Monthly Archives: February 2008

Democracy ‘Under Siege’ Due to Media Killling – Chief Justice

by Joel Roja/

MANILA – Supreme Court Chief Justice Reynato Puno on Tuesday admitted that democracy in the country is presently “under siege” due to increasing number of journalists being killed under the Arroyo administration.

In a conference on Impunity and Press Freedom organized by the Southeast Asian Press Alliance, Puno told delegates mostly from Latin-American countries that two  threats have been hounding mediamen — censorship by killing and the abuse of restrictive defamation and libel laws.

Puno noted that the Philippines has the 5th highest number of incidents where journalists have been murdered. Since the start of President Arroyo’s term in 2001, the chief magistrate said a total of 70 have already been killed in the line of duty.

Of the cases filed involving these killings, only one has been resolved, with six still undergoing trial and 18 other cases still under investigation. He added that four cases have been dismissed and four are still pending prosecution.

Puno added that threats to freedom of the press all over the world will not end, thus, press freedom and human rights advocates should not stop looking for measures to protect journalists.

He also noted that despite threats to press freedom, history would show that no amount of harassment and murders would prevent journalists from searching for truth.

“History teaches us that the misuse and abuse of libel laws against media practitioners through the ages did not stamp out the flame of freedom of the press, and it never will,” the Chief Justice said.

He further told the delegates that among the remedies instituted by the Court to enhance human rights and protect freedom of the press is the promulgation of the writ of amparo and the writ of habeas data.

The writs, according to Puno, are intended to give protection to the victims of extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances.

Since the writ of amparo took effect on October 24, 2007, a total of 14 writs have already been issued out of 18 petitions filed. Out of the 14 cases, five have already been decided by the Court of Appeals from October to present.

On the other hand, the Rule on the Writ of Habeas Data took effect last February 2, 2008, Puno said the Rule is an independent remedy to enforce right to informational privacy and the complementary “right to truth.”

On the other hand, the Rule in the Writ of Habeas Data took effect last February 2, 2008, Puno said the Rule is an independent remedy to enforce right to informational privacy and the complementary “right to truth.” of penalties in libel cases.

In the said circular, the High Court directed judges to determine whether the imposition of a fine alone in libel cases would best serve the interest of justice.

Puno also urged Congress to look into the possibility of putting a cap on civil liability for libel of media people.

“It is not the threat of imprisonment that handcuffs media. The punches of poverty coming from threats of unlimited civil liability can also convert some of their backbones into mere wishbones,” he said.

Among the groups and individuals participating in the three-day conference are the Inter American Press Association (IAPA), Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility, Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism, Tony Stabile Center for Investigative Journalism of the Columbia University’s Graduate school of Journalism, Free Legal Assistance Group (FLAG), Institute for Foreign and International Criminal Law (IFICL), International Center for Transitional Justice (ICTJ), Freedom Fund for Filipino Journalists, National Union of Journalists of the Philippines, Committee to Protect Journalist.

Other delegates are Supreme Court Associate Justice Adolf Azcuna, UP Professor Raul Pangalangan, Court of Appeals Justice Lucas Bersamin, Gonzalo Marroquin (IAPA), Ricardo Trotti (IAPA), lawyer Jose Diokno (FLAG), Jan Michael Simon (IFICL), Argentina CA Justice Eduardo Rodolfo Freiler, Judge Fernando Andreu Merelles of Spain, Judge Santiago Pedraz Gomez of Spain, Christine Chung of the Schell Center for International Human Rights, Ruben Carranza (ICTJ) ,Melinda Quintos de Jesus (CMFR), 2000 Ramon Magsaysay Awardee for Journalism Atmakusumah Astraatmadja and several others.

In an interview, Trotti, director of IAPA-Press Freedom Program and Press Institute, said journalists in the Philippines are encountering the same problems like journalists in Latin-American countries.

He said this was the main reason why IAPA decided to work hand-in-hand with SEAPA and other press freedom advocates to address the problem on unabated media killings.

Trotti added that the writs of amparo and habeas data which were recently instituted by the remedies recently are not enough to protect journalists from harassments and killings.

“I believe those (writs) are mainly for freedom of expression itself, but for freedom of the press I believe you need all the resources to have in one country. For instance, Freedom of Information Act (FIA), that’s something that is a requirement in every good and strong democracy, the right of the people to access to information by the state and some others…,” Trotti said.

“We need to find some goals and strategy to cope with the issues, especially making people aware of the problems that journalists have, I believe educating the people about the right of speech, the right of expression, is the main key for democracies,” Trotti said.


