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Philippine peso jumps to new 4-year high

Posted on 16 January 2021 No comments

By The SUN

The peso is forecast to strengthen further this year

Good news for the Philippine economy, bad news for overseas Filipino workers who regularly send money back home.

The peso closed at Php48.065 to US$1 on Friday, its strongest performance in more than four years, or since Sept 23, 2016, when it closed at Php47.99 to the greenback.

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In Hong Kong, where the local currency is pegged to the US dollar, the exchange rate is now down to Php6.20 per HK$1.

This was the second four-year jump for the peso. On Nov 9, it closed at Php48.145, the strongest since its Php48.10 close on Oct 20, 2016.

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Analysts say falling imports which have severely cut demands for the US dollar, plus the continuing inflow of remittances from Filipinos abroad, have combined to boost the peso’s value.

Other analysts attributed the peso’s strength to the country’s all-time high foreign reserves, which stands at US$104.82 billion as of end-December 2020, up by US$5 billion from November.

This was a second year of gains for the Philippine peso, and a Bloomberg survey indicates it will rise further to 47.50 by the end of 2021. The currency rose 5.4% last year, the biggest gainer in Southeast Asia.


But the peso’s strength comes at a price. The Philippine economy is among the slowest to recover from the pandemic, largely because of falling imports and a big decline in domestic spending. 

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Conmen actively targeting Filipina domestic helpers in ‘love scams’

Posted on No comments

By Vir B. Lumicao 

Beware of online boyfriends saying you would be sent a gift parcel (CUHK photo)

Scammers continue to actively target Filipina domestic workers in Hong Kong on social media, as can be seen from stories shared by intended victims of so-called “love scams,” who have come out to recount their experiences.

The scams often take the form of men wooing women online, then purportedly sending them gifts for which they should pay a huge sum as “tax.”

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But there are other ploys used by scammers, including those who entice their women victims to lend their ATM cards, which are then used by the conmen for laundering money.

They also include naked chat and romance scams, which according to the Anti-Deception Coordination Centre’s latest advisories, are the most common methods used to victimize women.

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In the naked chat scam, cons befriend the victims online, then sweet-talk them into undressing or doing indecent acts in front of a webcam. The predators would then demand money from the victims, or they would post their naked pictures online.

So far, no stories of Filipinas falling prey to this modus have surfaced lately. The more common deception targeting them is still the love or romance scam, where women victims are asked to redeem gift parcels supposedly sent them for thousands of dollars.

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This was the experience recently shared by “Leilani” on messenger, who said her online boyfriend who claimed to be from the mainland (but whose Facebook profile says he’s from Hong Kong) got stuck in Australia due to the pandemic.

Two days before Leilani’s birthday recently, the man asked for her full name and complete address, saying he wanted to send her a small gift. Then a day after her birthday, she got a Whatsapp message saying a parcel had been sent to her by the man from New York.

But there was a hitch. She must pay local clearance fees, import duty, overweight charges and local delivery charges totaling $21,750 to the courier service before the delivery could take place, according to the message.

Tunghayan ang isa na namang kwentong Dream Love

Leilani said she did not comply because she had no money and besides, she started feeling suspicious.

So, ngayon nagtaka ako kung bakit need ko magbayad ng ganyan kalaki, so naisip kong scam iyon,” she said. (I was surprised why I needed to pay so much, so I thought it must be a scam).

She decided to continue chatting with the man just to ask why she had to pay such a big amount for what was supposed to be a gift.


Ang sagot niya, ganun daw talaga kasi may pera na laman yung box na mas malaki pa diyan sa ibabayad ko,” Leilani said.

(His reply was that was really the case because the box contained money that was much more than what I was supposed to pay).

She was appalled when told that there had been a lot of other scams targeting Filipinas here, including men who woo them so they could ask for their ATM cards, then use these to launder dirty money.

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Naalala ko pala, tinanong ako niyan kung may bank account ako. Sabi ko wala naman akong bank account. Sabi niya mag-open ako ng account dito para matulungan niya ako paminsan-minsan, magsi-send siya ng pera para sa mga anak ko,” said Leilani. “Buti pala di ako sumunod.”

