even include a Cha-cha provision canceling the 2010 elections altogether and naming simply all the present national officials (president, vice president, senators and representatives) as members of an Interim Parliament.
This subterfuge would assure GMA’s continuous reign without need of any election, whether national or local. Also, this no-el scenario will ensure the enthusiastic support of local officials who will themselves remain in office.

Complicated Cha-cha. Debating and explaining both federalism (to accommodate the GRP-MILF MOA) and parliamentarism (to extend GMA’s reign) would be complicated, confusing and time-consuming. Lawyers and political scientists know that these two concepts have many variations and ramifications that could indefinitely delay the Cha-cha.

True, federalism has many advantages. But it is equally true that the many federated states (like the United States, Canada, Mexico, Switzerland, Malaysia, etc.) do not practice it uniformly.
Neither is there a single parliamentary model. The parliamentary system in Great Britain is different from that in France, Italy and Japan. Given that GMA wants the Cha-cha to be completed before her term expires, there is simply no time for long, simultaneous debates on both federalism and parliamentarism.

Also, the GRP-MILF MOA is so riddled with incredible flaws that it would be more difficult to sell to our people than the parliamentary shift. The parliamentary Cha-cha merely seeks to alter the form of our government, but the MOA (which I shall discuss extensively at another time) proposes to dismember our territorial integrity and to scuttle our country’s sovereignty.
Again, while the MOA may be useful to revive the Cha-cha, it cannot last long as the reason for it. Hence, the federalism ploy would soon be dropped by GMA to focus on the Cha-cha’s parliamentary centerpiece. Of course, to prove the alleged urgency of Charter change, GMA needed to show the GRP-MILF MOA as Exhibit 1.
As I said in my two earlier pieces, nothing prevents the Con-ass—once convened—from dancing the parliamentary Cha-cha with soothing federal music. But we must never ever forget that the real reason for the shindig is the parliamentary swing.

Let us all face this monumental battle squarely. Abandon the pretension, double talk and deception. There is only one real goal for Charter change: to extend GMA’s reign beyond June 30, 2010. Let those who favor it be transparent. Let them remove their gloves. Let the oppositors bare their knuckles. And let the real Cha-cha bout begin.

