By: Our Correspondent

The hurried trip of Filipino Vice President Jejomar Binay to Beijing
last week to attempt to rescue three Filipino drug mules threatened with
execution has shone a spotlight on the fact that not only are 125
overseas foreign workers on death row in jails across the world but that
in contrast hundreds more are badly mistreated or even murdered for
being guilty of nothing more than working overseas.

A Filipino
legislative committee examining the plight of overseas workers in Saudi
Arabia demanded that the Philippines decertify the Arabian country for
domestic helpers because of endemic sexual abuse and other problems.

The
Filipino non-governmental organization Migrante International has been
leading a crusade including rallies and demands for government attention
and legal assistance for relatives of overseas workers, who play a
major role in keeping the Philippine economy afloat through inward
remittances that totaled as much as US$18 billion in 2010, according to
the Philippines Central Bank, the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas.

The
Riyadh-based Migrante-Middle East says as many as 3,000 overseas
workers are in jail abroad. About 70 percent, the organization said,
face immigration-related charges. And, of the 900-odd merchant seaman
held by pirates off the Somali coast, at least 120 are known to be
Filipinos, some of them held for months.

Considering the number
of Filipinos working overseas, there 125 who are facing execution is a
relatively small number. There are estimated to be anywhere between 8.2
million and 11 million Filipinos working overseas, a whopping 11 percent
of the Philippine population, which is expected to pass 100 million
later this year. The wave of unrest sweeping the Middle East is expected
to drive many overseas workers back to Asia, cutting into the inward
remittance figure Those overseas in 2010 included at least 2.84 million
in the United States, 1.09 million in Saudi Arabia, 613,000 in Canada,
575,000 in the United Arab Emirates, and more than 200,000 each in
Australia, Malaysia, Japan, Qatar and the United Kingdom, the majority
of them women working as domestic helpers although they also include
doctors, nurses, accountants, IT professionals, architects, seamen and
many other professions. It is believed that about a third of the world’s
merchant seamen are Filipinos.

The executions of Sally Ordinario
Villanueva and Ramon Credo were scheduled by Chinese authorities for
last Monday, with that of Elizabeth Batain set for the day after.
Beijing has deferred the executions in the wake of Binay’s visit
although it isn’t known for how long. Very few appeals succeed in
Chinese courts and executions usually feature a bullet in the back of
the head to the convicts, who are forced to kneel in a ditch.

Binay may also have to go back a lot more times. Another 79 prisoners remain in Chinese jails, convicted of drug trafficking.

Migrante
International says it is handling the cases of eight workers on death
row and 121 in jail on drug-related cases across the globe. Since 2005,
the NGO has tried but failed to block the execution of six were killed
by beheading. Of those on death row, 85 cases are drug-related. The rest
are in the Middle East, Malaysia and Thailand.

"Let us also not
forget that there are also others in death row who continue to appeal to
the government for much-needed attention and intervention," Garry
Martinez, Migrante International chairperson, was quoted as saying in a
press release.

"While we all heave a sigh of relief and celebrate
with the families of the three Filipino nationals whose scheduled
execution in China has been suspended indefinitely, there is still a
need for the Philippine government to make clear the terms and
conditions of the deferment," he said. "Have their sentences been
commuted? How long is the suspension, is it a matter of days, months,
years? Will this affect the fate of at least 190 others in China jails
for the same offense? Or the more than 120 others in death row
elsewhere?"

It also appears that the country’s overseas workers
are more sinned against than anything, if a preliminary report made
public by the Committee on Overseas Workers’ Affairs on Jan. 26 after a
visit led by Rep Walden Bello to Riyadh, Jeddah, and Al Khobar in Saudi
Arabia is anything to go by.

The report found that "the
situation of Filipino domestic workers or household service workers is
dire, with overwork, maltreatment, and non-payment of wages very common.
Rape and sexual abuse are endemic, a condition that members of the team
felt was related to the sexual segregation followed in Saudi society, a
tradition of treating domestic servants as slaves, and the strict
subordination of women to men."

A great many overseas workers,
the report found, "are swindled, with them signing contracts with a
recruitment agency stipulating at least US$400 monthly as pay, only to
be confronted with a substitute contract upon leaving the Philippines or
upon arrival in Saudi Arabia specifying a significantly lesser amount."

As
to the situation of Filipinos in detention, particularly those on death
row, Bello and his fellow commissioners were not allowed to visit those
detained. Although Migrante International accused the government of
lackluster efforts to represent those in jail, the committee found that
"there is no doubt that DFA personnel actively monitor developments in
the death row cases and make active representation for the overseas
workers involved. Saudi lawyers are engaged, Saudi authorities are
lobbied, efforts are made to negotiate monetary settlements with the kin
of the victims, whether these relatives are located in Saudi Arabia or,
in cases where Filipinos are accused of killing other Filipinos, in the
Philippines."

"While the mission can say that the DFA is
actively engaged with death penalty cases, it is less certain about its
engagement with the non-death row cases, such as "immorality," a
criminal charge levied on unmarried couples seen in each other's
company. Some overseas workers claim that the DFA focuses its work and
financial resources mainly on the death penalty cases."

The
committee said it is also concerned with the unresolved deaths of
Filipino nationals reported in the press, saying that more energetic
follow-up work of reports of murdered Filipinos, including interviews of
people who knew them, appears to be in order.