Family of OFW found in freezer warns against illegal recruiters

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, February 13) — After Joanna Demafelis' family discovered the fate of their 29-year-old sister, they can only warn other overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) to guard against illegal recruiters.

"Mag-ingat na lang po sa mga illegal recruiter, dahil po sa kapatid ko nangyari," Joanna's sister Juliet told CNN Philippines on Tuesday. "Nung nalaman namin na ganun na po, masakit po sa amin," she added.

(Translation: Beware of illegal recruiters because you saw what happened to my sister. When we heard about it, it was painful.)

Kuwait authorities discovered Joanna's body inside the refrigerator of her Lebanese employer's apartment.

The Demafelis family said they went to the recruitment agency who sent Joanna to Kuwait after they lost contact with her in 2016, only to find out that it had been shut down due to recruitment infractions.

Based on a copy of her contract obtained by CNN Philippines, Demafelis was earning about US $400 monthly and her contract only ran for a year. She was deployed in 2014.

Demafelis was recruited locally by Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Global E-Human Resources Inc., which was shut down in 2016. The foreign recruitment agency Demafelis was signed under was Fadilah Farz Kaued Al Khodor Recruitment Office, which is currently on the POEA watchlist because of a pending case.

They turned to the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) and Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) for help, only to be brushed off by authorities.

"Siguro nung una talagang di nila napansin masyado 'yung complaint namin, bilang kasi siguro regular na sa kanila 'yung ganun na may comment. Meron nga silang nasabi dati...'yung hindi lang kayo 'yung nagfa-follow up, makapal pa 'yung kaso ng nagfa-follow up," Fretzel Patarata, one of Joanna's relatives, said.

(Translation: Maybe they didn't pay attention at first because they were used to families following up, asking help for their relatives. At one point, they told us they still have a high pile of requests to attend to.)

OWWA Administrator Hans Cacdac said they will investigate officers who brushed Joanna's family off.

"Titignan din namin kung sino itong mga empleyado namin na sumagot ng ganitong klase dahil hindi nararapat iyon," the OWWA administrator said on Monday.

[Translation: We will look into who among our employees answered this way, because that was not appropriate.]

OWWA Deputy Administrator Arnell Ignacio admitted they are undermanned, saying the lead agency for migrant workers' welfare employs about 120 officers overseas and 300 in the main office in Pasay City. There are around 10 million OFWs worldwide.

READ: OWWA: We're undermanned; only 400 officers for 10 million OFWs

Amid their grief, Joanna's family said they are grateful for the help they are receiving from the government.

There is no date yet on when Joanna's body will be brought home, but the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) assured the Demafelis family of financial assistance.

"'Yung sa palibing po, sasagutin na po nila (DOLE). Malaki na pong tulong sa amin 'yun, mga finances po dito sa amin, wala po talaga, hindi po kami makakilos," Juliet said. "Hinihiling lang po ng mga magulang namin na mabilis 'yung proseso, kasi nahihirapan yung mga magulang namin sa probinsya, mga kapatid ko pang iba."

(Translation: DOLE said they will pay for the funeral. It's already a big help. We can't really do much because we have limited financial resources. Our parents just want to speed up the process because this is already taking a toll on our family.)

The Labor Department ordered a total deployment ban of overseas Filipino workers on Kuwait after Joanna's body was discovered.

According to the POEA, there are more than 240,000 OFWs in Kuwait as of 2016, making it one of the top destination for workers.