Monday, August 18, 2008

To All Filipinos Everywhere

by Dina Sembrano
Ang Kapatiran Party, Philippines
This article was originally published in the website of Ang Kapatiran Party (AKP) on February 19, 2008 (Manila time). Mr. Eric Manalang, President of AKP, has given Barangay OFW his kind permission to re-publish this article. You may reach Mr. Manalang at
I used to think that corruption and criminality in the Philippines were caused by poverty. But recent events tell me this isn't true. It is one thing to see people turn into drug addicts, prostitutes, thieves and murderers because of hunger and poverty, but what excuse do these rich, educated people have that could possibly explain their bizarre behavior?
And to think I was always so relieved when petty snatchers got caught and locked away in jail because I never fully realized that the big time thieves were out there, making the laws and running our country. Can it get any worse than this?
Every night, I come home and am compelled to turn on my TV to watch the latest turn of events. I am mesmerized by these characters. They are not men. They are caricatures of men - too unreal to be believable and too bad to be real. To see these "honorable" crooks lambast each other, call each one names, look each other in the eye and accuse the other of committing the very same crimes that they themselves are guilty of, is so comical and appalling that I don't know whether to laugh or cry. It is entertainmentat its worst!
I have never seen so many criminals roaming around unfettered and looking smug until now. These criminals wear suits and barongs, strut around with the confidence of the rich and famous, inspire fear and awe from the very citizens who voted them to power, bear titles like "Honorable", "Senator", "Justice", "General", and worse, "President".
Ironically, these lawless individuals practice law, make our laws, enforce the law. And we wonder why our policemen act the way they do! These are their leaders, and the leaders of this nation Robin Hoodlum and his band of moneymen. Their motto? "Rob the poor, moderate the greed of the rich."
It makes me wonder where on earth these people came from, and what kind of upbringing they had to make them act the way they do for all the world to see. It makes me wonder what kind of schools they went to, what kind of teachers they had, what kind of environment would produce such creatures who can lie, cheat and steal from an already indebted country and from the impoverished people they had vowed to serve.
It makes me wonder what their children and grandchildren think of them, and if they are breeding a whole new generation of improved Filipino crooks and liars with maybe a tad more style but equally negligible conscience. Heaven forbid!
I am an ordinary citizen and taxpayer. I am blessed to have a job that pays for my needs and those of my family's, even though 30% of my earnings go to the nation's coffers. Just like others in my lot, I have complained time and again because our government could not provide enough of the basic services that I expect and deserve. Rutty roads, poor educational system, poor social services, poor health services, poor everything.
But I have always thought that was what all third world countries were all about, and my complaints never amounted to anything more. And then this. Scandalous government deals. Plundering presidents pointing fingers. Senators associated with crooks. Congressmen who accept bribes. Big time lawyers on the side of injustice. De Venecia ratting on his boss only after his interminable term has ended, Enrile inquiring about someone's morality!
The already filthy rich Abalos and Arroyo wanting more money than they or their great grandchildren could ever spend in a lifetime. Joker making a joke of his own "pag bad ka, lagot ka!" slogan. Defensor rendered defenseless. Gen. Razon involved in kidnapping. Security men providing anything but a sense of security.
And it's all about money, money, money that the average Juan de la Cruz could not even imagine in his dreams. Is it any wonder why our few remaining decent and hardworking citizens are leaving to go work in other countries? And worst of all, we are once again saddled with a power-hungry president whose addiction has her clinging on to it like barnacle on a rusty ship.
"Love (of power) is blind" takes a whole new meaning when PGMA time and again turns a blind eye on her husband's financial deals. And still blinded with all that is happening, she opts to traipse around the world with her cohorts in tow while her country is in shambles.
They say the few stupid ones like me who remain in the Philippines are no longer capable of showing disgust. I don't agree. Many like me feel anger at the brazenness of men and women (Ed.) we call our leaders, embarrassment to share the same nationality with them, frustration for our nation and helplessness at my own ineffectuality.
It is not that I won't make a stand. It is just that I am afraid my actions would only be futile. After all, these monsters are capable of anything. They can hurt me and my family. They already have, though I may not yet feel it. But I am writing this because I need to do something concrete. I need to let others know that ordinary citizens like me do not remain lukewarm to issues that would later affect me and my children.
I want to make it known that there are also Filipinos who dream of something better for the Philippines. I want them to know that my country is not filled with scalawags and crooks in every corner, and that there are citizens left who believe in decency, fairness, a right to speak, a right to voice out ideas, a right to tell the people we have trusted to lead us that they have abused their power and that it is time for them to step down.
I refuse to let this country go to hell because it is the only country I call mine and it is my responsibility to make sure I have done what I could for it. Those of us who do not have the wealth, power or position it needs to battle the evil crime lords in the government can summon the power of good.
We can pray. We can do this with our families every night. We can offer petitions every time we celebrate mass. We can ask others to pray, too, including relatives and friends here and overseas. And we can offer sacrifices along with our petitions, just so we get the message to Him of our desperation in ridding our nation of these vermin.
After all, they cannot be more powerful than God! I implore mothers out there to raise your children the best way you can. Do not smother, pamper, or lavish them with too much of the material comforts of life even if you can well afford them. Teach them that there are more important things in this world.
I beg all fathers to spend time with their children, to teach them the virtues of hard work, honesty, fair play, sharing, dignity and compassion "right from the sandbox" till they are old enough to go on their own.
Not just in your homes, but at work, in school, everywhere you go. Be good role models. Be shining examples for your children so they will learn to be responsible adults who will carry and pass on your family name with pride and honor.
I call on educators and teachers. We always underestimate the power of your influence on the minds of our youth. Encourage them to be aware of what is happening in their surroundings. Instill in them a love of their country, inculcate in them the value of perseverance in order to gain real, worthwhile knowledge, help us mold our children into honorable men and women.
Encourage our graduates, our best and brightest, to do what they can to lift this country from the mire our traditional politicians have sunk us into. The youth is our future and it would be largely because of you, our educators, that we will be able to repopulate the seats of power with good leaders, presidents, senators, congressmen, justices, lawmakers, law enforcers and lawful citizens.
I ask all students, young people and young professionals everywhere, to look around and get involved in what is happening. Do not let your youth be an excuse for failure to concern yourselves with the harsh realities you see. But neither let this make you cynical, because we need your idealism and fresh perspective just as you need the wisdom of your elders.
YOUR COUNTRY NEEDS YOU! Let your voices be heard. Do what you can for this land that gave you your ancestors and your heritage. Use technology and all available resources at hand to spread good. Text meaningful messages to awaken social conscience. Try your best to fight moral decay because I promise you will not regret it when you become parents yourselves.
You will look back at your past misdeeds and pray that your children will do better than you did. Remember that there are a few handful who are capable of running this country. You can join their ranks and make their numbers greater. We are tired of the old trapos. We need brave idealistic leaders who will think of the greater good before anything else.
I voted for Atty. Martin Bautista and his team and I sure hope they will run again. Do your utmost to excel in your chosen field. Be good lawyers, civil servants, accountants, computer techs, engineers, doctors, military men so that when you are called to serve in government, you will have credibility and a record that can speak for itself.
For love of this country, for the future of our children, for the many who have sacrificed and died to uphold our rights and ideals, I urge you to do what you can. As ordinary citizens, we can do much more for the Philippines than sit around and let crooks lead us to perdition. We owe ourselves this. And we owe our country even more.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Manny Villar leads 17 outstanding entrepreneurs

