DUBAI // In an attempt to improve relations between the 400,000 Filipinos in Dubai and the Northern Emirates and their government representatives, the Philippine consul-general in Dubai has agreed to meet the community's governing council twice a month.
The meetings - to be known as - "Magtanong kay ConGen" or "Ask the Consul-General" - follow a request by FilCom, the group representing the Filipino community in Dubai and the Northern Emirates, to Benito Valeriano, the consul-general.
"I asked him if he was willing to meet us once a month and he said, 'Why not twice?'" said Alan Bacason, who heads the 12-member governing council of FilCom.
"Now we've got a chance to present the concerns of the community that relate to their welfare to the consul-general and relay the information to the council of representatives [the leaders of all the Filipino community groups].
"This is an attempt to serve as a bridge between the community and the consulate and other government agencies."
The development follows months of tetchy relations between the consulate and some community groups, including the rights group Migrante-UAE.
Migrante-UAE has agitated for the scrapping of the "affidavit of support and guarantee". The affidavit is a document presented by Filipinos on tourist visas to airport immigration officers in the Philippines.
It is supposed to prove that they can afford to visit the UAE and will not seek employment. The documents are not required to leave the Philippines but are, nonetheless, often requested by Filipinos whose relatives want to visit the UAE. Despite complaints, the consulate continues to notarise them - for Dh100 a time - saying its hands are tied by Manila.
Geronimo Suliguin, the vice-consul at the Dubai consulate, said last month that officials did not force or encourage Filipinos to have their affidavits notarised.
"Our job is to notarise the document. The money that the consulate collects from notarising this document goes to the national treasury," he said.
The Ask the Consul-General meetings will be held behind closed doors, with only the invited representatives allowed in. This, said Mr Valeriano, would allow problems to be thrashed out in detail.
Under previous consuls-general, weekly open meetings were held, at which any Filipino could raise concerns and complaints with the consul-general, the vice-consul and labour and welfare officials.
But Mr Valeriano called a halt to that practice shortly after taking office in 2008, and is not keen to reinstate it.
"The idea is good but the practice is not effective," he said. "I'm not a politician. Some people may use the venue to engage in endless debates with a continuous barrage of questions."
Migrante-UAE has been pushing since last year for a monthly "case conference" with Filipino diplomats, which Nhel Morona, the group's secretary-general, says should supplement the new fortnightly meetings.
"The community leaders can present the victims of alleged abuse or labour cases at these meetings," he said. "Many of these victims are hesitant to approach the consulate alone."