Senator Chiz Escudero is urging the Philippine government to initiate a prisoner exchange treaties with countries hosting overseas Filipino workers (OFWs).
Escudero, chairman of the Senate committee on justice and human rights, reiterated this call in the light of the case of Ramon Credo, Sally Villanueva and Elizabeth Batain – Filipinos condemned to die for drug trafficking in China. Their executions were temporarily suspended after China’s Supreme Court extended a “special arrangement” regarding their cases.
The senator said the government could work out a prisoner-exchange arrangement with other countries similar to the RP-Spain Transfer of Sentenced Persons Agreement, which aims to ensure the effective reformation and rehabilitation of Filipinos serving sentences in Spain since they will be afforded the opportunity to serve their sentences in the Philippines.
“We have OFWs serving long sentences and are awaiting death sentences in countries where no family can visit them. This is already a scourge to both the convicted and their families. The anguish of not being able to talk to or see their families forever is already a sentence that amounts to death,” Escudero said.
Escudero said the prisoner-exchange agreement should be pursued through the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) by way of a bilateral treaty.
The senator also said that the agreement should not be on a quid-pro-quo-basis, which means that all prisoners should be transferred to their country of origin regardless of the number of foreign nationals in Philippine prisons.
“We should pursue this treaty especially since we have more citizens in foreign jails rather than the other way around. We pursue this move not because we condone their deeds but because it is the government’s duty to look after the welfare of its citizens no matter if they are guilty or not,” Escudero said. “Let all available remedies and steps be exhausted to afford our fellows the services of their government.”
Records from the DFA show that there are more than 3,000 Filipinos abroad who are either in detention or facing criminal prosecution. Of these, 70 percent are embroiled in immigration-related offenses and will be deported after serving brief sentences. The rest are in custody for crimes such as theft and drug trafficking.
In China, 78 Filipinos are convicted for drug charges and awaiting death sentences.
The Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency has recorded 630 Filipinos currently serving jail sentences worldwide for transporting drugs, mostly as mules for drug lords. Sixty-two percent of this number are female.#