by Domini M. Torrevillas
"From the Stands,"
Philippine Star

This article was originally published in the Philippine Star on August 7, 2008 (Manila time). Ms. Torrevillas has given Barangay OFW her kind permission to re-publish this article. She is a columnist of the Philippine Star, a leading broadsheet in the Philippines. You may reach Ms. Torrevillas at

Sen. Manny Villar gave the awards to the country’s 17 outstanding entrepreneurs over the weekend at what is now called Laurel Mansion on Shaw boulevard, Mandaluyong City, over the weekend. The awards were a centennial gift of the Nacionalista Party dubbed Pondo sa Sipag, Puhunan sa Tiyaga.

The awardees came from different regions across the country and chosen from thousands of entries, and each of them received P100,000 and a statuette. Senator Villar, who is president of the Nacionalista Party, said, “We give due recognition to our entrepreneurs who have exemplified the Filipino spirit of excellence and resilience in their respected fields even amid trying times.”

The party and the Sipag at Tiyaga Foundation joined hands to realize the party’s vision of propelling entrepreneurs through the Pondo sa Sipag initiative. It was at the party’s 100th year celebration held at the Philippine International Convention Center in November last year that the nationwide search for the most promising and innovative entrepreneurs was launched.

The winners, coming from different regions of the country, are: Sarah Dabucon and Margarita Allado from Region 1; Albino Francisco, Calma Arcala, Albert Dulnuan, Elizabeth Africano and Solomon Maylem from Region 2; Pacifico dela Cruz from Region 3 and Antonia Villanueva from Region 4; Marianne Olano from Region 5; Roland Madera from Region 6; Lucresia Saga from Region 7; Elizabeth Rafal from Region 12; Ernesto and Alicia Paglinawan from the CARAGA Region, and Marie Saclag and Regina Mado from CAR.

Now, why am I saying that the senator headed the 17 outstanding entrepreneurs? The reason is that he embodies the traits of sipag (industry) and tiyaga (patience), among others. At the awards dinner, he proudly recounted his journey from a seafoods vendor in Tondo to office employee to distributor of gravel and sand to builder of possibly the country’s biggest number of low-cost and middle-cost housing projects, and although he did not say it, to become one of the most wealthy of the country’s legislators. He said that what he has become has been due to industry, patience, humility and innovativeness.

At the awards dinner, the winners were given cash awards of P100,000 each, to encourage them by providing them with additional capital. As Senate President Villar told the audience that packed the historic Laurel mansion, “We expect their (the awardees) feats in this nationwide search will serve to inspire our countrymen to follow their lead and take the path of entrepreneurship to spur the economy.”

Due to space constraints, I’m writing very brief sketches on how the entrepreneurs started their businesses. They share similar experiences of facing difficulties and making their businesses grow — from very little capital.

