Monthly Archives: April 2008

The GSIS E-Card System Controversy: A Faulty Pension System

By Joseph Pimentel/

(First of Three Parts))

LOS ANGELES – Dolores is fed up with the technological problems plaguing the Government Service Insurance System (GSIS) E-card. Four years ago, the GSIS implemented a new policy that required retired government employees and their survivors to register for an E-card to receive their monthly pension.

It’s almost been a year since Dolores signed up. She said she has not received anything. The GSIS is the Philippines provider of social security benefits for government employees and their survivors.
“No pensioners who got the e-card here in the US have received any single cent from the GSIS,” said Dolores. “We don’t know what the [Philippine] government is doing with our money.”

At 68 years old, she should be basking in her golden years. But she finds herself stuck in a rut. She did not want to use her full name for fear of reprisal.

She said that her husband worked for the Philippine government for more than 20 years and served as an accountant in the City of Manila. Her husband passed away several years ago leaving her with his pension from the Philippine government.

Since his death, Dolores moved in with her daughter in Southern California. She relies on the small pension her husband left her to send money back home to her family in the Philippines.

“Every penny counts,” she said. “I still want to send money back home to my sons in the Philippines.”

She tried contacting the GSIS office in Manila. Her calls went unanswered. She vented her concerns to the Philippine Consulate in Los Angeles but when she arrived, she realized that she was not alone in her gripes.

Nationwide, pensioners have been complaining about their social security benefits. There are almost 5,000 retired Philippine government employees and survivors residing in the US, many of whom are in their twilight years.

“You only have to go to the PhilConsulate office and hear the frustrations of all the pensioners who have to travel to Los Angeles and be disappointed all the time,” she said. “These pensioners are all old. They sit in their wheel chairs and wait hours before they could register for an e-card. And once they get home, they’ll find out there’s no money for them.”

The E-card system

In 2004, GSIS President and General Manager Winston Garcia upgraded to the e-card for a more convenient disbursement of pensions. For years, the GSIS had issued checks but problems plagued this system. Some pensioners would move and not update their address. Others passed away but friends, family and relatives would continue to cash in the deceased persons checks. Some checks would be lost in the mail.

The E-card made sure that these problems are addressed especially on the issue of fraud.

“It would also generate savings on expenses for supplies and materials, such as those for vouchers and checks, postage and even on personnel cost,” said GSIS Vice President Enriqueta Disuanco to the Asian Journal in an overseas phone call. “The E-card is a safer, easier, and more effective way for pensioners worldwide to receive their money at their local bank.”

The E-card works like an ATM debit-card. Every month, the GSIS deposits money into the pensioner’s account. The pensioner could get cash in any bank or ATM machine with a Visa logo.

The GSIS requires that the pensioner to sign up initially and renew their membership every year at a local kiosk. However, there are only seven GSIS kiosks in the US – Hawaii, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Chicago, New York, and Washington DC.

Worse, for many pensioners in the US whose average age is 75, getting to a kiosk is a physical and costly challenge.

Not really hassle-free

Virgilia Rivera of Miami, Florida found out the hassle when she and her mother had to fly to New York to enroll for an e-card and collect back payment from her previous pension checks.

Her mother Eufrocina Namilit, 85,  a former schoolteacher who had been receiving her monthly pension normally since the 1980’s until the placement of the e-cards in 2006.

“It’s ridiculous. They stopped sending my mother’s check without notifying us,” said Rivera in a phone call to the Asian Journal from the South Florida Consulate office. “I have tried contacting the GSIS, they don’t answer any of our calls, or it’s busy or we’re placed on hold only to never hear from them.”

A friend informed her of the GSIS new policy of registering for an e-card.

Rivera said she flew with her mother to New York to sign up for an e-card. She spent more than $2,000 for airfare for both of them, hotel stay and transportation to and from the Consulate. Rivera’s mother is also wheelchair bound and “fragile.”

“My mom can’t stand the cold weather,” said Rivera. “She’s too old to be traveling.”

