Philippines resumes deployment of over 400 OFWs to Saudi Arabia

Philippines resumes deployment of over 400 OFWs to Saudi Arabia
Overseas Filipino Workers (OFW) wearing protective masks standby outside the Ninoy Aquino International Airport in Pasay City, Metro Manila, Philippines. (Reuters)
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Updated 29 May 2021

Philippines resumes deployment of over 400 OFWs to Saudi Arabia

Philippines resumes deployment of over 400 OFWs to Saudi Arabia
  • Workers were left stranded at Manila airport due to ambiguity over payment of COVID-19 test costs after reaching Kingdom

MANILA: A day after more than 400 overseas Filipino workers (OFW) were prevented from leaving for Saudi Arabia due to ambiguity over who would bear the costs for the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) tests and quarantine measures upon their arrival in the Kingdom, the Philippine government said on Saturday that the deployments had been resumed.

“The temporary suspension of deployment to the Kingdom is hereby lifted,” Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III said in a statement.

He added that the Saudi government had assured the Philippines that “foreign employers and agencies will shoulder the costs of institutional quarantine and other COVID-19 protocols upon arrival in the KSA.”

The Saudi Embassy in Manila also confirmed the development with a post on Twitter, expressing the Saudi “government’s keenness to protect departing workers from the costs of precautionary protocols.”

On Friday, hundreds of Saudi-bound Filipino workers — unaware of the suspension order issued by the labor department on Thursday afternoon — found themselves stranded at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport in the capital region, Metro Manila.

Cielo Villaluna, a spokesperson for the Philippine Airlines, said that 283 OFWs were stopped from boarding the Manila-Riyadh flight, while 120 were not accepted on its Manila-Dammam flight.

Bello said that after the Kingdom’s assurance, he had advised the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration to immediately lift the ban on deployment and provide the necessary clearance to all OFWs traveling to the Kingdom.

“I understand that the suspension order drew confusion and irritation among our affected departing OFWs. Again, I apologize for the inconvenience and momentary anguish that it may have caused our dear OFWs. It was in the best interest of our OFWs that such a decision had to be made,” he added.

In a radio interview on Saturday, Bello explained that he was compelled to order the temporary deployment ban to “protect the OFWs” after learning about Saudi quarantine rules whereby OFWs needed to be tested and quarantined for 10 days after arrival at the cost of $3,500 each.

“That’s fine with me if that is their protocol there, but it’s not clear who will pay for it? ... I was told that the employer would shoulder the cost, but where is the order?” Bello said.

For clarification on the matter, Bello said he spoke with Saudi Ambassador to the Philippines Abdullah Al-Bussairy on Friday night and asked the Saudi government to ensure employers bear the COVID-19 expenses for the OFWs. He received a notification from the Saudi government on Saturday morning, mandating foreign employers to shoulder the COVID-19 costs for all OFWs upon arrival.

Bello assured the OFWs who were not allowed to leave on Friday that his office would provide all necessary assistance, including the “extension of their travel documents and re-booking of their flights.”

Meanwhile, he also spoke about a similar issue faced by OFWs in Qatar, who were required to pay $3,500 for COVID-19 tests and quarantine costs.

“The moment I get a formal notice, I will do the same [as the labor department did in the case of Saudi-bound OFWs],” Bello said.