* * *

A native of Binamar, Banna, Ilocos Norte, Sarah Dabucon’s husband abandoned her and their three children. In 2002, with a seed capital of P5,000, she started a home-based enterprise producing rice coffee and soya coffee. Her business, SCUFYND (an acronym of the three names of her sons), is now a success, netting P308,688 last year.

With an initial capital of P10,000, Margarita Allado, once a domestic helper in Hong Kong, put up a small sari-sari store in Currimao, Ilocos Norte. Her business, which she and her husband run, has expanded to include a fish cage business, cattle-fattening, swine production, and rice and vegetable farming.

From Region 2 comes the winner, Albino Francisco, of Maura, Aparri, Cagayan. His small refrigeration and airconditioning shop, is used by TESDA students for their training. His 25 years in the business may not have much financial reward, but it has helped him and his wife raise their family.

No. 4 awardee Calma O. Arcala, a graduate of agriculture from Benguet State University in Mt. Province, and her husband started their mushroom culture business with an initial capital of P85,000. Cali’s Mushroom Farm in Solano, Nueva Vizcaya, netted them P190,000 in 2007.

Albert Dulnuan, an Ifugao by birth, is a retired teacher, a former principal of a public high school, and a former municipal councilor. He started the A.B. Dulnuan Rattan Seedling Nursery and Plantation, which raises rattan seedlings at an average of 100,000 seedlings each year. Clients include farmers and provincial governments, and Albert’s farm is being used as a venue for practicum on rattan propagation by agriculture students.

At age 56, Elizabeth Franco Africano, a school teacher, and her two sisters opened Franco’s Café in Cauayan City. The café introduced the first Italian, Mexican and Mediterranean cuisine in the city, and meals without rice consisting of pasta, pizza, salads and deli-sandwiches as well as local delicacies. The café’s success gave way to social responsibility by its employing city health volunteer workers as part-time sales ladies in its outlet at the Pasalubong Center, and segregating and recycling waste materials in its good environment program.

* * *

Dr. Solomon Maylem of Malvar, Santiago City, a veterinary doctor by training, runs an edible mushroom business which earns him P10,000 a day. In his farm he also raises super sweet corn, giant tomatoes, sorghum and lettuce and high variety fruits and vegetables. He has adopted the slogan, FAITH, meaning Food Always in the Home.

From Region 3 is winner Pacifico dela Cruz, 54, a native of Plaridel, Bulacan, who started his itikan (wild-duck poultry) with only 185 ducklings. At present he has more than 3,000 ducks in his farm. His itlog na maalat is very popular for its outstanding taste.

(This article has a second part. As of post time, however, it is not yet available. Ed.)

Monday, August 11, 2008

A Joyous Evening with James Skinner

by Carmelita C. Ballesteros

When I woke up on the twentieth of June, I prayed for a marvelous and magnificent day. I knew it was going to be a long day because I had several appointments to keep plus an evening talk (7:30 – 9:30 p.m.) by James Skinner.

Who’s he? The e-mailed invitation from Wendy Kwek, co-founder of Executive Directions in Singapore, said that James Skinner is a multimillionaire and business builder. Currently, he’s involved in the online business, YouPublish, with his business partners Mark Victor Hansen (co-creator of Chicken Soup for the Soul series) and Roice Krueger (Founder of listed company, Franklin Covey).

The end-of-the-week talk was free and there was going to be a buffet dinner, also free! So what have I got to lose? Some sleep, that’s all. (I’m a morning person.)

After a warm and brief introduction, James Skinner strode to the front of the seminar room with about 80 attendees. The audience gave him a long and hearty applause. Obviously, they knew him although I didn’t.

What was joyous about the evening?
First, James Skinner radiated joy. He grinned boyishly as he greeted all of us. He laughed at himself, laughed at his jokes, and laughed with the audience. He exuded a childlike curiosity and sense of adventure.

