Around 100 Filipino nurses staged a protest rally in front of the venue of a forum where an Oslo politician is set to speak about his book on corruption that accuses Pinoy-owned recruitment agency, Active Service, Omsorg og Rekruttering (ASOR), of corrupt practices.
Chanting “We support ASOR” and “Enough is enough” in Norwegian and some wearing T-shirts with ASOR logos, the nurses caught the attention of the locals as they gathered in front of the Litteraturhuset awaiting the arrival of incumbent Oslo city council member Erling Folkvord who wrote the controversial book, “Our Corrupt Capital.”
They also held up placards with slogans “We support ASOR”, “Filipino nurses are competent”, “ASOR cares for nurses,” “Enough is enough”, “ASOR is innocent”, “Stop false accusations against ASOR and Filipina nurses”, and “thank you for the help Rizalina.”
Folkvord’s book details corrupt practices in the Oslo county and accused ASOR of sending invoices for free labor, not giving minimum wages, and employing unqualified personnel.
ASOR is one of the biggest agencies providing nursing aid services to elderly clients in Oslo. It counts the city government of Oslo as one of its biggest clients. From 2002 until the end of August 2010, city records show that the agency earned 67 million kroners (around P536 million at present exchange rates) from its city contracts.
It was founded in 2000 and lists as it owners Filipina Rizalina Galiza Jenssen and her Norwegian husband, Hallvard Jenssen.
Fear of job losses
“May posibilidad na mawalan ng trabaho ang karamihan sa mga nurses dito dahil sa mga isinusulat niya (na) walang katotohanan,” Helen Locsin, a nurse in Oslo, told this reporter.
She also said that what Folkvord did was to destroy the reputation of Filipino nurses and endanger their jobs.
Filipino community leader Nene Puyat who also attended the rally echoed Locsin’s sentiment and said the Filipino community is affected by this scandal. She also said she believes the accusations against ASOR as outlined in the book are not true.
While the group Filcom Norway threw its support behind the protest action, another group, the New Filipino Working Group (NFWG), was noticeably absent in yesterday’s rally.
An anonymous email circulating among the Filipino community in Norway signed Juana De la Cruz, however, casts doubt on ASOR’s innocence. Addressed to all Filipinos supporting Ate Sally (Rizalina Jenssen), De la Cruz wrote, “Masarap ipaglaban ang isang tao at sumama sa demo kung alam mo na inosente siya sa mga charges laban sa kanya pero alam ng nakararami na maraming totoo sa mga paratang na ito.”
Some Filipinos who knew about the demonstration stayed away saying they have no way of knowing if the allegations are true or not, nor have they read the book. They also said the demonstration will only put Filipinos in a bad light and even contribute to promoting Folkvord’s book.
Some even said that if allegations against ASOR are not true, then it should file a complaint with the police against Folkvord.
The counsel for ASOR, Carl Bore, said his client is now studying the possibility of filing a defamation lawsuit against Folkvord to claim compensation for the “damages” he caused to ASOR’s reputation.
“A lawsuit against the author at this point seems inevitable, but we will also be evaluating whether there are sufficient grounds to file a case against the publishers,” Bore added.
In the middle of Bore’s interview, Folkvord arrived and was greeted by boos from the demonstrators. Instead of going straight inside the Litteraturhuset, he walked toward the protesting nurses. The chants went even louder as he invited the nurses to join the forum at the Litteraturhuset and tried to talk to the nurses.
One of the demonstrators who Folkvord talked to, Richard Wold, said he tried “to tell him that it is not fair that he is just throwing all these accusations without knowing the facts. Basically, he is doing this to gain popularity, create scandal and accusing us of human trafficking.”
Wold admitted that he works as a consultant for ASOR.
Unfazed by protest
Reacting to the demonstration against him, Folkvold said he is unfazed by it and he is sure that “several of those persons who were demonstrating may have been misinformed.”
“I read their (ASOR) leaflet and I can see that they have been given incorrect information about what is the content and text of my book,” Folkvord added.
Folkvord also said he is standing by what he wrote in his book about ASOR, saying “most of the text in my book about ASOR is based on official documents available in Norway and the Philippines.”
Dismissing charges that he is using the ASOR case to win an election, Folkvord clarified that his reason for writing the book is “to defend the rights of Filipino workers whose employers made them pay for the costs of working in Norway.” He said that the Norwegian state has not done its job of making sure that the employers who hire nurses from abroad shoulder the costs of recruitment such as language and training costs.
He also said that he wants to “reach Filipino workers in Norway (and give them) correct information about several recruitment agencies”, and expose the practices of agencies who charge exorbitant and illegal fees from Filipino health workers who want to work in Norway.
He also said that he is waiting for ASOR’s lawyer to file a case against him instead of “making noise in the Norwegian media.”
Folkvord’s political career spans two decades in the city council and has once served one term as Parliament member for his Red party. He is known in political circles as a “watchdog” for his exposes on political and corporate corruption.