As per records of the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA), there are 630 Filipinos languishing in various jails in Asia, the United States, and in the Middle East.
By INA ALLECO R. SILVERIO
MANILA — Bayan Muna lawmaker Neri Colmenares recently urged the House Committee on Drugs to look into the alarming number of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) being criminally charged for drug trafficking in various countries after being caught acting as “drug mules” for syndicates.
Colmenares filed House Resolution 858 to urge congress to address the plight of these OFWs who were used by drug syndicates to smuggle drugs in and out of countries. He said illegal syndicates prey on desperate OFWs and Filipinos seeking jobs abroad. Drug syndicates, he said, use the internet to recruit drug mules.
According to Colmenares, there are 75 Filipinos who are currently on death row in China. There are also 35 OFWs who have been sentenced to life imprisonment, 68 with fixed-term sentences and 27 have cases pending in court.
As per records of the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA), there are 630 Filipinos languishing in various jails in Asia, the United States, and in the Middle East. These OFWs were employed as drug couriers for notorious, high-profile international syndicates. The PDEA also said that in China alone, there are already 205 Filipinos imprisoned for allegedly being drug mules.
In China, drug trafficking of 50 grams or more of illegal drugs is punishable by 15 years in prison, life imprisonment or death while in Muslim countries, under the Shariah Law, drug trafficking is punishable by death;
“The Philippine government must be able to find ways to protect OFWs and soon-to-be OFWs from becoming victims of criminal syndicates,” Colmenares said.
Bayan Muna representative Atty. Neri Colmenares (Photo by Ronalyn V. Olea / bulatlat.com)
Colmenares asserted that OFWs are without doubt the highest income generator for the country.
“They contributed a record US$17 billion in remittances, and that’s from January to November 2010 alone. The least the government can do is to protect them from being used by syndicates as drug mules,” he said.
A study by the Asian Development Bank (ADB) revealed that foreign remittances by OFWs stood at 12 percent of the gross domestic product (GDP), making it one of the most important sources of income for the country;
“There are cases where Filipinos are duped and unsuspectingly carry illegal drugs to the country of their destination. In one instance, a confessed drug mule admitted that she transported an electric fan but did not know it contained cocaine,” he said.
The activist lawmaker cited the case of a Filipina teacher from Bacolod City named Flory May Talaban whom, he said, is imprisoned at the Bangkok Women’s Correctional Institution in Thailand where women supposedly involved in illegal drugs are being held.
“According to the parents, Flory May was most probably duped and unknowingly carried illegal drugs when she accompanied her employer in her trip to China. She is a graduate of the University of St. La Salle in Bacolod City. Abroad, she has been teaching elementary school kids of foreign nationals. Her parents just learned about her situation from a friend, and they have no other way of helping her or knowing about their daughter’s situation,” Colmenares said.
Based on profiles compiled by the PDEA, OFWs charged with drug trafficking generally come from impoverished backgrounds. The PDEA said international drug rings have a preference for young professionals or office workers with presentable personalities because they are less likely to be suspected.
“OFWs are lured by promises of free travel, free iPads, and hefty allowances,” said the PDEA.?
Based on the PDEA’s reckoning, 62 percent of Filipino “drug mules” are women, while 38 percent are men and are recruited through the internet and social networks like Facebook and Twitter. The syndicates, in the meantime, arrange the drug packages in different forms and the “drug mules” are either asked to swallow the drugs sealed in plastic, hide it in their underwear, or have them surgically inserted into their genital areas.
Most “drug mules” are from 25 to 55 years old, and are breadwinners of the family. Of the 678 cases the PDEA recorded, 425 are females or 63 percent of the total arrests.
There have also been cases where Filipinos were duped and tricked into carrying illegal drugs to the country of their destination. In one instance, a confessed drug mule admitted that she transported an electric fan but did not know it contained cocaine;
In November 2010, the Philippine embassy in Brazil began monitoring 50 reported cases of Filipinos detained for drug trafficking in the said country. The Department of Foreign Affairs said among the cases was that of a Filipina who was arrested at the Guarulhos International Airport by Brazilian Federal Police for possessing five kilos of cocaine contained in 15 bags hidden in her luggage with false bottoms. Based on reports from the Philippine embassy, the DFA said the Filipina told investigators that she bought the bags in the middle of a Sao Paolo street and intended to sell it in the Philippines.
In the meantime, the US State Department has already raised the alarm in its 2010 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report (INCSR) wherein it exposed “sophisticated transnational drug-trafficking syndicates including a West African group using overseas Filipino workers as couriers.” The INCSR said hese syndicates have increased their presence in the Philippines, and that through the years, the illegal drug trade in the Philippines has evolved into a billion-dollar industry, valued at over $8.4 billion (about P368.2 billion) a year.
Colmenares urged congress to investigate this phenomenon and find ways to protect OFWs and soon-to-be OFWs from becoming victims of criminal syndicates;
He said the government should provide employment opportunities and good paying jobs in the country so that thousands of Filipinos would not have to leave the country to support their families. “It’s simply tragic that the contribution of OFWs to the country’s economy is not being reciprocated by the government in the form of support services and sufficient attention to their plight.
?OFWs are subjected to different kinds of abuse or suffer inhumane conditions in the places they work. The lucky ones are able to come back home, but those unlucky may end up killed or locked up in jail, and executed if sentenced to death,” he said.