Second, he didn’t give a talk, he didn’t give a lecture, and he didn’t read from a powerpoint presentation. Instead, he told stories which were humorous, suspenseful, and inspiring. I cannot tell if they were true, but they were definitely energizing and invigorating, considering my biorhythm.
Here are some snippets from James Skinner’s talk:
He began by asking, “What is the biggest company in the world?” After several wrong guesses from the audience, he said it is VISA card. Each employee of VISA brings in a revenue of US$1 billion per year! James said, “Money is not real. You can make as much as you want. You can make as much as you can imagine.”
To illustrate imagination in wealth creation, James told us the story of his friend Peter who was bankrupt. Peter told himself that it was a good excuse to build all over again. So he browsed the web and decided to start rebuilding his life by buying a penthouse although he was flat broke. (laughter)
Peter called the real estate agent and asked what it would take to own the penthouse. The agent said, “One hundred thousand dollars in 24 hours as non-refundable deposit. One million dollars in 12 weeks.”
Since Peter was penniless, he mortgaged his mother’s house and paid the US$100,000 deposit on his penthouse. How was he going to make one million dollars in 12 weeks?
Peter was in London at the time, so he paced the streets of London, convinced that there was a way to make one million dollars in 12 weeks. He just didn’t know how. (laughter)
He chanced upon a sizeable vacant piece of land and asked the owner how much the selling price was. The owner said, “one million pounds.”
Peter said, “I’ll buy it at one-and-a-half million pounds.”
The owner said again, “I’m selling it at one million pounds.” (laughter)
Peter said again, “I’m buying it at one-and-a-half million pounds. Give me 12 weeks to close,” said Peter.
“Done,” said the owner.
So now, Peter had a sizeable vacant piece of land, but he must produce one-and-a- half million pounds in 12 weeks to close the sale.
Peter knew there was a way. He just didn’t know how. (laughter)
So he paced the streets of London some more. He noticed that there were many Chinese immigrants in London. He phoned a friend to ask about the culture of the Chinese people. His friend said the Chinese love the number 8.
“Eureka!” Peter divided his sizeable vacant piece of land into eight by eight parcels and sold them at eight thousand pounds apiece to the Chinese. He made himself enough money to pay the owner of the land, pay for his penthouse in full, redeem the mortgage on his mother’s house, and do other things he loved.
James, buoyed by the energy of the audience, continued with another fascinating story. He said a friend of his was bidding to create the Tokyo Disneyland. To win the bid, his friend needed US$500 million. Let’s call his friend Victor.
So Victor went to a bank and asked the president to lend him US$500 million so that Tokyo Disneyland might become a reality. The bank president signed the check pronto!
James went on telling inspiring success stories till ten in evening, 30 minutes longer than the announced time frame. But the audience was so animated that we could have stayed till midnight.
The third reason it was a joyous evening was that James made frequent summaries of the lessons he was teaching in short, catchy sentences:
  • Money follows guts. (the most important lesson)
  • Treat people well.
  • If you want a different answer, ask a different question.
  • If you want a different result, do something different.
  • Find someone who has the capability to say yes to your request.
  • Big people want to be part of big ideas.
  • If you’ve ever been a dissatisfied customer, then you have a million-dollar idea.
  • Implement your own idea.
  • Banks need people who need money!
  • Contribute to humanity in bigger and better ways.
  • Stop watching TV. Get a life.
  • Time management is doing less things. Work on what matters.
  • Focus is the challenge.
  • The solution to every problem is the same. Make more resources available.
  • Create a great company culture by celebrating people’s achievements.

Speaking of people’s achievements, how did James Skinner and his partners Mark Victor Hansen and Roice Krueger celebrate the birth of their latest big idea, YouPublish? How did they show their development team that their impossible feat of creating YouPublish in 97 days was deeply appreciated?

James said that he and everyone involved in the project, including their families, had a wacko party. As the party began, he announced that his five-geek development team survived on pizza while working on the project.

And so they’re going to celebrate by having some more pizza! On cue, waiters came in carrying boxes of pizza which they presented to the development team. Each of the five geeks opened his/her box of pizza and saw that it contained envelopes with a picture of pizza on it.

Were they going to eat pictures of pizza? Each of the five geeks opened an envelope gingerly. Wow! Each envelope contained 25 Benjamins (one-hundred dollar bills) in cold cash!

