Philippine Embassy Faces Flak Over Hunger Strikers

RIYADH, 23 December 2003 — Criticism of the Philippine Embassy here is mounting over its handling of 16 Filipino hunger strikers who were handed over to police Sunday night. The 16 say they have received death threats for speaking out against the Philippine chancery, while an organization looking after Filipinos abroad wants embassy officials recalled.

The workers, who were shackled and escorted to a hospital by police and later released, say the threats come from goons allegedly hired by embassy officials.

Speaking on behalf of the workers, Domingo D. Yalung said: “We are hiding in different places because of the threats.”

The embassy denies any wrongdoing.

“We are here to serve the Filipino workers, not to harass them or issue warnings or threats,” said Mariano A. Dumia, minister at the Philippine Embassy.

But the Saudi Arabian chapter of Migrante, an organization that looks after the interests of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs), says embassy officials including Dumia are unfit for their job.

“The Philippine diplomatic post is no longer a sanctuary for Filipinos, and the officials of the Philippine Embassy should be recalled from their posts because of the shameless way the hunger strike of the stranded OFWs was effectively terminated,” said A. Mangampo-Ociones, the chairman of the chapter.

Migrante says embassy officials failed to set up an effective mechanism to defend the rights of OFWs.

Yalung said: “The embassy has been harassing us more than helping us. We have been placed in a dangerous situation. All the OFWs are in a state of trauma after last night’s incident.”

The workers yesterday repeated their demand for immediate repatriation. They ran away from their employers for reasons including maltreatment and non-payment of wages, they say. But Dumia earlier told Arab News the employers of some of the 16 charged them with crimes including theft.

Following Sunday night’s arrest on the embassy premises, the hunger strikers were taken to a hospital but no medical examination took place because the men were unable to pay for it, Mangampo-Ociones said.

The men signed a document at the police station agreeing their problem was between them and their employers and undertaking not to “disturb” the Philippine Embassy again, according to the Migrante statement.

Police promised to call the employers of the hunger strikers to check if they would allow them to be repatriated.

Migrante says their only option now is to go through the Immigration Center, which will involve arrest, several days of detention and deportation.

The embassy says it is unable to provide shelter for the hunger strikers until their case is decided. “We don’t have such a facility for our male workers,” Dumia said.

There are some 850,000 OFWs in Saudi Arabia. The embassy handles more than 30,000 requests a year for assistance from OFWs.

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