Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Call for Transparency and an Audit of all Filipino Migrant Workers on Death Row or Languishing in Prison Abroad.


Call for Transparency and an Audit of all Filipino Migrant Workers on Death Row or Languishing in Prison Abroad.

Jakatia Pawa, a domestic worker from Zamboanga lost her life today when she was executed in Kuwait for allegedly stabbing her employer's 22-year-old daughter whilst she slept on May 14, 2007. Kanlungan offers our condolences to her family, especially her two children (aged 18 and 16) who have lost their mother in this cruel and inhuman way.

The notification of the scheduled execution was only published on the day eliminating any last intervention and inhumanely preventing a final goodbye with her family in person. She informed her family the day before by telephone. No one’s life should end in such a torturous manner.

Since 1989, Kanlungan have handled many legal cases involving migrant workers who faced or were executed overseas such as the cases of Flor Contemplacion, Sarah Demetera and Sarah Balabagan.

It’s common for serious doubt and sometimes evidence challenging their guilt to come to light. Jakatia professed her innocence since the day she was arrested in 2007. She argued the victim’s family members had a stronger motive to kill her because of an alleged illicit love affair with a male neighbour. Philippine Senator Cynthia Villar reported that the DNA found on the murder weapon did not match that of Jakatia. The death penalty is wrong given it is an irreversible punishment - the risk of executing an innocent person can never be eliminated.  

Migrant workers face discrimination in societies and in the justice systems, thus are more likely to be sentenced to death in unjust circumstances.  There have been cases where migrant workers with mental health problems were unfairly executed. Extenuating circumstances such as migrant workers being subjected to physical, sexual and emotional abuse by their employer are very rarely considered. Scapegoating migrants for the crimes of their employer’s family members is common. This is compounded by the many well-documented obstacles to access to justice for migrant workers, which remain due to lack of commitment and political will to overcome them.

We have observed that the lack of legal assistance or delayed assistance from the state that resulted in either death or prolonged incarceration of our fellow compatriots.  Sometimes the lack of concern and support from embassy officials, recruitment agencies and even their own families aggravates the situation. Blaming the victim and lack of empathy also exacerbates the suffering of migrant workers.

Access to justice of migrant workers should not only be limited to court legal assistance and raising “blood money”, as we have experienced in the case of Sarah Dematera. A holistic approach in handling legal cases should be adopted that includes other interventions such as psychosocial counseling and welfare assistance and also a much quicker response to realise the rights of the migrants and their families.

Apart from the people appallingly condemned to death, many hundreds if not thousands of migrant workers are also suffering and waiting for justice; such as the men in Saudi Arabia hoping that the courts will ensure they are paid their long overdue salaries and end of service benefits - rather than them joining the many who have experienced wage theft with state complicity.

It is important to remember that Jakatia Pawa’s tragic story did not begin with her legal case. Like many others it is grounded in the root causes of why Filipinos seek employment in countries abroad. In the case of Jakatia Pawa, she was underemployed overseas as a domestic worker holding a bachelors degree in banking and finance. It’s time to end the Philippines aggressive labour export regime and develop an economy with shared prosperity and equal opportunity for all.

We must guard against any normalisation of a culture of violence experienced by migrant workers whether its verbal and physical abuse or sexual and gender based violence or violation of their right to life.

As 88 people from the Philippines (and numerous others) currently face the death penalty worldwide: we call for all countries that still use the death penalty to immediately halt all executions and commute all death sentences to prison sentences. It is a timely reminder of why the death penalty should not be passed here in the Philippines.

We hope that Jakatia Pawa’s cruel death will be the last.

Kanlungan Centre Foundation, Inc.
77 K-10 Street, East Kamias, Quezon City
Email: kanlungan2008@gmail.com