The Commission on Filipinos Overseas led by Secretary Francisco P. Acosta and Usec. Astravel Pimentel-Naik successfully conducted its first Online Ugnayan sa Japan via Zoom and Facebook Live on August 22, 2020. The virtual community meeting of the “Land of the Rising Sun” and the “Pearl of the Orient Sea” with the theme “#WeRiseAsOne – Government Assistance to Overseas Filipinos Affected by COVID-19 Global Pandemic”, was also graced by Ambassador Jose Laurel V of Philippine Embassy Tokyo and participated by Filcom leaders, Presidential awardees, and more than 3,000 combined Zoom and FB participants from Japan, Philippines and other countries.

As of August 22, 2020, the Department of Foreign Affairs reported that the total number of overseas Filipinos afflicted with COVID-19 reached 9,983 with 733 casualties, in 73 countries, including Japan. The country is among the top destination countries of our Filipino emigrants and marriage migrants. Aside from many healthworker frontliners and OFs who lost their lives, thousands have lost their jobs and were forced to return to the Philippines. Since February 2020, more than 200,000 were repatriated by the DFA back to the Philippines. As the world grapples with COVID-19 pandemic with more and more overseas Filipinos affected, the CFO remains committed in assisting them and promoting their welfare and well-being. Thus the conduct of Online Ugnayan, which is CFO’s innovative response to the “New Normal” with most services shifting to “contactless” and “internet-based mode”.

In his keynote speech, Sec. Acosta thanked the overseas Filipinos for their immense contribution to national development and the Philippine economy, stating that they are the living example of Filipino courage and resiliency. He highlighted the major accomplishments under President Rodrigo Duterte’s administration and gave a comprehensive update on the Philippine government response for Overseas Filipinos affected by the pandemic. These include imposition of several travel bans and stricter health protocols, community quarantine, “Test, Trace, and Treat (T3) strategy”, repatriation assistance and livelihood program for OFWs and other overseas Filipinos (DOLE CAMP – Abot Kamay ang Pagtulong sa OFWs), rolling out of the Social Amelioration Program, and the passage of the Bayanihan to Heal One Act, which served as the blueprint in the fight against COVID-19.

Ambassador Laurel gave a message highlighting the efforts made by the Post especially on repatriation of Filipinos affected by the pandemic, back to the Philippines. With the support of the Japanese government, they have assisted more than 400 OFW crew of the virus-hit Diamond Princess cruise ship, as well as scholars and students who were stranded when travel restrictions were imposed.

 

Five resource speakers from Japan shared the devastating effects of the pandemic to the Filipino community and the initiatives of their respective organizations in helping our kababayans during these challenging times.

Ms. Virgie Ishihara of the Filipino Migrants Center in Nagoya has been helping victims of human trafficking, domestic violence, and other labor-related issues since her organization was established in 2000. They have also coordinated with ward health centers, foreign organizations and the host government to help Filipinos affected by the pandemic.

2004 Presidential awardee and business entrepreneur Ms. Mari Bernabe Nihei has organized food distribution to poor families in remote areas in her home province Nueva Ecija, and organized Zumba challenge as a healthy distraction for children in isolation during the pandemic. She encouraged people to regularly exercise, eat healthy food, and stay fit especially during this pandemic.

2014 Presidential awardee and philanthropist Nanay Anita Aquino Sasaki has been assisting distressed Filipinos in Japan (some referred by the Embassy) by providing them temporary shelter in her half way home “Tahanan ni Nanay”. Despite now being in a wheelchair, she still doesn’t give up on her dream of establishing a bigger half way home to cater to kababayans with assistance-to-national cases.

Atty. Jeff Plantilla of the Nara Filipino Community and the Philippine Community Coordinating Council shared how the pandemic disrupted several community gatherings and activities in Kansai, and affected employment and income of workers. He shared an insightful survey study on how Filipinos living in Kansai are affected by the pandemic, stressing the need for economic and psychological support for them.

2014 Presidential awardee Prof. Wako Asato of Kyoto University shared the challenges faced by Filipinos during the pandemic in Japan, which include difficulty in accessing formal assistance program of the government, food and basic necessities problems, and the emotional struggle of not being able to send remittances back to the Philippines. These are the results of his study/survey on living conditions of foreign residents in Japan during the pandemic. He also conducted home visit with food relief service to foreign residents, most of them are Filipinos.

CFO officers Director Ivy Miravalles, Director Marie Apattad, Atty. Xerxes Cortel and Mr. Rod Garcia Jr. presented government programs and assistance to overseas Filipinos under the session “Bayanihan in the Time of Pandemic.” These include the 1343 Actionline Against Human Trafficking; Economic, Social and Reintegration Programs of DOLE, OWWA, NRCO, DOST, TESDA, and DTI for affected OFWs and their families; CFO BaLinkBayan Program: OFs One Stop Portal for Diaspora Engagement; CFO Lingkod sa Kapwa Pilipino Program; Presidential Awards for Filipino Individuals and Organizations Overseas; and CFO Migration Advocacy and Media Awards. Updates on the Recognition of the Foreign Divorce in the Philippines were also discussed, given the glaring difference on culture and laws on marriage and divorce in Japan and the Philippines.

The last session focused on “Protecting Our Physical and Mental Health in the Time of Pandemic”. Mr. Ringo Danao of the Overseas Filipino Program of PhilHealth provided updates on the implementation of Universal Health Care Law, New PhilHealth Premium Contribution Schedule of Overseas Filipinos, financial assistance to inpatient care of COVID-19 developing severe illnesses, and COVID-19 testing package that may also be availed by OF members. Dr. Marylendra Penetrante of the Children and Youth Wellness Technical and Advocacy Center provided micro strategies in nurturing one’s mental health, given the spike in number of anxiety cases, domestic violence, paranoia and depression during the pandemic. She also introduced self-help strategies in coping with stress and other mental health issues triggered by COVID-19.

During the Open Forum the panelists were joined by Consul Mary Joy Ramirez of the Philippine Embassy. Issues raised by the participants include government assistance available to students affected by the pandemic, the possibility of converting student visa to working visa without necessarily returning to the Philippines, suggestion to offer free swab testing for Filipino permanent residents returning to the Philippines, quarantine procedure upon return to the Philippines, probable recognition of Nikkei-jin as OFWs, programs of the government addressing mental health issues, PhilHealth coverage for dependents, including age requirement for enrollment, and addressing the rise in illegal recruitment online, among others.

Japan-based performing artist Lorna Cifra also gave a soulful jazz rendition of “Maalaala Mo Kaya” during an intermission number. A video of “Summer Solitude (Pag-iisa sa tag-Araw)” by musical composer Pifo Cifra was also shown as tribute to Filipino artists worldwide affected by the pandemic.

The Online Ugnayan was formally closed by Usec. Pimentel-Naik, who also served as the event’s host and moderator. She asked for the continuous active involvement of OFs in policy advocacies relevant to their interest and welfare, support of CFO’s migration and development program and diaspora philanthropy activities, and for Filipino organizations to assist newly-arrived migrants in Japan by providing post arrival services.

The Ugnayan sa Japan livestreamed thru Facebook, has more than 7,000 views. The first in the series of webinars being organized by the CFO, the Ugnayan is one of the flagship programs of the Commission that aims to strengthen motherland ties and link with Filipino communities overseas. The next stop for CFO’s Ugnayan is Hawaii, USA scheduled this September 2020.