Sustainability and the act of saving lives

If you have the power to save a life, would you do it? Or do you set a limit on how much time, effort, and money you are willing to set aside before you even decide to act?

That is the crux of the matter involving the creation of a technical working group to study what the administration’s policy should be when it comes to blood money involving overseas Filipino workers on death row.

The decision of the Office of the President to create a technical working group to study and create guidelines on cases involving blood money stemmed from unusually high amounts being required by aggrieved families. The Department of Foreign Affairs have raised the issue of sustainability in relation to requests for blood money.

But first, a definition of terms.

Qisas is a principle under the Shari’a or Islamic law that makes the actual perpetrator of a crime alone guilty, and alone liable to punishment. The punishment must be the exact equivalent of the crime, i.e. tooth for a tooth, life for a life. [5:45, The Holy Qur’an]

However, in consideration of the priceless value of human life, the Islamic law explicitly recommends the substitution of compensation on another plane — through the so-called “diyyah” or blood money compensation for the victim’s mandatory heirs.

Upon the acceptance of “diyyah”, a letter of forgiveness or “tanazul” is issued by the victim’s mandatory heirs.

Once the “tanazul” is issued, the private aspects of the case iareextinguished, and what is left is the public rights aspect of the case which can be waived by the King or Emir (head of state).

Without a “tanazul”, the King (in Saudi Arabia’s case) will never issue pardon or commute the sentence of the perpetrator.

As an OFW advocate, I believe that the technical working group should lose no time in fulfilling its mandate from the President. Time is of the essence considering that some of these cases involving OFWs on death row have been in the legal pipeline for several years.

The case of Dondon Lanuza for example is already a decade-old. Dondon was convicted of stabbing to death an Arab national. This year, for the very first time, the aggrieved family has signified willingness to consider blood money. The Saudi court had ruled that it would be up to the victim’s son to decide on the private aspect of this case when he reaches legal age (18) which would be sometime in 2015.

However, this rare window of opportunity may soon close unless the Lanuza family is able to resolve the issue of blood money amounting to millions of pesos.

My sincere belief is that the Aquino administration has no other recourse but to help families of OFWs on death row particularly in Saudi Arabia to raise the agreed upon “diyyah”. To discard or downplay previous arrangements because the costs are high and the question of sustainability has been raised, would lead to the diminution in the credibility of our own embassy in Riyadh and the Philippine government as a whole.

One must also note the spirit behind Section 27 of Republic Act No. 8042 otherwise known as the Migrant Workers’ Act of 1995:

“The protection of the Filipino migrant workers and the promotion of their welfare in particular, and the protection of the dignity and fundamental rights and freedom of the Filipino citizen abroad, in general, shall be the highest priority concerns of the Secretary of Foreign Affairs and the Philippine foreign service posts.”

In governance, there are matters that only the heart can see. In the case of these OFWs, the aggrieved families have already opened their hearts to the call of forgiveness. Calculating the “sustainability” in hearing such calls for rationalizing what is intrinsically emotional; putting boundaries and ceilings on a State’s capability to save lives.

I am not one to condone the crimes of the OFWs involved. They do not come begging with clean hands. But I must argue on the side of forgiveness and a second chance at reforms and restitution.

In the case of OFW Junard Langamin, he was 27 years old when he first stepped on the ship together with another OFW whose life Junard would soon take away. They left as friends but as the days went by and pressures at work continue to build up, the two Filipinos suddenly found themselves fighting below the ship’s deck. A knife was drawn, a life extinguished.

Junard’s mom is a peanut and corn vendor who wakes up at 5 o’clock every morning to push her cart from her home to the Baliuag Bus Terminal in Caloocan City. How can the Langamin family raise the amount of Php 5 million in exchange for Junard’s freedom without government’s help?

I urge the technical working group well in deciding which lives to save, and which to forego. (Follow me on Twitter via www.twitter.com/susanople. Send comments to toots.ople@yahoo.com)

Author: Susan Ople

Susan "Toots" Ople is the President of the Blas F. Ople Policy and Training Institute. She's an OFW and labor advocate based in the Philippines.

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