Grief and horror gripped the quaint farming town of Norala in the southern Philippines when Jeanelyn Villavende’s remains, a migrant work in Kuwait, arrived home this month.
Horror was on the faces of relatives who emerged from the morgue to view the body of the woman who left her bucolic village last year to seek greener pastures abroad.
“Those who killed her were beasts,” said Moises Villavende, Jeanelyn’s uncle after seeing the woman’s broken skull and the many bruises on her body.
“I cannot stomach watching her,” said Moises. “When she left last year, she was looking good and healthy.”
Jeanelyn’s frozen remains arrived in a white wooden casket and was heavily guarded by agents of the Philippines’ National Bureau of Investigation.
A report from Kuwait’s Ministry of Health noted that Jeanelyn died on Dec. 28, 2019, due to “acute failure of heart and respiration” as a result of shock and multiple injuries.
At least a hundred relatives and friends gathered outside the funeral parlor to express their sympathy with the victims’ immediate family.
Moises, who previously served as a village chairman, said the killers of her niece must pay.
Outside the town hall about a kilometer from the funeral parlor, a lone streamer hangs with words calling for justice.
Zosimo Panisales, another uncle of Jeanelyn, said his niece was badly beaten. “Those who killed her were not human,” he said.
Abelardo Villavende signed the papers granting permission to government agents to conduct an autopsy on the remains of his 26-year-old daughter.
In Manila, Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin met with the victim’s kin and assured them of assistance. He also gave them financial assistance worth about US$2,000.
Abelardo flew with the remains of his daughter to the nearest airport in Mindanao from Manila and travelled for more than two hours to their hometown here.
Jeanelyn’s aunt, Nelly Padernal, slumped in a chair and cried. “She looks different. What a pity,” she said between sobs.
Earlier, the parents said they wanted “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth” for the death of Jeanelyn.
In 2017, Kuwait reimposed the death penalty for capital crimes like murder and rape.
Result from the autopsy conducted by Philippine authorities revealed that Jeanelyn was sexually abused and physically battered for weeks before she died at the hands of her employer.
The report said the woman’s remains have “old healed wounds,” indicating that she “had been battered weeks prior to the fateful incident” that resulted in her death in December.
The Philippines’ Department of Labor earlier announced that the government would impose a total ban on sending workers to Kuwait if it is found the Jeanelyn was “gravely beaten to death.”
Another innocent life
Church leaders in the Philippines have expressed support for the proposed ban.
“We stand and support the actions being taken by the government,” said Bishop Ruperto Santos of the Episcopal Commission on Migrants and Itinerant People.
He said the death of Jeanelyn was a clear violation of a May 2018 agreement between the Philippines and Kuwait for the protection of Filipino workers.
“With the tragic loss of another innocent life, it means that our [Filipino workers] are not protected. Their rights are not promoted, and their lives are always in constant danger,” said the prelate.
In 2018, the death of another Filipino worker, Joanna Demafelis, whose body was found in a freezer, prompted Manila to impose a total deployment ban on the sending of workers to Kuwait.
The ban was lifted after Philippines’ Foreign Affairs office signed an agreement with the Gulf state on the welfare and protection of Filipino workers.
There are about 250,000 Filipinos working in Kuwait, 65 percent of whom are domestic helpers.
Jeanelyn had reportedly informed her placement agency about the maltreatment as early as September last year but her complaint was not addressed.
The woman’s death shattered her family, whom Jeanelyn promised to give a good life and a way out of their indebtedness.
Jeanelyn left the country for the first time last year to work for a couple in Kuwait. She was recruited by an agency based in the province of Sultan Kudarat.
Her aunt Nelly said all Jeanelyn wanted was “to build us a better house and to redeem the piece of land that was mortgaged.”