Duterte seeks abolition of Kafala system: ‘The Filipino is not a slave to anyone anywhere’

Published April 20, 2021, 7:09 PM

by Genalyn Kabiling

President Duterte has called for the abolition of the Kafala or sponsorship system for migrant workers, saying it was “unjust” and “exploitative.”

President Rodrigo Roa Duterte

Speaking at a virtual forum on migration and human rights Tuesday, the President said the Kafala system must be dismantled “sooner rather than later” as he called for reforms to ensure safe and orderly migration.

The Kafala system, prevalent in the Middle East, gives employers control over the mobility and legal status of foreign workers in a country.

Concerns have been raised that such restrictive system has left workers vulnerable to abuse and exploitation.

Duterte, in his speech, said he respects migration policies of each country but cited the need to respect human rights of migrant workers.

“We cannot justify the denial of basic human rights and the fundamental freedoms of any individual regardless of status. That is why the Philippines strongly calls for the complete abolition of the Kafala system sooner rather than later,” he said in a taped message Tuesday, April 20.

“The Kafala system is unjust and exploitative. It places thousands of migrant workers, particularly household workers, in the most vulnerable situation unseen, unheard and unable to defend their dignity as a human being,” he said.

He recognized that migration contributed to growth and development in both origin and destination countries but came with cost and challenges. Migration must work for all stakeholders “to be truly sustainable and transformative,” he added.

Duterte also mentioned the “painful stories of abuse,” from inhumane working conditions to non payment of wages, from restrictions of movements to denial of healthcare and from sexual exploitation to murder.

“For the Philippines and the Filipinos, these tales are realities that hit us hard. This has got to stop,” he said.

He also observed that the pandemic has pushed migrant workers, including those under kafala system, into “even more precarious position.”

“As the world went into lockdowns, many were driven to destitution with no job, no social safetynets, and no money to send back home. This cannot go on,” he said.

To address structural inequalities, Duterte made a pitch for an “inclusive” pandemic response without any kind of discrimination.

 “No one must be left behind as we march towards recovery,” he said.

Duterte also welcomed the labor reforms initiated by Saudi Arabia, Oman, Qatar and Bahrain.

He expressed hope that Saudi Arabia’s labor reform initiative will improve the working conditions of migrant workers, including the 800,000 Filipinos.

On the part of the Philippines, Duterte vowed that the government would ensure its people live in safety and dignity wherever they may be.

“As I have said before, the Filipino is not a slave to anyone anywhere,” he said.

Duterte also shared his dream that working abroad becomes a choice and not a need for Filipinos.  

He said his government remains committed to the long-term vision of providing stable, comfortable and secure life for all Filipinos in their own land.

“But while this remains a vision, the Philippines strongly advocates, works with all partners to realize the global compact of safe, orderly and regular migration,” he said.

“We continue to bravely speak against the ills of Kafala system. We will be relentless in our efforts to dismantle this unjust structure and we will never tire from seeking greater cooperation with all those who want these inequities and suffering to end once and for all. This is the right thing to do. This is what it’s expected of us and this is the only way to move forward,” he said.