Sunday, December 12, 2010

OFW rues rape, jail sentence, then alleges embassy of neglect

After spending 10 months in a Saudi Arabian prison, suffering a miscarriage behind bars, and enduring 150 lashes for acts of immorality which she maintains she never committed, overseas Filipino worker Clarissa (not her real name) has finally come home.

Clarissa arrived Thursday in the Philippines after serving her sentence for “immorality" for getting pregnant out of wedlock, a crime under Shari’ah law. Married with three kids, she was accused of having had an illicit affair with a co-worker.

However, Clarissa claims she was raped and that Philippine embassy officials in Riyadh not only refused to believe her, but also tricked her.

Sabi nila mas madali akong mapapauwi kapag umamin ako (They said I could get home sooner if I confessed to the crime)," she told GMANews.TV in a phone interview.

Gulung-gulo ako noon at gusto ko na talagang makauwi matapos ang nangyari sa akin, kaya um-oo na lang ako sa lahat ng sinabi nila (I was very confused and just wanted to go home after what had happened to me, so I agreed to everything they said.)," she added.

Arrested after reporting rape

On May 15, 2009, Clarissa began working as a janitress in Hafer al Batin, a city 480 kilometers from Riyadh in Saudi Arabia.

In September 2009, her family found out that she had been jailed for supposedly having an illicit affair with a Bangladeshi co-worker whom, she contends however, had raped her.

When she reported the rape to her employer, instead of getting help, she was turned over to the police, charged with immorality, and sent to jail where she had a miscarriage.

Clarissa claims all throughout her 10-month ordeal, she never received any assistance. Not from the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) nor from the Philippine embassy.

Mag-isa akong humarap sa korte. Wala akong lawyer o interpreter. Mag-isa kong dinepensahan ang sarili ko (I faced the court alone. I had no lawyer or interpreter. I defended myself by myself)," Clarissa lamented.

DFA: We assisted her

In a Sunday press release, however, the DFA said that Philippine embassy officers in Riyadh provided her assistance during her trial, and visited her regularly as she was serving her sentence.

"The Philippine Embassy in Riyadh provided full assistance at all stages of [Clarissa’s] trial and incarceration, and also made continuous representations with Saudi authorities for her early repatriation," DFA Undersecretary for Migrant Workers Affairs Esteban Conejos Jr. said in the article on the DFA website.

“There is no basis for the allegation that there was negligence on the part of the Embassy," he claimed.

But Clarissa maintained, “Twice lang may dumalaw sa akin (Only twice did embassy personnel visit me)."

Pero pagdating ng mga hearing, wala akong kasama maliban sa escort ko mula sa jail. Sariling sikap lang lahat (But during the court hearings, nobody but the jail escort accompanied me. I was left to fend for myself)," she said.

Clarissa’s mother supported her claims in an interview with GMANews.TV.

Pumunta ako sa DFA para humingi ng tulong pero sabi nila, ‘yung mga bibitayin lang daw ang pwedeng mabigyan ng legal assistance (I went to the DFA to ask for help, but they told me only those on death row are given legal assistance)," Clarissa’s mother explained.

The DFA denied this as Conejos countered: “Our embassies and consulates provide legal assistance to all Filipinos facing criminal charges, whether or not the charges carry capital punishment."

Still jailed after serving sentence

Clarissa served her 10-month sentence in full in August, but instead of being deported, she was sent back to jail purportedly because she had no repatriation ticket.

Clarissa’s mother said the DFA had called to say that Clarissa was scheduled to come home on August 27, but she never arrived at the airport where her family had waited for her all night.

Two days after, tumawag ulit ang DFA, miscommunication raw at pasensya na (The DFA called back to apologize for the miscommunication)," Clarissa’s mother said.

Clarissa would later on call her family to tell them was not deported but transferred to the Dammam Central Jail, where she spent 47 more days. No one has explained to Clarissa or her family why this happened.

But the DFA said that Clarissa was imprisoned after getting pregnant out of wedlock.

“While she initially alleged she was a victim of rape, she was found to have had an affair with a Bangladeshi co-worker," the DFA said.

Hindi ‘yan magagawa ng anak ko. Kilala ko siya. Gustong-gusto niyang magsalita pero walang gustong makinig sa kanya (I know my daughter would never do that. She wanted speak in her defense but no one would listen)," Clarissa’s mother maintained.

‘Heads must roll’

Migrante International, an advocacy group for overseas Filipino workers has demanded that DFA and embassy officials be sacked for not responding appropriately to Clarissa’s plight.

Grabe ang pinagdaanan ng ating kababayan sa ibang bansa. Kahit sino ay hindi dapat nakararanas ng ganitong klase ng inhustisya at kapabayaan mula sa ating gobyerno(What she went through abroad was too much. No one deserves to suffer this kind of injustice and neglect from our government)," said Migrante chairperson Garry Martinez said.

“Head must roll and officials should be held accountable," he said.

Martinez also urged the Aquino administration to immediately investigate the case and punish government officials who have failed to do their jobs. – DM/MRT, GMANews.TV

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