DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 09 February) — President Rodrigo Duterte has banned the deployment of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) to Kuwait due to the increasing number of abuses and deaths, including Filipina worker Joanne Daniela Demafelis whose body was recently discovered inside a freezer of an abandoned apartment in Al-Shaab, Kuwait.
In a press conference at the Matina Enclaves Friday evening, Duterte said he wants Filipino workers in Kuwait who want to return home, to be repatriated in 72 hours and that he will ask Philippines Airlines and Cebu Pacific to fly them home.
“I want them out of that country in 72 hours, those who want to come home,” he said.
“We will count our lives by the hour because apparently every hour there is a suffering and agony, brutality committed against Filipinos,” he added.
Duterte said he is willing to take “drastic steps that will help preserve Filipino life and limb” if his requests to foreign governments of giving OFWs protection and justice “within the limits that their laws allow” continue to go unheeded.
The President was alarmed by the increasing number of reported deaths of Filipino workers in Kuwait alone, from 82 in 2016 to 103 in 2017.
He said a review of the “incidents of violence, curtailment of freedom and abuse of basic human rights committed against Filipino workers” compelled the government to question what it has done to protect and give justice to the distressed OFWs.
Duterte said he could no longer endure the abuses committed against the Filipino workers there, as he made an appeal to the Kuwaiti government and to the Arab employers to treat them with dignity, respect their basic human rights, and keep them free from harm.
“We send to you a Filipino worker, hale and healthy, determined to work his heart out in order to give a decent and comfortable life in the Philippines. Do not give us back a battered worker or a mutilated corpse,” Duterte said.
“The Filipino is no slave to anyone, anywhere and everywhere,” Duterte said, adding that “every unlawful physical injury that is inflicted on an OFW is a injury that I personally bear as the head of this Republic…. an affront against us, as a sovereign nation.”
The President lamented the inaction of the Kuwaiti government on the abuses, despite helping the Kuwaiti government then when it resisted the invasion of its neighboring Gulf state, Iraq.
“We were there … we… fought to protect your interests. We did not fail you. How come my countrymen are suffering brutality, cruelty and death and you seem to be oblivious about it?” he said.
“What are you doing to my countrymen? If I were to do it to your citizens here, would you be happy?” he added.
Labor secretary Silvestre Bello III said he earlier recommended to the President that the suspension of processing and issuances of new overseas employment certificates (OECs) would remain until after they could determine the cause of death of seven OFWs from December 2017 until January 2018 and unless the Kuwaiti government signs the memorandum of understanding (MOU) which
has been pending for three years. He said it would provide for the additional protection for Filipino workers in Kuwait.
“Rapid response team”
Foreign Affairs undersecretary for Migrant Workers Affairs Sarah Lou Arriola said the government has dispatched a rapid response team to Kuwait to help expedite the process of repatriation of OFWs.
She added that 2,229 OFWs had earlier signified interest to return home. However, only 1,754 individuals have been issued with immigration clearances.
Arriola said that even before the President announced he wants a repatriation within 72 hours of workers who want to come home, 800 are scheduled to return home from February 11 to 13 — 400 on February 11; 150 on February 12; and 250 on February 13.
She said the number is expected to go up as they expect more undocumented workers to avail of the Kuwaiti government’s amnesty program until February 22.
“The numbers can go up kasi iba yung President mismo ang sabi (because it’s different when the President himself said) if you want to go home, you go home,” she said.
Arriola said most of the distressed Filipino workers are household helpers. Of 262,000 migrants workers in Kuwait, she said 170,000 are household workers. (Antonio L. Colina IV / MindaNews)