Kabayan Weekly Will Connect Filipinos in Dubai

A newspaper targeting the readership of the country’s burgeoning population of expatriate Filipinos will be ready to roll off the presses in the next few weeks.

Atallah Habib, left, the owner and publisher of Kabayan Weekly, talks to editor-in-chief, Camcer Ordonez Imam, right, and designer Mohamed Manampan, seated, at their office in Dubai.

The editors of Kabayan Weekly are planning an initial print run of 40,000 copies, with plans to distribute the 32-page tabloid paper across the country, said the owner and publisher Atallah Habib, 51, a US citizen originally from Syria.

The paper is to be published every Sunday, with the first edition printed either next month or in early June.

After four free issues, the cover price will be Dh2. Kabayan Weekly will be produced by Al Hilal Printing and Publishing Services, which is based in Dubai.

More than 600,000 Filipino expatriates live and work in the UAE, accounting for about 12 per cent of the country’s population.

Kabayan, derived from the Tagalog word bayan, which means “town” or “homeland”, is a term used by Filipinos when addressing a compatriot.

Sixty per cent of the paper will be written in Tagalog, with the rest – business, sport and some features – in English. And although the paper is intended to fill a perceived gap in the market, Mr Habib’s goals are not entirely business-orientated.

His interest in the project began in 2007, when as the part owner of a company that hired nurses from the Philippines, he first heard about the hardships Filipinos can face during the process of being recruited.

He heard stories of Filipinos mortgaging their homes or taking huge loans, only to be duped by illegal recruiters who promise non-existent jobs in the UAE. Once here, they could be exploited by employers who did not provide them with a visa, which meant they must make regular “visa runs” to Oman or Iran’s Kish Island, where they could also become stranded.

“It made me feel bad,” he said. “I don’t want other Filipinos to go through the same experience.”

In an effort to spread the word about some of the pitfalls involved with seeking work in the UAE, the company will provide copies of Kabayan Weekly to airlines with direct flights between the UAE and the Philippines.

“If they read about the country’s laws while on the plane, it might prevent them from being cheated,” he said. “We’d like to let them know about their government’s efforts to protect Filipino migrant workers’ rights abroad.”

Unlike its failed predecessor, Pinoy News, which was not granted a licence to publish a tabloid in 2004, Kabayan Weekly was approved, this month, by the UAE’s National Media Council.

Editor-in-chief Camcer Ordonez Imam, 48, is a Filipino Muslim newly arrived in the UAE from Zamboanga City in the southern Philippines. “In the UAE, some publications got into trouble with the government,” Mr Habib said. “But a Filipino Muslim editor would know what is acceptable or not.”

A journalist with more than 15 years experience in print and broadcast news, Imam said this was his first overseas stint.

He will lead a team of 20 Filipino journalists. In addition to the main office in Dubai, the paper will have a bureau in Abu Dhabi and one in the Philippines, co-ordinating the work of reporters across that country.

The editorial staff will total 20; about a third have already been recruited. Expansion plans would see additional bureaus in Al Ain and the Northern Emirates.

“We’ll have several human interest stories that Filipinos can relate to,” Imam said. “We hope to reach out to them and encourage some form of interaction.”

Victor Era, 33, is a maintenance engineer in Dubai and president of Kabayan Kabit Bisig, a group that helps Filipino expatriates in need. He said the newspaper would appeal to a wide variety of Filipinos.

Art Los Banos, 44, an exhibition solutions consultant in Dubai, said he hoped the paper could entertain all those Filipinos who did not have frequent access to the internet.

“What the Filipino community really needs is a communications forum where new information from the UAE and Philippine governments [is] regularly printed,” he said.

“This can have a big impact on the livelihood of the hundreds of thousands of Filipinos in the UAE.”