OFW on Saudi death row lacked much-needed assistance from PH gov’t

As in previous cases of OFWs on death row, the Philippine government’s last ditch efforts to save the life of Joselito Zapanta is again happening late in the game.

This was the statement made by Migrante Partylist on reports that the government is now “working overtime” to save the life of Zapanta, an OFW convicted for the murder of a Sudanese national in Saudi Arabia in 2010.

Zapanta reportedly has only until November 14 to pay the blood money to the family of Saleh Imam Ibrahim or else death penalty will be meted out. His case is pending for review before the Supreme Judicial Council for mediation.

Zapanta, a father of two, left for Riyadh, Saudi on October 14, 2007 to work as a tile setter. He was not given salary for six months by his first employer. He then decided to look for another job and employer. A fellow Filipino helped him get part time jobs.

It was in June 2009 when Zapanta’s family received a call from his friend in Saudi. He informed them that Zapanta was in jail for killing his Sudanese landlord. According to Zapanta’s friend, he was brutally beaten by his landlord because Joselito refused to give his rent for the apartment since his payment is not yet due.

The family immediately went to the DFA RCO in Clark Field, Pampanga but they were referred to the DFA in Pasay. The family went to the DFA national office but was told to go back to DFA Clark saying that their case is filed before the regional office of DFA. DFA Clark again told them to go to the main office of DFA.

On July 10, 2009, the family was finally able to speak with Atty. Milet Flores of the Office of the Undersecretary for Migrant Workers Affairs (OUMWA-DFA). Atty. Flores told them that she will be handling Joselito’s case. The family asked for a copy of the police report but Atty. Flores told them that it would be impossible to get. The family was also told that Zapanta had a strong chance of winning his case because there were many eyewitnesses who attested that he did in self- defense.

Months passed by without any updates from DFA. The family did not receive any letter or call back from DFA to update them as promised by Atty. Flores. This prompted Zapanta and his family to seek the help of Migrante International.

Zapanta himself contacted Migrante Middle-East on March 10, 2010 and reported his predicament. Migrante Middle-East immediately brought his case to the attention of Philippine officials. His family, on the other hand, went to Migrante International’s office in Quezon City on March 15, 2010. On the same day, the family went again to the DFA to request a report from the DFA on Zapanta’s situation and the results of the Saudi police’s investigation. The DFA declined the request.

March 22, 2010 was when the family was able to speak again with Atty. Flores. Atty. Flores assured them that DFA will be providing US$10,000 as Joselito’s legal defense fund. It is not clear if this pushed through.

April 14, 2010, Joselito called his family and told them that he was given a death sentence the previous day by the Court of First Instance and was only given until May 1, 2010 to file his appeal before the Appellate Court. He also said that only two interpreters were present to assist him during his hearing.

The next day the family went again to the DFA to get a formal report on the court decision.

Again the DFA declined and just told the family that it was not true that the deadline for the appeal was on May 1 and that they should just get updates from the DFA in Clark.

Migrante International held series of dialogues with the DFA since September 2010 and Executive Director Ricardo Endaya of OUMWA-DFA promised that they will help in the case of Joselito Zapanta. They asked Zapanta to accomplish a letter of forgiveness to the Sudenese’s family but until now it is not clear if this had been facilitated by the DFA and the Philippine embassy.

“This is not the first OFW on death row 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. Heads must roll, and it should not be those of our OFWs,” she said.

Blood money?

Migrante Partylist called on the DFA and the Philippine government to be transparent and divulge all legal actions taken since Zapanta was arrested and sentenced two years ago and not just cover-up apparent government neglect by focusing on the issue of “blood money”.

“The government should strengthen legal assistance to OFWs facing criminal charges instead of focusing on last-ditch efforts such as ‘blood money’ payments,” said Bragas-Regalado.

She said that the issue of ‘blood money’ allows the government to divert responsibility and accountability of an OFW’s fate to his or her family or the public. “What is primarily government responsibility becomes a ‘public’ responsibility. Ipinapasa sa pamilya, private sector o ‘di kaya sa mamamayan ang pagbubuo ng blood money. This is not fair and outright deceitful and self-preserving on the part of the Philippine government. In the first place, the government should have not waited to assist our distressed countrymen until they are about to be beheaded,” Bragas-Regalado said.

She said that Philippine embassies lack lawyers familiar with the Shariah Law and are often unable to help OFWs facing criminal charges in Muslim countries like Saudi Arabia.

She cited the latest report provided by the DFA-Office of the Undersecretary for Overseas Workers Affairs (OUMWA) to Migrante International in response to the latter’s request for updates on the cases of OFWs in jail and on death row it is presently handling or monitoring.

Of the 62 names of OFWs Migrante inquired about, 33 are not in OUMWA’s records; while those on death row (murder charges) are declared “confidential” and withheld from Migrante. “Even the families are not informed of the status of their kin’s cases. The government clearly has no system of monitoring jailed and death row cases of OFWs.” ###