Overseas Filipino Workers are esteemed as modern-day heroes in the Philippines as they contribute greatly to the country’s economy, sacrificing years away from their families with the hope of providing a comfortable life. But not everyone is fortunate enough to achieve prosperity — many are abused, overworked, underpaid, raped, or worse, killed by their foreign employers.
According to the Philippine Statistics Authority, there were approximately 1.83 million Filipinos working abroad as of 2021. Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (The Central Bank of the Philippines) announced that the personal cash remittances of overseas Filipino workers amounted to 36 billion US dollars in 2022 which has had a significant effect on the economic development of the Philippines, particularly since the pandemic.
Despite this fact, the abuses faced by these modern-day heroes are increasing and becoming more vicious. According to the data presented by the Philippine Overseas Labor Offices (POLO), there were 23,714 recorded cases of contract violations against overseas Filipino workers that includes abuse in 2020, and nearly 5,000 cases of which were reported from Middle Eastern countries.
Joanna Demafelis, a Filipina household service worker in Al-Salmi District in Kuwait was found dead inside a freezer of an abandoned apartment in February 2018. The 29-year-old domestic worker suffered from broken ribs and internal bleeding prior to her death. It was also discovered that she was a year dead already when her remains were found. Later, her employers were proven guilty of the murder and were sentenced to death. This brutal crime is not an isolated case but rather one of many cases of abused overseas Filipino workers.
Recently, another Filipina domestic worker, Jullebee Ranara experienced the same ill fate as Joanna Demafelis. Her body was found dead on January 21, 2023, with burnt remains and a smashed head in the desert of Kuwait near Al-Salmi Road. In an autopsy reported by the local media in Kuwait, Ranara was found to be pregnant, and the DNA samples collected from the unborn baby matched the accused who is the 17-year-old son of Ranara’s employer. The 17-year-old perpetrator was later arrested and admitted to his crime.
On January 26, 2023, GABRIELA (General Assembly Binding Women for Reforms, Integrity, Equality, Leadership and Action) a women’s rights organization advocate and Migrante PH held a candlelight vigil at the Boy Scout Circle in Quezon City, Philippines to call for justice for the cruel death of Jullebee Ranara and other victims of abuse and violence. They lit candles as a symbol of ending all kinds of violence against women.
In response to the death of Ranara, in a statement issued for a press conference by the Migrant Workers Secretary, Susan Ople said that the best solution for stopping the abuse and even murder of overseas Filipino workers is to establish an economic environment in the Philippines that will bring an end to the practice of Filipinos having to seek employment overseas. It is notable that many Filipinos choose to work abroad because of better job opportunities that result in higher paychecks. Hefty work compensation is the primary reason why most Filipinos, particularly those living in poverty are tempted to risk working abroad — such opportunities can be transformative for the fortunate families.
According to the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA), another reason why Filipinos want to work abroad is because of the less strict qualification requirements for some jobs. Most of the popular and large companies in the Philippines are looking for a potential employee that already has years of experience, is a college degree holder, and such. Without these qualifications, more often than not an applicant can only pursue companies that do not offer reasonable compensation.
As suggested by Susan Ople, establishing a job environment for Filipinos that offers reasonable compensation and qualifications would transform the custom of Filipinos having to work abroad in order to access greater life opportunities and a secure, comfortable standard of living, something that would mean that cases such as Joanna’s and Jullebee’s would never be repeated.