MANILA – Senator Francis “Chiz” Escudero has urged the Department of Migrant Workers (DMW) to pursue treaties that would allow convicted Filipinos abroad to serve their prison term in the Philippines.
In his interpellation during the 2024 proposed budget of the DMW on Monday, Escudero emphasized the need to prioritize this undertaking in the DMW agenda "in the spirit of giving second chances" to our convicted countrymen or even those classified as "detention prisoners."
To date, the DMW said there are some 1,254 overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) in prison broken down as follows: 293 in Asia-Pacific; seven in Europe; and 954 in the Middle East.
"I remember when there was a Spanish national in the Philippines who was imprisoned for allegedly killing someone in Cebu, and the very first thing Spain did was to negotiate and try to enter into a treaty with the Philippines with respect to prisoner exchange," Escudero told his colleagues at the Senate floor.
He was referring to the case of Francisco "Paco" Larrañaga in Cebu involving the abduction of sisters Marijoy and Jacqueline Chiong on July 16, 1997 outside Ayala Center. The sensational case became known as the "trial of the decade" in the Visayas due to the prominence of the suspects, including Larrañaga, whose mother was a cousin of the late Cebu governor Emilio Osmeña.
The case, Escudero noted, prompted the Spanish government to have the Treaty of Sentenced Persons Agreement (TSPA) signed between the Philippines and Spain on May 18, 2007 that was also ratified in the same year by the Senate.
"Given that we have so many OFWs, whose victims may be a fellow Filipino working abroad or a foreign national, wouldn't it be an opportune time for the Philippines to have been doing this similar thing?" Escudero asked.
The TSPA with Spain paved the way for the Philippines to have similar agreements with the United Kingdom, Thailand and Hong Kong.
The treaty allows individuals sentenced in another country to opt to serve their prison term in their native country.
"It would be a different matter for us to succeed or get that treaty, your Honor. But at the very least, we should pursue it lalo na sa (especially in the) Middle East and Southeast Asia where we have a huge number of Filipinos,” he said.
"If an OFW is convicted, let us say to suffer the penalty of 30-year incarceration in Saudi Arabia for example, and the family is poor, the next time they see each other will be 30 years after already because I doubt if the family can visit him every year and spend that much to travel. And they are not even sure if they can see the convicted relative whenever they do visit that place," he added.
Escudero recalled that during last year's budget deliberation, he had brought the subject matter to then Migrant Workers Secretary Susan Ople, who committed to work on it.
"I think in the spirit of giving second chances and enabling our Filipino compatriots who have been convicted in a foreign land justly or unjustly, for this to be pursued through the DMW and the DFA. I asked this during the previous deliberation with the late Secretary Ople who committed to do this," he said. (PNA)