Justice for Jeanelyn
Horrifying indeed are the details emerging from the autopsy on the remains of overseas worker Jeanelyn Villavende conducted by the National Bureau of Investigation.
Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said that upon return from Kuwait, Villavende’s body showed “clear indications of sexual abuse.” Not only that, the autopsy also found signs of physical abuse dating back weeks prior to her death.
The test results showed “many” and indeed innumerable signs of injuries on Villavende’s remains. The chief of NBI’s medico-legal division said many of these consisted of welts and bruises on her back. The examination found that “the injuries were sustained by the victim not at the time of her death,” suggesting that Villavende was being maltreated “weeks or months before she died.” Even her ears and head showed old wounds, while bruises on her private parts indicated that she had been sexually abused.
The autopsy also found that a “blunt hard object” had been thrust into her anus, with Kuwaiti police admitting that they had recovered a piece of wood from inside Villavende’s body. The Filipina was also found to have been malnourished, leading to speculation that her suffering had extended for a considerable time.
What emerges from these cold, hard findings is the hellish ordeal Jeanelyn must have endured while in the service of her Kuwaiti employers. And the suffering she went through just to earn enough to send home to her family.
These conclusions, coming to light after a tepid, perfunctory report was submitted by Kuwaiti authorities, has led the Philippine government to issue a total ban on the deployment of Filipino workers to Kuwait. Villavende was not the first Filipino worker to come home from Kuwait in a box. In 2018, the country likewise issued a ban on workers’ deployment to Kuwait following a series of reports on the abuses and deaths of Filipino workers there. The most sensational case was that of Joanna Demafelis, whose body was found in a freezer in her employer’s residence over a year after she was reported missing. In Villavende’s case, the suspects in her killing, who happen to have been her employers, are now detained in Kuwait.
Domestic employment, it has been found, is particularly fraught with risk for the worker, who enjoys scant protection from authorities in the country where she is employed (the vast majority of domestic workers are women), and who must live in rather intimate proximity with the family she serves, 24/7, isolated from family and friends.
This is why Filipino domestic workers must be entitled to special protection from the Philippine government, the private agencies that recruit them and oversee the arrangements for their employ, as well as from the host governments. Needless to say, those found guilty for the death or maltreatment of domestic workers must be subjected to the most stringent penalties under the law, while the victims and the victims’ families deserve the best legal representation especially in the hostile atmosphere of a foreign court.
For starters, the Department of Foreign Affairs as well as the Department of Labor and Employment and the agencies tasked with regulating the deployment of workers abroad and protecting them—the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration and the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration come to mind—must pursue with zeal and determination the conviction of Villavende’s murderers. This, while ensuring that there will no longer be a repeat of Villavende’s fate, at least in Kuwait and in other foreign receiving countries for that matter. Justice for Jeanelyn should be the country’s cry.
At this juncture in our history, there seems little that can be done to put an end to the policy and practice of labor export, unless socio-economic conditions improve on the home front to make ordinary Filipinos desperate to escape poverty and want decide to stay. Even after the escalation of tensions between Iran and the United States, hundreds of Filipino overseas contract workers were still flocking to the airport, clamoring to be allowed to take the risk of leaving for the restive Middle East where jobs awaited them (and even where no jobs were available for undocumented workers).
At the very least, though, authorities should protect future workers, especially those seeking domestic employment in countries with an already established record of faulty protections and shoddy law enforcement. A ban on deployment to Kuwait—until they have put in place guarantees for the protection of OFWs—is a good start.
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