Remember them? Troubled OFWs who made headlines

Patrick Quintos and Aleta Nieva Nishimori, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Apr 04 2018 12:08 PM | Updated as of Apr 04 2018 02:45 PM

MANILA - They have been called "modern heroes" for leaving their homes for work abroad so they can provide for their families. But not every overseas Filipino worker (OFW) ends up a success. 

Time and again, reports of kidnapping, abuse, or killings of OFWs make headlines. Some of these workers are rescued but some arrive home in sealed coffins.

Despite the risks, around 2.2 million Filipinos were still working abroad in 2016, data from the Philippine Statistics Authority show. This does not even include the number of undocumented OFWs.

Among these Filipino workers was Joanna Demafelis, 29, who was found dead inside a freezer in her employer's apartment in Kuwait.

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A Kuwaiti court has sentenced her employer and his Syrian wife to death by hanging over her murder. A deployment ban on the Gulf state has been imposed by the Philippine government.

Here are some of the cases of abuse, near executions, or killings of Filipinos abroad that made the headlines:

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1. Sarah Balabagan

Sarah Balabagan's story made headlines all over the world when she was jailed in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) in 1994 for murdering her abusive employer. She was initially sentenced to death but the sentence was reduced to a year in jail and 100 strokes of the cane.

Faking her passport, Balabagan was able to work in UAE for a 67-year-old widower with 4 sons at age 14. She claimed that her employer attempted to rape her, prompting her to stab him in self-defense. 

She was released after a Filipino businessman paid the blood money to her employer's kin. She returned to the Philippines in 1996 to a hero's welcome. She is now married and living a new life in Las Vegas as an advocate against human trafficking.

2. Flor Contemplacion

In perhaps one of the most widely followed OFW cases in the 1990s, Filipino domestic worker Flor Contemplacion was executed by hanging in Singapore for killing fellow Filipino, Delia Maga, and her 4-year-old ward. 

The 42-year-old Pinay initially confessed to the crime. But witnesses came forward a month before her execution saying she made the confession under duress. Singapore, in a quick probe, declared these testimonies to be false. 

There was a huge public outrage against the Singaporean court's decision to execute the Filipina mother. Then-President Fidel V. Ramos appealed to stop the execution but the government proceeded anyway, straining relations between the 2 countries.

3. Angelo dela Cruz

A company driver for a Saudi Arabian company, Angelo dela Cruz was held hostage by Iraqi militants in 2004. His captors threatened to behead him if the Philippines would not withdraw its troops who joined a multinational coalition of forces fighting the Iraq war.

After more than two weeks of grueling negotiations, Dela Cruz was released. To the dismay of the US and the Iraqi governments, then-President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo yielded to the demand of the militants to withdraw Philippine forces. 

4. Maricris Sioson

Maricris Sioson was 22-years old when she tried her luck as a dancer in Fukushima, Japan in 1991.

But an autopsy conducted by the National Bureau of Investigation when her remains arrived in the country showed that the OFW had died because of traumatic head injuries. She had been stabbed too.

The Philippine government sent a mission to Japan to probe the case but Japanese authorities did not permit foreigners’ investigation of crimes committed within their territory.

5. Jocelyn Lucena

In 2015, Jocelyn Lucena, a Filipina household service worker in Jeddah, used social media to post a photo of herself covered in bruises she sustained from her abusive employer's son over a simple mistake. 

Lucena's appeal for help on Facebook went viral and she was rescued by the Philippine government. It was not the first time the mother of 6 was maltreated. But she said the latest was the worst.

6. Mary Jane Veloso

Mary Jane Veloso was sentenced to death in October 2010 after she was caught with 2.6 kilograms of heroin at Yogyakarta airport in Indonesia. 

The mother of two claimed not knowing that her recruiters planted illegal drugs in the suitcase they gave her.

In 2015, Indonesia gave her a last minute reprieve after the Philippine government said her testimony would be vital in the human trafficking case against her alleged illegal recruiters.

7. Joselito Zapanta

In 2007, Joselito Zapanta worked as a tile-setter in Saudi Arabia. 

Two years later, he was arrested and sentenced to death for the murder of his Sudanese landlord after a heated argument over rent.

Blood money was sought by the Sudanese family amounting to SR 5-million or equivalent to P50 million. The amount was later reduced to P48 million. 

The OFW's family, with the help of the Philippine government, was able to raise only P23 million.

He was executed in December 29, 2015.

8. Jakatia Pawa

Jakatia Pawa was sentenced to death after she was implicated in the murder of her employer's 22-year-old daughter in 2007 in Kuwait.

She was executed by hanging in January 25, 2017. 

Hours before her scheduled execution, Pawa called up her brother, Lt. Col. Angaris Pawa, to inform him about it and to entrust the care of her two children to him.

9. Jennifer Dalquez

It was in June 2017 when Jennifer Dalquez was saved from death row after a United Arab Emirates (UAE) court acquitted her of the crime of murder for killing her employer in December 2014.

The OFW was cleaning households on the side while working as an assistant to a doctor in the UAE. 

In December 2014, an Arab local contacted her to clean their home. The local attempted to rape her at knifepoint but she fought back to defend herself, accidentally killing him.

She was charged with murder in 2015.

The court declared her innocent without the need to pay blood money. But she was sentenced to 5 years imprisonment, minus the number of days she spent in jail for stealing a mobile phone.

She is expected to complete her sentence and return to General Santos City in 2019.

10. Dondon Lanuza

Rodelio "Dondon" Celestino Lanuza spent 13 years in jail in Saudi Arabia before he was set free in 2013.

Lanuza was sentenced to death by beheading in 2001 for killing a Saudi national.

He was pardoned after the victim's family finally agreed to sign a tanazul or letter of forgiveness after receiving blood money amounting to SAR 3 million.

The money came from donations, including contributions from the Philippine government. The Lanuzas were also grateful to the late Saudi King, His Royal Highness King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz al Saud for shouldering the bulk of the remaining blood money.