Thursday, 10 April 2008

Guam to hire 20,000 skilled Filipino workers

Roy C Mabasa
The Manila Bulletin

Guam will hire more than 20,000 skilled Filipino workers to facilitate the construction of an expanded US military base on that island, the mayor of the US territory’s capital said the other night.

During a testimonial dinner tendered for him by the Philippine International Sisterhood and Twinning Association (PHISTA) in Makati City, Agana Mayor Paul McDonald said this matter will be discussed when Guam officials meet with their counterparts from the Philippines at the first Annual Pacific Mayors’ Conference to be held on April 19-23, 2008 in Agana, Guam’s capital.

McDonald said it is only practical to hire Filipino workers whom he described as "hardworking, skillful and, most importantly, proficient in English language."

"Communication and our shared culture are practical reasons why we prefer Filipino workers over other nationalities," McDonald said in an interview.

McDonald, who is in Manila on consultations with his Filipino counterparts, was accompanied by other Guam officials led by Mayor Francisco "Frank" C. Blas of Tamuning-Tumon village.

The forthcoming conference, which is the inaugural event of the Association of Pacific Island Local Governments (APILG), will be attended by mayors from the host island Guam, the Philippines, and the Commonwealth islands of Palau, Rota, Tinian and Saipan. APILG was established in Manila on Feb. 27, 2007 with then Manila mayor and now Environment and Natural Resources Secretary Lito Atienza as its vice president.

The opening of new job opportunities in Guam for Filipino workers came following the impending relocation of thousands of US military personnel and facilities from Okinawa, Japan to Guam.

At present, 33,453 US military personnel are stationed in Japan, while another 5,500 American civilians are employed there by the US government.

McDonald said an estimated $ 13 billion will be spent for the construction of various facilities and housing for US military personnel in the span of four years.

In response, PHISTA officials led by Aurora Mayor Annabele Tangson and Tagudin, Ilocos Sur Mayor Roque Versoza, Jr., president and treasurer respectively, thanked McDonald for giving priority to Filipino workers.

"This is a great opportunity not only for our workers and their respective families, but to the Philippines in general," Versoza said, noting its potential benefits to the country’s economy.

"Act local, think global would be one of our guiding principles in PHISTA. We hope that this is the start of exchanges of good practices not only in the realm of culture but also in terms of economic and social development. We will continue to work hard to make the partnership prosper and develop into something concrete. When I say concrete it means that our people will feel the benefits of the exchanges," Tangson said.

Both Tangson and Versoza will be part of a delegation of Filipino city and municipal mayors who will participate in the Guam conference.

According to McDonald, the mission of the conference is to "conduct an international event that reflects the objectives of the association and showcases the culture of its members."

The conference will likewise tackle the organization’s other objectives such as the ongoing military buildup in Guam, labor opportunities, cultural exchanges, networking among Pacific neighbors, business and investments, affordable health care, agriculture and education.

He said they have invited officials from various agencies of the US government to speak about relevant issues, including the guidelines for the entry and hiring of foreign workers.

Among those who were invited to speak in the conference were US Congresswoman Madeleine Bordallo (Guam), US Department of Labor Administrator Greg Massey, US Navy Capt. Robert Lee, Acting Guam Speaker Edward Calvo, Immigration lawyer Melinda Swavely, realtor W. Nicholas Captain, and Guam contractor John Robertson.

McDonald said they will also discuss with all the participants other issues such as investments, cultural exchanges, networking with Pacific neighbors, affordable health care, agriculture and education.

He noted that aside from its rich labor market, the Philippines is also the leading destination for medical tourism in the Asia-Pacific region.

"You have excellent doctors, nurses and hospital facilities here which are affordable and accessible to us in the Pacific," he said.

Guam is only about a three-hour plane ride from Manila. Guam, an island in the western Pacific Ocean, is one of five US territories with established civilian governments. It is the 32nd largest island in the United States. (Roy C. Mabasa)

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