Executive Summary of Death Row/Candidates for Death Row/Jailed Cases of OFWs being handled by Migrante International

021911_migrante_ofws_death_row_01

file photo courtesy of Bulatlat

Updated as of June 7, 2015   Profile of the cases: Migrante International is currently handling and monitoring 18 cases involving 35 overseas Filipinos (11 women and 24 men) in six countries (Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Iran, China, Indonesia). Majority of whom (13) are in Saudi Arabia. The nature of the cases are:

  1. Drug-related: 5 (Veloso, Aquino, San Juan, Madurog, Mayari)
  2. Murder: 6 (Rosario et al, Zapanta, Gonzales et al, Cruzado, Dacanay, Dalquiz,)
  3. Embezzlement: 2 (Azares, Matibag)
  4. Homicide: 1 (Magtoto)
  5. Others: 21 (Theft – Parilla, Serious physical injury – Sia, Human trafficking – Carbonel, Immorality – Lalis)

Death row: 7 (Veloso, Zapanta, Gonzales brothers, Arcilla, Dalquiz, Rosario) Candidates for death row: 3 (Dacanay, Madurog, San Juan) Jailed (life imprisonment/serving jail terms): 25 (3 life imprisonment) Of the five drug-related cases, four were victimized by drug syndicates. Interestingly, one of these cases (San Juan) involves a licensed recruitment agency (First Select, still in Philippine Overseas Employment Administration’s roster of licensed agencies and currently operating). Of these cases, two were already given convictions: Veloso was meted the death penalty while Aquino was given life imprisonment. The others are still under trial but two (San Juan and Madurog) are most likely to be given death sentences due to the volume of drugs reportedly found in their belongings as per existing laws in their respective host countries (KSA and China). Of the murder cases, three admitted to the crimes on account of self-defense – Dalquiz and Rosario were almost raped by their assailants while Zapanta was beaten up by his employer because of his failure to pay rent. They are presently in different jails abroad as death convicts. In the case of Rosario etal, the four OFWs from whom Rosario asked for help were sentenced to several years of imprisonment. Zapanta was asked to raise blood money, the deadline of which has already lapsed in November 2013. Cruzado, on the other hand, was provoked by her victim. She was sentenced to life imprisonment. The Gonzales brothers, Arcilla and Dacanay all vehemently denied the charges against them. In the Gonzales et al case, one of them was forced to confess to the crime after they were tortured during police interrogations. Because of this, three of them were given capital punishment. In the case of Dacanay, she firmly claimed innocence and said that she was a victim of attempted rape by the real perpetrators. Her case is still under trial but the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) admitted in a dialogue with Migrante and her mother Editha that she is a candidate for death row. Of the two cases of embezzlement, Matibag is still serving several years of imprisonment while Azares has already finished his jail term but remains in prison because his company is awaiting payment of the amount he was accused of stealing. Both of them denied the accusations. Of the other cases, three were already handed out convictions. Magtoto was sentenced to life imprisonment with a blood money of SR300,000; while Carbonell, whose violation was raised from “illegally picking-up passengers” to “being implicated on human trafficking,” was sentenced to one-year imprisonment. The other cases are still on trial.   Philippine Government’s response to the cases: Based on the information gathered by Migrante through its interventions, the DFA and consular offices did too little, too late in securing and ensuring the rights and welfare of these Filipinos. They also gave limited and impassive attention to the concerns of the families who continue to desperately seek their assistance:

