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2 Saudi-based migrants sentenced for illegal drug possession; families deplore Philippine embassy

On October 15, 2010

A Filipino migrant rights group in the Middle East today said there are two Overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) in Saudi Arabia who have been accused of illegal drug possession and are now detained in Saudi jail after a Saudi court meted out a verdict of 3 years imprisonment plus 600 lashes.

The family and relatives of the two OFWs have sought assistance to Migrante after the Department of Foreign Affairs-Office of the Undersecretary for Migrant Workers Affairs (DFA-OUMWA) allegedly refused to provide legal assistance by hiring a local Shariah lawyer for their defense citing an insufficient assistance fund as reason for its refusal to render assistance for the two troubled OFWs in Saudi Arabia.

Migrante-Middle East said the request for assistance came from the families of the two detained OFWs who went to Migrante International office in Metro Manila on October 13.

Filipino migrant workers Jason and Salvador (not their real names as the family requested not to publish their real names) have been deployed by Manila-based Al Jazira Manpower Services sometime on January 2006 and August 2009, respectively. One of them is an architect and the other is a tile setter. Both have maintained their innocence on the accusation and charges against them.

The two OFWs have been working in Hail City, part of Saudi’s central region and about 800 kilometer far from Riyadh, until they have been apprehended for alleged illegal drug possession.

According to the victims’ families, on July 30, 2010, the two OFWs were arrested by Saudi police who have raided their company-provided accommodation. The police have entered into their room, searched and seized some of their personal belongings, then handcuffed the two after the police pulled off allegedly a sachet of heroin.

Migrante-Middle East cited the signed affidavit issued by the families which they claimed that the 2 OFWs have never been assisted by RP embassy officials and without legal defense during a series of case hearings.

On October 4, 2010, the Saudi’s lower court issued its verdict finding the 2 OFWs guilty of illegal drugs possession.

“They have been sentenced to 3 years imprisonment plus 600 lashes,” according to the OFW brother of one of the victims who is also working in Saudi Arabia during a phone conversation with Migrante-Middle East regional coordinator John Leonard Monterona.

Migrante-ME said based on the circumstances of this case, which they have gathered, studied and investigated, the 2 OFWs could be innocent on the charges hurled against them; “it appears that the 2 have been framed up,” it added.

But what is condemnable is the absence of legal assistance provided by the concerned RP embassy to the 2 OFW victims; often the lack of legal assistance fund is cited as justification why there is no local lawyer hired for the defense of the accused OFWs and others on a similar case.

“We won’t buy this “no legal assistance fund” alibi, as there are enough un-used funds for the legal assistance of OFWs at the Department of Foreign Affairs as previously revealed by DBM Sec. Butch Abad amounting to 52.6-M and 67.7-M balances of legal assistance funds from 2009 and 2010, respectively,” Migrante-ME added.

Migrante-ME averred this is again a clear case of neglecting distress OFWs who have been in jail and accused of illegal drug possession punishable by death, and yet there is no legal assistance provided and no RP embassy personnel to attend scheduled case hearings.

“We won’t be surprised at all if the OFW victims would be imprisoned or even meted death after a series of case hearings without lawyer on their defense, though they are innocent on the crime charged against them. Such government neglect is unpardonable!” Migrante-ME continued.

Meanwhile, Migrante-ME cited the case of Rose Jane Mahilum who was arrested in Masshad, Iran in mid-June 2010 and detained for allegedly carrying 1.675 kilos of heroin.

“This is another case where the RP embassy in Iran failed to attend on her case hearing that is scheduled on 13 October 2010,” Migrante-ME said.

Migrante Rights and welfare committee (RWAC) had sent an email dated 12 October to the RP embassy in Iran informing them of the October 13 scheduled case hearing of Ms. Mahilum and requesting the post to provide legal assistance and representative during the hearing upon the request of her family.

Migrante-Middle East inquired to the concerned Philippine embassy officials and it was known yesterday that nobody from them in Iran attended on the said case hearing.

Wtitten by John Leonard Monterona, Migrante-Middle East regional coordinator