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Filipina DH admits stealing $538,500 from employer’s bank account

Posted on 27 July 2021 No comments

By Vir B. Lumicao

Jennie Garaza stole the money from her employer over 14 months through ATM withdrawals 

 A Filipina domestic admitted today, Jul 27, that she stole a total of $538,500 from her male employer by making unauthorized withdrawals from his bank account over a 14-month period until Jan 21 this year.

June Jennie B. Garaza, 33, pleaded guilty to a charge of theft in Eastern Magistracy six months after the offense was discovered by her 55-year-old American employer, Stephen Peeples, a lawyer.


Magistrate Peony Wong scheduled the defendant’s sentencing on Aug 11.  

Garaza’s admission came after Peeples confirmed unauthorized withdrawals from his account between Nov 21, 2019 and Jan 21 this year totaled $650,500.

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The employer further cut $112,000 from the amount, representing the helper’s $5,000 monthly salary and $3,000 monthly household expenses for 14 months.

After reviewing his bank statements, the employer stated he could easily pinpoint his own withdrawals because he always withdrew amounts ending in $900 so he would have $100 banknotes.


Originally, he claimed to have lost $750,000 in unauthorized withdrawals to Garaza.

Among the evidence presented in court was a CCTV record tracing of all ATM withdrawals from the account from Dec 1, 2020 to Jan 21 this year, which showed the defendant taking a total of $129,500 within this period alone.


Earlier on-site video recordings of withdrawals were no longer available.

Peeples hired Garaza as his domestic helper in January 2017.  Two years later he gave her his Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corp ATM card and password so she could withdraw her salary and household expenses from the account.

The employer entrusted his ATM card to Garaza for household expenses

The helper had to seek his permission and show receipts of her household expenditure each time she withdrew from the account, the prosecution said. Peeples seldom used the HSBC ATM card as he had his credit card to pay for his expenses.
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The prosecution said Peeples, who was identified earlier as a Frenchman, discovered the theft on Jan 21 when he logged into his e-banking account and saw an unauthorized $3,500 withdrawal.

The employer confronted Garaza and, on the same day, the helper admitted she had been making unauthorized withdrawals from his account. They talked about a possible solution the next day, during which the helper admitted her guilt on a voice recording.

The prosecution said Garaza told her employer she had been sending the money to the Philippines to pay for debt she incurred for the medical costs of her mother, who eventually died of cancer.

Shortly after she was charged with theft in late January, her husband Kevin Luga who also used to work for Peeples, accused the employer of making up trumped allegations against his wife in the TV and online show “Isumbong mo Kay Tulfo”.

Luga, who was dismissed by the employer shortly after Garaza’s arrest, claimed Peeples had been upset with the $17,850 that Luga’s wife had paid using the ATM card, for the hotel bill he and their young son incurred for quarantine after they arrived from Manila on Jan 18.

Luga insisted his wife had used all the money she took from Peeple’s account for her salary and household expenses.


1 imported Covid-19 case is vaccinated and has variant

Posted on No comments

By The SUN

The infected man had his vaccine shots in HK in April and May this year

Another local resident who had completed his two jabs of the BioNTech vaccine in Hong Kong has flown in with coronavirus infection, according to staff at the Centre for Health Protection.


The 37-year-old man who came via Swissair Flight LX138 on Jul 25 was also found to carry the L452 strain commonly linked to the Delta variant of the coronavirus.

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The man, whose infection was confirmed today, Jul 27, reported developing symptoms on Jul 24.

CHP said the patient received his BioNTech shots on Apr 12 and May 3 in Hong Kong. He had been to Spain and Switzerland during the incubation period.

People aged 70 and above can get inoculated without an appointment from tomorrow

Meanwhile, starting tomorrow, people aged 70 or above will be able to receive coronavirus vaccines without having to make a prior booking under a scheme aimed at boosting their low inoculation rate.


The government announced today that 4,500 tickets will be issued each day to the elderly, who can use them to get vaccinated at a set time on that day.


The tickets will be distributed at 7:45am each day at all 24 community vaccination centres on a first-come, first-served basis.

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Most vaccination centers will have an allotment of 200 tickets each, but the smaller ones like in Tung Chung and the airport, will only get 100 tickets.

The elderly can send someone to pick up their pass on their behalf so they will not have to queue up. After vaccination, they will be told when they can have their second jab.