  1. Absent representation and intervention in the period of arrest and investigation. In almost all of these cases, the concerned embassies failed to assist or visit the apprehended OFWs to ascertain their conditions, secure their rights and provide sufficient legal assistance and advice.
  • In the case of Veloso, the Philippine Embassy in Jakarta was only able to visit Mary Jane on July 28, 2010, three months after her arrest and a month after Indonesian authorities informed them that the investigation had been completed and the case files had been turned over to the public prosecutor (June 24, 2010). It was only on the last visit that they were able to hear/get her account.
  • Worse, in the case of Rosario etal, the Philippine Consulate in Jeddah refused to take custody. According to Rosario’s account, when he stabbed the two men who were forcing him to have sex with them in self defense, he immediately ran, bruised and bleeding, to the Consulate. Because he was denied custody and assistance he went to his friends instead.
  1. No private lawyers were provided during the phase of prosecution. They relied mostly on the counsels supplied by the governments of the host countries. The general pattern of these cases show that the Philippine government only hired private lawyers AFTER the convictions have been meted out. In all of these cases, the Philippine government only procured private legal services for capital offenses and none were given for the relatively minor crimes. In almost all instances, they failed to provide competent translators, as in the case of Veloso.
  • In the case of Aquino who was arrested on 3 October 2009, he was advised by the fiscal (November 15, 2009) that if he still had no defense lawyer within 20 days the court would hand down a sentence of 10 to 20 years imprisonment. This urgent concern was immediately relayed by the family and Migrante to the Philippine Embassy and DFA. The Embassy simply replied that, based on their knowledge, the Iranian government provides legal assistance to foreigners and that they “expect the same assistance will be provided to him.” They also mentioned that they have not yet been informed if the case had already been brought to court and that they still needed to verify the imminent verdict.
  • In the case of Gonzales etal, they were only given a private lawyer to appeal their case two years after they were arrested (April 2006) and almost a year (April 2008) after the verdict was delivered (July 2007). The family held much hope in the appeal because there were strong evidences to support their innocence. Surprisingly, the Court of Appeals upheld the death sentences on the Gonzales brothers and Arcilla and increased the jail terms of the others from 8 to 10 years.
  1. In cases where OFWs were given the death penalty or life imprisonment, the common track of the Philippine government was to appeal for executive clemency while not considering other possible legal options when there are strong indications that the OFWs were/are innocent. In the case of Veloso, for instance, it had not been clear what grounds were stated in the appeals made by Pres. Aquino to Pres. Widodo, if they were based on assertions of her innocence and being a victim of drug syndicates or simply perfunctory written appeals. Statements made by the Indonesian Attorney General during Aquino’s last-minute appeal that signified the Philippine government’s intent to make Veloso a witness against her traffickers (“Why only now?) strongly suggest otherwise.
  • In the case of Veloso, when the Indonesian Supreme Court upheld the death sentence, Pres. Aquino only sent a Letter of Clemency (August 2011) to President Jokowi and did not instruct the embassy to strategize thoroughly for a judicial review despite proposals to explore the trafficking angle from Veloso’s embassy-hired Indonesian lawyers. The first petition for judicial review was only made in January 2015. The petition was denied due to lack of merit and did not pursue the track that Mary Jane was a victim of drug trafficking syndicates.
  • This limited strategy was also employed to cases involving “blood money”. The Philippine government came in only during the stages of having to raise the blood money (usually costing millions of pesos), again after conviction, instead of exploring ways to acquit or reduce the sentences of the OFWs. This track, prevalent in cases in the Gulf region, placed the sole burden of raising blood money on the families or “private” entities (as in the case of Dondon Lanuza) and, in fact, absolved the Philippine government from any responsibility. 
  • In the case of Zapanta, the aggrieved family pegged a blood money worth SR5 million or roughly P55 million, an amount impossible to acquire by the Zapanta family (or any common family) who are poor farmers from Central Luzon. The Philippine government-hired lawyer did not pursue the self-defense argument and did not engage the many witnesses that would have supported Zapanta’s claim. Instead, what the DFA did was to open a bank account calling on the public to help raise the blood money, and left it to the family to monitor and organize fund-raising efforts. Zapanta himself, in an interview with the local media last year, said that he was resigned to his fate and that any and all funds that could be raised just be given to other OFWs on death row. 
  • In the case of Cruzado, the Philippine embassy did not appeal her case on grounds of her mental state. While in prison, she suffered a mental breakdown and is still presently undergoing treatment. The Philippine Embassy in Kuwait is well aware of her situation. Although her death sentence was commuted to life imprisonment, her family, who only subsists on vending cooked corn, does not have any means to pay the blood money worth KD10,000.
  1. Families of the jailed OFWs were kept in the dark and were not actively engaged in the processes of the cases. In several incidents, DFA legal officers were not sensitive to the situation of the families some even resorted to derogatory insinuations.
  • In all of these cases, because of the desperation and grave concern of the families for the security and welfare of their loved ones, they regularly visited or called the DFA to request for updates and/or report any information that they were able to gather. But the case officers just dismissed them/their reports with the following standard responses: (1) they do not have updates; (2) to just follow-up again; and/or, (3) the person in charge is away/on leave/not present, instead of giving them substantial advice on how they can coordinate with the government in the resolution of the cases of their loved ones.
  • In the case of Dacanay, her mother only knew of her predicament a month after her arrest through a phone call from a friend. Since then, she went back and forth to the DFA and other government offices since July 2013 until early of this year but was not able to get any substantial response. She was even able to meet Philippine Ambassador to Saudi Arabia Ezzedin Tago last year but again was not supplied any information. It was only through a dialogue facilitated by Migrante with DFA officials and DFA case officers last March 24 that they revealed Dacanay’s case status as “candidate for death row.” They agreed to provide a written report to the family but are yet to fulfill their promise.
  • In the cases of Aquino and Veloso, relatives experienced derogatory insinuations from DFA personnel. DFA legal officer Bert Manayao told Aquino’s mother that her son should suffer in prison even though his case is still being heard. DFA legal officer Patricia Mocom, after failing to assist the Veloso family in their passport applications, belittled the family’s financial capacity to travel.

