Philippines President asks Kuwait, Middle East to end abuse of Filipino workers
MANILA, Jan 24, (Agencies): Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte warned on Wednesday he may impose a permanent ban on sending workers to Kuwait and withdraw his countrymen working there if another Filipino domestic helper is raped and dies.
The comments were the second time in less than a week that Duterte expressed anger about alleged abuse in Kuwait, where he said low-paid Filipinos were made to endure rape and starvation. He asked the governments of Kuwait and other Middle East countries, where more than a million Filipinos work, to take steps to end the abuse and “to treat my countrymen as human beings with dignity”.
“I hope I am not committing a diplomatic faux pas. But one more incident … I’m going to ban,” he said in a speech before leaving for a regional summit in India. “And I’m sorry, the Filipinos there, you can all go home,” he said. “If you leave, they will also be having a hell of a time adjusting to that.”
On Friday, the labour ministry suspended deployment of workers to Kuwait, a day after Duterte said abuse had driven several domestic helpers to suicide.
Kuwait initially expressed surprise and said it was in touch with Manila to try to resolve the issue. More than 250,000 Filipinos work in Kuwait, the Philippine foreign ministry estimates, most of them as domestic helpers. There are also large numbers in the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Qatar.
Remittances by overseas Filipinos amount to more than $2 billion a month, keeping domestic demand robust in one of the world’s fastest-growing economies. Duterte said Kuwait was an ally, but abuse should not be tolerated. “I hope that you’d listen to me,” he said. “We may need your help, but we will not do it at the expense of the dignity of the Filipino.” Philippine Foreign Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano said separately that Duterte had reacted to a recent report on abuses in Kuwait.
“Statistics don’t lie and there is grave concern about the abuses in Kuwait,” he said. There were more than 200,000 Filipinos in Kuwait and a “large” number were stranded in that country, were paid less than they were promised or were abused, Cayetano said. Cayetano said Kuwaiti and Philippine diplomats had met in both countries to discuss the issue after Duterte imposed the ban.
“We expressed the same concerns and they expressed surprise or shock that we used a ban immediately,” Cayetano said. “So the point is we are sending a message around the world.” An estimated 10 million Filipinos work overseas, with the oil-rich Middle East countries key destinations.
Accounts of Filipinos being subjected to abuse, overwork, rape or dying in suspicious circumstances in the region have long circulated. Duterte enjoys strong support from overseas Filipinos, winning in the overseas absentee voting in the 2016 polls. He said if he cannot do something about the problems of migrant Filipinos in Kuwait, then there is no reason for me to stay in this position a minute longer. Kuwait is home to about 600,000 domestic helpers, mostly Asian.
In January last year, Filipino migrant worker Jakatia Pawa was executed in Kuwait for allegedly killing her employer’s 22-year-old daughter. Duterte’s tirade comes after Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) Secretary Silvestre Bello III issued an administrative order Friday evening, which ordered the immediate suspension of the deployment of OFW to Kuwait.
The Department of Foreign Affairs is looking into the possibility of a total deployment ban. DOLE is still probing the deaths of seven OFWs in Kuwait, namely: Liezl Truz Hukdong, Vanessa Karissha L. Esguerra, Marie Fe Saliling Librada, Arlene Castillo Manzano, Devine Riche Encarnacion, Patrick Sunga, and Mira Luna Juntilla.
All of them were household services workers, who were deployed in 2016. According to state-run news agency KUNA, Kuwait Deputy Premier and Foreign Minister Sabah Al Khalid Al Sabah claimed the cases of the seven victims did not apply to the majority of OFWs. Sabah also told KUNA that Kuwait had a clean human rights record. The Kuwaiti government also summoned Philippine Ambassador Renato Villa on Tuesday to express regret with Duterte’s decision.