Nov 25, 2008

Pinoy teachers in US use blog to air grievances vs recruiter

 Another illegal job recruiter

A group of Filipino migrant teachers in the US have started to use a blog to express their various grievances against their recruiter.

“We gave all that we could, so we can start building a dream for ourselves and our families. We discovered however that the beautiful pictures that were painted in our imagination are not as what they seem to be. Now we discovered that the Recruitment and Placement Agency who we entrusted with our dreams is not acting with the best, or in fact not even a fraction, of our interests in mind,” stated the group called Concerned Filipino migrant teachers of Louisiana.

In their blog called the Pinoy Teachers Hub, the teachers accused their recruitment agency, PARS International Placement Agency and the US-based Universal Placement International, Los Angeles, California of violating their contract, overcharging, issuing threats and intimidation, providing them with poor living quarters and illegal and suspicious opening of their US Social Security Numbers.

In a press statement by labor group Partido ng Manggagawa (PM), it was learned that the two agencies are allegedly owned and operated by one family with a certain Lourdes Navarro as the owner of Universal, while Emilio Villarba is the agent of PARS.

An employee of the agency in Manila said Mr. Villarba is out of the office when tried to contact him for comments.

PM said that at least 200 teachers were placed through the agency and deployed in five different school districts in Louisiana but the bulk of them are in the East Baton Rouge Parish School System. They were issued a 1-year working visa (H1B) instead of the usual 3-year H1B visa.

“The fees and charges were not even clear to us as the agency seems to invent new ways to empty our pockets every week. Many of us were not even able to read and study our contracts with the agency as we only received a copy of it on the eve of our flight,” stated the teachers’ group in an open letter to all Filipino migrant teachers.

The agency allegedly overcharged them of placement fees and made premature collections which violates Republic Act 8042 or the Migrant Workers and Overseas Filipinos Act of 1995.

“Our contract stipulates that 10% of our monthly gross income for two years shall be paid to the agency. In reality however we were made to pay in advance 20% of our “expected” gross income for one year. To add insult to injury the ‘expected’ gross income is bloated so as to make us pay the maximum advance payment,” said the group.

Steep borrowing rates

They alleged that some of them have also been cornered by the agency into borrowing from its partner lending agency that charges excessive interest rates.

“The agency is charging us illegally with steep placement fees, then turns around and refers us to its partner lending agency to charge us once again with exorbitant interest rates,” they said.

While working in the US, teachers are cramped into what they described as “dilapidated apartment units” but are being overcharged with the rent.

“While the published rent of a unit is only around $800 a month, we are all charged $310 each with each apartment unit housing 4 individuals and at times up to 8,” said the group.
Dismayed by being treated as ‘modern slaves’, the group asserts their right to a clean and safe dwelling, chosen by them.

“The agency however decided to simply disregard these rights and make money in the process,” they said.
They mentioned that the agency and its owner have resorted to threats and intimidation to prevent them from speaking out about their condition. They were also discouraged from connecting with other Filipino groups otherwise “our contracts will not be renewed.”

Other jobs

Furthermore, some teachers who are still without school assignments had to attend job fairs for placement.
“They were duped into believing that a job is waiting for them here for how else can they be issued working visas. For the meantime, interest payments for their debts pile up every day,” they stated.

A PM liaison officer in the US said that in Baton Rouge alone there are at least six teachers who arrived and went without work for more than a month, and at least one teacher is up to now unemployed.
The liaison officer said that it is a common practice of the agency to transfer teachers assigned to a specific school to another school in a different district.

Teachers are forced to agree to the transfer than to wait indefinitely for a placement despite the fact that it is illegal since the specific school district assignment is indicated on the teachers' visa, PM said in its statement.
“In one specific instance, 7 teachers from the East Baton Rouge school district were transferred to the Avoyelles school district where salary levels are much lower,” PM said.

The teachers also assert that the agency, without any authorization, unlawfully opened their US social security numbers.

Meanwhile, an initial victory was claimed by the teachers. From $310 per individual per month rent payment, they were able to force Navarro to lower the rent to $275. They were also able to lower renewal fee to $1000 from $1800 to $2000 per individual.
However, the small victory will not stop the group from pursuing their campaign to extract justice.

“The fight for real justice goes on! Let us remain courageous and united as we are confident of the victory of good over evil,” they said. -- by MARIA ALETA NIEVA,
as of 11/24/2008 8:43 PM

May 23, 2008

Bank sold single foreclosed property to two buyers

It was most disgusting to know that even a bank would defraud their client. Finding their error should made the bank make corrections and refunded the amount paid by one buyer in order to observe one contract with the other buyer. but this isn't so. Please read complete text from Susan Antepuesto who is until now under stress and duress because of this transaction.