(I just remembered that he asked me if I had a bank account. I said I didn’t have any. He said I should open an account so he could help me by sending money for my kids once in a while. It’s a good thing I did not comply).

There are also scammers who use the victim's ATM card to launder money

Stories shared by some members of Facebook group, Domestic Workers Corner, recount the same ploy, but with a twist. At least three have posted about having boyfriends who are supposedly doctors connected with big international aid agencies, but who somehow needed to be sent money due to some emergency.

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The latest post was made on Wednesday, Jan 13, on DWC’s Help group by a member who said her friend was borrowing money because she needed to bail out her virtual boyfriend.

As in the other cases, the man supposedly sent a parcel to his girlfriend, but it was held by Customs and would not be released until she paid $10,000 in “clearance and other fees”. What sent the girlfriend panicking was the warning that her boyfriend would be jailed for 12 years if she didn’t pay up.


The message sender said her friend was begging to be allowed to use her name to take out a loan from the bank to pay for the man’s release. Luckily for this sender, her visa was about to run out so she had to say no.

The post was made at 3:53pm and before the day ended, it had attracted more than 1,000 comments warning the sender that the whole thing was a scam. It was, at best, an indication that the repeated warnings from police about these scams were at least hitting home.


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Here are some advisories issued by the police about the other more common form of deception used on OFWs, which is the ATM or money laundering scam:

DEFRAUDING TRICKS

The scammers make acquaintance with victims online. Once they have gained the latter’s trust, they will ask to borrow the victims’ accounts for allegedly lawful purposes using various pretexts. In fact, the scammers are making use of the victims’ accounts to collect illicit moneys and lure the victims into withdrawing the money for them.

APPEAL

The act of lending one’s account to others for unlawful purposes might have constituted the offence of "Dealing with property known or believed to represent proceeds of indictable offence" (money laundering) which carries a maximum sentence of 14 years' imprisonment and a fine of HK$5 million. The police appeal to the public not to open bank accounts for or lend their own accounts to others lest they would breach the law on money laundering.

OUR ADVICE

  1. Don’t lend your bank accounts to others.
  2. Don’t disclose details of your bank accounts to others.
  3. Remind your relatives and friends the risk of scams.
  4. If in doubt, please call the Anti-Scam Helpline 18222 immediately. 
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Indonesian DH tests positive for coronavirus 19 days after arrival

Posted on 15 January 2021 No comments

By Daisy CL Mandap 

The Indonesian helper arrived in HK on Dec 25, when the 21-day hotel quarantine took effect

An Indonesian domestic helper tested positive for Covid-19 on her third test for the virus, 19 days after arriving in Hong Kong from Jakarta.

She and a Filipina DH, who was found infected on her second test 12 days after arriving from Manila, were among 38 new Covid-19 cases reported today, Jan 15. Of the new cases, 35 were locally acquired, and three were imported.

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According to an information staff at the Centre for Health Protection, the 29-year-old Indonesian arrived on Dec 25, the day Hong Kong started implementing a 21-day quarantine for all new arrivals from abroad.

The DH tested negative on her arrival, and on a second test conducted on her 12th day of quarantine at the Bridal Tea House hotel in Yau Ma Tei. 

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But she was found infected when given a third test, in line with new government regulations.

The 46-year-old Filipina, on the other hand, arrived on Jan 2, and initially tested negative at the airport. However, she was found infected after going through a second test while in quarantine at the Ramada Grand View Hotel in Tsim Sha Tsui.

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Yesterday, another Filipina DH was also reported to have tested positive, days after finishing her 14-day hotel quarantine, and had moved in with her employer. However, she reportedly started showing symptoms on the day she finished her two-week quarantine.

The two cases, though rare, appear to reinforce government’s decision to lengthen the mandatory quarantine to three weeks from the previous two.

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The third imported case was a 24-year-old female air crew who recently arrived from Switzerland. All three patients classified as imported cases were asymptomatic.

Dr Chuang Shuk-kwan from the Centre for Health Protection, said there were also around 40 preliminary cases.

15-27A Pitt Street, where 4 Covid-19 have been found

Chuang also identified another residential building in Yau Ma Tei where a cluster of cases has emerged. She said four people living in the block at 15-27A Pitt Street had tested positive for the virus. 

