The continuing injustice on Mary Jean Alberto and her family

Mary Jean Balag-ey Alberto (Jean), an Igorot, is a forty-four year old OFW and a single mother of three who fell to her death from the 13th floor of a residential building in Abu Dhabi, UAE where she was working. The Alberto family is not convinced that she committed suicide as what the employer claims. According to her children, based on the messages of their mother hours before her death, she was desperate to be rescued because the Moroccan employer attempted to strangle her. Mary Jean Alberto is a victim of exploitation, abuse and maltreatment.

Blind and ailing mother of Mary Jean

Flordeliza Balag-ey, the blind and ailing mother of Maty Jean Alberto laments the tragedy that befell her daughter. The family, supporters and Migrante held a protest action at the Department of Foreign Affairs before proceeding to the airport to claim the remains of Mary Jean.

As her remains arrive today, her family demands that the perpetrator for her tragic death should be brought to justice. Her children are indignant that it took 11 days before the Philippine Embassy was able to help them. By that time, the Moroccan employer has already cleared all traces of possible evidence that might have provided more details about the tragedy surrounding her death. They are also dismayed at the insensitivity of government personnel and the limited assistance that the government is providing them in this time of grief. Until now, the Alberto family is desperate on how to cope with the financial needs on laying their loved one to eternal rest.

Highlights:

  • The family rejects the employer’s account of their mother’s death. For them, their mother did not commit suicide since she wanted to be rescued alive from her employer’s house. Just days before her death, Rohjean, eldest child who is also based in UAE, was with her mother and they were happy.
  • Jean is a victim of abuse and maltreatment by her employer. She rarely got the chance to have rest days and she was being overworked very often from 5:00 am to 3:00 am.
  • Cries for help were sent by Jean as messages to Rohjean and Marie (Jean’s sister who is also working in Abu Dhabi) just hours before her death.
  • Her bereaved family continues to struggle in looking for the financial means to provide a decent burial for Jean once she arrives.
  • The Alberto family regards the many hurdles imposed by government agencies as part of the injustice they are facing. At a time of their grief, their pain could have been somewhat alleviated if they and other OFWs and families in distress are receiving comprehensive support from the government and its agencies.
  • Like 90% of OFWs who came to UAE with tourist visas, Jean took the risk in working abroad just to support her family.

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Timeline of significant events:

October 1 – Jean talked to her youngest son Rojan asking him if he likes her mother to just book a ticket and fly back home to the Philippines. It was also the last time her sister Marie would receive messages from her. Jean was desperately crying for help after the employee attempted to strangle her.

October 2 – Rojan, Marie and Rohjean lost contact from Jean. Rohjean then contacted the Moroccan employer thru Whatsapp to inquire about her mother. At 3:52 PM, Rohjean received a message from the employer who replied, “Your mom she died today morning.” News of Jean’s death came less than 24 hours after she sent distressed messages pleading to be rescued from her Moroccan employer.

When Rohjean called the employer, a relative of the employer talked to her and told her to meet them to explain what happened. Rohjean and Marie waited long for the employer but was only messaging them that their “on the way”. They just decided to rush to the Philippine Embassy.

At the Philippine Embassy they were able to talk to an ATN officer. They shared the information and they have and sought for their assistance. They were told that the Embassy has not yet received any report from local authorities. They were only adviced to confirm the sad news from the employer directly. They were only provided with a general email address of the embassy and instructed to send a copy of Jean’s passport.

When Rohjean was called by the employer, she just told her to meet them at the police station. At the Shabiya police station the employer explained that Jean jumped from the 13th floor Shams Meera Tower Al Reem, her employers’ residence, and committed suicide. Jean’s employer also claimed that they were sleeping the whole time in their bedroom at the 13th floor and they only heard the thud sound when she fell. The employer also bragged to the police that the employer is willing to help Rohjean financially and the other needs of Jean’s family.

When Rohjean talked to a police officer, he confirmed that Jean passed away and the report was suicide. Rohjean explained that they strongly believe that she didn’t commit suicide because of her last messages. She was adviced by the police to get the messages translated to Arabic and file it to them. She immediately complied and narrated to the police all the information that she knows that may help them in their investigation.

October 3 – Rohjean informed her brothers Rojan and Ronel about their mom’s death.

She went back to the police station and asked if she can see the remains of her mother.

She then went back to the Philippine Embassy to relay that the local police confirmed the death of her mother. She was told that the embassy would have to wait for the result of the forensic report that is favorable to Jean’s account before they can provide a lawyer. She was then referred to the repatriation department and was given a list of items to accomplish. According to the officer-in-charge, the repatriation is normally shouldered by the employer. If not included in the contract, the Embassy will try to help upon request. Rohjean instantly told them that they need help.

Jean’s relatives in Baguio also heard the bad news through a post in an online group of people from Mountain Province, the home province of Jean. Windel Bolinget, first cousin of Jean and also the Chairperson the Cordillera Peoples Alliance (CPA) contacted Migrante and sought for the groups assistance. At this time, Bolinget has no direct communication line yet with Rohjean and Marie, and Jean’s family in Antipolo.

October 4 – Rohjean went back to the police to seek assistance to see her mother’s remains. She was instructed to go to the hospital and check if she will be allowed to see Jean’s body. The mortuary told her that it is not allowed as it is still under investigation.

