ABUYOG, Leyte, Philippines—Almost two years ago, single mother Remedios Rias Bacoto left this town for a two-year work contract in Malaysia, pursuing a dream of a better life for herself and her only child.
Last week, the 35-year-old domestic worker came home in a coffin, her death shrouded in mystery and suspicions of foul play.
“She was bludgeoned to death. Who killed her and why?” asked Jeanie Bacoto, 34, the slain woman’s younger sister. “Our family was looking forward to her coming home. Instead we are preparing for her funeral.”
Claiming foul play and an official cover-up, Bacoto’s family is demanding answers from both Malaysian and Philippine authorities on Bacoto’s death.
According to the official autopsy report issued on Aug. 1 by Dr. Siew Sheue Feng of the Kuala Lumpur Hospital, Bacoto died of a “head injury due to blunt force trauma.” The findings were confirmed by a second autopsy conducted by medicolegal examiner Dr. John C. Ilao when Bacoto’s body arrived here on Aug. 7.
“Her head was smashed to a pulp. They said she was killed defending the house in a robbery. But Malaysian police had no evidence of forced entry into the house,” said the younger Bacoto, who saw her sister’s remains during the autopsy.
Bacoto quoted Harry Chan, a nephew of her sister’s employer in Kuala Lumpur (KL), as saying that “Remy died securing the house.” Chan told them the tragic news over the phone on Aug. 1.
It was all the information Chan would give the Bacoto family who would later learn from Jeffrey Capuyayan and Thelma Dumangas, two other relatives working in KL, that Remedios was allegedly killed by a burglar on July 29.
But Malaysian authorities had reported no arrest and no one had been charged in connection with Bacoto’s death, the family said.
Quoting Capuyayan and Dumangas, the family said that in the absence of any assistance by Philippine officials in Kuala Lumpur, the two had to struggle through a bureaucratic maze to have their cousin’s remains repatriated.
Jeanie said the hasty repatriation of her sister’s body in the absence of a thorough and exhaustive inquiry after her death may have been an attempt by the authorities to hide what really happened.
No incident report
“Her passport and cell phone were missing, and we did not receive any incident report from the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (Owwa) and the Philippine Embassy in Kuala Lumpur,” she said.
Under Owwa regulations, the agency is supposed to conduct an incident report on any death, natural or accidental, involving an overseas Filipino worker (OFW) anywhere.
Jeanie said that when she visited the Owwa office in Tacloban City on Aug. 4 to ask for assistance, she was shocked to learn from Owwa case officer Alberto Peñaflor that her sister’s death was news to them.
She also went to the Tacloban office of the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) where, she said, an unidentified official in Booth 2 belittled her queries about her sister’s death: “We don’t even know who killed Ninoy Aquino,” Jeanie said the DFA official told her.
When Bacoto left her hometown on Oct. 5, 2012, to work in Malaysia, she was promised $400 a month by Verde International Manpower Services. Jeanie claimed her sister ended up making only P11,000 a month, which she used to support the family.
“She was our lone breadwinner, and now she is gone,” said her mother, Prudencia Bacoto, 78, who added that Remy immediately sent money for repairs after Supertyphoon “Yolanda” blew their roof away.
Bacoto’s only child remembers her fondly as well. “I will remember Mama as (having) left town in search of a better life but she never came back,” said 11-year-old Kian Bryle Bacoto.
“Remy and the rest of our OFWs are not just the new heroes for our time, I daresay they are also the new saints for our time,” said parish priest Fr. Romeo Murillo during Bacoto’s funeral Mass here on Aug. 13.