Partial deployment ban to Kuwait eyed

Partial deployment ban to Kuwait eyed

Cecille Suerte Felipe, Mayen Jaymalin, Pia Lee Brago (The Philippine Star) - January 3, 2020 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — The Philippines may suspend deployment of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) to Kuwait following the death of another Filipina worker in the Middle Eastern country, whose diplomatic ties with the Philippines would be affected anew.

Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III yesterday reported that the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) governing board is discussing the imposition of a partial deployment ban covering newly hired household service workers.

“This should serve as a clear message to Kuwaiti authorities,” Bello said, adding that the partial ban may become a total deployment ban if justice for the death of OFW Jeanelyn Villavende is not served.

Bello said the Philippine Overseas Labor Office (POLO) in Kuwait recommended the imposition of the partial deployment ban.

President Duterte has expressed outrage over the incident, his spokesman Salvador Panelo said.

“As we said earlier, the President is outraged by that. It is a violation of the agreement between these two countries and the incident is under investigation,” Panelo said.

He said the Palace was still following developments on the case before considering a total ban.

“The secretary of labor as you said has already executed a partial deployment. Let’s see if it becomes full deployment of the ban,” he said.

Panelo noted that the latest incident has affected the relations between the two countries but it would still be too harsh if the Philippine government would move to sever ties with Kuwait.

When asked if the government is considering cutting ties with Kuwait, Panelo said such drastic move would need serious thought from top Philippine government officials.

The Department of Foreign Affairs last Monday said the Filipina worker was allegedly killed by her employer’s wife, the latest in what labor groups have qualified as a pattern of maltreatment in the Gulf state.

The wife is currently detained in Kuwait and undergoing investigation for the Filipina worker’s brutal death.

Villavende’s male employer works for the Kuwaiti Ministry of Interior and thus should have been first to protect her from abuse, according to the Blas F. Ople Policy Center.

Susan Ople, president of the policy center, noted that Villavende of South Cotabato had only been with her employer in Kuwait for six months prior to the alleged murder incident. 

“The male employer works for the Ministry of Interior in Kuwait. He should have been the first to protect Jeanelyn from the abusive behavior of his wife. By the time he brought the badly beaten OFW to Al Sabah Hospital, it was already too late,” Ople said. 

“If even government personnel behave this way, then how can we expect better and more humane treatment for our OFWs in Kuwait?” she said.

She said that the culpability of both the local and Kuwait-based recruitment agencies must also be established. 

“Was there a time when the family sought help from the licensed agency in Jeanelyn’s behalf? This we need to know as part of the legislative probe,” Ople said.

Ople noted that the number of runaway domestic workers in Kuwait exceed 200 workers a month, surpassing the number of welfare cases in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.

Probe urged

The Ople Center urged the Senate and House committees on labor as well as OFW affairs to conduct a joint hearing on the recent killing of another Filipino domestic worker in Kuwait by her employer, particularly on the capacity of both the government and private sectors to effectively monitor the conditions of domestic workers overseas.

Ople said that a joint and independent probe by Congress would help establish the facts concerning existing monitoring systems for overseas domestic workers.

It would also send a clear message to the government of Kuwait that the members of the Senate and House of Representatives strongly condemn the senseless killing of another OFW.

The Ople Center said the joint congressional probe could also establish whether Jeanelyn was a victim of forced labor trafficking. 

“Based on information that we received, it seems that the worker had earlier complained of being underpaid and deprived of her right to communicate with family,” she said.

Sen. Joel Villanueva also called for justice for Villavende’s death, while questioning the implementation of the Kuwaiti bilateral agreement signed last 2018.

“We call for justice into her senseless death. It is already bad enough that she has to leave her family behind to work in a foreign land to give her loved ones a better opportunity. We urge our authorities to pursue all available legal means to ensure her family attains justice they rightly deserve,” said Villanueva.

“We are outraged that another family has to grieve, and we question the implementation of the Kuwaiti bilateral agreement signed last 2018 that was supposed to protect our workers in Kuwait,” said Villanueva.

He is hopeful that the labor department would continue to make representations with the Kuwaiti Ministry of Labor and work on a system to educate employers on the rights of their household service workers.

He said the death of the OFW in Kuwait highlights the need to pursue a measure that will help distressed compatriots abroad. 

“We are committed to shepherd the passage of Senate Bill No.1233, which seeks to further strengthen and expand the Legal Assistance Fund. The bill, which is on second reading, will strengthen the legal assistance provided for our kababayans abroad and ensure that justice is pursued for our OFWs and overseas-based Filipinos,” Villanueva added.

Repatriation of other OFWs

Bello said the Philippine government is ready to repatriate Filipino workers who would like to go home or be terminated by their Kuwaiti employers as a result of the deployment ban.

However, Bello said professionals, skilled and Balik Manggagawa are exempted from the deployment ban.

“Those who just came home to spend their Christmas holidays can return to their jobs to Kuwait,” Bello pointed out.

Aside from the partial deployment ban, Bello said the POEA may also cancel the license of the agency that recruited Villavende.         

“We will ask the agency to explain why despite the complaint, they did not take action,” Bello said.

Bello said Villavende had complained of maltreatment and repeatedly requested to be immediately repatriated from Kuwait. Villavende’s family called her last Dec. 13 but was told by her female employer that they cannot talk to her because she was busy with her chores.

Last year, Bello considered imposing a deployment ban following the death of Filipina worker Constancia Dayag, but the government did not immediately re-impose the deployment ban because of the arrest of the suspect in the killing.

The Philippine government banned the deployment of Filipino workers to Kuwait two years ago after a Filipina worker was found stuffed inside a freezer in an abandoned apartment. 

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