During an interview on DZRH given on Wednesday, September 23, Senator Christopher “Bong” Go spoke with overseas Filipino worker Rose Policarpio who had just returned to the country after being acquitted of murder in Saudi Arabia.
During their exchange, Policarpio thanked Go for extending assistance and support to help her restart her life. She also expressed her gratitude to the Department of Foreign Affairs, Overseas Workers Welfare Administration and Department of Social Welfare and Development for helping secure her release and assisting her when she came back to the country.
“Una sa lahat, nagpapasalamat po ako sa taas, sa buong gobyerno po, sa Philippine Embassy lalo na po sa Riyadh kay Ambassador Alonto po, sa lahat po ng tumulong. Hindi po nila ako tinigilan hanggang makarating po ako dito sa Pilipinas, kaya maraming, maraming salamat po, Senator Bong Go,” said Policarpio.
The Senator insisted that he was merely doing his job as a public servant. He encouraged Policarpio to come to him if she needs more assistance, such as securing employment and called on all concerned agencies to extend to her other forms of support the government could provide.
“Trabaho namin ‘yan, Rose. Kami po’y nagagalak at natutuwa na nakauwi ka na. Ang importante po ay safe kang nakauwi rito sa ating bansa at kung anuman po ang pwede naming magawa pa para sa ‘yo at maitulong po, magsabi lang po kayo,” said Go.
“Ang opisina ko, mayroon pong konting tulong na ibibigay sa ‘yo at papakiusapan ko rin po ‘yung ibang ahensya ng gobyerno kung ano pa ang pwedeng maitulong sa ‘yo. Kung saka-sakaling gusto mong magtrabaho rito ay tutulong kami at hahanapan ka namin,” he continued.
Policarpio, then 31, had flown to Saudi Arabia in 2013 to work as a food server but then turned to work as a domestic helper. Three men broke into her employer’s house and killed the Lebanese woman. Policarpio claimed she fled the scene of the crime because the perpetrators attempted to rape her. Based on the official police report, Policarpio had gone to the police and reported the incident. However, she was arrested and jailed instead.
Policarpio was incarcerated for six years and was finally released on January 2019, after she was found innocent of any crime. According to Philippine Ambassador to Saudi Arabia Adnan Alonto, Policarpio would have faced the death penalty had she been convicted. She finally flew back from Riyadh on September 21, 2020 and arrived in the Philippines on September 22.
Throughout the ordeal, the DFA’s Office of the Undersecretary for Migrant Workers’ Affairs, through the help of the Philippine Embassy in Riyadh, worked closely and made strong representations on her behalf. Their timely legal assistance ensured her rights were protected under Saudi laws.
During the interview, Go expressed concern that there remained many cases similar to Policarpio. His office alone is presently monitoring death penalty cases and other calls for help from Filipinos abroad.
He recalled a similar case he had personally helped which involved an OFW who had been convicted of murder in Bahrain. Roderick Aguinaldo was imprisoned for four years before he received a royal pardon from the Bahraini government. Aguinaldo returned home to the Philippines last June 7.
Go lamented that while there are specific government programs that provide assistance (e.g. legal counsel and psychosocial counseling) to distressed OFWs, they are scattered across various national agencies.
For this reason, the Senator is pushing for the creation of a department which shall bring together these agencies and be entirely dedicated to handling the affairs of overseas Filipinos. In 2019, he filed Senate Bill No. 202 which sought to create this department. A second iteration, SBN 1835, was recently filed which takes into consideration inputs from concerned executive agencies.
The proposed Department of Overseas Filipinos shall assume the functions of DFA-OUMWA, the Commission on Overseas Filipinos, all Philippine Overseas Labor Offices under the Department of Labor and Employment, the International Labor Affairs Bureau under DOLE, and International Social Services Office of the DSWD.
It will also exercise administrative supervision over the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration and OWWA which shall be attached to the department.
“Ang importante po dito, ‘wag na nating tagalan. Katulad po ng nangyari ngayong pandemya, kung meron tayong isang departamentong nakatutok, ‘yung cabinet level po na tututok talaga sa kanila,” said Go.
“Alam mo, ang dami pong OFWs ang nagsiuwian, hindi lang po katulad ni Rose, ‘yung mga umuwi po dahil sa tinamaan nitong pandemic. So uuwi sila, mananawagan sa Facebook, mananawagan sa radyo, kahit saan lang po sila hihingi ng tulong. Minsan ang nag-aasikaso OWWA, minsan ang nag-aasikaso POEA, DFA, DOLE, iba’t ibang ahensya. Panahon na po siguro na isang departamento, ‘yun lang po ang tatawagan nila at makikipag coordinate.”
“Magmalasakit po tayo sa mga kababayan nating naghihirap at nangangailangan ng tulong kahit asan man sila sa mundo. Huwag po natin silang pabayaan. Bigyan natin sila ng mabilis, maayos at maaasahang serbisyo. Importante ang buhay ng bawat Pilipino,” he reiterated.