Rivera, a healthcare official in Miami, said that when she arrived at the New York Consulate office the large number of pensioners waiting in line surprised her. She saw that many pensioners were wheelchair bound and some carried oxygen tanks.

“They would wait early in the morning and stay for the whole day to try and register,” she said.

Rivera collected her mother’s previous pension check – $1,000 not enough to cover their expenses of registering.

“The worst part is once we got my mother’s e-card in the mail, it was the wrong picture, her name was misspelled and the card had the wrong account number,” said Rivera.

“I’m writing a letter to the Philippine embassy about this mess,” said Philippine Consulate of South Florida Honorary Consul General Angelo Macatangay, who had been speaking with Rivera about the situation. “We do not want this to happen to any retired Filipinos.” (

(To be Continued)


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Charice to Appear on Oprah

by April Tiamzon/

NEW YORK – Mark your calendar because on May 12, 2008, Filipina singing sensation Charice  Pempengco will share her talent to US audience anew in the Oprah Winfrey Show.

There is no stopping the 15-yearold diva. A video on YouTube has been showing teasers of her upcoming appearance on Oprah. The exact date, however, was revealed only on Thursday.

The upcoming episode where Charice is set to appear showcases children with amazing talents. The special performances will feature gifted children ballroom dancing, playing the drums, guitar, and even pointing cities on a World Map.

The upcoming episode where Charice is set to appear showcases children with amazing talents. The special performances will feature gifted children ballroom dancing, playing the drums, guitar, and even pointing cities on a World Map.


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Asia’s Top Airlines See Filipinos as ‘Significant Market’

By Cynthia De Castro/

LOS ANGELES – More and more Filipinos are traveling the world over and this has made them a “significant market” in the global airline industry.

“We recognize the significance of the Filipino market in the airline industry that is why we have daily flights to Manila and Cebu,” declared Tony Tyler, the Chief Executive Officer of Cathay Pacific during the recent LA press conference of Oneworld, the world’s leading quality airline alliance.

The CEO of Japan Airlines, Haruka Nishimatsu, echoed the same sentiment when he stated at the same event in the Ritz Carlton Hotel in Marina del Rey last week that the “Filipino market is very important” and JAL recognizes “the value of Filipinos” in their corporate strategy.

Major increase in international and domestic travels

Recent surveys substantiate the Filipino market’s value in the airline industry. In the second half of 2007 Travel report by MasterCard Worldwide, the Philippines ranked in the top 5 in outbound travel across Asia Pacific. The report anticipated an increase in year-on-year growth in the volume of outbound air travel in the Philippines (5.7 percent), Australia (5.6 percent), Indonesia (5.6 percent), Hong Kong (4.9 percent), and New Zealand (2.1 percent).

But the most recent report by MasterCard (2008) has even increased the forecast for the Philippines outbound travel to a 5.9% year-on-year growth, expecting 1.3 million Filipinos traveling outside of the country in the first six months of 2008.

The increase in the number of airborne Filipinos is not just confined to outbound travelers. Recent industry data reveal that the air travel within the Philippines is the third fastest growing market in the world, after India and Mexico. The country’s domestic air travel market grew by 23 percent with almost 10.4 million Filipino travelers in 2007 compared with 8.5 million passengers in 2006.

Hawaiian Airlines now flies to Manila

Noting the considerable growth of the number of Filipinos traveling to and from the Philippines, another international airline has taken a major corporate move targeting the market. A few days ago, Hawaiian Airlines made its first flight to Manila, marking their first route to Asia in their 79-year history. The maiden flight launched the first of four weekly nonstop flights to Manila.

The president of Hawaiian Airlines, Mark Dunkerly, was excited with the company’s new flights to Manila.  “ We think there’s going to be a growing economic relationship between the state of Hawaii and the Philippines,” he added.

Filipinos in North America- major market

A considerable number of Filipino air travelers visit North America.

For the US inbound travelers, most of the Filipino visitors go to California. In 2006, of the 154,000 Filipino visitors, 69%, or 105,000 visited California. These Filipinos tended to center their trip itineraries on the major cities of Los Angeles (69%), San Francisco (48%) and Anaheim (11%).

