MANILA, Philippines – Migrant workers’ group Migrante filled an online petition on Sunday, July 7 asking the government to recall Philippine embassy officials in Riyadh for “facilitating and conniving” with Saudi police in dispersing a “peaceful sit-in” of undocumented Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) seeking repatriation.
Migrante vice chair John Leonard Monterona claimed embassy officials reported around 40 OFWs to the Saudi police leading to their “brutal dispersal and arrest” on July 2.
According to Monterona, the victims named Philippine envoy to Saudi Arabia Ezzadin Tago, labor attaché Adam Musa, and Welfare officer Abdullah Umpa as those responsible for reporting them to the Saudi police.
In the online petition, Migrante asked the government to recall the 3 officials immediately.
“We want to gather many signatures as much as we can, then we will submit a copy of the petition to President Benigno Aquino III and Foreign Affair Secretary Albert del Rosario,” Monterona said.
Monterona added that Migrante also plans to file charges against the embassy and labor officials before the Civil Service Commission and Commission on Human Rights based on the complaint affidavits of the stranded OFWs.
“Philippine embassy and labor officials in Saudi Arabia should respect the human rights of our fellow OFWs, the Philippines being a signatory to the UN Convention on the Protection of Migrants and members of their Families,” he said.
Foreign Affairs spokeman Raul Hernandez said officials of the Philippine Overseas Labor Office (POLO) in Riyadh tried to persuade the undocumented OFWs to go back to their temporary shelter, but to no avail. He said the OFWs held a “mass (protest) action” which was prohibited under Saudi law.
But Monterona said the OFWs did not violate Saudi law as their “sit-in demonstration” was peacefully carried out.
“They were at the POLO compound premises to air a legitimate grievance as they see that embassy and labor officials are not properly giving them assistance and are only dilly-dallying of their repatriation,” Monterona explained.
Monterona also disclosed that Migrante received a letter from OFWs in Riyadh on July 5 regarding the incident.
In said letter dated July 2, the undocumented OFWs wrote that they were at the diplomatic quarter of POLO in Riyadh when the arrests happened. They said they were there to clarify their repatriation status.
But instead of talking to them, the OFWs claimed embassy officials reported them to the Saudi police.
“Dumating mga [Saudi] police at pinaghuhuli kami. Hinablot, sinampal, sinuntok, kinuryente kami kasama mga babae at mga bata,” the letter added.
(The Saudi police came and arrested us. They grabbed, slapped, punched, and electrified us including women and children.)
Hernandez, however, gave a different story.
Hernandez said that according to reports he received, the OFWs staged a sit-in in front of the POLO in Riyadh and attempted to enter its premises at around 8 am, July 2.
He explained the OFWs blocked POLO’s gate and caught the attention of the Saudi police.
At around 8 pm the same day, members of the Saudi police approached the OFWs and asked them to leave but they refused, Hernandez said. He said a final warning was given at 11 pm before the Saudi police moved in.
Hernandez said 15 men were brought outside the diplomatic quarter and were then taken by POLO officials to their temporary shelter.
The women and children were brought to Bahay Kalinga, while 3 men were detained and were released the following day upon the request of POLO officials. The 3 were later taken to the shelter.
Crackdown on illegal workers
In April, Saudi Arabia King Abdulla ordered a 3-month grace period for “illegal” workers “in breach of the labor and residency regulations in the kingdom to clarify their status.”
On July 2, the Saudi government extended the grace period to November. Violators face up to two years in prison and fine of at least 100,000 riyal or $27,000.
“We urge individuals and groups in Saudi not to agitate our kababayans but instead encourage them to cooperate with the embassy, consulate, POLO, and the Saudi government,” Hernandez said. – Rappler.com