No thanks to government’s quick response, a Filipina overseas worker who was raped, unjustly jailed and punished with 150 lashes is finally reunited with her family here in the Philippines.
Nerissa Neri arrived via Saudia Airlines yesterday, December 9, 2010, more than one year after she sought help from the Philippine embassy in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
Neri left the Philippines on May 15, 2009 to work as a janitress of a dental clinic in Hafer al Batin, a Saudi municipality 500 kilometers away from Al Khobar, eastern region of Saudi Arabia. On September 2009, her family found out that she had been arrested and jailed for allegedly having an illicit affair with a Bangladeshi co-worker.
A visit in Hafer Al Baten Central jail from a volunteer case officer of Migrante chapter in KSA, however, reported that Neri said that she was raped by a certain Mr. Mammon. When she told her employer about the incident, instead of helping her, he had her thrown into jail for “having an illicit affair.” It was in jail that Neri found out that her rapist got her pregnant.
Migrante and Neri’s family notified the Philippine Embassy and the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) about her case and requested for legal assistance. In a dialogue with Migrante, officials of the DFA categorically stated that they could not help Neri because they only provide legal assistance to OFWs who are in death row.
Because of the harsh conditions in jail, Neri suffered a miscarriage and was not given proper medical attention. This year, she had already meted out the minimum punishment for the “crime’ she did not commit, 10 months of imprisonment and 150 lashes, and was awaiting immediate repatriation.
On August 26, 2010, Neri’s mother received a text message for Atty. Milet Flores, a case officer of the Office of the Undersecretary for Migrant Workers Affairs (OUMWA) saying that Neri was scheduled to arrive in the Philippines on August 27. Her family raised money to pick up Neri at the airport and waited until 2:00 in the morning of the next day but Neri did not arrive. They kept on contacting Atty. Flores’ number but she completely ignored their calls.
Brought back to jail
“Up until now Neri’s family did not receive any apology or explanation from Atty. Flores or the OUMWA for their fiasco. Worse, they have the gall to deny what has happened. This is a stark case of government neglect,” said Garry Martinez, Migrante International chairperson.
When Migrante followed-up Neri’s case, they received a report from Philippine Labor Attache to Al Khobar Des Dicang that “he was not able to locate Neri, she was not in Dammam’s deportation center and no one was able to tell her whereabouts”. This caused reasonable alarm for Migrante and Neri’s family. Migrante’s investigation later on revealed that Neri was brought back to detention from the deportation center because she had no repatriation ticket.
On October 24, 2010, Neri called her family to inform them that she was transferred to Dammam Central Jail, notorious for its harsh treatment of its inmates. Again, the embassy or the DFA did not offer any explanation on why instead of being repatriated she was brought to another jail.
Heads must roll
“Grabe ang pinagdaanan ng ating kababayan sa ibang bansa.Kahit sino ay hindi dapat nakararanas ng ganitong klase ng inhustisya at kapabayaan mula sa ating gobyerno,” Martinez said.
He said that “heads must roll” and “officials should be held accountable” for Neri’s case. “Today, on Human Rights day, we call on the Aquino administration to immediately investigate Neri’s case and punish government officials who have failed to do their jobs. Migrants’ rights are human rights. Hustisya ang panawagan ng Migrante at pamilya ni Nerissa,” Martinez said.
Martinez called on Atty. Flores, Labor Attache Dicang, OUMWA Usec. Esteban Conejos and DFA Sec. Alberto Romulo to issue a public apology to Neri and her family.
“Our wish list this Christmas is for abusive and negligent government officials to RESIGN from their posts and be persecuted for their abandonment of our OFWs,” he said.
Migrante International will be holding internationally- and nationally-coordinated protest actions on December 18, International Migrants’ Day. ###