For the US outbound Filipinos, a majority of them travel to visit the Philippines. The Philippine Department of Tourism estimates an average of 1 million balikbayans visit the country every year, most of them coming from the US. And this number continues to increase with 80,000 Filipinos migrating to the US yearly, adding to the current 4 million Filipinos in America.

Another country in North America with a substantial number of Filipino travelers is Canada. Last week, Statistics Canada reported that the country’s  “visible minorities” now number more than five million due to the huge influx of Asian immigrants, coming mostly from China and the Philippines.

Cathay Pacific CEO Tony Tyler took note of this highly profitable market stressing that  “The Filipino market in our North America routes is specially important to Cathay Pacific”.

Tyler, who admitted that he feels a special attachment to the Philippines having lived there for a time while working in the Cathay Pacific Manila office, said Cathay is enhancing its services to better serve its Filipino passengers, continually offering promotions and special offers to attract and satisfy its market.

“For our Filipino passengers- like our other passengers, we give very, very good rates -from first class to economy. Cheap rates compared to others, “ said Tyler.

More Filipina Flight Attendants

Perhaps another recognition of the Filipinos’ contribution to the airline industry is the move of several airlines to include Filipina flight attendants to their cabin crew.

Haruka Nishimatsu, the CEO of Japan Airlines, highlighted the fact that the JAL Group recognizes the value of Filipinos in their corporate strategy as demonstrated by recent major corporate moves taken by its subsidiary JALways Co. Ltd.

In what Nishimatsu calls a “unique project”, JALways has recently employed 20 Filipina flight attendants and opened a training center in Manila.

JAL Manager for Public Relations, Stephen Pearlman, reported why the JAL Group took the unprecedented move involving the Filipinos. “We recognize the Filipinas’ excellent bilingual skills, their very hospitable nature, and their innate warm and caring service. This is why the JAL Group decided to hire a big number of Filipinas,” said Pearlman,

“We are confident that the Filipinas can further enhance our service. They will surely give our passengers the JAL brand of care and attention and maintain our high standards of service, “Pearlman added.

Another airline, Atlasjet Airlines, Turkey’s leading private airline company, also recently recruited 56 Filipina flight attendants for their operations in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. The Filipinas underwent a three-week training program and were assigned to service domestic flights in Saudi Arabia.

With all these significant developments in the travel industry, RP President Arroyo has reported the government’s ambitious aim of reaching 5 million tourists by the end of the decade. With ventures such as the opening of a Shangri-La hotel in Boracay and the Manila Ocean Park in 2008, and promoting the country’s ecotourism and medical tourism, the number of Filipino travelers is indeed anticipated to grow at an even more sustained pace in the future.


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Housekeeper Killed in Road Mishap

By Malou Liwanag-Aguilar/

SAN FRANCISCO –A 66-year-old Filipina who spent 20 years as a housekeeper for Hotel Whitcomb on Market Street, was killed when a Department of Public Works (DPW) driver hit her on Bayshore Boulevard on the morning of April 12.

Florencia Tiongco was in the crosswalk, pushing a cart of her laundry, when she was hit at 8:15 am  across the busy Bayshore Boulevard in the Bayview neighborhood.  The DPW city pickup was turning left onto Bayshore from Bacon Street, police said.

“The truck had the green light to go and the pedestrian had the green light to walk across the street,” Sgt. Wilfred Williams, a spokesman for the San Francisco Police Department said in a report by the San Francisco Chronicle.

The driver of the city-owned Ford pickup was a woman who has worked for DPW for 10 years, according to Public Works spokeswoman Christine Falvey.  That unfortunate morning, she was on her way back to the department’s operation yard after delivering street-cleaning supplies.  She stayed on the scene after the accident and cooperated with police investigation.  The city employee was also taken to the San Francisco General Hospital where she was given the routine alcohol and drug tests.

As of this year, it reported that five pedestrians have been killed on city streets due to vehicle collisions, which includes Tiongco.    The SFPD, City Attorney’s Office and DPW are all conducting investigations about the incident, while the 55-year-old driver has been placed on paid administrative duty.

