“Somebody asked me not to seek help from the NBI (National Bureau of Investigation) anymore for the autopsy (of the victim),” he told the hearing of the House committee on overseas workers, chaired by TUCP party-list Rep. Raymond Democrito Mendoza.
STAR/File
Bello bares official’s attempt to block OFW’s murder probe
Edu Punay (The Philippine Star) - January 23, 2020 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — An official tried to intervene in the investigation of the case of slain Filipino household worker in Kuwait, Jeanelyn Villavende, Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III revealed last Tuesday.

“Somebody asked me not to seek help from the NBI (National Bureau of Investigation) anymore for the autopsy (of the victim),” he told the hearing of the House committee on overseas workers, chaired by TUCP party-list Rep. Raymond Democrito Mendoza.

Bello stopped short of naming the individual, but said he rejected the person’s request.

He said he grew suspicious of why the official tried to stop him from seeking an independent probe by the NBI to determine the cause of Villavende’s death.

The labor chief said he rejected the request and immediately asked the NBI to conduct the re-autopsy of Villavende’s body once it arrived in the country.

“I cannot reveal now (the name of the official). Only in an executive session will I reveal this,” he told lawmakers.

However, none of the lawmakers moved to hold an executive session for Bello to identify the person. 

The Ministry of Health of Kuwait issued a medical certificate stating that Villavende’s cause of death was “acute failure of heart and respiration as a result of multiple injuries.”

The NBI confirmed after re-autopsy that the cause of death was “consistent with multiple, severe traumatic injuries.” The bureau also revealed that there was “clear evidence” Villavende was sexually abused.

At the same hearing, Department of Foreign Affairs Undersecretary Sarah Lou Arriola said that the Kuwaiti couple charged with the murder of Villavende may still evade the death penalty if they can raise the equivalent of P5 million as blood money and the victim’s family accepts it.

Kuwait cooperates

Yesterday, the Philippine embassy in Kuwait said the Gulf state is now willing to allow investigators from the Philippines to join the probe.

This development came last Sunday at the meeting between Kuwaiti Deputy Foreign Minister Al-Jarallah and Presidential Adviser on Overseas Filipino Workers (OFW) Concerns Secretary Abdullah Mama-o.

Mama-o met with Al-Jarallah to echo the message of President Duterte to the Kuwaiti government, to ensure the safety and welfare of OFWs in the Middle East country.

He also explained to the Kuwait Foreign Ministry’s second-in-command the recent decision of the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) governing board to ban the deployment of OFWs to Kuwait.

Mama-o thanked the Kuwaiti government for acting on Villavende’s murder case, particularly the immediate arrest of her employers who are the primary suspects.

The embassy said both the Philippine and Kuwaiti sides expressed hope that all the issues concerning 150,000 Filipino domestic workers in Kuwait will be resolved through the soon-to-be-convened Joint Committee Meeting on the 2018 Philippines-Kuwait Agreement on the Employment of Domestic Workers.

Repatriation woes

Meanwhile, the government admitted it is facing hurdles in implementing the mandatory repatriation of Filipinos in Iraq amid tension in the gulf region of the Middle East.

So far, only 15 of the 1,640 Filipinos documented in Iraq have been brought back to the country since repatriation started early this month.

Environment Secretary Roy Cimatu, special envoy to the Middle East, told the House inquiry on contingency measures for OFWs in the gulf region that there is lack of proper monitoring mechanisms for Filipinos in Iraq.

“Most Filipinos there are undocumented because they are not allowed to work due to the existing employment ban there,” Cimatu said. “We don’t have a labor office there.”

Cimatu stressed that even before tension escalated in the gulf, Filipinos in Iraq have been hiding from authorities because most of them are undocumented.

“Because we don’t have contacts of Filipinos there in Iraq, we just contact their families here and ask them to convince their relatives to avail of repatriation,” he lamented.

Another challenge is that there are employers preventing OFWs from leaving because they want a refund of the $10,000 (about P510,000) they paid to job recruiters.

“The employers won’t allow them to leave unless they return the $10,000. Despite securing exit visa, they were stopped at the immigration counter in the airport because the employers ran after them and claimed breach of contract,” Cimatu said of the experience of some of the Filipinos recently repatriated from Iraq.

OFW Labor Summit

Labor groups are pushing for the holding of an OFW Labor Summit aimed at ensuring the safe and orderly evacuation of some two million Filipinos in the Middle East in case war breaks out in the gulf.

Sonny Matula, Nagkaisa labor coalition chairman, said the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) should immediately convene a high-level OFW summit.

Matula suggested the summit invite leaders of trade unions and employers’ groups, airline companies, OFW associations, the POEA, the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration, the National Reintegration Center for OFWs and even the Social Security System and other social protection agencies.

“We acknowledge that both DOLE and the Department of Foreign Affairs have plans for an evacuation, but we are not fully aware of these plans,” Matula said.

“Our government must now lay out its contingency plans, including arrangements with other foreign governments on their respective repatriation plans and the private sector,” he added.

Also, the summit can serve as a forum for wider participation to discuss different assistance to be extended to affected OFWs in the Middle East.  – With Pia Lee-Brago, Mayen Jaymalin

JEANELYN VILLAVENDE
Philstar
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