WHILE politicians and their kin were struggling to have their photos taken with Sarah Balabagan, the body of another ill-fated overseas contract worker was being collected by her relatives at the airport.
The 26 year old Elisa Salem died on 27 July and was transported back to Manila from Jordan by the very same flight that brought Sarah home. According to authorities in Jordan, Elisa, a domestic helper, died after allegedly jumping from the house of her employer to escape.
However, relatives of Elisa are not convinced with the report of her death. Her body bore bruises, swellings and abrasion. Her unsent letters in an envelope that accompanied her body revealed her ordeal. In her letter to Alex, her partner, Elisa described her violent and abusive female employer, Majoda Tawfig.
"This happened because I told my employer that I have a child and husband and that I did not know that she needs someone single. When she learned this, no day passes without her beatings making me crawl on the cemented floor. All my body is bruised due to her beatings. She kicks my chest with her heels. I've very few hair left. I can't believe this will happen to me…"
Since arriving in Jordan in March this year, Elisa had not received any money from her employer who forced her to work 18 hours every day. She was also made to pay for furniture and equipment she allegedly damaged and broke. "She charged to me all her old and damaged things. She told me to pay for one year for her telephone which exploded or she'll have me detained so that I will not be able to go back home."
Fearing for her life, Elisa, who was virtually a slave of her employer, was made to sign a contract extending her employment for another year. Knowing that Elisa entered Jordan on a tourist visa and false document, the Tawfigs' brutality and violence escalated. She was forced to work just in her underwear and was often called a prostitute. In her letter to her parents she pleaded for help, "She hits me with the handle of the vacuum cleaner… Mama, Papa, my body is being subjected to so much suffering I don't know if I'll last my contract. Please help me. Only you can help me since there is no one else I can run to for help…
In her last few months in Jordan, Elisa's relatives tried to contact her to no avail until they learned from a barangay official that they needed to collect her body at the airport. Contradicting her despicable condition in her previous letters Elisa allegedly wrote a farewell letter claiming she was in good condition and that the Tawfigs are even considering adopting her as their own daughter.
Elisa's relatives claimed that the strange farewell letter was not in Elisa's handwriting. They suspect that it must have been written by another Filipino domestic helper known to Elisa and the Tawfigs.
The National Bureau of Investigations (NBI) is unlikely to further inquiries in Jordan since there is no diplomatic relationship between two countries. The NBI also found it difficult to conduct an autopsy because Elisa's remains do not contain her vital internal organs. Such absence, according to the NBI would be an obstacle in determining the true cause of her death.
The only thing Philippine authorities say they can do is to appeal for witnesses to cooperate. After meeting with Elisa's parents, Senator Marcelo Fernan urged authorities to check on another Filipina in Jordan who may be the author of the bogus letter. Fernan said that a certain Romela Costales of Davao, who also uses the surnames "Salve" and "Rivera", may be the "missing link" that could shed light upon the circumstances surrounding the death of Elisa.
Dear Mama & Papa,
Sometimes, I think of committing suicide but what will happen to you, my loved ones. But my body is suffering so much due to her frequent beatings. When she learned that I have a child already, she charged that I am a prostitute and she tells this to all. But I suffer all of these. Until now, I have not received a single centavo of my salary for my labors.
I am very scared that they will even include you in my predicament. They are "big timers" even in the Philippines. This is what I get for stating in my passport that I am single. So please be careful when you write to me since my life is at stake here, Mama, Papa. If you address me differently from my passport name, she can have me detained and not one of you will ever know. She is very influential anywhere. You can be interrogated so a little caution.
Now, I seem to have typhoid fever since I have very little hair and I have many bruises all over my body. She made me sign to extend my contract as a payment for everything or I will be detained for life. Please, Mama, write me to cure my loneliness and don't forget that my name is Elisa Salem and my life is at stake here.
I hope that you will always make me a prayer request that nothing will happen to me. I want to go home alive for my child, Mama, and for you all.
I suffered all of these for more than two months. I breathe with difficulty. I felt like something snapped in my back and my chest. So pray for me that He will always give me strength and firmness...
In behalf of Elisa Salem's family, we appeal to you and your organization and to all those who are committed to defending human rights, to:
1. Write protest letters calling for an investigation of the case of ELISA SALEM. Address them to:
Fidel V. Ramos, President, Republic of the Philippines, Malacañang Palace, Manila, Philippines
Domingo Siazon, Secretary, Department of Foreign Affairs, 2330 Roxas Blvd., Pasay City, Metro Manila, Philippines
Wilhelm Soriano, Administrator, Overseas Workers Welfare Administration, OWWA Bldg., Gil Puyat Ave., cor. Roxas Blvd., Metro Manila, Philippines
Please mail these to KAKAMMPI, 17 Calderon Street, Project 4, Quezon City, Philippines. We will forward them to the authorities all together, for greater impact. You can also send thru fax number 0011-632-438-5227 or thru e-mail address email@example.com.
2. Send protest letters calling for an investigation of her case to the Jordanian embassy in your country.
3. Project the case of Elisa and the plight of many more Filipino OCWs to the mass media, for multiple effect of this appeal.