When Harry — and Meghan — met the UN chief in New York

When Harry — and Meghan — met the UN chief in New York
Updated 6 sec ago

When Harry — and Meghan — met the UN chief in New York

When Harry — and Meghan — met the UN chief in New York
UNITED NATIONS: Prince Harry and Meghan Markle visited the United Nations in New York on Saturday to meet with Secretary-General Antonio Guterres during the 193-member world body’s annual gathering of leaders.
“It was a lovely meeting,” Markle told reporters as the couple left UN headquarters.
The Duke and Duchess of Sussex are in New York to attend the Global Citizen Live concert in Central Park later on Saturday, which aims to push for greater action to combat climate change and urge rich countries to share one billion doses of COVID-19 vaccines with nations most in need.
On Thursday, the 37-year-old prince and Meghan, 40, visited the city’s memorial for the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the World Trade Center. They were accompanied by New York Governor Kathy Hochul and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio.
The couple quit their royal duties last year to build an independent life and moved from Britain to California, where they live with their two children — two-year-old Archie and Lilibet, who was born in June.
They have launched their Archewell Foundation as well as cutting lucrative deals for producing TV shows and a podcast. Last week the couple graced the cover of Time magazine’s annual 100 most influential people in the world issue.
World leaders returned to the United Nations over the past week with a focus on boosting efforts to fight both climate change and COVID-19. Last year leaders sent video statements for the annual high-level UN General Assembly instead of traveling to New York amid the pandemic.
Guterres also met with Queen Maxima of the Netherlands on Thursday. She is Guterres’s Special Advocate for Inclusive Finance for Development.

India’s Modi targets neighbors at UN, but not by name

India’s Modi targets neighbors at UN, but not by name
Updated 25 September 2021

India’s Modi targets neighbors at UN, but not by name

India’s Modi targets neighbors at UN, but not by name
  • Modi called upon the international community to help the women, children and minorities of Afghanistan
  • He made no mention of India’s death toll but reaffirmed announcement that it would restart exporting vaccines

NEW YORK: Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi didn’t directly mention Pakistan or China in his Saturday speech to the United Nations General Assembly, but the targets of his address were clear.
He called upon the international community to help the women, children and minorities of Afghanistan and said that it was imperative the country not be used as a base from which to spread terror.
“We also need to be alert and ensure that no country tries to take advantage of the delicate situation there, and use it as a tool for its own selfish interests,” he said in an apparent reference to Pakistan, wedged in between Afghanistan and India.
Modi also highlighted what he called the need to protect oceans from “the race for expansion and exclusion.” India and China have long competed for influence in the Indian Ocean.
On the heels of waves of coronavirus surges that have ravaged India, Modi made no mention of his own country’s death toll. But he reaffirmed last week’s announcement that India would restart exporting vaccines next month.
“Deeply conscious of its responsibility toward mankind, India has resumed the process of providing vaccines to those who need it in the world,” Modi said, also inviting vaccine manufacturers to come to India.
Modi said it was incumbent on the United Nations itself to strengthen its own effectiveness and boost its credibility.
“Today, all kinds of questions have been raised about the UN,” he said. “We have seen such questions being raised related to the climate crisis. And we also saw that during COVID, the proxy war going on in many parts of the world, terrorism, and the recent Afghan crisis have further highlighted the seriousness of these questions.”


Taliban hang up bodies of alleged kidnappers in Afghan city

Taliban hang up bodies of alleged kidnappers in Afghan city
Updated 25 September 2021

Taliban hang up bodies of alleged kidnappers in Afghan city

Taliban hang up bodies of alleged kidnappers in Afghan city
  • "Their bodies were brought to the main square and hung up in the city as a lesson for other kidnappers": Official
  • Footage of the bloodstained corpse, swinging on the crane was widely shared on social media

