THE Philippines “won’t anymore” send Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) to the State of Kuwait after the cadaver of a Filipina domestic worker was recently found stored in a freezer at an apartment in the oil-rich Arab nation, officials said.
Labour Secretary Silvestre Bello III signed Administrative Order to totally ban the deployment of Filipino workers to Kuwait – where some 250,000 Filipinos are working primarily as domestic helpers – which took effect on Monday.
The Philippines is one of the world’s largest exporters of labour, including domestic workers, whose remittances of over $2 billion annually are a major contributor to the country’s economy.
Last week, President Rodrigo Duterte ordered the banning of OFW deployment to the Gulf state after the dead body of Joanna Daniella Demafelis, 29, was discovered cramped inside a freezer in an abandoned apartment.
Her remains showed signs of foul play and were found hidden in the freezer for over a year allegedly by her Lebanese employers who left Kuwait in November 2016, authorities said. Demafelis’ family members have sought the help of the Philippine government in the quest for justice for the victim.
In January, the Philippines’ Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) suspended the deployment of OFWs to Kuwait after seven Filipina domestic workers were reported to have died allegedly from abuses.
Bello, in totally banning OFW deployment to Kuwait, said in the order: “In pursuit of national interest, and with the advent of the series of reports involving abuse and death of Overseas Filipino Workers in Kuwait, a total ban on deployment of all Overseas Filipino Workers to Kuwait pursuant to the directive of the President of the Philippines is hereby enforced.”
As the Philippines started implementing the total ban, the first batch of 377 OFWs repatriated on three commercial flights from Kuwait arrived in Manila on Monday, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said.
The DFA noted that some 10,000 undocumented or overstaying OFWs in Kuwait are expected to avail of the amnesty programme agreed by the two governments.
Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano, who co-chairs the Government Cluster on Overseas Filipino Workers with Bello, said the DFA and DOLE are also coordinating with other government agencies in taking steps to strictly implement the ban on the deployment of new workers to the Gulf state.
“Our efforts to protect our (countrymen) will not end with the imposition of deployment bans or the repatriation of our workers in countries where they are prone to maltreatment,” Cayetano said. “We will also go after illegal recruiters, human traffickers and other modern-day slave traders who continue to victimise our people.”
Bello assured Filipino workers who would be repatriated from Kuwait as well as those who would be affected by the ban that they will be assisted in finding alternative employment in the Philippines or abroad.
The official said that hundreds of Filipinos have been coming to the Philippine embassy in Kuwait daily to register and initiate the process for their repatriation since the first day of the amnesty on Jan 29.
At least 2,229 Filipinos have been issued travel documents while 1,754 have been granted immigration clearances, Bello said. He said the Philippine government will cover the airfare of repatriates as well as their immigration penalties for overstaying in Kuwait.
He added that upon arrival in the country, the returning OFWs will each be given P20,000 (US$400) for livelihood assistance.
Cayetano, meanwhile, said he had already conveyed to Kuwaiti Ambassador Saleh Ahmad Althwaik the Philippines’ “strongest protest over the abuses and maltreatment, labor violations and the failure of Kuwaiti authorities to provide protection to Filipino nationals.”
Cayetano said the DFA also reiterated its request for concrete action from the Kuwaiti government to address the maltreatment and other abuses suffered by Filipinos in Kuwait.
It demanded full cooperation by Kuwaiti officials with the Philippine embassy to promote the well-being of Filipino workers and facilitating the early conclusion of a bilateral labour agreement to protect the rights of Filipino household service workers there, he said.
The Kuwaiti government has yet to comment on the Philippines’ total OFW deployment ban to their country.