Legal Assistance Sigaw ng Migrante at Pamilya (LAYA!), a network of families of OFWs in jail and on death row together with Migrante International, staged a picket in front of the Department of Foreign Affairs to demand government assistance for their relatives several days after the sudden execution of OFW Jakatia Pawa in Kuwait.
“Dahil sa sinapit ni Jakatia Pawa, nangangamba kami ngayon na ikapahamak din ng mga kaanak namin ang patuloy na pagpapabaya ng gobyerno sa kanilang kaso sa ibang bansa. Nananawagan kami na matutukan ang kaso ng aming mga kaanak at mabigyan sila ng patas at mabilis na pagkakataon na maipagtanggol ang kanilang sarili, Editha Dacanay, convenor of LAYA! and mother of jailed OFW said.
According to RA 8042 as amended by RA10022 or Magna Carta for Migrant Workers, when any Filipino worldwide, undocumented or documented, is accused of crimes overseas, they have the Legal Assistance Fund (LAF) to avail, a P100 Million budget for assisting imprisoned Filipinos abroad, as their basic right. Migrante International, on their part, emphasized the government’s conscious inaction when the LAF was removed from the General Appropriations Act (GAA) on 2014 under the National Expenditure Program of the Aquino Administration. Until now, there is still no clear item for the LAF budget of the DFA, resulting to insufficient legal support for our jailed OFWs.
“Ang sinasabi ng DFA na sa panahon pa lang ng pagkakahuli sa OFW ay may representasyon na ang ating gobyerno ay isang kasinungalingan. Sa maraming kaso tulad ng kina Mary Jane Veloso, Rose Policarpio, Edmar Aquino, at Gregoria Fajardo, ang mga OFW o pamilya nila mismo ang kayang magpatunay na walang kagyat na tulong ligal na ibinigay ang ating gobyerno. Kalakhan sa kanila ay nabigyan lamang ng tulong ligal kapag naibaba na ng korte ang sintensya. Madalas ding kung hindi binibigyan ay huli o mali-mali ang impormasyong ibinibigay ng DFA sa pamilya. Dapat nang matigil ito. Sinusuportahan namin ang panawagan ng LAYA! na maibalik ang LAF na magsisiguro ng tulong para sa ating mga kababayan,” Arman Hernando, spokesperson of Migrante International said.
Also, according to USec. Jesus Yabes of the DFA-OUMWA, only P9.4 million was used from the P80 million LAF on 2011. The Comission on Audit also reported that on 2012, P2.3 million was overstated in expenses of the DFA because a report has no connection in giving legal assistance. On 2014, former DFA Secretary Alberto del Rosario also said that there was a P41.12 million unused LAF since 2013 and only 258 out of 5,979 imprisoned OFWs were given assistance then. Migrante pointed out this alarming under-utilization and reduction of the budget for LAF of the past regime and prodded the Duterte administration to immediately investigate this.
Aside from reinstatement of the LAF, LAYA! demanded that the LAF be raised to P1 Billion as the P100 Million allocation is clearly not enough for the estimated 9,000 jailed OFWs. As the average legal fees amounts up to US $10,000 per case, only 222 of imprisoned OFWs will be able to benefit from the LAF.
The group also demanded that negligent officials of DFA be held accountable for the troubles they caused to the OFWs and their families. These embassy, consulate and other officials must be dismissed and punished for putting numerous OFWs in danger.
“Ang mga migrante ay itinuturing lamang na bayani habang nagpo-proseso ng papeles paalis ng bansa pero sa panahong kailangan na nila ang kanilang gubyerno, wala na silang naaasahan dito. Dalawampung taon na ang nakalipas mula nang mabitay si Flor Contemplacion, marami pang sumunod sa kaniya mula noon, ngunit hindi pa rin natututo ang ating gobyerno. Ilang buhay pa ba ang dapat ibuwis ng ating mga kababayan sa ibang bansa bago totohanang tugunan ang mga kahilingan nila?” Hernando asked.
Migrante International once again said that there can be no other way to completely resolve the problems of OFWs but to address their root causes. The Duterte government’s economic policy should focus on advancing local industries, agriculture and basic services. OFWs will not become victim of injustice in foreign lands once forced migration is totally curbed. The government must decisively deviate from implementing its labor export policy and instead focus on creating regular jobs with living wage at home through national industrialization and genuine agrarian reform.
”Walang ibang ginusto ang mga kaanak namin kundi mabigyan kami ng magandang buhay. Kung may nakabubuhay na trabaho lang dito sa atin, hindi na sana nila kinailangang makipagpalaran at magdusa pa doon sa ibang bansa,” Dacanay concluded. ###