Department of Migrant Workers

DMW to assess OFW welfare in Kuwait following Jullebee Ranara killing

Michelle Abad

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DMW to assess OFW welfare in Kuwait following Jullebee Ranara killing

Women's group Gabriela lead a candlelight protest calling for Justice for Jullebee Ranara, a Filipina migrant worker killed by her employer's son in Kuwait, at the Boy Scout Circle in Quezon City on January 27, 2023, Gabriela calls on the government to take action and defend the rights of the Filipino migrant workers and stop its labor export policies.

Jire Carreon/Rappler

(1st UPDATE) Department of Migrant Workers Undersecretary Bernard Olalia says the department has issued a preventive suspension against the employer of the slain OFW

MANILA, Philippines – The Department of Migrant Workers (DMW) will send a team to examine the situation of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) in Kuwait following the killing of Filipino domestic worker Jullebee Ranara.

The OFW was allegedly killed by the 17-year-old son of her employer, whom she had described to her family as “cruel,” according to Migrant Workers Secretary Susan Ople. The minor has since been arrested and put under Kuwait police custody.

“The task at hand is a directive from the secretary to send a fact-finding team to Kuwait to ascertain [and] take stock of the welfare cases there, and to find ways and means to address these welfare cases either by filing cases in Kuwait if need be, or filing cases in labor tribunals and authorities there,” DMW Undersecretary Hans Cacdac said in a media briefing on Saturday, January 28.

Some members of the fact-finding team include Philippine social welfare attache Bernard Bonina and lawyer Geraldine Mendez, who is with the DMW’s anti-illegal recruitment branch.

“The findings may result in policy reforms and even, if needed, personnel changes based on the performance audit that will be undertaken by this fact-finding team,” said Ople.

Ranara’s remains were brought back to the Philippines on Friday night, January 27. Ople, who personally observed burns on Ranara’s body, said that the body was brought to a funeral parlor somewhere in Cavite City. The National Bureau of Investigation was to have begun its autopsy on the body on Saturday morning.

DMW to assess OFW welfare in Kuwait following Jullebee Ranara killing

Officials from the DMW accompanied Ranara’s siblings and cousins, who were there to receive the OFW’s remains on Friday night. The chairpersons of the Senate and House migrant workers committees, Senator Raffy Tulfo and Kabayan Representative Ron Salo, respectively, were also there for Ranara’s repatriation.

Ople said she witnessed the “heartbreaking” reunion of the family with Ranara.

Review labor agreement 

In a statement released on Saturday night, Cacdac said Ople had ordered the review of bilateral labor agreements between the Philippines and Kuwait. 

Ang direktiba ni Secretary Toots ay napapanahon nang irepaso, to revisit, review itong bilateral labor agreement na ito at paigtingin ang proteksiyon sa mga OFWs (Secretary Toots’ directive was to review, to revisit this bilateral labor agreement and strengthen the protection of our OFWS),” Cacdac explained. 

The DMW, according to Cacdac, will also review the recruitment process and standards in hiring OFWs in Kuwait. 

At sabay nito ay pinatitingnan din ni Secretary Toots iyong recruitment standards para paigtingin iyong safe and ethical recruitments standards para sa mga OFWs to Kuwait, na masiguro natin, halimbawa, iyong mga agencies with clean track records lamang ang makakapag-deploy ng mga OFWs to Kuwait.”

(And along with this, Secretary Toots also ordered a look into the recruitment standards to improve the safe and ethical recruitments standards for our OFWS in Kuwait, so we can ensure, for example, that only agencies with clean track records can deploy OFWs to Kuwait.)

Sanctions vs employer, recruitment agencies

DMW Undersecretary Bernard Olalia reported that the DMW has issued a preventive suspension against Ranara’s employer, which means they cannot hire Filipino workers. Olalia said that the preventive suspension prompts proceedings that will eventually lead to a final decision for permanent blacklisting.

Ranara’s recruitment agencies in the Philippines and Kuwait will also be subject to sanctions. Olalia said that the department is preparing to file a recruitment violation case against Catalyst International Manpower Services Company, and its Kuwait-based counterpart, Platinum International Office for Recruitment of Domestic Manpower.

Olalia said that the “most important” obligation of the recruitment agencies is the continuous monitoring of the workers. He said that they are obligated to check in with their OFWs regularly should they have concerns with their workplace, such as if they are being harmed.

“Based on the investigation, this was not followed. We did not receive any report in our OFW welfare monitoring system, and we did not receive a report that [Ranara] had an issue with the 17-year-old,” Olalia said in a mix of English and Filipino.

The DMW is set to meet with local recruitment agencies sending household service workers to Kuwait on Monday, January 30.

Still no deployment ban for now

On Friday, Senator Tulfo pushed for a total deployment ban on Kuwait, which he said would send “a very strong message.” The Kuwaiti government should also issue a public apology, and not just an apology to Ranara’s family, Tulfo said.

“After [imposing] the total deployment ban, that’s the only time we can sit down with them, in bilateral talks, but on our terms. We should give conditions to them. And if they want OFWs, they must follow our conditions,” Tulfo said in a mix of English and Filipino.

Pressed by reporters on Saturday regarding the DMW’s decision to stay firm on not imposing a deployment ban, Ople said that it is in the country’s interest to prioritize pursuing labor diplomacy.

Pag nag-impose ka kasi ng deployment ban, you are sending a message that ‘Kuwait is not suitable to our workers.’ Parang sinasabi mo, ‘Galit-galit tayo.’ ‘Di ba? ‘Hindi kami magpapadala sa inyo.’ And naiintindihan namin na mayroong ganoon dahil nga sobrang galit natin sa nangyari, ‘yun ang gustong gawin,” said Ople.

‘Yung sa amin naman, mayroon namang paraan para mag-usap. Ngayon, ang dapat ayusin, ‘yung agenda ng pag-uusapan. Sa tingin namin, mas advantageous sa mga workers natin na nandoon…na patuloy kaming nag-uusap with Kuwait,” she added.

(When you impose a deployment ban, you are sending a message that “Kuwait is not suitable to our workers.” It’s like you are saying, “We have beef with each other.” Right? “We will not send you workers.” And we understand why there are calls like that because of our anger over what happened. For us, there are ways to dialogue. Now, we just have to fix the agenda of discussion points. We think it is more advantageous to our workers there…that we continue speaking to Kuwait.)

Ople said that some factors that would push the Philippines to impose a ban include consensus between the Department of Foreign Affairs and the DMW, considering what is in the national interest, the advantages and disadvantages of OFWs there and who aspire to work there, and the host government’s willingness to dialogue.

“It cannot be a product of emotions and political acoustics because workers are involved. That’s why we at the department are careful,” said Ople, aware that the decision has caused criticism.

The Kuwaiti government has expressed its sympathies and signified its drive to pursue justice for Ranara’s case based on its communications to the Philippine government, as released by the DMW.

There are more than 200 OFWs staying in shelters in Kuwait who have active welfare cases. Ople said the department has yet to come up with a threshold figure that would indicate the appropriate time to impose a deployment ban. –

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Michelle Abad

Michelle Abad is a multimedia reporter at Rappler. She covers the rights of women and children, migrant Filipinos, and labor.