Jocelyn Dulnuan, 27, more heart-breaking, it's the despicable attitude of the Philippine Consulate, which refuses to pay to ship her body back home. The very least the Philippine government could do to honour the lonely self-sacrifice and hard labour of these women is to pay its respects - and for the shipment of its coffins - when these vulnerable women are murdered in exile.”
Those were the words by one letter-writer to The Toronto Star . I think the letter-writer hit the nail right on its head. More to the point, she has encapsulated with eloquence the sentiment shared among many Filipinos about the reported initial inaction of the Philippine Consulate-Toronto in repatriating the body of the murdered Overseas Filipino Worker (OFW).
Indeed, if you are Filipino, you cannot help but grieve for what happened to Jocelyn, who was found dead in a basement of her employer's multi-million-dollar mansion in Mississauga last October 1. Indeed, if you are Filipino, you cannot help but grieve more over the action (or inaction) of the Philippine Consulate - which, just to remind you, represents the Philippine government - in handling situations like this. While we seek justice for Jocelyn, we also ask questions about the actions of the government in this particular case.
This kind of reaction has become too familiar for some of us, and it seems that it is becoming a pattern. There are a couple of incidents in the past that come to mind whenever I hear the issue of repatriation. One, the case of one Filipina who was a victim of a vehicular accident, when her friends approached the consulate for help, the response was in fact a suggestion for friends and community groups to “fundraise” in order to repatriate the dead body. Two, the case of Elenita Pailanan, who died in a Toronto hospital last July, when her friends approached the consulate few days after she died, “a consular staffperson just told them to fundraise themselves and seek help from Filipino organizations.” Of course, the fundraisings happened. Elenita's body was eventually repatriated through the efforts of the work agency that she worked with.
Now here comes the Jocelyn Dulnuan case. When Imie Belanger, Jocelyn's neighbour in the Philippines, and the cousin of the victim went to the Philippine Consulate to ask for help, one official told them to fundraise in order for the body to be sent back home. I asked Imie about this and here is what she said, “He (consular official) told us that they will do what they can do but there's no guarantee and suggested that we fundraise. His body language and expression at that moment indicate and gave me the impression that there is no help.” Knowing the past experience, I have more reasons to believe in Imie's gut feeling about this issue. If fundraising is always the answer, I am wondering why not the consulate announce a direct instruction to all Filipinos living in the GTA to prepare in advance a fundraising event for their own advantage in the future?
Granting that the work agency was responsible for the Elenita case, and someone else was responsible for the case of the other Filipina, and Jocelyn's membership to Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) already lapsed last July, but there is one common denominator in all these three cases - they are Filipino nationals. They were all migrant workers who tried to keep their country's economy afloat through dollar remittances. They were all “modern heroes” who tried to give their families a better life. They are all human beings whose dead bodies deserved respect and at least decent coffins in traveling back to their homeland.
So why is it that the consular office seemed passing the buck to Filipino organizations and to the Filipino migrants themselves whenever a situation or problem such as this comes up? Are they sticking to technicalities to be found in Section 15 of the Migrant Workers and Overseas Filipinos Act of 1995 (RA 8042)? If so then maybe this law needs to be amended now in order to catch up with reality.
Also, I really do not understand why on earth the consular office does not have funds for repatriation of bodies of their nationals, and that they have to call and ask for funding from the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) in Manila every time an OFW has died. What happened to the emergency repatriation fund as mandated by RA 8042 under the supervision of OWWA?
Perhaps you know already that DFA Secretary Alberto Romulo, according to newspaper reports in Manila , has instructed the Philippine Consul General in Toronto “to provide full cooperation for bringing anyone responsible for the crime to justice, as well as full assistance to the victim's next of kin, especially in the repatriation of the remains to the Philippines .”
Last Saturday, October 6, there was a press conference and fundraising held at Patricia Kemp Community Center in Vaughan . During the press con, a lot of reporters were asking if there was any representative from the Philippine Consulate around. Indeed, a representative came, but when he arrived the press con was long finished, and most of the media people had left already. Anyway, there was a statement from the Consul General and an official of one of the Filipino organizations present read it. The statement said in part that the consulate had already made a request for funds from Manila office, and that they still were waiting for the response coming from Manila . After the statement was read, some Filipino news reporters tried to get a copy of the statement. The representative refused to give the copy to them. I do not understand why.
Imie Belanger told me later in an e-mail that the representative who came in last Saturday is the same person that she and Jocelyn's cousin met at the consular office. In a chance meeting last Saturday, the representative told her that he was not impressed by Imie's “sweeping” statements in the media. The representative also told her about the pledge of $5,000 from the consular office. Well, what can I say? Because of media reports, this murder case and other issues have been put in the spotlight. Because of media reports, Filipino migrants have realized how hard it is to be a victim of crimes abroad. Because of media reports, Filipino organizations have come together to raise funds for one of the “modern heroes” to be brought back to the Philippines . But, is it really our responsibility to do such a thing?
Maybe Imie has the appropriate words for this: “It is neither my job nor the community's job to “fundraise” so that these heroes be sent home. It is the Philippine government's job. It is my job and the community to support the grieving family in anyway we can to further assist in alleviating their pain....” Think about it.