Press Release
Privilege statement of Sen. Nene Pimentel
Delivered at the Senate on September 4, 2006


Mr. President:

On February 29, 2004, a major story of the Philippine Daily Inquirer upset my early morning equanimity. It said in bold letters: 'Doctor-topnotcher leaving as nurse'.

The article written by Volt Contreras told the poignant story of a young man who grew up in Basilan, the troubled island in Mindanao, but who overcame:

"the tough and troubling conditions of his now infamous hometown of Lamitan, Basilan, to become a consistent scholar and honor student all his life-an achievement that was crowned this week by his topnotcher finish in the medical board exams." The young man, Elmer Jacinto, "scored 86.75% and topped the field of 1,825 examinees, 948 of whom passed."

What actually depressed me were the next few lines in the story that said:

"This inspiring story of triumph against the odds is, however, about to turn into another sad statistic of the state of the nation."

"Jacinto, who graduated magna cum laude from Our Lady of Fatima University's College of Medicine in Valenzuela, Bulacan, has said he not only plans to leave the country but has chosen not to work as a doctor. Long before he took the board exams, Jacinto had already applied for a job in the United States-as a nurse in a New York hospital.

"While it pains me to do so, I'm looking forward to going abroad and not to let the opportunity pass,'' said Jacinto in an interview on Friday. "If only the [job] market for medicine graduates were good here,'' said the 28-year-old bachelor."

"Regretfully, many [doctors] have chosen to become nurses abroad because the pay here is no longer commensurate to what they have attained in the profession. It has become a trend,'' he said.


Five days later, on March 4, 2004, in an editorial, The Inquirer criticized Jacinto's plans in this wise:

"THE TOPNOTCHER of the recent board exams for medical graduates makes no bones about his target: big bucks. He means to make his pile as a nurse in the United States, where the demand for nurses is such that Filipinos with a nursing degree are heading there literally in droves. xxx

"(H)e epitomizes a poignant twist in the Filipino quest for employment overseas, a "trend," he calls it: physicians returning to school to acquire the precious nursing degree that would equip them to join the foreign legion now laboring in US hospitals. xxx

"Disturbing? But you could say that Elmer Reyes Jacinto is well within his rights to plan his life according to the dictates of commerce, no matter that by his own reckoning, he is no stranger to books and, presumably, to the life of the mind. xxx

"In fact, as Jacinto himself tells it, his father has come to grips with the paramount value of money and where it can be found: "There's no money in writing." But in nursing there is, according to the father's estimation-a point that the son has taken to heart.

"This is what we have come to in this country of our afflictions, where young (28), bright (magna cum laude in medicine) offspring of middle-class professionals (teachers in mathematics, science and English), yet unencumbered by the challenges of life (single, no children), throw in the towel before even putting up a fight.

What a sellout."

On March 15, 2004, I was the guest speaker at the oath-taking ceremonies of the new medical graduates headed by Elmer Jacinto.

Among other things, I said that "we cannot begrudge you (about your plans to go abroad) but only appeal to you to stay."

Terrible Indictment

The Inquirer story on the oath-taking quoted me as saying that

"Jacinto's case represented a terrible indictment of the state of our society, where very competent professionals, young and adventurous, would feel the need to take another course to escape dire conditions. We cannot blame him, but still, it's a sad commentary on the state of our society."

That was a rather long introduction to the sad story that I am about to tell this Chamber. But it had to be told so that my own frustration over the developments I speak of would be better appreciated.

In any case, it is a sorrow-filled story of some of the best and the brightest of our medical professionals who were lured by the promise of a better life out of the country. They have found out for themselves that the honeyed words they had relied upon were laced with large doses of bitter circumstances when they disembarked on the shores of the promised-land.

It is also a depressing story because it validates the observation made by the more perceptive among our people that many of our professionals now readily place their expertise to serve the interests of countries rather than ours. While I understand the reason for it, I think it is even more distressing to witness the sad spectacle of some people taking up medicine as a pre-course before they become nurses, just so they can reach the promised-land where they think the grass is greener than our locally grown ones.

Brown grass

Unfortunately, the nurses we speak of have found to their discomfiture that the grass there is even browner, more parched and drier than ours.

