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Economic slump from protests hit Pinoy businesses, entertainers

Posted on 18 September 2019 No comments
By Daisy CL Mandap
Image may contain: 2 people, crowd
Tourist arrivals in HK dropped by a massive 40% last month

With tourist arrivals in Hong Kong down by a massive 40% last month as a result of weeks of anti-government protests, everyone in the city is feeling the pinch – including Filipinos who are in the entertainment and tourism industries.

According to Manuela Lo, chairperson of the Hong Kong Musicians Union, many hotels have been reducing the nights when they offer live performances. Special events which have for years, been the lifeblood of many Filipino musicians, are also being cancelled all over Hong Kong on an increasingly regular basis.

But Lo says there is not much that HKMU can do to help members who are affected. “We can’t do anything at the moment, we all know business has been bad,” she says.

cover photo, Image may contain: 7 people, people smiling, people standing and indoor
Filipino musicians in HK are among the hardest hit by the slump (Photo from HKMU's Facebook page)

Hermie Santos, a booking agent for entertainers at Ocean Park, has just barely escaped getting hit by the looming downturn. His talents had already been signed up by park before visitor arrivals plummeted so they’re still assured of their contract wage.

This is despite an apparent massive drop in the number of visitors at both Ocean Park and Disneyland Hong Kong, which is perhaps even more affected because of its higher entrance fee.

A recent Filipino visitor to both amusement parks was amazed that she and her companion could get on any of the rides without having to queue, an experience that she never had in all the years that she had visited both places.

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She had the same experience at the Peak Tram, which most tourists prefer to take in going up to one of Hong Kong’s best known attractions. For the first time in so many years, the queue going in, which used to snake up to a block away, especially during the weekends, was nowhere to be seen.

It is the same story with Philippine airlines, which used to fly the seventh highest number of tourists into Hong Kong every year. Scenes from the widespread mayhem that have marred what previously were peaceful weekend protests have all but doused the desire of many Filipinos to come over for a quick respite.

Philippine Airlines, which used to fly four times daily from Hong Kong to Manila, has already cut out one flight, and is reportedly considering stopping services on one return journey. Cebu Pacific Air’s website shows it has maintained its four flights in and out of Hong Kong, but perhaps not for long.

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“It’s the same with all other airlines,” said an industry insider. “People have just stopped coming.” He says the 40% decline cited by government does not even give an accurate picture of the massive downturn in tourist arrivals as they do not include border crossings.

Things continue to look grim even with the approach of “Golden Week”, when Chinese people traditionally go traveling during the long National Day holiday, which starts Oct 1.

By this time, airlines and hotels would have been swamped with bookings from Chinese tourists many of whom prefer to do their shopping for luxury goods in Hong Kong. But none of this is happening this year because many Mainland tourists reportedly fear they could be targeted by Hong Kong protesters angry at what they perceive as China’s premature tightening of its grip on their freedoms.

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As a result, occupancy rates at hotels which last year was at a high 91% on average, have dipped considerably, prompting them to offer as much as 40% percent reduction in room charges.

The brunt of the slump is also being borne by hotel workers, 77% of whom have been asked to go on unpaid leave for at least three days, according to media reports. A survey by the Hotels, Food and Beverage Employees Association also showed 46% of the workers believe their salaries could be cut by as much as $3,000 per month.

Retailers are also feeling the brunt of the crisis, including those who cater mainly to migrant workers.
No photo description available.
Filipino retailers in WorldWide Plaza are hard-hit by the fallout from protests , which are often held on their peak selling days

They include Joy Tan, a storeowner in WorldWide Plaza, who has lamented on Facebook that the protests, which often peak during the weekends when domestic workers are having their days off, have resulted in her failing to make enough to cover rent.

But the worst is yet to come. With the prospect of wage cuts looming in the horizon, many foreign domestic workers and their supporters fear they could suffer the same fate. Back in 2003, in the aftermath of the SARS epidemic, the minimum salary of FDWs was cut by $400, or more than 10% of their monthly pay then. 

