OFW nabbed in HK protest: ‘I’ll be home for Christmas’

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Kowloon City Magistracy

HE’S finally free.

Jethro Pioquinto, the overseas Filipino worker who was arrested in August during an anti-government protest in Mong Kok, will now be able to go back to the Philippines for the holidays after the charges against him were withdrawn on Nov. 26.

The Department of Justice withdrew the charge due to insufficient evidence, local media reported.

“Now that the ban has been lifted, I can go home,” he said after the hearing at the Kowloon City Magistrates Court.

Pioquinto, a dancer at Disneyland, earlier said he wanted to visit his family for the holidays, but Presiding Magistrate Ada Yim said she will only allow it on the condition that his bail be increased from $2,000 to $20,000.

The performer posted a bail of $2,000 on Aug. 5, two days after he was arrested along Nathan Road in Mong Kok on charges of participating in an unlawful assembly. Pioquinto said he felt relieved now that the whole ordeal is over.

“I’m relieved. It’s finally done. But it’s still a big fight for Hong Kong,” he said.

Hong Kong has been embroiled in protests since June, after the government proposed an unpopular extradition bill. Protesters said the bill would have enabled authorities to extradite criminal suspects in Hong Kong to mainland China.

Embattled Chief Executive Carrie Lam announced the withdrawal of the bill in September, but protests continued as the pro-democracy movement’s demands expanded to include the following: universal suffrage, an independent probe into police brutality, amnesty for arrested protesters and for the protests not be called a “riot.”

The protesters wore black, while those who held pro-Beijing rallies wore white.

Pioquinto also wore a black shirt on the evening of Aug. 3, but he insisted that he did not participate in the protest and was just on his way home when he was nabbed by the police.

His arrest prevented him from taking a trip home that month, as he was supposed to take a vacation in the Philippines from Aug. 15-23.

But four months after, his postponed trip back home can now push through.

The 36-year-old dancer said he will most probably go back to the Philippines on Dec. 24 and will stay there for two to three weeks. He thanked the OFW community, who has expressed his support for him.

“The messages of support from the Filipino community have been overwhelming,” he said. “Many prayed for me and sent me messages.”

The presiding magistrate, who granted the prosecution’s petition to withdraw the charge, said Pioquinto need not appear in the next hearing on Dec. 6, when his lawyers’ plea for an application for costs will be assessed.

If approved, the government would have to pay Pioquinto for the fees and expenses he incurred for the case.

The prosecution had objected to Pioquinto’s application for cost, claiming the OFW brought suspicion on himself.

“The protester ran away (during the police dispersal of protesters in Mong Kok),” a government lawyer said.

The defense earlier called for the dismissal of the case, noting that the police did not find any protest paraphernalia when they searched Pioquinto’s belongings on the night of his arrest.