x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Group calls for Philippines to offer legal aid to migrants

A migrant rights group says the case of a Filipino sentenced to 10 years for drug possession underscores the need for the Philippine government to provide free legal assistance.

DUBAI // A migrant rights group says the case of a Filipino sentenced to 10 years for drug possession underscores the need for the Philippine government to provide free legal assistance to workers who need it. On Sunday, the Dubai Court of Appeal upheld the verdict of the lower court in sentencing the man, GFR, 34, to prison and deportation. The court also fined him Dh50,000 (US$14,000). He was convicted of possessing banned narcotics that he claimed were grape seeds.

"If there was no legal assistance provided by the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA), then this is condemnable," said John Leonard Monterona, the Middle East co-ordinator for Migrante, an organisation set up to protect the welfare of Filipino migrants. He said the consulate should have "contacted the wife and offered legal service and assistance to the victim, as their primary duty dictates them to do so".

"We maintain our demand ... that the DFA, through the Philippine diplomatic post, should automatically arrange and provide legal assistance to accused [workers] to ensure their rights and well-being are protected and that they have a fair and just trial," he said. Nhel Morona, the secretary general of the UAE branch of Migrante, said he had contacted GFR's wife but she would not provide any updates on the case.

GFR is entitled to appeal to the Dubai Court of Cassation within 30 days. Edwin Gil Mendoza, the vice consul at the Philippine Consulate in Dubai, said the upheld sentence was unfortunate. He said a defence lawyer was arranged by GFR's wife, and that the two would meet this week. "I've spoken to the lawyer earlier and he had discussed some strategies," Mr Mendoza said. He added that the consulate has ensured that an officer from the assistance to nationals section was present at hearings. The consulate also wrote to the foreign affairs department in Manila requesting a legal assistance fund for GFR.

Ahmed Bajunaid, the head of the assistance to nationals section at the consulate, said they were closely monitoring the case and had contacted a top official from the Dubai Public Prosecution about the case. He said in June: "We sent a letter to the Dubai Public Prosecution ... requesting for a reduced sentence and deportation." rruiz@thenational.ae