International Migrants Tribunal to try Aquino’s accountability to OFWs


MANILA — Migrante International is all set to hold its International Migrants Tribunal from November 28 to 29. The International Migrants’ Tribunal will be held on November 28-29 at the University of the Philippines in Diliman. It is organized by the International League of Peoples’ Struggles (ILPS), International Migrants’ Alliance (IMA) and the International Women’s Alliance (IWA).

Migrante International held a rally on November 15 to announce the Tribunal. Participants from various migrant organizations allied with Migrante highlighted various issues affecting OFWs, including the growing number of OFWs on death row abroad and the Philippine government’s lack of legal assistance, and other cases of OFWs in distress.

They also lamented widespread unemployment, low wages, landlessness and lack of social services as the root causes of forced migration.

According to Martinez, the Tribunal will put on trial the Global Forum on Migrantion and Development (GFMD) as it is being facilitated by sending and receiving countries, including the Philippines. The tribunal is expected to be attended by judges and witnesses from different parts of the world.

One of the judges will be renowned theatre actress and women’s rights advocate Monique Wilson. The head judge will be Niikura Osamu, president of the Japan Lawyers International Solidarity Association (JALISA), a member organization of the International Association of Democratic Lawyers (IADL).

Save Joselito Zapanta

Migrante’s Martinez explained that the Tribunal will focus on the Philippine government’s neglect and lack of legal assistance and services for OFWs. He said that much is to be desired about how the government addresses the issue of OFWs on death row and those in in jails and shelters abroad.

He cited the case of Joselito Zapanta, an OFW from Mexico, Pampanga who was sentenced to death by the Saudi Court of First Instance in 2009 for the murder of a Sudanese national. The victim’s family has set the deadline for blood money on November 14 or the sentence would be carried out should Zapanta’s family fail to do so.

Migrante International has been handling Zapanta’s case since 2010.

“As in previous cases of OFWs on death row, the Philippine government is taking action very late in the case of Zapanta,” Martinez said.

He said his group has entered a series of dialogues with the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) along with members of Zapanta’s family since 2010.

“The DFA asked Zapanta to write a letter asking for forgiveness to the Sudanese’s family, but since then it hasn’t been clear if the DFA and the Philippine Embassy have forwarded the letter or whether they have done any other measures to help Zapanta,” he said.

Martinez said that that the DFA and the Aquino government should exercise transparency and make public all the actions and steps they have taken since Zapanta was arrested and sentenced two years ago.

“Zapanta is not the first OFW on death row scheduled to be executed under the present administration of President Aquino. This is not just an isolated case. We are now seeing a pattern of negligence and last-minute actions,” he said.

OFW suicide?

Martinez also criticized the Philippine government for hastily dismissing the death of Aloha Magbanua, an OFW who died while within the premises of the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) shelter in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, as a suicide.

According to the autopsy report being cited by the DFA, Magbanua died of “asphyxia consistent with hanging.” The 34-year old mother of one from Roxas City left for Malaysia only last July 2. She was supposed to fly home on November 8, the day she was found hanging inside the bathroom of the Filipino Resource Center of the OWWA in Kuala Lumpur where she sought assistance after leaving her employer.

In interviews with the media, Magbanua’s brother Ryan said that earlier, in October, her sister sent a message to their family telling them not to believe it if they receive news about her suicide. At the time, Ryan said, Magbanua had told them that she was being locked inside an apartment.

A few months into her work as a domestic helper, Magbanua reportedly told her family that her employer was maltreating her. Alarmed and worried, her mother Margarita sought the help of the OWWA in Manila.

In reports, OWWA administrator Carmelita Dimzon said Magbanua had previously tried to kill herself when she was already in the OWWA center in Kuala Lumpuir.

“OFWs dying inside Philippine shelters abroad because of miserable conditions and poor services are not unheard of. The shelters for OFWs abroad are cramped and lack basic facilities. There have been numerous cases of OFWs complaining of lack of food, medicines and proper beddings inside these shelters. We echo the calls of Magbanua’s family for an independent investigation on her untimely death,” Martinez said.

Magbanua’s remains arrived in Manila at 2 p.m. on November 13 and was flown to Roxas City the following day. After the autopsy of her body, the police medico-legal officer in Roxas City Dr. Joe Martin Fuentes said while it appears that Magbanua committed suicide because there were no signs of struggle on her body, homicide cannot be completely ruled out either. The body, the medico-legal officer said, bore injection injuries on the left foot.

Martinez said the Philippine government’s implementation of a labor export policy continues to endanger the lives and well-being of OFWs. “This policy is the main reason why yearly we see an increasing number of OFWs being executed, OFWs committing suicide, languishing in jail and other OFWs in distress. Under the Aquino administration, more OFWs have been deployed abroad despite all these.”

“Another death of an OFW under the present government is blood in the hands of Aquino,” said Martinez. (

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