Thursday, October 30, 2008

October 12, 2007

Six OFWs stranded in Jeddah finally back in RP
10/12/2007 01:58 PM

Six of the seven Filipino workers stranded in Jeddah since August will finally be reunited with their families in the Philippines.Two of them – Jeffrey Ponce and Patrocil Magdangal – actually planed in Thursday night on a Brunei airlines flight , while Rey Castulo, William Arimado, Jecson Gonzales and Raffy Flores are scheduled to arrive Friday afternoon on board a Singapore airlines flight at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport.

The seventh – Robert Torcedo – decided to stay put and explore employment opportunities in Jeddah for his family here.

Tornedo, 32, gave up his job as a high school teacher in Aringay, La Union in the hope of earning more abroad. The seven workers were abandoned by their employer – Sawary Marketing and Development Group – at the airport in August without securing exit visas for them.

They were just given plane tickets with their passports."We are very happy that we were able to secure seats in spite of the holiday season," said Castulo before boarding his flight with a smile reflecting his excitement to be with his family again.

"At last we will go home now. I have all my documents with me and we are ready," said Flores. Flores, 30, of Angat, Bulacan, said their fears and homesickness have been aggravated by their cramped accommodation and meager food allowance.

The seven Filipinos arrived in Jeddah with two others on Aug. 18, 2006 to work as merchandisers at Sawary supermarkets. What they had were visitor's visas.They said they were promised by the agency that recruited them that their visitor visas would be converted into working visas after a given period in Jeddah.

They were paid P35,000 in placement fees to Alba International Placement Services Inc. plus P2, 825 for medical examination and P2, 500 for training.They were given receipts handwritten on plain paper, purportedly a practice of recruitment agencies to skirt a government-imposed limit on placement fees.

The workers said the processing of their application was so quick that they were all of a sudden told to get ready for their flight on Aug. 18, 2006, even though they did not go through a PDOS (pre-departure orientation seminar) as required by the POEA. The job applicants were told that the PDOS was just a waste of time, and that the agency would just pay for it. Their visit visa issued by the Saudi Arabian Embassy in Manila was good only for one month and was stamped “not permitted to work."However, the Filipinos were told by a certain Emy who introduced herself as vice president of Alba International Placement Service that it would be renewed every three months in Jeddah.

The placement agency gave the workers a letter to facilitate their departure in Manila and arrival in Jeddah. The letter said they were “invited by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia under a visit visa."“This is also to certify that all the names mentioned above will be under our sponsorship and we guarantee their stay and safety while in the Kingdom.

All travel expenses incurred during travel to and from the Kingdom will be credit to our account.“We are issuing this guarantee letter to facilitate departure from Manila," the letter signed by Reda Hussein Basha, president of Sawary Marketing & Development Group, contained.In Jeddah, they were each paid SR938 ($250 or about 11,250 pesos) a month, including food allowance, by the supermarket chain owners.“We were duped into coming here to work illegally.

Our company promised to provide us work visas but until now we have not been given any," said Ponce,, a 30-year-old father of four from Angeles City, Pampanga.When they opted to be terminated last August, the workers were told to sign an Affidavit of Quit Claim by the Sawary management.

The Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) has suspended the license of Alba International to deploy workers while Sawary Marketing was barred from recruiting Filipinos. Before leaving Jeddah, the six workers profusely thanked Consul General Pendosina Lomondot, Assistance to Nationals Section chief Vicky Salian and Labor Attache Bulyok Nilong for helping them secure exit visas and be able to go home.

They likewise thanked Filipino community leaders Omar Salvacio of Sam Foundation and William Sol for providing them food and moral support while they were waiting for the processing of their travel document.In view of the case involving the stranded workers, the Philippine consular officers in Saudi Arabia warned Filipinos against accepting job offers using visit visas.“Unless you are looking for trouble, don’t attempt to come to work in Saudi Arabia without a work visa," said Lomondot.

The stranded workers said they learned from regular employees of Sawary that their group was the second batch of Filipinos recruited to work at the supermarket chain. The first group of 33 Filipinos demanded to be repatriated also because they were not provided legal working status. They, too, complained of poor accommodation.A third group of 23 arrived in Jeddah in March but they were sent home in May before their visit visas expired.All but three of those in the third group were sent home when one of them purportedly sought help from a police general about the failure of the company to provide work visas.

Flores said that because of the early exit of the third group, he and his colleagues were restrained from leaving when they asked to be repatriated in June.Their employer only grudgingly agreed to provide them plane tickets on August 6 after learning that they have sought help from the Philippine Overseas Labor Office.But when they were already at the airport, a Sawary staff came and tried to facilitate their exit but they were stopped at the immigration counter due to lack of an exit visa. “The Sawary representative just left us at the airport and we were forced again to commute. When we returned to the office, our employer refused to talk to us," said one of the seven.

This latest case involving the seven Filipinos should serve as a strong warning against others not to fall prey to similar recruitment schemes offering visit visas, according to the consul general. “Please remember that a visitor’s visa in Saudi Arabia cannot be converted to a work visa," Lomondot said in an earlier interview. – Ronaldo Concha, GMANews.TV

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