Family calls for justice as Filipina’s body arrives from Kuwait

Residents display placards, as they wait for the arrival of the body of Joanna Demafelis, a Filipina domestic helper who was killed and found inside a freezer in Kuwait, in her hometown in Iloilo province on Saturday. (Reuters)
Updated 17 February 2018

Family calls for justice as Filipina’s body arrives from Kuwait

ILOILO: More than a hundred relatives and supporters of a Filipino maid whose body was found stuffed in a freezer in Kuwait brandished banners demanding justice as her coffin was returned home on Saturday.
The family of Joanna Demafelis openly wept as the white casket was unloaded at an airport cargo terminal in the central city of Iloilo.
“Justice for Joanna D. Demafelis,” was emblazoned on banners and on T-shirts worn by the crowd which included a congressman and local officials expressing their anger over the death of the Filipino whose body was found in a freezer in Kuwait earlier this month.
The incident worsened a diplomatic flap between the Philippines and Kuwait with President Rodrigo Duterte alleging that Arab employers routinely rape their Filipino workers, force them to work 21 hours a day and feed them scraps.
He has also banned the deployment of new workers to Kuwait and ordered airlines to fly home any of the 252,000 Filipinos working there who wish to return.
About 10 million Filipinos work abroad and the money they remit back is a lifeline of the Philippine economy. Their treatment abroad is often a political issue at home.
Kuwait’s foreign minister previously condemned Manila’s “escalation,” of the issue but Philippine Foreign Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano said on Friday the Kuwaiti ambassador had assured him his government was “outraged” over the killing and determined to find those responsible.
A distraught Eva Demafelis could only say “I am sad,” when asked by reporters about the death of her daughter.
“She does not deserve the manner in which she died. She was beaten up,” said an aunt, Rosela Demafelis Taunan, referring to local news reports about the 29-year-old maid’s death.
“She decided to go abroad because she wanted to help her parents repair the house that was damaged by Super Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan),” in 2013, the aunt recalled.
The slain maid also wanted to finance the college education of her youngest sister, Joyce, the aunt said.
Residents lined the highway as the funeral convoy escorted by police cars and motorcycles made its way to Demafelis’s hometown, about a two hour’s drive from the city.
Labour Secretary Silvestre Bello said late Friday that “working groups” from both countries were discussing forging a memorandum for protecting the rights of Filipinos in Kuwait, many of whom are working as maids.
Domestic workers in that country are not covered by ordinary labor legislation, and accounts of Filipinos being subjected to abuse and exploitation in the Middle East have long circulated.


Top diplomat implicates Trump in explosive impeachment testimony

Updated 21 November 2019

Top diplomat implicates Trump in explosive impeachment testimony

  • Sondland said Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani led the effort at Trump’s direction to pressure Ukraine President Volodymr Zelensky
  • Trump said he barely knew Sondland and had not spoken to him much

WASHINGTON: A senior US diplomat directly implicated President Donald Trump Wednesday in a scheme to force Ukraine to probe a political rival, in bombshell testimony to a televised impeachment hearing.
Gordon Sondland, the ambassador to the European Union, told lawmakers he followed the president’s orders in seeking a “quid pro quo” deal for Ukraine to investigate Democrat Joe Biden in exchange for a White House summit.
Sondland said Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani led the effort at Trump’s direction to pressure Ukraine President Volodymr Zelensky for the investigation and that top officials in the White House and State Department knew about it.
The unexpectedly damning testimony drew a sharp backlash from Trump who tweeted: “This Witch Hunt must end NOW. So bad for our Country!.”
Trump said he barely knew Sondland and had not spoken to him much, despite the senior diplomat having donated $1 million to his inauguration and testifying that he had spoken to the president some 20 times while ambassador.
Democrats said Sondland’s seven hours of testimony before the House Intelligence Committee had bolstered their case for Trump’s impeachment for what they have labeled “extortion.”
“Today’s testimony is among the most significant evidence to date,” said committee chairman Adam Schiff.
“It goes right to the heart of the issue of bribery as well as other potential high crimes or misdemeanors.”
A succession of Democrats hoping to win the nomination to take on Trump in next year’s election also said the testimony had strengthened the case for impeachment as the issue dominated the opening exchanges in their latest televised primary debate.
Sondland said Trump directed him and two other senior diplomats to work with Giuliani.
From early in the year, Giuliani mounted a pressure campaign on Zelensky’s government to investigate Biden over his son Hunter’s ties to a Ukrainian energy company, Burisma, and to probe a conspiracy theory espoused by Trump that Ukraine helped Democrats against him in 2016. Biden is one of the favorites to challenge Trump in next year’s presidential election.
“Mr. Giuliani demanded that Ukraine make a public statement announcing the investigations of the 2016 election/DNC server and Burisma,” Sondland told the panel.
“Mr Giuliani’s requests were a quid pro quo for arranging a White House visit for President Zelensky.”
Far from being a “rogue” operation outside normal US diplomatic channels, Sondland told the hearing top officials — including Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo — were kept constantly informed.
“We followed the president’s orders,” he said.
Like Trump a multimillionaire developer with a chain of high-end hotels, Sondland, who wore a $55,000 Breguet white gold watch to the hearing, fended off pressure from both Democrats and Republicans.
He had not implicated the president in earlier private testimony, when he answered scores of questions by saying he could “not remember.”
But subsequent testimony by other witnesses which had further implicated him in the Ukraine pressure scheme had jolted his memory, he said on Wednesday.
While he confirmed the linkage between the investigations and a White House meeting between Zelensky and Trump, he would not attest to allegations that Trump froze $391 million in aid as well to Ukraine to add pressure on Ukraine.
“I never heard from President Trump that aid was conditioned on an announcement” of the investigations, he said, contradicting testimony from two other diplomats.
In separate testimony, a Pentagon official appeared to undermine a key Republican defense in the impeachment battle, that Kiev did not even know until late August or even September about the July 18 aid freeze, rendering moot Democrats’ allegations that Trump had extorted Ukraine.
Laura Cooper, the Pentagon official in charge of Ukraine affairs, said Kiev voiced concern over a holdup in aid on July 25.
That was the same day that Trump told Zelensky in a phone call that he wanted a favor, asking for investigations into Biden specifically and the 2016 conspiracy theory.
“The Ukrainian embassy staff asked, ‘What is going on with Ukrainian security assistance?” she told the committee.
At the White House, Trump denied making the demand of Zelensky, citing Sondland’s own recall of their September 9 phone call on the Ukraine issue.
Reading from large-print notes, he said that he told Sonderland: “I want nothing. I want nothing. I want no quid pro quo. Tell Zelensky to do the right thing.”
“If this were a prizefight, they’d stop it!” he said of the inquiry.
Speaking at the Democrats’ debate, Biden dodged a question on the role of his son but said the testimony had shown that “Donald Trump doesn’t want me to be the nominee.”
And Bernie Sanders, another of the frontrunners for the nomination, said Trump had been shown to be “not only a pathological liar” but also “the most corrupt president in the modern history of America.”