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Pinoy Abroad

Govt to negotiate case of jailed OFWs in Maldives

March 4, 2009 6:12pm
MANILA, Philippines - The Philippine Embassy in Bangladesh has assured the seven Filipino workers who are currently languishing in a jail in the Maldives Republic that it will do everything in its power to help them.

“'Wag kayong mag-alala, 'di sila pababayaan ng Philippine Embassy [Don’t worry, the Philippine Embassy will take care of them]," Consul Alfredo Borlongan said in an e-mail to members of Filipino migrants advocacy groups seeking help for the distressed OFWs.

The Philippine Embassy in Dhaka, Bangladesh, is responsible for Maldives, a nation of islets in the Indian Ocean.

Among those who raised alarm in behalf of the seven were Migrante International and the Saudi Arabia-based Pusong Mamon Task Force (PMTF) and the Volunteers in Service to Filipinos for Advocacy and Community Service Mideast Bureau.

Borlongan confirmed that the jail term for the accused workers was originally 63 years but was reduced by the court to 25.

He said the Philippine government would have to negotiate with the Maldivian government about the matter.

On the other hand, the Department of Foreign Affairs home office said that it is still waiting for the report of Borlongan and the recommendation of the Philippine ambassador in Bangladesh who has jurisdiction over Maldives.

In the meantime, it recommended that the Filipinos hire a lawyer in Maldives.


The crime

Reports say the seven Filipinos were former employees of the Dome Coffee Maldives International Airport who have been charged with fraud and theft.

The OFWs were identified as Kenneth Ramos Navarro, Lito Lago, Dario Agao, Christian Ryan Pineda, Jeffrey Jenkins, Gilbert Bendana, and Joey Omawas. Their former workmates Glenn Ross Paloma and Jose Sebastian were also charged for reportedly being indirectly involved in the case.

The OFWs were employed by Hassan Bagir and were recruited by Centaur International Manpower Services Inc., a private employment agency based in Makati.

The Filipino workers were accused of stealing and using the credit cards of their customers to purchase several items.

The two other co-accused had been released. They are Glenn Ross Paloma, who has returned to the Philippines and Jose Sebastian, who is now in Canada.

As for the seven, they have been sentenced to 25 years in jail and a fine of 100,000 Maldivian Rufiyaa or more than P380,000 each in damages.

Dome’s general manager Ahmed Shiran was also reportedly surprised at the weight of the punishment, but said that he could not do anything more for them.


'Wrong advice'

Before the first hearing of their case on February 12, William John Perera, the Philippines’ honorary consul general in Sri Lanka, and Dome’s general manager Ahmed Shiran reportedly told them to sign their sworn statements.

They added that the workers’ punishment might only be deportation, whether they are adjudged guilty or not.

Perera also reportedly told them to just plead guilty to the charges so that they will be deported immediately, even as early February.

But when the first hearing came, they were told that they would need to pay a fine of 10,000 Maldivian rufiyaa or almost P38,000 each and that they would be deported.

On February 16, the worker’s were then told that they have no more shifts at the Dome, making them believe that they really will be deported.

However, the court told them on February 17 that their statements were “conflicting," also sentencing them to 25 years in jail and instituting a fine of 100,000 Maldivian rufiyaa or more than P380,000 on them each in damages.

“Wala tayong magagawa kasi Muslim country ito, ang kailangan na lang mag-usap tungkol dito ay government to government [We can’t do anything because this is a Muslim country, those who need to talk are the two governments]," said Borlongan.

Shiran was also reportedly surprised at the weight of the punishment, but said that he could not do anything more for them.

Suspicious

Meanwhile, Filipina Jennifer Perina told the PMTF that the changes in the amount of fines being charged and their statements suddenly becoming conflicting were very suspicious.

“At bakit hindi nangyari ang mga sinabi ni Mr. Consul Perera at Mr. Ahmed Shiran? [Why didn’t Consul Perera and Ahmend Shiran’s prediction come true?]" she asked in an e-mail relaying the events that transpired.

She also said one thing that might have compromised the workers’ situation was because they reported to the Food and Drug Authority that Dome was reportedly selling expired coffee.

Perina added that the seven never even signed any document receiving the court’s decision.

She urged Philippine officials to act in haste before the accused are transferred to the “Mafushi" where drug addicts and other convicts are sent to languish.

“It is very sad to learn that the verdict of 63 yrs and reduced to 25 years were results of forced guilty pleas among the suspects," said PMTF’s Rashid Fabricante in the same e-mail.

In a letter to the DFA, Riyadh-based OFW advocate Rashid Fabricante sought an investigation into the case to determine whether the concerned Philippine Embassy officials in Dhaka, Bangladesh, were remiss in their duties and responsibilities in ensuring that the rights of the accused OFWs were protected.

“It is very sad to learn that the verdict of 63 years and reduced to 25 years (utang na loob pa natin sa korte nila ‘yon a simple case of fraud or theft?) were results of forced guilty pleas among the suspects.

“The irony here is that our co-OFWs were left to their own devices, lacking in para-legals and presence of counsel to protect their rights. The deploying agency, as in our cases in the Middle East, have
yet to prove their innocence of the case and could have alerted front line agencies of the government to rescue/represent the defendants during the investigation and court hearings," Fabricante wrote.

“While it is understandable that our OUMWA is flooded with a lot of priority cases as a result of spiraling deployment, please consider this case brought to your attention now in parallel to pending life threatening cases here i.e. those facing death rows in KSA and the Middle East," he added. OUMWA is the DFA's Office of the Undersecretary for Migrant Workers Affairs.

Maldives is a nation of 1,192 islets in the Indian Ocean about 700 kilometers southwest of Sri Lanka. It has a predominantly Muslim population. - GMANews.TV
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