Suicide or Homicide in Dubai?: The Alona Bagayan Case
Alona Bagayan, a 31-year-old Filipino domestic worker from Kalayaan, Laguna, lost her life in Dubai on Feb. 5, 2013. The Director of the Forensic Department of the Dubai Police General Headquarters classified the death as “suicide” in a report submitted on March 17, 2013. Shortly after Alona’s body arrived in the Philippines in early April, the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) did a second autopsy, the report of which was authorized for release just over a week ago.
As chairman of the Committee on Overseas Workers Affairs of the House of Representatives, I took an immediate interest in the case when it was first brought to my attention, sensing that its outcome will have significant implications for our overseas workers. However, I withheld comment until after the release of the NBI report.
The Dubai police report says that the body fell from an unspecified height, and that this caused the subject’s death. At the same time, it claims that there was a cut on the right forearm that was “sufficient in itself” to cause her death.
Moreover, there were stab wounds on the abdomen and neck of the subject that were also described as “sufficient in itself” to cause death. The NBI autopsy confirms the cut on the right forearm and details seven stab wounds on the neck and abdomen.
While the Dubai report attributes the cause of death to “suicide,” the NBI autopsy says the cause is “uncertain.” It strikes me as scarcely credible that Alona Bagayan would decide to stab herself seven times on the neck and abdomen in order to kill herself, a form of suicide that is extremely uncommon. What is even more unbelievable is the Dubai police report’s contention that the subject chose to kill herself via three methods, first, by cutting her right forearm, then by stabbing herself seven times, and then, after inflicting these mortal wounds on herself, by walking from the bathroom to the balcony to jump to the ground below.
While not impossible, this suicide by multiple means is not credible.
The Dubai police report says there was a knife found in the bathroom of the residence, but it does not say whose fingerprints were found on the knife.
The police report does not mention investigating the whereabouts and actions during the time of death of the employer, Khalifa Khadim Suroor Almeasam Alfalasi, and other members of his family. The Al-Masiyah agency that recruited her told Alona’s family that the employer was a “VIP” (Very Important Person).
The police report does not consider at all the angle of homicide or murder, something that is standard operating procedure in all cases of unnatural death.
What is entirely missing from the investigation conducted by the Dubai authorities is the likely motivation for the suicide they impute to Alona.
From the accounts of family members, Alona left for Dubai in late January eagerly looking forward to her job in that city so she could support her four children.
According to her sister, Maricel, she was psychologically healthy and was certainly not depressed, a condition that is associated with most suicides. Five days after she arrives in Dubai, she kills herself. It does not make sense. To say she killed herself because of homesickness, as the Al-Masiyah agency claims, simply does not wash.
It seems difficult not to conclude that that what we are looking at here strongly is not suicide but foul play.
Several questions leap to the fore.
Why was there a rush to a judgment of suicide based on flimsy evidence? Was this to prevent an investigation of homicide and foul play that might have implicated the employer or members of his family? Was Alona Bagayan possibly murdered because she was resisting sexual molestation, a problem—indeed, an epidemic–that is encountered by so many of our domestic workers in the Middle East?
There are other disturbing questions.
Why did it take the agency ten days before it informed Alona’s family of her death? Why did the agency tell Alona’s family not to reveal her death to the media? Moreover, as Maricel Bagayan asked, why was the Department of Foreign Affairs not informed about Alona’s death until her family members themselves brought it to the DFA’s attention. Was there a conspiracy between the Dubai authorities and the labor recruiter to suppress the facts about the case?
Only a comprehensive investigation of the circumstances surrounding Alona’s death will provide a satisfactory answer to these questions, not the rush to judgment that is apparent in the sketchy, sloppy, and incomplete Dubai police report.
As Wilson Fortaleza, an NGO activist who has followed the case closely says, “Only the naïve will buy the official story that Alona’s case is one of suicide.”
With all the doubts and questions about the suicide angle, it is incumbent on the United Arab Emirates (UAE) to order a reinvestigation of the death of Alona Bagayan. Given the lack of credibility of the Dubai police report, it would be desirable if such an investigation were carried out jointly by a higher agency of the UAE government and our National Bureau of Investigation.
The Republic of the Philippines and the United Arab Emirates have long enjoyed good relations. One can only be grateful that the UAE has provided opportunities for employment for some 850,000 of our compatriots.
At the same time, it is the duty of the Philippine government to see to it that they are treated fairly and with respect, that their physical safety is guaranteed by the host government, and that they can obtain justice when harm is done to them. The Alona Bagayan case creates severe doubts about the ability of the UAE to provide these public goods for our Filipino workers. These are doubts that will be banished only by a comprehensive objective reinvestigation, with the appropriate acts of prosecution, conviction, and punishment if indeed foul play is found to be involved.
As Maricel Bagayan so appropriately put it, “My sister’s death has gone beyond my sister at this point. It has become a test of whether or not OFWs can obtain justice when their rights are violated.”
Walden Bello is a member of the House of Representatives, where he is chairman of the Committee on Overseas Workers Affairs.
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