KABUL: Taliban authorities in the western Afghan city of Herat killed four alleged kidnappers and hung their bodies up in public to deter others, a local government official said on Saturday.
Sher Ahmad Ammar, deputy governor of Herat, said the men had kidnapped a local businessman and his son and intended to take them out of the city, when they were seen by patrols that had set up checkpoints around the city.
An exchange of gunfire ensued in which all four were killed, while one Taliban soldier was wounded.
"Their bodies were brought to the main square and hung up in the city as a lesson for other kidnappers," he said.
The two kidnapping victims were released unharmed, he said.
Herat resident Mohammad Nazir said he had been shopping for food near the city's Mostofiat Square when he heard a loudspeaker announcement calling for people's attention.
"When I stepped forward, I saw they had brought a body in a pickup truck, then they hung it up on a crane," he said.
Footage of the bloodstained corpse, swinging on the crane was widely shared on social media, showing a note pinned to the man's chest saying "This is the punishment for kidnapping".
No other bodies were visible but social media posts said others were hung up in other parts of the city.
In an interview with the Associated Press published this week, senior Taliban figure Mullah Nooruddin Turabi said the group would restore punishments like amputations and executions to deter criminals.
Despite international condemnation, the Taliban have said they will continue to impose swift and severe punishments on lawbreakers to stop crimes like robbery, murder and kidnapping that had become widespread in Afghanistan.
Washington, which condemned Turabi's reported comments on punishments, has said any potential recognition of the Taliban-led government in Kabul, which replaced the Western-backed government that collapsed last month, would depend on respect for human rights.
According to the official Bakhtar news agency, eight kidnappers were also arrested in a separate incident in the southwestern province of Uruzgan.


Historic UN summit looks to future of global energy

Historic UN summit looks to future of global energy
Updated 25 September 2021

Historic UN summit looks to future of global energy

Historic UN summit looks to future of global energy
  • US climate envoy: Turning tide against climate change is matter of will, not capacity
  • World dangerously close to missing Paris Agreement target of no more than 1.5 degrees of global warming

NEW YORK: The UN has welcomed commitments by member states to transition toward renewable and clean energies but warned that more work is needed to address global energy poverty and to decarbonize the global energy system, in a historic summit on Friday.

A total of $400 billion in new finance and investment was committed by governments and the private sector during the UN’s High-level Dialogue on Energy, the first such meeting of its kind in more than 40 years.

More than 35 countries, including Arab and Gulf states, took part in the conference, and many announced funding and partnerships that will assist in domestic and global transitions toward a sustainable energy system.

According to the UN, nearly 760 million people worldwide lack access to electricity, and 2.6 billion people lack access to clean cooking solutions — the cost of closing this “energy access gap” is estimated at $35 billion a year for electricity and $25 billion for clean cooking.

And this transition, the UN said, must be accomplished without further contributing to global warming.

According to the UN, the world is dangerously close to missing its target, agreed as part of the Paris Climate Agreement, of no more than 1.5 degrees of global warming above pre-industrial temperature — spelling potential catastrophe for people and the planet.

Among the states committed to alleviating energy poverty without harming the environment is the UAE, whose Minister of Climate Change and Environment Abdullah Bin Mohammed Al-Nuaimi told the conference that his country was “honored” to be part of the global energy revolution.

“Today the United Arab Emirates is the home to three of the largest in capacity and lowest in cost solar plants in the universe. To date, we have invested over $40 billion in clean energy projects locally,” Al-Nuaimi said.

“Globally, we are proud to have provided over $1 billion in aid for renewable energy,” he said, adding that a major asset in the emirates’ energy transition has been the mobilization of the country’s burgeoning private sector.

As part of the energy dialogue event, the UAE committed to providing 100 percent of its population with access to electricity by 2030, powered primarily by clean fuels. The emirates also committed to scaling up its solar energy sector.

But while the global transition to clean energy is of paramount importance in combating climate change and alleviating poverty, the International Energy Institute’s CEO Fatih Birol warned that “we shouldn’t forget that energy provides important economic and social development. Energy brings light, power, heat and cool for our homes and hospitals; to cook, to travel. These are legitimate desires for every person in the world.”

Birol said, however, that it was possible to achieve a massive reduction in greenhouse gas emissions while also achieving the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, which outline a series of objectives acknowledged by the international community as essential to providing a sustainable and liveable world by 2030.

“This is a race against time. We should not forget — unless all the nations finish this race, nobody will win the race. As such, international collaborations are critical to reaching the SDGs,” Birol said.

In his speech, US Special Envoy for Climate John Kerry embraced international collaboration to fight climate change, and said that Friday’s meeting “couldn’t come at a more important time.”

