"Sorry if I keep on following the status of my brother. It's been more than a month already that we don't hear any news about him," said the sister of an overseas Filipino worker (OFW) who had been detained in Saudi for 1 ½ years for 1-M Saudi riyals embezzlement case which he denied vehemently.
She sent an electronic mail on Tuesday to Migrante-Middle East regional coordinator John Leonard Monterona asking for an update on the status of his brother's case.
Her brother, Juancho de Castro, 50, from Tanay, Rizal, has been in detention in Dammam Reformatory Jail since November 10, 2009 due to alleged embezzlement of 1-M Saudi riyals (equivalent to about P11.5-M) as charged by his employer. He worked as a warehouse manager for a Ready-mix concrete company in Dammam, eastern region of Saudi Arabia.
"According to his family, OFW de Castro worked hard in the company for more than 15 years and had been promoted thus he became a warehouse manager, a proof that he was an exemplary worker," Monterona added.
Monterona said months prior to his detention, he had submitted his resignation and stated that he will stay for good in the Philippines. He categorically stated on his resignation letter that he would like the company to arrange his entitlement including his end of service benefit (ESB) which amount is nearly 1-M SR. as per his calculation before his departure.
"According to OFW de Castro his employer rejected his resignation and got angry with him. He just learned later that the company filed an embezzlement case against him after conducting an 'audit' of its warehouse," Monterona added.
Monterona said yesterday he had spoken with an official of the PH embassy-Assistance to the Nationals about OFW de Castro case confirming that they have sent letters requesting for quotation to various law firms here in Saudi for the legal services and assistance to be provided to him.
"Unfortunately, I was told at present no one replied and no quotation was received. The official said they have verbally pursued the request for a quotation for legal services but no law firms have signified their intent," he continued.
Legal service on retention basis -economical and efficient
At present, Philippine diplomatic posts in the Middle East would only hire the services of a local lawyer or a law firm on case to case basis, and only upon the approval by the Department of Foreign Affairs-Office of the Undersecretary for Migrant Workers Affairs (OUMWA).
As a requirement for granting the legal assistance for distress OFWs with cases, the DFA-OUMWA would normally require the concerned PH post to submit 3 quotations from 3 local law firms. Upon review of the quotations, it would only then decide to hire the services of one of the 3 local law firms, on a single case basis.
"We have noticed for instance that the PH posts in Saudi Arabia, UAE, Bahrain, and Qatar, among others, do not have an on-call service of a local lawyer or law firm, hence accused OFWs have been left alone in court during case hearings," Monterona added.
Monterona noted that not all distress OFWs with cases in court for various offenses or as victims, will have the opportunity to be properly represented in court in the absence of the services of a local lawyer who could attend case hearings and represent the distress OFWs in court and in other government judicial bodies.
"It is on the best interest of OFWs that they will be properly represented in court during case hearings. We are urging the DFA-OUMWA to consider the hiring a local law firm on a retention contract basis, let us say good for three to 6 years that can be renewed, so that there is a continuity of providing legal assistance to OFWs in distress," Monterona concluded.