James didn’t say how many envelopes there were in each box…

Copyright © 2008 to Barangay OFW. All rights reserved.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Alternative Insurance, Anyone?

by Freddie P. Base
Riyadh, Saudi Arabia
The heading I believe will be more interesting if I tell you the story of two employees working in the same department of an insurance company in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. Both suffered from medical conditions which required the support of their medical insurance coverage.

Danilo Pagdanganan
Company: The National Company for Cooperative Insurance
Location: Riyadh, Saudi Arabia

Diagnosed with colon cancer
Medical Insurance coverage: SR100,000 per annum
Life Insurance Coverage: 36 months of basic salary
Died: August, 2004
Danilo's medical surgery including radiotherapy and chemotherapy had exceeded the SR100,000 per annum limit. In a very rare circumstance, the employer approved the continuity of his chemotheraphy and radiotheraphy sessions beyond the medical insurance limit. Estimated additional expenses had reached more than SR30,000 when the patient died of cancer-related complications.

Danilo's remains were repatriated to the Philippines after 21 days. This was considered by many as faster than any known repatriation recorded in Saudi Arabia. The average number of days to repatriate a cadaver takes about three months to process. The procedure is indeed time- consuming owing to the many governmental procedures one has to follow in getting the required documents and approval.
Life Insurance Benefit

Danilo's surviving wife and three adult children each received US$16,320 being the equivalent of Danilo's 36 months salary as indicated in his life insurance coverage in case of death.

OWWA Insurance Benefit

Danilo's beneficiaries received from OWWA the maximum Php100,000 being his insurance coverage in case of death.
Freddie P. Base
This is me telling you my story.
Company: The National Company for Cooperative Insurance
Location: Riyadh, Saudi Arabia

Diagnosed with Acute Myocardiac Infarction
Medical Insurance coverage: SR250,000 per annum
Life Insurance Coverage: 36 months of basic salary

Early morning of December 10, 2006, I felt a pain in my left neck while applying body lotion after a morning shower. It was a cold day and I thought I would have a stiff neck (as usual during winter) the whole day.

Getting out of the bathroom and putting my clothes on in preparation to getting to work, my stiff neck became a stab-like pain in my back just opposite my heart. I thought it was a really cold day and so I asked my house mate to rub my back with vicks vaporub.

Suddenly, I started to sweat profusely and my hands became almost numb and too weak to hold anything. I realized that I wouldn’t be able to drive myself so I asked my house mate to call our neighbor to take me to the nearest hospital.

I had the feeling that I was having a heart attack, judging from my symptoms which I had read about from the Internet. I started coughing loudly (as recommended to a person having a heart attack) and managed to guide my driver-neighbor to the nearest hospital.

The emergency room was immediately filled with doctors and nurses in seconds. The attending doctor announced my condition: Acute Myocardiac Infarction. One nurse was yelling my blood pressure at 70 over 40 while another nurse yelled that my temperature was no more than 30 celsius. I heard the doctor instructing another nurse to administer morphine. The nurse’s face was contorted and she advised me to hang on. From her looks, I told myself I was dying.

With God's blessing, I survived the ordeal. I underwent angio-plasty surgery. The medical bill cost more than US$10,000, all paid for by my medical insurance. I was discharged from the hospital after 7 days with life-time prescription of medicine worth no less than Php500 daily. Without the medical insurance coverage, which OFW will survive spending at least the equivalent of Php15k per month?

Both stories above tell you of one similarity: availment of medical insurance coverage in the country of work. While one succumbed to cancer, another lived to tell these stories. Both were recipients of a comprehensive medical insurance. I could have died without my medical insurance coverage. Both of us had the same life insurance policies. For the late Danilo, his beneficiaries were able to receive the much needed money in times of grief. With the payout, his beneficiaries have continued to live a normal life.

In contrast, there are many cases reported in the newspapers and media of OFWs who had died because they did not have the kind of insurance to cover the medical and hospital bills during confinement. Sad to say, these cases go on and on until today.

What must the OFW do? What must be done today? What is Alternative Insurance?
Group Insurance Policy

With an ordinary income, insurance premium if taken individually will cost too much for any OFW. Also, the benefits depend on how much premium is paid to the insurance company. Low premium means less benefit. More premiums paid mean more benefits.

