Saturday, January 22, 2011

Loida - Epitome of Love, Integrity and Courage

While we have many reasons to celebrate the coming of the new year with positive developments in our struggle both here in the US and back in the Philippines, we are deeply devastated by the loss of a very special colleague.

Loida Virina, who was one of the brave teachers who early on stood up against the tyranny and abuse of our placement agency, was in a car that was involved in a vehicular accident which claimed her life.

Indeed there is bigger force than all of us and when your time comes, it is your past actions and decisions that will be left for us in this world to remember you.

To the family of Loida, this blog would like to let you know that Loida lived an honorable life. To Loida's three children, we would like to tell you that your mother has proven to the world the kind of person she was. Though cut short, she lived a life that is an epitome of love, integrity and courage. She stood up for what is right during a time when most would rather sit on the fence and wait for others to step up. She was a brave soul and is willing to voice out an injustice despite the risks that others are afraid to face. She did these not only for herself and her family but for the greater good.

Loida took to heart her vocation as an educator. Not only did she taught us in words but, most importantly, in her actions as well. Loida died on the day we celebrated the birthday of Martin Luther King and in her own small way she has taught us by example the lessons of MLK - that we have to take action against oppression.

Loida, we will miss you. Loida, we salute you.

We call on our colleagues to help Loida's family in this time of grief. You can channel your contributions through the Filipino Educators Federation of Louisiana. For more info please visit their website at

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Support the class suit!

Lulu Navarro and her cohorts are now realizing (if they still haven’t realized) that indeed we, teachers, have the capacity to seriously fight back. Lulu, do you really think that you can just rob people, threaten people, step on people and expect that they will cower in a corner and shut up? Do you really think that you can get away with your oppressive and illegal operations? Do you really think that you are untouchable that by flaunting your money, your connections, and your equally corrupt lawyer, that you can do anything to exploit others and enrich your gluttonous self? Probably now you know the answers to those questions.

Well, you have underestimated us. You have underestimated the power of our unity. You have underestimated the strength of our resolve to get justice. You have underestimated the depth of our determination to bring a stop to your oppressive schemes.

Now that we, together with hundreds of our colleagues, have filed a class suit, we have opened another arena to expose your excessive modus operandi. We are looking forward to meet you (and all your lapdogs especially your officer-janitor-painter-husband) in court and expose the truth about your shady operations.

To our fellow teachers, let’s keep the broadest unities possible. We know that there are a few others, who may not agree with or do not understand fully the rationale behind our efforts. We know that some are not comfortable with the fact that we are including the EBR school district in the complaint. But please bear in mind that the main reason behind that are the actions of some personalities who represent the district which is tantamount to supporting the illegal operations of UPI and Lulu Navarro.

“We, members of the Filipino Educators Federation of Louisiana, would like to make it clear that we harbor no ill will towards the Louisiana School System. We want to emphasize that we love this community and we now consider Louisiana as our home. We think of our students as our own kids. The new superintendent has paid attention to our concerns and has closely monitored the problems we have encountered. And we have had tremendous support from the East Baton Rouge community. We will continue to give our 100 percent to our teaching vocation as we strive to push our students for a brighter future. Let me also use this opportunity to declare once again that we continue to have a strong commitment to our students, and will continue to serve the district for we believe that the actions by some individuals within the EBR School District do not represent the values of the institution and the people of Louisiana.” This is an excerpt from the statement of the Filipino Educators Federation (FEF), which we are part of. Please read the full statement now posted on the FEF website (click here).

So, we are not against the district per se but we are against the involvement of those people who represented the district. If these people are found guilty conniving with the criminal Lulu, it is but proper to include them as well as the institution they represent because clearly, the district benefited financially as the fees that they are supposed to pay as mandated by law were illegally charged to us.

Also we expect that Lulu and UPI will also mobilize her minions to counter our efforts. We fully know who these people are. We expect them to come out and say that they are very happy with how Lulu treated them (rightly so because they were paid and given perks to implement Lulu’s policies) and that the events stated in the class suit are all lies. But we are not even worried about those unprincipled people for we know that the foundation of our action is the truth and we are standing on moral high ground.

