OFWs to be sent home if kafala system persists in Middle East — Duterte

The government will call for the pullout of Filipino workers if the kafala system implemented in some countries in the Middle East will not be dismantled.

President Rodrigo Duterte delivers his sixth State of the Nation Address (SONA) before a joint session of Congress on July 26, 2021. (RTVM screenshot)

President Duterte made another pitch for the abolition of the kafala system, the controversial sponsorship system of migrant workers, during his sixth and final State of the Nation Address (SONA) Monday, insisting Filipinos are no slaves.

Duterte, who has championed the rights and welfare of overseas Filipino workers, lamented that the kafala system was an unjust mechanism for modern-day slavery.

"We called on the world to dismantle the heinous kafala system because the Filipino is no slave to anyone anywhere and there is no room for modern-day slavery. We help start a global civil rights movement for migrant workers," he said.

"To everybody in the Middle East, I would like to tell them that not only Filipinos but all human beings, the kafala has no place there because it is a setup for slavery. Either you correct or we will ask workers Filipino workers to go home," he added.

The President said the government would look after the Filipino workers if they return home.

"Sabi ko bahala na kung mahirap kami dito, okay lang," he said. "We will try our very best to make up for what they have lost, what they will lose in the process. but we will never allow them to be slaves," he added.

The fafala 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.

The President first issued the call for the abolition of the kafala system during a virtual international forum on migration and human rights last April. He said the system was exploitative since it places migrant workers, particularly household workers, "in the most vulnerable situation unseen, unheard and unable to defend their dignity as a human being."