* File photo. The Filipino community has had a strong presence in the May 24 parade in years past.
* File photo. The Filipino community has had a strong presence in the May 24 parade in years past.
The Filipino community has expressed concerns about taking part in the Bermuda Day parade.

They fear they could be "harassed and heckled" by the crowd after Immigration Minister David Burch's "offensive" remarks about women.

The Association of Filipinos in Bermuda last night held an emergency meeting to discuss safety issues concerning women and children taking part in the parade.

They fear they could be made to feel unwelcome by people who have taken Senator Burch's controversial comments to heart.

It comes after new visa requirements were announced for citizens of the Philippines, Dominican Republic and Panama.

Senator Burch said the goal was to crack down on women being brought to Bermuda as prostitutes or as wives in "sham marriages".

John Cayetano, president of the Association, said: "Women are having second thoughts about taking part in the parade - they are concerned how the crowd will react to them.

"At first we shrugged off the Minister's comments, but people seem to be listening to him.

"Some Filipino women are being called names when they are in the grocery store or sitting on the bus.

"They are being called prostitutes and some have been approached by men asking how much it would cost to get them a wife from the Philippines.

"These women are hurt and upset."

Last month Minister Burch said that Government would start to vet applications "to determine whether a marriage is a sham or bona fide union".

He said older Bermudian men were marrying young Panamanian, Dominican Republic and Philippine women without them speaking a word of English.

Mr. Cayetano said Senator Burch had "offended" many of the 1,000 Filipinos working and living on the island.

He said: "It's not fair; it was just his opinion, but he's misinformed people.

"Most of us know how to speak English, we use it in everyday life. We are educated, work hard and have nothing to do with prostitution.

"Each society may have one or two bad apples, but he has made a huge generalization."

Members of the Association of Filipinos in Bermuda and Club 2000 were invited to last night's meeting, which was held at a private residence.

It was hoped that those in attendance would "iron things out" so that they could still enter a float and dancers into the parade.

A group of about 20 Filipino women and children have taken part in the parade for the last 10 years.

Mr. Cayetano, who works for an electrical company, said "Of course we want to take part in the parade this year. It's become part of our heritage and we feel it's our duty to give back to the community.

"The costumes have been made and we are all ready.

"We just had to get together to discuss our concerns, things have developed in the last few months and we all wanted to get together to discuss that."

Senator Burch did not respond to our request for comment yesterday.