Tiongco moved to the US from the Philippines in 1989 to join her family.  She lived with her daughter not far from the scene of the accident.  The victim, who is said to have seven children, 15 grandchildren and two great-grandchildren had worked at the Hotel Whitcomb to send money back to her family in the Philippines, as said by her granddaughter, Christine Sarmiento.  Sarmiento also mentioned that her grandmother was already planning to retire this year and their family had plans of going back to the Philippines. The family is now instead making plans to go home to bury her.


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DOJ Goes After Hoarders

by Joel Roja/

MANILA — THE National Bureau of Investigation (NBI)-Task Force on Anti-Rice Hoarding on Monday filed criminal complaints before the Department of Justice (DOJ) against 13 rice traders for allegedly violating Republic Act No. 7581 or The Price Act and other laws that prohibit hoarding and other similar offenses.

DOJ secretary Raul Gonzalez, in an interview, said that he immediately directed the Bureau of Immigrations (BI) to put in its hold-departure the 13 persons to prevent them from leaving the country.

Those charged were identified as Anthony Choi Angeles, Romeo Mariano, Jr., Eleonor Rodriguez, Meynardo Guevarra, Francisco Dio, Arnel Lagonoy, Mary Ann Magno, Geonell Vin Centeno, Delia Barreda, Sofia Guzman, Prestifero Prado, Leonides Manalo and Lydia Supremido.

A preliminary investigation will be conducted by the DOJ Anti-Hoarding Task Force headed by Senior State Prosecutor Roberto Lao to determine whether there is a probable cause to pursue the filing of criminal charges against them before the court.

The rice traders are facing charges of violation of the provisions of RA 7581 which prohibit illegal price manipulation through the commission of hoarding, cornering or hoarding of grain, unauthorized possession of government rice and diversion of government stocks by retailers authorized to sell government stocks, unauthorized re-bagging or re-sacking of government rice in commercial sacks, selling or lending government stocks to another grains businessman, lack of required signboard and lack of guaranty bon and fire insurance.

Gonzalez stressed that the filling of charges against the 13 rice traders only proves the government’s no-nonsense campaign to address the perceived rich shortage problem.

Gonzalez also assures the public that the government is doing all it can to alleviate the rice problem, adding that the country has sufficient rice stocks to last for 57 days.

He added that steps are being made to insure that the country’s rice reserve will be increased in the coming days.

The 13 rice traders may be sentenced to a maximum of 15 years and may be required to pay P2 million fine if convicted.

The DOJ secretary also said that President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo is working very hard to insure that the country will have sufficient rice for all its citizens.

He said the government is now talking with the governments of Thailand and Vietnam in order to get more supply of rice.

The Philippines recently imported some 1.5 million metric tons of rice from Vietnam recently even as the United States promised to supply the country with cheap rice to augment its reserves.

This developed as the Bureau of Customs also lodged with the DOJ five cases involving illegal smuggling of wheat flour, unlawful importation of flour, illegal shipment of onions and falsification of business permit.

BOC Commissioner Napoleon Morales personally filed the complaints before the office of Chief State Prosecutor Jovencito Zuno.

The agency filed two cases against the directors and officers Rubills International Inc. for undervaluation, underweight and lack of necessary import permit from the Bureau of Food and Drugs (BFAD) on their shipments of wheat flour valued approximately at P30. 8 million with corresponding duties and taxes of P2.59 million.

The BOC identified these officers as Francisco Billones, Angel Deray, Mary Lucille Billones, Susana de la Cruz Go, Anacleto Sanchez, Roberto Amposta, Oscar Torres, Maria Catapang Jumento, Rosalio Teves, Leonardo de la Pas, and Hannah Aileen Lim Hernandez and Meynardo Banayo, licensed customs broker.

Another complaint was filed by the BOC involving unlawful importation of sugar consigned to Medardo Banglos which was made to appear as locally produced in order to evade payment of duties and taxes and the required import permit from the Sugar Regulatory Authority (SRA).

Customs intelligence and agents apprehended the shipment at Port of Manila from Cotabato City on board a Superferry 09 after discovering said shipment of sugars, based on its markings and labels, originated from Thailand.

