THE Philippines and Kuwait are eyeing a memorandum of agreement (MoA) to ensure protection for Filipino workers in the Gulf nation, Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello 3rd said on Wednesday.
Bello said that the MoA would send a strong signal that Kuwait was committed to providing protection to Filipino workers, and could trigger the lifting of the deployment ban.
“Once the MoA is signed, in a way, this may provide the safety valve that will protect our OFWs in Kuwait. And as soon as we are assured of their safety, this may be a good reason to consider the lifting of the total deployment ban, but I’m not saying that it’s automatic,” said Bello in a press briefing.
The deployment ban was the government’s response to the alleged abuses committed by its citizens against Filipino workers, highlighted by the death of Joanna Demafelis, a domestic helper, whose body was found inside a freezer a year after she was reported missing.
A team of negotiators, led by Labor Undersecretary Claro Arellano, is crafting the terms of the MoA, which the two parties are expected to sign next month.
Arellano said the Kuwait panel has yet to respond to a proposal to hold talks in Manila.
Among the provisions of the proposed MoA, according to Arellano, is that passports of Filipino workers in Kuwait will not be confiscated by their employers.
“It will allow our OFWs working in Kuwait to hold their passports or it should be deposited with the Philippine labor attaché in coordination with the Philippine Embassy,” Arellano said.
Another provision will allow OFWs to use their cellphones to communicate with their families and the government.
“Hopefully, by next week, we will be able to finalize the MoA and by first or second week of March we will be able to sign it,” he further said.
A task force headed by Labor Undersecretary Ciriaco Lagunzad 3rd will leave for Kuwait on Thursday and thereafter to Saudi Arabia and Qatar to assess the conditions of the OFWs and submit recommendations for the MoA.
“We want to ensure that our OFWs are well protected. We fear that the total deployment ban would affect our OFWs in Kuwait. So we will go there to see their conditions and implement the orders of the President,” Lagunzad added.
Lagunzad also disclosed that the Labor department was working on an application that OFWs would be able to use to alert the Philippine Embassy and the Philippine Overseas Labor Office if they are in need of immediate rescue.
“Once implemented, we intend to introduce the alert system in Kuwait and organize the OFWs association so that they will be aware that there is a system of alert,” he added.
3 officials sacked
Bello on Wednesday also announced that he had recalled three Kuwait-based labor officials for negligence.
Recalled were labor attaché Alejandro Padaen, assistant labor attaché Lily Pearl Guerrero and social welfare officer Ma. Sarah Antonia Concepcion.
Bello said the officials were recalled for lack of action on the complaint of the family of Demafelis.
The family reported Demafelis missing as early as January 17, 2017, but were ignored, he said.
“There was no effort to locate her (Demafiles). That is inaction,” Bello added.
Also on Wednesday, Philippine Overseas Employment Agency (POEA) Administrator Bernard Olalia cancelled the licenses of 11 agencies found guilty of recruitment violations in the deployment of workers to Kuwait and other countries.
He said corruption charges would also be filed against five POEA officials.
“They made it appear that Filipino workers deployed for the first time were Balik Manggagawa or returning workers,” Olalia added.
The five were identified as Florence Medina, Jerome Sousa, Gretchen Casilang, Rengold Macarulay and Rosalina Rosales.
Over 300 Filipinos return; amnesty extended
A total of 396 Filipino workers arrived at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport Terminal 3 from Kuwait on
Wednesday morning via a Cebu Pacific chartered flight, the airline company said.
“This is a special charter because Cebu Pacific does not fly to Kuwait,” said the airline, which flew in the workers via Flight 5J021. More than 600 OFWs from Kuwait were expected to return to the Philippines this Wednesday.
The government of Kuwait granted the request of the Philippines to extend the amnesty program it was offering to overstaying OFWs, the Department of Foreign Affairs announced on Wednesday.
Ambassador to Kuwait Renato Villa, in his report to Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano, said the amnesty program was extended by another two months or until April 22.
Villa said the order extending the amnesty, which was supposed to end on Thursday, was signed by Kuwait Interior Minister Sheikh Khalid Al-Jarrah Al-Sabah.
The decision came less than a week after Cayetano formally conveyed the extension request to Kuwaiti Ambassador Mousaed Al-Thwaikh in Manila.