“Hell is empty and all the devils are here.”—William Shakespeare
IN my more than 20 years as a labor advocate, I thought I have seen the worst cruelty that employers could inflict on their foreign workers. I was wrong. I recently saw photos of Jeanelyn’s tortured body; the word “cruelty” does not even come close to describe what she went through. She had Sunshine’s face before leaving home, no matter how desperate life in Norala, South Cotabato, had become. Days after Christmas, she left this Earth with the face of a slave that found peace only in death’s presence.
“Adel Mejbel Zaid Alsanea.” That was the name of Jeanelyn’s direct employer as written on the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA)-approved employment contract. How sad that we don’t even know how he looks like, and what his personal story is about. The anonymity of her assailants is an injustice in itself. The 26-year-old domestic worker left the country on July 4, 2019, and will be buried in her hometown on the 23rd of this month. As revealed to the media by Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra, the worker’s tiny body bore old and fresh wounds, with evidence of sexual violence. She was raped, and beaten.
Read this news report written by Hanan Al-Saadoun as published in the Kuwait Times:
“The maid’s sponsor, who had taken her to the hospital, admitted during interrogations that his wife had beaten the maid until she fainted, adding that she was shocked when he realized at the hospital that she had died. The sponsor was detained and his wife was summoned. She admitted to beating the maid but said she had not intended to kill her.”
“Detectives and forensic experts rushed to the sponsor’s house in Sulaibikhat to examine the crime scene, where they found traces of blood that had been cleaned and evidence that the maid had been brutally beaten. A case was filed and further investigations are in process.”
No intent to kill? Jeanelyn had a fresh, gaping wound on the side of her head and bruises all over the body. The maid’s sponsor, meaning the male employer, was shocked that their worker died? Did he think she could have endured more? This evil couple deserves no mercy. In a society that provides for capital punishment, there can be no better justification than the crime that has been done to our innocent kababayan. As Foreign Affairs Secretary Teddy Boy Locsin had said, “There must be blood.”
The local recruitment agency listed as 5 Star Recruitment and Manpower Corporation with office in Cubao, Quezon City, deserves to be investigated.
Had they acted in time to seek the help of the Philippine Embassy in Kuwait to compel the employers to surrender Jeanelyn to the embassy’s care, she would still be alive. According to Administrator Bernard Olalia, the local agency did not report the family’s requests for assistance to the POEA. The agency owners could have sought the help of our labor attaché and Overseas Workers Welfare Administration. After all, Jeanelyn was an active OWWA member.
The foreign recruitment agency should also be held accountable. They have an obligation to monitor the Filipino workers under contract with the employers that they chose as clients. In October 2019, the POEA issued a reminder to all recruitment agencies, their foreign counterparts and employers, to submit monitoring reports as proof that they are aware of the living conditions of their workers. I hope that with Jeanelyn’s death, the private sector will now take a more serious look at how they handle the monitoring aspect as part of legal compliance.
I once asked Administrator Olalia, “Do you think it is fair that a recruitment agency is tasked with monitoring the workers that they deploy given that the natural business inclination would be to deploy more workers to increase profits?”
“Yes,” was his answer. He explained that prior to obtaining a license, new agencies are informed of this monitoring obligation since human lives are involved. The amount of effort and resources, as well as skills and knowledge, being invested by a recruitment agency owner in the screening of employers and foreign partners and especially in the monitoring of their workers, can spell the difference in the mitigation of modern slavery. Lives can be saved that way. Businesses are assured of sustainability, and yes, profits are thus earned the right and decent way.
Kuwait, one of the biggest labor destination countries for Filipino domestic workers, signed a bilateral labor agreement with the Philippines two years ago. What they signed, they failed to implement. As a UN member-state, Kuwait must adhere to the preamble of the UN Charter, which states:
“We, the peoples of the United Nations [are] determined…to reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person, in the equal rights of men and women and of nations large and small.”
Let’s stop sending domestic workers to Kuwait.
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.