DAVAO CITY: President Rodrigo Duterte has declared a total ban on sending Filipino workers to Kuwait amid widespread abuses and deaths.
In his speech during The Manila Times’ 7th Business Forum at Marco Polo Hotel late Friday, Duterte reiterated his order to Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello 3rd to assist all Filipino workers in Kuwait who want out of the Gulf state within the next 72 hours.
“So there is a total ban now of workers to Kuwait. And I have given Bello 72 hours. Seventy-hours to go there and pick up the Filipinos na gustong umuwi (who want to go home),” the President said.
Duterte said he made the decision to repatriate overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) in Kuwait following the discovery of the body of Filipino domestic worker Joanna Daniela Dimapilis in a freezer inside an abandoned apartment in Kuwait.
The remains of Dimapilis were believed to have been stored in the freezer for more than a year.
Duterte said he could not stomach the persistent abuses that had pushed some Filipino migrant workers in Kuwait to commit suicide.
There are more than 250,000 Filipinos in Kuwait.
“P*****, hindi ko na ito kaya (I can’t take it anymore). I will not remain silent. Either give me the space to air my sentiment or if I cannot give the Filipino the face of a brutal victim, then I will resign,” Duterte said.
“You know, we love Kuwait. I know a lot of people who are—in the country and they are good but the problem is the culture, hindi ko na kayang tanggapin `to (I can no longer accept this). I will not keep silent and I will really confront you,” he added.
In a news conference earlier, Duterte said he would request flag carriers Philippine Airlines (PAL) and Cebu Pacific to send the migrant workers home within 72 hours.
“So everyone who wants to come home, I said to Secretary Bello, those who want to be repatriated, with or without money, I will ask PAL and Cebu Pacific to provide the transportation. I want them out of the country those who want to go out in 72 hours,” the President said.
“We will count our lives by the hours because apparently, every hour, there is a suffering and agony, brutality committed [on]Filipinos,” the President said.
But Bello, in a text message to reporters, said the 72-hour deadline would only take effect “after [an]executive order declaring the ban.”
Kuwait is a top destination for Filipino workers. The latest data from Philippine Overseas Employment Administration said there were 86,019 Filipinos in the country in 2015.
Duterte said the Philippines expected the assistance of the Kuwaiti government and other countries with OFWs to end the “inhumane” treatment of Filipino workers.
“Every unlawful physical injury that is inflicted on an OFW is an injury [that]I personally bear as the head of this Republic,” he said.
‘Work as welders instead’
Instead of working in Kuwait as househelp, Filipinos could find jobs in local construction projects as “welders,” Sen. Cynthia Villar said on Saturday.
Villar and Senators Juan Edgardo Angara and Joseph Victor Ejercito backed President Duterte’s decision to ban the deployment of Filipino migrant workers to Kuwait due to the rising number of abuse cases.
Villar said there were many job opportunities in the country. “In fact, right now, we’re short of skilled workers in the construction [sector].”
“The women can also become welders. In fact, there is a Tesda (Technical Education and Skills Development Authority) class in welding. In fact, the valedictorian of the recent batch is a woman,” she said.
Ejercito urged the Kuwaiti government to investigate the deaths of 87 Filipino workers since 2016 and ensure the protection of all migrant workers in their country.
“We value our foreign relations with the people of Kuwait but we cannot stand idly by as our [countrymen]suffer from inhumane treatment,” he said.
Ejercito also urged the Philippine government to review policies concerning the deployment of OFWs since Kuwait “has not yet signed the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) designed to protect Filipino migrant workers” in their country.
Angara called on the government to ensure jobs and livelihood assistance for returning OFWs from Kuwait.
“We support the President’s ban on OFW deployment to Kuwait. Our [countrymen]do not deserve this kind of inhumane treatment,” he said.
The new Overseas Workers Welfare Administration law or Republic Act 10801 provides financial assistance for OFWs who have lost their jobs or those who have decided to return to the Philippines.
CATHERINE S. VALENTE AND BERNADETTE E. TAMAYO