KUWAIT CITY, Jan 26: Philippine Labour Secretary Silvestre Bello III arrived in Kuwait on Thursday, a day after the execution of Filipino Household Service Worker (HSW) Jakatia Pawa, to check on the status of another Filipino on the death row, Elpidio Lano who was meted out a death sentence by the Kuwait Court of First Instance for killing a fellow Filipino, Nilo Macaranas on June 17, 2014. “I’m here on the instruction of President Duterte to know why Lano is on the death row and how we can help and save him. It also gave me a reason to look into the administrative lapse in the operation of our POLO office. Because we are all shocked, we learned about the execution (of Jakatia Pawa) on the very day that she will be executed. We were never aware that there were OFWs who are on death row,” stated Bello.
The visiting top labour official proceeded to the Philippine Embassy from the airport to meet with Philippine Embassy officials led by Philippine Ambassador to Kuwait Renato Pedro Villa as well as Philippine Overseas Labour Office (POLO) and Overseas Workers Welfare Administration officials Kuwait. “I’m also here to personally check on the status of OFWs in Kuwait and the distressed OFWs in the POLO-OWWA shelter. I have also asked Attache Cesar Chavez Jr to go around the POLO offices in the Middle East in the next two weeks and check on the list of Filipinos in the jail or on death row so we can find ways to help them,” outlined Bello.
During their meeting, Bello discussed with Villa and his team the call for a moratorium or temporary suspension on the deployment of Filipino HSWs to Kuwait by some OFW Advocacy groups. He explained that it is about time that the Philippine government tackles the proposed moratorium seriously. “There has been a call to suspend or call for moratorium for quite a time now due to the high incidence harassment, maltreatment. It is time for me to make a serious study, consultation and come up with a decision,” he stressed.
Bello added that it’s just a matter of time when the Philippine government will announce its decision on the proposed moratorium. “There’s already a tentative decision but it may not be a good timing if we do it now because it may be perceived by the Kuwaiti government as a retaliatory move, hence, we have to do it at a proper timing,” he reiterated.
Alongside, Villa disclosed that he has endorsed the proposed moratorium to Manila in January 2016 and followed it up in September 2016 but nothing has happened till now though there were some initial talks. “It’s about time that such action be implemented so both parties, Kuwait and the Philippines should talk due to the increasing number of runaway maids as well as the continuous deployment of household service workers who most of them become victims of various forms of abuses prompting them to escape from their employers and run to the embassy shelter,” pointed out Villa.
There are around 250,000 Filipinos working in Kuwait and around 158,000 of which are household service workers. Pawa’s execution on Wednesday prompted a number of OFW advocacy groups in Kuwait and some countries in the Middle East to call for a moratorium on the deployment of Filipino household service workers to Kuwait. Some have taken their campaign to Facebook and other social media. “We are appealing to President Duterte to hear our plea for a moratoroium! How many more Jakatia Pawa have to suffer the same fate?” urged Mary Ann Abunda, the founder of Sandigan, an OFW advocacy group in Kuwait.
“It’s saddening to know that someone had to die so that it will jolt us to our senses. Are we going to wait for another Pawa to sacrifice one’s life? Now is the right time for a moratorium,” lamented Dr Chie Umandap, the Founder and Chairman of Ako OFW, an OFW advocacy group in Kuwait. Meanwhile, representatives of manpower recruitment agencies are against any moratorium. “Why would they stop?
Firstly, if I were the government, can I give them money to buy food on the table, for dinner, for the family? Yes they can stop but as of now, they can’t give the daily needs of these people. What about those who didn’t finish any degree from the remote provinces and want to work overseas? Why would they stop them from earning for their family?” stressed Paulo Liwanag, the Secretary General of the Filipino Association of Secretaries of Employment Agencies in Kuwait With almost 500 Filipino workers who are mostly victims of verbal, physical or sexual abuse, Kuwait has the highest number of distressed OFWs housed in the POLO-OWWA Shelter and Kuwait Migrant Workers Shelter in the Middle East.
Kuwait has its Domestic Workers Law but it has yet to be fully implemented, though some steps have been taken to date by the Kuwait government to promote the rights and protection of domestic workers. The law grants around 600,000 domestic helpers in Kuwait, most of them Asian women, a 12-hour working day, a day off once a week, and 30 days annual leave. It also obliges employers to open a bank account for maids and transfer their wages to the account to resolve the problem of delays or non-payment of salaries and other provisions.
By Michelle Fe Santiago
Arab Times Staff