THE Embassy of South Korea was quick to deny that a Korean mafia operates in the Philippines and was behind the murder of Korean businessman Jee Ick-joo. Understandably, embassy officials would come under fire from its own diplomatic headquarters and the South Korean government as a whole for failing to monitor and report the activities of this alleged mafia. Linking the gruesome killing of Jee Ick-joo to an alleged shakedown by his own compatriots is something that even the victim’s widow was insistent on dispelling.
I really don’t know if a South Korean mafia does exist in the Philippines.
However, all signs point to the existence of a Kuwaiti-run business that has all the makings of a syndicate out to victimize our overseas Filipino workers, with the full support of the Embassy of Kuwait and perhaps even the government of Kuwait. I refer to the owners and associates of a Manila-based company known as Winston Q8, which has the power to choose which among the Department of Health-accredited clinics should service OFWs bound for Kuwait.
I wonder why despite the very clear monopoly enjoyed by Winston Q8 and its accredited clinics, neither the Department of Foreign Affairs nor the Department of Labor and Employment through the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration as well as the Department of Health has been able to stop this excessive and illegal scheme.
ACTS OFW party-list Representative John Bertiz presented before his colleagues the syndicated manner by which Winston Q8 and another Kuwaiti-owned company known as MARAWED operates. Here are some details from that presentation and from other sources as well:
In 2016, the Kuwait Embassy outsourced its medical certification and visa services to two private companies, Winston Q8 and MAWARED, respectively. This means that no Filipino worker bound for Kuwait can leave without passing through these two companies. Both companies are not accredited or recognized by the POEA, the DoH and the DFA.
The average medical pre-employment tests based on the DoH’s circular shall not go beyond P2,200 per OFW and that every overseas job applicant has the freedom to choose where to get tested. For all other countries, this is followed, except for Kuwait. Because, unless the job applicant pays an additional P5,800 to Winston Q8 through a bank deposit, he or she cannot obtain medical tests from the only eight clinics, all based in Metro Manila, that Winston Q8 recognizes. The freedom of choice accorded by law to every prospective OFW has been taken away by a Kuwait-owned and Kuwait Embassy-sanctioned company known as Winston Q8. Yet, our own government is unable to stop this company.
The same holds true for MARAWED. MARAWED and Winston Q8 operate like sister companies; one reinforces the profits of the other. You cannot get your visa stamped unless you go through Winston Q8. Why? Because the Kuwaiti Embassy says so. By the way, the visa stamping fee that was less than P500 before, has now been jacked up to P3,457. So, here are two Kuwaiti companies based in Manila, pocketing P5,800 and P3,457 per OFW bound for Kuwait, in uncontested monopolies.
To disguise its clearly money-making motives, Winston Q8, speaking through its lawyer and accredited clinics, said that its certification service is needed because many OFWs were sent home from Kuwait due to shoddy medical screening results. Well, just a few weeks ago, six OFWs were repatriated from Kuwait because they were found unfit to work, despite going through Winston Q8. Yes, these workers were charged more, and yet, were still sent home after failing their medical exams in Kuwait. So where’s the difference?
The accredited clinics of Winston Q8 keep saying that the higher fees are justified because licensed recruitment agencies shoulder them in behalf of the domestic workers bound for Kuwait. This is beside the point. From whose pocket these illicit fees come from does not make what is clearly an illegal act, legal–or fair, or moral. Any increase in the cost of hiring a Filipino domestic worker by a foreign employer creates a situation ripe for maltreatment and abuse.
So I don’t know much about mafias from South Korea, or any other country but I am alarmed by the impunity by which the Embassy of Kuwait and two Kuwaiti-owned companies are transgressing our laws, including a Supreme Court decision, under the guise of protecting our own compatriots.
Winston Q8 and MARAWED earn hundreds of millions of pesos annually right under the nose of our own government. Let’s not be wimps in our own country. The law should apply to all, especially to foreigners out to profit from the dreams and aspirations of our modern-day heroes.