Conclusions and Recommendations: 

  1. There is a general state policy of neglect and apathy for OFWs facing criminal charges abroad, and their families.
  2. OFWs facing criminal charges are denied due process and “criminalized” EVEN BY the Philippine government.
  3. Philippine government comes in only AFTER conviction, and even then, selective assistance is only limited to cases meted capital punishment.
  4. The DFA has not been transparent, and in majority of these cases “clueless”, in the on-goings and processes faced by OFWs from the time of arrest to conviction. Most of these cases they learned only UPON REPORT to the DFA of the families themselves, instead of the other way around.
  5. Philippine government should actively evaluate what it can do domestically legally as part of legal assistance for OFWs, especially those victimized by illegal recruiters and traffickers, as in the Veloso case.
  6. Philippine government should conduct a transparent FULL AUDIT of how funds for legal assistance (LAF) and assistance to nationals (ATN) are utilized for these cases, as stipulated in Republic Act 8042, amended by RA 10022, or the Migrant Workers and Overseas Filipinos Act of 1995. Particularly, there is an urgent need to investigate why the intended allocations for the LAF have been decreasing since 2010, as well as the Presidential Veto of the LAF for the 2015 national budget.
  7. Congress is urged to also look into the closure of at least 10 Philippine posts/embassies in 2012, supposedly as part of the government’s “austerity measures”. The closure of Philippine posts in some countries has a direct negative effect on the provision of legal assistance to OFWs facing criminal charges abroad.
  8. Congress is urged to summon, investigate and sanction negligent and callous embassy and DFA officials who treat OFWs and their families seeking legal assistance as mere nuisances. On the other hand, there is a need to increase and train more competent and compassionate case officers and embassy officials in the spirit of genuine public service.

  /eof

FACTSHEET on Antonio Espares, OFW beheaded in Libya

Prepared by Migrante Sectoral Party, July 2014

photo courtesy of GMA news online

photo courtesy of GMA news online

 

Name of OFW                                    :  ANTONIO R. ESPARES

Age                                                     :  49 years old

Address                                              :  Hagonoy, Taguig City

 

Deploying Agency (Phils) & Address :  STB_DJL Human Link (formerly DJL Manpower, Inc.), 1011A (GF). B (2F) & C (3F), Remedios cor. Modesto St., Malate, Manila

Tel. nos: 521-4875/531-6636

Representative: Angelita V. Castillo

 

Country                                               : Libya

Job                                                       : Heavy Equipment Operator

Salary                                                  : 700 Dinar or its peso equivalent P25,000.00

Departure date (Philippines)               : October 16, 2013

Name of wife                                      :  Maribel Espares

 

Background of the case:

On July 21, 2014, Migrante Sectoral Party (MSP) monitored in an online news: http://ibtimes.com/libyas-first-known-beheading-militia-kills-filipino-construction-worker-1634354, “In Libya’s First Known Beheading, Militia Kills Filipino Construction Worker, by Erin Banco@ErinBancoe.banco@ibtimes.com
on July 21 2014 11:59 AM.  The report said, “A militia in Benghazi, Libya, has beheaded a Filipino construction worker, allegedly for being a non-Muslim, the Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs said.”