To all our fellow teachers, this battle is part of our continuing efforts to get justice. Let’s bear in mind that this is not for our individual selves or our own families only, but as teachers, as responsible Filipinos, it is our obligation to help our fellow teachers here and those who stand to be victimized if this exploitative scheme is not stopped.

Please read the full class action complaint here.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Mabuhay ang FEFL!

Congratulations to the leaders and members of the Filipino Educators Federation of Louisiana! FEFL was conferred the International Democracy Award in AFT's recently concluded National Convention in Seattle, Washington. The award is given by AFT “to highlight the continuing struggle for human rights around the world.” Migrant and labor rights are human rights and as we have always underscored in this blog, these are rights that we must defend and fight for.

As our collective action is resulting to initial victories, this recognition gives all of us teachers the needed affirmation and encouragement to pursue the ends of justice.

Here is a video shown in the AFT convention before the award was presented.

Here is a video of the award presentation.

Tuloy ang laban! Ingrid, we will always be behind you!

(Both videos above are from the AFT website.)

Friday, April 16, 2010

Sweet Victory

Teachers and to all our supporters, we are so excited and happy to announce that the decision of the Louisiana Workforce Commission (LWC) is very favorable to our cause! Congratulations to all those who keep the fire burning! Congratulations to those brave souls who stood as witnesses on our behalf! Kudos to AFT and LFT for their dedication to our cause! Bravo to the leaders and members of the Filipino Educators Federation for the needed leadership.

May this victory mean the strengthening of our efforts for justice and our advocacies to protect the rights of migrant teachers and workers. Let us remember that this development is not the end but is just a new beginning in our struggle. We expect that UPI will appeal and challenge the decision. We expect that there will be more arenas of battle. However, today we have a good reason to celebrate. But yes, the fight for justice goes on!

A Quick Review of the Findings

Despite UPI’s flimsy attempt to reclassify its operations and skirt the law, the Commission concluded that UPI is indeed operating as an employment service in the State of Louisiana as defined in the LPES (Louisiana Private Employment Service) law. As such UPI violated the said law by operating without first obtaining the requisite license. On top of that, below are the other findings of the Commission.

1. “The evidence established that UPI charged the teacher applicants a "marketing fee" which is prohibited by La. R.S. 23:111 B(2).”

2. “The evidence established that UPI collected placement fees from the teacher applicants "prior to actual commencement of work" in violation of Section 107.A.5 of Title 40 of the Louisiana Administrative Code.”

3. “The evidence established that UPI collected fees from teacher applicants who did not ultimately commence work on the job procured by UPI in violation of La. R.S. 23:111 B(3)(e) and Section 107.A.6 of Title 40 of the Louisiana Administrative Code.”

4. “The evidence established that UPI's contracts with the teacher applicants obligated the teachers to pay UPI a fee of 10% of the teacher's gross monthly income for the first 24 months of employment. This contractual provision violates La. R.S 23:111 B(3)(a) which limits an employment services fees to the applicant's first year's gross earnings.”

5. “The evidence established that UPI violated La. R.S 23:111 B(3)(b) which requires the employment service to adjust its fee upward or downward based on the actual gross earnings of the applicant.”

A Summary of the Awards and Penalties

With the findings above, the Commission ordered the following awards:

1. “UPI is hereby ordered to pay a fine to the Louisiana Workforce Commission in the amount of $500 for violating the LPES by operating an employment service in Louisiana without first obtaining the requisite license and otherwise failing to comply with the LPES as set forth herein.”

2. “The Commission does hereby order UPI to pay litigation expenses in the amount of $7,500.00 jointly to the AFT, LFT and Avoyelles Parish Intervenors as the prevailing parties.”

3. “The placement fees paid by the Filipino teachers were charged by UPI, an unlicensed employment service, in violation of Louisiana's Private Employment Service regulatory scheme. UPI is ordered to refund the placement fees paid by the Filipino teachers to UPI.”

4. “This Commission does not have the power to impose a criminal sanction on the Defendant. The matter will be referred to the appropriate authorities as the Director of the Louisiana Workforce Commission may deem necessary.”

