PH holds Kuwait responsible for OFW exodus

PRESIDENTIAL Spokesperson Harry Roque said the Philippine government, which totally banned the deployment of Filipino workers to Kuwait, will hold the Gulf state responsible under the concept of state responsibility for failure to provide legal redress for Filipino victims.

This followed the discovery of the body of a Filipina household worker tortured and kept inside a freezer for almost a year.

In a press briefing, Roque said Kuwait, under international law, had legal obligation to provide legal redress for victims of crimes in Kuwait.

At the same time, President Rodrigo Duterte had directed the Department of Labor and Employment to totally ban the deployment of Filipinos to Kuwait following that discovery that a Filipina household worker was found tortured and kept inside a freezer for almost a year.

Several Filipino workers have died from abusive employers, prompting the government to make drastic action by banning the deployment of OFWs in the Gulf state.

HONEY, I’M HOME. This man, holding the hand of his daughter, among 315 adults and eight children repatriated from Kuwait, might as well be singing Shania Twain’s song ‘Honey, I’m home and I had a hard day/ Pour me a cold one and oh, by the way/ Rub my feet, gimme something to eat/ Fix me up my favorite treat.’ Thousands are expected to arrive home from the Gulf state after the government launched its repatriation program and total ban on deployment to Kuwait of Filipino workers. Eric Apolonio

Duterte repeatedly appealed to Kuwaiti government to provide protection to OFWs, Roque said, adding that “if Kuwait fails in this regard, then it will incur international responsibility for an internationally wrongful act.”

However, Roque said the President was carefully weighing options as far as Kuwait was concerned. 

The presidential spokesperson also said around 400 Filipinos from Kuwait had arrived in Manila.  

They belong to the first batch of Filipinos who have been allowed to leave after applying for amnesty in Kuwait. 

They include Filipinos who have overstayed or escaped from their employers.

In related developments:

•    Senator Cynthia Villar cited the need to review the country’s whole overseas employment program with the death of the Filipina in Kuwait.

She expressed her support for Duterte’s decision to totally ban the deployment of Filipino workers to Kuwait.

“The deployment ban issued by President Rodrigo Duterte to Kuwait signals the need for us to re-examine the social costs of labor migration especially for domestic workers. We need to strengthen our own domestic job market and increase the labor participation of women especially those in rural areas,” Villar said.

“I believe the entire overseas employment program needs to be reviewed because it is more than 40 years old. Much has happened in the global workforce since its inception,” she added.

Villar also expressed sympathies to the grieving family of Joanna Daniela Demafelis.

“Let us use this time to reflect on what we can all do to help our women look for jobs here at home instead of leaving to work as domestic workers especially in the Middle East. They will go where the jobs are, and there are countries that take their contributions and sacrifices for granted,” she added.

Senator Francisco Escudero underscored the need for the Philippine government to craft a comprehensive labor policy and tap countries that would protect overseas Filipino workers from maltreatment and abuse once they are employed.

He said a comprehensive labor migration policy for OFWs should be put in place to prevent maltreatment and abuse, especially among Filipino domestic workers who are most vulnerable to maltreatment, sexual abuse and exploitation.

The government should also address the common complaints of OFWs such as labor malpractice, non-payment of overtime, poor accommodation, discrepancies, in wages and repatriation in cases of crisis, and other health and safety issues, Escudero said.

“OFW cash remittances boost our economy and I think the best way to repay them is to ensure that they would be safe and properly compensated in the countries where they would be deployed,” Escudero said.

According to data from the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas, OFW cash remittances from January to November 2017 amounted to $25.3 billion.

Escudero added that apart from the country’s total OFW deployment ban to Kuwait, the Philippine government should go after abusive employers and hold them accountable.

Escudero said there should be bilateral talks between the Philippines and Kuwait to seek justice for the victims’ families.

