Her first name was Jeanelyn. In deference to the bereaved family, I will not share her last name. She was deployed to Kuwait as a domestic worker on July 4, 2019. Based on her official employment contract, the name of her foreign employer was Adel Mejbel Zaid Alsanea. Jeanelyn was 26 years old. She hailed from a small village in Mindanao.
According to a news report published in the Kuwait Times, the police received information from the Sabah Hospital about the arrival of a deceased Filipino maid with bruises on various parts of her body. The maid’s sponsor admitted during interrogation that his wife had beaten Jeanelyn until the worker fainted. The wife also admitted the beatings to the police, but pleaded innocence to any intention to kill her maid.
Here in Manila, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) has summoned the Kuwaiti ambassador to express the Philippine government’s outrage over this latest act of violence against our domestic workers. The department called for complete transparency in the investigation of the case and swift prosecution of the perpetrators.
“The continuing incidents of violence and abuse of Filipino domestic workers in Kuwait violates the spirit of the agreement signed in May 2018, that seeks to promote and protect their welfare,” the DFA statement read.
In a text message to this writer, Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III said that DOLE is closely monitoring the case, and will make sure that justice will be served. As I sit down to write this column, Administrator Hans Cacdac of the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration is in South Cotabato to offer assistance to the grieving family.
“Justice” is a single word that covers an entire language of emotions. From shock and rage on the part of the family, to accountability on the part of the perpetrators, yet the only missing emotion belongs to the person who died, because she is in a place beyond pain, suffering and indignity. Jeanelyn only wanted to work. Because of scarce job options, she had to leave her village and country to find work. One can say that her departure already reeked of social and economic injustice.
And they will keep leaving—these women, these heroes. They see their children passing the days without sufficient food, barely any clothing and no hope in their eyes, and they leave. These women, these heroes. They look at the window and listen to the wind, and ask themselves: “Where is my future?” They get a passport and undergo all kinds of orientations, and as they fasten their seatbelt, they say a prayer of thanks. They see a future in the passport.
Why would a young, single woman like her opt to leave to work in Kuwait? I do wished she was my sister, then she wouldn’t have to leave because there would be more doors open to her. I wished she were my daughter. Jeanelyn died at a much younger age than my only daughter. If she were my daughter, then she would have grown up with so many other options than leaving.
But in her village, Jeanelyn grew up with her own dreams amid family that loved her. She was somebody else’s sister. She was somebody else’s daughter. She was loved and appreciated. That she had to end up with a Kuwaiti woman who saw Jeanelyn as her own slave, beating her up repeatedly, to the extent of making her victim lose consciousness—is vile. That her husband is an alleged employee of the Ministry of Interior (based on news reports) made this crime even worse. Yes, he brought her to the hospital, but where was he when the beatings began?
This is the New Year. Jeanelyn was killed before the calendar changed. She is spending the first day of 2020 in a morgue. Where she came from there may have been hunger, but that kind of hunger can be assuaged; the emotional and physical hunger that comes from no longer hearing Jeanelyn’s laughter or feeling her touch will never ever disappear. Fullness cannot happen in a void.
We all need to know even just her first name. Jeanelyn, this is for you. None of us may have been there when you boarded that flight, eager yet frightened, expecting to do great things as an overseas Filipino workers for the family you painfully left behind. You were all alone then. You are all alone now. But, we won’t let your family be alone in this battle for justice and retribution.
You are a woman and a hero. Present tense, always—because the beaten-up you was your female employer’s demonic version of what you were: a slave. The couple that you served deserves to rot in jail. No mercy, no honor and no freedom. They never knew you. You were not their daughter, sister or friend.
Slavery exists whenever employers believe their lives matter more than the people who work for them. And slavery will continue to exist when governments fail to address the injustice that made such circumstances possible. Jeanelyn, you were more than their equal. But it’s too late to even say that now.
Susan V. Ople heads the Blas F. Ople Policy Center and Training Institute, a nonprofit organization that deals with labor and migration issues. She also represents the OFW sector in the Inter-Agency Council Against Trafficking.