“It is the government’s policy to provide legal counsel only at the tail end of the case. It is like waiting for an illness to turn into cancer before being treated.” – Migrante International
By ERIKA CALEJA and JANESS ANN J. ELLAO
MANILA – Rose Zapanta could barely breathe when she learned of the death of the three Filipinos who were recently executed in China. She reached out to her mother Mona, who was crying at her side. Both of them are not acquainted with the three Filipinos nor their relatives. But they felt the anguish and the pain that the loved ones of the deceased are going through because Rose’s brother Joselito, was also meted with the death penalty.
Joselito was sentenced to die in Saudi Arabia after he ended up killing his Sudanese landlord who went to his work site on March 26, 2009 to ask for his payment for the house rent even if it was not yet due. The argument turned into a fight, and, to defend himself, Joselito hit his landlord with a hammer.
In Manila, Joselito’s family asked the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) to keep them updated regarding Joselito’s case. In a previous interview with Mona, she said that they frequented the DFA’s office in Pasay City just to ask for updates on the case. They could not rely on telephone calls, she said, because “either the phone line was busy or would keep on ringing. Sometimes, when an official from DFA answers the phone, he would shout at us then end the call abruptly.”
Today, Rose told Bulatlat.com in a telephone interview that their family have sold most of their belongings such as their television set, electric fan, cellphone, bike, DVD player and even their cooking pots just to have money for their parent’s fare commuting from Mexico, Pampanga to the DFA’s office in Pasay City just to ask for updates on Joselito’s case because the government agency does not exert any effort to reach out to them.
Rose said their family is dismayed about how the DFA is handling his brother’s case. And when the three Filipinos were recently executed in China, she could not help but worry, “not only for my brother but for many others who are also sentenced to die. What does the future hold for them if the government will continue what they are doing?”
The government, she said, should learn an important lesson from these deaths and, hopefully, no Filipino would have to go through the same fate that Sally Villanueva, Ramon Credo and Elizabeth Batain had. They were arrested separately in China in 2008 carrying 4,410 grams, 4,113 grams and 6,800 grams of heroin, respectively. The three were charged with violating Article No. 347 of the Criminal Law of the People’s Republic of China, a crime punishable by death. And on March 29, the three were executed.
Committing the Same Mistake Over and Over Again
For Migrante International, on the other hand, the execution of the three Filipinos in China is not the first time that the government should have learned a lesson about the hazards of intensifying its labor export policy. From a supposed temporary solution to the unemployment situation more than three decades ago, it has become a continuing policy not only to address the worsening unemployment in the country but also to keep the economy afloat through the billions of dollars in remittances from over 4,500 overseas Filipino workers (including undocumented workers) leaving the country everyday. Thus, the government does not feel the urgency anymore of generating local jobs with decent pay, which could have been the long-term solution to the unemployment situation in the country.
Migrante International chairman Garry Martinez said that while OFWs are making a big contribution to the economy, the government has been remiss in its duty of providing them with services, especially in times of need. The OFWs’ vulnerability and desperation to earn a decent income, and the government’s lack of concern for their rights and welfare resulted in nine OFWs being sentenced to die, and six beheaded under former president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’s administration alone. There are, on the other hand, hundreds of Filipinos imprisoned and about 10,000 are stranded in the Middle East alone.
“The death of the three Filipinos is yet another wake up call (to the government) that the Labor Export Policy cannot promise a good life,” Martinez said. “The present administration, however, is doing everything to hide these flaws. And as (President Benigno S. Aquino III) continues to push for the Labor Export Policy, he has been offering (jobs abroad) like selling a product without disclosing its side effects.”
The name Flor Contemplacion has been etched in the minds of most Filipinos. Like any other OFW, it was her dream to uplift her family from poverty that pushed her to leave the country and work as a domestic helper in Singapore. But her dreams turned into a nightmare when she was accused of killing fellow Filipino Delia Maga and four year old Singaporean Nicholas Huang, who was found strangled to death and drowned in their home on May 4, 1991.
“The Philippine public was clueless about Flor Contemplacion until a few days before she was scheduled for execution. The government, on the other hand, was aware of her case since day one,” Connie Regalados-Bragas, former chairperson of United Filipinos in Hongkong and Migrante International, said.
Bragas, who was then working at Hongkong, remembers reading an article about Contemplacion in a local newspaper there as early as 1991. But, she said, not a single word was reported about Contemplacion back in the Philippines. “And as soon as it became highly publicized, the Ramos administration then scampered to respond to the global outcry on the government’s negligence in handling Contemplacion’s case. But it was already too late.”
“This is still happening up to now. The government still keeps these cases from the public because they want to maintain their diplomatic ties with the host country,” she said. Even right after the Magna Carta for Migrant Workers was passed, the number of OFWs in distress continue to rise.
Aside from this, legal counsel, Martinez said, has been denied to OFWs in distress over and over again. “Insufficient and late,” he said when asked to describe the legal services provided to OFWs. He added that even if the government claims that they provided the OFWs with a lawyer, “the question is when as the first 24 hours is crucial to any case.”
“It is the government’s policy to provide legal counsel only at the tail end of the case,” Martinez said, “It is like waiting for an illness to turn into cancer before being treated.”
Deployment, Feminization Continues
Joms Salvador, Gabriala deputy secretary general said parallels could be drawn from the deaths of the three Filipinos in China and Contemplacion’s case. She said these Filipinos shared the same fate as they tried to push their luck in other countries to land a good job that could help their families. But in the end, they were arrested, put in prison, and worse, executed. “The foreign governments of China and Singapore did not give them a chance to plea for innocence before putting them in death row or did not put much effort in hearing the case.”
Salvador added that Filipino women have become vulnerable to machinations of drug syndicates because of the lack of local jobs in the country. Derrick Carreon of the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency told Bulatlat.com that 431 or about 63 percent of the cases they have handled involved women caught for being drug mules, while those involving men numbered 258 or about 37 percent.