overseas Filipinos

PH halts applications of first-time domestic workers bound for Kuwait

Michelle Abad

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PH halts applications of first-time domestic workers bound for Kuwait

KUWAIT. An aerial view taken with a drone shows the Kuwait National Assembly building, October 7, 2020.

Stephanie McGehee/Reuters

The Department of Migrant Workers says the applications are suspended pending bilateral talks between the Philippines and Kuwait

MANILA, Philippines – The Philippines’ Department of Migrant Workers (DMW) has halted the processing of applications of first-time Filipino domestic workers who are bound for Kuwait, effective immediately, the department announced on Wednesday, February 8.

Speaking from Japan, Migrant Workers Secretary Susan “Toots” Ople said the applications will be deferred “until after significant reforms have been made resulting from upcoming bilateral talks” with Kuwait.

Ople is part of the Philippine delegation to Japan, where President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. is conducting an “official working visit.” Marcos earlier said the Philippines was scheduling bilateral talks with Kuwait following the brutal death of Filipino domestic worker Jullebee Ranara in the Gulf state.

Ranara’s killing is the latest high-profile case of overseas Filipino worker (OFW) abuse in Kuwait. Arab media reported that she was allegedly raped, impregnated, run over, burnt, and dumped in the desert by the 17-year-old son of her employer. Her body was found in a Kuwaiti desert on January 21. (READ: The cost of economic strategy: PH labor export and the case of Jullebee Ranara)

‘Yung mga baguhan – never before nag-work as kasambahays abroad, or ‘yung nag-work as kasambahays pero hindi sa Kuwait – ay kailangan maghintay muna dahil nais tiyakin ng department na may mas maayos na monitoring at mas mabilis na response system in place bago sila tumungo doon,” Ople said.

(The first-timers – who have never before worked as domestic workers abroad, or those who have worked as domestic workers in countries other than Kuwait – must wait first, because we want to make sure that the department has better monitoring and a faster response system in place before they go there.)

Ople earlier thumbed down the imposition of a deployment ban to Kuwait, saying it was in the interest of the country and OFWs already there that the Philippines pursues labor diplomacy.

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DMW Undersecretary Anthonette Velasco-Allones also confirmed the targeted deployment ban during a Senate hearing earlier on Wednesday. Senator Raffy Tulfo asked the DMW representatives present to explain why Ople “contradicted” his call for a deployment ban, to which Allones clarified that Ople was open to a “targeted” ban.

Allones said the department would offer alternative opportunities for affected domestic workers to go to Singapore or Hong Kong instead of Kuwait.

The undersecretary said that, upon reviewing the department’s data, there were rarely problems encountered for OFWs who have renewed their contracts multiple times. “Ang bulto po ng ating mga problema na nagkakaroon po ng pagmaltrato ay nandoon po sa mga new hires na umaalis, sir. Kaya ito po ang sabi ni Secretary Toots na in the immediate, ito ay ating i-ban muna habang may pag-uusap pong magaganap,” she said.

(The bulk of our problems, where there is maltreatment, is with the new hires who get deployed, sir. That’s why Secretary Toots said that the immediate action should be to impose a ban while there are bilateral talks.)

Ranara was deployed to Kuwait in 2021, according to the DMW.

Allones said the DMW on Tuesday, February 7, sent off the Philippine government’s fact-finding team that would assess the situation of OFWs in Kuwait.

Ang sabi po ni Sec Toots, maganda na evidence-based at may data rin po kaming mai-submit sa inyo na manggagaling po talaga sa baba,” said Allones. (Secretary Toots said it would be better to take an evidence-based approach, and we would have data to submit to you from the ground.)

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Before Jullebee: OFWs who died at the hands of their employers in Kuwait

Before Jullebee: OFWs who died at the hands of their employers in Kuwait

The Philippines previously imposed deployment bans to Kuwait for some months in 2018 and 2020, following the tragic deaths of OFWs Joanna Demafelis and Jeanelyn Villavende at the hands of their employers. These were lifted following the establishment of labor reforms that were discussed in bilateral talks, as well as the Kuwaiti government reporting movements in the cases against the perpetrators.

In the Wednesday hearing, Senator Joel Villanueva questioned how effective deployment bans are, considering the thousands of OFW abuse cases that still get reported.

KUWAIT WELFARE CASES. Senator Joel Villanueva, citing the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration and the Department of Migrant Workers, presents a chart showing data of OFW welfare cases in Kuwait. Rappler screenshot

Citing the DMW, Villanueva reported that there were 948 cases of maltreatment, sexual abuse or harassment, and rape among OFWs in Kuwait in 2022. – Rappler.com

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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.