Monday, January 20, 2020

Philippine embassy ‘extracts’ OFW from Kuwait household

The Philippine embassy in Kuwait has “extracted” a distressed overseas Filipino worker (OFW) from a Kuwaiti home.
“While a distressed OFW’s plea was going viral in social media yesterday, our Kuwait PE worked quietly on extracting her,” Foreign Affairs Undersecretary for civilian security and consular concerns Brigido Dulay said in a Twitter post on Friday.

Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. retweeted Dulay’s tweet. Dulay said the Filipina household worker is “now sheltered in our Embassy.”

“We’re working on reuniting her with her loved ones next week,” he said.

The Arab Times cited a report of Al-Qabas, a daily Kuwaiti newspaper, that the Philippine embassy in Kuwait is again in controversy for breaking regulations in labor disputes, as it opened the door for a maid to escape from her sponsor for a trivial and petty reason such as her being prevented from eating eggs. “Although the Philippine embassy focuses on (protecting) its workers and to solve the crisis of the recent ban of their workers from the Philippines to Kuwait, the Philippine embassy also plays the role of resolving issues between the workers and the sponsors where, in some cases, it takes appropriate action to return the worker to her country by harboring a domestic worker who complains about her sponsor,” the report said. The Filipino household worker, identified in the report as Delia, posted on Facebook that the sponsor was not happy with her because she was eating eggs and she slept late, and she was forced to work until 11 p.m.

Abu Jasir Al-Shammari, the sponsor of the OFW, claimed that the Filipina was provided food after she complained to the recruitment agency that she was not getting food from her employer. Al-Shammari was called to the police station after the embassy filed a complaint.

“The recent crisis will be an opportunity for many domestic workers to exploit sympathy and seek help from the embassy to escape the natural responsibilities of working inside the home,” the report said. After the discovery of the body of Filipina domestic worker Joanna Demafelis inside a freezer in an abandoned apartment and domestic worker abuse in the Gulf state, the Philippines and Kuwait faced diplomatic crisis in 2018.

The Philippines protested to Kuwait in February 2018 the abuses and maltreatment, labor violations and the failure of Kuwaiti authorities to provide protection to Filipino nationals. The note verbale was sent to Kuwaiti Ambassador Saleh Ahmad Althwaik. The discovery of Demafelis’ body prompted President Duterte to ban the deployment of migrant workers to Kuwait.

Kuwait summoned then Philippine ambassador Renato Pedro Villa for alleged “inflammatory comments” against the Arab state and the “inappropriate behavior” of Philippine diplomatic staff, who were seen in the viral video rescuing Filipino workers. The Philippines offended and angered Kuwait when the staff of the Philippine embassy and the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) staged “rapid rescue missions” of distressed Filipino domestic workers in Kuwaiti private homes that violated the host country’s sovereignty and the norms prescribed by the 1961 Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations. On April 19, 2018, then acting foreign affairs assistant secretary for public diplomacy Elmer Cato uploaded videos of the rescue activities on the DFA reporters’ Viber group.

Kuwait declared Villa persona non grata and expelled him.

The Philippine government prohibited last week all deployment of Filipino migrant workers to Kuwait following the violent death of Filipina domestic worker Jeanalyn Villavende there. The DFA commissioned a topnotch criminal lawyer in Kuwait to pursue the case against the employers of Villavende, a case of “an eye for an eye, a life for a life” for the government.

The killing of Villavende, according to the DFA, is a violation of the agreement signed by the Philippine and Kuwaiti governments in 2018 for their protection.

The DFA said the continuing incidents of violence and abuse of Filipino domestic workers in Kuwait violate the spirit of the agreement signed in May 2018 that seeks to promote and protect their welfare.

Bleak future Migrant and recruitment consultant Emmanuel Geslani said President Duterte’s decision to issue a permanent deployment ban to Kuwait would severely impair the future of 270,000 OFWs now working in Middle Eastern nation, while Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III is adamant that the government will only lift the ban if justice is rendered for the death of Villavende and Kuwait conforms to the terms of the 2018 labor agreement on a standard employment contract. The standard employment contract will reflect the provisions of a 2018 labor agreement between the Philippines and Kuwait seeking to protect OFWs in the Gulf state.

The agreement was forged after the Philippines imposed a total deployment ban following the death of Demafelis.

The newly imposed total deployment ban covers household service workers (HSWs), semi-skilled and skilled workers as well as professionals, including Filipino seafarers. Skilled workers and professionals who have unexpired contracts and those who will be cleared by the secretary of labor, however, are exempt from the ban.

Bello imposed the total deployment ban on the heels of Villavende’s death and the Kuwaiti government’s attempt to cover up her brutal killing and upon the recommendation of the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration governing board.

Apparently, Duterte made good his threat to permanently ban Filipinos from working in Kuwait if one more death or a case of maltreatment reaches his office. With the imposition of this new ban, many OFWs in Kuwait might not return and simply renew their contracts with their employers as they will not be allowed to return to Kuwait as balik-manggagawa or vacationing workers.

Out of the 270,000 estimated OFWs in Kuwait, about 220,000 are HSWs and the rest are skilled or professional workers who value their jobs and are equally important to their employers. There will be loss of an estimated 30,000 HSW jobs if the ban is not resolved within a year, similar to the 2018 scenario where deployment of HSWs only started after July of that year and resulted in only 23,525 HSWs being able to leave for Kuwait. Deployment in 2017 was at 45,856, according to Geslani.