Sen. Jinggoy Estrada on Tuesday, January 24 called on the government to press for the dismantling of the controversial “Kafala” system to protect overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) from Arab nations.
The Kafala system, a sponsorship system being used by Arab countries monitors and restricts the movement of migrant workers, has become a set up for slavery, according to Estrada, chairman of the Senate Committee on Labor, Employment and Human Resources Development.
“It’s time for us to focus on studying the call of abolishing the Kafala system as done in Bahrain and in Qatar, where the Kafala system had been abolished. In Bahrain it is supposed to be the government, not individual employers, who sponsor the OFW,” Estrada said in his privilege speech during the Senate plenary session.
“They have been benefitting from this Kafala system for a long time which we can’t deny causes abuse, harassment and modern slavery to our OFWs. It is time to strengthen the call to abolish this system,” he said.
Estrada’s call came at the heels of the death of Jullebee Ranara, a 35-year old domestic helper in Kuwait, who was raped, killed and found burned in the desert.
At the same time, Estrada called on the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) and the Department of Migrant Workers (DMW) to intensify the monitoring mechanism in the countries where most OFWs are deployed and where the government also record cases of abuse.
“Let’s fix and strengthen the system of communication, monitoring, support and immediate assistance to our OFWs here in these countries,” Estrada said.
At the same time, Estrada reminded licensed recruitment agencies in the country and abroad that the monitoring of the workers’ welfare is a shared responsibility of both the private and public sectors.
“We expect the DMW to further monitor the quality and competence of recruitment industry members. If it’s possible, let’s only send our Filipino domestic workers to the signatory countries of the ILO (International Labor Organization) Domestic Workers Convention,” he suggested.
Moreover, the senator said all embassies and other agencies should intensify its social media campaign and increae the image and dignity of Filipino laborers, especially the country’s domestic workers, and putting special emphasis on addressing racial discrimination and the fight against gender-based violence.
“I’m not here to point fingers at anyone. I am merely out to express my condemnation on the gruesome death of Ranara, who just like the millions of our OFWs, was simply seeking better opportunities abroad so that she could provide for her family and loved ones at home, but ended up in harm’s way,” he said.
Estrada said he further finds it harrowing that in Ranara’s case, local news outlet in the state of Kuwait reported that the arrested perpetrator who confessed to the crime is a 17-year old Kuwaiti national and the son of her employer who allegedly raped and impregnated her.
“The victim was beaten, ran over by the perpetrator’s car twice and was burnt and left for dead in the desert,” he lamented.
He noted the government, numerous times, have imposed a deployment ban to Kuwait. The lifting of the last ban was in February 2020, during then President Rodrigo Duterte’s term, and was the result of an agreement reached between the Philippine and Kuwaiti government on additional safeguards for Filipino migrant workers.
The lifting of the ban again saw an influx of Filipino domestic workers in Kuwait.
“But regardless of the agreement reached between the two governments, we still failed to shield our kababayans (citizens) from abusive employers,” Estrada said.