Press Release
May 28, 2008

Increase in OFW assistance funds needed
Villar: Number of jailed Filipinos overseas alarming

Except for Antartica, Filipinos are serving time in jails in all the continents, prompting Senate President Manny Villar to call for an increase in the assistance funds to overseas Filipinos in distress.

"A "replenishable" P1 billion Assistance to Nationals (ATN) fund should be maintained, "cobbled together from OWWA membership fees, appropriations and internal income of the DFA from passport and consular fees," Villar said.

Villar, also the Nacionalista Party president, said 4,770 Filipinos were languishing in jails in 63 countries and territories as of June 2007, citing a 465-page report to Congress on the assistance its 83 posts worldwide extended to Filipinos during the first half of that year.

"From high up in Andes, where seven Filipinas were in jail in Peru for drug-running, to balmy Micronesia, which had six Pinoys behind bars; to as north as Denmark and to tip of South Africa, which had one Filipino each in their penal systems; from cosmopolitan Milan to the deserts of Sudan, in whatever altitude, time zone or climate, there is a Filipino in a jail there," he said.

The DFA report estimated that of the 7,945,751 overseas Filipinos as of June 2007, some 444,000 were undocumented.

Villar said the undocumented OFWs are candidates for legal problems and "their tribe will grow as more Filipino flee poverty at home and the possibility of jail will not deter them."

Of the 4,770 Filipinos in jail, 954 were women, the DFA report said.

But the number of women detainees could be higher as some embassies and consulates did not indicate the gender of Filipino nationals in prisons in their area of jurisdiction, Villar said.

He said in Tokyo, the plight of 604 OFWs in jail or facing cases in various courts were monitored but did not state how many of them were women. Kuwait merely reported 128 detainees without giving a breakdown of their gender.

"In fact, the number of Filipinos in foreign jails could be bigger than the 4,770 reported in the latest semi-annual census, as some posts were vague in their reports, like the one from Riyadh which merely stated that it conducted 120 jail visitations in the first six months of last year," Villar said.

The Philippine embassy in Kuala Lumpur reported that the most number of Filipino detainees is found in Malaysia with 1,600.

According to the report, coming next was Japan with 734, with 130 in the Osaka area; Qatar, 554; U.S., 406; Abu Dhabi, 198; Saudi Arabia (Jeddah only) 161; Hong Kong, 127.

By area, the North and South America had 416 detainees; Asia Pacific, 2,782; Europe, 126; and Middle East and Africa, 1446.

Villar said while most were in jail for violating immigration laws, the rest were charged with or sentenced "to most of the crimes catalogued in the penal code."

"In India, a ship captain was caught smuggling oil; in Thailand, for faking credit cards; in China, a Filipina was caught while working as a drug mule. There is one country in which almost all of the Filipinas were in jail for alleged adultery. And believe it or not, one Pinay was charged for sending out a malicious text message," he said.

Villar said a great deal of the cases stemmed from cultural reasons.

"There is also reason to believe that many cases involving women OFWs were in the nature of harassment suits or reprisal for cases of employer abuse that these women filed, as a legal tactic to pressure them into dropping the cases," Villar said.

The increased funding for assistance to OFWs, Villar said, "is a small safety net we can put up compared to the $14 .45 billion that OFWs remitted through formal channels alone last year."

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