Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Assist distressed OFWs, Ople center tells Manila

MANILA, Philippines - As the Philippines observes Rizal Day, the Blas F. Ople Policy Center called on the Department of Foreign Affairs to strengthen its initiatives to reach out and assist distressed overseas Filipino workers dubbed by the national government as "modern-day heroes".

Susan Ople, president of the Center, noted that a number of Filipino workers now detained in various jails in Saudi Arabia are calling out to the Department of Foreign Affairs and Philippine Embassy officials to work for their early release arising from a royal pardon issued by the Saudi King last December 11.

"Here is a golden opportunity for the national government to show its concern for Filipinos in various jails in Saudi Arabia who may be eligible for inclusion in the royal pardon," the former labor undersecretary said, citing the King's initiative that would cover inmates charged with minor crimes and misdemeanors.

The Ople Center has received a flurry of text messages from Filipinos currently detained in Damman Central Jail in Saudi Arabia seeking help from the Department of Foreign Affairs.

One such inmate said that the Indian Embassy had already sent a team to work out the release of their nationals who are eligible for the pardon, while the Filipinos in jail continue to wait for a team from the Philippine Embassy to visit them.

"Our detained kababayans and their families here at home are pinning their hopes on the Philippine government to do its share to lobby for the release of OFWs detained on minor charges so they could start afresh with a New Year here at home to look forward to," Ople added.

Dondon Lanuza, an overseas Filipino worker, on death row at Dammam Central Jail, also texted the Ople Center to report that 120 prisoners had been released the other day because of the royal pardon. Lanuza is among those seeking the help of the Philippine government for the inclusion of his name on the list of those who wish to avail of the royal pardon.

"Dondon wanted to know if he could be included in the list of those to be considered for pardon. I hope that the Philippine Embassy and the DFA can mobilize its own team to clarify and respond to the many questions and requests from detained OFWs and their families," Ople said.

Another Filipino worker Jess Pamintuan, who was sentenced to 9 months in jail by the Saudi court, but who continues to remain in jail months after completing his sentence, said: "Many Saudi nationals had been freed from prisons. Next week, foreign workers are expected to be released. We hope that the Philippine Embassy could help us obtain a pardon," Pamintuan said in his text message to Ople.

"We appeal to the national government especially to Vice-President Noli de Castro to spearhead efforts to make full use of this royal pardon to gain freedom and a fresh start for as many detained Filipinos as possible," the Ople Center said.

Two weeks ago, to mark the return of Crown Prince Sultan, Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdulla ordered the release of some prisoners held for public rights who do not pose any danger to public security.

Second Deputy Premier and Minister of Interior Prince Naif, who made the announcement, said the royal pardon would cover those who were detained or sentenced to jail for petty crimes and violations.

“It will also benefit those being held for not paying public rights after paying private rights,” said Prince Naif, based on interviews with the Saudi press.

In other words, prisoners who have already reconciled their punitive obligations to crime victims or their next of kin (such as compensation for damages) would have their punishments from the state ended. This category does not include violent offenders or those arrested for “major crimes.”

The Ople Center expressed hope that Vice-President Noli de Castro in his role as presidential adviser on OFW affairs can visit Saudi Arabia and make proper representation in behalf of Filipino prisoners in various jails in the said Kingdom.

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