If their disappointment was merely that they were duped by their recruiter, I would like to say that my disillusionment is deeper than theirs. My regret is that they had to leave the country at all at a time when our people need them the most.

Their way

In any case, this was how the story - the story of present pain and, we hope, eventual glory - of our nurses began.

Many nurses were sent to New York last year and the year before by a locally registered agency that carried the name of Sentosa Recruitment Agency. Please note the name carefully: Sentosa Recruitment Agency because by some stratagem, as the recruiter of the nurses, it shifted the responsibility of handling in the US to a US- based firm known as Sentosa Bent Philipson.

The transfer of responsibility was done by the Sentosa Recruitment Agency without the consent of the nurses. Neither did it introduce them to the person or persons who would now supervise their affairs leading to their deployment.

But before I proceed, Mr. President, may I put into the record the names, the dates of birth and the places of origin of the nurses whose travails we are narrating here.

Our constituents

From the files of their lawyers, Felix Vinluan and Tim Calumpong, we got their names and other personal circumstances as follows:

Name Date of Birth Place of Birth
1. ANILAO, Juliet M. 7/1/1971 Zambales
2. Avila, Harriet 2/23/1981 Tacloban City
3. Bayot, Dulce Corazon 11/9/1971 Tagaytay City
4. BUAGAS, Archiel B. 11/9/1979 Ginatilan, Cebu
5. CAPULONG, Annabelle R. 2/26/1980 Manila
6. CHAN, Marites 11/6/1971 Manila
7. CINCO, Fe L. 5/6/1970 Medina, Misamis Oriental
8. DE LA CRUZ, Mark M. 9/1/1977 Zamboanga City
9. DE LA ROSA, Maritoni S. 10/14/1977 Manila
10. DEALO, Maricelle M. 2/24/1974 Pasay City
  Doctor of Medicine
11. ESGUERRA, Alipio Jr. B. 7/11/1969 Manila
  Doctor of Medicine
12. GAMIAO, Claudine B. 9/20/1968 Quezon City
13. GARCIA, Carlo Conrad G. 11/30/1980 Cebu City
14. ILAGAN, Eduardo C. 2/2/1972 Daet, Camarines Norte
15. JACINTO, Elmer R. 7/31/1975 Basilan Province
  Doctor of Medicine
16. JAYO, Cecille L. 1/12/1972 Makati City
17. LAMPA, Jennifer P. 12/8/1969 Manila
18. MAGNAYE, Eileen S. 7/12/1970 Valenzuela City
19. MAULION, Rizza P.  9/25/1971 Batangas
20. MILLENA, James B. 2/10/1975 Legaspi City
  Doctor of Medicine
21. MONTECILLO, Rhean Kissete 6/25/1981 Cebu City
22. ONG, Mitzi Ann 3/12/1964 Cagayan de Oro
  Doctor of Medicine
23. ORTEGA, Noralyn O. 10/4/1974 Manila
24. PAGLINAWAN, Louella R. 5/7/1957 Masbate, Masbate
25. PARUNGAO, Dondon D. 5/20/1981 Solano, Nueva Vizcaya
26. RAMOS, Ma. Theresa G. 8/22/1973 San Rafael, Bulacan
27. SALVE, Ritchel P. 2/28/1969 Bantayan, Cebu, and
28. SICHON, Ranier C. 11/12/1974 Kawit, Cavite

I took pains to put on record their places of origin so that those of us who come from the same places may better empathize with their problem because we might know them personally or their parents and relatives. In my case, four of the complaining nurses come from Mindanao which I have the honor to represent in this chamber. They are: Fe L. Cinco of Medina, Misamis Oriental; Mark M. de la Cruz of Zamboanga City; Elmer Jacinto of Basilan, and Mitzi Ann Ong of Cagayan de Oro.

Contracts violated

The nurses are now all deployed in various health facilities in the state of New York except one, Eileen Magnaye, a professor in a local school of nursing. She came back home when she found out that her recruiter did not comply with the terms of their contract. Her complaint is basically the complaint also of the other nurses.

