Press Release
September 9, 2013

3,732 OFWs in jails in 53 countries

At least 3,732 Filipinos were languishing in jails in 53 countries at the beginning of the year, Sen. Ralph Recto said today.

Of this number, 108 were in death row in six countries, with 69 in Chinese jails awaiting execution or clemency, the Senate President Pro Tempore said.

DFA officials, however, gave a lower figure of 80 Filipinos in death row in seven countries, with 28 in China, when they appeared before a House committee last week.

According to Recto, Malaysia hosted the most number of Filipinos behind bars, with 2,236, mostly immigration cases as the country had launched a crackdown against undocumented aliens.

Next was China, including Hong Kong and Macau (345), followed by Saudi Arabia (277), USA (208), Italy (97), United Arab Emirates (75), Kuwait (72), Japan (59), Peru (37) and Qatar (34).

As to sex, at least 476 of the Filipinos imprisoned abroad were female and 865 were male, Recto said. The gender of the 2,391 was not indicated in the reports filed by the country's 60 embassies and 20 consulates abroad.

It was the reports of these diplomatic posts which were later collated into a 732-page "Status of OFWs Report" which the Department of Foreign Affairs submitted to the Senate last June.

"Overall, 7,601 Filipinos, including those already in jail, were in trouble with their host country's law as of Dec. 31, 2012. If some of them will be convicted, the number of Filipinos in jails abroad will rise," he said.

As to the nature of the cases Filipinos were facing, one-third, or 2,236, were work disputes or immigration-related, Recto said.

"What is worrisome is the number two cause, which is the possession or trafficking of illegal drugs. This accounted for 646 cases. In fact, most of those in death row were there because of drugs," Recto said.

"One consulate alone, Shanghai, reported that they were monitoring the cases of 32 Filipinos who were either in the dock or already in jail serving sentences for heroine smuggling," Recto said.

It is because of drugs that 3 Filipinos were in jail high up in the Andes in Peru, he said.

Next to drug cases were those lumped up by the DFA as "morality cases", which was responsible for the haling to the court or the hauling off to jail of 510 Filipinos.

Running afoul with local customs sent 151 men and 11 women in Saudi Arabia and Qatar to the slammer. Their violation: drinking alcohol. Six women in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, on the other hand, were facing "witchcraft" charges, according to the DFA report cited by Recto.

Other cases were theft (297), murder and homicide (114), fraud (105). However, diplomatic posts failed to specify the nature of 3,446 cases.

Recto said the DFA report also bared the continuing scourge of illegal recruitment and human trafficking.

"In the Middle East and Africa alone, 2,013 of these cases were reported from June to December last year," Recto said.

"The dispersal of Filipinos worldwide has also resulted in the incarceration of a many them. Some of those who have joined the great Filipino Diaspora never found their own Promised Land," Recto said.

Recto said a reading of the DFA's 'OFW situationer' "would bring one to places, some with exotic sounding names, where you wouldn't imagine that a Filipino would land in a jail there."

Because of the rising number of OFWs in jail, Recto called for the augmentation of the "Assistance-to-National Fund".

Under the proposed 2014 budget of the DFA, the said fund will increase to P300 million from P150 million this year. "But this is still a drop in the bucket compared to the P 1 trillion that OFWs are forecast to remit this year," Recto said.

Last year, overseas Filipinos funneled back $21.4 billion through formal channels.

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