A consumer's nightmare—Susan Antepuesto

Like any other parent, my husband and I try to save part of our earnings for our children's education and future. Times are uncertain and we try to invest our hard-earned peso hoping to secure a better future for them.

We bought a College Assurance Plan (CAP) for our eldest child Chino when he was still a baby. Unfortunately, while still in his 4th year in high school, CAP was experiencing difficulty in fulfilling their obligations to their scholars. We were not able to get anything for his college education.

My husband and I then agreed to invest in a small property for our two younger children's education thinking that it is something tangible and easy to dispose when the need arises. To be doubly sure, we even purchased it from a bank.

And this is where our sorry saga began.

We were offered a foreclosed property by the Bank of Commerce Rizal branch in Davao City in October 2004. It was a restructured loan and we complied with all the requirements by giving a down payment (10% of the restructured loan amount).

We submitted all documents and the bank had 30 days to make a credit viability and background check on us before approving the loan. And on January 2005, we made our first amortization to the bank. Thereafter, we dutifully set aside hard-earned money for the succeeding checks.

On April 2007, we received a call from an irate person claiming the property was his. We were shocked. We compared our contracts of sale and discovered that the property we had been amortizing for almost three years was likewise sold to another party.

Isagani Sembrano, the other party, called up the Bank of Commerce's property management group in the Makati head office to complain. When we called the same office, nobody from the bank wanted to talk to us.

Our calls were repeatedly ignored and not one soul from the bank had the decency to apologize or make amends for the fraudulent double sale entered into by the bank. We then filed an administrative case with the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas against Bank of Commerce for unsafe and unsound banking practice.

After several months, the BSP summoned the BOC and us for a mediation hearing in Manila last October 9,2007. My husband and I, together with our lawyer, came all the way from Davao City. BOC president Raul de Mesa, or any "duly authorized representative," was summoned to attend.

Sadly, the mediation was terminated, since the bank representatives refused to explain why they entered into the double sale of property and received parallel payments from two buyers for a total of 23 months.

The three bank personnel sent supposedly to represent Mr. de Mesa claimed that "they were not authorized to enter into any agreement to resolve the issue" which was ironical since we were notified of the mediation 30 days before the set date. We set aside precious time and resources just to hear their explanation and come to an amicable resolution.

Enter BSP
They repeatedly claimed that they had already rectified the matter and that the second buyer had already rescinded and was paid back his money plus interest. We later discovered that the other buyer was only partially refunded. He and the BOC entered into an agreement that if we back out of our contract, the Sembranos will continue theirs with the same amount and terms of payment.

The property was sold to the Sembranos eight months after the bank entered into a contract of sale with us. The amount was markedly lower by 20%.

On November 2007, we received a letter from the BSP reiterating that notwithstanding the failed mediation, copies of all pertinent documents related to our complaint was forwarded to the Bank's Central Point of Contact and Examination Departments for their "continued supervisory action and assessment of the bank's overall condition."

My husband and I rested our fate with the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas, the institution tasked to protect the public's interest.

The BOC, after several months of deafening silence, finally made the move to communicate with us. But we were surprised when we received a letter from the Bank of Commerce last January 2008 proposing to return only half of the total amount we had dutifully paid them. This was in the midst of the BSP examination and investigation of the BOC.

Bank secrecy
We found the proposal brazen and arrogant. We chose not to honor it with a reply. Last April 10, 2008 the bank again sent a notice that they will be depositing the rest of our checks in their possession purportedly to "protect the interest of the bank." They deposited the checks all at one time on the 15th of April. We were under threat of forfeiture of all payments made if we missed two monthly amortizations.

We had always reposed our trust and confidence in banks. We never expected that a bank would enter into practices such as this. They blamed clerical error and records error due to their takeover of the Traders Royal Bank assets and liabilities in 2001.

We are not privy to all of these. The contract we entered into is between BOC and us. Their gross negligence is inexcusable.

The simple and small transaction that we entered into with the Bank of Commerce turned into a nightmare for our family! We were not even accorded the basic respect of an apology and explanation that is supposedly given by businesses to their clients. We were defrauded, rudely ignored, and put under stress and duress.

The BSP, as we found out, is powerless as it is "not allowed to divulge by law any information relative to the findings and recommendations on the bank's operations" because of the restrictions in R.A.7653 or the Central Bank Act Sections 27 and 28.

As a parent, I hope and pray that laws can be crafted to better protect the consumers from unscrupulous business and bank practices. It is extremely difficult especially those like us living in the regions to follow up our cases in Manila.

And it is disheartening when respected institutions we look up to fail us.