If grouped together into a single policy, the premium cost decreases as the number of insured increases while retaining the same benefits for every member. This is called group insurance policy – a group of individuals duly insured in a single policy but having each insured receiving the same insurance benefit.

With this concept, the OFWs can group themselves together and apply for a group insurance policy. In the Philippines there are insurance companies which accept the concept of group insurance policy and insure a group of individuals with common benefits. If you cannot afford as OFW an individual insurance policy, try and get this group insurance with less premium yet with the same benefits if you were to pay for a single policy.

But why get another insurance policy? Is this not provided by the Overseas Worker Welfare Administration (OWWA)? What about Philippine Health Insurance Corporation (Philhealth)?
The Real Score about OWWA and… Philhealth

The Overseas Workers and Welfare Administration (OWWA) has never been an insurance company. It was a government agency formerly known as the Welfare and Training Fund for Overseas Workers created by law (presidential decree). Renamed as OWWA, it was expanded to provide for compulsory Medicare coverage which was later transferred to Philhealth, another agency created out of OWWA funds.

Originally envisioned by the government, OWWA imposes the US$25 contribution from the employer of every Filipino (the Overseas Filipino Worker or OFW) going out of the Philippines to work abroad. However, this amount has been shouldered by the OFWs because no foreign employer can be fooled to pay this mandatory fee to the Philippine government yearly or every contract renewal of the OFW.

The US$25 constitutes the fund which in the original omnibus policy shall be used exclusively for the benefit of the OFW. The fund has grown into hundreds of millions of pesos according to the latest claim by several NGOs notably Migrante International.
Sad to say, being a government agency, OWWA is subservient to the whims and caprices of the government bureaucracy. It is said that the OWWA fund can be diverted easily with mandate from the Office of the President as in the case of the creation of Philhealth.

One of the objectives of OWWA reads: To provide social and welfare services to OFWs, including insurance, social, work assistance, legal assistance, cultural services, and remittance services. Its quality policy says: OWWA measures its worth by total member-OFW satisfaction with timely interventions and quality standards set forth.

While insurance is one of OWWA's objectives, it has never been properly administered and the benefits have never been paid consistently by its management. There isn’t any OFW who can unconditionally claim being satisfied with the services provided by OWWA.

Let’s take the case of a very recent tragic incident.

Eugenia Baja’s death and much-delayed repatriation of remains were featured in the media and leading newspapers in June 2008. Reading this kind of news always breaks my heart -- not so much the sad story of the death of Baja but the delayed repatriation of her remains. Let's face it, death in whatever form – tragic or natural - is inevitable.
It is a pity the following should happen first before the remains of Baja could be transported back to the Philippines. As gathered from the news:

1. Lilibeth Baja-Garcia followed up the repatriation of her sister’s remains with the
Overseas Workers Welfare Association (OWWA) and the Department of Foreign Affairs
for three months to no avail.

2. When Garcia felt that her pleas were being ignored, she brought along representatives
from the 700 Club, a news talk show of the Christian Broadcasting Network.

3. ...because of the presence of media, OWWA officials immediately promised to give them
P20,000 ($450.349 at an exchange rate of $1=P44.41) for burial expenses, and a
P100,000 ($2,251.745) life insurance policy... The OWWA also gave them a direct contact
number to a certain Ed Lamparas who is working in the Philippine Embassy in Riyadh.

In her own words, Garcia summarized it: “Nag-iiba sila kapag may kasama kang media. Samantalang dati pinabalik-balik pa nila ako."

And do we have to add political color in the midst of grief?

4. …through the help of Migrante International, an organization of OFWs and their families,
Lilibeth Baja-Garcia was able to ask Senate President Manny Villar for assistance. Villar
gave money for the plane tickets of Garcia and two other relatives going to Bohol for
Baja’s wake. Congressman Edgar Chato of Bohol promised to shoulder the funeral
expenses for Baja.
5. Gladys Garcia from the legal department of Senate President Manny Villar was able to
negotiate with the NAIA administration to allow the relatives to fetch the casket.

What’s the real score?

We cannot change OWWA - how it is managed the way we would like it to be managed. It is not an insurance company that can invest the premiums collected in order to sustain claims when due. Because it is not an insurance company, OWWA cannot issue an insurance policy. Thus, the payment of benefits can be subjected to discretion by any OWWA personnel. This has been proven many times and only corrected (if ever) when exposed to media scrutiny.

