Migrant NGO calls on Phl gov’t to help OFW accused in KSA tanker mishap

A HONGKONG based migrants rights group said Ruben Kebeng could easily fall victim to scapegoatism and anti-migrant hysteria if the government of President Benigno Aquino does not ensure his fair trial.”

This was the statement of Ramon Bultron, Managing Director of the Asia Pacific Mission for Migrants (APMM), on the recent implication of an overseas Filipino worker in a tanker explosion incident in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA). APMM is a migrant service institution that has been promoting the human rights and welfare in the region since it’s founding in 1984.

Bultron, who was a long-time organizer in the Middle East prior to his current stint as head of the international non-government organization, explained that inadequate intervention by the Philippine government in trials of OFWs in Arab countries has often led to miscarriages of justice. The case of Ruben Kebeng can easily be subject of such mishandling, given the large number of casualties involved.

Kebeng was a liquefied natural gas (LNG) tanker driver whose vehicle smashed onto a flyover in Riyadh and exploded, killing 25 and seriously injuring 131. Among the fatalities was Florentino Santiago, another OFW working in a construction site nearby. The accident stunned the local community due to the extent of the damage in such a heavily populated area, and led to the arrest and investigation of Kebeng.

While Bultron does not want to prejudge the case by casting an opinion on Kebeng’s guilt or innocence, he said that the practice of paying commissions for extra trips to drivers on top of their regular pay, and the KSA governments imposition of a truck ban on certain busy hours, created an ideal situation for such accidents to occur. “It is much like the prevalent practice among bus companies in the Philippines, which has been considered as one of the biggest causes of road accidents along EDSA. The difference in KSA is that the truck ban adds to the pressure to drivers such as Kebeng,” he added.

He said it is the obligation of the Philippine government to provide the best legal assistance to any OFW that fallen afoul of the law abroad, and that it must conduct discreet investigations of its own to make certain that the findings of local police are not tainted with anti-migrant prejudices and politics. “This has happened before in KSA, and even involved maltreatment of suspects as has been reported by such human rights watchgroups as Amnesty International and International Detention Coalition,” Bultron said.

The APMM head vowed that his organization will be closely monitoring the progress of the case to ensure that Kebeng is not neglected by the Philippines government, and that his rights as a migrant and as a detainee are respected at all times.

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