Now, with the new minimum wage for FDWs expected to be announced by the government by the end of the month, there is widespread fear that salaries could again be cut, or at best, frozen.

But the Asian Migrants Coordinating Body, which is pressing for what it calls a living wage of $5,894 for FDWs, has been at pains trying to allay such concerns.

AMCB chair Dolores Balladares-Pelaez says, “The number of employment contracts being processed at the Consulate has remained steady despite the crisis, so it means the demand is still there, and that employers are willing to continue paying a just wage to their helpers.” 


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Filipina overstayer ends 11-year bid vs. deportation

Posted on No comments

By The SUN
The torture claimant told the Court she decided to just go home and raise her daughter there

A Filipina former helper who overstayed in Hong Kong for nearly five years and tried to fight deportation for the next 11 years, has been allowed to withdraw her application in the High Court seeking leave for a judicial review of her case.

Meanwhile, two other Filipino overstayers who are challenging Hong Kong’s decision to deport them after rejecting their torture claims, failed to get the court’s nod for a judicial review.

In a decision handed down on Sept 12, Mr Justice Li of the Court of First Instance granted Marina Palangdosan’s request to drop her case so she can leave Hong Kong and take care of her daughter, who was born here in November 2006.
Palangdosan, 45, came here as a helper in November 1988 and was allowed to stay until Apr 23, 2004. But she did not leave and eventually gave birth to her daughter. They were both arrested for overstaying on Sept 26, 2008.

She filed a torture claim on Sept 14, 2009 but was refused by the Immigration director after nearly two years. She went to the Torture Claims Appeal Board but was turned down on Aug 17, 2011. A removal order was issued against her three weeks later.
She filed another non-refoulement claim (against being sent home) in October 2013 but it was rejected by the director on Feb 16, 2017. Her appeal was dismissed by TCAB on Dec 27, 2017, leading her to seek leave for a judicial review in 2018.

Justice Li said Palangdosan wrote to the director in February 2018 seeking leave to remain in Hong Kong to look after her child, but her application was refused on Aug 9 and Dec 9, 2018.

“The director pointed out that she was an overstayer and had no right to remain in Hong Kong. There was no strong humanitarian or compassionate ground or exceptional extenuating circumstances to justify rescission of the removal order,” Li said.
In turn, Palangdosan applied for leave for judicial review of the director’s decision in October last year and indicated that she would apply for legal aid.

But Justice Li said that when the court wrote to Palangdosan in May about the result of her legal aid application, she replied that she would like to withdraw her leave application.

Two other Filipinos, Christopher Espiritu and Eva Tomad, applied separately last year for leave to challenge Immigration’s and the TCAB’s decisions rejecting their non-refoulement claims.
Judge K.W. Lung, however, refused their applications on Sept 11, saying these have no reasonable prospect of success.

Espiritu came to Hong Kong in Jul 27, 2008 and was allowed to stay as visitor until Aug 3 that year. He overstayed and was arrested on Oct 27, 2009. He applied for non‑refoulement on Oct 30.

Tomad came to Hong Kong Aug 12, 2009 as a visitor and overstayed until she was arrested by police on Feb 22, 2010. She lodged her non-refoulement claim on Jul 18, 2013.

Espiritu said he feared for his life if he was sent back home because he had witnessed a murder committed by a robber named Sapida and he had reported the matter to the police.

Tomad, on the other hand, claimed she feared being subject to extra-judicial killing.

Both said the Director failed to give enough weight to their claims and was either unfair or unreasonable in not allowing their applications.

Judge Lung, however, said he was not convinced that their claims had any reasonable prospect of success, and dismissed their applications.

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DWC holds day-long rights seminar to mark anniversary

Posted on 17 September 2019 No comments

By The SUN


Participants and speakers gather at the end of the seminar for a photo-op.
Speakers included from left, Balladares, Mandap, Villar, Tellez and Clarin

The online support group, Domestic Workers Corner, may have been in existence for just two years, but it has already done a lot to reach out and provide comfort and help to distressed Filipino migrant workers in Hong Kong.

