Jennifer Dalquez broke down in tears of relief and joy as she sank into the arms of her waiting parents upon her arrival in the Philippines.
After nearly seven years in the United Arab Emirates, more than three years of which were spent on death row in an Abu Dhabi prison, she was finally home and safe.
Dalquez arrived last week after she was acquitted of the murder of her employer, whom she stabbed to death in 2014 to fight off his attempts to rape her at knife point.
She was sentenced to death in May 2015 by an Abu Dhabi court for the killing. But with the help of the Philippine Embassy, the case was appealed on self-defense, and the ruling was overturned in June 2017.
Dalquez, 31, arrived home Friday morning on board a Philippine Airlines flight, along with 86 undocumented Filipinos who availed themselves of the amnesty program of the UAE.
She had left General Santos City in December 2011 to find work in the UAE to help her father, a pedicab driver. She left behind two young children, now 10 and 7, under the care of her parents.
Migrante International, which advocates for the rights and welfare of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs), cheered the decision and rejoiced with Dalquez’s loved ones at the “sweet reunion to celebrate her freedom and new beginning.”
But Dalquez’s is one of the few stories with a happy ending.
Another OFW, Kalinga native Emerita Gannaban, is slated to come home in a coffin a mere four months after she left for Saudi Arabia to work as a domestic worker.
The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said it would look into reports that she had died of suspected poisoning, and that she had been maltreated.
It was Gannaban’s first overseas job. Prior to news of her death, Gannaban had told her family she was being locked up in the bathroom, and was not being fed or given time to rest properly after work.
Gannaban’s tragic fate echoes that of Joanna Demafelis, who was reunited with her parents in death earlier this year. She came home to Iloilo in a box four years after she had left for Kuwait to work as a domestic helper.
Demafelis had hoped to help the family redeem the 2-hectare farmland they had pawned to pay for her trip to Kuwait. She had also wanted to complete the repairs to their house that was destroyed by Supertyphoon “Yolanda” in 2013.
But it was not to be. Her body was eventually found inside a freezer in the apartment abandoned by her employers. A Kuwaiti court sentenced in absentia a Lebanese man and his Syrian wife to death by hanging for Demafelis’ murder.
Dalquez’s story of regained freedom is a small victory. According to a 2016 report by the DFA, 130 Filipinos are facing execution, mostly for drug-related offenses, out of the 3,827 detained in 11 countries around the world.
That includes Mary Jane Veloso, who remains in an Indonesian prison over disputed drug charges. About 137 are serving life sentences.
Migrante points to the government’s wholesale labor export program for putting OFWs at risk of exploitation, abuse and even death.
It is this “forced migration,” it contends, that drives Filipinos into the farthest corners of the world despite the risks.
While the OFW phenomenon has lifted the lives of millions of Filipinos, it has also led to heartbreaking stories of misery and pain, such as what happened to Pahima Alagasi, who filed a case against her Saudi employer in 2014 for physical abuse and maltreatment; her lady employer had poured boiling water down her back.
These horrifying tales of abuse are not likely to peter out soon, as more Filipinos continue to see foreign employment as their only way out of poverty. Indeed, even Dalquez said she’s not ruling out working abroad again despite her ordeal.
Her successful return, said Migrante, should be taken as a “challenge” by the Duterte administration to provide Filipinos with a decent way of life in the Philippines so they would have no reason to take their chances abroad.
Just as crucially, it said, “let us never lose sight of our fellow Filipinos who are still on death row and those thousands of other OFWs languishing in prison. The battle is not yet over.”
In December last year, the DFA signed guidelines on the use of the more than P1 billion in funds that President Duterte had ordered released to assist Filipinos who encounter emergencies and other problems abroad.
Used properly, that increased support should prove crucial in ensuring that no OFW in distress gets left behind, and successful repatriations like Dalquez’s become the norm.
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