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Immigrants Less Likely to Commit Serious Crime in California

By Maria Sunantha Quibilan/

LOS ANGELES — California’s immigrants, including both legal and illegal immigrants, are far less likely than average US-born citizens to commit serious crime, according to a new report released on Monday.

The study conducted by the Public Policy Institute of California, a nonpartisan research group, showed that foreign-born residents which make up more than 35 percent of the state’s adult population account for only around 17 percent of its adult prison population.

It also revealed that several California cities experienced a decrease in crime rates amid recent immigration waves, data that counters the widely-held notion that cities with large immigrant populations are hotspots of criminal activity.

According to the report’s authors, these findings suggest that the long-standing perception that immigration is a threat to public safety is unjustified.

Kristin Butcher, one of the report’s authors and an associate professor of economics at Wellesley College, said that the low rate of incarceration among immigrants has something to do with US immigration policies, which requires the careful selection of visa applicants and the deportation of illegal immigrants guilty of serious crimes like gang involvement and murder. “The type of people who are immigrating are less likely to commit crimes because they’re here for jobs,” she said.

Butcher and her co-author Anne Morrison Piehl, associate professor of economics at Rutgers University, conducted their research by examining California’s foreign-born population, including anyone born outside the U.S., regardless of their naturalization status, and without differentiation among legal and illegal immigrants. Then they focused on men ages 18 to 40 incarcerated for crimes in California prisons and jails, making comparisons with their American-born counterparts with the use of data from the California Census.

The report also noted the following findings:

• Among men ages 18 to 40 (the group most likely to commit crimes) native-born Americans are jailed in state prisons at a rate more than 2.5 times higher than foreign-born men, and are 10 times more likely to be imprisoned.

• Non-citizen men from Mexico ages 18 to 40 (a group most disproportionately likely to have entered the U.S. illegally) are more than eight times less likely than U.S. born men in the same age group to end up in a correctional facility.

• “Our research indicates that limiting immigration, requiring higher educational levels to obtain visas, or spending more money to increase penalties against criminal immigrants will have little impact on public safety,” said Butcher.


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Healthcare Workers Strike Over Employer Misconduct: New management allegedly cut benefits, violated federal labor laws

by Malou Liwanag-Aguilar/

MILLBRAE — Health workers at Emmanuel Convalescent Hospital in Millbrae held a 24-hour strike last Friday, Feb. 22, over allegations that the new owners have violated lawsseveral federal labor laws, including cuts in benefits and firing of workers who were union members.

There are approximately 87 employees at Emmanuel, all represented by the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) United Healthcare Workers-West. It was reported that caregivers in the facility lost benefits since the Ragudos took over. The union also said that eight union activists were fired without just cause. The Ragudos have denied the allegations and claimed the opposite.

The 140-bed nursing home was purchased last August by Filipinos Amparo and Carlos Ragudo of A&C Health Care Services from the now-bankrupt Pleasant Care Corporation, which was also owned by a Filipino. Majority of the healthcare workers in Emmanuel are Filipinos and Samoans.

In a phone interview with Asian Journal, A&C Chief Financial Officer Ampy Ragudo said, “The demands of the workers are horrendously high and extremely unreasonable.” She also added that they have agreed to meet again with the union on Feb. 27, Wednesday.

Mau Kiliona, a healthcare worker who participated in the strike last Friday, said that the union already met with the owners twice, but nothing came out from the meetings. “They have not recognized anything, or any contract. They have cut our pension contributions and only gave us 50 percent of monthly health insurance,” she said.

Two Filipino healthcare workers who have requested to remain anonymous have also expressed their disappointment about the new owners’ actions. “Hindi nila ni-recognize ang union. Para silang mga bata, pabago-bago ng isip. (They refused to recognize the union. They’re like kids, who keep on changing their minds.)” Both workers have worked for five years, and have also added that the nursing home is understaffed.

This has made the union upset, since the Ragudos reduced caregivers’ health, retirement and paid time-off benefits. However, according to Ragudo, previous owner Pleasant Care Corporation never signed the workers’ contract, making any policies from the old ownership void. Charges of unfair labor practices have been filed with the National Labor Relations Board, which will decide if the accusations have merit. Ragudo explained that A&C has only been managing the home for six months and that it still has to see how it will be able to get its return in terms of revenue. “If I can find a health plan that is within the budget, we will give it to our employees,” she said and added, “but their demands are unreasonable, like asking for a three times a year increase.

