NPR for North Texas
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

The death of another Filipino working overseas has shocked the Philippines


Every year, millions of Filipinos find work overseas, sending billions of dollars back home. But the recent rape and killing of a pregnant Filipino worker in Kuwait has shaken the country to its core. NPR's Ashley Westerman explains.

ASHLEY WESTERMAN, BYLINE: Last week, on a busy street in Las Pinas, a dense city just south of the capital, Manila, dozens of white wreaths crowd the sidewalk. Above hangs a giant banner with the photo of a young, hijab-clad woman that reads justice for Jullebee Cabilis Ranara.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: (Non-English language spoken).

WESTERMAN: Thirty-five-year-old Jullebee Ranara was working as a domestic worker in Kuwait when her charred body was found last month, discarded in the desert. Kuwaiti media report that an autopsy revealed Ranara, a mother of two, was pregnant at the time of her death. The teenage son of her employer has been arrested as a suspect. And an investigation is ongoing. The Kuwaiti government has condemned the crime, while the Philippine government has vowed to get to the bottom of it. Ranara's body was flown back to the Philippines on January 27. Wholesale shop owner Irene Guinto has been watching the crowds come and go all week from Ranara's heavily guarded wake. President Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos even made an appearance.

IRENE GUINTO: Definitely, I feel sad because she's my kabayan.

WESTERMAN: Kabayan means fellow countryman in Tagalog. Guinto is a former overseas Filipino worker - or OFW - too, who worked in Dubai for 14 years to make a better living.

GUINTO: Because I'm a single mom, I have, of course, definitely, to provide for my son. And, you know, for a better life, opportunity overseas.

WESTERMAN: Guinto says what happened to Ranara is a reminder of the risks OFWs, particularly women, take to find better, higher paying jobs. Ranara's story has shocked the Philippines, prompting an outpouring of condolences on social media. Calls to stop sending OFWs to Kuwait, where similar incidents have happened before, have been echoing up and down the country. But Congresswoman Arlene Brosas, of the Gabriela Women's Party, says she's not optimistic about this prospect. And there's a reason for that.

ARLENE BROSAS: We have no generation of job or not enough generation of job here in the Philippines. Filipinos are forced to go to other countries just to find work.

WESTERMAN: Thousands of abuse cases are reported every year. But Brosas says the government is slow to make changes to both the system and the overall economy because these workers pour billions into the country, making up roughly 10% of the Philippine's GDP. Leonardo Lanzona is an economist at Ateneo de Manila University. He says this money is crucial because the Philippines needs foreign currency to pay for imports.

LEONARDO LANZONA: Without these remittances, the peso would be more depreciated. And therefore, it will cost the country more.

WESTERMAN: But in the long run, he says, remittances are not a good substitution for investment in one's own economy. And that's what's lacking.

LANZONA: Industries are not being developed, so it becomes an ongoing, intergenerational movement to leave the country.


WESTERMAN: The scene at Jullebee Ranara's private funeral Sunday in Las Pinas was one of immense grief. This video, posted by Philippine media to Twitter, shows throngs of relatives and loved ones loudly weeping over her casket.


WESTERMAN: Her family, which has yet to address the public directly, say they want justice for Ranara so that no OFW's family ever has to live through what they've endured. But with post-pandemic OFW deployments only increasing, those chances are slim.

For NPR News, I'm Ashley Westerman, Las Pinas, Philippines.


Ashley Westerman is a producer who occasionally directs the show. Since joining the staff in June 2015, she has produced a variety of stories including a coal mine closing near her hometown, the 2016 Republican National Convention, and the Rohingya refugee crisis in southern Bangladesh. She is also an occasional reporter for Morning Edition, and, where she has contributed reports on both domestic and international news.