Philippines urges adequate access to legal assistance for migrant workers

Manila: Labour Secretary Rosalinda Baldoz said receiving states have an obligation to provide migrant workers with adequate access to the legal assistance as she urged joint action by Asean countries to combat human trafficking.

In a speech read on her behalf by Labour Undersecretary Reydeluz Conferido before 11th Senior Labour Officials Meeting (SLOM) of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) this Saturday in Mataram, Indonesia; Baldoz said receiving states have a duty to “provide migrant workers, who may be victims of discrimination, abuse, exploitation, or violence, with adequate access to the legal and judicial systems of the receiving states.”

“As stipulated in the ASEAN Declaration, receiving states and the sending states shall, for humanitarian reasons, closely cooperate to resolve the cases of migrant workers who, through no fault of their own, have subsequently become undocumented,” Baldoz said.

Although Baldoz did not mention it in the speech read on her behalf by Conferido, the same premise was used by the Philippines and Indonesian governments in handling the case involving Mary Jane Veloso, a 30 year-old Filipina convicted in 2010 for smuggling drugs into Indonesia.

Veloso’s case was cast in the spotlight recently after she was given a reprieve last April 28 on a death sentence issued against her by the Indonesian government.

Her lawyers claimed she had been a victim of human trafficking and her recruiters, Filipino couple Maria Cristina Sergio and Julius Lacanilao, had conspired to turn her into a drug courier.

Veloso reportedly had tried to enter Indonesia after Sergio and Lacanilao facilitated her travel. Indonesian authorities said she tried to smuggle 2.7kg of heroin at the airport.

Baldoz said that in order to prevent similar cases like that involving Velozo, joint action among ASEAN member countries is necessary.

“Asean authorities need to have practical procedures and protocols for dealing with the reality of migrants who have become undocumented through no fault of their own,” Baldoz said.

Asean countries, particularly the Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand, share the common scourge of drug smuggling. These countries also share the common concern on human trafficking and sometimes, apprehended trafficking victims also turn out to be drug smugglers as in the case of Veloso.

Baldoz observed that a purely legalistic response from ASEAN counties on combating human trafficking and drug menace may not offer effective solutions to migration problems. She said there is a need for coordinating mechanism between member countries that will enable various government agencies to discharge their respective roles in the concerted pursuit for justice.

Formed in the late 1960s from an initial five members — the Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand and Singapore, the regional bloc now includes 10 members including Brunei, Laos, Myanmar, Cambodia and Vietnam. –GILBERT P. FELONGCO, CORRESPONDENT, Gulf news