Another OFW Sent to Death
As the “Migrant
Workers and Overseas Filipinos Act of 1995” nears its 10th
anniversary, OFW Reynaldo Cortez awaits his death sentence in a Riyadh
jail. His case highlights how the law has been ineffectual in keeping
Filipino workers from the gallows.
BY ROWENA CARRANZA
On May 17, 2002,
Reynaldo Cortez, a car technician in Riyadh, got into a heated argument
with a Pakistani taxi driver. They fought for a knife that he took out of
his bag and, after being stabbed twice on his leg, stabbed the driver in
the chest. The driver died.
A Riyadh high court
found the 39-year old Bicolano guilty of murder and sentenced him to death
last May 30.
Under Shariah law,
the victim's family may pardon the killer and accept blood money, in which
case the death sentence can be annulled. The victim’s family however
refused to accept the 100,000 Saudi riyal or P1.4 million blood money.
Cortez is now in New Malaz Jail in Riyadh, awaiting his death
According to the
militant group Migrante, there was no Philippine embassy representative
present during Cortez’s hearing nor was he given a lawyer by the embassy.
reportedly confirmed that no embassy official was present when he was
Philippines Foreign Affairs Secretary Alberto Romulo instructed June 1
Ambassador Bahnarim Guinomla of the Philippine Embassy in Riyadh to
exhaust all legal means under the Shariah law to save Cortez. He said the
Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) would try to convince the victim’s
family to accept the blood money in exchange for capital punishment.
According to various
reports, there are 5,168 jailed OFWs worldwide. Of these, 1,115 are in
Saudi Arabia. Nineteen of them are on death row, 13 of whom are in Saudi
reports that four of the 13 on death row have already been executed last
Maita Santiago, Migrante secretary general, identified those executed by
beheading as Sergio Aldana, Miguel Fernandez Jr., Wilfredo Bautista and
She said their
beheading was deliberately kept from media and that their families are now
having difficulty claiming their bodies.
reportedly pushed through despite the “amicable settlement” and payment of
blood money by the relatives who reportedly sold all their property and
collected donations from other Filipinos in Saudi Arabia to raise funds.
The Migrante Sectoral
Party (MSP) said Cortez’ case illustrates the inutility of Republic Act
No. 8042, also known as the Migrant Workers and
Overseas Filipinos Act of 1995.
“After being enacted
at the height of the Flor Contemplacion death protests in 1995, the said
law has not prevented OFWs from being unjustly jailed, executed and
abused. The law is riddled with so many loopholes that cannot protect and
prevent cases like that of Cortez from happening. It has to be scrapped
and replaced with a better law,” Connie Bragas-Regalado, MSP chair, said.
The Act says, among
others, that “free access to the courts and quasi-judicial bodies and
adequate legal assistance shall not be denied to any persons by reason of
poverty.” It orders the establishment of an effective mechanism that would
ensure that the “rights and interest of distressed overseas Filipinos, in
general, and Filipino migrant workers, in particular, documented or
undocumented, are adequately protected and safeguarded.”
The Act also provided
for the establishment of the Legal Assistance Fund to be used “exclusively
to provide legal services to migrant workers and overseas Filipinos in
It states that the
“expenditures to be charged against the Fund include the fees for foreign
lawyers to be hired by the Legal Assistance for Migrant Workers Affairs to
represent migrant workers facing charges abroad, bail bonds to secure the
temporary release of workers under detention, court fees and charges and
other litigation expenses.”
It also declared that
the “protection of the Filipino migrant workers and the promotion of their
welfare, in particular, and the protection of the dignity and fundamental
rights and freedoms of the Filipino citizen abroad, in general, shall be
the highest priority concerns of the Secretary of Foreign Affairs and the
Philippine Foreign Service Posts.”
The law was
promulgated on June 7, 1995.
Bragas-Regalado urged Malacañang to immediately move to save Cortez and
all other OFWs in jails worldwide.
“What President Arroyo must do is to personally attend to diplomatic
intervention with the Pakistani and Saudi Arabian governments to save
Cortez from an unjust death and all other governments where there are
Filipinos in jail,” she said. Bulatlat
Migrant Workers and
Overseas Filipinos Act of 1995
PRINTER-FRIENDLY VERSION ■
© 2004 Bulatlat
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