Raffy Tulfo’s ‘kahihiyan’: Empty brain shows in idea to deny help to OFWs facing drug cases
MANILA, Philippines—Who would forget the day when the remains of Sally Ordinario-Villanueva, the overseas Filipino worker (OFW) who was executed in Xiamen, China, was brought back to the Philippines to be buried at home?
It was on April 6, 2011 when Villanueva’s mother, Basilisa Ordinario, bent down and cried as the cargo box that carried the remains of her eldest daughter arrived at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) in Pasay City.
Villanueva, who was only 32 years old when met by death, was one of three OFWs executed in China on March 30, 2011 after being convicted of drug trafficking. The other two were Ramon Credo and Elizabeth Batain.
READ: 3 Filipino drug mules executed in China
But on April 18, 2011, Villanueva’s brother, Jayson Ordinario, read his sister’s letter to the Philippine Consulate in China, in which she named her recruiter as the one who gave her a suitcase, which she said appeared to be empty.
As it turned out, however, she was tricked as the suitcase handed to her contained 4,410 grams of heroin—the reason that she was arrested by the Chinese police as she arrived at the Xiamen Gaoqi International Airport on Dec. 24, 2008.
RELATED STORY: DZIQ: Remains of executed drug mule arrive in Manila
The death of Villanueva could be one of the reasons that Migrante International condemned as “heartless” the proposal of Sen. Raffy Tulfo that the government should not provide legal assistance to OFWs who are charged with drug-related cases.
It was on Tuesday (Jan. 17) when Tulfo, who chairs the Senate migrant workers committee, said “instead of helping out certified drug traffickers, let us just focus on OFWs who are not at fault and were only accused.”
“I really hate drugs. I hate addicts, I hate drug pushers,” he said, in an echo of ex-president Rodrigo Duterte, who had waged a bloodthirsty campaign against drugs during his term.
Tulfo made the statements as the Senate discussed proposed laws related to OFWs, including Senate Bill No. 1175, which encourages new lawyer scholars to provide legal services to Filipinos working overseas.
“The government still focuses its attention on them despite being arrested as a drug trafficker, drug courier. They are given legal assistance. We even send envoys there to talk to the countries where our fellow Filipinos were arrested,” said Tulfo, who has a huge following on social media that included thousands of OFWs.
He said: “You brought drugs, you embarrassed us, why should we even help you?”
But as explained by Foreign Affairs Undersecretary Eduardo de Vega, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) helps out Filipinos overseas since most of them do not have the financial means to hire a lawyer. There should always be a presumption of innocence until proven guilty, he said.
Likewise, De Vega stressed that OFWs are extended help especially because drug-related offenses are often penalized with the death penalty, like what happened to Villanueva, Credo, and Batain.
“So while I respect that [opinion], we will certainly discuss that with the President,” he said adding that “I believe we need to continue legal and other assistance to Filipinos charged with drug offenses because they are also our fellow Filipinos.”
“Unless the President gives us the written directive, I think we need to continue providing legal assistance,” De Vega said.
Based on data from the DFA, there are 65 Filipinos on death row overseas, but there were no details provided as to the charges against OFWs sentenced to death. Most of them—48—are males while the rest—17—are females.
However, as stated in a written submission to the United Nations (UN) Human Rights Council in 2016, Migrante International said it is handling and monitoring 18 cases involving 35 OFWs in six countries. Out of the 35, five are facing drug-related charges, including Mary Jane Veloso.
Last Wednesday (Jan. 18), Migrante International expressed disappointment over Tulfo’s proposal, saying that it is “woefully ignorant of the conditions faced by OFWs that land them in drug-related charges.”
“It shows a mindset that is heartless not only towards OFWs in said situations, but all OFWs.”
Joanna Concepcion, the coalition’s chairperson, said “the overwhelming majority of OFWs facing drug-related charges are innocent of the crimes and are in fact victims of wealthy and well-connected drug syndicates.”
As stressed by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, trafficking in persons is a widespread crime that uses men, women and children, who are preyed on because they are seen as vulnerable, desperate or simply in search of a better life.
“They do not at all deserve the death penalty, which is the punishment for drug-related offenses in many countries,” Concepcion said.
