The Department of Migrant Workers (DMW) is imposing a temporary ban on the deployment of first-time overseas Filipino workers (OFW), particularly domestic helpers, to Kuwait, Secretary Susan Ople said Wednesday.
In a statement, Ople said the processing of applications for first time OFWs in the Gulf state will be deferred until "significant reforms have been made resulting from upcoming bilateral talks" with Kuwait.
“'Yung mga baguhan, never before nag-work as kasambahays abroad or 'yung nag-work as kasambahays pero hindi sa Kuwait ay kailangan maghintay muna dahil nais tiyakin ng department na may mas maayos na monitoring at mas mabilis na response system in place bago sila tumungo doon,” the DMW chief said.
(Those who have never worked as domestic helpers abroad, including those who have worked as household helpers in other countries but not in Kuwait, would need to wait for their deployment because the department wants to ensure that there is a better monitoring system and a faster response system.)
She said domestic workers have several other countries to choose from such as Hong Kong and Singapore.
Despite this development, Ople said she is optimistic that significant changes can still be made to the existing bilateral labor agreement between the Philippines and Kuwait.
“Why not just impose a total deployment ban? Because there are actual OFWs who have already worked in Kuwait for several years who still want to go back to their old employers or seek new ones. We have also been informed through diplomatic channels of the willingness of the Kuwait government to engage in bilateral labor talks. We are preparing well in advance for these talks, bringing with us an accumulation of abuse done over the years, hence the need for significant changes,” she said.
This was also disclosed by Undersecretary Maria Anthonette Velasco-Allones at a Senate hearing after Senator Raffy Tulfo questioned Ople's alleged hesitance to impose deployment ban against Kuwait.
"Bukas si Secretary Toots at suportado niya po ang panukala ninyo na mag-impose ng targeted ban. So by that, we mean 'yung ban na iimpose ay para po sa mga household workers bound for Kuwait na mga new hires po," Velasco-Allones said.
The DMW proposed to defer the employment process of first-time OFWs who are bound for Kuwait while the government is negotiating with the Kuwaiti government, she said.
"Ang sabi ni Secretary Toots na, in the immediate, ito ay ating i-ban muna habang may pag-uusap pong nagaganap (Secretary Ople said, in the immediate, we should impose the ban while talks are ongoing)," she said.
Ople was not able to attend the Senate hearing on the tragic murder of Jullebee Ranara as she joined President Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos Jr. in his trip to Japan.
A fact-finding team was also sent to Kuwait for two weeks to gather data and conduct interviews with concerned individuals and stakeholders to get a clear picture on the situation on the ground, Velasco-Allones said.
"Ang sabi po ni Secretary Toots maganda na evidence-based at may data rin po na mai-submit sa inyo na manggaling din sa baba (Secretary Toots said it would be better to provide you with evidence-based data from the people on the ground)," Velasco-Allones said.
She said DMW data showed that OFWs who already have years of experience in Kuwait are not prone to abuses due to their familiarity with the culture.
"'Yun pong mga balik-manggagawa, mga pitong beses na, anim na beses na, kabisado na po nila 'yung kanilang employer, 'yung kultura, 'yung mga patakaran, hindi naman po tayo nagkakaroon ng mga problema sa ganon. Ang bulto po ng ating mga problema ng pagkaroon po ng maltrato ay nandon po sa mga new hires na umaalis," she said.
(Those who have worked in Kuwait before and returned there seven or six times, they are already familiar with their employer, the culture, the rules, we don't have a problem with them. The bulk of the problem, particularly on maltreatment, is with the new hires.)
Tulfo has been calling on the Philippine government to impose an employment ban against Kuwait following the death of Ranara, whose body was found burned in the middle of a desert in Kuwait and was reportedly raped and impregnated by the suspect, the 17-year-old son of her employer.
Senator Risa Hontiveros also backed Tulfo's call, saying a temporary deployment ban should be imposed against Kuwait until Ranara's case is resolved and until there is a firmer agreement between the two states that these abuses will not recur.
Ranara's death is the latest of Filipino fatalities in Kuwait in recent years.
Former President Rodrigo Duterte earlier ordered a OFW deployment ban to Kuwait following the killing of Filipina domestic worker Joanna Daniela Demafelis in 2018.
Demafelis was found in a freezer at an abandoned apartment in the Gulf state. Reports said Demafelis' employers, a Lebanese man, and his Syrian wife, hid the body in the freezer before fleeing the apartment.
Duterte then appealed to Arab nations to treat Filipino workers with dignity and respect.
A partial lifting of the ban took place in May 2018 after the signing of the protection deal for overseas Filipino workers in the Gulf state.
But in May 2019, the Labor Department said 47-year-old overseas Filipino worker Constancia Lago Dayag died at the hands of her employer also in Kuwait.
It was reported in 2020 that Jeanelyn Villavende was killed by her female employer in Kuwait due to jealousy on December 28, 2019.
Results of the autopsy made by the Kuwaiti Ministry of Health showed that the victim died after multiple organ failures following a severe beating.
Reports said Villavende’s female employer was meted out the death penalty while her husband was sentenced with four-year imprisonment for covering up and not reporting the crime.
In February 2020, the Philippine government lifted the deployment ban on Filipino migrant workers to Kuwait.
Then-Labor secretary Silvestre Bello III announced this after the Kuwaiti government conceded to the conditions set by the Philippines during a board meeting at that time.
A resolution has already been filed in the Senate to conduct an inquiry into the existing bilateral agreement between the Philippine and Kuwaiti governments on OFW deployment..
Senate Majority Leader Joel Villanueva is also seeking a comprehensive review of the labor accord between the Philippines and Kuwait amid the rising cases of abuse against OFWs.
Apart from Ranara's death, Villanueva also mentioned the case of Myla Balbag, an OFW in Kuwait who jumped from a building to escape her employer.
"After these two unfortunate incidents, we need to carefully study if the policies are fair and being followed and clearly set the parameters on when to impose a ban and when to lift," he said.
The lawmaker also filed Senate Resolution 456, urging the executive department to ratify the International Labor Organization Convention 190 on the elimination of violence and harassment in the workplace.
"Considering the Philippine adoption of Convention No. 190 in June 2019 and the urgency to afford protection to all our workers, especially OFWs, it is incumbent upon the Department of Labor and Employment, Department of Migrant Workers, Department of Foreign Affairs, and the Civil Service Commission to immediately take action for its ratification by President Ferdinand Romualdez Marcos, Jr., and confirmation by the Philippine Senate," Villanueva wrote in PS Resolution 456.
The said treaty seeks to protect workers and other persons in the world of work from violence and harassment occurring in the course of, linked with, or arising out of work with an accompanying recommendation that provides guidance in implementing the Convention.
The majority leader said ratifying the ILO convention would provide the "impetus" to reflect on the principles of labor standards and allow the country to elevate the killings of OFWs to the ILO supervisory bodies.
“Let’s give our OFWs reassurance that their government is doing their best to make sure that they are protected and that their rights are not violated," Villanueva said.
"This is living up to our obligations to our 'heroes' who have braved foreign worlds and transformed the economic landscape of our country for want of better lives for their families," he added.
Senate President Juan Miguel Zubiri earlier disclosed that the ILO convention is yet to be transmitted to the chamber.—AOL, GMA Integrated News