ONLY a day after President Rodrigo Duterte ordered a total ban on the deployment of overseas Filipino workers to Kuwait , the government, through the Department of Foreign Affairs, is set to bring home the first batch of 800 individuals from the Arab country next week.
The voluntary repatriation follows the death of a Filipina household worker whose body had been lying in a freezer for a year.
In related developments:
• The Cebu Pacific Air management on Saturday announced it was sending an aircraft to assist the government in its efforts to repatriate overseas Filipino workers in Kuwait.
The move followed Duterte’s appeal to airlines to help in repatriation efforts in the wake of recent deaths of Filipinos in Kuwait.
The Chief Executive tapped Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III to facilitate the repatriation within 72 hours.
Charo Logarta Lagamon, CEB corporate communications director, said the airline would be mounting a special flight to Kuwait to assist Filipinos who wish to be repatriated to the Philippines.
“We are coordinating with the Department of Foreign Affairs and the Philippine Embassy in Kuwait on the airlift details and other travel arrangements. We will provide further information once these are finalized,” she said.
Officials of the Manila International Airport Authority-Media Affairs Division said 49 OFWs from Kuwait were set to arrive via flight PR 669.
They added 79 other Filipinos from Kuwait also arrived last Friday.
The President was angered by the Kuwait government for not seriously taking any actions against abusive Kuwaiti employers, despite repeated appeal to treat Filipino workers fairly.
The Chief Executive was addressing his displeasure with the Kuwaiti government in a press briefing in Davao, saying Filipino workers were not slaves to anyone and were merely working in their country to help their families back home.
Duterte said the Filipina household service worker’s body was found a few days ago inside a freezer. The body bore torture marks and indications she was strangled to death.
• The Philippine government may sign an agreement with China to open its labor market for Filipinos, after Duterte ordered a total ban on the deployment of OFWs to Kuwait.
Duterte on Friday ordered the extension of the deployment ban of OFWs in Kuwait after its government failed to protect and treat Filipinos “with dignity.”
In a radio interview, Bello said the government would meet with Chinese government officials to sign a bilateral agreement with China for the deployment of Filipino workers.
Bello said the bilateral deal on deploying OFWs was supposed to be signed on the sidelines of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations Summit in November last year.
• Kabayan Rep. Ron Salo is batting for the creation of a one department for migrant workers to improve the delivery of services for them.
Salo of the House committee on government reorganization said he was hammering out the working draft of a consolidated bill seeking to create a separate department that shall focus on the welfare and development of overseas Filipino workers.
“Under the baton of one conductor, the secretary for migrant workers will improve the way government delivers its services and address many of the issues and problems OFWs and other migrant Pinoy workers face,” he said.
Several agencies are spread across various departments which not only hamper coordination and response, but also create unnecessary burdens for OFWs hopping from one agency to another, he noted.
Under Salo’s proposal, the Philippine Overseas Employment Agency and the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration would be part of the new department for the OFWs.
Lawyer Raul Dado, DFA executive director for Migrant Workers Affairs, said the DFA was processing more Filipinos who wished to go home.
“We are processing more...that’s the first batch,” he said.
There are more than 250,000 Filipinos in Kuwait and majority of them work as household service workers.
More than 2.3-million Filipinos opted to work abroad and, of that figure, 8 million were already residing there.
Majority of these figures were working in the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar.
Dado said the Philippine government had filed a homicide case against Lebanese employers Nader Assaf and his Syrian wife.
“A case for homicide has been filed with the Prosecutors of Maidan Hawally in Kuwait,” he said.
“The body has been presumed to be in the freezer for more than a year since their Lebanese employers Mr. Nader Assaf and his Syrian wife left Kuwait in November 2016,” he added.
Currently, he said, Kuwait authorities were searching for the couple in Lebanon to arrest them with the help of Interpol.
“A new meeting with the highest officials of the Kuwait forensics department continues,” he added.
Meanwhile, the family of Joanna Daniela Demafelis called on the government to give the family justice.
“I am appealing for government’s help in seeking justice for my daughter’s death,” the victim’s mother Eva Demafelis said in a report over ABS-CBN website.
Her father, Crisanto, also requested her remains be brought back home to the OFW’s hometown in Iloilo.
Demafelis worked in Kuwait as a household worker in 2014.
She opted to work abroad to help her family and support her siblings.
The family said on the first three months, their communication with her was constant.
In 2016, she called them and told them that she would be extending her contract for another year.
Gradually, communication stopped, until February of 2017, when family members had to seek help from the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration.
According to OWWA, officials did their best to contact the migrant worker but failed to reach her since her agency had closed down.
Dado said Duterte ordered law enforcement to investigate and prosecute the recruiters of Demafelis.
“The Philippine Embassy this week immediately sent a diplomatic note to Ministry of Foreign Affairs about the recent case of a deceased household worker who was found in a freezer in Kuwait,” he said.
So far, he said, the embassy officials were also meeting police and forensics to get the results of the investigation immediately.
“Embassy lawyers have also been met and briefed on the necessary legal action against the employer and other parties responsible in this case,” he added.
Demafelis’ case is among seven recent Filipino deaths in Kuwait that had prompted the government to order a deployment ban to the Gulf State.
Duterte also threatened to withdraw all Filipinos from Kuwait if another worker dies there.
DFA officials said more than 800 undocumented OFWs in Kuwait were scheduled to return in batches in Manila from Sunday to Tuesday.
Reports showed that 103 OFW deaths were recorded in Kuwait, up from 2016 figures at 82.
In September, the Cebu Pacific, in coordination with the Philippine Army and National Police, also used its plane to airlift wounded soldiers and police personnel in Marawi City.
The airline also provided free cargo for relief goods intended for the affected communities in the city.
The CEB management stated that they would continue to provide free cargo support for relief goods and other essential items for displaced residents of Marawi City and adjacent areas from various organizations, most notably the Department of Social Welfare and Development.
Duterte has asked China to open its doors to the Philippines and would allow Filipino workers to work there, but told them not to abuse them.
While the ban of OFWs to Kuwait would reduce its income, Duterte said the country was ready to suffer but not at the expense of the lives of Filipino workers.
The latest Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas data show cash remittances from Kuwait from January to November 2017 amounted to $735 million (P37.5 billion).
“Do not destroy their dignity as a human being,” he said.
“Let them sleep long enough. (One) complaint is that they’re fed with leftovers, that’s why they commit suicide. They can’t take it anymore, including rape.” With Vito Barcelo, Joel Zurbano and Rio Araja
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