The LWC decision however falls short of nullifying the contract as it underscores that that is outside the powers granted to it by the law. The decision says, “The LWC is without authority to declare the contract between two parties null.” What is clear is that LWC finds the contracts in violation of the statute in several counts. And according to the AFT lawyer, if UPI “seeks to enforce the contracts in a court of law, the court would use the LWC decision to declare the contracts void.”

Monday, April 5, 2010

Stop oppressive forms of recruitment! Scrap the unjust UPI teacher contracts!

The newly formed organization of Filipino teachers, the Filipino Educators Federation of Louisiana, sent us the statement below in time for today's hearing of the case filed against UPI with the Louisiana Workforce Commission.

Filipino Educators Federation of Louisiana
Press Statement
April 5, 2010

Stop oppressive forms of recruitment!
Scrap the unjust UPI teacher contracts!

We, members of the Filipino Educators Federation of Louisiana, call for the immediate end to the oppressive recruitment practices of Universal Placement International (UPI) and the scrapping of the unjust contract that were forced on the teachers. We are victims of these practices and have banded together as an organization to assert our rights and advocate for the protection of the rights of migrant teachers and workers as a whole.

We join all the Filipino teachers who share our aspiration for justice. We fully support the efforts of our fellow educators under the banner of the American Federation of Teachers and the Louisiana Federation of Teachers. We are not doing this only for ourselves and our families but also to the hundreds more who stand to be victimized if these excessively unjust practices are not stopped.

Our members will be testifying in today’s hearing to put on record the oppression we have experienced and the onerous contracts that were forced on the Filipino teachers under the threat of being “deported” or deprived of a job. We have experienced different forms of intimidation and manipulation that was aimed solely to strengthen the grip of tyranny of Lulu Navarro over all of us.

Filipino teachers have suffered from excessive and illegal fees and up to now our families are burdened with heavy debts back home. We have endured verbal threats and legal bullying to make us submit to the whims of the placement agency.

Indeed Lourdes “Lulu” Navarro, the owner of UPI, is not new to such criminal behavior as she is a convicted felon in the State of California on several counts of Medi-Cal fraud, grand theft, money laundering and identity theft.

We call on the Louisiana Workforce Commission to give relief to the migrant Filipino teachers deployed in the different school districts in Louisiana who have showed dedication to their vocation and commitment to quality education. We call on the commission to stand with the foreign teachers who have showed perseverance to make a difference in the lives of the children of Louisiana despite their horrible circumstances.

We appeal on the honorable commission to nullify the lopsided contract that is being utilized by Universal Placement International as a tool to oppress these migrant teachers. We appeal on the commission to stand by Louisiana’s public policy and tell the world that these inhumane practices have no place in the State; that no legal technicality can provide a smokescreen for repression.

We also enjoin all other Filipino teachers who share these experiences to come out and stand up for your rights. Let us broaden our unities against this injustice and together pursue our dreams for our families with dignity.

We call on all workers and parents here in Louisiana to support our cause for justice as this is not simply an issue about recruitment but an issue that concerns a grossly immoral and deceitful practice aimed at enriching a person at the expense of others. This issue is imbued with public interest as it concerns the education of our children.

Today, as we struggle for justice, we renew our commitment to serve the needs of the different school districts in the State of Louisiana. We enjoin the public in our aspiration to end all oppressive forms of recruitment. Join us in our call to put a stop to the illegal operations of Universal Placement International and the nullity of these burdensome teachers’ contracts.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Time to galvanize our gains!

Teachers, we are elated that more and more are now coming out to add their voices to this struggle. We are delighted that many of you, our fellow teachers from different districts have now decided that the only right way to move forward is to stand up and assert our rights.

We congratulate all the teachers who found their strength and now are determined to push back. We congratulate those who have elevated this struggle from a battle for personal gains to a battle for principled justice. Let us remember that we are not only fighting for what we can gain personally but we are fighting so that Lulu Navarro, Mel Villarba, Universal Placement and PARS will be stopped from victimizing more Filipinos.

