THE Philippines has turned down the appeal of Kuwait for the government to lift its temporary suspension on the deployment of Filipino workers to the oil-rich state amid an ongoing investigation on the actual cause of the deaths of seven Filipino household helpers there.
Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello 3rd said on Thursday that the request to lift the processing and issuance of overseas employment certificates (OEC) to Kuwait-bound Filipinos was relayed to him by Kuwait Ambassador to the Philippines Musaed Saleh AM Althwaikh during their meeting.
“He requested for the lifting of the suspension but I told him that I have to wait for the results of the investigation,” Bello said even as he assured the ambassador that it would be lifted if there was no compelling reason to keep it.
Bello said the Philippine Overseas Labor Office (POLO) in Kuwait has 15 days to investigate the causes of death of the overseas Filipino workers (OFWs), adding that the results will determine whether to impose a total ban on deployment or lift the existing suspension.
“The instruction of the President is to study the imposition of a total ban on the deployment [of OFWs] to Kuwait if it is proven that the violent deaths of our OFWs were caused by their employers,” he added.
According to Bello, the ambassador also assured him of the Kuwaiti government’s full support and cooperation to the investigation, including the signing of a long-proposed memorandum of agreement (MOU) between the Philippines and Kuwait that will provide additional protection to Filipino workers.
The labor chief said the MOU provided, among others, allowing the Filipino worker to keep his or her passport upon arrival in Kuwait and put a stop to the practice of most employers of keeping it while the OFW is working for them.
Employers resort to confiscating passports to force their household workers to be subservient even if they are maltreated.
Bello added that the Philippine Overseas Welfare Administration (OWWA) is also conducting a separate investigation on local recruitment agencies that deploy domestic workers to Kuwait.
“We will review the records of the agencies to determine the number of household workers they deployed to Kuwait. We want to know which agency is the most problematic in terms of household workers who encountered problems, died, raped and other abuses,” he said.
Bello said some of the local recruitment agencies were actually owned by Kuwaiti or other Middle East nationals, which is prohibited under the law.
The seven Filipino household workers who died in Kuwait were identified as Liezl Truz Hukdong, Vanessa Karissha Esguerra, Marie Fe Saliling Librada, Arlene Castillo Manzano, Devine Riche Encarnacion, Patrick Sunga and Mira Luna Juntilla. They were all deployed in 2016.
Kuwait is home to about 600,000 domestic helpers, mostly Asian. WILLIAM B. DEPASUPIL