Bello: Arrest of slain PH maid’s employers won’t lift OFW ban
The arrest of the Arab employers of Filipino maid Joanna Demafelis is just one factor in a Philippine decision whether to lift the ban on the deployment of migrant workers to Kuwait, Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III said on Sunday.
The Kuwaiti government must also agree to regulate working conditions for Filipinos in the wealthy Gulf state before the Duterte administration lifts the ban, Bello said.
“We will see what the Kuwaiti government will do. But the most important thing [now is whether] they will sign [an agreement for] the protection of [Filipino workers]. If they will do that, [then] maybe the President will lift the deployment ban,” he added.
President Rodrigo Duterte sent a team of labor officials to Kuwait last week to discuss protection for Filipinos with Kuwaiti officials and to assess the impact of the ban.
The murder of 29-year-old Demafelis, whose bruised body was discovered inside a freezer at an abandoned apartment in Kuwait City earlier this month, sparked the ban.
Kuwaiti police said Demafelis had been dead for a year when her body was found, but did not say how she died.
An angry President Duterte, who suspended labor traffic to Kuwait last month due to persistent complaints of abuses committed by Arab employers against Filipino workers, clamped a complete ban on the deployment of new migrants to the emirate.
He lashed out at Kuwait and accused Arabs there of routinely raping Filipino women in their employ, forcing them to work 21 hours a day and feeding them scraps.
Kuwait has said it is investigating reported deaths and abuses, and insisted there are only a few considering that there are more than 250,000 Filipinos working in the emirate.
Mr. Duterte demanded Kuwaiti authorities bring the employers of Demafelis to justice and sign an agreement with the Philippines for the protection of Filipino workers in Kuwait.
He also ordered the repatriation of distressed Filipino workers in Kuwait on government expense.
Nearly 2,000 workers have come home under the repatriation program.
The Arab employers of Demafelis were arrested in Syria last week.
A Lebanese judicial official said on Saturday that Syrian authorities surrendered Nader Essam Assaf to Beirut on Friday because of his Lebanese citizenship but his Syrian wife, Mona, remained in custody in Damascus.
The couple had been the subject of an Interpol manhunt since Demafelis’ body was found more than a year since her family in the Philippines reported her missing.
“The couple were arrested in Damascus. They were the subject of an Interpol red notice and the Syrian authorities handed the husband over to Lebanese custody on Friday morning,” the official said.
“Lebanon has asked Kuwait to pass on the husband’s police record,” he said.
The official said that after leaving Kuwait, the couple had made a very brief stopover in Lebanon before traveling on to neighboring Syria.
The Department of Foreign Affairs confirmed the arrests late on Saturday.
“With the two suspects now in custody, [Philippine authorities] will follow President Duterte’s instructions to vigorously pursue justice for Demafelis,” said Foreign Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano.
Demafelis’ body was repatriated last week and taken to her hometown, Sara, in Iloilo province. She will be buried on March 3.
Overseas Workers Welfare Administration chief Leo Cacdac traveled to Sara on Sunday to inform the Demafelis family of the Arab couple’s arrest.
The Demafelises said they wanted the death penalty for the couple.
“Whatever they had done to my daughter should be done to them,” said Eva Demafelis, Joanna’s mother.
Asked whether the family would accept blood money in exchange for a lower penalty for the couple, Joanna’s brother Jojit replied no.
“We don’t want their money. We want justice for my sister,” he said. —With reports from AFP and Arab Times
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