PRESIDENT Rodrigo Duterte on Tuesday personally welcomed about 116 distressed Filipino Workers from Kuwait at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA).
“Welcome home and masaya ako na dumating kayo dito na buhay, at least buhay, walang kapinsala at in good spirits,” Duterte said in his speech.
The President said he was really worried and could not stomach the persistent abuses against Filipino workers in Kuwait.
“We are here to ensure that every Filipino is treated with decency,” Duterte said, as he assured them of government support.
“There are livelihood opportunities here at home… ‘Wag kayong mawalan ng pag-asa. Hindi naman kayo magugutom (Don’t lose hope. You’ll never be hungry),” he said.
“Better come home and maghanap tayo. Maski gaano karami. Tutal may pera ang gobyerno natin,” the President added.
Duterte, assisted by Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello 3rd and Overseas Workers Welfare (OWWA) Administration Hans Leo Cacdac, led the ceremonial distribution of P5,000 cash assistance he gave to each returning OFW.
The OWWA and the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) also gave additional P10,000 cash assistance.
The 116 OFWs, who arrived at NAIA 1 at about 3:30 p.m on Tuesday, comprised the second batch of migrant workers who were granted amnesty by the Kuwait government
The OWWA said the government was expecting about 150 OFWs to arrive from Kuwait this afternoon but 12 of them were no shows while 22 were held by Kuwaiti police due to pending cases.
Aside from cash assistance, the OWWA also provided transportation, food and lodging for OFW amnesty availees while the Labor department and the DFA distributed grocery items.
Another batch of about 150 repatriated OFWs are scheduled to be flown in at 10 p.m Tuesday.
Duterte thanked Philippine Airlines’ (PAL) chairman and chief executive officer Lucio Tan and Cebu Pacific president Lance Gokongwei for volunteering their services for repatriated OFWs.
“I want to say to Mr. Lucio Tan and Gokongwei family, in behalf of our countrymen, salamat po (thank you). I will remember you for all time,” he said.
Duterte told Tan that whatever problem he and Tan had in the past was over and the Taipan has made up for it with his offer of planes.
“I’m going to shut up forever. Wala ka nang maririning sa akin na hindi ka nagbayad (You will never hear anything from me that you never paid). I am ready to protect every businessman kagaya niyo (like you),” Duterte said.
“Huwag ka mag-alala, walang harassment sa gobyerno ko. Just do the right thing. Huwag kayong mag-alala na meron akong sama ng loob. Wala po,” he added.
Duterte ordered Bello to bring home distressed OFWs in 72 hours, after the body of a Filipina worker was discovered inside a freezer in Kuwait.
Also in his speech, Duterte warned Kuwait of “karma” for abusing OFWs, reminding the Gulf State that the Philippines sent soldiers there to help protect it.
“What is the sin of my countrymen?… Is this the way you repay us? Ano’ng nagawa ng Pilipinas sa inyo? Nagsisilbi, tapos inaabuso ninyo. Baka maabutan kayo ng karma. When the time comes, you will remember us,” he said.
About 400 repatriated Filipino workers from Kuwait returned to Manila on Monday.
Palace spokesman Harry Roque said these workers were given P5,000 monetary aid and additional P20,000 to jumpstart an alternative livelihood.
“They belong to the first batch of Filipinos who have been allowed to leave after applying for amnesty in Kuwait. They include kababayans who have overstayed or escaped from their employers,” Roque said.
Under the Kuwait’s amnesty program, all OFWs overstaying in the Gulf nation will be allowed to return home without any penalties.
The application for amnesty began on January 29 and will end on February 22.
During Tuesday’s press conference in Kalinga, Roque clarified that there was no mandatory repatriation of OFWs in Kuwait.
He said OFWs in Kuwait may opt not to avail of Duterte’s repatriation offer if they wanted to stay in the Gulf nation.
“Well, unang-una po wala pong sapilitan. Kung gusto naman yung mga nagtatatrabaho sa Kuwait na manatili, nasa kanila po ang decision (Well, first of all it’s not mandatory. If they want to continue their work in Kuwait, the decision is theirs),” Roque told reporters.
“Ang sabi ng Pangulo hindi po siya papayag na ang mga Pilipino, lalo na ang mga kababaihan, aapihin ng mga dayuhan (The President said he would not allow, especially the women, to be just maltreated by foreigners [in Kuwait]),” he added.
Kuwait is a top destination for Filipino workers. The latest data from the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) shows there are some 240,000 Filipinos in the country as of 2016.