Meanwhile, Senator Win Gatchalian expressed his gratitude to the Department of Education for throwing its full support behind his measure, the Human Trafficking Preventive Education Program Act (Senate Bill No. 992), which aims to protect the youth from becoming victims of human trafficking. 

“Although everyone is focused on the fight against drugs, human trafficking remains a real and present problem of our country. That is why we propose to institutionalize this fight, to make it more extensive without adding so much burden to the schools,” he said.

The bill seeks to create a comprehensive Human Trafficking Preventive Program that aims to inculcate among the youth their fundamental rights as persons, educate them on the dangers of human trafficking in its various forms, and arm them with information on the services made available by the government and other non-government organizations to protect them from human trafficking. 

The program shall be established by the Inter-Agency Council Against Trafficking, which will implement the program through school-based and community-based tracks.

During a hearing of the Senate Committee on Youth chaired by Senator Joel Villanueva, DepEd Undersecretary Tonisito Umali lauded Gatchalian’s bill as it institutionalizes and further strengthens the agency’s Child Protection Policy (or DepEd Order No. 40, series of 2012).

•    An official of the Department of Foreign Affairs clarified the 800 individuals who arrived Monday were Filipino overseas workers who illegally worked in Kuwait and availed themselves of the amnesty program.

The 377 workers composed the first batch, which the DFA claimed to have been repatriated, and were among 10,000 Filipinos who had overstayed in Kuwait and not under President Rodrigo Duterte’s directives of employment ban.

“The one currently being repatriated are those who availed themselves of the amnesty program for overstaying Filipino nationals that the Kuwait government approved last month,” DFA acting spokeswoman Charmaine Aviquivil said.

The Embassy and Philippine Overseas Labor Office or POLO in Kuwait expect that more than 10,000 Filipinos who have overstayed their visas are qualified for repatriation.

According to Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III, hundreds of Filipinos had been coming to the Embassy daily to register and initiate the process for their repatriation since the first day of the amnesty on Jan. 29.

“To date, some 2,229 Filipinos have been issued travel documents, and 1,754 of already have been granted immigration clearances,” Bello said. 

The Philippine Embassy and POLO in Kuwait are now rushing to repatriate as many as 10,000 overstaying Filipinos who are expected to avail an amnesty program arranged with the Kuwaiti government, DFA Undersecretary Sarah Lou Arriola said Monday.

“The Embassy and POLO in Kuwait expect that more than 10,000 Filipinos who have overstayed their visas are qualified for repatriation,” Arriola said.

According to the agency, the amnesty program was approved by the Kuwaiti government in January 2018 upon representations made by the Philipine government through the Philippine Embassy in Kuwait.

“Those who opt for repatriation from Kuwait will be given P5,000 financial assistance and a further P20,000 assistance for alternative livelihood,” Bello said.

The missions all over the Middle East in particular have been instructed to find alternative employment for OFWs who have opted for voluntary repatriation from Kuwait. 

“We are particularly keen on finding alternative employment in countries such Oman and Bahrain, both of which are signatories to the relevant ILO Convention that protects migrant workers,” he added. 

Meanwhile, some 25,000 OFWs who have ready visas for Kuwait will have to cool their heels after Duterte ordered Bello to implement a total deployment ban for workers to Kuwait in the wake of Filipina deaths in that country.

Most of the 25,000 workers are Household Service Workers whose contracts had been approved in Kuwait by the Philippine Overseas Labor Office and these workers had taken medical examinations at the expense of the recruitment agencies aside from housing them in accommodations provided by the agencies while waiting for their deployment, according to Emmanuel Geslani, a recruitment  and migration expert.

An average of 5,000 HSWs were deployed weekly for the past year 2017 and the total number was expected to surpass the 2016 figure.

In 2016 around 105,000 OFWs were deployed to Kuwait.  With Macon Ramos-Araneta, Sara Susanne Fabunan and PNA

Topics: OFWs , Kuwait
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