NORALA, South Cotabato (MindaNews / 15 January) — Tucked away some seven kilometers of rough road from the paved highway, the village of Tinago, Ilonggo term for “hidden,” is a sterling example of how palay farming isn’t a lucrative source of income for many Filipino farming families.
Especially for women villagers in Tinago, the only way to pull their families from the quagmire of poverty is to work as domestic workers abroad.
The lush rice and corn farms deep into the remote village are dotted far in between by concrete houses—some in various stages of construction—which residents proudly stressed as the fruits “not of farming but the sweat and tears of those who found greener pastures outside the country.”
Mostly college undergraduates due to poverty, those who left their families usually find work in the Middle East as household helpers.
Jeanelyn Villavende, 26, was one of them.
Fondly called “Tata,” she dreamed to build a better house for her family and to redeem the three-fourths hectare of farmland that her parents mortgaged in the amount that had risen to P350,000.
But fate was not kind to her.
According to an autopsy conducted by the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI), she was raped and brutally beaten to death in Kuwait, allegedly by her employers who have been detained by Kuwaiti authorities.
The autopsy report conducted by Kuwaiti authorities did not indicate she was raped, only that she died “due to acute failure of heart and respiration as a result of shock and multiple injuries in the vascular nervous system.”
Before Villavende left last year for the first time to work in Kuwait as a domestic helper, she also worked as a maid for a few years in Koronadal City, the capital of South Cotabato and the seat of government of Region 12.
She earned only P2,500 a month, said Jovelyn, Villavende’s 23-year-old sister.
“But even with her meager salary then, she would extend financial support until I had my own family. She’s a kind person,” Jovelyn told MindaNews.
Villavende’s remains were brought on January 10 to the two-story decades-old house of her grandmother Emeliana for the wake, after the autopsy conducted on her remains by the NBI a day earlier at a funeral parlor in this town.
After at least five months in Kuwait, Villavende, who had complained of maltreatment and underpayment from her employers, managed to buy her family only a carabao, Jovelyn said.
“Those who killed her should be hanged to death for the pain they inflicted to my sister and to us,” Jovelyn added.
Moises Villavende, an uncle of the victim who had served as Barangay Tinago chairman, said that his niece was lured to work abroad because many women villagers had found greener pastures there.
“Many households in our village had female family members working as domestic helpers in the Middle East over the years,” Moises said.
He recalled that he even discouraged Villavende from going abroad “as fate may not be kind to her,” but she was determined to give a good life for her family.
Villavende had managed to send only three times half of her salary back home, portions of which is allocated for the education of their 11-year-old stepsister, Jovelyn said. The victim’s monthly pay is a little over P20,000.
She noted the money that her elder sister sent home was not even enough to start the construction of the house she dreamt for her family to replace the dilapidated thatched house they are residing in at present.
Akina Marie, their stepsister who is now in Grade 6, would celebrate her birthday tomorrow, January 16, while Villavende’s remains lie in wake. Her interment was scheduled on January 23.
When asked if she will celebrate her birthday, Akina Marie looked distantly, then wished death for those who killed Villavende.
Their father, Abelardo, has been pressing for the death penalty for the detained Kuwaiti couple whom they believed murdered Villavende.
Kuwait re-imposed the death penalty for capital offenses such as murder and rape in 2017.
Villavende’s family received nearly one million pesos in financial assistance from government agencies and an insurance company, which Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III handed during his visit to the wake on January 10.
Bello ordered a partial deployment ban of newly hired workers to Kuwait following the death of Villavende, who died on December 28.
At the wake, Bello promised the government will impose a total deployment ban to Kuwait if the autopsy conducted by the NBI can prove that Villavende was raped.
“Walang kwenta ang autopsy na ginawa ng Kuwait,” Bello, awaiting the formal written NBI autopsy report, told the victim’s family members.
In a press conference here, Bello, who was briefed by the NBI, noted that Villavende was “gravely abused” and that the Kuwaiti report was “vague on the cause of her death.”
On January 13, Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra released in Manila the results of the NBI autopsy that showed that Villavende was sexually abused and beaten to death.
Emeliana, Villavende’s 87-year-old grandmother, described the victim, who only finished high school, as a “very good girl.”
“If you scold her, she would not shoot back,” the grandmother, who helped raised Villavende, told MindaNews.
All she wanted in working abroad was to help her family get out of poverty, Emeliana stressed.
She had gone in a dastardly manner without achieving her dreams, and no amount of money can compensate for her death, she added.
“The perpetrators should be made to pay with their lives also to give justice to my granddaughter’s death,” the old woman said. (Bong S. Sarmiento / MindaNews)