Migrants’ groups, advocates link up to highlight issues of OFWs in Int’l Migrants Tribunal

Migrante International, together with other migrants’ groups, advocates and sectoral organizations, today came together in a rally at the Mendiola Bridge to announce participation in the upcoming International Migrants’ Tribunal.

The rallyists highlighted various issues assailing overseas Filipino workers, among them the growing number of OFWs on death row abroad and the Philippine government’s lack of legal assistance, and other cases of OFWs in distress. They also lamented widespread unemployment, low wages, landlessness and lack of social services as the root causes of forced migration.

The International Migrants’ Tribunal will be held on November 28-29 at the University of the Philippines in Diliman. It is organized by the International League of Peoples’ Struggles (ILPS), International Migrants’ Alliance (IMA) and the International Women’s Alliance (IWA).

The Tribunal will put on trial the Global Forum on Migrantion and Development (GFMD) as it is being facilitated by sending and receiving countries, including the Philippines. It is expected to be attended by judges and witnesses from different parts of the world.

One of the judges will be renowned theatre actress and women’s rights advocate Monique Wilson. The head judge will be Niikura Osamu, president of the Japan Lawyers International Solidarity Association (JALISA), a member organization of the International Association of Democratic Lawyers (IADL).

Migrante International and other migrants’ groups and advocate organizations will be witnesses to talk about the intensification of labor export in migrant-sending and receiving countries and its adverse effects on migrant workers.

 Save the life of Joselito Zapanta

Garry Martinez, Migrante International chairperson, said that one of the issues they will highlight in the Tribunal is the Philippine government’s criminal neglect and lack of legal assistance and services to OFWs, especially to OFWs on death row, in jails and shelters abroad.

He cited the case of Joselito Zapanta, an OFW from Mexico, Pampanga who was sentenced to death by the Saudi Court of First Instance in 2009 for the murder of a Sudanese national. The victim’s family has set the deadline for blood money on November 14 or the sentence be carried out should Zapanta’s family fail to do so. Migrante International has been handling Zapanta’s case since 2010.

“As in previous cases of OFWs on death row, the Philippine government’s last ditch efforts to save the life of Joselito Zapanta are again happening late in the game. We have held series of dialogues with the DFA, together with Zapanta’s family, since 2010. Even then they already asked Zapanta to accomplish a letter of forgiveness to the Sudanese’s family but since then it had not been clear if that and other measures had been facilitated urgently by the DFA and the Philippine embassy,” he said.

Martinez called on the DFA and the Philippine government to be transparent and divulge all actions taken since Zapanta was arrested and sentenced two years ago. “This is not the first OFW on death row scheduled to be executed under the present administration of Pres. Aquino. This is not just an isolated case. We are now seeing a pattern of negligence and last-minute actions,” he said.

OFW suicide in Malaysia?

Martinez also criticized the Philippine government for hastily dismissing the death of Aloha Magbanua, an OFW who died inside the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) shelter in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, as a suicide.

“OFWs dying inside Philippine shelters abroad because of miserable conditions and poor services are not unheard of. Our shelters abroad are cramped and lack basic facilities. We have had numerous cases of OFWs complaining of lack of food, medicines and proper beddings inside these shelters. We echo the calls of Magbanua’s family for an independent investigation on her untimely death.”

Martinez said that the Philippine government’s implementation of a labor export policy continues to endanger the lives and well-being of OFWs. “This policy is the main reason why yearly we see an increasing number of OFWs being executed, OFWs committing suicide, languishing in jail and other OFWs in distress. Under the Aquino administration, more OFWs have been deployed abroad despite all these.”

“Another death of an OFW under the present government is blood in the hands of Aquino,” said Martinez. ###