Slain OFW wasn't allowed to talk to family for 2 months

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, January 3) — On her last days, Jeanelyn Villavende – the Filipina domestic worker killed in Kuwait – was apparently prevented from taking phone calls from her family in the Philippines, her relatives revealed Friday.

Her stepmother, Nelly Padernal told CNN Philippines that she last spoke to Villavende over the phone on October 27, 2019.

Villavende did not talk much but assured her family she was "okay." Padernal said her stepdaughter seemed fine, and that their family believed she really was.

Padernal, however, started worrying in November because she could only talk to the Kuwaiti employer, who would say Villavende was too busy working.

"Noong December 11, tawag ako ulit, ganun pa rin 'yung sinasabi ng employer niya, hindi na pinapakausap sa akin," Padernal said in a phone interview on Friday. "Nangamba na ako."

[Translation: On December 11, I called again, her employer said the same thing, not letting her speak to me. I got worried.]

Feeling restless, Padernal made another call two days later.

"Nagsalita na yung employer na back to the Philippines daw si Jeanelyn tapos nagsabi ako sa kanya ano ang reason... Sabi niya early in the morning daw 10:00 gumising tapos no work daw, no cook. 'Yun nagalit ang employer niya," Padernal said.

[Translation: The employer said Jeanelyn was back to the Philippines so I asked her why. She said early in the morning, at 10:00, Jeanelyn woke up and did not work or cook. The employer was mad.]

"Sabi ko baka nag-rest lang sa sobrang pagod," she added.

[Translation: I said Jeanelyn was probably just too tired so she decided to take a rest.]

Padernal never heard from Villavende or her employer since then, until a lawyer from the Department of Foreign Affairs informed their family on Monday that Villavende was killed. The exact date of her death remains unknown days after making headlines this week.

The suspects – the couple in the household where she worked – are now detained in Kuwait.

Justice for Jeanelyn

Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III said Villavende was badly beaten up, her body black and blue when brought to the hospital.

"Sana bigyan ng hustisya ang kaso ni Jeanelyn (I hope justice is served in Jeanelyn's case)," Padernal said. All the family could do now is wait her her remains in her hometown in South Cotabato. They were told it take a few more days because of the autopsy.

The Philippine government is now working on a partial deployment ban, prohibiting new and returning household service workers from flying to Kuwait. Bello said the ban would be lifted only when Villavende's killers are charged.

He added that Villavende already reported to her local recruitment agency in September 2019 that she was being maltreated and underpaid. Villavende also requested for repatriation, but the agency did nothing, Bello said. It is now under investigation, facing possible suspension or cancellation of license.

PH-Kuwait relations

The Philippines implemented a total deployment ban in February 2018 after a string of reports of Filipino workers being abused and killed in Kuwait, including Filipina maid Joanna Demafelis who was found dead inside a freezer.

The ban was also lifted in May that year. The two countries also signed an agreement for the protection of Filipino workers.

Bello, however, lamented that certain provisions have not been followed, including the drafting of a template employment contract that would allow Filipinos to keep their passports and cellphones which are often surrendered to employers. The working and sleeping hours should also be specified, Bello said.

More than 200,000 Filipinos are in Kuwait, mostly household service workers.

The Gulf state is the tenth biggest source of remittances, with Filipinos working there sending $625.9 million (around ₱31.97 billion) back home from January to October 2019, according to central bank data.