February 21, 2013 1:00 PM
MANILA, Philippines – While the local police continue to investigate the alleged suicide of a female overseas Filipino worker in Abu Dhabi within a week of her arrival there, the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) said it is investigating her recruitment agency here.
Alona Bagayan, a mother of four, is the first OFW to die abroad this year, according to Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) chief Carmelita Dimzon.
Bagayan was recruited by the Al-Masiyah Overseas Placement Agency Inc. to work as a household worker in Dubai. She left the Philippines on January 30, and was found dead in Abu Dhabi – not in Dubai, where she was supposed to be sent to work – on February 5, according to Abu Dhabi-based family friend Bernadette Cabamalan.
Cabamalan called the Philippine embassy in Dubai for information in behalf of the Bagayan family.
And initial police reports indicate that Bagayan hurt herself with a knife before throwing herself off a building, said Dimzon.
OWWA’s welfare officer in the United Arab Emirates is monitoring the investigation to ascertain the cause of Bagayan’s death, the OWWA chief said.
Bagayan’s sister, Maricel, has also gone to the Department of Foreign Affairs, where she was told that it would take weeks before Alona’s body could be brought home while the investigation is going on. She also signed an agreement to claim her sister’s body at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport as soon as it arrives.
A photo of a woman, supposedly Alona, covered with a plain white sheet and lying on the ground where she had fallen to her death from a building, has made the rounds of social networking site Facebook.com. The photo continues to puzzle the Bagayan family.
“She was lying on the ground face-up. Are there really people who jump to their death and fall that way? And where was the blood? Was it true that she killed herself?” Maricel wondered aloud in a phone interview with InterAksyon.com.
The family still does not know who Alona’s employer was, or where she was employed.
“I hope this reaches the President and the Vice-President,” said Maricel, who is frustrated with the “slow pace” of the investigation into her sister’s death.
Dimzon said results could not be expected in an instant. Likewise, POEA Administrator Hans Cacdac said it would take three to six months to probe the Al-Masiyah Overseas Placement Agency Inc., which has a valid license to operate until 2014. Cacdac said POEA will also be looking into Bagayan’s employer.
Failure to report Bagayan’s death
While his agency awaits a report from the Philippine Overseas Labor Office at Abu Dhabi, Cacdac stressed that it can place the agency on preventive suspension.
The POEA is finding out if the agency cleared Bagayan as mentally and/or physically fit to perform the duties of a household worker abroad.
The recruitment agency erred in failing to report Bagayan’s death to POEA.
“We had to find out from the media,” said Cacdac. Under POEA regulations, agencies are obliged to report incidences like these. They are also required to monitor the situation and well-being of OFWs – particularly household workers – as soon as they arrive abroad.
Bagayan’s family was unable to receive word from her after her plane’s departure. Her relatives had no idea whether she even arrived at her destination.
When they phoned the agency a day after her arrival, staff told them not to worry about her, and that she was probably simply shy and could not ask her new employer for permission to use their phone to contact her family. The agency assured them that Alona would call them within a month.
InterAksyon.com is unable to contact the agency, which has also not been in touch with the Bagayan family in over the week.
Advice to first-time OFWs
Dimzon noted that millions of OFWs are able to leave and work abroad safely, with a few deaths like Bagayan's.
"Some cases were initially thought to be suicides but were found out to be murders, and vice versa,” she said.
She stressed that available information is insufficient to conclude that Bagayan committed suicide. While she does not want this incident to be a point of reference, Dimzon emphasized that OFWs should be prepared for hard work abroad.
“Work here is unlike that overseas, especially where the culture is different,” she said. Preparedness is vital, not just by honing one’s skill, but also by mentally readying oneself to work in a foreign land, away from one’s family.
Trying to acclimatize oneself with one’s employer can be especially difficult for women, said Dimzon. She also warned against using overseas work to escape from family problems. They will still be there when one is abroad, and the stress of dealing with them is further compounded by the pressure to adjust in a new environment.