PHILIPPINE OFFICIALS TO VISIT KUWAIT AMID LABOR ROW
MANILA, Feb 21, (Agencies): Philippine officials are headed to Kuwait on Thursday to seek greater protection for migrant workers after a diplomatic row over the alleged mistreatment of Filipinos in the Gulf state. Labour Secretary Silvestre Bello told reporters Wednesday one of his deputies would lead the delegation, which is also due to stop in Saudia Arabia and Qatar to urge reforms.
Topping the list are demands that Filipino workers be allowed to keep their cellphones and passports, which can be confiscated by employers.
The trip comes after Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte last week announced a departure ban for Filipinos planning to work in Kuwait. He was responding to the murder of a Filipina maid whose body was found stuffed in a freezer in Kuwait this month. Duterte’s ban sparked a diplomatic flap between the Philippines and the Gulf state as he alleged that Arab employers routinely raped their Filipina workers, forced them to work 21 hours a day and fed them scraps. Kuwait has invited Duterte for a visit but he has yet to respond.
Authorities say some 252,000 Filipinos work in Kuwait, many as maids. They are among over two million employed in the region, whose remittances are a lifeline to the Philippine economy. “We are going to Kuwait tomorrow, Saudi Arabia and then on to Qatar to ensure that our overseas Filipino workers have sufficient protection,” said Labour Undersecretary Ciriaco Lagunzad, who will helm the delegation. “We are afraid that because of the decision of the president to have a deployment ban, our overseas Filipino workers in Kuwait might be affected,” he added.
Lagunzad said Duterte had ordered the team to ensure that the passports of Filipino workers are deposited with the Philippine embassy. Duterte also wanted Filipinos to have access to cellphones so they can call for help in case of abuse, Lagunzad said. About 10 million Filipinos work abroad and their treatment abroad is often a political issue at home. Another team of labour officials said on Wednesday they would conduct negotiations with Kuwait next week on a deal to protect Filipino workers. “Hopefully we can finalise the memorandum of agreement and by first or second week of March, we will have the signing by the Kuwaiti and Philippine governments,” said Claro Arellano, another labour undersecretary. The Philippine government has given P600,000 in financial assistance to the family of the Overseas Filipino Worker (OFW) Joanna Demafelis whose body was found in a freezer in Kuwait.
During a Senate inquiry into the plight of OFWs on Wednesday, Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III said the government had increased the death benefit for the family of the victim — P300,000 as death benefit, P200,000 as livelihood assistance, and an additional P100,000 as educational assistance to her family. “There are other agencies which out of humanitarian sympathy have offered to give financial assistance to the family,” Bello said.
Demafelis, left the Philippines in 2014 to work in Kuwait, and went missing since September 2016 until her corpse was found in a freezer in an abandoned apartment bearing signs of abuse. The labor chief said the government was informed that the slain Filipina was funding the construction of a house for her family but it remained unfinished due to her death. The Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA), according to Bello, is mulling to provide financial support for the construction of the Demafelis family home to fulfill the late Filipina’s dream.
Philippine officials are headed to Kuwait on Thursday, Feb 22, to seek greater protection for migrant workers after a diplomatic row over the alleged mistreatment of Filipinos in the Gulf state. Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III told reporters on Wednesday, Feb 21, one of his deputies would lead the delegation, which is also due to stop in Saudi Arabia and Qatar to urge reforms.
The trip comes after Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte last week announced a departure ban for Filipinos planning to work in Kuwait. “We are going to Kuwait tomorrow, Saudi Arabia, and then on to Qatar to ensure that our overseas Filipino workers have sufficient protection,” said Labor Undersecretary Ciriaco Lagunzad III, who will helm the delegation. “We are afraid that because of the decision of the President to have a deployment ban, our overseas Filipino workers in Kuwait might be affected,” he added. Topping the list are demands Lagunzad said Duterte had ordered the team to ensure that the passports of Filipino workers are deposited with the Philippine embassy.
Duterte also wanted Filipinos to have access to cellphones so they can call for help in case of abuse. “Hopefully we can finalize the memorandum of agreement and by first or second week of March, we will have the signing by the Kuwaiti and Philippine governments,” said Labor Undersecretary Claro Arellano. In the meantime, justice is said for Josie Perez Lloren, 40, who was very ill when she returned home from Kuwait on Jan 26, 2018, after working in Kuwait as a maid for a little more than two years.
Upon arrival in the Philippines she was driven straight to a hospital where she died two weeks later. “We want to know what happened to my sister in Kuwait, and we are seeking [the] government’s help,” said Lloren’s brother, Greg Perez, a jeepney driver who works in Cebu.
Monina Gulmatico, Migrante head in Negros Occidental, said the group would raise the case of Lloren at the Senate hearing on Wednesday. Perez said his sister complained that the wife of her employer maltreated her and would sometimes lock her up and make her sleep in the comfort room. Lloren’s remains were taken home to Murcia last Friday. She was buried at the public cemetery there on Monday.
Migrante dared President Duterte to investigate erring officials who failed to look into the plight of Filipino migrant workers. “We call on the Duterte administration to publicize the bilateral agreement it intends to sign with Kuwait with regard to the protection of Filipino workers and ensure that the voices of (migrants) will be heard and their demands be included,” it said. Meanwhile, the Senate Committee on Labor headed by Senator Joel Villanueva, Feb 21, investigated the alleged abuses committed against Filipino OFWs in Kuwait that have resulted in injuries and deaths.
The committee was expected to tackle five resolutions seeking an inquiry on the increasing incidence of abuse on overseas Filipino workers in Kuwait filed by Senators Emmanuel ‘Manny’ Pacquaio, Nancy Binay, Sherwin Gatchalian, Grace Poe, Juan Edgardo ‘Sonny’ Angara, and Villanueva himself. The investigation stemmed from an order by President Rodrigo Duterte to ban the deployment of OFWs in the Gulf State after the death of Joanna Demafelis. Gatchalian wants to determine the economic effects of the Philippine government’s deployment ban to Kuwait, including the economic impact on the repatriated OFWs and their families and those whose placement has been deferred.
Poe hopes that Congress will formulate “effective measures and policies” to efficiently assist and protect OFWs and their families before, during and after deployment.