Janice Joy Pampangan’s arms bore marks of being either tied with a thick rope or handcuffed; her left eye was missing; and her internal organs were shrunken. Her fingernails were long and her body appeared disheveled, indicating that she was tied, abused, and left to die.
by INA ALLECO R. SILVERIO
There is no grief like that of parents whose child had been killed and continues to be denied justice.
A year after her death, the family of Janice Joy Pampangan, 25, continues to cry to high heavens seeking justice for their daughter. Janice Joy, originally from Makilala, Kidapawan in South Cotabato, died in Jordan May 2010 under mysterious circumstances. The mystery has been compounded as her family received three death certificates stating three different dates of her demise.
According to Migrante-Middle East regional director John Leonard Monterona, the Pampangan family has sought the assistance of a Migrante chapter in Davao City because they felt Philippine authorities have not acted on their appeals for an investigation into Janice Joy’s death.
Janice Joy was recruited by a Paranaque-based Almeladi recruitment agency to work as a domestic worker for a Jordanian household. She left for Jordan on September 15, 2005. She signed a two-year contract and successfully completed it in 2007, but, according to reports, her employer forbid her to leave despite her constant pleas.
In the fact sheet of her case prepared by Migrante-Davao chapter, Janice Joy’s parents said that in October 2007, their daughter was able to talk to them on the phone but the call lasted for less than 30 minutes. Her previous phone calls were even shorter and so were the ones that followed that October 2007 call.
The victim’s father had previously accused the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (Owwa) of negligence for her daughter’s death. In a media interview, Janice’s father Faustino Pampangan said that after leaving for Oman, jordan in 2005, Janice did not contact her family for five months causing her parents to worry. Faustino went to the OWWA, but the agency told him to wait for at least a year explaining that it was not unusual for OFW to fail to contact their families for long periods.
After a year of waiting, he went back and asked Owwa about her daughter’s whereabouts and was asked to wait again.
Finally, during that period, they were able to talk to Janice Joy, but the girl said she could not talk much about what was happening to her because her employer was always present. “But even then she was already asking us to help her to leave her employer,” the father said.
Janice Joy’s mother said they had also gone to the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA), but the DFA only kept telling them that they were still “processing” Janice Joy’s case. We kept returning to the DFA, but they were never able to help us,” she said.
Owwa and DFA deaf to OFW family’s pleas
For three years since their daughter began working in Jordan, Faustino said they appealed to the DFA and the Owwa to help bring Janice Joy home out of fear for her safety. They were convinced even then that Janice Joy was a victim of constant abuse.
“She was forced to stay with her employer for three years, but the entire time she wanted to come home. We kept asking the Owwa for help, but all it did was refer us to different offices,” Faustino said.
It was on June 2010 when the family received a message from an OFW acquaintance that Janice Joy had died. They also received a call that same month from Janice’s employer Karim Swelim telling them that she died of a brain stroke and that she was previously diagnosed to have been infected with the HIV virus. He also told the family that they should claim her remains and have it brought home from Jordan.
“We were the ones who called the Philippine consul in Jordan Francis Mark Hamoy to inform him about what happened to our daughter. He told us that he was unaware of any report about it and that he still had t verify it,” Faustino said.
The following August 24, the DFA confirmed Janice Joy’s death. On September 13 her body was flown home. Her family had to raise money to have her remains repatriated.
The family was again shocked when they finally saw Janice Joy’s body.
“She was wearing only a diaper!” her mother said.
Left to die
Monterona said the family also found marks on Janice Joy’s hands, which were possible indications that she was tied by a thick and hard rope. Her finger nails had also grown long and her armpit hair had reached her elbow.
Her internal organs were also severely shrunken, and it was not because of ossification. It was possible that her stomach had shrunk because she was not able to eat enough when she was still alive. There was also the grim possibility that she was kept imprisoned and left to die,” he said.
This was corroborated by a report by Owwa Region-12 Director Jimmy Omag, which indicated that the victim’s body had been reduced to skin and bones and the left eye was missing. He said there were handcuff marks on Janice Joy’s wrists and legs. The fingernails had also grown and appeared unkempt.
Monterona said it was also suspicious how the Oman, Jordan authorities issued three death certificates each one stating Janice Joy’s death on a different date.
“The first one said she died on June 21, the other June 22, while the third on July 22,” Monterona said, citing the affidavit submitted by the victim’s family.
“Another inconsistency found on the documents sent along with her remains is the date of the autopsy May 9, 2010. If this is true, then she was autopsied before she was dead. There was even a text message sent by Janice Joy’s employer on May 22, 2010 saying that Janice died on that day,” he said.
Monterona, in the meantime, expressed frustration over why Philippine embassy officials in Jordan did not question the inconsistencies in the reports on the OFW’s death, as well the circumstances that surrounded it.
“The Pampangan family cannot be expected to do anything else than to demand for justice for their daughter and what she suffered. Only two weeks ago, the remains of another OFW – Romilyn Eroy Ibanez arrived one year after her death and her body was also discovered to be mutilated beyond recognition. It’s appalling how OFWs continue to be abused and killed by their employers but Philippine authorities have done nothing to put an end to it,” she said.
OFW in Saudi jailed for crime she didn’t commit
In a related development, Migrante is also assisting in the case of another Filipina domestic worker in Saudi Arabia who was convicted of theft after being tried in absentia.
Citing a report from the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC), Monterona said Melanie Cordon, a domestic worker is currently detained in Hail Main prison, Hail City in Saudi Arabia. Cordon was falsely charged for theft that lead to her conviction after being subjected to a trial in absentia.
According to AHRC, Cordon was employed by a Saudi household as a domestic worker, but when she arrived she was told that she was to work in the house of her declared employer’s brother. The wife of the brother of her original employer had reportedly gone through several miscarriages . Then, in June 2011 , the couple went on vacation and Melanie was again transferred, this time to the house of the mother of her sponsor-employer.
“Melanie was made to work extremely long hours as she had to clean a four-story house. She asked for permission to go home to the Philippines, but the mother of her employer asked her to finish the first year of her two-year contract, which should have expired on August 7. The woman also asked Melanie to stay until after Ramadan,” Monterona said.
Melanie reportedly packed her belongings in preparation for her August departure, but in July the brother of her sponsor-employer and his wife returned to Saudi and asked her to return to them. Melanie then left her sponsor-employer’s mother house but did not take her luggage, only a few items in a plastic bag.
On August 14 at 11pm, which should have been the day of her flight from Jeddah to the Philippines, she went back to retrieve her luggage from her sponsor-employer’s house.
“When she arrived to collect her luggage she found that it had been opened. There was a woman standing behind it who identified herself as a police woman. Melanie was handcuffed and taken to a nearby police station because her sponsor-employer’s mother had accused her of theft. In Melanie’s absence, they had examined her belongings and apparently ‘found’ unwashed underwear belonging to her sponsor-employer’s mother,” said the AHRC report.
Melanie was able to make a phone call after one week and two days in detention on August 24, 2011 at 7 pm to her brother informing him of what had happened. A ruling was released that Melanie would serve a sentence of four months to one year.
“This is upsetting. So many of our OFWs are being unjustly charged of crimes they didn’t commit, and are forced to spend time in prison. When will Philippine authorities address this?,” Monterona said. He said there are at least 120 other OFWs who remain in jail despite their jail terms having ended but have yet to be released and repatriated.
Monterona called on the Philippine embassy in Riyadh to immediately dispatch a consular team to look into Melanie’s case and provide the needed legal assistance. He said he had already endorsed the urgent appeal letter made by AHRC to the Philippine Embassy in Riyadh and urged other OFW groups to do the same.