Kerry committed the US to deriving 80 percent of its electricity from clean sources by 2030, and said that the US International Development Finance Corporation, America’s development bank, would decarbonize its investment portfolio.

“Around the world, the United States is going to continue to promote clean energy infrastructure, in order to advance economic development,” said Kerry, who also announced that the US would provide 35 million new electrical connections in African homes and businesses across the continent.

“By working together, we will do what the scientists tell us we can do, which is win this battle,” he said. “We have the opportunity. It’s not a matter of a lack of capacity, it’s been a lack of willpower.”


Mozambicans return to uncertain future after Islamists pushed back

Mozambicans return to uncertain future after Islamists pushed back
Updated 25 September 2021

Mozambicans return to uncertain future after Islamists pushed back

Mozambicans return to uncertain future after Islamists pushed back
  • Some local officials have encouraged civilians to return, according to media reports

PALMA, Mozambique: Rwandan forces will help secure and rebuild areas of northern Mozambique destroyed by an Islamist insurgency, Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame said on Friday, as Mozambican officials began encouraging civilians to return to the gas-rich region.
The United Nations has warned of a continuing militant threat in Cabo Delgado, where Rwandan forces are patrolling burnt-out streets once besieged by the militants.
Kagame told a joint news conference in Maputo with his Mozambican counterpart Filipe Nyusi that Rwandan troops would help secure and rebuild the areas destroyed by the insurgency.
“The mission of Rwandan troops in Mozambique continues,” he said. “The new action should be to guarantee security in the liberated areas until the reconstruction is finished.”
Kagame said the troops would stay as long as Mozambique requests.
Nyusi thanked Rwanda for helping fix what had been destroyed by “terrorists.”
Allied Rwandan-Mozambican troops moved in to recapture parts of northern Cabo Delgado — an area hosting $60 billion worth of gas projects that the militants have been attacking since 2017 — in July.
A day earlier, soldiers had laid out rifles and rocket launchers seized from the Islamist fighters, who Mozambique’s government has said are on the run.
Some local officials have encouraged civilians to return, according to media reports, and the Rwandan military’s spokesman said 25,000 people had been brought home. “It is very safe for them to go back,” Ronald Rwivanga told Reuters on Thursday.
But United Nations officials are not so sure.
A document compiled in September for UN agencies and other aid groups, seen by Reuters, said it was not clear whether militant capabilities had been much reduced. “Fighting continues in certain locations and civilian authorities have not been re-established,” it added.
Children played in the streets of the town of Palma on Thursday and vendors sold goods from kiosks, six months after the militants attacked the settlement, killing dozens and forcing tens of thousands to flee.
But 60 km south in the port of Mocimboa da Praia — a hub needed for cargo deliveries for the gas projects — the streets were largely deserted, flanked by windowless, rubble-strewn buildings and overturned military vehicles.
Graffiti, using a local name for the militant group, read: “If you want to make Al-Shabab laugh, threaten them with death.”
Aside from the Rwandans, a contingent of forces from the regional bloc, the Southern African Development Community (SADC) is also patrolling northern Cabo Delgado.
Rwivanga said the Rwandans had been moving civilians back into the area they control around a $20 billion liquefied natural gas (LNG) project run by oil major TotalEnergies , which was forced to a halt by the Palma attack.
Yet security analysts say the Mozambican military deficiencies that allowed the insurgency to take hold in the north — including soldiers that are ill equipped, undisciplined and poorly paid — will not be easily reversed.
Even with other forces there, they say, security is uncertain outside of small, heavily guarded areas.
Returnees, meanwhile, are more preoccupied with where the next meal is coming from. The World Food Programme said this week that the first shipment of aid had reached Palma since the March attack.
“Now the situation is calm, the war that remains is hunger and lack of jobs,” Ibrahimo Suleman, 60, a resident who works for a kitchen-fitting company said.
Many others remain too afraid or unwilling to return, with almost 750,000 people still displaced as of this month, according to the International Organization of Migration.