October 6 – Rohjean went back to the mortuary. The staff told her that the forensic procedure will take 1-2 weeks. She went back to the Philippine Embassy and was given forms to fill out for the incident report.

October 7 – Rohjean asked the mortuary for an update, she was told that the forensic doctor already examined the body but the results are not yet out.

October 8 – CPA and Migrante allies in UAE finally was able to establish direct links with Rohjean and Marie and offered assistance. Rohjean informed them that the Philippine Embassy would only investigate Jean’s case and look for proof of foul play upon the release of the autopsy report.

October 9 – Sheik Khalifa Hospital in Abu Dhabi gave three documents to the family and instructed them to transmit the documents to the police station. The documents were written in Arabic and the family was not given any explanation regarding the contents of the document.

Jean’s relatives in Baguio went to OWWA-Baguio to ask for assistance on the repatriation of Jean’s remains. They were notified that Jean was an undocumented OFW and therefore not valid for any OWWA assistance. They were referred to DFA Baguio.

Rohjean went back to the Philippine Embassy and was told they still haven’t received any report about her mother’s case.

October 10 – The home office of Migrante was able to reach out to the other children in Antipolo City. It was arranged that Migrante would assist Ronel (second child of Jean) in dealing with government agencies.

Rohjean, meanwhile, demanded for her mother’s possession from the Moroccan employer. The police informed them that they are yet to retrieve Jean’s belongings.

Jean’s relatives in Baguio went to DFA-Baguio to further ask for government assistance. They were informed that Rohjean already filed a report in DFA Abu Dhabi and that Ronel should file the same report to DFA Manila for immediate processing.

It was also this time that media interviews for Rohjean, Marie and CPA were conducted.

October 11 – News of Jean’s death was picked up by both UAE and Philippine media.

Ronel, with Migrante, went to DFA and was only informed of specific documents they needed to submit. Jimarie of DFA is the assigned officer to this case. Ronel went straight to the Office of the President and was dismayed by their lack of assistance and overall inefficiency.

Rohjean related that the Philippine Embassy is passively waiting on the result of the autopsy and did not even coordinate directly with the police and the morgue. The embassy expects Rohjean to single handedly process overwhelming documents needed for her mother’s repatriation and for the attainment of justice for her horrible death.

Justice for Jean Alberto Facebook page was published.

Relatives in Baguio, CPA and Innabuyog-Gabriela, holds a press conference in Baguio.

October 13 – As the news about Jean’s death was already making the rounds in the press and outcry from netizens erupted on social media, it was only this time that the Philippine Embassy reached out to Rohjean and Marie and offered to assist them in seeking updates from the police station and the morgue. This was the embassy’s first time to proactively help in Jean’s case after more than a week of being informed about her death.

Together with embassy officials, Rohjean was escorted by the local police to Jean’s residence. The Moroccan employer was notably angry and defensive upon seeing Jean’s daughter. Jean’s belongings were already packed, Rohjean finally got hold of her mother’s belongings from the employer’s house which are crucial in the investigation – mobile phone and diary (many pages were taken out).

The Embassy also brought Rohjean to the government-hired lawyer for consultation.

Migrante Philippines visited Jean’s family in Antipolo to express condolences and unite on the legal steps needed in seeking justice for Jean. It was arranged that the family would prepare documents for a Special Power of Attorney, and Affidavits of Rojan and Rose (confidante and workmate). Migrante and Jean’s family agreed to conduct a press conference and a small gathering composed of residents of Brgy. Dela Paz’s community, Jean’s family and friends.

October 15 – Together with Migrante and SANDIGAN (Samahan ng mga DH sa Gitnang Silangan), the children of Jean held a press conference to call for justice and air their grievances on the slow and inefficient assistance from government agencies.

October 15 to 16 – Rohjean processed the Special Power of Attorney or SPA with the lawyer

October 17 to 18 – Members of the media and Cordillerans based in the UAE reached out and met with Rohjean and gave her support.

October 19 to 20 – Rohjean went to the Shabiya Police Station and to the court for case updates and procedures.

October 20 – Rohjean and Marie went to the Philippine Embassy to talk with Ambassador Quintana and other high ranking officials. They laid down all their concerns including all the assistance that they need for repatriation and burial. They promised to endorse her to various government units.

October 23 – Rohjean visited OWWA Abu Dhabi and was told that financial support needs to get approval from OWWA’s main office in the Philippines. She went back to the Philippine Embassy for the promised endorsement letter but was instructed to write a letter herself to OWWA and they will just endorse it to them. The Ambassador also informed her to coordinate with LBC for the repatriation of remains.

October 25 – Supporters and family held a picket-dialogue at the OWWA office in Pasay, Philippines to demand welfare justice for Jean and for her bereaved children. Jean’s sons Ronel and Rojan faced OWWA administrator Hans Leo Cacdac in the afternoon. OWWA reiterated that their assistance will be limited because “OFWs might get angry” if they will extend full assistance to an “undocumented” OFW like Jean. They can only assist her because Marie is an OWWA member.

Migrante International asserts that distressed OFWs and their families must receive assistance from OWWA regardless of their status. The group hit the government agency for functioning like a profit-oriented business entity.

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