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IBP asks gov’t to ‘institutionalize’ help for jailed Filipinos abroad

LUCENA CITY—The Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) is willing to provide legal assistance to Filipinos jailed abroad but has asked the government to first “institutionalize” its help mechanisms for Filipinos languishing in foreign jails, some of whom are on death rows.

IBP president Vicente Joyas said the government needed to first make a complete list of the number of Filipinos charged with criminal cases in foreign countries and those already spending time in jail.

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According to Joyas, IBP is willing to enter into a memorandum of agreement with any government agency to enable the lawyers’ group to act on behalf of the jailed Filipinos and coordinate with their counterpart bar associations abroad.

“The government’s legal assistance to our countrymen facing criminal cases abroad is inadequate,” he said here on Thursday.

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Joyas said the government would only be forced to move into action at the last minute if the convicted Filipino was already staring death in the face. He said a competent lawyer should be there from the very start of the court hearing.

Joyas noted that in the case of Mary Jane Veloso, who had been jailed for five years after she was convicted of a drug trafficking case in Indonesia, the Aquino administration only provided full legal assistance when she was about to be executed via firing squad.

Collective appeal

It was the last-ditch efforts by President Benigno Aquino III, human rights workers and international personalities and a collective appeal by the Filipino people that won for Veloso a reprieve early on Wednesday, he noted.

He said providing the right legal representation early into the cases could save innocent Filipinos, most of them overseas Filipino workers victimized by human traffickers and international drug syndicates.

Charles Jose, Department of Foreign Affairs spokesperson, has said around 88 Filipinos are facing the death penalty abroad.

He said half of the Filipinos on death row, mostly in China and Malaysia, were jailed for illegal drugs, while the other half faced murder charges. Since 2011, five Filipinos have been executed in China for drug trafficking.

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In Veloso’s case, she was arrested in an Indonesian airport on April 25, 2010, after authorities found packs of heroin weighing 2.6 kilograms hidden inside her suitcase. During the trial, she was only represented by an Indonesia court-appointed pro bono lawyer. An Indonesian court handed down her the death sentence on Oct. 11, 2010.

Lawyer Edre Olalia, secretary general of National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL), said it took the government three years and eight months to seek a judicial review for Veloso’s case.

NUPL came to Veloso’s defense on April 7 in a last-ditch effort of her family to save her from the firing squad.

Joyas said the last-minute legal help by the state in Veloso’s case had long been the practice of the government in all other criminal cases of Filipinos overseas.

He urged the government to continue its appeal for clemency to Veloso in exchange for her disclosures on the operation of the international drug syndicate that had victimized her.

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TAGS: IBP, Mary Jane Veloso, OFWs
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