With alternative insurance, OFWs will be assured of a well-managed, competitive premium payment, on one hand, and the insurance benefits consistently and uniformly applied to all members unlike with OWWA.

Worldwide Insurance

What is worldwide insurance? How is this made possible? How can the ordinary OFW be assured that his alternative insurance will have a worldwide coverage?

In every insurance contract, a premium is paid for by the insured to cover a certain risk which is assumed by the insurer. The premium, as we know of, is way below the assumed risk. The best example here is the OWWA contribution of US$25 (premium) with a return maximum claim (assumed risk) of Php100,000 in the event of death by the insured OFW.

In the case of OWWA, the individual contribution of US$25 is deposited in any accredited bank inside the Philippine territory and is expected to grow into millions what with contributions pouring in from millions of OFWs every year.

With this system, the funds remain inside the Philippine territory and the assumed risk is totally absorbed by OWWA itself. In the event of a catastrophe, this system will not be able to sustain a very large loss of the OFW population.

So how do you make the US$25 get a worldwide coverage?

If managed by a private insurance company, part of the US$25 would be paid as re-insurance premium to an insurance broker with worldwide acceptance among the leading re-insurers outside the Philippines. This is called re-insurance contract.

The concept of re-insurance is to spread the risk so that in the event of a claim, every member of the re-insurance contract will have to share the burden of claims payment. In a very competitive insurance market, we can expect any local insurance company to provide the best and most efficient management of claims applied for by the beneficiaries.

In the US, every citizen is encouraged to buy medical insurance coverage. Most often than not, hospitals do not accept payment in cash but prefer medical insurance to cover patient's hospital bills. Cash is accepted to pay for hospital service that is not covered by the medical insurance. For added premium, repatriation of remains is included in the coverage.

In Saudi Arabia, the government has made it compulsory for all employers to provide free medical health insurance coverage to all employees effective 2005. This compulsory medical insurance covers Saudis and Non-Saudis; thus, making this country the leader in terms of providing free medical insurance to its workforce in the Middle East. Lucky employees are provided an additional free life insurance coverage by large companies.

If such worldwide insurance coverage is possible in countries like Saudi Arabia, it is also possible to have this kind of insurance coverage in the Philippines.

What is Alternative Insurance with worldwide coverage?

An alternative insurance coverage is another insurance premium paid for by the OFW to secure insurance coverage both for himself/herself and family. The benefit is worldwide and covers OFW repatriation (dead or alive). It will include the medical health benefits of the family in the Philippines during the tenure of the OFW working overseas. After the long sojourn, the OFW may opt to continue the coverage while re-integrating himself/herself and may have the option to terminate the insurance coverage at any point in time.

Before working overseas, an OFW should buy this special kind of insurance so that in the event of death or when incapacitated, it is the insurance company that will work toward the fulfillment of the claim applied for by the OFW or the beneficiary.

In the Philippines, there is an actuarial study (feasibility study) being conducted by one of the biggest insurance companies providing this kind of alternative insurance cover for OFWs. The study is considering payment of affordable premium similar to the payment of US$25 while the benefits triple or quadruple the benefits you get from OWWA.

If this alternative insurance cover is realized, OWWA's term will have to end and instead a more responsive and competitive insurance scheme will take place. OFWs will embrace the alternative insurance. NGOs will request the government to discontinue the existence of OWWA.

With the alternative insurance, OFWs wherever they may be deployed, will have the comforting thought that come what may, during their tenure in their country of work, their loved ones left in the Philippines will be supported financially.

Unlike with Eugenia Baja's remains that had to wait for political and financial patronage in order to be repatriated, beneficiaries of a worldwide insurance coverage only need to submit the required documentation by the insurance company located in the Philippines and wait for the OFW’s remains to be delivered at the beneficiary's doorstep.

And unlike with OWWA, the beneficiaries need not beg. They need not wait for three months or more. They need not go to the Department of Foreign Affairs for assistance. They need not employ tactics like contacting media to get the attention of the government authorities.

Copyright © 2008 to Barangay OFW. All rights reserved.