Last January 19, the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) suspended the deployment of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) in Kuwait in the wake of the death of seven migrant workers. There were no details about their deaths, only reports of maltreatment of many Filipino workers by their employers.
On January 25, President Duterte, informed that a Filipina had been raped and had then committed suicide, called on Kuwait and other Middle East countries to treat their Filipino workers as human beings. “We are poor, we may need your help, but we will not do it at the expense of the dignity of the Filipino,” he said.
Then last February 9, President Duterte disclosed that another Filipina worker in Kuwait had been found dead and in the most unusual circumstances. Her body was found half-naked inside a freezer in an abandoned apartment. As in the previous cases, there were no details from government investigations.
Now this latest victim has a name – Joanna Demafelis – and she came from Barangay Ferraris, Sara, Iloilo. She has a picture – she was a pretty 28-year-old – and she had a family who supplied the details of her going to Kuwait in 2014 to work for a Lebanese and his Syrian wife. She last called her sister in Manila in late 2016.
When the family checked with the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) in 2017, the OWWA said they were investigating many similar cases. Soon afterwards, the OWWA informed the family of its findings that Joanna had been found dead and half-naked inside a freezer in an abandoned apartment in Kuwait.
What had she suffered through in the months and weeks and days before she was killed and her body placed in that freezer? According to reports, the body may have been stored there for more than a year. That could not possibly happen in our country without being discovered by the police. How could it have happened in Kuwait?
So now we have a name – Joanna Demafelis – an Ilonga who wanted to earn money as an OFW to raise enough money to build a house for her family in Iloilo and help her youngest sister finish school. Earlier, there were seven migrant workers killed in Kuwait and one rape victim who committed suicide. Their cases moved President Duterte to suspend further deployment of OFWs to Kuwait.
The killing of Joanna is specially condemnable and inhuman. The President has now ordered a total ban on sending Filipino workers to Kuwait. He has also ordered the DOLE to assist all Filipino workers who want to leave Kuwait in the next 72 hours. They could be retrained for employment in construction projects which will soon begin in the country under “Build, Build, Build.”
This project for OFWs desiring to leave Kuwait could be expanded to include other OFWs in the world. The brutal death of Joanna should serve to make our officials take a closer look at our program of sending Filipino workers overseas. There are countries like Kuwait and there are kinds of workers like housemaids from which we can gradually withdraw because of cases like that of Joanna Demafelis of Barangay Ferraris of Sara, Iloilo.