Migrante celebrates victory of Sentosa nurses

D’JAY LAZARO, GMANews.TV
01/31/2009 | 05:24 PM

MANILA, Philippines — Migrante International, together with the relatives and friends of the nurses tagged as the Sentosa 27++, celebrated the legal victory of the ten nurses and one lawyer acquitted from the criminal charges filed against them by SentosaCare LLC in New York.

The nurses, former employees of Avalon Gardens in Woodmere, New York, were charged with patient endangerment by SentosaCare after they resigned from their posts in 2006 due to unpaid back wages, discrimination and being recruited under false pretenses.

The lawyer they went to for advice was charged with criminal solicitation.

Earlier this year, an appeals court cleared them of the charges, which it said violated the nurses’ 13th Amendment rights that protect against “involuntary servitude.”

In the case of the lawyer. the court said to “potentially inflict punishment for the good faith provision of legal advice is, in our view, more than a First Amendment violation. It is an assault on the adversarial system of justice.”

The nurses contended they left work at the end of their shifts and that no patient was ever in danger.

One, Maria Theresa Ramos, told The Associated Press she stayed four hours past the scheduled end of her shift to ensure that the patients received proper care.

Gina Gaborni, Migrante’s deputy secretary general, said: “This victory is, indeed, a vindication for the nurses.

“This is a glimmer of hope for migrant workers who are up against an unscrupulous giant such as SentosaCare.”

The nurses are part of the group called Sentosa 27++, all health workers recruited in the Philippines by the SRA.

They signed contracts with specific agencies only to find out, once in the States, that they were farmed out to agencies different from the ones they had an agreement with. When they resigned, they were charged with breach of contract by SentosaCare LLC.

The nurses fought back and filed illegal recruitment cases against SRA at the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POE), the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) and the Department of Justice.

Initially, the POEA found grounds to temporarily suspend Sentosa but after then Cabinet member Mike Defensor intervened in behalf of SRA, the suspension order was cancelled and subsequent cases were dismissed.

“This is a clear case of illegal recruitment, or human trafficking and government once again proved the interests they serve are not the interests of migrant workers,” Gaborni said. ” How ironic that we are taking heart from the justice system of a foreign country rather than from our own government.”

But Gaborni said the fight will continue. “The Sentosa Recruitment Agency must be shut down!” she said.

In early 2007, Nafcon launched a community-led campaign called “Justice for the Sentosa 27++.”

The 10 Avalon nurses along with more than 17 others, all health workers recruited from the same agency in the Philippines, had found themselves collectively duped by SentosaCare LLC for signing false contracts whose tenets were not honored once they migrated to the United States .

Essentially trafficked, the 26 nurses and one physical therapist were instead farmed out to a number of SentosaCare-owned nursing facilities throughout the New York area. When each found themselves under similar conditions as the 10 nurses of Avalon Gardens, they resigned and now each have civil case charges of breach of contract by SentosaCare LLC. – GMANews.TV and < AP

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‘Sentosa verdict places RP probes in question’
KIMBERLY JANE T. TAN, GMANews.TV

01/17/2009 | 02:34 PM

MANILA, Philippines – A Filipino-American lawyer on Saturday urged the Philippine bodies that ruled against the so-called Sentosa nurses to review their respective processes in view of a US court ruling on a related case.

Lawyer Salvador Tuy, one of the counsels who successfully defended the Filipino nurses in the case filed by American firm Sentosa Recruitment Agency in New York, said it was unbelievable that the very agencies that were supposed to protect the welfare of Filipino workers were unable to see the merits of the case.

Tuy said he was referring to the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) as well as the Philippine Department of Justice and the National Labor Relations Commission (NLRC), which all ruled against the nurses in their complaints against Sentosa in 2006.

During that year, the nurses complained to the POEA that Sentosa failed to fulfill its commitment to let them work in specific nursing homes in the US. They said that upon their arrival in New York, they found out that they were made to work for an employment agency and received less than what was stipulated in their contracts.

When their complaints were ignored, 55 nurses resigned from the Avalon Gardens Rehabilitation and Health Care Center in April 2006, after which many of them returned to work in the fear of paying a $25,000-fine to SRA.

Ten of the nurses, however, fought on and ended up being charged in court for endangering their patients by quitting their jobs.

Last January 13, a New York court deemed the 10 nurses not guilty as charged, saying they were “threatened with prosecution for crimes for which they cannot constitutionally be tried.”

The nurses involved in the case were Elmer Jacinto, Juliet Anilao, Harriet Avila, Mark de la Cruz, Claudine Gamiao, Jennifer Lampa, Rizza Maulion, James Millena, Ma. Theresa Ramos, and Ranier Sichon, and their lawyer, Felix Vinluan. –

Blind or pressured?

Lawyer Tuy said the New York court ruling seemed to show that there was something wrong with the way Philippine agencies were handling cases involving powerful groups.

He said what the US court’s decision was saying is that “the act of resignation is not punishable because they cannot compel you to work for the employer under the voluntary servitude law.”

“Why is it that the US court saw this pero hindi ito nakita ng POEA? Bakit hindi nila makita na dito violation yan, violation ng Philippine law and yet the conclusion is not the same?” he asked, noting that the ruling was not from an ordinary US court but from an appellate court.

“[Y]ou know, the decision of the POEA on the same facts, then the decision of the Secretary of Labor basically based on the same facts, I just cannot see how they cannot see what is plain,” said Tuy.

“Under POEA law, hindi kayo pwedeng magpalit ng employer without the consent of the nurses, ‘yun ang namiss ng POEA (Under POEA law, you cannot change employers without the consent of the nurses, that’s what the POEA missed),” he added.

When De Castro asked whether Philippine probers were pressured, Tuy said it was no secret that a powerful US senator intervened on behalf of Sentosa.

He added that although the nurses have been acquitted of the criminal charges, they still have a pending civil case against SRA for bridge of contract, for which Tuy said they will have a trial conference on January 22.

Meanwhile, Tuy warned aspiring overseas Filipino workers not to trust manpower agencies like Sentosa.

“What I want to point out to those applying to Sentosa, open your eyes,” he said. – GMANews.TV

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