MIGRANTE campaigns for OFWs on-site protection amid numerous cases of rights violations, abuses, and maltreatment in the Middle East. (Migarnte file photo)
MIGRANTE campaigns for OFWs on-site protection amid numerous cases of rights violations, abuses, and maltreatment in the Middle East. (Migarnte file photo)

 Manila, PhilippinesThere are overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) who have been convicted for petty crimes still staying in Saudi jails despite completion of jail terms, according to the Filipino migrant rights group MIGRANTE.

“We have monitored around 30 OFWs overstaying in Saudi jails,” said John Leonard Monterona, MIGRANTE sectoral party vice chairperson, also the group coordinator in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA).

‘Overstaying’ means the OFWs have already served their respective jail terms but still languishing in jails for about two to 3 to 6 months, according to Monterona.

Monterona pointed out the OFWs have allegedly committed petty crimes such as gambling, caught in possession of alcohol and prohibited drugs, ‘mixed’ crowd, embezzlement, and due to illicit relationship, among others.

“The possible reason why they’ve been staying in jail is that they have to pay the private rights aspect, usually compensation in favor of the aggrieved party for loss, damage, or liability incurred by the petty crime offenders,” Monterona explained.

Monterona noted that there are also OFWs overstaying at various jails in UAE, Qatar, Bahrain, Kuwait, Lebanon, and Jordan, ‘though their number is relatively small compared to those in Saudi Arabia,’ according to the OFW leader.

Monterona urges the Aquino III government through the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) and its Office of the Undersecretary for Migrant Workers Affairs (OUMWA), to attend by revisiting the cases of OFWs overstaying in various jails in Saudi Arabia and other mid-east countries.

“The OFWs overstaying in jails really need legal assistance,” Monterona adding that their group wish to hear from Pres. Aquino III State of the Nation Address (SONA) on Monday to re-issue his tall order to all concerned govt. agencies to provide utmost assistance to OFWs.

“On-site assistance and welfare services to OFWs in distress, victims of human rights violations, abuses and those in jail are still wanting,” Monterona pointed out.

Monterona cited legal assistance provision with an allotted fund amounting to P100 million yearly as mandated by the amended Migrant Workers Act or Republic Act 10022.

“The PH government must properly utilize the fund in providing legal assistance to OFWs in distress especially those who are still languishing in jails amid completion of jail terms, and those in death row to facilitate their release after completion of blood money and to attend the required proceedings for their eventual release,” Monterona opined.

On August 2012 during a House budget hearing, no less than Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) secretary Albert Del Rosario confirmed that P52.2 million of the legal assistance fund under the care of his department remained unspent. Del Rosario added that only P7.78 million was used because of the limitations to the amount imposed by the Migrant Workers Act.

The DFA chief revealed that only 196 overseas workers had availed themselves of the fund from 2011 to August 2012.

“We want pro-active legal and procedural intercession on cases of overstaying OFWs in various jails and those on death row such as Rodelio ‘Dondon’ Lanuza who are awaiting release. We must change the wait-and-see attitude by the PH govt. and its officials abroad,” Monterona lamented.

According to Monterona, his group has been campaigning to the PH govt. the retention services arrangement of local law firm to represent distress OFWs in court especially those who are on death row and overstaying in jails.

At present the DFA and its diplomatic posts in the Middle East would only hire the services of a local lawyer or law firm on a case-to-case basis subject to the approval by the DFA-OUMWA.

Monterona added that his group will closely monitor and will also attend budget hearing deliberations in the House of Representatives to look into the P100-M legal assistance fund and how other OFWs-allotted funds, and the P12-B OFWs trust funds held in trust to the government through the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA), are being spent.