This story was taken from Bulatlat, the Philippines's alternative weekly newsmagazine (,,
Vol. V, No. 17, June 5-11, 2005



Another OFW Sent to Death Row  

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.


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 sentence.

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.

Cortez himself reportedly confirmed that no embassy official was present when he was sentenced.

Belatedly, 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. 

Death row

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 Arabia.

Migrate however reports that four of the 13 on death row have already been executed last March 14.
Maita Santiago, Migrante secretary general, identified those executed by beheading as Sergio Aldana, Miguel Fernandez Jr., Wilfredo Bautista and Antonio Alvesa.

She said their beheading was deliberately kept from media and that their families are now having difficulty claiming their bodies.

The beheading 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.

Inutile law

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 distress.”

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.

Meanwhile, 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


© 2004 Bulatlat  Alipato Publications

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