Shades of Sarah
As of last month, per the records of the Department of Foreign Affairs, 88 overseas Filipino workers are on death row in a number of countries for various crimes, mostly murder and illegal drugs. Saudi Arabia has 28, Malaysia 34, China 21, the United States two, Vietnam two, Kuwait one, Indonesia one (the celebrated case of Mary Jane Veloso, whose execution was stayed at the last minute by the Indonesian government), and Thailand one.
That number now goes up to 89 with another Filipino having been sentenced to death, this time in the United Arab Emirates, for allegedly killing her employer. Jennifer Dalquez, 28, reportedly stabbed her employer last Dec. 7 after the latter attempted to rape her at knifepoint. She was arrested five days later, and was meted the death penalty by a trial court last May 20.
Dalquez, according to her family based in General Santos City, had been working in the UAE since 2011, and was scheduled to return home in January. The DFA says it has extended all help to her, and will continue to do so as she appeals her sentence.
Another day, another OFW in peril. The DFA should ensure that, this time, Dalquez gets the best legal and professional help every step of the way to be able to present a thorough defense of her case. It’s been only weeks since Veloso’s reprieve in Indonesia, and the DFA should now have learned its lesson from the belated revelation of deficiencies, even instances of neglect, in its handling of her case.
Notably, Veloso’s parents have claimed that no DFA representative was present at the beginning of her trial for drug smuggling; she was represented by a pro bono Indonesian lawyer appointed by the court, and the interpreter tasked to help her was only a student at a local foreign language school. Veloso was apprehended in Yogyakarta airport in April 2010; the prosecutors had only asked for life imprisonment, but the court sentenced her to death. The Aquino administration, based on the timeline it has provided, claims to have unceasingly if quietly worked on her case by filing several appeals with the Indonesian government, all the way to its Supreme Court, which also upheld the verdict. But cause-oriented groups say the government was remiss in many instances, from neglecting to arrest Veloso’s illegal recruiter immediately to buttress the case of human trafficking that could have been used to defend her (and that became, indeed, Indonesia’s rationale for staying her execution), to the years-long runaround that her parents claim they were subjected to at the DFA as they repeatedly sought help for their incarcerated daughter.
It’s worth noting that before Veloso was arrested in Indonesia for alleged drug smuggling, she had first worked in Dubai as a domestic helper, until she had to flee and return to Manila when her employer reportedly tried to rape her. In this, Veloso and Dalquez, and Sarah Balabagan before them, share the common ordeal of often barely educated Filipino women forced by poverty to seek work abroad, where they are preyed upon, if not by illegal recruiters, then by employers who take advantage of their helplessness in a foreign land.
Dalquez’s case, in fact, bears uncanny similarities to Balabagan’s. A Muslim from Maguindanao, Balabagan was a minor who lied about her age to obtain employment as a maid in the UAE. In July 1994, she stabbed her employer 34 times because, she said, the man wanted to rape her. She was first convicted of manslaughter and sentenced to seven years’ imprisonment plus the payment of blood money to the slain man’s family. But a higher court convicted her of murder and sentenced her to die by firing squad. As in Veloso’s case, her then-impending execution prompted frantic last-minute negotiations by the Philippine government, helped along by international outrage at perceived oppressive conditions of foreign workers, especially women, in the Middle East.
Balabagan’s sentence was eventually commuted. Incidentally, Al Ain, the UAE town where she worked, is where Dalquez also ended up; it was the Al Ain trial court that meted her the death penalty. If the parallels between these two cases hold true some more, then perhaps Dalquez can hope for some form of relief. But that hope rests squarely on how the DFA and the Philippine government will handle her case. Balabagan’s is a precedent case; her employer’s family agreed to waive execution in exchange for blood money and 20 lashes. The DFA should exhaust all options to save Dalquez from death.
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