Saudi Arabia executed a Filipino domestic helper this week, the Philippine government announced Thursday, angering a migrant worker-rights advocacy group which demanded that Manila press Riyadh over the woman’s case.
The 39-year-old woman was not named in a press release issued by the Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs, which said was put to death on Jan. 29 after being convicted of murder.
“The Department regrets that it was not able to save the life of the Filipina after the Saudi Supreme Judicial Council classified her case as one in which blood money does not apply under Shariah law,” the department said.
It noted that the Philippine embassy to the Saudi kingdom had provided the woman with a lawyer during her trial, sent representatives to visit her in jail, and updated her family back home regularly about her case.
The announcement caught many by surprise, not least because it came a year after the Philippine government stood up against alleged abuses against Filipino workers in Kuwait, another oil-rich Arab state.
“We condole with the family, but we tried. We tried very hard to help,” presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo said Thursday.
Arman Hernando, leader of the advocacy group Migrante International, said the government should put pressure on the Saudi government to get answers about the case.
“The employer must be investigated for previous records of abusive misdeeds towards their former workers. If ever they are found culpable, then the employers must be charged and be blacklisted from hiring household workers,” Hernando said.
He said President Rodrigo Duterte had promised to make the welfare of overseas workers one of his top concerns but, in Hernando’s opinion, had done little to alleviate their plight.
The government issues angry words at times, Migrante International said, but this was “consistent” with passing the blame on the private sector rather than addressing the real problems.
“In short, the government’s labor export program treats Filipinos as commodities for export and OFW pockets as automated teller machines,” Hernando said, using the abbreviation for Overseas Filipino Workers.
“By the time OFWs get into trouble, as in the case of the executed 39-year-old domestic helper, they are left nameless and made to languish behind bars, unknown to their families until the day of their execution arrives,” he stressed.
Migrante challenges the government to “probe deeper” to find out what happened to the Filipina, whose execution came months after an Indonesian maid was also executed in Saudi Arabia for killing her employer who raped her.
Last year, the Philippines and Kuwait were locked in a bitter diplomatic row fueled by allegations of ill-treatment of Filipinos there. Kuwait had expelled Manila’s top envoy after the government was embarrassed when Filipino officials were filmed rescuing Filipino maids from homes there.
President Duterte was angered by the death of a Filipino maid whose body was found stuffed inside a freezer in an abandoned home in Kuwait.
Duterte ordered all 230,000-plus Filipino workers to return home, and slapped a deployment ban to Kuwait. But both countries later agreed to restore diplomatic ties, with Kuwait promising to improve its labor standards for Filipino maids.
Despite this, however, Migrante claimed that maltreatment of Filipino workers had continued. It said many domestic workers were subjected to dire conditions at work – including long hours, sleep deprivation, insufficient pay, lack of food among others.