Four members of Migrante sectoral party were reportedly beaten up by Philippine Consulate officials in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia as they were heading for a dialogue. The consulate officials involved in the mauling should be fired and prosecuted, Migrante has demanded.
BY AUBREY SC MAKILAN
Overseas Filipino workers in Jeddah, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, who were hurt during a picket dispersal at the Philippine Consulate in Jeddah, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia on July 16 have charged that the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) is covering-up the incident.
According to the Asia Pacific Mission for Migrants (APMM), around 30 members of OUTRAGE (Overseas Filipinos, Families and Advocates: Unite and Rise to Oust Gloria)-Jeddah, who were also members of the Jeddah chapter of Migrante Sectoral Party, gathered at the Philippine Consulate for a dialogue with government officials on the plight of stranded workers. They also wanted to express their demand for President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s resignation.
When the OFWs were about to take out the placards bearing the “Oust GMA” calls, Philippine Overseas Labor Office (POLO) officer Anwar Ampang, backed by two security guards and an alleged goon identified as Yusof, reportedly started hitting Leo Legaspi, former Migrante chairperson and leader of the protesting group. The beating reportedly damaged Legaspi’s ear.
MSP-Jeddah identified the other persons hurt as Irene Mahinay, Jackiline Pakpakin and Jessica Hapos. Hapos and Mahinay suffered blows to the stomach while others sustained injuries while trying to protect Legaspi from being further harmed.
Legaspi, in an email sent to Migrante Sectoral Party national office on July 21, said that OFWs sheltered at the Overseas Workers’ Welfare Administration (OWWA) obtained a permit that allowed leaders of the Migrante International-Jeddah Chapter accompany them in a dialogue that same day.
This is contrary to the report of Consul General Pendosina Lomondot to the DFA that eight persons entered the Philippine Consulate there and “tried to stage a protest using the tenants of the Filipino Workers’ Resource Center (FWRC) as a horde to voice out ‘Oust GMA’ slogans.” Legaspi also said that 37, and not just eight, OFWs were in the dialogue.
He added that security men closed the Consulate’s gate, while about 100 “goons” were allegedly hiding inside the two rooms waiting for them to come out at the end of the dialogue.
Baby Jamil, leader of the women sheltered in OWWA Center in Jeddah, was also harassed by the Department of Social Welfare and Development staff Perlita Panganiban and other Consulate’s “pro-GMA” staff, it was reported.
“This incident shows how the Macapagal-Arroyo administration treats us overseas Filipinos,” MSP chairperson Connie Bragas-Regalado said last week. “This further adds to our reasons why we want Gloria to be ousted.”
Bulatlat called OWWA’s Repatriation Department, Operation Center, and Information Office to get their version of the incident but personnel from these offices referred this reporter to the DFA. The DFA however only sent a press release issued July 18.
In the press release, Ampang was said to have first “advised them to stop the action as it was affecting the work of the staff” and “explained to the protesters that coaxing the tenants of the FWRC, all of whom were women, to leave the Consulate premises would be detrimental to the safety of the tenants” before “a fistfight suddenly broke out among the parties.”
In the DFA press release, Secretary Alberto Romulo “advised the Philippine Embassy and Consulate General in the Kngdon of Saudi Arabia (KSA) of the existing instructions to all Foreign Service Posts on security measures for the premises and personnel to ensure the uninterrupted delivery of essential services to their clients.”
Migrante International’s secretary general, Maita Santiago, criticized that instead of covering up the incident, involved officials should be prosecuted. Migrante immediately called for the immediate dismissal of Philippine Labor officers Yusof, Ampang, and involved security guards.
“These officials do not serve the interests and welfare of OFWs in Jeddah,” Bragas-Regalado said. “They exhibit the type of leadership and treatment distressed OFWs get under Philippine Ambassador to Saudi Arabia Bahnarim Guinomla and the bogus President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.”
DFA spokesman Gilberto Asuque, however told Bulatlat on July 19 over the phone that “hindi ginagawa ng [Consulate] officials ang pambubugbog ng migrante (beating of migrants).”
More than being reprimanded, Santiago told Bulatlat that Migrante and victimized OFWs are planning to file charges of physical injury and neglect at the Office of the Ombudsman against involved officials.
Santiago said the July 16 dialogue was arranged to discuss the plight of stranded workers. Migrante records shows there are about 300 stranded OFWs for repatriation in Jeddah alone, which included Legaspi.
In the same email to MSP, Legaspi said that when asked for updates on his case, Lomondot said his employer has not set a date for discussion of the case. Legaspi said they have not done anything about his case since he filed complaints against his employer for contract substitution and unjust wage.
Legaspi said that the Consulate could issue his travel documents but it instead opted to delay his repatriation “to get back to him for making the officials feel humiliated.”
Aside from Migrante, the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) has also issued an Urgent Action Appeal to Philippine and KSA officials concerning the incident. Bulatlat