Partial ban?
COMMONSENSE - Marichu A. Villanueva (The Philippine Star) - January 6, 2020 - 12:00am

The latest case of Filipina domestic worker Jeanelyn Villavende who recently died due to maltreatment and abuse by her employer in Kuwait could be the last straw to break the camel’s back, euphemistically speaking. Her death was actually the second one already after the Philippines and Kuwait have supposedly entered into a bilateral agreement on the protection of our overseas Filipino workers (OFWs).

It was in May 2018 when the Philippines and Kuwait signed a Memorandum of Agreement on the Employment of Domestic Workers which sought to improve on the working conditions of Filipino household helpers. It was the aftermath of the death of 29-year-old Filipina household worker Joanna Demafelis who was killed by her employers in Kuwait. Her frozen remains bore signs of torture and found in a freezer, in her employer’s apartment in February 2018, more than a year after she was reported missing.

Her employers, an Arab couple (not Kuwaitis), were sentenced in absentia after they fled Kuwait. The Kuwaiti government requested their extradition from Lebanon and Syria where they are being separately detained.

Nonetheless, the death of Demafelis caused the diplomatic crisis when, in a fit of anger, President Rodrigo Duterte bashed Kuwait and announced a total ban of deployment of our OFWs to that tiny but wealthy emirate country in the Middle East. The tension between the two countries escalated in April after Kuwait expelled Philippine ambassador Renato Villa over a viral video showing Embassy staff “rescuing” OFWs allegedly abused by their employers.

Former Foreign Affairs Secretary and now House Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano apologized to Kuwait on April 24. Cayetano explained that the Philippine Embassy rescue was done “in the spirit of emergency action to protect Filipinos.”

This diplomatic row between the Philippines and Kuwait was subsequently resolved amicably with the signing of this bilateral labor pact. Among the key features of the agreement are the provision of food, housing, clothing; employers would not be allowed to confiscate the Philippine passport of their workers; registration in the health insurance system for domestic workers; and the use of cellular phones so that OFWs could communicate with their relatives in the Philippines. The deal also provides that the employer should open a bank account under the domestic worker’s name to allow the reasonable opportunity to remit his or her monthly salary to relatives in the Philippines.

This labor pact covers more than 260,000 OFWs in Kuwait, where about 65 percent are employed as household workers.

Satisfied by the labor deal, President Duterte made a public apology to the leadership and people of Kuwait for badmouthing them earlier. “For the first time, I would say that I was harsh in my language, maybe because that was a result of an emotional outburst, but I’d like to apologize now. I’m sorry for the language that I was using but I’m very satisfied by the way you responded to the problems of my country,” President Duterte said in a talk to the Filipino community in South Korea during his state visit there last June 3.

The seeming satisfactory resolution of the OFWs issues prompted President Duterte to lift the total deployment ban on new hires to Kuwait. It even led to arrangements for the state visit of President Duterte to Kuwait. Special Assistant to the President and now Senator Christopher “Bong” Go was quoted saying the state visit is subject to the availability of the Emir of Kuwait Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah.

But that state visit to Kuwait did not come to pass and for good, perhaps.

 Despite this labor deal, another Filipina household worker, Constancia Dayag, died in May last year also in the hands of her employer in Kuwait. The bruised body of the Filipina maid was in decomposing state when she was found dead at her employer’s home. A 47-year-old mother of three, she left the country in 2016 to work in Kuwait. The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) identified Bader Ibrahim Mohammad Hussain as her employer who was charged with felony murder complaint filed by the Kuwaiti General Prosecutor’s Office and supported by the Philippine Embassy, the DFA announced later in May.

Our Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) earlier revealed Dayag’s body bore various contusions and hematoma, with indications of possible sexual abuse.

The DFA previously disclosed they reiterated the request for the immediate release of the official forensic report from the Criminal Evidence Department of Kuwait’s Ministry of Interior. Our own National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) sought to conduct an independent autopsy to determine Dayag’s cause of death. Up to this writing, no official results on Dayag’s autopsy were released yet to the public.

 Now, we have this second case of Villavende. The DFA, now headed by Secretary Teodoro “Teddyboy” Locsin Jr. disclosed the Philippine Embassy in Kuwait is “coordinating closely” with local authorities to seek justice for Villavende. Firebrand Locsin summoned the Kuwaiti Ambassador in Manila “to express the government’s outrage over the seeming lack of protection” of our Filipino domestic workers in their country. The DFA Secretary pressed “for complete transparency in the investigation of the case and to call for the swift prosecution of the perpetrators to the fullest extent of the law.”

Locsin was informed that Villavende’s female employer is now currently in custody of Kuwaiti authorities. However, the DFA Secretary also got the information that her employer is connected with a Ministry in Kuwait. In his Twitter account, @teddyboylocsin posted over the weekend: “And her murderess is supposed to be well-connected. Well I don’t give a flying f*#k anymore than I would if she was well-connected in the Philippines. I actually don’t give flying f*#k about connections. I find them attached to ugly, weak and useless people.”

But a less combative DOLE Secretary Silvestre Bello III opted for a partial deployment ban, presumably just for now. For someone who signed this labor deal with Kuwait, will Bello’s partial ban do any better for our OFWs?

JEANELYN VILLAVENDE OVERSEAS FILIPINO WORKERS
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