Now that our efforts are gathering steam and moving forward, it is time to galvanize our gains. It is time to build our organization. This blog is joining the efforts to organize our ranks so our shield is stronger and our swords are sharper.

Organizing ourselves does not only mean that we move together. But more so, it means that we move together with shared ideals and shared dreams. We dream of a system where migrant workers like us are treated as human beings with rights. We envision a system where no Lulus or Mels are getting rich at the expense of others.

We are now standing by a crossroad. We are now in a situation where we have to decide if we are going to go on fighting for our families OR just sit in a corner and whine. This will be decision between having more families victimized OR preventing this horrible experience from happening to others. This will be a choice between the path to apathy and indifference OR the path to cooperation and action.

Mabuhay ang migranteng mga guro at manggagawa!

-Gurong Sulong

We would like to feature some news stories:

Shreveport's Filipino teachers to stay

Three Filipino teachers who faced deportation received word of visa approvals, Caddo Parish school officials announced Friday.

However, about 20 Filipino teachers in the district are still awaiting word on whether they will be able to stay in the country.

In total, about 43 teachers from the Philippines found themselves possibly leaving the United States after paperwork from Universal Placement, the company that recruited them, sent the school district paperwork with a hodgepodge of problems. Some paperwork was missing and either the deadline for filing other paperwork was not met or had the wrong information.

(Read complete story)

200 Filipino Teachers in Louisiana Bilked of Excessive Recruiting Fees, Complaint Alleges

A Filipino recruiter had been charged before the Louisiana Workforce Commission and the Louisiana Attorney General’s office in Baton Rouge Wednesday (Oct. 28) with cheating 200 Filipino teachers thousands of dollars in recruiting fees and held them in virtual servitude for keeping their visas, according to Steve Monaghan, president of the Louisiana Federation of Teachers. The recruiter had been convicted and jailed for money laundering in California and convicted of the same offense in New Jersey.

“The alleged behavior of this recruiter and the treatment of these teachers are quite frankly disgusting and an affront to basic American values,” Mr. Monaghan told a press conference as he announced the filing of the charges by the LFT and the American Federation of Teachers against Lourdes “Lulu” or “Linda” S. Navarro of the Universal Placement International Inc., which has offices in Los Angeles, California, and Quezon City in the Philippines.

Les Landon, LFT director of public relations, provided this news agency a copy of the seven-page complaint filed by Dan McNeil, the lawyer working on the case for AFT.

(Read complete story)

Friday, October 30, 2009

The Quest for Justice

Friends and fellow teachers, we can already hear the wheels of justice turning.  Our quest for justice is moving forward.  The oppressor is now desperate to cover up her criminal acts so we expect her to carry out some desperate actions.  But have no fear for we have the truth on our side.  Let us remain strong as we have nothing to hide.

As we have always advocated since the start of this blog, the key to our victory is our unity.  No amount of threats, no amount of intimidation can muffle our unified voices. No amount of lies, no amount of cover up can suppress the truth.

We would like to give some updates on our efforts and the efforts of our network of advocates.

I.  Federal case versus Lulu Navarro and UPI
Last October 20, the American Federation of Teachers has already filed a federal case against the dreaded Lourdes “Lulu” Navarro and Universal Placement International with the U.S. Department of Labor. See press release from AFT below.

AFT Alleges Louisiana Teacher Recruiter Violated Federal Laws

A company that recruited hundreds of Filipinos to teach in Louisiana schools violated federal laws when it exploited, intimidated and threatened the teachers, according to a complaint filed Oct. 20 by the AFT.

The complaint, delivered to the U.S. Department of Labor, alleges that teachers recruited by Universal Placement International were directed to pay thousands of dollars in fees that federal law dictates should be paid by the employer. The AFT alleges that each teacher paid approximately $15,000 to Universal before working a single day as a teacher, and signed an illegal contract, under duress, requiring payment of additional fees.