It said a clear illustration is the case of Veloso, who was tricked into carrying a suitcase containing 2.6 kilos of heroin to Indonesia, which is one of the countries known for having the toughest laws against illegal drugs.
Last year, the DFA asked the Indonesian government to grant Veloso executive clemency, the latest effort to spare her from her sentence since she was granted a reprieve in 2015, the year when she was about to be executed.
RELATED STORY: Mary Jane Veloso case prospects turn iffy in Marcos trip
“Like many OFWs facing drug-related cases, she was denied a competent lawyer and translator, a violation of her right to fair trial, and was sentenced to death. It was only the widespread protest that pushed the government to protect her, resulting in the stay of her execution.”
READ: It’s final: Mary Jane Veloso can testify vs her recruiters
Concepcion said to deny legal support to OFWs “is to turn a blind eye on the drug syndicates, condone the mistreatment suffered by Filipinos facing drug charges in foreign lands, and consign our kababayans in these situations to the death penalty or long jail terms.”
Based on 2016 data from the DFA, which was cited by then senator Ralph Recto, at least 3,827 Filipinos were languishing in jails in 52 countries, while 625 Filipinos working overseas were said to be still under investigation.
Why not make Filipinos stay in PH instead?
Concepcion likewise said OFWs facing drug-related cases overseas are “victims of poverty and joblessness in the Philippines,” stressing that “it is not them who are a kahihiyan or embarrassment to Filipinos, but the Philippine government.”
“The government has become so dependent on labor export that it has failed to generate jobs and development in the Philippines — even as it has always been uncaring towards OFWs,” she said.
As stated by the ASEAN-Australia Counter Trafficking, based on 2019 estimates, there are 2.2 million OFWs all over the world at any given time, most of them in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
It said over 50 percent of OFWs are women, mostly domestic workers, and who are increasingly vulnerable to exploitation, abuse, and trafficking.
When Villanueva was executed in 2011, Migrante International was quoted by the website Bulatlat as saying that “it is high time to address the widespread poverty that pushes many Filipinos to look for work abroad.”
Based on data from the Philippine Statistics Authority, as inflation accelerated to a 14-year high of 8.1 percent last month, 12.9 million Filipino families considered themselves poor, with some two million newly poor, or those who were non-poor one to four years ago.
“The Philippine government has been so smugly dependent on migrant Filipinos’ remittances that it sees no compulsion in solving the problems faced by many Filipinos in the Philippines: soaring food prices, high power rates, horrendous public transportation and heavy traffic,” said Concepcion.
Gov’t not doing enough?
“The truth is that government assistance to OFWs facing drug-related cases and OFWs in general has been so meager. While pretending to be a remedy, Tulfo’s proposal is a continuation of the government’s heartless denial of support and protection to OFWs,” Concepcion said.
Migrante International pointed out that the government has been trying to remove sections of Filipinos from its protection, saying that the Philippine consulate in Dubai, for example, once told distressed OFWs that those who entered the country outside of the regular process will not receive support from the Philippine government in the face of abusive employers.
“The cases faced by OFWs abroad are not as simple as the ‘justice’ dished out by the Tulfo brothers’ talk shows. The accused is presumed to be innocent before proven guilty and therefore has the right to legal protection from the Philippine government,” Concepcion said.
“If the Philippine government denies legal assistance to its people facing drug-related cases, it has thereby acted as the prosecutor and the judge. How hard is it for Filipinos to be with this kind of government?”
The DFA was recently questioned in the Senate over the zero rate of acquittal of 1,278 OFWs who received legal assistance from the government in the first six months of 2022, with Sen. Joel Villanueva saying that “this is not acceptable.”
This, as at a hearing by the Senate Committee on Migrant Workers, senators expressed disbelief that all 1,278 Filipino workers who were charged criminally in the first half of 2022 ended up convicted and serving prison terms.
READ: DFA hit for ‘sloppy’ legal aid for jailed OFWs
Based on data from the DFA, 883 of the convicted OFWs are serving fixed-term sentences, while 63 are serving life prison terms and 332 have already served their sentences.
Most of the cases—837—occurred in the Asia-Pacific region, followed by 288 in the Middle East, 110 in the Americas, 40 in Europe, and three in Africa. The DFA, however, did not have further details on what charges were filed against those OFWs.
RELATED STORY: DFA works to save over 80 Filipinos from death row worldwide
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