The Philippine government is absolutely right in insisting that protecting Overseas Filipino Workers is of paramount importance.
The Department of Foreign Affairs and the Department of Migrant Workers (DMW) issued a joint statement to that effect after last week’s talks between the Philippines and Kuwait over a stop to issuance of new visas to Filipinos ended in a deadlock.
“On issues related to services being rendered to our migrant workers, the delegation explained that all actions taken by the Philippine Embassy and the Philippine Government are solely to ensure the safety and welfare of our own nationals. Providing protection to a country’s citizens abroad is a well-established duty of consular offices under international law and conventions,” the statement said.
Published reports said the bone of contention was the Migrant Workers’ Center run by the Philippine embassy. It seems the Kuwaiti government, citing concerns about “sovereignty,” wants distressed workers to go to Kuwait’s social welfare department instead of the Philippine-run center that reportedly serves as runaway shelters.
But Philippine officials refused to budge on the issue, explaining that RA 8042 or Migrant Workers and Overseas Filipinos Act of 1995 states the establishment of the center “within the premises and under the administrative jurisdiction of the Philippine Embassy in countries where there are large concentrations of Filipino migrant workers.”
The law states that the center shall be open 24 hours daily including holidays and that “in countries categorized as highly problematic by the Department of Foreign Affairs and the Department of Labor and Employment and where there is a concentration of Filipino migrant workers, the government must provide a lawyer and a social worker for the Center.”
There’s no doubt that many see Kuwait as among the highly problematic countries for OFWs in recent years. Some see it even as probably the most problematic amid the various horror stories of OFWs being subjected to various indignities.
There’s the 2018 case of Filipino domestic helper Joanna Daniela Demafelis, whose lifeless body was found in a freezer in an abandoned apartment in Kuwait.
“We send to you a Filipino worker, hale and hearty, determined to work her heart out in order to give her family a decent and comfortable life in the Philippines. Do not give us back a battered worker or a mutilated corpse,” then President Duterte said.
But his appeal did not stop another death. In 2019, domestic worker Jeanelyn Padernal Villavende was sexually abused and battered for weeks before she died.
The latest OFW who got killed in Kuwait was 35-year-old Jullebee Ranara whose burnt body was found dumped in the desert last January.
The burning question begging for answers is this: Why do the deaths continue despite an agreement between the governments of the Philippines and Kuwait supposedly conferring rights on OFWs?
Sociologist Randy David provides one answer: “Filipino women working in Arab households as domestic helpers found themselves not only at the epicenter of a cultural clash that runs across gender, ethnic, religious, and class differences but in a world that assigned them no basic rights as human beings."
I really find it appalling that long after the US Civil War that ended slavery nearly two centuries ago, grisly tales still abound as OFWs are abused and deprived of basic necessities by foreign employers who apparently delight in the misery inflicted upon people they view as subhuman and treat as modern-day slaves.
Thus, following Ranara’s killing, the DMW decision last February to suspend deployment of first-time Filipino domestic workers to Kuwait until more safeguards are in place for their protection and welfare is correct. So is DMW Sec. Susan Ople’s announcement last Saturday that her office will provide financial packages and job-matching assistance for displaced workers.
She also did right when “the DMW met with private recruitment agencies with job orders for Kuwait and elsewhere to discuss joint efforts to help their workers look for either foreign or local employment so that they can continue to earn for their families.”
But what can undoubtedly be also the right thing to do is for our government to stand its ground in the pursuit of safeguards to further protect OFWs. Not only will that help secure the safety of OFWs, but it also ensures our dignity as a nation is not sacrificed. (Email: firstname.lastname@example.org)