MANILA (4th UPDATE) - The alleged recruiter of domestic worker Joanna Demafelis, whose death prompted the government to ban the deployment of Filipino workers to Kuwait, has surrendered, authorities said Thursday.
Agnes Tuballes said she went to the Philippine National Police Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (PNP-CIDG) office to clear her name after Demafelis' family tagged her as the slain Filipina's recruiter.
PNP-CIDG Director Roel Obusan, however, said Tuballes is not yet off the hook.
Obusan said that aside from Tuballes, police would also investigate one Ara Midtimbang, who connected the recruitment agency to possible employers in Kuwait, Mariz Asanji Mohammad, who is now in the custody of the National Bureau of Investigation, and employees of recruitment agency Our Lady of Mt. Carmel E-Global Human Resources Inc.
"May kakilala sa Kuwait na Filipina din, si Ara na asawa ng Kuwaiti, siya ang naghahanap kung sino-sino ang employer, sinabihan niya si Agnes na maghanap ka d'yan ng agency na puwede nating gamitin ang pangalan. Nakahanap naman si Agnes, Mt. Carmel, para gamitin ang pangalan para sa kontrata doon," Obusan said.
"Dalawa iniimbestigahan natin, 'yung killing, [at] sa kanila naman manner ng employment kung may problema, so nagsisimula pa lang tayo. We are building up cases."
Tuballes, a distant relative of Demafelis, was presented by the CIDG in a press conference where she denied that she processed the migrant worker's job papers.
"Hindi ko siya ni-recruit. That day, September 26, 2013, umalis ako papuntang Hong Kong bilang katulong. Nagta-trabaho ako doon bilang katulong. December or January nag-message ang kapatid ko na nag-chat sila ni Joanna na gustong magpatulong mag-apply papuntang abroad," she said.
She said she only recommended the recruitment agency to Demafelis sometime in 2016 because it waived placement fees.
Tuballes admitted she worked for the agency before she became a domestic worker in Hong Kong from 2013 to 2016.
"Ni-refer ko siya sa Our Lady of Mt . Carmel. Sabi ko, 'doon ka ma-apply kasi doon free passport, no placement fee, at no salary deduction.' Kaya nakapag-abroad siya nang free at legal. Legal po 'yung Our Lady kaya doon ko siya ni-refer," she said.
She also admitted receiving a commission of P13,000 pesos from the recruitment agency for Joanna's deployment, higher than the P5,000 commission she usually got for every worker sent abroad.
Tuballes said she never heard from Demafelis since then.
She added that Demafelis' family did not approach her when the migrant worker went missing. When she learned about what happened, she said she was planning to go to the family but without media coverage.
"Wala sa expectation ko na 'yun pala si Joanna ang nasa freezer at nung nalaman ko, shocked ako, hindi ako makapaniwala. Na-guilty ako sa sarili ko bakit hindi ako nakatulong," said Tuballes.
"Sabi ko naman paano ko matulungan, wala akong alam kung ok ba siya or hindi siya ok kasi wala akong natanggap na complaint galing sa pamilya na andun lang naman ako sa bahay ko sa Iloilo almost 1 year na," she added.
She said she wondered why the Demafelis family, who are based in Sara, Iloilo, did not come to her even while she lived close by.
Tuballes lamented how she was blamed for Demafelis' death.
"Sana kinuha niyo muna ang side ko bago niyo ako hinusgahan. Hindi po ako ang suspek, ngayon parang ako ang lumabas na prime suspect. Hindi po ako ang pumatay kay Joanna para ilabas niyo ang picture ko nang walang pahintulot. Ngayon, ano'ng masasabi niyo kasi sinira niyo ang pangalan ko, 'yung mga anak ko?" Tuballes said.
She said she would ask forgiveness from Demafelis' family.
"Matapos 'yung libing, pupunta ako doon. Manghihingi talaga ako ng dispensa dahil sa nangyari kay Joanna dahil hindi ko ginusto," Tuballes said.
Tuballes worked in Qatar as an office clerk in April 2017. After a few months, she became a recruitment officer of Al Madinah Manpower agency in Manila.
With her statement before the media, Tuballes hopes the truth would come out. She said her children have been bullied after she was linked to Demafelis' death.
"Hindi ko ginusto na mamatay si Joanna doon," she said, breaking down in tears.
Demafelis' body, which bore torture wounds including bruises and a broken hipbone, was found in a freezer in Kuwait earlier this year.
Her recruiters could be held liable for her death as they failed to monitor her condition, the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) had said.
Demafelis' employers, a Lebanese-Syrian couple tagged in her killing, were arrested last week after an Interpol manhunt.
The ban on the deployment of Filipino workers to Kuwait will remain for now even after the arrest of the 2 suspects, Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III said Monday.
Also on Thursday, two others linked to Demafelis' recruitment surfaced and went to the National Bureau of Investigation.