Demafelis employers sentenced to death in Kuwait

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, March 2) — Two suspects in the murder of Filipino household worker Joanna Demafelis have been sentenced to death in Kuwait, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) confirmed on Monday.

DFA said the Philippine Embassy in Kuwait has been informed about the court decision and is awaiting formal notification from Kuwaiti authorities.

"This is a very important development in our quest for justice for Joanna," Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano said in a statement.

Lebanese Nader Essam Assaf and his Syrian wife Mona Hassoun are facing the death penalty for murder after Demafelis' body was found in a freezer in their apartment in Kuwait. Authorities said the body could have been there for over a year or from the time the couple left the country.

The two were nabbed separately in February after international police hunted them down.

Assef is under Lebanese custody, while Hassoun is detained in Syria.

Cayetano said the Philippine government hopes for the swift assistance of the two countries to bring justice to the Demafelis family.

"We continue to look forward to the cooperation of our friends not only in Kuwait, but also in Lebanon and Syria in our efforts to bring this case to a close," he said.

Deployment ban stays

A Malacañang official said while President Rodrigo Duterte is "happy" with the death sentence against Demafelis' employers, the total deployment ban of workers to Kuwait stays.

Senior Deputy Executive Secretary Menardo Guevara said the ban will only be lifted if Kuwait agrees to conditions set by the Philippines in the proposed memorandum of understanding beween the two countries.

"I think it's still the agreement between the two countries on the manner of treating our OFWs that will matter. Not the matter of the couple being brought to justice," he said in a media briefing on Monday.

Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III said the death sentence shows the sincerity and commitment of the Kuwaiti government to bring justice to Demafelis' kin.

"We appreciate the efforts of the Kuwaiti government in bringing justice to the family of Joana Demafelis and it is a clear manifestation of their sincerity in complying with the conditions set by the President," he said in a statement.

Bello said the final draft of the proposed agreement and his recommendations on the protection of Filipino workers had already been sent to the President for his approval for the formal signing of the memorandum of agreement with Kuwait.

"Nagkaroon na ng consensus. We already have a final draft of the agreement and I sent my recommendations to the President for his approval. The moment the President approves it, then it will be ready for signing. The President has the last and the final call on this agreement," Bello said.

The signing of the deal was one of the conditions Duterte had set to lift the deployment ban to Kuwait.

Among major provisions of the agreement are adequate sleeping hours, nutritious meals and not just leftovers, rest on holidays, and the right of workers to keep their passports.

It also wants overseas workers to be allowed to keep their cellphones, prohibiting the transfer of workers from one employer to another without their consent or clearance from overseas labor offices, and banning employers with records of worker abuse from hiring workers.