Philippine labor

Why DOJ pushes case vs ex-employers of abused domestic helper Elvie Vergara

Jairo Bolledo

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Why DOJ pushes case vs ex-employers of abused domestic helper Elvie Vergara

ABUSED. In this photo, Elvira Vergara speaks to Senator Raffy Tulfo during the motu propio inquiry into her severe battery rby her employers, esulting to her partial blindness and other injuries, on September 25, 2023.

Angie de Silva/Rappler

The prosecution says Vergara was detained against her will from 2020 up to her rescue in 2023

MANILA, Philippines – The Department of Justice (DOJ) said the prosecution has moved to indict the former employers of abused domestic helper Elvie Vergara.

In a resolution dated January 21, but was only publicized on Monday, April 8, Assistant State Prosecutor Jayvee Laurence Bandong indicted Franilyn and Pablo Ruiz, Vergara’s former employers, on charges of serious illegal detention with serious physical injuries.

A criminal case will be filed against the two before a court. A non-bailable offense, serious illegal detention usually carries a penalty of life imprisonment.

The prosecution dismissed the anti-trafficking complaint. As to the serious physical injuries complaint filed against Kim Jerome Ruiz, Police Executive Master Sergeant Maria Eliza Palabay, and Barangay Chairman Jimmy Patal, the prosecution referred the complaint to the Occidental Mindoro prosecutor’s office for appropriate action.

The resolution also said that the complaint for alleged violation of Republic Act No. 10361 or Batas Kasambahay has been referred to the Department of Labor and Employment.resolution.

Prosecution’s reasoning

In the resolution, the prosecutors said Franilyn and Pablo should be held liable for serious illegal detention.

According to records, Vergara was detained against her will from 2020 up to her rescue in 2023. Although Vergara started working in 2017, her ordeal only started in 2020, when she was physically abused by her then-employers.

Vergara said in he testimony that she was able to escape in 2021, but was later returned to her former employers’ custody. Since then, she said she was locked inside a high-fenced and gated area located at the back of the employers’ house.

“This clearly shows that complainant Vergara was deprived of liberty to leave the residence of respondents Ruiz Family while the abuse was being inflicted on her. The fact that respondents Pablo took her custody again in 2021 shows that there was intent to prevent complainant Vergara from escaping her detention,” the resolution read.

The Ruiz family explained that Vergara was not detained, and in fact, could have easily asked for help from neighbors in the compound. They said that structural composition of the house “made it impossible for her to be confined thereat.” According to the prosecution, the family also presented witnesses saying that there was no person detained in the house and that the gate was always open.

However, the prosecution was not convinced with the respondents’ explanation. In the resolution, the prosecution said that even though the gate can be opened from the inside, this was not enough to eliminate the possibility that Vergara’s freedom was deprived. The prosecution also noted that Vergara was kept inside a compound and surrounded by people who work for the Ruiz family, and that the “structure and composition of the compound itself is ideal for detaining a person.”

As to the charge of physical injuries, the resolution read: “On the other hand, respondents Ruiz Family denies the allegations against them as the injuries were either self-inflicted or the result of complainant Vergara’s poor hygiene and medical condition. However, based on the evidence submitted, this Office is not convinced with the explanation of respondents Ruiz Family on how complainant Vergara acquired her injuries.”

Meanwhile, the prosecution junked the anti-trafficking complaint because there was no “clear and convincing evidence” to support the allegations.

What happened before

In her affidavit submitted to the prosecution, Vergara said Franilyn abused her every day: she punched and kicked her, pulled her hair, bumped her head against the wall, and hit different parts of her body. The abuse started after Franilyn accused Vergara of stealing her watch and money, and of putting “pubic hair, menstruation blood, and rust on the food” Vergara prepared for her employers.

Vergara also noted that the other respondents, including Pablo and Kim Jerome, helped and assisted Franilyn in abusing her. Franilyn also allegedly hit Vergara’s left ear every day, which caused bleeding, and later on, permanent damage.

There was also a time when Franilyn allegedly dragged Vergara to the toilet where the respondent kicked, punched, and repeatedly hit the domestic helper’s head against the wall, causing it to bleed. There were also instances when Franilyn allegedly fed Vergara chili and dog food.

Vergara said that in 2021, Franilyn allegedly punched and hit her left eye using a ladle. This caused damage to her eye, leading to blindness.

The domestic helper’s case caught national attention, and the Senate conducted a probe into her plight. The Senate subpoenaed the Ruiz family to interrogate them over what happened to Vergara. –

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Jairo Bolledo

Jairo Bolledo is a multimedia reporter at Rappler covering justice, police, and crime.