>News Update 79 Pinoys on China death row

>MANILA, Philippines – Apart from the three whose execution has been deferred, there are 79 other Filipinos awaiting their fate on China’s death row, an overseas workers group said yesterday.

Migrante International said more than 120 other Filipino workers are also facing death sentences in other countries.

The group lauded the efforts of President Aquino in successfully halting the execution of the three Filipino workers in China.

However, the government should not give its “best shot” at the last minute in saving the lives of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) on death row because “this is not a game,” Migrante-Middle East regional coordinator John Leonard Monterona said.

“The Aquino government should waste no time to start, as early as this time, appealing to the Chinese government the commutation of the other 79 OFWs on death row, and also the more than 120 others in other countries,” the group said.

Monterona said Migrante is presently handling the cases of eight Filipinos on death row and 121 others in jail in the Middle East. He said 13 of the Filipino workers jailed face drug-related offenses.

Since 2005, six Filipinos whose cases Migrante has handled have been executed, mostly in Saudi Arabia.

Monterona said every case of OFWs on death row must be treated with urgency by the Philippine government.

“The case of the three OFWs, who were supposed to be executed on Monday and Tuesday, is a bitter reality to confront; efforts to save OFWs whose cases are punishable by death should start from the time a proper case has been filed and hiring the best legal defense team the government can provide,” Monterona said, noting that most were victims of international drug syndicates.

Monterona suggested the launching of a national campaign involving all concerned government agencies to inform the public of the dangers of being victimized by international drug traffickers and syndicates.

“The foreign affairs department and various Philippine posts abroad must be ready to do their share in the campaign against drug trafficking and syndicates by swapping information and forging

cooperation with the host government to combat this drug menace victimizing our dear OFWs,” Monterona said.

Sen. Jinggoy Estrada also suggested going after the principal players of the international drug cartel.

Estrada blamed illegal recruiters behind the plight of unsuspecting Filipino workers, mostly women, who are enticed to become “drug mules” or couriers of international drug syndicates.

The women are paid between $500 and $5,000 to swallow tubes containing the drugs, carry them hidden in their luggage or even dissolved and soaked into paper or books.

The lack of jobs at home is a major reason why women in particular resort to smuggling drugs.

Estrada said authorities must focus their attention on the personalities involved in enticing Filipino workers to transport illegal drugs.

Estrada noted most of the suspected drug mules are not even OFWs registered at the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA).

Alarming trend

Other lawmakers had sounded the alarm on drug mules in 2009.

Senators Pia Cayetano, Manuel Villar and Loren Legarda said there had been an increasing trend of using Filipino overseas workers and tourists as drug mules.

Villar recalled the case of Nilfa Dumalagan who was recruited by a Nigerian married to a Filipino woman to get a package from Peru.

Villar said Dumalagan had a tourist visa to Malaysia when she met the “recruiters” but she was able to escape the syndicate before embarking on her first stint as a drug mule.

According to Villar, the Nigerian drug cartels are one of the biggest and most notorious in global drug operations.

Villar had filed Senate Resolution 1192 citing that in 2008, 111 Filipinos were arrested for drug-related offenses in China, Hong Kong and Macau.

Villar said the Philippines ranks fifth in methamphetamine confiscation from 1998 to 2007, based from the United Nations’ office on Drug and Crime 2009 World Drug Report.

Villar noted a majority of the arrests had stemmed from drugs stashed in luggage supposedly given to them by recruiters they met in a transit country, usually Thailand, Malaysia, Nepal, Laos or Vietnam.

The members of foreign drug rings give Filipino mules tickets and pocket money to travel to Hong Kong or to China with a promise to pay the carriers upon delivery of the drugs to their destination.

The Blas Ople Center also said there are now more than 500 drug cases involving Filipinos in different parts of the world, mostly in China.

The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said there was almost six hundred percent increase from the 16 people arrested in 2007 for drug related offenses.

Of those arrested in 2007 and 2008, a total of 22 are facing death sentence, 12 have gotten life terms while 11 have been made to serve 15 to 16 years prison terms.

Sen. Vicente Sotto III, who served as chairman of the Dangerous Drugs Board, said there are about 200 cases involving Filipinos facing drug related cases in China.

Sotto also revealed a Nigerian drug syndicate operating with drug mules in China usually targets desperate Filipino workers with a promise of money and extension of their visa.

“That’s why it’s very inviting. They can renew their visa and it’s given to them for free. And they even have money on the side,” Sotto said.

Senator Cayetano revealed there are about 630 Filipinos detained in prisons abroad facing drug trafficking cases. China had the biggest number of detainees at 250, 75 of whom are already in death row.

Cayetano filed Resolution 282 in noting that 62 percent or six out of every ten Filipinos are detained abroad for drug trafficking.

On the other hand, the London-based Amnesty International (AI) revealed China had been relentless in carrying out executions of suspected drug traffickers.

The AI in its 2008 statistics disclosed that China posted over 1,700 executions carried out followed by Iran with only more than 340.

The AI slammed China for not being transparent as to the figures of executions it conducts every year. The organization based its statistics on publicized cases of Chinese executions.

The AI believes China has conducted many unreported executions.

The AI reported that in the 1990s, executions in China increased to 10,000 as its annual average.

In 1996, after an aggressive anti-crime campaign was carried out in China, there were 4,367, or roughly 12 people a day being executed, the AI said.

A report from the Associated Press also revealed that Chinese authorities also extend its firm stance on executions of foreigners in its jurisdiction.

AP recounts that in 2009, China has demonstrated its firm imposition of its verdict against 53-year-old Akhmal Shaik, a British national.

Shaik was charged for carrying four kilos of heroin to China and was condemned to death after a trial that lasted less than an hour.

Despite exhausting all legal remedies including his admission of mental instability, Shaik was executed in the same year that strained the relations between Britain and China.

The recent sojourn of Vice President Jejomar Binay however led to the stay of execution of the three Filipino workers who were supposed to be executed today and tomorrow.

The Philippines, in a joint statement with China said, “it fully respects China’s law and the verdict of the SPC (Supreme People’s Court).”

“The Philippines and China are determined to work together in the fight against transnational crimes. Including drug trafficking,” the statement continued, thus leaving uncertain the fate of the three condemned Filipinos. –With Christina Mendez, Mayen Jaymalin and Raymund Catindig – By Michael Punongbayan

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