For its second anniversary offering, DWC led by its founder Rodelia P. Villar, outdid itself by gathering about 200 members for a day-long rights seminar at the Philippine Overseas Labor Office on Sept 14, a statutory holiday.

Invited to speak at the event were key officers and representatives from the Consulate, NGOs like the Mission for Migrant Workers, PathFinders and Card HK Foundation, media like The SUN, and Filipino community organizations like Unifil-Migrante Hong Kong.
DWC members, most of whom are new in Hong Kong, were in rapt attention as speaker after speaker gave first-hand information on the various services they can avail of, and vital issues that concern them.

Among the highlights was the briefing given by the Mission’s general manager, Cynthia Tellez, on the various ploys used by employment agencies to extract illegal fees from migrant workers.

Tellez advised the audience to say no when told by agencies to borrow money from financing companies to pay them illegal fees, and report to Polo on any such attempt by their agency to squeeze them.
Since no receipts are often given for these illegal collections, she said it is important for the worker to keep a diary, and get somebody to act as their witness, should it become necessary to file a complaint against their agency.

Those who are already back in the Philippines can still file a claim against their agency with the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration in Manila. Tellez said the agency stands in the place of the employer who failed to abide by his or her contractual obligations.
“Kung di ka binayaran ng suweldo at iba pang dapat mong matanggap, puwede iyang singilin sa agency mo sa Pilipinas,” she said.
Image may contain: 6 people, people sitting
Tellez lectures on agency's illegal fee collection

Dolores Balladares-Pelaez, chair of United Filipinos-Migrante Hong Kong, appealed to the workers to extend support to the fight to raise their minimum monthly salary to $5,894, saying this amount is based on actual study on how much a “living wage” should be.

She also explained Unifil’s campaign for an 11-hour uninterrupted rest for FDWs, and for their work contract to exclude certain areas of the house such as the toilet, laundry or storage room, as unsuitable resting places for them.

On the national level, Pelaez said Unifil is not against OFWs paying monthly contributions to the Social Security System and other government agencies like Philhealth and Pag-IBIG, but it should be voluntary, and not mandatory.
Daisy Mandap, editor of The SUN, explained how the rights of FDWs in Hong Kong have been curtailed over the years, starting from the imposition of the 14-day rule for terminated workers, to the recent court ruling denying them right of abode.

Mandap, who is a lawyer, also briefly touched on the anti-government protests sweeping across Hong Kong, and why the proposed extradition bill sparked such widespread fear among its citizens.

Earlier, SSS representative Lester Mata explained the various benefits provided by the agency to its members, from sick and maternity payouts to the monthly pension on their retirement.

Mata also said that while the government has made SSS contributions mandatory for OFWs, they can still choose to pay only the lowest monthly premium of less than Php1,000 instead of the maximum contribution of more than Php2,400.

Raymond Ramos of Pag-IBIG also spoke of how OFWs can avail of the various benefits given to members, including but not limited to a low-interest housing loan. Those who invested in Pag-IBIG Fund’s MP2 savings program, for example, earned far higher interest last year than those who put their money in banks or other investment funds.

In the morning, Social Welfare Attache Bethy Dy discussed the programs and services extended by the Department of Social Welfare to distressed OFWs, particularly those who have problems with their spouses or the children they left behind.

She also explained the benefits and help extended to solo parents, and the rules concerning minors traveling abroad.

PathFinder’s Carmen Lam demonstrated, with help from the NGO’s migrant ambassadors, what services can be availed of by pregnant domestic workers, before and after giving birth in Hong Kong.

The message sent out was that, pregnant migrants should not fear or be embarrassed to seek assistance as there are agencies like PathFinders that can help ease the difficulty of giving birth in Hong Kong.

Welfare officer Marivic Clarin took the chance to speak about the different services provided to OFWs by the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration.

Clarin also assured that the rebates that OWWA has started distributing to long-time members are based on an actuarial calculation of how much the beneficiaries have paid in, and how much they should be getting in turn from the Php1billion set aside for this purpose.

