Labor chief defends Kuwait ban
Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III on Thursday defended the government’s ban on the deployment of workers to Kuwait, as the Senate prepared to investigate the deaths of Filipino domestic helpers in the oil-rich Gulf state.
Kuwait Foreign Minister Sheikh Sabah Khaled Al-Sabah condemned the ban as an “escalation”—from a mere suspension of labor traffic by President Duterte in January—despite Kuwaiti authorities looking into complaints about abuses committed against Filipinos.
“That is expected of him as a minister of foreign affairs of Kuwait,” Bello told reporters.
“He has to understand the position of the President … If he’s in the same position as the President, seeing your nationals suffering abuse, I’m sure he would act the same way,” Bello said.
Mr. Duterte, he said, ordered a ban on labor traffic to Kuwait until the Kuwaiti government could assure the safety of Filipinos in the Arab state.
“It is very clear that the purpose of the President in ordering a total deployment ban is to see to it that [Filipino workers] are protected and their welfare effectively attended to,” Bello said.
Bello said the Kuwaiti ambassador to Manila, Saleh Ahmad Althwaikh, had agreed to the drafting of a memorandum of understanding for the protection of Filipino workers in Kuwait.
He said the agreement would be signed by him and the Kuwaiti labor minister and the signing could take place early next month.
Commitment of protection
President Duterte has also directed Foreign Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano to secure a commitment from Kuwait that Filipinos would be protected in the Arab state.
Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque said Cayetano and Saleh were to meet on Thursday.
“Secretary Cayetano was tasked to get a commitment from Kuwait on how it will protect Filipino nationals in Kuwait,” Roque said.
Roque added that he believed the controversy would not affect relations between Kuwait and the Philippines.
The controversy over abuses committed against Filipino workers in Kuwait came to a head last week when President Duterte ordered a halt to labor traffic to the Gulf state following the discovery of the body of Filipino maid Joanna Demafelis in a freezer in an abandoned apartment in Kuwait City.
Kuwait police said Demafelis probably had been dead for a year. They didn’t say how she died.
The Senate will open an inquiry into her death and those of several other Filipinos in Kuwait on Feb. 21.
Sen. Manny Pacquiao called for an inquiry earlier this week.
The labor committee headed by Sen. Joel Villanueva will handle the investigation.
Villanueva said on Thursday that the inquiry would focus on the deployment ban.
Sen. Grace Poe will file a resolution on Feb. 19 to ask the Senate to look into the plight of Filipino migrant workers scattered around the world.
Poe wants the Senate to review “existing policies” involving migrant workers, including assistance to families, retraining or livelihood and economic aid for migrants from the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration.
Senate President Aquilino Pimentel III and Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon supported President Duterte’s decision to halt labor traffic to Kuwait.
“We have to act and send a message we are not satisfied with [the situation of our nationals in Kuwait], especially the [domestic helpers],” Pimentel said.
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