The government plans to extend the benefit to those aged 60 and above later.



FDWs can’t demand payment for unspent annual leave, says Labour Dept

Posted on No comments

By Daisy CL Mandap 

FDWs cannot demand payment for their unused annual leave or air fare

The pandemic has created many grey areas in the working conditions of foreign domestic workers in Hong Kong, particularly when it comes to their annual leave entitlements, given that many of them have been unable to go home due to travel restrictions.

As a result, many support organizations like the Domestic Workers Corner are being flooded with questions on what FDWs can rightfully demand as entitlements from their  employers at the end of each contract.


In particular, says DWC founder Rodelia Villar, the workers want to know if they can demand payment for all their unspent vacation leave, and whether they should also be paid the return air fare to the Philippines, even if going home is out of the question now.

The answer given her by the Hong Kong Labour Department through email was clear: The worker cannot demand payment in lieu of spending her annual leave, but “may choose to accept payment in lieu of the part of his/her leave entitlement which exceeds 10 days.”

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This means that no payment shall be paid for the first 10 days of the annual leave. If the worker was unable to go home for two years, for example, she can only agree to be paid for 4 days of her 14-day leave entitlement.

Implicit in this is that should the employer choose not to pay for any of the worker’s annual leave days, then the helper cannot insist on being paid. But she can ask to spend the entire period of her unused annual leave in the Philippines, when she is finally able to go home.


As for the return air ticket, the Labour officer who responded to Villar effectively said this could not be converted to cash because the requirement that the worker should go on home leave at the end of each contract is “just deferred, not removed.”

A reference was made to clause 13 of the Standard Employment Contract (SEC) which provides for the end-of-contract exit by the FDW for no less than seven days, at the expense of the employer, unless the Director of Immigration allows an extension of stay, or a "deferment" of the worker having to go back home.


Because most home leaves now have just been deferred, the worker cannot demand cash payment equivalent to the cost of an air ticket, because Hong Kong laws provide that she must still go home.

Villar says DWC gets about 10 inquiries per day on the issue

According to Villar, she decided to ask clarifications directly from the Labour Department because even the employers seem to be in disagreement on what the FDW in their employ is entitled to.

May employer na generous, nagbibigay ng ticket at cash para sa annual leave. May employer na annual leave lang ang gustong bayaran. May employer din na ayaw magbigay hanggang sa end ng contract at kailangang bumaba na ang worker,” said Villar. (Some generous pay for both the ticket and the unused annual leave. Others only want to pay for the annual leave. But there are also some who don’t want to pay at all unless the contract is not renewed and the worker has to leave.”

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Villar said that one worker whose employer refused to pay for the air ticket or her unused annual leave sought advice on what she should do after they argued. “In the end she had to apologize to her employer after I advised her that she could not compel payment,” said Villar.

In the email sent to her by a Labour officer, Villar was reminded that the basic rights and responsibilities of FDWs are specified in their contracts. In addition, they can refer to the Employment Ordinance which applies to employers and FDWs alike.

The email listed the number of annual leave entitlements of FDWs which are 7 days each for the first two years, gradually increasing by one day each year, until it reaches the maximum of 14 days by the ninth year of employment.

The relevant provisions of the EO cited include one that says that an employee may take the paid annual leave within 12 months, but the timing should be set by the employer after consulting with the worker, confirmed by a written notice at least 14 days in advance.

“For harmonious labour relations, employer and employee are encouraged to communicate with each other to come up with a mutually acceptable arrangement,” said the emailed response.

All questions arising from the employment contract of the FDW should be resolved by referring to the EO and the contract, said the email. In case of dispute, the final decision rests with the courts.


Duterte admits drugs, corruption still major problems in final SONA

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By Vir B. Lumicao 

Duterte's last SONA lasted three hours, and was punctuated by many adlibs

President Rodrigo Duterte delivered his sixth and last State of the Nation Address,  admitting that drugs and corruption, which he vowed to wipe out when he assumed the presidency in July 2016, are still festering.

But in his three-hour-speech, which the President said is “less in vision but more in remembrances,” he praised his government’s accomplishments in the five years that he had been in office.


“Our economy was poised to leapfrog … to be among one of the fastest-growing economies until Covid-19 pandemic stalled everything,” Duterte said in his rambling speech punctuated by frequent ad libs.

