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Bacolod City, Philippines Wednesday, March 14, 2007
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Bacolod teacher-victims
await Texas court verdict

A verdict by the El Paso, Texas, federal court on the alleged white-collar smuggling scheme to import Filipino teachers to Texas school districts, including four from Negros Occidental, is expected by the end of this month.

A teacher from Bacolod, who asked not to be identified, yesterday said that more than 200 teachers from the Philippines were recruited for jobs in Texas nearly four years ago but when they arrived, many did not have jobs waiting for them as promised.

The 38-year-old teacher said she, two other Bacoleña public school teachers, one from southern Negros Occidental and others from around the Philippines arrived in the Texas on Aug. 1, 2003.

But instead of being brought to El Paso, Texas where they were promised teaching jobs they were kept in McAllen, Texas, about 14 hours away by bus, the Bacoleña who is still in the United States told the DAILY STAR in an interview over the Internet.

The El Paso Times reported on its website www.elpasotimes.com on March 10 that the prosecution last week rested after more than a month of testimony in the case against officials from the OMNI Consortium based in Houston -- Noel Cedro Tolentino; his wife, Angelica Tolentino; and his mother, Florita Tolentino. The three were indicted on about 40 counts including conspiracy to smuggle aliens, visa fraud and money laundering, the El Paso Times reported.

Officials from several El Paso school districts who hired some Filipino teachers are key players in the trial, it reported, adding that the jury is expected to return March 19 to hear the case of the defense.

The case of the US government against the Tolentinos includes a series of alleged junkets to the Philippines, all-expenses-paid trips during which US school administrators were expected to offer Filipino candidates teaching jobs in Texas, the EL Paso Times reported. Ron Ederer, the lawyer for Noel Tolentino, was quoted as saying: "To consider this a bribe is a real stretch," he said." The defense contends that the trips to the Philippines were working trips.


The El Paso Times reported that last year Mario Aguilar, former superintendent of the Socorro Independent School District in Texas, pleaded guilty to misdemeanor charges of failing to report gifts, including a trip to China within the trip to the Philippines, to a public official and was sentenced to one year of probation.

Aguilar's wife, Vista Del Sol Elementary School principal Magdalena Aguilar, was also sentenced to one year of probation for receiving a gift, it also reported.

Raye Lokey, former Ysleta Independent School District associate superintendent for human resources, was sentenced to six months of probation for aiding illegal entry, the El Paso Times reported.

Prosecutor Bill Lewis said school officials who went on the trip testified that there was an understanding that each had to sign 10 letters of intent to hire during the trip that were used by OMNI to file I-129 petitions for H-1B work visas in the United States, the El Paso Times reported.


"But school districts then scaled down their request for teachers. For example, the Brownsville Independent School originally wanted to hire 55 teachers but later said it needed only 19. The government said that instead of canceling the H-1B application for the unwanted 36 teachers, Tolentino continued the process," it added

"The U.S. Embassy in the Philippines issued visas for jobs that did not exist. That's fraud…The teachers did not know they would end up coming to the United States illegally," Lewis was quoted as saying.

By then they had taken loans to pay the fees OMNI was charging them, about $10,000 a person, according to the indictment, the El Paso Times reported.

"Had they known, they would not have come into the United States. Had they known, they wouldn't have taken loans," it quoted Lewis as saying.

The U.S. attorney's office has said that 273 Filipino teachers were brought to the United States during 2002-04 and that fewer than 100 actually had jobs waiting for them, the El Paso Times reported.


The Bacoleña told the DAILY STAR she attended a seminar for teachers seeking jobs in the United States at a hotel in Bacolod City in April 2001 and that was the first time she met Florita Tolentino.

At the time she was teaching at a public elementary school in Bacolod but she decided to take on the job promised in Texas because she was told her monthly salary in the US would be more than her annual salary in the Philippines, plus she would have the chance to become a US resident.

On January 2003 the Bacoleña said she and the other teachers attended a special meeting in Manila with Noel Cedro Tolentino, the son of Florita Tolentino, where he discussed the US Department Education policy on Highly Qualified teachers and gave a general briefing.

She said that on Aug. 1, 2003 she reached McAllen, Texas and discovered that there was no job waiting for her .

The Bacoleña teacher in an email to Bombo Radyo, which first reported her story, also said that when she and the other teachers reached the United States, Florita Tolentino placed them in apartments in McAllen and Pharr, Texas, while they were supposed to wait to get jobs promised them.

They told us our positions at the Ysleta Independent School District no longer existed and every week they gave us a different reason why we had no work, she said.

Other Filipino teachers promised jobs in other school districts were also jobless, she said.


As it neared September 2003 we had no jobs, and we were scared the US immigration would find out and we would be picked up by the border patrol, she said. "We had incurred such huge debts in the Philippines to get here and we had no jobs to return to if we went home," she said.

Every night we prayed the rosary, we could not sleep until the wee hours of the morning, we were stressed, worried about our families back home and often wept, she said.

Money was tight and there were times when they hardly had enough food. She told the DAILY STAR that, in the third week of August 2003, the other apartments where the Filipino teachers were staying were raided.


With the help of a friend she got in touch with the US Immigration and Naturalization Service to seek help, she said.

She told the US customs agent who got in touch with her that she decided to seek government help as she and the other teachers were victims.

"That was the time that I knew that my Visa was 'out of status' because I was not employed by my petitioner YISD. And also that was the time that I knew that I could be picked up by the border patrol agent and be deported anytime of the day," she said.

She said that on Sept 9, 2003 she and some other teachers arrived at El Paso where they were aided by US authorities.

"The US government helped us a lot, like giving us food, shelter and clothing that time. It was more than we expected, and all we did was to thank God and the US government for giving us back our own worth as professionals," she said.

The Bacoleña and the other teachers who told the truth about what happened were given Employment Authorization Card and Deferred Action letters for their status in the US that has allowed them to work while the trial is ongoing.*CPG

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