Press Release
May 31, 2017

Villar urges DFA and OWWA to act faster on repatriation of OFW's remains

Senator Cynthia Villar vowed to personally look into the delay in the repatriation of the remains of 45-year old Roger Dignadice, an overseas worker in Dammam, Saudi Arabia who died last March.

The senator known for her advocacy for the rights and welfare of OFWs noted that Dignadice died of natural cause after going through an appendectomy, which revealed that the OFW had stomach cancer.

"Roger Dignadice died on March 11 and until now, his body is in the morgue, awaiting repatriation. His widow had to fly from Iloilo to Manila and go from one agency to another to seek help because she cannot afford to pay the remainder of his hospital bills. I think both the DFA and OWWA must explain why it has taken so long for his body to be brought home," Senator Villar said.

The OFW was stranded in Saudi Arabia for two years after the company that hired him as a driver, Rajeh H. Al Marri and Son, declared bankruptcy thus leaving its workers including Roger Dignadice penniless and without proper accommodations.

His brother, Charlie, who was also an OFW, brought the case to the attention of the Blas F. Ople Policy Center out of frustration with the inaction of the Philippine Consulate in Jeddah.

Senator Villar said that the repatriation process involving remains of a deceased OFW should be simplified, with every grieving OFW family's request treated with utmost urgency and compassion.

"His family had been suffering even while Roger was still alive and fighting for his benefits and back wages. He was a stranded OFW for two years. Now that he is dead, the family continues to suffer because they cannot even grieve over his coffin. I want to understand why this happened and which agency should be held accountable," Villar said.

Yesterday, OWWA Administrator Hans Leo Cacdac promised to take care of the unpaid hospital bills so that the body of Roger Dignadice can finally be brought home and laid to rest. The DFA also promised to help the Dignadice family. It took several requests from the Dignadice family and the Blas F. Ople Policy Center before such assurances were obtained.

Villar said that nearly three months have passed since Dignadice died, and the undue delay has added to the anxiety and grief of her wife and children.

The staunch OFW advocate urged the DFA and OWWA to make it easier for grieving families to receive the remains of relatives who died abroad.

"Why must the widow travel all the way from Iloilo to Manila to seek the help of our government? I will officially write to the DFA and OWWA to seek an explanation on this matter," Senator Villar said.

Dignadice's widow was among six beneficiaries of livelihood assistance extended by the senator through the Villar family's SIPAG Foundation.

The Villar SIPAG Foundation's OFW livelihood assistance package consisted of grocery items and an initial capital that would allow the beneficiaries to open a small store.

The six beneficiaries were:

1. Reynaldo Batuigas of Marilao, Bulacan - He was an OFW from Dammam, Saudi Arabia whose employer (Al Tamer Transport) did not pay him for six months. He was hospitalized due to hunger, and was recently sent home.

2. Lory Rose Beniegla of Las Pinas City - Her husband is a fisherman and buys and sells bottles on the side. They have five children. Extreme poverty led Lory to work as a domestic worker in Saudi Arabia. Unfortunately, her employer forced her to work more than 12 hours a day. She ate only once a day. Her agency facilitated her repatriation.

3. Marife Pagtalunan of Calumpit, Bulacan - Her husband is a farmer and they have three children. She decided to work abroad through Supreme Manpower Recruitment Agency, which had an agent that recruited her. The agent made Marife sign a blank Balik-Manggagawa form and her contract was given to her right at the airport. The Balik-Manggawa form made it appear that Marife was just returning to her former employer. Marife's family sought the help of the Blas F. Ople Policy Center for her repatriation due to a medical condition.

4. Nonalie Hosanilla of Talipapa, Quezon City - She worked as a domestic worker in Dubai. She fell sick and had to be hospitalized. Her employer asked Nonalie's parents to send money to pay for her hospitalization. The family borrowed money from friends to send to the employer. Instead of bringing Nonalie to the hospital, the employer gave her medicine while pocketing the money remitted by the OFW's parents. Aside from this, Nonalie also suffered physical abuse at the hands of her employer.

5. Shiela Mae Gallo of Hinoba-an, Negros Occidental - Shiela was illegally recruited for Lebanon where she had a change of employers eleven times. The owner of her foreign agency would beat her up each time she was returned to the agency. Her brother, Luwell, went to Manila to seek help from the Ople Center for her repatriation. The person who recruited Shiela in Negros Occidental is now the subject of a police investigation.

6. Merlita Dignadice of Pasil, Iloilo - She is the widow of OFW Roger Dignadice whose remains continue to be held in a morgue in Dammam Central Hospital in Saudi Arabia. Dignadice died after going through an appendectomy.

The Villar SIPAG Foundation has a long-standing partnership with the Blas F. Ople Policy Center, a non-profit organization that has been assisting distressed OFWs for the last 14 years.

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