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As a result, all residents in the building will have to undergo compulsory testing.

More than 80 cases have already been found across several streets in the district, including more than 20 in four buildings on Reclamation Street.


The authorities are now issuing mandatory tests on residents even if just a single infection is found in a building in the district.

Also tonight, authorities issued an isolation order for number 20, 22, 24 and 26 Reclamation Street, to facilitate contact tracing and prevent the further spread of the virus in the block.


In line with this order, no person, other than a health officer, shall enter or leave the buildings, or bring into or take out of the buildings any articles, except with the written permission of a health officer.

Earlier, about 90 residents in the four buildings were evacuated and moved into quarantine centers.

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Chuang also said a compulsory testing order  will be issued for residents of Hiu Fung House, Fung Wah Estate in Chai Wan, after five Covid-19 cases were found in two separate units there.

Meanwhile,   Dr. Sara Ho from the Hospital Authority (HA) said that as of 9am today, 539 confirmed patients were being treated in 25 public hospitals and the community facility at AsiaWorld Expo. 

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Among them, 41 are in critical condition, 31 in serious condition, while the remaining 467 patients are in stable condition.

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Phl and Indo CGs to meet on boarding house inquiry

Posted on No comments

By Vir B. Lumicao 

CGs Tejada and Suhendar will meet on how they can
jointly respond to the Ombudsman's probe (File photo)

The consuls general of the Philippines and Indonesia are due to meet on Monday to discuss what they can do together to respond to the Ombudsman’s call for inputs on how boarding houses should be regulated by the government.

Ombudsman Winnie Chiu announced Thursday, Jan 14, that she was initiating an inquiry into problems associated with the boarding houses, such as overcrowding and poor hygiene, saying the government has a duty to ensure they are safe for both the helpers and the general public.

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Philippine Consul General Raly Tejada said he invited his Indonesian counterpart, Ricky Suhendar, to a meeting so they can discuss what they can do jointly to respond to the Ombudsman’s initiative.

CG Tejada said that among the measures that he hopes the Hong Kong government would do is to open leisure and sports facilities to FDHs.


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“Opportunities for capacity building activities for skills enhancement especially on housekeeping, care giving, Cantonese language, financial literacy, etc, during days off and while waiting for their visas could also be considered by the Hong Kong government,” the consul general said in response to queries from The SUN.

CG Tejada also said he hopes the Ombudsman’s inquiry would result in recommendations that will help improve the living conditions of FDWs, especially with regard to provision on proper accommodations, which is statutorily guaranteed.”

Tellez says HK and the sending countries must all share the blame for the boarding house issues

Meanwhile, Cynthia Abdon-Tellez, general manager of the Mission for Migrant Workers, blames Hong Kong’s mandatory live-in policy for the overcrowding in boarding facilities, where many workers surreptitiously take refuge because they are not provided living space by their employers.



She said the government’s failure to provide for temporary living accommodations for FDHs who are in-between jobs or are fighting labour claims, also forces the workers to stay in cramped hostels, many of which are run by employment agencies.

It is only when someone dies, as in the case of an Indonesian worker who was crushed by a falling concrete slab while sleeping on a podium outside an agency shelter in North Point nearly five years ago, that questions are raised over government’s inaction on the issue, she said.



Kaya sa panahon ng pandemya, yan pa rin ang isyu,” she added. (So now that we are in the midst of a pandemic, that’s still the issue).

Tellez also blamed sending countries like the Philippines and Indonesia for the problem, citing their insistence that their workers go through a recruitment agency if they want to work overseas, like in Hong Kong.

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Dahil din ito sa patakarang ini-impose ng gobyerno ng sending countries na dapat dadaan sa ahensya ang aplikante nila for migration. Kapabayaan ng sending governments like Philippines and Indonesia yan dahil pinapasa nila ang kanilang responsilidad na pangalagaan ang kanilang mga mamamayan sa agencies,” said Tellez

(This is also due to policies imposed by governments of the sending countries, which require their migrating workers to go through agencies. Sending governments like the Philippines and Indonesia are negligent because they pass on their responsibility of looking after their nationals to the agencies).

On top of this, she said the sending governments do not even inspect the agency-run dormitories to ensure that their workers are well looked after. 

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