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MANILA, Philippines – After meeting with Kuwait’s Crown Prince Sheikh Mishal Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-sabah, President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. believes that the Philippines and Kuwait could resolve the labor issues that have strained relations between the two countries and displaced hundreds of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs).
Marcos and the crown prince met on the sidelines of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN)-Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) Summit in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, on Friday, October 20, according to a Presidential Communications Office (PCO) press release.
According to the President, the crown prince then expressed how he “disagreed with what his people were doing” and even apologized to Marcos, the PCO statement said.
“The words that he used, ‘Do not listen to them. I do not agree with what they have been doing,’” Marcos told Philippine media in an interview. “‘There is no reason for you to apologize to us.’”
Philippine-Kuwait relations began deteriorating early in 2023 after Filipino domestic worker Jullebee Ranara was found dead in Kuwait, her remains burned and dumped in the desert. She was killed by the 17-year-old son of her employer, who was recently convicted of murder in September. (READ: Before Jullebee: OFWs who died at the hands of their employers in Kuwait)
In February, the brutal case of Ranara prompted the Philippine government to halt the processing of applications of first-time Filipino domestic workers bound for Kuwait. Marcos rejected calls for a total deployment ban.
The hope now is for relations to warm up again, after Marcos meeting with the crown prince. He also credited his father – the late dictator Ferdinand E. Marcos – for playing a role in the positive development.
Marcos quoted the crown prince as saying, “We will fix it and we will make it because we love the Philippines. And he said, ‘Because I remember your father.’ He said, ‘He always supported Kuwait. He always supported us and we know that you will also always support us. That’s why we will fix this.”
As of 2022, Kuwait hosts a large Filipino population of 279,000, most of whom work as OFWs, whose remittances reached $579,186 in the same year.
Payment for displaced Saudi OFWs
During the ASEAN-GCC summit, Marcos also provided an update on the unpaid wages of OFWs left jobless after their companies in Saudi Arabia went bankrupt in 2015 and 2016, but did not provide a specific timeline on when this would actually happen.
“We are already coming to the point na ‘yung detalye na lang ang pinag-uusapan. ‘Yung listahan ng mga claimant ay nalinis na, maayos na (the discussions are just on the details. The list of the claimants had been cleaned up). And we are just waiting for the details to be worked out between the Saudi side.”
For more than seven years, around 10,000 OFWs who were displaced by their construction companies’ folding in Saudi Arabia have waited for their billions worth of unpaid salaries and end-of-service benefits. However, some officials in the Department of Foreign Affairs think it’s not realistic to expect a payout to come within 2023.
In Marcos’ last bilateral meeting with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the latter committed 2 billion riyals for the OFWs. This time, Marcos did not mention any details, nor did he disclose a timetable for the payment of the back wages.
“I cannot say because it also depends on the internal processes in Saudi Arabia. But, again, I know for a fact that they will be paid. It’s just a question of when,” the President said.
Months ago, in his second State of the Nation Addess in July, Marcos had highlighted that the OFWs’ claims from their Saudi employers were already being processed. In August, the Department of Foreign Affairs said that the unpaid wages were not likely be settled this year. – Rappler.com