Senator Christopher Lawrence “Bong” Go demanded justice on Tuesday, January 28, for Jeanelyn Villavende, the 26-year-old overseas Filipino worker (OFW) from Norala, South Cotabato, who was reportedly killed by her employers in Kuwait on December 28.
“A life for a life ang usapan dito, at kailangan natin ang hustisya para kay Jeanelyn. Di naman natin mababalik ang buhay niya, pero ang hustisya po ang dapat maibigay,” Go said at the public hearing on the case conducted by the Senate Committee on Labor, Employment and Human Resources Development along with the Committee on Foreign Relations.
The autopsy report of the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) showed that Villavende was physically and sexually abused for weeks before she was killed.
Go called on the relevant government agencies to give the case due attention. “Paalala ko na lang po sa lahat, sa OWWA (Overseas Workers Welfare Administration), sa DFA (Department of Foreign Affairs), sa POEA (Philippine Overseas Employment Administration), sa NBI, DOLE (Department of Labor and Employment), sa lahat, pakitutukan na lang itong kasong ito.”
He also asked for updates on the implementation of the existing 2018 agreement between the Philippines and Kuwait.
Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello said that he is going to Kuwait on February 2 and 3 to meet with Kuwaiti authorities. “I’m bringing with me ’yung Technical Working Group natin (Philippines) so that they will talk with the Technical Working Group of Kuwaiti, and hopefully they will agree to the harmonized Standard Employment Contract.”
Bello explained that the contract contains provisions that President Rodrigo Duterte wants to be included, such as allowing household service workers to keep their passport and cellphone, specifying their working hours and sleeping hours, giving them one day off a week with pay, and not transferring them to another employer without their written consent and the written approval of the Philippine labor attaché.
“If they agree to this harmonized Standard Employment Contract, malaking pag-asa na mabibigyan ng sapat na proteksiyon ang ating mga OFW,” Bello added.
Go asked if the contract might be finalized and adopted before the planned visit of the President to Kuwait in March. The Labor Secretary answered, “Based on their latest actuations, my level of confidence is very high. In fact, yesterday I was informed that the employers have been formally charged with murder.”
The Senator expressed his concern for OFWs. “Ayaw nating mawalan ng trabaho ang ating mga kababayan, lalo na po ‘yung skilled workers. Alam niyo, hindi nababayaran ang lungkot. Gusto nilang magtrabaho lang dito kaya lang malaki lang po ang diperensiya sa suweldo. Mas malaki ang kinikita natin doon. Hindi natin sila masisisi na alam naman nilang merong risk talaga, lalong-lalo na sa mga domestic workers natin.”
He also asked about the possible involvement of the male children of Jeanelyn Villavende’s employers in the case.
“Considering the autopsy report from the NBI, I cannot discount the possibility, because we also met a girl (in Kuwait) who related to us some information, which are not validated as of today, that two of the children assaulted Jeanelyn,” Bello answered.
“Marami na bang ganitong instances na magkaiba po ang resulta ng autopsy mula sa ibang bansa and then dito sa atin?” Go asked Ricardo Rodaje, the doctor who performed the autopsy on Villavende.
“So far, whenever I conduct the autopsy examination, I never receive the original autopsy report from any other countries, especially Middle East, so most of the bodies from Middle East, wala na hong internal organs, and that will include the brain and the thoracoabdominal organs,” Rodaje answered.
“Alam mo, noong ipinakita ni Secretary Bello ang mga litrato, talagang magagalit ka sa ginawa nila,” Go commented. He then asked if charges will also be filed against the recruitment agency that deployed Villavende to Kuwait.
“The recruiter is under suspension pending resolution of this case. Depende pa po ‘yan. We have to study the possibility of including them,” Bello answered.
After the public hearing, Go met with the Villavende family in his office, and he assured them that the government will do everything to achieve justice for Jeanelyn. “Tutulong kami sa inyo. Basta si Pangulong Duterte gusto niyang alagaan ang mga OFW. Buhay ang importante,” the Senator said.
During an interview, he told reporters that the government will continue to impose the temporary deployment ban to protect other OFWs. “Aprubado na ni Pangulong Duterte ang suggestion ng DOLE na magkaroon muna ng total deployment ban sa OFWs sa Kuwait, kasama na diyan ang mga domestic workers at maging professionals, with exemption po doon sa mga may kontrata nang napirmahan. Pabor din po ako dito.”
He said that a permanent deployment ban should be considered carefully. “Kung ako lang ang masusunod, ayaw nating ganito ang mangyayari, pero kailangan po ng hanapbuhay, ng trabaho ng ating mga kababayan. Ang atin dito, ang gawin ng gobyerno, proteksiyunan natin sila. Bigyan natin sila ng tama at sapat na karapatan.”
He also shared that he has heard that the accused offered “blood money” to the family so that the charges will be dropped, but the family wants justice. “Nakausap ko kanina ’yung pamilya ni Jeanelyn, at ang hinihingi talaga nila, hustisya. Sabi ko po, dapat ang kapalit dito ay buhay rin po,” he said.
“Kapag nasentensiyahan naman ‘yan, may matatanggap silang compensation,” he added.