JEDDAH, 25 January 2007 — After spending up to four years in a local jail, three out of four Filipino workers charged and convicted in 2002 are set to be released. They were charged with stealing equipment from their employer and sentenced to a year and also a year and half in prison — not four. Their employer has dropped the charges and a judge signed their release papers on Sunday, according to copies of official documents obtained by Arab News.
Three of the workers (Manuel Fernandez, Julian Camat and Milo Ramos) were sentenced to one year and a half and the fourth (Napoleon Abdullah Fabregas), a Muslim convert, was sentenced to only one year in jail despite the fact that all four were charged with the same crime. Fernandez was released last month after signing a waiver of claims from the company.
The four workers were charged with “stealing laptops” worth over SR100,000 in December of 2002 while they were working as cargo handlers at King Abdul Aziz International Airport in Jeddah. Despite completing their sentence three and a half years ago, they still remain in Briman Prison.
Independent human rights activist, and former member of the National Commission for Human Rights, Abdullah Sabig, told Arab News that the four Filipinos remained in jail after completing their sentences because of a series of legal mistakes and lapses. Sabig provided the four with assistance after the Philippine government agreed for him to translate for the men in court.
The human rights activist said that the first mistake made by the court was that the men were not informed of the proceedings every step of the way in writing and in a language that they understood. Second, he said the court issued a civil verdict and never issued a verdict on the private case filed by their employer for the losses incurred by the theft of the laptops.
According to sources, Gabriel Ocampo, another Filipino who was thought to have implicated the four, disappeared when police belatedly went looking for him.
In an interview by phone last night from his jail cell, Fabregas told Arab News that their release was being delayed by their refusal to sign a statement of apology and waiver of claims such as the one signed by Fernandez.
“I and my family have already suffered so much for something I did not do. Why should I apologize,” asked Fabregas, who is hoping his employer will pay his end-of-service benefits (ESB) for 18 years of service.
Fabregas said he was elated that he had been cleared by the court of wrongdoing.
Milo Ramos, in a message relayed to Arab News by the group OFW-SOS, which helps distressed Filipinos in the Kingdom, said he had also refused to sign any apology or waiver because “my conscience is clear.”
“That letter of our company saying we were caught in the act of stealing valuable items by the airport police is a falsehood. They don’t even have evidence to show,” he said.
“They are saying one van of computers disappeared. How could we possibly have done that?” he said.
On Monday, Sabig met with Philippine Foreign Undersecretary Rafael Seguis, Ambassador Antonio Villamor, and Consul General Pendosino Lomondot.
Sabig, a retired officer of the Saudi Air Force, said he discussed the case of the four workers with them and told them that he planned to file a case against the authorities on the workers’ behalf for wrongful imprisonment.