According to the report, OFW Antonio Espares was kidnapped July 15 at a checkpoint in the Gwarsha district of Benghazi. OFW Espares remains were found at a hospital on July 19, 2014. The report comes just two weeks after three Europeans working for an Italian construction company were kidnapped in the western city of Zuwara.  OFW Antonio Espares was an employee at Kibra construction company. 

July 24, 2014 – Sonia Bulong-Miralles, Coordinator, Women Programs, Asia Pacific Mission for Migrants (APMM), forwarded an email from Fr. Allan Jose Achebuche of Caritas on the excerpts of the conversation between him and OFW Antonio Espares on the incident.

  • Basic information gathered as to the name and address of OFW Espares, his job as heavy equipment operator and the deploying agency;
  • OFW Espareswas with two (2) co-workers (Libyan and Yemeni nationals) were intercepted by certain group wearing bonnets in a checkpoint on their way back to the jobsite.
  • July 16, 2014 (Thursday) – the Company/Employer negotiated with the militia who demanded 20,000 plus dinar as ransom which the latter prepared.
  • The following day, on July 17, 2014 (Friday), the Company/Employer contacted the group again and the hostage takers informed the former that they did not need the money, instead instructed them to pick up Antonioin a specified location.
  • July 18, 2019, the Company/Employer went to the specified location and found out that OFW Espareswas already beheaded.

On July 26-27, 2014, MSP team visited the house of OFW Antonio Espares and was able to talk to his wife, Maribel.  The following are the excerpts of the conversation:

The Espares couple has 7 children, namely: Jester, 16 years old; Judielle Ann Mae, 14 years old ; Joana, 13 years old ; Jennylyn, 12 years old; Jhon Loyd, 10 years old ; Janel, 6 years old, and; Jhon Denverr, the youngest is only one (1) year old.  The wife, Maribel is currently working as enumerator at the City Hall of Taguig, earning P330 per day.

OFW Espares was deployed last 16 October 2013. He had only been working in the company for nine (9) months when he was kidnapped. He was deployed by STB_DJL Human Link (formerly DJL Manpower, Inc.), 1011A (GF). B (2F) & C (3F) Remedios cor. Modesto St., Malate, Manila, Tel. nos: 521-4875/531-6636; Representative: Angelita V. Castillo.  He worked as heavy equipment operator and earned a salary of 700 dinar per month.

Because her husband was not able to send money for four months due to the unrest in Libya, Maribel is now heavily indebted. Maribel owes P20,000, with her ATM as collateral, payable within five (5) months at twenty (20 percent interest. She also owes another nineteen thousand pesos (P19,000) from an individual at ten (10) percent interest.  All her salary goes to the lender.  The reason why she filed a leave of absence from her job is to do laundry to buy food for her family and needs of her children in school.   OFW Espares was able to contact his wife last July 13 and assured her that he will remit money at the end of July.

OFW Espares, on the other hand, to be able to pay for his placement fee, borrowed fifty thousand pesos (P50,000) from a lending company. His loan had since been waived by the said company upon learning of his death.

On July 19, 2014, a colleague of OFW Espares called his family to inform Maribel that something happened to Antonio.  She was told that Antonio had been kidnapped.

On July 20, 2014, OWWA RAD OIC Yolly Penaranda came to visit Espares’ house and talked to Maribel.  She was told that her family will receive P200,000 plus P20,000 burial benefits of which the processing will take place upon receipt of the death certificate.  She was also told that their eldest son Jester, who is currently studying vocational at ESDA, will be accepted in the Scholarship Program of OWWA.

On July 21, 2014, she went to the Department of Foreign Affairs, Office of the Undersecretary for Migrant Worker Affairs (OUMWA). Maribel was able to talk to Undersecretary Jesus Yabes and asked what happened to her husband.  According to Maribel, Usec. Yabes during their conversation, tried to divert the issue by making her laugh to pacify her. Later, Usec. Yabes informed her that her husband was kidnapped and beheaded.  On the other hand, OUMWA Director Renato Villa contacted CDA Adel Cruz of the Philippine Embassy who informed him that the Embassy went to Benghazi to locate the remains of OFW Espares in a hospital.  They said that there is difficulty in the repatriation of Antonio’s remains since Libya was already closed at that time.

When asked if she already received concrete assistance from the government, Maribel said she received none.

