By Roy C. Mabasa
Distressed Filipino workers in Kuwait began returning over the weekend, following President Duterte’s appeal for them to come home and a standing order for a ban on deploying overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) to the Arab state.
Twenty-five distressed OFWs arrived early yesterday morning at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport – the fourth batch of OFWs repatriated amid a deployment ban issued by the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) over numerous complaints of maltreatment, non-payment of salaries, rape, verbal and physical abuse and even murder.
The repatriated OFWs arrived on board Philippine Airlines (PAL) flight PR 669 around 6:30 a.m.
Unexplained deaths were also reported in the Gulf state involving Filipino household service workers, including the shocking discovery of the body of Joanna Daniela Dimapilis inside a freezer at a vacant apartment last week.
Over the weekend, Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) has confirmed that the Philippine government is now processing the repatriation of more OFWs from Kuwait in response to reports that there are about 800 of them arriving this week.
A DFA source said only Secretary Ernesto Abella is authorized to speak about the issue of repatriation from Kuwait. The office of Abella, however, could not be reached yesterday.
An estimated 250,000 Filipinos work in Kuwait, 75 percent of which are domestic helpers.
Senators: Ensure jobs
Senators called on the Duterte government to ensure there are enough job placement programs in the country in preparation for the expected influx of OFWs who are now returning from Kuwait.
Senator Cynthia Villar said the DOLE and the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA) should take advantage of the government’s “Build, Build, Build” program to provide job opportunities for returning OFWs.
“You know, our domestic helpers comprise 80 percent of the problem of our labor department. That’s why I also believe we should stop them from going there. If we have 80 percent of our OFWs returning here, then 80 percent of our problems on our OFWs would eventually be resolved,” Villar said in a Radio DZBB interview.
“They really have a different culture there. Unlike here, that’s why it’s difficult to deploy domestic helpers in that country,” she said.
Since most of them are women, Villar said they can be trained and be retrained for skills in the construction industry.
“Women can also be welders. I know of one female who graduated in TESDA as a valedictorian in welding,” she said.
“I think welding skills are also worth a try for women. They can also enjoy higher pay. We have a shortage of welders,” Villar added.
There is also a shortage of manpower in the tourism industry, and returning OFWs can take advantage of it. “So I really believe, they just need to be trained and retrained so they would be equipped with sufficient skills,” she stressed.
Sen. Sherwin Gatchalian, echoed Villar’s call, saying he too supports the government’s thrust to help the country’s OFWs, and called on the Duterte administration to stop sending domestic helpers in Arab countries where policies on migrant workers are problematic.
“Everyday, I personally receive cries for help from our families here in the Philippines for their relatives who are being abused abroad. Unfortunately, 100 percent of the reports of abuse and maltreatment of our OFWs emanated from the middle east especially from Saudi Arabia and Kuwait,” Gatchalian said.
“Moreover, these two countries have very weak policies on the protection of migrant workers leaving each foreign nationality to defend themselves against abusive employers,” he said.
Gatchalian said the protection of OFWs is the primordial concern of the government.
Migrante: No jobs
Migrante International said lack of jobs and meager salaries await returning overseas Filipino workers from Kuwait.
“There is nothing awaiting for OFWs who shall return from Kuwait,” Migrante Spokesman Arman Hernando said in an interview.
“Meager salaries and contractual jobs are the only ones available in the country,” he added.
Even if they return, Hernando believes the prevailing circumstances will only force the OFWs either to return to Kuwait, go to other Middle East countries, or anywhere else where there are jobs available.
Leni and Erap
Vice President Ma. Leonor “Leni” Robredo said she supports the President’s decision to continue the ban on the deployment of OFWs to Kuwait.
“Ang tingin ko tama iyong ginawa ng ating Pangulo. (I think the President did is right.),” Robredo said.
The Vice President threw her support behind the continued suspension of OFW deployment in the Middle Eastern country during her weekly radio show, “BISErbisyong Leni.”
Robredo said it was a “strong statement” from Duterte to keep the deployment ban in effect against the abuses being perpetuated on Filipino workers abroad.
Manila Mayor Joseph Estrada also supported the decision of Duterte.
“I fully support President Rodrigo Duterte’s decision to impose a total ban on the deployment of Filipino workers to Kuwait,” said Estrada.
“I call on President Duterte to continue the suspension of the processing and issuance of new Overseas Employment Certificates (OECs) for Kuwait-bound Filipino workers,” he said, adding that what is important now is to ensure the protection and safety of Filipino lives there.
PAL and Cebu Pacific
On top of this, Duterte requested local airlines to provide special flights for the repatriation of Filipino workers from the oil-rich kingdom. Philippine Airlines (PAL) and Cebu Pacific responded to his call to bring home the OFWs.
Cebu Pacific and PAL heeded Duterte’s call to ferry OFWs in Kuwait who wish to be repatriated.
The two local airlines said on Saturday that they will mount special charter flights from Kuwait from Manila.
The President made the request on Friday at a press conference in Davao, where he expressed disgust over the death of Demapilis, who was found inside a freezer at an abandoned apartment in Kuwait.
“So everyone who wants to come home, I said to Secretary Bello, those who want to be repatriated, with or without money, I will ask PAL and Cebu Pacific to provide the transportation,” Duterte said in the press conference.
“Cebu Pacific (CEB) is mounting a special charter flight from Kuwait to Manila for free. This is in response to the call for assistance by the government to repatriate Filipino workers in Kuwait,” the airline said in a statement.
Meanwhile PAL will be using their 363-seater Airbus A330.
PAL said that it is coordinating with the DFA, the Philippine Embassy in Kuwait and concerned Philippine and foreign government authorities for the necessary requirements. (With reports from Hannah L. Torregoza, Leslie Ann G. Aquino, Raymund Antonio, Analou de Vera, and Dhel Nazario)
Tags: Cebu Pacific, Cynthia Villar, Filipino workers, migrant workers, Philippine Airlines, Philippine government, President Duterte, President Rodrigo Duterte, Repatriations from Kuwait begin, Secretary Ernesto Abella, Sherwin Gatchalian, Technical Education and Skills Development Authority
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