Bangkok (The Nation/ANN) - On orders of Philippine Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) is exerting its "best efforts" for the commutation of over 80 death-penalty cases involving overseas Filipino workers (OFWs).
These include high-level representations for clemency with the jailed OFWs' host governments, according to DFA spokesman Raul Hernandez.
Del Rosario has also called for legal and consular assistance to more than 610 Philippine nationals jailed abroad for allegedly acting as couriers of international drug syndicates.
"With best efforts, Secretary Del Rosario meant the Philippine government would extend all possible consular and legal assistance to Filipinos overseas who have problems with the law in their host countries, including high-level representations with concerned government authorities for the commutation of their sentence," Hernandez told the Philippine Daily Inquirer on Sunday.
For Vice President Jejomar Binay, also presidential adviser on OFW concerns, "it is the government's obligation to extend help to OFWs in distress."
"For those facing the death penalty, all efforts should be exhausted," Binay said in a statement.
Joey Salgado, Binay's media officer, said the vice president has been working closely with the DFA's office of migrant workers' affairs on the issue.
Binay "is updated on a regular basis on the status of these cases. The Vice President takes into consideration the merits of the case, the situation of the OFW concerned and the laws of the host country," Salgado said.
In the Middle East alone, at least 27 OFWs, including four women, are facing the death penalty.
"Most of them are jailed on murder charges," Hernandez said.
In Malaysia, six Filipinos, including a woman, are on death row. "Five of them are drug-related cases," said Hernandez.
In Indonesia, a Filipina is facing the death penalty for allegedly working as a "mule" for a drug syndicate.
In China, over 70 Philippine nationals are on death row, including 42 involved in drug-related cases.
But they have been given two-year reprieves, which the DFA said were "equivalent to life imprisonment."
Under Chinese law, smuggling more than 50 grammes of heroin or other illegal drugs carries the death penalty.
On December 8, China executed a 35-year-old man convicted of drug trafficking, the fourth national from the Philippines to be put to death for peddling dangerous drugs by the world's most prolific executioner.
Hours before he received lethal injection, the Filipino ¿ who was not identified at the request of his family in a Bataan town ¿ was allowed to meet briefly with his two siblings and two cousins, who traveled to south China's Guangxi province, where the execution was carried out.
The man was arrested in 2008 at Guilin International Airport while trying to smuggle in 1.5 kilogrammes of heroin from Malaysia.
There were originally six death-penalty convictions without reprieves, which reached the Supreme People's Court in Beijing.
Three of these convictions, which were eventually affirmed by China's highest court, involved Ramon Credo, Sally Villanueva and Elizabeth Batain.
On the other hand, the penalties in two of the six convictions were lowered by the high court from death penalty without reprieve to death penalty with two-year reprieves.
Under Chinese law, the original verdict may be commuted to life imprisonment if the prisoner displays good behavior while in jail.
Del Rosario earlier told a media forum that "to prevent the further victimisation of our Filipinos as drug mules, we are coordinating with law-enforcement agencies in the Philippines and abroad for a more intensified crackdown on drug-trafficking syndicates."
"To curb, if not totally eliminate drug trafficking, we also support the vision of a drug-free Association of Southeast Asian Nations through the effective control of illicit drug activities. We are at the forefront in lobbying for the full and effective implementation of the Asean Work Plan on Combating Illicit Drug Production, Trafficking and Use for 2009 to 2015," he said.
Sometime in early 2011, the DFA launched an intensified campaign against international drug syndicates using OFWs and other Filipino travelers as couriers.
The foreign office has repeatedly appealed to Filipinos traveling abroad "not to allow themselves to be unwitting or willing victims of international drug syndicates."
It noted, "At the end of the day, we should take responsibility for our own actions, and at the very least, be always on guard against inducement...Refrain from bringing any package for others, even supposed new employers or friends."
The DFA emphasised that "no amount of money can ever justify taking the risks involved in breaking the law."
It also stressed that "vigilance is the first major step in combating the modus operandi of international drug traffickers" as it also urged Filipino travelers to "be alert at all times."