As for the striking workers, it was back to work as usual, after the 24-hour strike last Friday. Still, they say that they are prepared to go on strike again if the union and the Ragudos fail to come to an agreement about the reinstating the benefits of the workers.


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Rights Groups Advocate SFPD Language Access Policy: Calls for increased education and awareness on its provisions

By Malou Liwanag-Aguilar/

SAN FRANCISCO — Civil rights organizations, legal services groups and representatives of the San Francisco Police Department (SFPD) highlighted the provisions of the SFPD’s Department General Order (DGO) 5.20, a comprehensive language access protocol. A call for increased community education and awareness on the rights contained in the DGO was expressed as well.

The DGO 5.20, or Language Access Services for Limited English Proficient (LEP) Persons, outlines a clear protocol to guide the SFPD in their interactions with the LEP residents they serve. Some hallmarks of the DGO include requiring officers to provide access to free language assistance to LEP individuals they encounter; requiring interviews with LEP witnesses or victims to be conducted by a bilingual officer or qualified civilian interpreter; ensuring that family members, neighbors,friends, and bystanders are not used as interpreters; and providing forms to witnesses or victims in their primary language.

The highest order within the SFPD, the DGO was unanimously voted and adopted by the SFPD in October 2007, and is amongst the strongest and most comprehensive language access policies of any police department in the US. However, many community groups felt that there needs to be an increased outreach to English-learner communities on the provisions of the DGO.

“We are a very diverse community,” said Angela Chan, Staff Attorney for the Juvenile Justice Project at the Asian Law Caucus, in a brief phone interview with Asian Journal.

“This protocol affects all aspects of the community — it impacts the youth, touches on immigration, and assures safety within the community.”

Chan also added that 37 percent of San Francisco’s population are immigrants and/or LEPs, so the passage of the policy is an important step in assuring a more thorough protection for immigrant families, as well as be able to understand due process in any legal or police situation.

The need for a strong language policy at the SFPD was particularly felt following some alarming incidents between LEP individuals and police officers, which were intensified by language barriers. Cases of SFPD shootings of LEP men, both Chinese Americans were reported in 2003 and 2004. Both men were said to be in need of mental health services, and advocates felt that a clear language protocol could have been used to address the communication problem between the SFPD and LEP to prevent such situations. Other cases reported involved police shootings of LEP individuals throughout the Bay Area, including the death of a Vietnamese woman in San Jose in 2003 and two Korean men in 2005 in Dublin.


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McCain on Immigration

By Maria Sunantha Quibilan/

LOS ANGELES — With the presidential primaries coming to an end soon, the Republican party seems to have one clear frontrunner in Senator John McCain. He has been getting flak within the party for his stand on immigration — his stand being one that restrictionists criticize, according to the website of the nonprofit policy studies center IRC Americas Program.

McCain, who co-sponsored with Sen. Edward Kennedy a comprehensive immigration reform bill in 2006, supports “earned legalization” and temporary work programs for illegal immigrants. At the same time, he sees having a secure border as the most effective way to address the country’s immigration problem. Furthermore, he supports an electronic employment verifi cation system to discourage illegal immigration, pointing out that the issue is one that concerns national security.

Below are a few of the points McCain has made on the immigration issue as compiled in the Americas Program online policy report:

General position

“Things are terrible, and we’ve got to fix it. But we’re not going to fi x it until we have comprehensive immigration reform. When there’s a demand, there’s going to be a supply. There are jobs that Americans will not do, so we have to make it possible for someone to come to this country to do a job that an American won’t do and then go back to the country from where they came.”

“The proposal that we had would require fines, would require getting back in the line, would require deportation for some. It would require others to go back to the country of their origin. It would require an enormous amount of time, as long as 13 years, before anyone could even be eligible for citizenship in this country.”

“Our legislation does account for people who are here illegally, it does have an employment verifi cation system, and it weeds out those who shouldn’t be here, and it gives others a chance to remain in this country. Look, this is a national security issue fi rst and foremost. What we have done is come together with the president and the leaders of both parties, and sit down and fi gure out an approach to this problem. It is a serious national security problem. We need to act, and if someone else has a better idea, I’d love to have them give it to us.”

“We’ve been working very hard for a couple of months with Democrats and Republicans, led by the president and his Cabinet, to come up with a comprehensive solution and resolution of this terrible problem of illegal immigration. One thing we would all agree on, the status quo is not acceptable. We have to secure our borders. But we also need a temporary worker program, and we have to dispose of the issue of 12 million people who are in this country illegally. This issue needs to be addressed comprehensively.”