"The allegations, backed by the facts, show these teachers to be victims of worker abuses like the ones in our students' history books: indentured servitude, debt bondage and labor contracts signed under duress," says AFT president Randi Weingarten. "What makes these allegations especially heinous is that the victims are good teachers, that school districts and tax dollars are involved, and that all this is taking place in 21st-century America." (Read complete article…)

II. Ingrid Cruz, providing a face to our struggles
USA Today featured a very compelling story that reflects the predicament of most of us victims of UPI.  The brave teachers in the story are Teachers Ingrid Cruz, Bernard Pagusara, Ian Cainglet and Luzellene Perez.  This blog salutes all of you!

Federal complaint: Filipino teachers held in 'servitude'
By Greg Toppo and Icess Fernandez, USA TODAY

BATON ROUGE — It has been more than two years since Ingrid Cruz aced a middle-of-the-night video interview in Manila, borrowed $10,000 from her parents and flew halfway around the world to take a job here teaching middle school science.

She was seeking that most American of dreams: a new life, and opportunities she couldn't approach back home. But along the way, Cruz says she has endured intimidation, humiliation, extortion and a long, painful separation from her young daughters.

Cruz is one of more than 300 teachers imported to Louisiana from the Philippines since 2007, a group of educators who say collectively they paid millions of dollars in cash to a Filipino recruiting firm, PARS International Placement Agency, and its sister company, Los Angeles-based Universal Placement International Inc. (Read complete article…)

III. Advice from US Embassy

One of our colleagues went home because her application for the extension of her visa was initially denied.  She reapplied for a new visa and then went to the US Embassy in the Philippines the previous week to have her new visa stamped.  Upon learning that she is from EBR, she was brought to a meeting with agents where she volunteered all information.  The agents are appalled by the exploitation we have experienced from UPI and PARS. She is back here in the US now.

Here are the advice from the US Embassy agents in the Philippines who are investigating the criminal activities of UPI and PARS.  First, stop paying any fees to the agency. Second, to all those who are in the same predicament as our colleague, the US Embassy suggests that you go home and do not worry because the US embassy will help you and make sure you can come back. All you have to do is tell the truth.

(Note: We are not trying to replace the opinion of a lawyer. We are just sharing to you what transpired.)

IV. Efforts in the Philippines

We are happy to announce that we have a new advocate that will handle our legal representation in the Philippines. We will be filing cases against PARS with the POEA and DOLE. (A colleague already submitted more than 60 declarations to Dole Secretary Roque last week.). Our counsel is a respected lawyer, activist and consumer advocate. Also, he is a previous Community Service Awardee of the prestigious UP Alumni Awards.

We would like to thank Partido ng Manggagawa (PM or the Labor Party) for arranging this representation.  We would also like to acknowledge the support of the Public Services Labor Independent Confederation (PSLINK).

V. Statement of Support
We would like to feature a solidarity statement from PM.  This blog welcomes the solidarity of any group or individual.  If you or your group supports our cause, send us an email and we will be happy to feature your statement.  We certainly need all the support that we can get.

PM Solidarity Statement
October 29, 2009

Message of Solidarity with the Pinoy Teachers of Louisiana

The Partido ng Manggagawa salutes the brave Filipino migrant teachers in Louisiana. In the name of the working class in the Philippines, we support you in your fight for justice against the illegal and oppressive policies of the recruiter Lulu Navarro. We pledge to help your cause and struggle in any way we can.
You have broken the stereotype of Filipino teachers as meek and submissive slaves who will endure inhuman treatment with hardly a peep. Instead you have stood for what you believe is right despite all the odds and against threats of persecution by Navarro and her minions.

You have proven once again that in unity there is strength and in action lies the possibility of victory. The support you have garnered from the Filipino-American community, the American Federation of Teachers and even the coverage that has been given your issue by the US mass media is testimony to you determination in struggle over the course of almost a year.

With the light at the end of the tunnel ever clearer now as far as achieving your goals of seeking justice, we encourage you to broaden the scope of your fight and raise it to the next level. We ask that add to your agenda the reform of overseas employment policy in order to stop the abuse of Filipino migrant workers. If professionals like teachers can become slave labor in a country like the US, no wonder OFW’s by the thousands suffer from abuse, discrimination and indignity across the globe. (Read complete statement…)