When the nurses were being recruited here, the Sentosa Recruitment Agency made the following commitments, among other things, to them:

1. competitive salary ranging from $21 to $35 per hour;
2. medical coverage;
3. relocation and housing allowance;
4. free malpractice insurance;
5. free airfare from Manila to New York;
6. reimbursement of processing certification & licensure fees;
7. generous shift differentials and flexible 8 and 12 hours schedules; and
8. comprehensive training.

Different recruiter?

But when they got to New York, not only did they not get what was promised to them, to repeat, their original recruiter turned them over to Sentosa Bent Philipson, a New York-based agency. From its name, Sentosa Bent Philipson appears to have a different legal personality from the Sentosa Recruitment Agency, the Manila-based entity. To complicate the legal tangle that enmeshed the nurses even more, Sentosa Bent Philipson seems to have passed the nurses on to the custody of Sentosa Care, LLC, a limited liability company based in New York, allegedly, a healthcare management company. Apparently, it is a company that runs nursing homes in New York.

That was not the end of the buck-passing by Sentosa of its contractual responsibility with the nurses it had recruited. There was another entity that got involved in the already tangled web of the travails of the nurses. It is called Prompt Nursing Employment Agency/Sentosa Services, a New York-based nursing employment agency, which now appears to be the actual employer of the sponsored nurses. And yet, it is not registered as a principal of Sentosa Recruitment Agency with the POEA.

To add to their problems, when they were already in New York, the person who sort of shepherded them was Francis Luyon, the person who runs the Manila based Sentosa Recruitment Agency. But he was not of much help. In the words of Eileen Magnaye,

"he did not even know the addresses and other circumstances of the medical facilities to which we were being deployed. He also did not help us complete the documents supporting our permits to work. Worse, we did not get the pay rates promised us when we were being recruited in Manila and we were housed in a leaking abandoned house which we had to furnish by scrounging around for utensils, chairs and other things thrown away by their owners."

She also told me that some of the nurses were assigned individually to take care of more than 35 patients who

"were bed ridden and had to be induced to take the medication prescribed for them. As a consequence, they had to spend more time with the patients than was previously agreed upon and this, without any overtime pay."

That was why in desperation, they engaged the services of their lawyers, Felix Vinluan in New York and Tim Calumpong in Manila, to renounce their contract and sue for their rights here.

At this point, Sentosa Bent Philipson counter attacked in the US. It sought the intervention of US senator Charles Schumer. Mr. Schumer - it must stressed - did what many of us, senators do in behalf of our constituents. He wrote letters to Consul General Cecilia Rebong in New York, the then Secretary of Labor Pat Sto. Tomas and to POEA Administrator Rosalinda Baldoz in Manila.

Diplomatese from Schumer

Let me say that the letters of Senator Schumer are messages steeped in diplomatese and they are missives that can hardly be faulted in any respect.

And If I were in the place of Senator Schumer, I would have probably done the same thing: forward the complaint of a constituent to the authorities who could do something about the matter.

Rebong meeting

Soon after Schumer's intercession, Atty. Vinluan said that Consul General Rebong

"arranged to meet with us and the nurses. In the meeting, which was attended by her, her deputy and the two consuls in New York, as well as five nurses, she said that considering how politically well connected Sentosa's Bent Philipson is, that I should have expected that Sentosa would look for a "padrino" in the Philippines."

Indeed, aside from invoking Senator Schumer's assistance in New York, Sentosa Bent Philipson also found a "padrino" in Manila. The Manila patron of Sentosa was none other than the all around factotum of President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, Secretary Michael Defensor.

Apparently, Secretary Defensor lost no time to make his influence felt in the case that the nurses had filed against Sentosa. Consul General Rebong told the nurses and Atty. Vinluan in the meeting mentioned earlier that she had received a phone call from the Secretary.

The acts of Secretary Defensor were a far cry from those of Senator Schumer. While the US Senator did his intervention in the open and with complete transparency, Secretary Defensor preferred to do his thing as it were under cover of darkness, that is, behind the scenes.

Dark maneuvers

Unknown to the nurses, the Secretary, pulled strings to put a none-too subtle pressure on our officials from the POEA in Manila and the Consulate in New York apparently to make the complaining nurses back off from their case.

This conclusion is based on the acts of the Secretary that surfaced soon after the complaint of the nurses was filed against the Sentosa Recruitment Agency with the POEA in Manila.

