OFWs slam DFA ‘double standards’ in Singson drug case

Migrante International Chairperson Garry Martinez today slammed what he called the Department of Foreign Affairs’ (DFA) double standards in its handling of Ilocos Sur Rep. Ronaldo Singson’s drug trafficking case in relation to the agency’s lack of assistance to OFWs victimized by drug syndicates abroad.

Martinez said that when they first brought to the DFA’s attention the case of 195 OFWs jailed in China on drug-related cases last year, DFA Usec. for Migrant Workers’ Affairs Esteban Conejos issued a statement advising them to “behave in prison to get pardon.”

Of the 195, 10 were sentenced to death without reprieve while 56 were given the chance to be reprieved in two years. Thirty (30) were sentenced to life imprisonment while 44 were sentenced to 15 years in jail. The remaining 55 are still undergoing court hearings and lacking legal assistance from the DFA.

“How the DFA treated our OFWs is a far cry from the special treatment being given now to Singson. To add insult to injury, Conejos seems to be appealing to Singson to accept their services despite the latter having already denied any help from the DFA because he obviously can afford to hire his own legal counsel. Was this kind of vigilance and attention granted our OFWs when they so requested and required?” said Martinez.

Martinez criticized Conejos for “being misleading and portraying a caring image when quite the opposite is the reality”.

He also cited the most recent cases of OFWs Edmar Aquino and Rose Jane Mahilum in Iran and Jason Pineda in Saudi which were endorsed to the OUMWA (Office of the Undersecretary for Migrant Workers Affairs) by the Philippine Embassies in Iran and Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, respectively.

Upon dialogue with the OUMWA last January 2010, Martinez said that they were informed that“it is the DFA’s policy NOT to provide legal assistance to cases of OFWs who are involved in prohibited drugs.”

“We are saddened by the impression that Conejos’ reaction to the more popular case of Singson, contrary to how he handled the above-mentioned cases, is mere grandstanding. We are thereby again asking that proper and urgent assistance be extended to Aquino, Mahilum, Pineda and the 195 OFWs jailed in China,” Martinez said.

He said that failure to do so is in direct violation of their constitutional rights and Sec. 25 of RA 8042 which created the P100 million Legal Assistance Fund for OFWs in distress.

Martinez said that most OFWs who are forced to work as “drug mules” or couriers are either in distress or victims of illegal recruitment and human trafficking. ###