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By Senator Manny Villar

I am outraged by the death of a Filipina, Joanna Demafelis, in Kuwait apparently because of abuses from her employers as suggested by the fact that her body bore torture wounds, including bruises and a broken hipbone. She was found inside a freezer at an abandoned apartment earlier this month. The autopsy further revealed that Joanna was already dead when she was put inside the freezer.

The results of the initial investigation was simply horrifying. Apparently, the body of Joanna was kept in a freezer for more than a year and was only discovered when police entered the apartment, which has been vacant since November 2016, after a court order was issued for the owner of the residence to vacate the premises as part of the procedures to re-possess.

According to news reports, Joanna went to Kuwait in 2014 to support her family in Iloilo but expressed intent to come home in 2016, probably already suffering from abuses. She was last seen alive in September that year.

I share the outrage of the Filipino people on this latest abuse inflicted upon our kababayan. I strongly condemn the cruel death suffered by Joanna, a kasimanwa, and the many other deaths of Filipinos who leave home in order to give their families a better life only to have their own lives snuffed out of them.

I support the decision of President Rodrigo Duterte to temporarily ban the deployment of OFWs to Kuwait unless we are assured of their protection. In fact, I take the position that we should seriously consider banning the deployment of domestic helpers to countries with problematic records of abuse. This is especially true for our women, who are most vulnerable to abuses.

I listened to the indignant speech of the President and I think he expressed what many of us feel—outrage.

The President forcefully said: “We do not seek special treatment or privileges for our workers but we do expect respect for their dignity and basic human rights. Keep them free from harm. I implore you. I ask all Arab people, the Filipino is no slave to anyone, anywhere.”

He is correct. Our people are excellent professionals and workers, we are not slaves. We value our relations with the Kuwaiti people but we need assurances that the Kuwaiti authorities will bring to justice the perpetrators of this crime and more importantly, that they will provide protection for our OFWs still working there. To be fair, many Arab nations do provide adequate support and protection to the millions of Filipinos who work in their countries.

It is good that government, through the Department of Foreign Affairs and the Department of Labor and Employment, has acted swiftly on this. I urge them to secure from Kuwait and all the other host countries of our OFWs strong bilateral agreements intended to ensure the safety of our kababayan working in their countries.

In addition, I urge government to review the performance of our embassies in Kuwait and in other areas where abuses have been reported. It is their prime duty to protect Filipinos overseas. It perplexes me, for instance, why Joanna was reported to have been last seen in September 2016 and more than a year passed without our officials there knowing her whereabouts.

The president has been firing officials who have been suspected of corruption. Rightly so. I hope President Digong will turn his ire to our embassy officials who are underperforming and are inefficient in protecting our “new heroes”.

I hope we can provide jobs for those who are returning to the country. In my capacity as a public servant in the past and as a private citizen today, I have tried to help by providing for the repatriation of some of our distressed OFWs and by expanding our business we hope to be able to provide employment.

It behooves us to do everything we can to make sure that OFWs at least have a safe and comfortable life abroad even when they confront solitude in a foreign land. I have proposed this even when I was still in Congress—let us put up a full-blown, Cabinet level department for OFWs. How many more deaths and sufferings are required before we give our OFWs the protection they deserve?