By Jullie Y. Daza
Joanna Demafelis, the Flor Contemplacion of the millennium?
A horror story that is as terrifying as it is outrageous, about a simple girl working as a household helper in Kuwait whose body was found in a freezer – by accident, when police went looking for her employers for not paying rent. Everything about her story is sad, like the apartment, now abandoned, where she lived with her employers. How nobody missed her for one long year. In a faraway country where seven other workers like her had died in the last two months.
Frozen like meat for one year, Joanna’s body bore marks of torture, but even without those physical signs, one could only imagine, or could not, the terrors that stalked her day and night in the home of her cruel bosses, a Lebanese and his Syrian wife. With no witness to tell us what went on in that house of horrors – whatever for, when the evidence of murder most foul speaks for itself? – we can only nod when the President demands an answer: “What sin did my countrymen commit?” He was right to be incensed. No amount of outrage can bring Joanna back and close the gaping wound in her family’s side. The worst thing that can happen while we wait for justice, or karma, to take effect is to treat the case of Joanna as just another OFW, another statistic.
The statistics are by themselves a horror story. 300 OFWs on any given day escape their employers for all kinds of reasons. 200,000 OFWs in Kuwait, of whom 170,000 are household helpers. 10,000 of the latter undocumented. 120 OFW deaths reported in the last couple of years. 7,000 workers want to come home (the first batch of 300 arrived last Monday). 25,000 land a job in Kuwait each year. Kuwait may appear to be a desirable destination.
Desirable? No worker goes abroad to seek greener pastures out of pure desire. Skilled, semi-skilled, unskilled, they just need, not want, to flee their own country, at the risk of losing life and limb, maybe a spouse or the family back home. Not desire but desperation drives them to try their luck in alien territory, alone with nothing (not even their own passport) and no close friend or support system. Too late now to tell Joanna and the ghosts of those other heroes who propped the economy with their sacrifices that POEA-OWWA-Philaak-DOLE-DFA could’ve saved them in their hour of need.