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Freed Pinoy flies home to Manila

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Philippine Ambassador Renato Pedro Villa (fifth from right), with Joseph Urbiztondo (fourth from right), and embassy officials and staff.
Philippine Ambassador Renato Pedro Villa (fifth from right), with Joseph Urbiztondo (fourth from right), and embassy officials and staff.

KUWAIT CITY, Feb 22: Finally, after 20 years of serving time in the Kuwait Central Jail and after His Highness the Amir Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah granted him pardon, Joseph Urbiztondo is now a free man as he flew home to the Philippines on Monday afternoon via Philippine Airlines PR 669 Urbiztondo, 45, a native of Bacoor, Cavite in the Philippines was arrested by authorities on July 6, 1996 for killing a Bangladeshi national.

He was later sentenced to 25 years imprisonment. His release came after paying dia (blood money) and securing a tanazul (letter of forgiveness) from the son of the victim in Dhaka, Bangladesh in September last year and eventually, an Amiri pardon was granted to him. Urbiztondo thanked HH the Amir of Kuwait for his kindness and compassion.

“I’m overflowing with happiness now. Finally, I can be with my family. Thank you to all those who helped me,” stated Urbiztondo in tears who was accompanied by police at the Kuwait International Airport. Philippine Ambassador to Kuwait along with other embassy officials and staff were at the airport to send off Urbiztondo. “I wish Urbiztondo the best of luck and may he continue what he loves doing best, teaching tennis,” stated Villa. The ambassador outlined some points that can be learned from Urbiztondo’s case. First, when Filipinos and organisations are united toward a common goal and with the help of the embassy, any difficult task can be accomplished successfully.

Second, the cooperation and coordination among Philippine posts will pave the way to accomplish tasks on hand. Third, the assistance of the NGOs (non-government organisations) and the media opens avenues to achieve goals and last but not the least and the most important is the strong bilateral relations of the Philippines with the host country. It was in 2009 when Urbiztondo first called up ABS-CBN Middle East Bureau from the Kuwait Central Jail asking for help on his case. His story was aired first on Balitang Middle East and the Bureau has followed up on his case to date.

The local media also carried his appeal for help. “First of all, thanks to God Almighty for my freedom! Thank you to Balitang Middle East and ABS-CBN for first exposing my plight and the local media. Thank you to Labour Attache David Des Dicang for taking the initiative to gather and unite the Filipinos in Kuwait to raise my blood money for my tanazul. Thank you to the Catholic Church, Bishop Camillo Ballin and Fr Ben Barrameda, the Alliance of Filipino Organisations in Kuwait. To Consul General Raul Dado for helping raise the additional $6,000 to complete my blood money.

Thank you to Consul General Pendosina Lomondot and Ellene Sana of CMA for helping find the son of Azzizur Rahman in Bangladesh. To Ambassador Renato Villa for submitting my Tanazul to the Amiri Diwan and the late Ambassador Roy Seneres and Roy Seneres Jr for following up my case. Above all, thank you to His Highness the Amir Sheikh Sabah Al- Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah, shukran!” stated Urbiztondo. Urbiztondo’s girlfriend, Edna Tacapan, who he met online was also at the airport. They plan to get married and start a new life. “I’m very happy. Finally, he’s going home and be with his family. We will be together soon. I’m going home after the Ramadan,” pointed out Tacapan.

In the past, Urbiztondo wrote letters to the Philippine government and some government officials asking for help for his blood money but nothing happened. It was in August 2012 with the initiative of former Philippine Labor Attache to Kuwait David Des Dicang who gathered leaders of various Filipino organizations and launched the fund drive “Barya mo, Laya ko” (Your coin for my freedom) to help raise the blood money for Urbiztondo.

The blood money amounting to KD 6,000 was collected by various Filipino organisations, the Roman Catholic Church and some individuals in February 2013 but it had remained for safekeeping with some Filipino leaders while the Philippine embassy was trying to locate the victim’s next of kin in Bangladesh. Last year, with the help of the Philippine Embassy in Dhaka, Bangladesh led by Charge d’ Affaires Lomondot, some non-government organisations and the Bangladeshi government, they were able to find the victim’s son.

This paved the way to the negotiation of the tanazul and the son demanded $26,000 for the blood money. Short of $6,000, Philippine Consul General to Kuwait Raul Dado was able to raise the additional amount with the help of some anonymous donors to complete the blood money. The ceremonial turnover of the blood money was held at the Philippine embassy in Faiha in the presence of Ambassador Villa in July 2015. The blood money was transmitted to Dhaka, and the victim’s son signed the tanazul on September 16, 2015 at the Kuwait embassy in Dhaka, Bangladesh. Accompanied by Dado, Urbiztondo is expected to arrive in Manila on Tuesday morning.

By Michelle Fe Santiago Arab Times Staff

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