MANILA, Philippines—For allegedly stealing the unwashed underwear of her employer’s mother, a Filipina domestic helper was sentenced to up to one year in prison in Saudi Arabia, a migrant rights group said Saturday.
Migrante International called on the Philippine government to work for the release of domestic helper Melanie Cordon, adding that the theft case against her was false and that she was tried in absentia.
“This is quite disturbing, although this has been the usual treatment to our fellow OFWs who were falsely accused, OFW Cordon, like many other cases, was never given the opportunity to defend herself and never attended a hearing,” said Migrante Middle East coordinator John Leonard Monterona.
Citing an “urgent appeal” from the Hong Kong-based Asian Human Rights Commission, Monterona said Cordon was detained at the main prison of Ha’il City in the central part Saudi Arabia.
He said Cordon worked at her employer’s mother’s four-storey house in June 2011 and asked that she be allowed to go home after complaining of the heavy work she had to do.
Monterona said her employer’s mother asked her to stay on until her contract expired on August 7. But In July, she was transferred to the house of her employer’s brother.
OFW Cordon left her sponsor-employer’s house but did not take her luggage, only a few items in a plastic bag, Monterona said.
On August 14, which should have been the day of her flight from Jeddah to the Philippines, Cordon went to retrieve her luggage from her sponsor-employer’s house.
“However, when she arrived to collect her luggage she found that it had been opened. There was a woman standing behind it and she identified herself as a policewoman. Cordon was handcuffed and brought to a nearby police station because her sponsor-employer’s mother had accused her of theft,” Monterona quoted the AHRC as saying.
“In Cordon’s absence, they had examined her belongings and apparently ‘found’ unwashed underwear belonging to her sponsor-employer’s mother with a few strands of hair and a picture which Melanie did see,” he added.
The domestic worker was taken to the Ha’il main prison and was able to make a phone call to her brother only on August 24.
Monterona said her brother told AHRC that a judge had entered the cell where she and other prisoners were being held and read out the verdicts to all of the prisoners there.
The judge ruled that Cordon will be jailed for a period of four months to one year, Monterona said.
He urged the Philippine embassy in Riyadh to immediately dispatch a consular team to look into the her case.
“We will closely work with the PH embassy to secure her release so that she will be immediately repatriated,” Monterona said.