Express Week

Upholding Human Rights Underscored in Meeting between Consul General and first Fil-Am New York City Human Rights Commissioner

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NEW YORK, 25 August 2015 -- PH Consul General Mario L. De Leon, Jr. engaged in discussion the first Filipino-American New York City Commissioner on Human Rights Carmelyn P. Malalis (the Commission) on activities and programs relating to human rights protection for New York City residents and explore possible collaboration to help uphold the rights of Filipino residents.  The meeting took place at the Commission’s Manhattan office.

 

Consul General De Leon said that the Filipino diaspora has 120,000 Filipinos in New York state of which an estimated 80,000 to 90,000 Filipinos live in New York City, mainly in the borough of Queens.  As a Consulate General, his office is steeped in the affairs of the community that include ordinary concerns to more serious matters affecting the health, safety, security and rights of many Filipinos, particularly the vulnerable and exploited among senior citizens, domestic workers, and caregivers who run for assistance. As a result, the Consulate General has existing partnerships and alliances with U.S. Department of Labor, Wage and Hour Division, Occupational Safety and Health and Administration, and Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to assist in the conduct of an awareness campaign to inform Filipinos of their basic rights under U.S. labor and civil laws.

Commissioner Malalis pointed out that at the beginning of her term, the Commission’s instrumental role as a guardian of rights was far from recognized by New York City residents.  However, given its mandate to execute the New York Human Rights Law, with the support of the Office of the Mayor, the Commission is keen on sustaining a serious campaign to inform the public of the duality of labor employment: the obligations of employers and the rights of employees.

To achieve this, the Commission is focusing on two objectives, according to Commissioner Malalis. First, improve its law-enforcement bureau by adopting better shared information practices with other agencies, empowering the citizenry through simplified grievance process, and encouraging mediation and conflict resolution practices; second, partnering with small businesses to create an awareness of employer obligation towards employees and in improving the work environment. The breadth and reach of the New York Human Rights Law in terms of protecting citizens, particularly the vulnerable sector, is greater than most U.S. laws, including federal labor and equal opportunity statues, and may be the most far-reaching law of its kind in the U.S., Commissioner Malalis emphasized.   

Commissioner Malalis further explained that, by law, the Commission has the authority to serve summons, subpoena records, prosecute and handle a complaint.  It is allowed to conduct field investigations using “testers” who are Commission agents sent to the subject establishment to validate claims based on the complaint.  Undocumented individuals can also assert their rights under the Human Rights Law and avail of free legal consultations offered by the Commission, she underscored.  

Consul General De Leon responded by asserting that the Filipino community can benefit from the Commission’s works, citing its programs to assist victims of domestic violence, senior citizens who are at risk of losing their homes, and ordinary citizens who lose crucial job opportunities due to their ethnicity, age, or sexual orientation. Filipino establishments and small business can benefit from the Commission’s program on informing employers’ obligation and the promotion of mediation/ conciliation activities, he added.

Commissioner Malalis was born to Filipino immigrant parents.  Her father, an engineer, and her mother, a doctor came to the U.S. during the sixties. She was born and raised in Carteret, New Jersey and is therefore a second-generation Filipino-American. She subsequently completed her education with a JD in law from Northeastern University School of Law, Boston and an undergraduate degree in Women’s Studies from Yale University.

The meeting was attended by the Deputy Commissioner for Community Relations Ms. Pascale Bernard, the Commission’s Assistant General Counsel Ms. Dana Sussman, Ms. Ledy Almadin of the Fil-Am Chamber of Commerce New York and Consul Felipe Cariño. 

The Consulate General has entered into partnerships with several New York City organizations to foster greater awareness and self-sufficiency among Filipinos in accessing city services and resources.  After the launch of the New York ID in 2015, for instance, the Consulate General is helping promote the use of the NY ID for Filipino residents to avail of free social, medical and cultural benefits regardless of a person’s residency status.  This ID can also be used as identification and presentation during police checks. 

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