Hazards of overseas employment: OFW cases that made headlines

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, February 16) — Joanna Demafelis, a 29-year-old overseas Filipino worker (OFW), returns to the Philippines on Friday morning.

Her family said when they last talked in 2016, Joanna had made plans to come home this year — her first time back since she left to work in Kuwait four years ago.

But instead of welcoming her at the airport, Joanna's family awaits her lifeless body, which authorities say was beaten so severely that it broke her bones and caused internal bleeding.

READ: OFW found dead in freezer in Kuwait suffered grave physical abuse - PH envoy

Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III identified the body found inside a freezer in an apartment in Kuwait as that of Joanna, where it may have been kept for over a year. Authorities said it bore torture marks and showed signs she was strangled to death.

READ: Body of Filipina found in freezer in Kuwait

The incident caused outrage in the Philippines, prompting the government to bring home distressed OFWs from Kuwait and to impose a deployment ban to the Gulf state.

READ: DOLE orders total ban on deployment of OFWs to Kuwait

OFWs — last pegged at 2.2 million according to the Philippine Statistics Authority — are considered "modern-day heroes" because they send back money to help not only their families, but also the national economy.

In 2017, the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) recorded $28 billion (around ₱1.46 trillion) in cash remittances from OFWs.

These remittances constituted more than 10 percent of the country's gross domestic product, according to the BSP's 2016 report. 

As such, OFWs involved in high-profile incidents always make big news. Here are five other cases that made the headlines:

Forced to confess

Flor Contemplacion, a 42-year-old maid working in Singapore, was sentenced to death for killing fellow OFW Delia Maga and Nicholas Huang, the 4-year old son of Maga's employer, in 1991.

Although Flor had originally admitted to committing the murders, she later retracted, saying that she confessed under duress.

Despite this and negotiations between Singapore and the Philippines, Flor was hanged on March 17, 1995.

The execution triggered national outrage against Singapore and caused a breakdown in relations between the two countries.

In the Philippines, the fallout from Flor's execution led to the resignations of Foreign Affairs Secretary Roberto Romulo and Labor Secretary Nieves Confesor.

100 lashes instead of bullets

A teenage Sarah Balabagan — who faked her age so that she could work abroad — faced being executed by a firing squad in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) after an Islamic court found her guilty of murder in 1995.

The year before, the then-14 year old stabbed her employer to death 34 times, alleging that he had tried to rape her and that she had been the subject of his unwanted sexual advances.

With the help of then-Philippine Ambassador to the UAE Roy Señeres, who died in February 2016, her sentence was later reduced to one-year imprisonment, 100 lashes of a cane and the payment of $40,000 (around ₱2 million in today's exchange rate) in blood money.

READ: Roy Señeres dies of cardiac arrest

Sarah returned to the Philippines in 1996 to a hero's welcome. She later migrated to Las Vegas in the USA.

Never returned home

Unlike Sarah, Joselito Zapanta never got to return to his family in the Philippines.

Four days after Christmas Day in 2015, he was executed in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.

The 35-year-old construction worker was sentenced to death in April 2010 for killing Sudanese national Imam Ibrahim in 2009.

Despite Joselito's family raising at least ₱20 million in blood money by December 2015, Ibrahim's family refused to execute an Affidavit of Forgiveness that would have removed the father of two from death row.

Then-Foreign Affairs Spokesperson Charles Jose told CNN Philippines in December 2015 that the body of Joselito, a Muslim convert, would not be repatriated to the Philippines.

READ: OFW Joselito Zapanta executed in Saudi Arabia

"Well, unfortunately the body will not be repatriated back to the Philippines, because according to practice and law in Saudi Arabia, those who have been executed, will not be allowed to be repatriated," he said.

It is also customary to immediately bury the bodies of deceased Muslims.

A miraculous reprieve

On April 29, 2015, Mary Jane Veloso was set to be executed by firing squad with eight other convicts in Indonesia, a country also known for its tough stance against illegal drugs.

READ: Execution to push through even after Widodo, workers meet

Mary Jane was apprehended in an Indonesian airport on April 29, 2010 after authorities found 2.6 kilograms of heroin in her suitcase. She claimed she was tricked into carrying the illegal drugs.

She was sentenced to death in October that year.

But shortly before the scheduled execution, the Indonesian government granted Mary Jane a reprieve after her alleged illegal recruiter, Maria Kristina Sergio, surrendered the day before.

READ: Veloso's execution suspended

In February 2017, the Nueva Ecija Regional Trial Court allowed prosecutors to take Mary Jane's testimony from Yogyakarta prison — where she remains detained — in their human trafficking case against Sergio and Julius Lacanilao.

However, the Court of Appeals in January 2018 overturned the RTC decision, saying that Sergio and Lacanilao have the right to face their accuser face-to-face.

RELATED: Mary Jane Veloso to Duterte: Help me to testify in CA case vs. recruiters

5 years jail over execution

Jennifer Dalquez, a single mother of two, likewise escaped death row after an appellate court in the UAE acquitted her for murder in June 2017.

READ: OFW Jennifer Dalquez escapes death row, gets 5 years for theft

Dalquez flew to the UAE in December 2011 to work as a domestic helper in Abu Dhabi.

In May 2015, a lower court in the UAE sentenced her to death for stabbing her employer, a police officer, in the lungs.

Dalquez said her employer tried to rape her and then attacked her with a knife.

"Nitong huli, doon ko na po siya nasaksak... Hindi ko po sinasadya iyon... Alang-alang sa buhay ko na makalabas nang buhay sa bahay niya, dinepensahan ko lang po ang sarili ko," Dalquez said in an audio clip by OFW group Migrante.

[Translation: That was when I stabbed him. It was an accident. I defended myself to escape alive.]

Dalquez, however, is still serving a five-year prison sentence for stealing a cellphone.

CNN Philippines Senior Researcher Ella Hermonio contributed to this report.