Said shipment was in violation of Section 3601 in relation to sections 2503 and 2530 of the Tariff and Customs Code of the Philippines.

The fourth case involves the shipment of 6 x 40 containers of onions with an approximate value of P890,249 which was imported without the required import clearance from the Bureau of Plant Industry in violation of the provisions of TCCP.

Named respondents in the case are Lilybeth Valenzuela, Mahesh Kumar, Loida Bracamonte, Luzner Caasi, Dranreb Viojan, and Manuel Joey Rex Anito and Diosdao Bagon, the licensed customs broker who processed the subject shipments.

BOC, likewise, filed a criminal complaint  against Gloria Ho De Mesa, Tito Ho De Mesa and Racuel Cruz-Mayuga for having submitted falsified business permit with the customs accreditation secretariat in connection with the application for accreditation of Cleomar Trading Incorporated as importer.

Morales said the filing of the charges is part of the BOC’s crackdown against smugglers of regulated commodities.


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Filipino Nurses’ Trial Postponed

By Sunantha Mendoza-Quibilan/

LOS ANGELES – The trial of the 10 Filipino nurses who are facing criminal charges for misdemeanor conspiracy and child endangerment was postponed on Friday after an appeals court said it will consider a request submitted by the defense to drop the charges. The trial, which has been postponed several times, was scheduled to begin on April 28.

“This means that they are taking a serious look at what we are saying.” Said defense attorney James Druker, who filed the motion claiming that federal labor laws, and not criminal laws, have jurisdiction in the case.

The nurses, who had been recruited from the Philippines to address the problem of staffing shortage in the US, resigned from their jobs on April 7, 2006 at Avalon Gardens in Smithtown, Long Island, where they were in charge of looking after terminally ill children. All claimed to have been subjected to demeaning and unfair working conditions.

According to the prosecutors, the 10 nurses’ resignation without notice jeopardized the lives of their patients. Although none of these patients suffered ill effects, the allegation states that the nurses were aware that the walk out would make it difficult to find replacements.

Lawyers for the 10 nurses, however, claim that one of the nurses remained on duty on for an additional four hours past her shift on the night of the resignation to make sure the patients would be given proper attention and care.

If convicted, the nurses could serve up to a year in jail on each of 13 counts, have their nursing licenses revoked and face deportation. Their attorney, who advised them to carry out the mass resignation, is also being prosecuted.

According to Robert Clifford, a spokesman for Suffolk County District Attorney Thomas Spota, the court granted the reprieve because it has “determined there is insufficient time to issue a ruling” with regard the defense’s motion within the two weeks the trial was supposed to begin.

The nurses have the support of several Filipino organizations in the U.S., as well as the American Nurses Association and the New York and California Nurses Associations who are concerned that the case could set a bad precedent on the prosecution of nurses who quit their jobs. In addition to these organizations, Local 1199 of the Service Employees International Union – the largest health care workers’ local in the nation – earlier this week declared their support for the nurses.


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Hundreds May Lose Jobs in LA

By Cynthia de Castro/

LOS ANGELES – Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa announced Tuesday that his proposed FY2008-2009 budget will include the layoff of 767 City employees to balance the city budget.

“The budget I will present to the City Council next week will include some deep cuts and difficult choices, but it will preserve our core priorities,” Mayor Villaraigosa said.

In the face of a $406 million projected budget shortfall for next year, the mayor said he is doing the necessary measures but reiterated his pledge to protect public safety.

“The budget will preserve our historic buildup of the Los Angeles Police Department, protect other critical public safety functions and infuse our neighborhoods most at risk of gang violence with targeted services our kids need to stay off the streets and of gangs,” said Villaraigosa.

Based on a comprehensive review of City services, the 767 positions to be eliminated will come from nearly every City department.

The Mayor’s FY2008-2009 budget – to be released on April 21 – will contain a list of additional cost-saving measures, including potential mandatory furloughs and shortened work weeks. Included in the plan will be $1.50 in spending cuts for every dollar in new revenue.


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