No order from Duterte to deport OFW for libel: Philippines envoy

Angelito T. Banayo, chairman and resident representative of the Manila Economic and Cultural Office.(CNA)

TAIPEI (CNA) — The Philippines top envoy to Taiwan said Monday he has not received instructions from President Rodrigo Duterte to arrange the deportation of an overseas Filipino worker (OFW) in Taiwan to Manila for allegedly libeling the president online.

In a phone interview with CNA, Angelito T. Banayo, chairman and resident representative of the Manila Economic and Cultural Office (MECO), said he would have received the instructions had they been issued but had not received any such directives to date.

He also noted that deporting anybody from Taiwan is the sovereign right of the host government and is “not within the prerogative of a foreign government like the Philippines,” which MECO represents in Taiwan in the absence of official diplomatic ties.

“So the question of deportation is something that only the Taiwanese government can decide upon,” he said.

Banayo was responding to a statement released Saturday by the Philippines’ Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) that accused the OFW of cyber libel for the “willful posting of nasty and malevolent materials against President Duterte on Facebook.”

The DOLE statement identified the worker as a caregiver employed in Yunlin County who shared videos under the pseudonym Linn Silawan criticizing President Duterte and his online supporters for their actions during the coronavirus outbreak in the Philippines.

It said the posts were “intended to cause hatred amid the global health crisis brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic.”

According to the statement, the sharing and posting of such videos are punishable for libel under Republic Act 10175, and the Philippine Overseas Labor Office (POLO) had coordinated the worker’s deportation with her broker and employer due to “the gravity of her offense under Philippine Law.”

Philippines presidential spokesperson Harry Roque denied, however, that Manila is seeking the deportation of the worker, arguing that the that the country upholds freedom of expression.

Nonetheless, the government is ready to assist the OFW should she be deported by Taiwan, and it is for the authorities in Taiwan to decide on the OFW’s fate, Roque said.

Taiwan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said late Monday that if Manila has deemed the person in question to have violated related Philippines laws through due process, it can request judicial cooperation via diplomatic channels to discuss with Taipei whether to deport the OFW.

The ministry also said migrant workers in Taiwan enjoy the same freedom of expression as Taiwanese citizens, a situation that should be respected by foreign countries as well.

During Tuesday’s interview, Banayo told CNA that DOLE’s decision to potentially seek punishment for the OFW was a “unilateral decision” made by a labor attaché appointed by DOLE in Taichung who did so without informing MECO beforehand.

“We did not advise him nor did he ask MECO … for permission to do so,” he said.

The MECO head said that as a part-journalist himself who used to be a columnist for a Philippines daily newspaper he would not recommend legal action against the worker as he believes in freedom of expression.

“In the previous government in the Philippines, I was charged with six counts of libel, so it is far from the realm of possibility for me to want to curtail freedom of speech or freedom of information in any matter whatsoever,” he said.