“Please bring my husband’s remains home. I want him home.” – Maribelle Esparez whose husband Antonio was beheaded in Libya
By ANNE EDNALYN DELA CRUZ
MANILA — It was only a week ago when Maribelle A. Esparez, 36, learned that her husband, a construction worker in Libya, was abducted and beheaded by rebels. Maribelle, still in grief, marched for the first time with thousands of protesters on Commonwealth Avenue, in the hope that the government would hear her request: to bring her husband’s remains home and help her support her seven children.
In an interview with Bulatlat.com, Maribelle shared that she only learned of the ill-fated incident when the daughter of her husband’s co-worker she named “Bridgette” called her up and told her that something happened to her husband. Maribelle was told that the company asked her husband’s co-workers not to inform their family of the abduction yet, as they (the company) were hoping that the victim would still be freed.
“Bridgette called me up on July 20. I first thought it was about the help that would be given to us, as we were recently hit by typhoon Glenda. I didn’t expect that the news was about my husband. Bridgette was crying on the phone. She told me, ‘Ate, I’m sorry. I didn’t tell you immediately that Kuya Tonio (Maribelle’s husband) was abducted. The company asked us not to tell you,” Maribelle narrated.
“I didn’t know what to say. I was enraged. I wanted to know what happened to my husband. I wished they had told me immediately after he was abducted. I have the right to know what happened to my husband,” she said. “I hoped the company or the government had informed me.”
Maribelle was told that her husband, together with three co-workers, was asked to buy materials for work when they were held hostage by rebels in a checkpoint on July 15.
During a meeting with Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) Undersecretary for Migrant Workers Affairs Jesus Yabes on July 21, the official, according to Maribelle, confirmed that her husband was singled out after the rebels learned that he was a Christian.
“I was told that he was handcuffed then beheaded, when the rebels learned that my husband was a Christian,” she said.
Maribelle added that Yabes tried to calm and reassure her during the meeting. She was told that the government would do its part to help her but was advised not to talk to the media about the incident, as it is already being processed in Libya.
However, she felt the need to share her story, in hope that it would compel the government to work promptly.
Maribelle hopes that her husband’s remains will be sent home immediately, and that the benefits will be given to them.
Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) assured Maribelle that she will receive P200,000 ($4,545) for her husband’s benefits and P20,000 ($454) for burial assistance. They will also provide scholarship for one of her children. However, the OWWA said that Antonio’s remains will be cremated, so that they can bring it home immediately. The OWWA told Maribelle that the procedure for repatriating the body will take three to four months.
Maribelle said her husband’s employer has not yet coordinated with her about the benefits that they will get, especially because the incident happened while her husband was on duty.
Her husband had been with the company for almost a year. He started working in October 2013.
Meanwhile, Migrante Sectoral Party Chairperson Connie Bragas-Regalado said they would write to the International Red Cross in Libya to ask for help in sending the remains of Maribelle’s husband home, and to help other Filipinos stranded in Libya.
Regalado said that aside from ensuring that the family would get the benefits from the government and the employer, they would look for a social worker that will help Maribelle and her children to process what happened to her husband.
According to her, this unfortunate event could have been prevented if the government acted on the needs of the OFWs in Libya immediately. She said, “There are still about 13,000 OFWs waiting for repatriation in Libya. They should not wait for another casualty before they speed things up.”