SAUDI ARABIA/PHILIPPINES: Melanie Cordon case – ‘serve jail term rather than question your conviction’


Urgent Appeal Case: AHRC-UAU-044-2011
ISSUES: Administration of justice, Arbitrary arrest & detention, Migrant workers, Right to fair trial, Victims assistance & protection,

Dear friends, 

Further to our previous appeal, we have learned that Melanie Cordon, a domestic worker convicted in absentia, was told by a government representative that serving her jail term would be more convenient for her than questioning her conviction. The representative, however, is obviously not familiar with her case; and could not provide her copies of any court documents or respond to her questions. 


In our previous appeal (AHRC-UAU-042-2011), we mentioned in detail how the government agencies had neglected their responsibilities and failed in taking prompt action in the case of Melanie Cordon. We have now received information from Mario Cordon, Melanie’s brother, on what action the government has taken on her case in response to our request for legal assistance. 

On September 27, Melanie spoke to Mario by phone informing him that on September 25 a representative from the Philippine Embassy had come to see her at the Ha’il Main Prison in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. However, the person did not properly introduce himself or give her his name and did not provide her copies of the court documents about her conviction. Neither could he respond to her questions. 

Also instead of providing Melanie with legal assistance, by way of questioning the fabrication of the charges against her, her conviction in absentia and the deprivation of her right to due process, she was instead told that if she wants for a re-trial it would take up to a year, thereby obviously implying it was better for her to serve out her sentence. 

Prior to the representative’s jail visit, late last week in Manila, Mario spoke with Mr. Paul Hernandez of the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA). At the time Mario was in the company of two journalists. Here, Mr. Fernandez assured Mario and the two journalists that they would send someone to from the Embassy of the Philippines, which they did as mentioned above, to visit her in prison to assist her in her case. 

However, the legal assistance that Melanie’s sibling, Mario; and the adequate intervention expected of the government to their citizens in need of legal assistance was disappointing and unacceptable. 

Government acted on expediency 
In this case, Melanie, for lack of choice, is keen to serve her four month jail terms despite having no court records on hand or any idea about the nature of her conviction. Her case is no different to other falsely charged, convicted and detained Filipinos, who would rather choose to go home as soon as possible rather than clear their names. 

This practice of suggesting to Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) that they serve their jail terms is more convenient and expedient to the Government than protecting their rights. Also, the apparent neglect and abandonment by the very institutions that are supposed to assists the OFWs abroad, as explained in our previous appeal (AHRC-UAU-042-2011) is effectively proved by Melanie’s case. Should Melanie decide to accept the representatives advice and serve out her term none of the officers from the government will ever be held to account for neglecting her in the first place. 

Thus, Melanie and other falsely charged OFWs, who decide to serve their terms, will have to endure, for the lack of choice and for the rest of their lives, a permanent criminal record of conviction for a crime they did not commit; a black mark that will remain with them. The AHRC is deeply concerned that this could prevent them from applying for overseas work in the future. 

When Melanie’s case was first brought to our attention, we also leaned that there were other OFWs incarcerated with her in Ha’il Main Prison, some of whom are still being held in detention beyond their prison terms. Thus, even if a detainee chooses to serve a jail term by waiving his or her right to question the legality of the conviction there is no assurance that they would be released from prison. However, given the absence of effective and adequate legal assistance, it would appear they have little choice. 

This habit of suggesting detainees to serve jail terms rather than questioning their conviction is an extension of a deeply flawed practice of legal aid back in the Philippines. 

For example, for detainees represented by lawyers from Public Attorney Office (PAO), it is their habit to, without pretense, tell detainees in prison to admit the crime and serve the sentence regardless of their innocence. This is common with representatives of the Philippine government to try to convince detainees into just accepting the sentence by saying that if they demand a retrial it will take much longer than the original sentence. 

Therefore, the notion of Government’s obligation to protect its citizens, by way of providing adequate legal assistance, by helping them defend their case and be exonerated from false charges, is no longer a matter of importance. The government takes whatever action it considered to be convenient and expedient. 

Thank you. 

Urgent Appeals Programme 
Asian Human Rights Commission (