The truth about the exodus to and from Kuwait
WHAT MATTERS MOST - Atty. Josephus B. Jimenez (The Freeman) - February 20, 2018 - 12:00am

The president did the right thing, and Secretary Bebot Bello was only following orders, when the total ban was issued in the second week of this month. What the president did was a strong political statement against the Kuwait government and the Kuwaiti employers who employ no less than 270,000 OFWs. By such draconian and unprecedented move, the Philippines is telling Kuwait and all Arab countries that this government under President Rodrigo Duterte will no longer tolerate the decades-old injustices, maltreatment, abuse, and insults against the Filipino workers, especially those inflicted against Filipino domestic helpers. Enough is enough. We have suffered long enough. It is time to assert our human dignity.

Out of the 270,000 Filipino workers in Kuwait, some 170,000 are household service workers. They clean, cook food, take care of the babies, do the laundry, and all other household chores. They work from 5 a.m. up to midnight or even beyond that, that means more than 18 hours of hard work. They are even asked to massage the madam and the masters before they sleep. They have no day off, they work seven days a week. They cannot go to church to exercise freedom of religion because there is no such thing for domestic helpers in Kuwait. Their passports are confiscated, and they are held incommunicado. They cannot even call the embassy because they are prohibited from doing so. How do I know all this? I was the labor attaché there for some time and the first thing I did was to recommend a ban against domestic helpers to be sent there.

But in all fairness, there are about 100,000 happy, well-treated, well-paid executives, managers, supervisors, white-collar workers, professionals, and highly-skilled personnel. They are employed by the Kuwait government itself, like in the Ministry of Health and other service and technical agencies. These OFWs do not want to come home because they are earning something between the equivalent of P50,000 to P200,000 a month. Many Filipinos are happy working in the hotels, restaurants, department stores, hospitals, medical clinics, schools, and other high-class and reputable establishments. These are the people who can be considered as the collateral damage. And thus, the government must allow them to remain there.

But then again, the president's strong political statement will lose its full impact if we just recall the domestics and leave the professionals behind. Kuwait can easily get maids from Sri Lanka, Ethiopia, Indonesia, and Bangladesh, albeit the quality of our domestic helpers is very difficult to equal. But there are many other countries which have labor excess and could send their women to take over for Filipino domestic helpers. But our skilled professionals and technical experts cannot be duplicated, much less surpassed. Thus, Kuwait is going to lose this game. They need us more than we need them. We have so many other options. We just have to trust ourselves and our leaders. They are doing it right, and we just have to support them.

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