By Leslie Ann Aquino and Vanne Terrazola
Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III on Thursday gave two conditions for the lifting of the total ban on the deployment of Filipino workers to Kuwait.
In a press briefing, Bello said the first condition is justice should be given to Jeanelyn Villavende, the overseas Filipino worker (OFW) killed in Kuwait recently. The other condition is having a standard employment contract for household service workers.
“It will stay there until we don’t get justice for Ms. Villavende and we don’t get a consensus on the standard employment contract. If we don’t get that, there will be no deployment. It should be both,” Bello said.
The labor chief said the total deployment ban was imposed because of the brutal killing of Villavende, the attempt to cover it up, and the failure of the Kuwaiti government to come to an agreement regarding the finalization of the standard employment contract that should be agreed upon between Kuwait and the Philippines in accordance with the memorandum that was signed between the two countries in 2018.
Bello also explained why skilled workers and professionals were included in the deployment ban.
“We dont want to take any chance. We don’t want a repeat of the Villavende incident. After (Joanna) Demafelis and (Constancia) Dayag, we thought it will not happen anymore but here again… this is worst,” he said.
“We understand the sentiments of those who will be barred because of the total deployment ban, but we hope they understand our position. The deployment ban was reached in order to prevent a repeat of what happened to Villavende,” added Bello.
“We don’t want that if we send our workers there, they will again be exposed to dangers of brutal treatment, abuses including sexual abuses,” he said.
The Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) approved the resolution on the total deployment ban to Kuwait, Wednesday.
Meanwhile, the Senate will conduct an inquiry on the effectiveness of the Philippines’ bilateral agreement with Kuwait on the protection of OFWs following the killing of Villavende.
Senator Joel Villanueva in an interview with CNN Philippines Thursday said the Senate Committee on Labor, Employment and Human Resources Development will hold a hearing next week to discuss the 2018 memorandum of understanding (MOU) between the Philippines and Kuwait which was supposed to protect OFWs from abuse in the Gulf State, but apparently not enough to prevent the death of Villavende.
Villavende was the 26-year-old household worker reportedly beaten to death by her female employer in Kuwait. An autopsy conducted by the National Bureau of Investigation indicated that the Filipina was also sexually abused.
In the television interview, Villanueva noted that since the signing of the MOU in May 2018, the number of sexual abuse, maltreatment, and contract violations in Kuwait has so far declined – from 6,381 in 2018, to the 1,683 cases recorded by the Philippine government from January to November in 2019.
Despite the decline, Villanueva said the figures are still “glaring” and several employers in Kuwait are insisting on restricting Filipino workers, collecting their passports and travel documents, or confiscating their phones.
“Significantly, nakatulong po talaga but the problem is we still have 1,683 cases. (The MOU has significantly helped but the problem is we still have 1,683 cases),” Villanueva said.
“We cannot continue to risk anymore the lives of our OFWs,” he added.
Villanueva reiterated his call for a permanent total ban on the deployment of Filipino workers to Kuwait until its government assures compliance with the MOU and has put in place policies that would protect the rights and welfare of OFWs.
“If we can no longer protect out people, and we’ll continue to have a Joanna Demafelis and Jeanalyn Villavende, Constancia Dayag and the likes, I think we cannot afford to lose a single life. I-final at maging permanent itong deployment ban (The government should make final and permanent this total deployment ban in Kuwait),” he said, referring to the Filipina workers earlier slain in Kuwait.
“If we cannot trust this host country, huwag tayong magpadala (then let’s not send Filipinos there),” he added.
Villanueva also suggested anew the signing of similar bilateral agreements with other countries to further protect OFWs.
“Kasi nakita mo ‘yong numbers bumaba significantly (Because we saw the numbers significantly decline), so why don’t we do it with other countries? It should be our policy,” he said.
Villavende’s death was seen as a breach of the Philippines and Kuwait’s agreement, which was inked following the gruesome killing of household worker Joana Demafelis, whose body was kept in a freezer by her employers for nearly two years.
On Wednesday, the Department of Labor ordered a total ban on the deployment of Filipino workers to Kuwait due to Villavende’s death.