overseas Filipinos

Duterte, Saudi Arabia crown prince discuss protection for OFWs

Pia Ranada
Duterte, Saudi Arabia crown prince discuss protection for OFWs

CROWN PRINCE. Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman attends a graduation ceremony for the 95th batch of cadets from the King Faisal Air Academy in Riyadh, December 23, 2018.

File photo from Saudi Royal Court/Reuters

President Rodrigo Duterte and Saudi's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman talk about the kafala system and COVID-19 vaccines

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte and Saudi Arabia Crown Prince and Deputy Prime Minister Mohammed bin Salman talked about the rights of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) and the kafala system during a phone call on Wednesday night, May 5, said Malacañang.

“Their discussion was focused on how to strengthen the protection to be given to Filipino workers in Saudi Arabia,” said Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque on Thursday, May 6.

Roque said Saudi Arabia is one of the Middle Eastern countries pursuing changes to the kafala system, a sponsorship scheme where the employer, as sponsor of a foreign worker, monitors and restricts the worker’s movement. The system has made migrant workers vulnerable to abuse and exploitation, as seen in the horror stories of many OFWs, some of whom were tortured to death by their employers.

The Palace said the two leaders discussed the Philippines’ “fight to change this [kafala] system.” Duterte, in April, called for the “complete” abolition of the kafala scheme, describing it as “unjust and exploitative.”

He said this during a labor rights forum organized by the Philippines’ Department of Foreign Affairs, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Human Resources and Social Development, and the International Organization for Migration.

Duterte and the crown prince also talked about the COVID-19 pandemic, both agreeing that a system must be established to “ensure nations rich and poor will have access to vaccines,” said Roque.

There are over 1.7 million documented OFWs in the Middle East. More than 640,000 were displaced during the pandemic, according to the labor department.

Duterte, who has partly credited OFWs for his 2016 electoral victory, has sought to champion their rights abroad and respond to high-profile reports of abuse.

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In 2018, he even banned the deployment of more OFWs to Kuwait after the discovery of the body of Filipina domestic worker Joanna Demafelis, in a freezer, with marks indicating she had been strangled to death.

Duterte then listed down his demands to ensure OFWs in Kuwait are not abused – including a provision that would allow Filipinos to go on break during holidays and barring their employers from confiscating their passports. He eventually lifted the deployment ban after the Philippines and Kuwait signed an agreement. – Rappler.com

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Pia Ranada

Pia Ranada is a senior reporter for Rappler covering Philippine politics and environmental issues. For tips and story suggestions, email her at pia.ranada@rappler.com.