By Roy Mabasa and Tara Yap
The two principal suspects in the death of a Filipina maid whose body was found stuffed in a freezer in Kuwait are now being questioned separately by authorities in Beirut and Damascus.
According to a senior official with Lebanon’s General Security Directorate, Nader Essam Assaf, one of the principal suspects in the murder of overseas Filipino worker Joanna Demafelis, is being held by the agency and being interrogated.
On the other hand, Mona Hassoun, wife of Assaf is now in custody of authorities in Damascus and is also being questioned.
The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said that with the two suspects now in custody, the DFA and the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) will pursue President Duterte’s instructions for them to vigorously pursue justice for Demafelis.
The frozen remains of the 29-year-old domestic worker from Sara, Iloilo, were discovered by authorities inside a freezer at an apartment that has been abandoned by its tenants for more than a year.
In Iloilo City, Demafelis’ family members said they want death penalty for the two arrested suspects.
Joanna’s sister, Joejet, said it is only fair that death be meted out to Assaf and his wife Hassoun when they are tried in Kuwait.
“We are thankful they were arrested, but they should experience what my sister experienced,” Joejet told The Manila Bulletin in a phone interview Sunday.
“As the eldest, I’m still very angry at what they did to my sister,” Joejet said in a mix of Filipino and Hiligaynon.
For the family, there is still no closure. “My parents and my siblings still cannot accept it. Even if the two suspects have been arrested, it does not erase what they did to my sister. Even if people are saying we received a lot of money, it does not pay for the life that was taken away from us,” Joejet said.
Citing autopsy reports, Joejet said what the couple did to her 29-year-old sister was too brutal.
Based on autopsy report, Demafelis suffered several broken ribs and contusion and trauma in the pelvis and kidney area. She also suffered from internal bleeding. At the same time, several wounds were also found on Demafelis’ body.
“They poured hot cooking oil on my sister. Her bones were broken. They really beat her up,” Joejet said.
The autopsy further showed that Demafelis was already dead when she was put inside the freezer.
Based on initial investigation, the body of Demafelis was kept in a freezer for more than a year and was only discovered when police entered the apartment in Maidan Hawally after a court order was issued for the owner of the residence to vacate the premises as part of the procedures to re-possess.
The apartment has been vacant since November, 2016 when its tenants, Hassoun and Assaf, left Kuwait. The door remained locked ever since.
The manhunt led by International Criminal Police Organization (Interpol) caught Assaf in his home country of Lebanon and Hassoun in her home country of Syria.
The arrest of Assaf came a day after President Duterte visited Joanna’s wake in Sara town, Iloilo, last Thursday.
It was Demafelis’s death that prompted the President to ban the further deployment of Filipino workers to Kuwait.
Lifting the ban
Labor and Employment Secretary Silvestre Bello III said the decision on whether to lift or not the total deployment ban of overseas Filipino workers to Kuwait is up to President Duterte.
“The President will be the one to decide on that (lifting),” said Bello.
Bello said as of now they are waiting if the Kuwaiti government will sign the Memorandum of Agreement on the protection of OFWs.
“If they will do that the President might lift the deployment ban,” he said.
The DOLE already sent a Technical Working Group to Kuwait to finalize the Memorandum of Understanding with the Gulf State for the safety, security and welfare of Filipino workers.
Undersecretary Claro Arellano, the head of the group, revealed that one of the salient features of the proposed MOA which they will push in their negotiations with their Kuwaiti counterparts, is to allow OFWs to have their passports in their possessions.
Take chances in PH
Speaking over the weekend, the President discouraged Filipinos from working abroad, saying they could find growing job opportunities in the country instead. The President admitted he could not protect all Filipino workers abroad, and expressed hope they would return home and take chances here.
“Maraming trabaho ngayon sa Maynila. Maraming construction. O mag-umpisa na ang construction sa railway sa Mindanao. Saan ako maghanap ng trabahante? Kaya uwi na lang kayo at hintay-hintay lang kayo. Maawa ang Diyos (There are many jobs in Manila. There’s a lot of construction. Construction of a railway in Mindanao will start soon. Where will I find workers? So better return home and just wait a bit. God will have mercy on us),” Duterte said during a visit to a military camp in Dingle, Iloilo last Thursday.
“Medyo hindi na kayo kailangang pumunta sa labas. Huwag kayong pumunta sa labas kasi I cannot protect you. Magtiis-tiis na lang tayo dito (You don’t need to go abroad anymore. Don’t travel abroad because I cannot protect you. Let’s bear with the situation here),” he said.
The President also promised to provide support for Filipino workers who return home or opt to stay in the country. He said workers who have nothing to eat could always go to the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) for assistance. (With reports from Leslie Ann G. Aquino and Genalyn D. Kabiling)