The woman in the freezer

Charge d’ Affaires Elmer G. Cato

(Elmer G. Cato, a journalist before he became a diplomat, is Charge d’ Affaires in the Embassy of the Republic of the Philippines in Baghdad, Iraq. He posted these accounts on his Facebook wall. Permission to reprint granted to MindaNews).

The woman had been there in the freezer for more than a month when we were informed about her death. She was a 36-year-old mother of seven from Indanan in Sulu, who passed away in her sleep. Her Kurdish employer immediately reported her death to the manpower company in Erbil that was responsible for bringing her to Iraq but the Embassy never received a call from them.

When the agency had the chance to, it still did not bother to tell us there was a Filipina in the freezer of a hospital in Erbil who needs to be brought home. This was two weeks after she died when we asked Kurdish authorities to summon the agency managers so we could confront them in connection with a trafficking case involving another Filipina.

It was the employer, not the agency, who reported her death to us last week. He felt sorry for the Filipina when he found out she was still in the freezer 40 days after she died. When he asked if the Embassy had already been informed, the agency insisted it was his responsibility and not theirs.

When the Embassy called to inquire about her, the agency even lied and said they were only informed about her death a few days earlier. When we asked for her next of kin information so we could convey the sad news to her family in the Philippines the agency said they do not have her emergency contact details.

That’s when we did a DU30 and said things you would never hear diplomats say. This was totally unacceptable. This is not the way to treat both the living and the dead.

Like many trafficking victims, the woman in the freezer used an assumed name in applying for a job abroad. Along with several others, she was offered a job in Dubai or Turkey by illegal recruiters in Mindanao. She took a perilous boat ride to Malaysia and eventually ended up in Iraq despite the existing ban in the deployment of Filipinos. In Kurdistan, she was sent to work for an employer who paid thousands of dollars to the agency for her.

Thanks to our other kababayans in Kurdistan, we were able to get her true name and reach her family in Mindanao. We condoled with them and assured them we will bring her home. This afternoon, we came to see the woman in the freezer and quietly told her, she will be home soon. Her husband and her children are there waiting.
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The woman in the freezer. Her name is Laida Hajan. Her friends in Erbil know her as Enon–a 36-year-old mother of seven from Barangay Kapian, Indanan, Sulu. More than a year ago, Laida applied for a job in Jordan but ended up in Iraq where she passed away more than a month ago. Laida was a victim of human trafficking. There are many more victims like her out there. Please help us find them. (Charge d’Affaires Elmer G. Cato)