Embassy Seeks Royal Clemency For 250 Filipinos In Saudi Prisons

RIYADH, 11 October 2006 — The Philippines is seeking royal clemency for more than 250 Filipino migrant workers who are currently languishing in different jails and reformatory centers in Saudi Arabia, the Philippine Embassy here said yesterday.

“These contract workers including some women have been allegedly detained on different minor and major offenses in various parts of the country,” said Nestor N. Padalhin, charge d’ affaires at the Philippine Embassy.

He said the embassy was awaiting the reply of the Saudi government on an official request filed earlier for the royal pardon.

“Most of the Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) for whom the embassy have sought clemency have, in fact, been serving prison terms of varying lengths for different types of offences like forgery, immoral acts, alcoholism, corruption, pornography, drug-related offences and embezzlement,” he said. “Then, there are also the problems of stranded workers including maids, who run away from their employers,” said an embassy report, adding that most of the cases of run-away Filipinos involve unpaid salaries, contract substitution, extended working hours without extra payments, physical abuse and maltreatment.

In the Kingdom, maids and nurses constitute nearly 20 percent of the total Filipino work force estimated by the Philippine government to exceed 900,000.

Some 256 OFWs are still in jails for whom the royal pardon is being sought.

More than 300 Filipino prisoners were released by the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah after his meeting with President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, who visited the Kingdom in May this year.

Arroyo, during her talks with the king, successfully negotiated the release, paving the way for their return to the Philippines in a staggered schedule.

But in many other cases, the embassy is still working to reach out-of-court settlement or finalize the cases with the help of Saudi authorities or employers.

Referring to the police cases, Padalhin said Filipinos must be law-abiding and avoid engaging in illegal activities in the Kingdom at all times. “Filipinos should follow and respect the local laws,” the embassy said in a statement released through the Manila-based Department of Foreign Affairs recently.

According to the embassy, the Filipino women prisoners are held at the Al Nisa Women’s Jail.

The Saudi government have been giving royal pardon and releasing a large number of prisoners of different nationalities during the holy month of Ramadan every year. Saudi Arabia has been home for hundreds of thousands of Filipino workers.

According to a report, during the first seven months of 2006, the number of Filipino workers in the Gulf countries has increased by more than five percent from the same period last year.

The report said that the ongoing government and private sector initiatives to enhance workers’ competence through skills upgrading, technical training and better education are chief reasons for the greater preference for the Philippines as a source of skilled labor. Money transfers by OFWs have also swelled to a record $7 billion during the first seven months of this year with the money transfers from Gulf countries accounting for a significant share.

The report said that Saudi Arabia and UAE accounted for a big share in Filipino remittance this year.

Without giving specific shares of each country, the report said: “Most of the remittances from Jan. to July this year came from the United States, Saudi Arabia, Italy, the United Kingdom, Japan, Hong Kong, and United Arab Emirates.”

The Philippine government expects remittances to rise 11 percent above last year’s record $10.7 billion as more higher-paid professionals work overseas.

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