Maribel told Migrante that Taguig Mayor Lani Cayetano extended P20,000 assistance to the family and at least P5,000 from the recruitment agency.  Out of her desperation, she went to ABS-CBN to ask help so that her husband’s remains will be repatriated but nobody entertained her since it was on a weekend.

Actions taken by Migrante Sectoral Party and Migrante International

  1. Joined the SONA rally with Maribel and arranged for media interviews.
  2. Wrote DFA/Philippine Embassy for updates, OWWA.
  3. August 5, 2014, held a picket and dialogue at the Department of Foreign Affairs.
  4. Wrote an appeal letter to ICRC and IOM for assistance – immediate repatriation of Antonio’s remains.
  5. Continuous coordination with networks in Libya for the facilitation of repatriation of Antonio’s remains and the urgent evacuation of stranded OFWs in Libya.
  6. Set-up a “crisis hotline” for OFWs in Libya and other conflict-ridden countries in the Middle East-North Africa region. ###

FACT SHEET OF LABOR VIOLATIONS AGAINST OFWs AT MOHAMMAD AL-MOJIL GROUP

spam-mmg poeaPrepared by Migrante International, July 2014

Name of Company : Mohammad Al-Mojil Group

Country: Kingdom of Saudi Arabia

Nature of case: Labor violations/Witholding of wages/Repatriation/Benefits

Case background

Mohammad Al-Mojil Group is a construction company operating in various parts of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. In Dammam, it employs and houses and some thousands of migrant workers, among them overseas Filipino workers deployed by (1) RRJM International Manpower Services, Inc., office located at 19th Floor, Summit 1 Tower, 530 Shaw Boulevard, Manadaluyong; and (2) Philippine-RN Recruitment Agency, Inc., office located at Rm. 201 Cabrera Building 1, Timog Ave., Quezon City. Both agencies are licensed by the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration.

Last June 24, 2014, Migrante International received a complaint via email from one of the OFWs of MMG in Dammam who said that thousands of OFWs, and other migrant workers employed by the company, are up in arms against various labor abuses and violations. Migrante International had since contacted the next of kin of some 300+ OFWs who are stranded in the MMG barracks, awating repatriation and their exit visas. (See attached list)

The OFWs are suffering maltreatment and poor working and living conditions in their barracks and are grossly overworked. Their wages have been withheld for at least 4 months now, leaving them hungry, depressed and unable to provide for their families back home. Some of them have been working at MMG for as long as 20 years, while most were hired in 2011.

Because of their conditions, they filed an official complaint at the Philippine Labor Office last year. Some were repatriated last December but have not yet received their back wages and end-of-service benefits (ESB). Those who have not yet received their ESBs have been working for the company for 15-20 years.

Most have already filed for exit visas since the last quarter of 2013, leaving them stranded for 13 months now. Because of their complaint, MMG did not renew their iqamas, making them undocumented and in danger of crackdowns. The OFWs are particularly complaining about the slow service and facilitation of their repatriation by the POLO, citing specific complaints against Labor Attache Padaen for his inaction and poor service.

Families of the OFWs fear for the safety and welfare of their loved ones. The latest report is that Pakistani workers at MMG are already threatening to burn the barracks in protest against labor abuses and violations. As of this writing, workers of MMG are currently engaged in a strike inside the company barracks.

Actions taken

Migrante International has already contacted its chapters in Dammam and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to inform them about the case. The KSA chapters are presently assisting the OFWs at MMG in the cases they filed at the POLO.

Last June 28, 2014, wives and next of kin of the OFWs held a meeting at the Migrante International office. They formed a tactical formation, SPAM-MMG (Samahan ng Pamilya at Manggagawa laban sa MMG), and listed down their demands.  Most of the OFWs and their families hail from Bataan where one of the local recruitment agencies has an office.

Last July 4, Migrante International went to Bataan and met with more relatives of OFWs at MMG. They have all agreed to file complaints and join the campaign for their loved ones.

Migrante International has also facilitated dialogues with the POEA and the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) on July 17 and July 23, respectively.

Demands

1. Immediate repatriation of at least 300+ OFWs at MMG.

2. Cancellation of licenses of RRJM International Manpower Services, Inc. and Philippine-RN Recruitment Agency, Inc.. Both agencies continue to deploy OFWs to MMG.

3. End of Service Benefits and other benefits entitled to the OFWs and their families.

4. Ban/Blacklist MMG. ###