“Amnesty” and legalization

“… we never proposed amnesty. But then you’ve still got two other aspects of this issue that have to be resolved as well. We need to sit down as Americans and recognize these are God’s children as well. And they need some protection under the law; they need some of our love and compassion. I want to assure you that I’ll enforce the borders fi rst.”

“Very seldom have I seen an issue that aroused this much passion with the American people. No one is for amnesty. I and the president came forward with a plan that we thought was comprehensive and workable with the priority being border security, which remains my position. Why we failed is because the American people have lost trust and confidence in us. We have to succeed, because there’s 12 million people who are in this country illegally, which is de facto amnesty, and we need a temporary worker program. I commit to securing the borders first. We can secure those borders. As president, I would have the border state governors certify that those borders were indeed secure.”

“Anything short of rounding up 12 million people and deporting them is called amnesty by the opponents of this legislation … I’ll point out that [illegal immigrants] will have to pay back taxes, they’ll have to pay a fine, they’ll have to go back to their country of origin, and it’s at least 15 years before they are in anyway eligible for citizenship.”

We have to stop the illegal immigration, but we’ve had waves throughout our history. Hispanics is what we’re talking about, a different culture, a different language, which has enriched my state where Spanish was spoken before English was. In Washington DC, go to the Vietnam War Memorial and look at the names engraved in black granite. You’ll find a whole lot of Hispanic names. They must come into the country legally, but they have enriched our culture and our nation as every generation of immigrants before them.”

Guest worker program

“I still believe we have to have a temporary worker program that works and addresses the issues of the 12 million people that are here illegally.”


(For more on the profiles of the immigration stands of Democratic and Republican presidential candidates, visit http://americas.irc-online. org.)

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Immigration Amnesty, Still a Dream Away

By Cynthia De Castro/

LOS ANGELES — “I think my pro-amnesty candidate will become president. So, I’m hoping that next year, there will be an amnesty,” said Lita, a Filipina who’s been actively campaigning for her pro-amnesty presidential candidate to her family and friends.

Like Lita, millions of illegal immigrants are wishing for the same thing. But how soon can a comprehensive immigration reform actually happen?

“Don’t hold your breath,” said Tomas Jimenez, Assistant Professor of Sociology at the University of California, San Diego, in a recent newspaper article. Jimenez, whose teaching and research focus primarily on immigration and assimilation, stated in his report that things don’t move that quickly in government.

Will Congress enact your preferred policies next year when there will be a larger Democratic majority and a pro-amnesty president?

A quick review of the past may shed some light on the answer, the report said. When President Bush came into office seven years ago, it was expected that amnesty will be passed shortly thereafter. But even before the terrorists’ 2001 attack, it had run into a wall. Then when the Senate passed an amnesty bill in 2006, veteran Washington hands all said it’s a done deal. But the House drew back and nothing happened. A few months later, when the Democrats took control of Congress, they and the White House again assumed amnesty would roll through quickly. But they couldn’t even get it through the Senate.

Meanwhile, border and worksite enforcement is taking on a momentum of its own. Half of the additional fencing mandated by Congress will be completed by the end of this year, political analysts say that Republican lawmakers and advocacy groups will keep a close eye on further progress. Employing illegal immigrants will continue to become more difficult, as more and more firms sign up for the E-Verify system, including all federal contractors, and as the Social Security “no-match letter” program goes into effect after it overcomes legal challenges.

All this means that when the new president and Congress take office next January, they will not likely want to make legalizing illegal aliens their first priority. Clinton or Obama would be much more likely to use their honeymoon with Congress to try to move forward on health care, while recently McCain pledged that he would not move forward on amnesty until there was “widespread consensus” on the success of border enforcement.

One blogger has theorized that Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton would be the least likely or able to move an amnesty through Congress as president. Not only is her rejection of driver’s licenses for illegal aliens a sign of greater caution, but anything she champions would be vehemently opposed by a united Republican bloc in Congress, something that would not happen with Sen. John McCain in the White House.

And, in fact, Rep. Rahm Emanuel, former Clinton White House official and architect of the 2006 Democratic takeover of the House, has said that amnesty would not be taken up until Clinton’s second term.

Analysts say this doesn’t mean there won’t be plenty of wrangling over immigration. Senators Ted Kennedy and Arlen Specter are likely to want to keep pushing a big McCain-Kennedy-style amnesty. Smaller immigration measures will come up and could pass, like the DREAM Act, the AgJobs bill or higher caps for certain indentured labor programs like the H1-B or H2-B visas.