This year’s “hybrid SONA” combined the proceedings at the Batasan that was attended by about 350 guests and lawmakers, with online attendance by government figures including Vice President Leni Robredo and past presidents.

Duterte thanked the frontliners in the fight against the pandemic for their sacrifices, risking their own safety, as well as the private sector for coming to the aid of the government in tackling the Covid-19 pandemic before talking a long list of topics.

He said providing free education, universal health care, free irrigation to farmers, were among his many visions when he took over the presidency, but realized he had no funds for such projects. Nevertheless, he said, they have been implemented.


Duterte said while his government turned its attention to projects and programs to improve the lives of the people, the perennial problems of drugs and corruption again reared their ugly heads.

Looking back at his drug war, he said he promoted his trusted Davao City chief of police, Ronald “Bato” dela Rosa, to head the Philippine National Police, with orders to hunt down the drug manufacturers and their peddlers, until he realized “I was fighting my own government.”


He said corrupt Customs officials made things easy for drug importers and police generals protected the drug lords.

Duterte said with Dela Rosa destroying the apparatuses of the drug manufacturers, they have shifted to importing drugs and processing them in laboratories on board tugboats of a country he did not name.


He warned these drug importers and their peddlers will face his wrath. “Those who destroy my country, I will kill you, and those who destroy the young people in my country, I will kill you,” he said in his usual tough talk.

Duterte claimed that the latest statistics provided him showed about 1,000 youths are arrested each day for selling drugs. He added that many of those arrested from the middle class have been released from prison despite drug trafficking being a nonbailable offense.

He linked the drug problem to parents leaving their very young children to relatives or friends as they go abroad to work. He said the boys turn to drugs while the girls become prostitutes.

The President said it hurts him to think every night about Filipinas going to work in the Middle East who become prey to abuses by certain tribes that consider paid workers as slaves and their property. As a result, he said, these women are subjected to sexual abuse.

The worse part of it is when they decide to return home in 4-5 years, when they find that everything they had worked hard for is gone and their family dispersed.    

Duterte is flanked by Senate President Tito Sotto and House Speaker Lord Allan Velasco

 On the anti-insurgency front, Duterte said his troops have destroyed more than 15 apparatuses of the Communist Party of the Philippines.

Maraming sundalo ang namatay sa mga armas na ipinasok ng mga rebelde sa Pilipinas.

That is my order to you, if you see them walking around, kindly shoot them dead, and I will be happy,” he said.

“Anyway, you’re only charged in the ICC together with me, so what is the problem of adding another one, another idiot Filipino who has caused great damage to our country?”

To the applause of retired generals who were behind the creation of the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict, or NTF-ELCAC, Duterte praised their so-called barangay improvement projects to address the root cause of the insurgency.

Duterte called on Congress to pass laws creating scholarship programs for children of displaced overseas Filipino workers, as well as agribusiness and entrepreneurship programs for them; restoring the death penalty through lethal injection; reverting all TV frequencies to the government for use in educational and e-learning programs; requiring telecoms to improve internet connectivity and passing Bayanihan 2 Act and Covid-19 Adjustment Program to deal with the continuing challenges of the pandemic; and providing further incentives to the military such as free legal assistance and a pension fund.

Protesters braved the rains and pandemic restrictions
to speak out against human rights abuses during Duterte's term

Meanwhile, two separate contra speeches to Duterte’s SONA were delivered in the House of Representatives.

Both House Minority Leader Bienvenido Abante Jr and Albay First District Representative Edcel Lagman slammed Duterte over his failure to provide a clear plan for fighting the coronavirus pandemic.

Earlier, thousands of people braved the rains to march from the University of the Philippines campus to Commonwealth Avenue ahead of Duterte’s final SONA.

Protesters from various groups led by Bayan and its affiliates gathered in UP Diliman at 9 am, and began marching about 3 hours later, while chanting anti-Duterte slogans. They were joined by Makabayan bloc lawmakers wearing their protest outfits.

The groups said their protest was a condemnation of Duterte’s tyranny and rights abuses during his five years in office.


Hidilyn Diaz wins Philippines’ first-ever Olympic gold

Posted on 26 July 2021 No comments

By The SUN

Diaz in one of her record-breaking lifts at Tokyo 2020 (Reuters photo)

Weightlifter Hidilyn Diaz made history today, Jul 26, when she gave the Philippines its first-ever gold medal in the Olympics, after a wait of nearly a century.