In a rapid fire sequence, Secretary Defensor called up:

1. POEA Administrator Baldoz of the POEA Adjudication Office who was with Director Alejandro Padaen, in Manila, and

2. Consul General Rebong of our New York Consulate. Ms. Rebong, as recounted earlier, admitted that Secretary Defensor had telephoned her.

Although we did not hear what he had said to POEA Administrator Baldoz or to Consul General Rebong, it is easy to deduce from the circumstances that he, in effect, told the officials of the government concerned and the complaining nurses that they were better off to just take things in stride rather than to pursue their plaint before the bars of justice at home or in New York. I suggest that this is one instance where the truism that one's actions speak louder than words finds a concrete application.

Meddlesome secretary

Let me say that I was not at all disturbed by the action of the US senator who did what he could ethically do to advance the cause of his constituent. What flabbergasted me was the report that the officious secretary intervened in a pending case before the POEA and apparently caused the agency to subsequently reverse the order of suspension of the recruitment activities of Sentosa.

I cannot understand how in the world a department secretary could have the gall to act in a manner that in effect obstructs the interests of justice and causes prejudice to the interests of the people he is sworn to serve and do it right here in our country? That is something that we probably will never know under this government whose penchant for the suppression of information knows no bounds and whose desire to confuse the people equals the despotically deceptive record of the martial law regime.

For better view

To give us a better understanding of the issues presented here, let me recall the following:

[a] On 24 May 2006 the POEA issued an order of preventive suspension against the local agency, Sentosa Recruitment Agency in Manila;

[b] On May 26, 2006, Sentosa filed an Ex-Parte Motion to Lift the Suspension by Sentosa.

[c] On 6 June 2006, Secretary Defensor called up POEA Administrator Rosalinda Baldoz. POEA's Atty. Maribel Mariano-Beltran, the hearing officer handling the Sentosa nurses' complaints and her superior, Atty. Alejandro Padaen, the head of Adjudication Branch (the office in charge of this kind of cases) were privy to the Secretary's call.

[d] On 7 June 2006 Secretary Defensor at around noontime in New York had a long talk on the phone with Consul General Rebong on the matter of the complaints of the nurses and one physical therapist.

[e] On 8 June 2006, two days Secretary Defensor's call to the POEA and one day after his call to the New York Consul General, the POEA issued an Order lifting the preventive suspension.

Considering the circumstances, Atty. Vinluan submits and I agree with him that the preventive suspension order on the recruitment activities of Sentosa in the country must have been lifted "after Secretary Defensor called up POEA Administrator Baldoz and Consul General Rebong." As an aside, the possibility that the Secretary merely whispered sweet nothings into the ears of Ms. Baldoz and Ms. Rebong through the calls he made to them is rather far-fetched.

Unusual ruling

Now, Atty. Vinluan further opines that the lifting of the suspension of Sentosa Recruitment Agency was "very unusual". It was the first time, he says, that he and POEA officials saw a preventive suspension order lifted barely two weeks from its issuance, and that, on the basis of an ex-parte motion. An ex-parte motion is one that is filed by a party (in this case by Sentosa) to a controversy without advising or giving a copy of it to the other party (in this case, the nurses).

To put it more bluntly, the Vinluan thesis suggests that the lifting could not have been done ex parte without the intervention of a powerful force (Defensor's) that the POEA could not resist.

Nurses' flight, our concern

That said, let me say that the plight of the complaining nurses remains our concern even as the majority of them are already in New York. I suppose our anxiety should probably even be more pronounced because their sad predicament betrays only the surface of the problems that beset many of our overseas workers in various degrees of intensity as they sojourn in various climes in search of a better life.

We hope, then, Mr. President, that with the assistance of the proper committees of the Senate and the Department of Foreign Affairs we can prod our Consulate in New York, the POEA, and other pertinent agencies of the government to provide justice to the nurses whose problems I have just outlined for our consideration. Right or wrong, our people in distress wherever they are need our help and as public officials, it is our duty to assist them. And perhaps, we can also craft legislation that will protect the welfare of our compatriots who unfortunately continue like the erratic Ponce de Leon to look for the elixir of life overseas ironically risking everything, life included.

Salamat po.

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