MANILA – Philippine government officials announced late Saturday the arrest of the employers of OFW Joanna Demafelis, whose body was found in a freezer in their home in Kuwait, and the chief Senate prober of her case said authorities should immediately determine the couple’s culpability.
“We recognize the work done by the law enforcement authorities for the arrest of Nader Essam Assaf and Mona Hassoun, the suspects in the gruesome murder of our kababayan Joanna Demafelis,” Sen. Joel Villanueva, chair of the Senate Labor committee, said Sunday morning. He was reacting to reports that Lebanese Assaf and Hassoun have been nabbed. The Interpol had launched a manhunt for Assaf, a Lebanese, and his wife Hassoun, a Syrian, on request of the Philippine government which ordered a deployment ban to Kuwait.
“We are hopeful that the authorities will immediately determine the couple’s culpability in the death of Demafelis so that justice will be fully served,” said Villanueva, who last week opened Senate hearings on the case of Demafelis.
Also on Sunday, the head of a migrant workers support group said the Demafelis case should also spur reforms in the way Philippine authorities track the history of foreign employers of OFWs.
Susan “Toots” Ople, former labor undersecretary and head of the Blas F. Ople Center, said the Lebanese Assaf had a history of bouncing checks, and therefore should not have been allowed to hire a foreign worker. Previously, recruitment industry veterans said Demafelis was apparently “transferred” to the Lebanese because under Kuwaiti law, only the Kuwaitis may hire foreign workers and expatriates in the kingdom need to get special permits to do so.
Ople said that besides working to ensure full prosecution of Assaf and Hassoun, It is important to check the history of the deployment record of Joanna.
The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) in a press release Saturday said that Hassoun is now being held by authorities in Syria.
“We have just been informed by the Philippine Embassy in Kuwait that Mona Hassoun, wife of Nader Essam Assaf, who are the principal suspects in the murder of our kababayan Joanna Demafelis, is now in custody of authorities in Damascus,” Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Cayetano was quoted saying.
A day earlier, her husband Assaf was arrested in Syria and turned over to Lebanese authorities. His apartment in Lebanon had been tracked when Interpol sent out its alert. The couple apparently fled to Syria after Demafelis’ death.
The body of Demafelis, 29, was recently found inside a freezer in the couple’s apartment in Kuwait, almost one year since her family first lost contact with her and alerted Philippine authorities.
Cayetano cited an initial report from Philippine Ambassador to Kuwait Renato Villa that the employers were caught in Syria, where they fled after leaving Kuwait in 2017.
Demafelis’s death was but one of scores of OFW deaths in the tiny, oil-rich kingdom, but its gruesome details so angered President Rodrigo Duterte that beyond suspending OFW deployment, he ordered a total deployment ban to Kuwait.