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Demafelis’ body returns home

The body of Filipina domestic helper Joanna Daniela Demafelis, who was found stuffed in a freezer in Kuwait, arrived home to a tearful welcome yesterday just days after President Duterte barred Filipinos from working in the Gulf state.
Demafelis, 29, was found earlier this month after her employers, a Lebanese and his Syrian wife, disappeared in 2016.
Her death triggered a diplomatic row between Kuwait and Manila, which announced a “total ban” on new employment for Filipinos in the oil-rich country and flew home hundreds of others, a move condemned in the Middle East.
Despite the deployment ban, Sen. Sonny Angara pressed for the appointment of social welfare attachés (SWA) in Kuwait and in other countries swamped with pleas for help from abused overseas Filipino workers (OFW).
Angara made the call noting the urgency to send more SWAs especially in the wake of series of reports on distressed OFW, some even resulting to death as in the case of  Demafelis.
Angara noted that there are only four social welfare officers deployed by the government across the globe where an estimated 2.2 million Filipinos are currently deployed.
The victim’s wailing sister threw herself at her sibling’s coffin after it was unloaded at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport while her stunned brother Joejet Demafelis tried to comfort her.
“This is a huge loss for us. Her dream, she told my mother, is that she was leaving only because she wanted to help our parents and our youngest sibling,” the brother told reporters at the cargo terminal.
“My parents can’t accept this. Every so often, they start weeping,” he added.
“I hope they can find those who killed my sister”, he added.
Authorities say 252,000 Filipinos work in Kuwait, many as maids. Domestic workers in the country are not covered by ordinary labor legislation, and accounts of Filipinos being subjected to abuse and exploitation in the Middle East have long circulated.
A fiery Duterte lashed out at Kuwait after Demafelis’ death, alleging that Arab employers routinely rape their Filipina workers, force them to work 21 hours each day and feed them scraps.
Foreign Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano said Friday the Kuwaiti ambassador had assured him his government was “outraged” over the killing and determined to find those responsible.
     Kuwait-RP ties ‘rocky’
Cayetano said while the death was tragic it would be a “rallying point” for governments to work harder to protect Filipinos overseas, while conceding that Philippine-Kuwaiti relations were going through a “very rocky period”.
He said only about three to five percent of Filipino laborers in Kuwait were having problems but acknowledged the government needed to do more.
The DFA said authorities were repatriating 10,000 Filipinos who had overstayed their visas in Kuwait, with more than 700 flown home already under an amnesty program announced recently by the Kuwaiti government.
Some 10 million Filipinos work abroad and the money they remit back is a lifeline of the local economy.
“We have so few and it would not be one SWA per continent,” said Angara, noting that SWA fill a gap in the country’s foreign posts.
“In the division of labor inside what is basically a multi-agency embassy, there are assigned personnel that can handle legal cases, liaise with local police, as well as military, trade, agriculture attachés, “ the senator explained.
Currently, the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) has deployed SWA in Riyadh and Jeddah in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Malaysia while plans are afoot to send three more to Dubai, Qatar and Hong Kong.
Angara said that while there are assigned government personal to handle legal cases and liaise with local police military, trade and agriculture attachés, what is lacking is a trained professional who can provide the OFWs the three essential Cs – care, comfort and counselling – to Filipinos in crisis situation and in need of special protection.
“Traumatized Filipinos require the services of a trained professional. In short a lead malasakit (care) officer. This is the kind of skill-set that might not be found in the organizational setup of an embassy,” Angara said.
The presence of SWAs is a welcome addition to Philippine embassies and should not only be integrated but made a permanent fixture of the country’s foreign service, the senator said.     AFP                            

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