But tough enforcement measures could also pass, notably Democratic Rep. Heath Shuler’s SAVE Act, a bipartisan measure with more than 140 co-sponsors that may even get a vote this year. Most importantly, this bill would phase in mandatory electronic verification of all new hires.

If there’s one thing that people can expect regarding immigration policies over the next few years is greater enforcement to significantly reduce illegal immigration. This is what many political observers are predicting. They say that only after the political elite has shown a willingness to enforce the law — and proven that willingness through significant reductions in the illegal population — will the public be ready even to debate proposals for amnesty.

Thus, while voting for a pro-comprehensive immigration reform candidate may be a good step in the right direction for FilAms who are hoping for amnesty , the reality is – it may just take a lot of time before that actually happens.


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Couple Sentenced for Abuse of Pinoy Workers

By Cynthia De Castro/

LOS ANGELES — An American motel owner in Oacama, South Dakota and his Filipina wife were sentenced on Feb. 22 for forcing almost a dozen Filipino OFWs into servitude and peonage.

US District Judge Charles Kornmann sentenced Robert John Farrell (4 years and 2 months in Federal prison) and his wife, Angelita Magat Farrell (3 years) after they were found guilty by a federal jury on Nov 2007. They were convicted with nine counts each of conspiracy to commit peonage, 4 counts of peonage, document servitude, visa fraud, and two counts of making false statements to federal agents.

A US Department of Labor investigator told the jury that he discovered records that indicated one Filipino worker worked as many as 160 hours in a week at the hotel. When not at the hotel, as many as nine Filipino workers were housed in a nearby two-bedroom apartment rented by the Farrells.

According to testimony, the Farrells paid the victims almost nothing. To make payroll records look legitimate, the Farrells handed workers paychecks for them to endorse but immediately took the checks back and deposited them into their own hotel bank account.

In their defense motion, it was stated that the case started from a request from Angelita Magat Farrell’s family members and friends in the Philippines to help them get US work visas. The couple agreed to help, and “were by no means attempting to set up some elaborate scheme to take advantage of the economically depressed Filipino workers,” the motion states. It was also stated that the terms of employment were fairly negotiated and that half the workers were “happy with their experience”.

However, the workers’ testimonies were in direct contrast to the Farrell’s. In an internet blog, the principal complainant, Maria Corazon Margallo, recalled the story of their plight.

She reported that their nightmare began right upon arrival. Their visas and passports were confi scated by their employers. They were made to sign overstated and escalating debt obligations, and were held to work from early morning to midnight. Their employers would threaten them with violence during late-hour meetings, denying them needed rest and sleep, and regularly admonished them about their debts and work performance.

Fortunately, Margallo has an uncle, Lucio Margallo II, who is a doctor living near the area. With his help, she was able to leave the Farrells and go back home to the Philippines. To help the workers who were left in Oacoma, Margallo lost no time to initiate a complaint in April 2006 before the local authorities and the US embassy. The doctor consulted a local judge who in turn recommended that the matter be referred to the State Department of Labor, the State Attorney and the Philippine Consulate in Chicago.

Another worker, Gina Agulto was able to convince the Farrells that she had to go home because her mother was seriously ill. When she got back to the Philippines, Agulto also wrote Dr. Margallo and asked him to help the Filipino workers left in Dakota.

“I left a good and stable job, left my husband and 3 kids to sacrifice with a promise of wonderful things for us. The separation even instilled a negative effect on my children. It gives me a very sad and heavy heart that I had to go home and have accomplished nothing at all. But I cannot furthermore stay and work for them and slowly lose my self-respect and dignity with the way they treated us,”Agulto wrote. “I’d rather go home and start all over again. But, I am not going to allow them to get away with all these illegal acts. I want them to realize their unjust ways and be penalized. Please assist our co-Filipinos who are still there right now. They are helpless and have no one to turn to but you.”

Several of the workers were able to escape from the Farrells in July 2006. They asked help from the same doctor and they called Lyman County State’s Attorney Ann Arnoldy, who put them in contact with Chamberlain Chief of Police Joseph C. Hutmacher. From this point, several US agencies cooperated to develop the case: the US Department of Labor, the South Dakota Division of Criminal Investigation, the Chamberlain (South Dakota) Police Department, the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Attaché at the US Embassy in Manila, Philippines, and the Department of Homeland Security.


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