Migrants’ group urges gov’t to seek Saudi king’s pardon for jailed OFWs

Manila, Philippines— Migrante Middle East (Migrante-ME) has urged the government to take the opportunity to ask Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah Bin Abdul Aziz to pardon the 79 overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) detained in the Malaz Central Jail, as the Islamic monarchy announced that it is granting royal pardons to petty criminals.

It was on Dec. 11, 2009 that the Royal Decree was issued and Migrante-ME learned of this development when somebody from the Malaz jail called their office. The information was verified by the Saudi Embassy via the United States’ government web portal.

“Our 79 compatriots, now languishing in Malaz Central Jail, hope that their names will be included in the roll of prisoners who will be pardoned this month,” Migrante-ME regional coordinator John Leonard Monterona said in a statement.

The 79 OFWs now in prison in Malaz were jailed for committing non-capital offenses, such as illegal possession of liquor, gambling, absconding and violations of some of their host country’s customary laws.

Arnulfo Alcantara, 45, who has been in the Malaz jail for three months, said he is hoping the Philippine Consulate in Riyadh will waste no time in seeking their release, pursuant to the Royal Decree.

In a statement he said, he and his three companions were victims of a setup, having been accused by the Saudi’s Mutawa, or cultural police, of illegal possession of liquor.

Arnulfo Alcantara along with other OFWs jailed at Malaz Central Jail, Riyadh, KSA (Photo courtesy of Migrante-ME)

“Being in jail for a crime one has not actually committed is already injustice,” Alcantara said. “Staying long (or) for an uncertain time in jail is an additional injustice.”

In addition to those who are incarcerated in Malaz, Monterona said, there are many Filipinos and Filipinas are also languishing in different jails in key cities and provinces of Saudi.

Migrante-ME estimated that the number of OFWs now in jail in Saudi number about 1,000, an estimate confirmed by the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA).

“We know that the negotiations will be tedious for our consuls here, but their diplomatic expertise will be of great help to speed up the release of our jailed kababayans, especially those who have served their sentence,” said Monterona.

Based on Saudi laws, petty criminals are usually meted a minimum sentence of six-months’ imprisonment and a year in jail, at the maximum. Monterona said that majority of the 79 OFW prisoners have already completed their sentence.

“Sadly, some of them are in prison for more than a year,” he said. On the other hand, Migrante-ME criticized what they described as the “incompetence” by the Philippine diplomatic posts in the Middle East to collate information about the number and situation of imprisoned OFWs in the region.

“We’ve been asking them for a complete list, but they cannot provide (it),” Monterona said.  Migrante-ME also estimated that there are about 3,000 OFWs languishing in various jails in the Middle East. (Published in Dateline Philippines, o4 January 2010; another story about this at CBCPNews.com)