Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Filipina Nurses Speak Out Against Sentosa Recruitment Agency

News Release
April 30, 2007

References: Archiel Buagas, Justice for Sentosa Nurses Campaign, email:
justice4sentosanurses@yahoo.com; Rico Foz, National Alliance for Filipino Concerns, email: nafconusa@yahoo.com

Filipina Nurses Speak Out Against Sentosa Recruitment Agency
May 6th Townhall Meeting Seeks Justice for Sentosa 27 and More

New York-- More than one year past the initial filing of a class action suit for discriminatory workplace policies, 26 Filipina nurses and one physical therapist are linking up with Filipino-American community organizations across the nation to push for a campaign exposing illegal operations of the Sentosa Care LLC and its NY-based owner Bent Philipson.

In a recent meeting with members of the National Alliance for Filipino Concerns (NAFCON) at the office of the Philippine Forum in Queens, the Sentosa 27 have agreed to pursue justice by way of building national community pressure in a case they have deemed as paralyzed by corrupt politics. A public townhall meeting with the Sentosa nurses discussing their case is set for Sunday, May 6th, 2pm at the Bonifacio Hall, located in the office of the Philippine Forum in Elmhurst.

May 6th also marks the beginning of National Nurses Week in the United States.

According to Archiel Buagas, a former Sentosa agency nurse, the twenty-seven had signed individual employment contracts to work directly as registered nurses with various nursing home facilities affiliated with both the Sentosa Recruitment Agency based in Ortigas Center in Pasig, and with Sentosa Care, LLC, a healthcare management company based in Woodmere, NY. In a sweeping manner, the said contracts were immediately breached by Sentosa Care LLC when the health workers were made to work as agency nurses of Prompt Nursing Employment Agency, dba Sentosa Services, versus as registered nurses for the nursing home facilities in their original contracts.

The nurses also suffered lack of compensation for their long hours, had their green cards withheld, and were consistently subjected to maltreatment and abuse by the Sentosa Services. The nurses also did not receive the benefits they were promised.

There are currently about 4000 outstanding job orders in the Philippines with Sentosa.

"We do not seek to shatter the hopes and dreams of the thousands of nurses who seek to work abroad. We understand the conditions of poverty and joblessness in the Philippines leave us with no choice. We simply want to expose the truth and the deceit Sentosa is using to lure more of our compatriots into. We do not want others to have to suffer under these conditions," Buagas ended.

After filing a class action suit last year against Sentosa and Philipson in Washington DC, the said suit had fallen dormant under the initial handling of the Philippine Consulate in New York. After also filing a motion with the Philippine Overseas Employment Agency (POEA) to suspend Philipson's license to recruit from the Philippines, the said suspension was eventually lifted care of POEA administrator Rosalinda Baldoz in Manila.

The only explanation given with the Sentosa 27 and their legal representative Felix Vinluan were so-called phone consultations between the US Senator Charles Schumer, former Philippine Presidential Chief of Staff and Senatorial Candidate Mike Defensor, Philippine Consulate General Cecilia Rebong in New York, and Baldoz that led to the shifting of positions.

After months working under violated contracts, the 27 resigned from their posts. The collective act triggered a media whirlwind and countersuit by Philipson against the 27 on the basis of patient endangerment. Contrary to Sentosa's accusations, the 27 maintain they resigned after fully finishing their shifts, and posed no threat to the safety of the clients they were caring for as there were other nurses ready to assume their shifts watching over the patients.

Elmer Jacinto, the Philippines' top-scorer in the nation's medical exams who opted to sign up with Sentosa as a nurse instead was among the 27 charged.

"Sentosa is crying patient endangerment when in fact it is Sentosa that is jeopardizing quality patient care under its consistently discriminatory policies against its nurses, not to mention violation of human trafficking laws. Too much workload assigned to them without proper orientation puts more patients at risk due to high probability of committing human error and inefficiency," states Rico Foz, Executive Vice President of the National Alliance for Filipino Concerns or NAFCON.

"But unfortunately Filipino nurses and other contract workers are forced to work under conditions such as these to support their loved ones back home. There are no jobs in the Philippines. That's why we applaud the courage of the Sentosa 27 to stand up against workplace injustice. No contract worker should have to succumb to working without respect and dignity in their host countries."

NAFCON, a nationwide coalition of Filipino-American organizations spanning 23 US cities, has expressed it will work closely with the Sentosa 27 to help them meet their basic demands- including dropping of all criminal and civil charges against them in the State of New York, seeking compensation for all backwages including unpaid overtime wages, re-suspension of the Sentosa recruitment license by the POEA, and investigation by the State of New York on Sentosa Care LLC operations against existing anti-human trafficking law and the thirteenth amendment outlawing slavery.

"We pledge to support the Sentosa 27 and commit our resources and facilities to this campaign for justice.
All our members, volunteers and supporters will be mobilized to support our nurses," stated Robert Roy, Philippine Forum Executive Director and NAFCON’s National Executive Director.

The Philippine Forum is an 11-year old community service organization and founding member of NAFCON.

The said campaign has also confirmed support worldwide from the Alliance of Health Workers, Migrante International, BAYAN Philippines, and the Health Alliance for Democracy. Support actions are also set targeting Sentosa offices in the Philippines and in support of the nurses' families.

The Philippine Forum is located on 54-05 Seabury Street in Elmhurst, Queens. To get to the Philippine Forum office, take the V, G and R trains to Grand Avenue/Newtown Station in Elmhurst, Queens. Exit on Southside of Queens Boulevard . Walk towards 54th Avenue and turn left on Seabury St . Take the side entrance to the First Presbyterian Church of Newtown.

For more information on the Justice for Sentosa Nurses Campaign, email justice4sentosanurses @ yahoo.com or call 718.565.8862 ###