[PHOTO AT LEFT - A diver at the Manila Ocean Park highlights the need to protect the oceans as part of the observance of World Environment Day yesterday. Edd Gumban]

BAGUIO CITY , JUNE 7, 2010 (STAR) By ARTEMIO DUMLAO  - Philippine environmental groups have challenged President-apparent Benigno Aquino III to take a tougher stand in protecting the environment and be a truly “Green President,” as World Environment Day was observed yesterday.

“Now that Noynoy Aquino is set to be proclaimed as the new president, the question that comes up is whether he will fulfill his promise to bring about a government different and opposed to the previous Arroyo administration,” said Clemente Bautista Jr., national coordinator for Kalikasan Peoples Network for the Environment.

“This would mean taking concrete steps in implementing positive reforms and reversing the policies that negatively impacted our people and environment,” he said.

He said Aquino should “reveal if he is indeed sincere in the protection and conservation of (the) environment and national patrimony.”

Kalikasan PNE and other environment groups also asked Aquino to initiate an investigation of the environmental crimes of the Arroyo administration; cancel the contracts or environment compliance certificates of environmentally destructive and controversial projects such as the Rapu-Rapu polymetallic mining project, Didipio gold mining project and San Mateo landfill project; and review anti-environment policies – such as the Japanese-Philippine Economic Partnership Agreement (JPEPA), US-RP Visiting Forces Agreement and Mining Act of 1995 – that allegedly legitimize the foreign control of national patrimony.

“This will be a big step in reversing the policies that liberalize and privatize the country’s natural resources and replace them with laws that reclaim our patrimony and lead to ecological conservation,” he said.

The environmental groups also wanted Aquino to replace Environment and Natural Resources Secretary Horacio Ramos for his alleged “pro-corporate” policies. – With Rhodina Villanueva

Hong Kong OFWs pin hope on Noynoy By Edith Regalado (The Philippine Star) Updated June 07, 2010 12:00 AM

HONG KONG – Thousands of overseas Filipino workers here have pinned their hope on president-elect Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III that their woes would be addressed better as he is set to take his oath on June 30.

They also called on the incoming Aquino administration to create more jobs and opportunities in the country so they would not have to leave and seek greener pastures abroad.

“Our hope is for the new government to create more jobs in the country so that there would be no more Filipinos who would have to go and work abroad,” said Milagros Ladra, a 44-year-old native of Davao City who began working as a domestic helper in Singapore in 1992.

Ladra stayed in Singapore for two years and subsequently moved to Hong Kong where she has since been working.

“We all love to go home. We hope we will have jobs back home,” she further said.

She said it could be a long shot but that she also shares the same fervent wish that if there are jobs back home, the pay should also be equal if not higher than what they are receiving as OFWs.

Ladra likewise said OFWs here also pin their hope on Aquino that his administration would address the woes of their sector particularly on the unscrupulous practices of recruitment agencies.

“We would want the new government to also make a massive assessment and check on all the existing recruitment agencies because most of these agencies have not only been charging the OFWs exorbitant placement fees but that they all dupe us,” Ladra said.

Delfa Tacuban, another Filipina worker here, said the recruitment fees have been so exorbitant to the extent that OFWs sell all their properties and even borrow money with high interest and yet they end up receiving meager salaries.

“What is worst is when the OFWs arrive here in Hong Kong and they happen to be immediately fired by their employers and their contracts terminated within five days. And now, what would happen to the replacement fee paid?” Tacuban said.

Ladra said the new government should also help in ensuring that there would be a better working condition for the OFWs as a number of them have been subjected to maltreatment, harassment and abuse.

“We hope the new government would help to make sure that all the provisions in the OFW contract shall be followed and complied with by the employers in providing a conducive environment for the OFWs to work,” Ladra said.

Stories of abuse and maltreatment of OFWs here in Hong Kong abound but Ladra and her group expressed hope that the new government could do something about their plight.

The number of OFWs here in Hong Kong has dwindled to 120,000 compared to over 200,000 before mainly due to the competition put up by Indonesian workers who are willing to accept salaries much lower than the mandated amount.

The OFWs in Hong Kong are also asking the new government to institutionalize a certain mechanism wherein they would be provided a certain fund for their pension or other benefits through the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration.

“Government calls us heroes but the problem is we pay exorbitant fees to OWWA and yet we do not get to enjoy any benefit. We hope there would also be a housing program for the OFWs,” she added.

Sundays here find hundreds of OFWs spread in concentric rings mainly in the Hong Kong Central district where the luxury compound could also be found.

They invade the parks, streets, stairways, and any other public places where they could spread mats and cartons that provide precious space where they meet up fellow OFWs and share what’s the latest in their lives.

But Ladra and several others have long decided not to stay at Central and in parks but have opted to spend their Sundays in the ministry of the Kingdom of Jesus Christ the Name Above Every Name headed by evangelist Pastor Apollo Quiboloy.

Quiboloy also runs a crisis center here for distressed OFWs who have nowhere to go especially when they are either kicked out of their jobs or their contracts have been terminated and they have to find new employers.

“There is a freedom of choice. We choose to stay in the ministry and we are happy with our choice,” said Yorela Pangilinan.

Pangilinan said they also make sure they go out of their way to reach out to other OFWs in an effort to help them find comfort in the word of God.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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