Authorities at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport starts preventing the departure of overseas Filipino workers going to Kuwait following the ban on the deployment of OFWs imposed by the government.
On Tuesday, around 100 passengers, who came from vacations with their families in the Philippines and have existing work contracts in Kuwait, were not allowed by Immigration personnel to get on board Philippine Airlines flight PR-668 at Naia Terminal 1.
“All Immigration officers had been directed to prevent the departure of all OFWs bound for Kuwait,” said Naia chief immigration officer Marc Red Marinas.
He said even the returning OFWs to Kuwait are also covered by the ban.
But on the night of Feb. 12, the day government officials formally signed the deployment ban order, more than 200 passengers with scheduled departure from Manila were allowed to board their flights bound for Kuwait.
A television report said that Philippine Overseas Employment Administration officials gave clearance to the passengers after showing their overseas employment certificate.
Prior to their flight, some of the OFWs expressed alarm on the new government policy initiated by President Rodrigo Duterte, saying not all OFWs are being maltreated by their employers.
“Why find another job if you have a good employer? [My employer] is good and they treat me nice there,” said Evangeline Daniel, who worked in Kuwait as domestic helper for seven years.
Daniel was seconded by Bibinil Bicoy, who also worked for 13 years in Kuwait. “My employer treat me as a sister and member of the family.”
Immigration commissioner Jaime Morente said he directed all ports nationwide to enforce stricter immigration formalities on all departing passengers after President Duterte imposed a ban on the deployment OFWs to Kuwait.
He said rigid inspection on all departing Filipino air travelers is also necessary to prevent possible attempts by unscrupulous individuals to circumvent the ban and facilitate the exit of Kuwaiti-bound OFWs via the “escort scheme” at the airport.
Labor secretary Silvestre Bello III said the government would help the returning migrant look for new jobs.
Meanwhile, 400 OFWs from Kuwait are scheduled to arrive today (Wednesday) and Thursday at the NAIA Terminal 1 via Qatar Airways.
Another PAL flight also set to carry 360 Manila-bound passengers from Kuwait Thursday and Saturday while Etihad Airline will bring 130 on Friday.
On Feb. 19, Qatar and Gulf airlines are scheduled to carry 350 OFWs while PAL and Cebu Pacific will be arriving in Manila with more than 500 passengers.
PAL officials announced earlier that they lined up four flights from Kuwait to Manila this week to help repatriate the distressed OFWs there.
The move came on the heels of the request of President Duterte to local carriers to help the OFWs to return home. The four flights will be free of charge for the distressed OFWs in Kuwait.
The airline said it would continue to coordinate closely with the Philippine Embassy in Kuwait and the Foreign Affairs department in charge of identifying and selecting the OFWs to ensure an orderly process in availing of the repatriation effort.
Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque said earlier the Philippine governtment will hold Kuwait responsible under the concept of state responsibility for failure to provide legal redress for Filipino victims in the Gulf state.
Roque made the statement following the discovery of the body of Joana Daniela Demafelis, a Filipina household worker who was tortured and kept inside a freezer at the abandoned apartment in Kuwait for almost a year.
Roque said Kuwait, under international law, has a legal obligation to provide legal redress for victims of crimes in Kuwait.
In 2016 around 105,000 OFWs were deployed to Kuwait.
NAIA’s decision to ban returning OFWs to Kuwait followed a directive of the Bureau of Immigration which said that it would not allow the OFWs whose destination is Kuwait to leave the airports and seaports in the country following the president’s order to strictly implement the ban on the deployment of OFWs to Kuwait.
BI Commissioner Jaime Morente directed the bureau’s port operations chief Marc Red Mariñas to immediately enforce the ban and conduct stricter immigration formalities on all departing passengers.
Mariñas also said that “Balik Manggagawa” or returning OFWs to Kuwait are likewise covered by the ban.
“All Immigration Officers had been directed to prevent the departure of all OFWs bound for Kuwait.” Mariñas said.
“The rigid inspection of all departing Filipino passengers is necessary to thwart any attempts by illegal recruiters to circumvent the ban and facilitate the exit of Kuwaiti-bound OFWs through the notorious escort racket at the airport,” the BI official said.
“We shall implement this deployment ban to the letter and immigration personnel who connive with the escort syndicates will be dealt with severely,” the BI chief warned.
He urged the public not to hesitate in reporting to his office any BI personnel involved in such nefarious activities.
Mariñas said he has directed Julius Caesar Feria, head of the bureau’s travel control and enforcement unit (TCEU), to instruct his men in all the ports to be doubly vigilant in assessing and monitoring departing passengers.
“I also issued a stern warning to immigration officers in all the ports that anyone who engages in the escort racket will be suspended and eventually dismissed from the service for gross misconduct,” Mariñas added.
Meanwhile, Malacañang assured thousands of overseas Filipino workers from Kuwait that the government would attend to their employment needs following the President’s order.
Roque said the president’s decision to ban Filipinos from seeking work in the Arab nation was triggered by abuses of Kuwaiti employers against OFWs.
“The President is serious in his decision to ban the deployment ban OFWs to Kuwait to guarantee their safety,” Roque said.
“To address the plight of returning OFWs who will have to look for new jobs, the national government has directed its missions to find alternative work for them, particularly in countries that are signatories to International Labor Organization (ILO) conventions protecting migrant workers’ rights,” he said.
“We are looking for Oman and Bahrain because we did not receive any reports of abuses against OFWs,” he said.
The Palace spokesperson said those who voluntarily repatriated would receive P5,000 worth of immediate financial assistance, in addition to the P20,000 livelihood aid from the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA).
The president ordered the ban of Filipino deployment to the Arab nation after the body of a migrant Filipina worker was found in a freezer.
“‘The deployment ban order is President’s testimony that the welfare of the Filipino comes first,” Roque said.
Roque echoed Duterte’s statement that Filipinos are not slave to anyone and only want to give comfort to their families back home.
The Secretary said the administration is expecting a response from the Kuwaiti government in finding justice for the abused OFWs. He said under international laws, Kuwait is obligated to do so.
Roque assured that under the current administration, more job opportunities await Filipino workers in the country, so they won’t have to leave their families and work abroad.