ILOILO, Philippines (AFP) - More than a hundred relatives and supporters of a Filipina maid whose body was found stuffed in a freezer in Kuwait brandished banners demanding justice as her coffin was returned home on Saturday (Feb 17).
The family of Joanna Demafelis openly wept as the white casket was unloaded at an airport cargo terminal in the central city of Iloilo.
"Justice for Joanna D. Demafelis," was emblazoned on banners and on T-shirts worn by the crowd which included a congressman and local officials expressing their anger over the death of the Filipina whose body was found in a freezer in Kuwait earlier this month.
The incident worsened a diplomatic flap between the Philippines and Kuwait with President Rodrigo Duterte alleging that Arab employers routinely rape their Filipina workers, force them to work 21 hours a day and feed them scraps.
He has also banned the deployment of new workers to Kuwait and ordered airlines to fly home any of the 252,000 Filipinos working there who wish to return.
About 10 million Filipinos work abroad and the money they remit back is a lifeline of the Philippine economy. Their treatment abroad is often a political issue at home.
Kuwait's foreign minister previously condemned Manila's "escalation," of the issue but Philippine Foreign Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano said on Friday the Kuwaiti ambassador had assured him his government was "outraged" over the killing and determined to find those responsible.
A distraught Eva Demafelis could only say "I am sad," when asked by reporters about the death of her daughter.
"She does not deserve the manner in which she died. She was beaten up," said an aunt, Rosela Demafelis Taunan, referring to local news reports about the 29-year-old maid's death.
"She decided to go abroad because she wanted to help her parents repair the house that was damaged by Super Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan)," in 2013, the aunt recalled.
The slain maid also wanted to finance the college education of her youngest sister, Joyce, the aunt said.
Residents lined the highway as the funeral convoy escorted by police cars and motorcycles made its way to Demafelis's hometown, about a two hour's drive from the city.
Labour Secretary Silvestre Bello said late on Friday that "working groups" from both countries were discussing forging a memorandum for protecting the rights of Filipinos in Kuwait, many of whom are working as maids.
Domestic workers in that country are not covered by ordinary labour legislation, and accounts of Filipinas being subjected to abuse and exploitation in the Middle East have long circulated.