The 30-year-old won the 55-kg category at Tokyo 2020, setting an Olympic record and tying the world record.

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Previously, she won silver at the 2016 Rio Games in the 53-kg category.

Diaz, who hails from Zamboanga City, smashed her personal best to relegate China’s Liao Qiuyun to second place.


Liao, who was tied with Diaz at 97kg after the snatch, set an Olympic record with 123kg in the clean and jerk, giving her an Olympic record total of 220kg. Diaz did one better, lifting 124kg for a total of 221kg.

Liao then had her last lift of 126kg for a total of 223kg. Not to be outdone, Diaz added one more kilogram to her final lift, finishing 126kg in the clean and jerk, for a total of 224kg.


Kazakshtan’s Zulfiya Chinshanlo took the bronze, about 10kg off the top two contenders.

In an interview after her record-breaking feat, Diaz said: “It’s unbelievable, it’s a dream come true.”

Diaz wept tears of joy just after her final lift, and as she saluted the Philippine flag and sung the national anthem at the winners’ podium.


Employment agencies say no August lifting of flight ban expected

Posted on No comments

By Daisy CL Mandap 

He never said the ban will be lifted for sure in August, the agency head clarifies

If you are among the thousands of foreign domestic workers hoping for Hong Kong to lift its flight ban on “extremely high-risk” countries by next month, you’d better not raise your hopes high.

According to the head of an employment agencies union, the much-hyped reopening of Hong Kong to vaccinated travelers from designated A1 places by early August month, was all a misunderstanding.


Thomas Chan, chair of the HK Union of Employment Agencies, said that in his radio interview in mid-July, he mentioned early to mid-August as the likely dates when vaccinated foreign domestic helpers could come, once the government decided to lift the ban.

“When they were asking how many workers might come after they finished vaccination, I told them that according to my knowledge, in the Philippines, only less than 10% of those stranded had been vaccinated, and most workers started their first dose only last month. If we wait for them to finish two doses, I expect the first batch of workers might come in mid-August if the government will really give the green light to workers,” said Chan.

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“Please pay attention to the last sentence: if the government gives the green light.”

His statement, which somehow got twisted in the reporting by some local media outlets, prompted recruitment agencies in the Philippines to tell stranded workers to get vaccinated immediately, as they could be leaving for Hong Kong soon.


But lately, not a few have griped that despite getting Covid-19 vaccines that are still  hard to come by in the Philippines, they have yet to get confirmation on when they could actually fly out. Some complained about getting confused by the conflicting stories they hear from Hong Kong.

Congen Tejada was told vaccinated workers will get to come in first, but no date was given

Earlier, Consul General Raly Tejada told The SUN that Hong Kong was considering lifting the ban on vaccinated travelers from the eight countries categorized as extremely high risk, including the Philippines. But no date was given when this might be.


Congen Tejada said the Consulate asked Hong Kong officials to reexamine the Philippines’ inclusion in the banned places, given the recent drop in the country’s infection rate, and the corresponding increase in its vaccination rate.

The local officials reportedly agreed that residents and workers need to come back, but did not indicate how soon this could be acted upon.


Meanwhile, Chan said his group is meeting with Consulate officials tomorrow to discuss concerns raised by Labour Secretary Law Chi-kwong with regards to allowing FDHs from the Philippines to come in.

This, Chan said, include centralizing the issuance of vaccination records, assuring the credibility of the Philippine institutions overseeing testing for Covid-19, and coming up with measures to prevent infected cases from entering Hong Kong.

Those who will meet with them are top Consulate officers who sit with a Technical Working Group made up of representatives from key Hong Kong government agencies on the other side.

Chan said that because of the record number of infections in Indonesia recently, agencies are focusing on getting those coming from the Philippines to enter Hong Kong first.

Apart from the Philippines and Indonesia, the other countries in the A1 category are India, Pakistan, Nepal, United Kingdom, South Africa and Brazil.

Compared to at least three countries on this list – UK, Indonesia and India - where daily Covid-19 cases have gone past 50,000 because of the highly infectious Delta variant, the Philippines is doing much better, statistics-wise. Its daily tally has hovered around 5,000 in the past few days. 

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