The rebates paid to those who have worked abroad for at least 10 years and have paid their two-year OWWA membership at least five times, have come under fire from many beneficiaries for being “too little, too late.”

For their part, trainors from Card spoke on the importance of drawing up a monthly budget so migrants can avoid falling into the debt trap, the most widespread problem afflicting Filipino domestic workers in Hong Kong.

Image may contain: 4 people, people smiling, people standing
Villar wipes away tears as she views a surprise video tribute from her members
The Card group also advised the participants to sign up for the NGO's free financial literacy and livelihood seminars so they can make their earnings work better for them and their family.

The most emotional part of the day came when DWC administrators and other officers surprised Villar with a special tribute, thanking her for help and patience in dealing with the various problems thrown her way by members.

A teary-eyed Villar was presented by the officers with a plaque, while she in turn handed out certificates to all those who took part in the successful event.

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Japanese man on trial for alleged rape of Chinese-Filipina

Posted on No comments
By Vir B. Lumicao
 
The rape trial is on its 3rd day at the High Court
A Japanese man is on trial at the High Court on a charge of raping a drunk woman he rode with on a bus in August last year.

The victim, identified only as “Miss X” and described by the prosecutor as a Chinese-Filipino, was reportedly very drunk at dawn of Aug 5, 2018, when she took a red minibus in Central going to  Mong Kok, two witnesses told the jury on Sept 17.

But when she got to her senses, the 25-year-old Miss X realized she was in the Kowloon flat of the “Korean man” who had sat next to her on the minibus, and that he had raped her, the court heard.

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The suspect has since been identified as Kaise Hiroki, a Japanese.

The alleged victim’s 19-year-old Filipino boyfriend, identified only as BF, gave evidence for the prosecution, along with her Nepali female co-worker.

BF, currently an unemployed chef, told the court he was in his girlfriend’s flat in Kwai Chung, New Territories, on the night of Aug 4 waiting for her to come home after she went out with some friends for a birthday treat in Lan Kwai Fong at 11 pm.

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Around 2am the next day, he reportedly spoke with her on the phone and learned that she was already on the minibus to Mong Kok, where she would take another minibus to Kwai Chung.

That was the last time he talked to “X” that night. He said he made more than 50 calls to her, but she did not pick up. Around 5am, “X” finally called and told him she was downstairs.

BF said that when X got inside her home she was drunk, throwing up and crying. He asked her why she came home so late, but she said she would wash her private parts first.
When “X” got out of the washroom, she wrapped herself in a towel. Still crying, she embraced him and told him she had been raped.

X allegedly told her boyfriend it was the “Korean” who was standing in front of her in the queue for the minibus who raped her. Her Nepali co-worker and another friend who had seen her off had reportedly asked the suspect earlier if that was the queue for the Mong Kok minibus.

BF said he prodded “X” to report to the police but she initially refused, saying she did not want her father to learn about it because he had a heart ailment.
She then left to sleep in her room while he sat in the living room checking her phone looking for messages from friends she was with that night. At about noon, he went out to play basketball in Southorn Playground in Wanchai.

But that evening, BF accompanied “X” to Princess Margaret Hospital for a check-up because she allegedly felt something was inside her. From there, they went to the police desk in the hospital and made an initial report before they went to the Shamshuipo police to formally report the incident.

On cross-examination, the defense counsel pointed out inconsistencies between BF’s evidence and his statement to the police, but the witness said the officer who took his statement could not understand him even if he was pointing out mistakes.

But he admitted he signed the statement because he had no sleep, was very tired and had no energy to read it.

The next witness, a Nepali student who was doing a summer job in the same restaurant as X, said she and her male friend Jack went with the alleged victim to a pub in Lan Kwai Fong before midnight on Aug 4 to have cocktails as a birthday treat.

Afterwards they moved to a bar where they took shots of vodka. After that the two escorted X to the minibus stop and saw her take the seat next to the defendant.

A 30-minute video of the police interview with the defendant was played back, and a summary of the report made by the pathologist who examined X read out. The report said signs of penetration of X’s private parts were seen during the examination.

The trial continues.
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