Cayetano: Kuwait assures PH of 'firm commitment' to protect OFWs

MANILA, Philippines – Kuwait has assured the Philippines of its "firm commitment" to give additional protection to Filipino workers in the Gulf state amid the diplomatic row of the two countries, Philippine Foreign Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano said.

"I am particularly heartened by the positive gestures of the Kuwaiti government, most especially in the past several days, that assured us of its firm commitment to help ensure the well-being of thousands of our kababayans (countrymen) who they have so generously been hosting in the past 4 decades," Cayetano said in a statement on Thursday, May 10.

Cayetano said President Rodrigo Duterte had set such commitment as "one of the preconditions" before the Philippine government considers signing the proposed memorandum of agreement for OFWs' welfare in Kuwait.

Cayetano is set to meet Kuwaiti Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Sheikh Sabah Khalid Al Hamad Al Sabah to evaluate the ties between the two countries.

He said he hoped that the memorandum would be signed after their meeting.

"It is our hope that the momentum created by the goodwill generated by our two sides during the past three weeks would lead to the signing today of the Memorandum of Agreement between our two countries," Cayetano said.

Talks on the agreement were revived earlier this year, after household service worker Joanna Demafelis was discovered dead in a freezer in Kuwait.

The proposed memorandum of agreement will cover all household service workers and skilled workers deployed in the Gulf state. Its salient features include employers allowing OFWs to keep their passports and mobile phones.

Cayetano added that the Philippine side "convinced"  Kuwait to agree to the repatriation of OFWs in shelters and those awaiting rescue, the activation of a 24/7 hotline for distressed workers in need of assistance, and the creation of a special police unit that would assist the Philippine embassy.

The meeting comes two weeks after Kuwait declared Philippine Ambassador Renato Villa "persona non grata" because of the embassy's rescue of distressed Filipino workers from private Kuwait homes without proper coordination with local authorities. The Kuwaiti government made the move after the Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs posted a video of the rescue.

After the controversy broke, Duterte said that the total deployment ban of  workers to Kuwait would stay "permanently" but Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque later clarified the ban may be partially lifted after the signing of the OFW protection agreement. –

Aika Rey

Aika Rey covers the Philippine Senate for Rappler. Before writing about politicians, she covered budget, labor, and transportation issues.