By Ben Rosario
As police authorities in Kuwait and the Philippines hunt down suspects in the murder of Overseas Filipino Worker Joana Demafelis, lawmakers want government to trace and fire incompetent officials who failed to act on the victim’s disappearance over a year ago.
Reps. Winston Castelo (PDP-Laban, Quezon City) and John Bertiz (ACTS-OFW Party list) said the arrest of Lebanese Nader Essam Assaf, Demafeli’s employer and suspected killer, should not slow down the Duterte government in investigating who should be faulted among officials and staff of the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) and Department Foreign Affairs (DFA) for failing to act swiftly after her family pleaded to find her when they lost touch with the victim over a year ago.
“It is not enough that the DOLE, on orders of the President, has imposed a total ban on deployment to Kuwait,” said Castelo, vice chair of the House committee on Overseas Workers Affairs. “Government should identify and fire those who did not act on the family’s appeal for assistance.”
Bertiz, a member of he House opposition, said DOLE and DFA officials who ignored the appeal of the Demafilis family should be charged with gross negligence and gross incompetence and should no longer be allowed to work in government.
The two lawmakers aired fears that as public attention is shifted on the arrest of Assaf and the on-going hunt for Demafilis’ Filipino recruiters.
Assaf and his Syrian wife, who remains at-large, were suspected of killing Demafelis then stuffing her body in a freezer in Kuwait City before abandoning the apartment they rented. Demafelis’ body was discovered on February six, over a year after her family reported her failure to communicate with them.
Bertiz said identifying and dismissing government officials who failed to save Demafelis from death remains a primary interest of many OFWs, especially those who have become victims of illegal recruiters and abusive employers.
On the other hand, Castelo noted that about 5.8 percent of some 2.4 million documented OFWs are in Kuwait, the fourth-largest destination of Filipinos who work abroad.
“That’s about 150,000 OFWs needing protection,” he said.
In a press statement, the Quezon City lawmaker said the OWWA is mandated to “look after their welfare,” yet in recent weeks at least 8 have been reported dead, the latest being the victim of an apparent foul play in the hands of her employers.
“What exactly is OWWA doing to ensure their welfare and to protect them from abuse by their employers?” said Castelo, chairman of the House Committee on Metropolitan Development.
He added: “The President should either fire all the officials of OWWA for gross neglect of duty, irresponsibility, incompetence, infidelity to their oath of office and lack of regard for OFWs or abolish OWWA altogether and transfer its functions to a more responsible agency,” he said.