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President Obama meets with congressional leaders
On April 28, 2010 Sophia Manuel and Alfonso Baldonado Jr. were arrested on charges arising from a human trafficking scheme to hold Filipino nationals in forced labor at various southeast Florida country clubs and hotels following a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE)-led investigation.

Florida couple jailed for exploiting Filipinos

WASHINGTON, December 10, 2010 (AFP) - A Florida couple was sentenced to several years in prison Friday for exploiting dozens of Filipino migrants they lured here with lies and forced to work under threat in service jobs in Florida, the Justice Department said.

Sophia Manuel and Alfonso Maldonado "pleaded guilty to conspiring to obtain a cheap, compliant and readily available labor pool by making false promises to entice the victims to incur debts to pay up front recruitment fees," the department said in a statement.

Manuel, who was also found guilty of making false statements to obtain foreign labor certifications and visas under the federal guest worker program, was sentenced to six-and-a-half years behind bars, and Maldonado to four-and-a-quarter years.

Approximately 39 Filipino migrants were brought over by the Quality Staffing Services Corporation the couple owned, and "compelled... through threats to have the workers arrested and deported" to work in country clubs and hotels in southeast Florida, the department said.

"These defendants exploited vulnerable individuals for their own financial gain, depriving the victims of their civil rights," said Thomas Perez, an assistant attorney general.  © 1994-2010 Agence France-Presse

7 Filipinos on board German-owned vessel EMS River seized by pirates off the Omani coast

BRUSSELS, December 28, 2010 (AFP) -  Tuesday pirates seized another German-owned vessel, the EMS River off the Omani coast.

It added that the freighter, registered in Antigua and Barbuda and carrying petroleum products from the United Arab Emirates to Greece, was seized early Tuesday approximately 175 nautical miles northeast of the Omani port of Salalah.

The vessel has a crew of eight -- seven Filipinos and a Romanian. Atalante said the pirates probably used a captured ship, the Motivator, to launch their attack.

The EU task force says 25 vessels and 587 hostages are now being held by pirates off the coast of Somalia. © 1994-2010 Agence France-Presse

Pirates seize cargo ship with 24 Filipino Crew after struggle

BRUSSELS, December 12, 2010 (AFP) - Somali pirates fired rocket propelled grenades and small arms before seizing a cargo ship and its 24 Filipino crew in the Indian Ocean, the EU's anti-piracy force said Sunday.

The Panamanian-flagged bulk carrier, Renuar, was attacked some 550 nautical miles from the coast of India and more than twice that distance from Africa, the European Union's Atalante mission said.

"The 24-man Filipino crew attempted to evade the pirates for some time causing the pirates to make several determined attacks before finally boarding the vessel," it said in a statement.

"There are presently no communications with the ship and the condition of the crew is not known."

It said the ship was attacked early Saturday by two skiffs, supported by a mother ship "with pirates firing small arms and rocket propelled grenades at the merchant vessel".

"Since the attack, the pirates have confirmed that they have control of the ship which is now heading West towards the Somali Coast."

The 70,000 tonne ship, which is Liberian owned, was en route to Fujairah in the United Arab Emirates from Port Louis in Mauritius. © 1994-2010 Agence France-Presse

Hijack probe: HK wants Manila witnesses to testify -- Report

HONG KONG, December 17, 2010 (AFP) - Hong Kong has asked over 100 Philippine witnesses to testify at a public inquiry into the fatal hijacking in Manila that left eight Hong Kong tourists dead, reports said Friday.

Department of Justice lawyer Jat Sew-tong said the 116 witnesses include Manila mayor Alfredo Lim, who is facing administrative sanctions over the authorities' failed rescue operation, local Radio RTHK reported.

Police snipers, doctors and Philippine medical examiners would also be part of the witness group, RTHK quoted the lawyer as saying.

A justice department spokesperson was not immediately available for comment.

Disgraced policeman Rolando Mendoza, who commandeered a tourist bus in an ill-fated bid to get his job back, was also killed during the incident's bloody conclusion, which played out live on television around the world.

Hong Kong's government heaped criticism on Manila's handling of the August crisis, which chilled diplomatic relations. Shortly after the incident, the Chinese territory advised citizens to avoid travelling to the Philippines. Hong Kong also sent its own investigators to scour the hijacking scene in downtown Manila, later saying it would hold a public inquiry in February.

About 32 witnesses from Hong Kong would also be asked to testify at the hearing, RTHK reported. Witnesses from outside Hong Kong may be asked to testify by videolink, it added.

But Hong Kong is unlikely to be able to compel Philippine witnesses to attend the hearing if they refuse.

Philippine diplomatic officials would respond to the witness request in two week's time, Cable Television News said.

"This is an ongoing matter before the coroner's court so it would not be appropriate to comment at this time," Vice-consul Val Roque told AFP, declining to verify the television report.

On Thursday, the Philippine tourism secretary said Manila would pay unspecified compensation to the victims' families and those injured, describing the payment as a "token of solidarity". © 1994-2010 Agence France-Presse

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