By Argyll Cyrus B. Geducos, Genalyn D. Kabiling, and Leslie Ann G. Aquino
President Duterte has ordered a total ban on the deployment of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) to Kuwait, saying the Philippine government is determined to hold the Gulf state responsible for the Filipino workers abused by their Kuwaiti employers.
Presidential Spokesman Harry Roque made the announcement days after Duterte said that he is willing to take drastic measures if it means protecting the lives of OFWs in Kuwait.
“I’m made to understand that the ban is for all deployment of workers to Kuwait,” Roque said in a press briefing yesterday.
The Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) already formally issued an order for the total ban on the deployment of all Filipinos workers to Kuwait and Labor and Employment Secretary Silvestre Bello III said the Administrative Order takes effect immediately.
“In pursuit of national interest, and with the advent of the series of reports involving abuse and death of OFWs in Kuwait, a total ban on deployment of all OFWs to Kuwait pursuant to the directive of the President of the Philippines is hereby enforced,” read the Order.
In a press briefing, Bello said ordinarily an order to ban deployment should be approved by the Governing Board of the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA), but due to the directive of the President that action by the board can be dispensed with subject to a ratification later.
Kuwait is responsible
The Palace official added that the Philippine government will be holding Kuwait responsible under the concept of state responsibility.
Kuwait might incur “international responsibility” if it fails to provide legal remedy for the Filipino victims, he said.
“As to the need for justice, we will hold Kuwait responsible under the concept of state responsibility. Kuwait, under international law, has a legal obligation to provide legal redress for the victims, Filipino victims of these horrendous crimes in Kuwait,” Roque said during a Palace press briefing.
“And of course, if Kuwait fails in this regard, then it will incur international responsibility for an internationally wrongful act,” he added.
The President earlier slammed Kuwait for the “inhuman” treatment of migrant workers following the discovery of a dead Filipino worker stuffed inside a freezer. Duterte said he does not seek special treatment or privileges for Filipino workers but expect respect for the persons’ dignity and human rights.
Roque added that Duterte’s reported plan to visit Kuwait late next month to appeal the cases of the Filipino workers there is now under consideration.
“I do not even know if that will push through. That’s under consideration now,” he said. “Let’s just say that the President is very carefully weighing our options as far as Kuwait is concerned,” he added.
On Friday, Duterte deplored the death of Filipina worker Joanna Daniela Demapilis whose body was found inside a freezer in an abandoned apartment in Kuwait on Wednesday.
“How come my countrymen are now suffering brutality, cruelty, and death? And you seem to be oblivious about it,” Duterte said, addressing the government of Kuwait during a press conference in Davao City last Friday night. ”Is there something wrong with your culture? Is there something wrong with the values?” he said.
Oman or Bahrain
Duterte has also offered assistance to Filipinos wanting to leave Kuwait and keep the ban on the deployment of workers due to concerns on abuse and exploitation.
The government is eyeing Oman and Bahrain as alternative countries where overseas Filipinos could be deployed after being brought home from Kuwait.
Roque identified the two Arab countries as “more humane” host nations for Filipino workers, following President Duterte’s decision to repatriate distressed workers from Kuwait.
“Repatriated workers will receive financial assistance from OWWA and may be deployed to more humane countries such as Oman and Bahrain,” he said.
Bello said there are also other options for workers repatriated from Kuwait.
“Meron kami national reintegration program. Ito yung hinahanapan sila trabaho o kaya bibigyan livelihood (We have a national reintegration program. The government will look for jobs for them or be given livelihood),” Bello said.
He said there are also alternative markets for them such as in China and Russia.
“Recently you must have heard na meron pangangailangan ang Japan at Czechoslovakia,” said Bello.
POEA Administrator Bernard Olalia echoed what Bello said.
“Marami po tayo available new markets (We have many job markets). Andiyan din ang New Zealand. Nangangailangan sila skilled and health care workers. Andiyan din Germany, Canada, so European and US market hindi nawawalan. Napakarami po natin available jobs,” he said.
DFA sends protest
The DFA, upon Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano’s instructions, said it already conveyed to Kuwaiti Ambassador to Manila Saleh Ahmad Althwaik its strongest protest over the abuses and maltreatment, labor violations and the failure of Kuwaiti authorities to provide protection to Filipino nationals.
The DFA added that it further reiterated its request for concrete action from the Kuwaiti Government to address the maltreatment and other abuses suffered by Filipinos in Kuwait.
An estimated 250,000 Filipinos work in Kuwait, 75 percent of which are domestic helpers.
Manila is now rushing the repatriation of an estimated 10,000 OFWs, however, the repatriation of these returning Filipinos were processed long before Duterte ordered the deployment ban.
There have been numerous complaints made by OFWs in Kuwait of maltreatment, including non-payment of salaries, rape, verbal and physical abuse. Unexplained deaths were also reported in the Gulf state involving Filipino household service workers.
The ones currently being repatriated are those who availed themselves of the amnesty program for overstaying Filipino nationals that the Kuwaiti government approved last month.
Officials from the Department of Foreign Affairs and the Department of Labor and Employment received early Monday the first batch of 377 workers who were repatriated on three commercial flights that left Kuwait Sunday afternoon.
Earlier, Roque said: “Those who opt for repatriation from Kuwait will be given P5,000 financial assistance and a further P20,000 assistance for alternative livelihood.”
Free flights home
The Philippine Airlines (PAL) is ready to support the repatriation of distressed OFWs who need to fly home from Kuwait and will be flown home free of charge. Likewise, Cebu Pacific (CEB) is mounting a special charter flight from Kuwait to Manila for free.
PAL Spokesman Cielo Villaluna said four flights are lined up from Kuwait to Manila this week, starting with PR669 departing Kuwait on 13 February (Tuesday) at 4 p.m. and arriving in Manila at 6:40 a.m. on Wednesday. Succeeding flights depart from Kuwait International Airport on Thursday, February 15; Saturday, February 17; and Sunday, February 18, with the same flight schedules.
Meantime, Cebu Pacific Spokesperson Charo Logarta Lagamon said it they will be deploying an Airbus A330 aircraft — the largest in its fleet with a maximum of 436 passengers, for a chartered flight since CEB has no regular commercial air service between Manila and Kuwait.
The schedule of the flight is being coordinated with the DFA and the Philippine Embassy in Kuwait, she said.
Bello, meantime, revealed the creation of a task force, led by Usec. Dominador Say, that will handle the repatriation of our OFWs in Kuwait pursuant to the order of the President to repatriate them within 72 hours.
Another task force, he said will go to the Middle East on February 20 to check the condition of OFWs there and how the government can be of assistance to them.
He said the third task force will conduct job fairs to recruit workers needed in the Philippines. (With reports from Roy C. Mabasa and Ariel Fernandez)
Tags: Harry Roque, No more workers to Kuwait, overseas Filipino workers, Philippine Overseas Employment Administration, President Duterte, Secretary Silvestre Bello, the Department of Labor and Employment
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