Labor officials ‘slow to act on OFW deaths’
Senators on Wednesday rebuked labor officials for being slow in responding to the deaths of migrant workers in Kuwait that have risen to 185 over the past two years.
“What’s outrageous here is that this is not the first time this has happened,” a furious Sen. Joel Villanueva said at the opening of the Senate inquiry into the deaths of oversea Filipino workers (OFWs), including Joanna Demafelis, whose body was found stuffed in her employer’s freezer in Kuwait last week.
Villanueva, chair of the committee on labor, employment and human resources development, one of the committees looking into the deaths, said 82 died in 2016 and 103 last year.
‘Not rats, roaches’
“That’s how many lives we’ve lost before we took action. We’re talking of human lives here, not just those of rats, or roaches. We’re talking of Filipinos trying their luck abroad, and we call them our new heroes,” he said.
But Hans Leo Cacdac, Overseas Workers Welfare Administration chief, clarified that the number of deaths reached 196 — 79 percent of which were medical cases, 7 percent were accidents, 11 percent were alleged suicides and 3 percent, unspecified cases.
Minority Leader Franklin Drilon also condemned the abuses against workers and pressed the government to strictly implement the Migrant Workers and Overseas Filipinos Act to prevent deaths and abuses.
“The law is very detailed, very clear. If this was implemented, we won’t be confronted with this kind of problem. We have not done anything until this happened,” Drilon said, referring to the tragic death of Demafelis.
President Rodrigo Duterte had ordered a deployment ban to Kuwait over Demafelis’ murder, sparking a diplomatic flap between the Philippines and the Gulf state.
Meanwhile, Kuwait has agreed to extend until April 22 its amnesty for Filipino workers, even as Philippine officials have decided to head to the Gulf state on Thursday to seek greater protection for them.
Kuwait’s Deputy Foreign Minister Khaled al-Jarallah signed the order extending the amnesty on Wednesday, Philippine Ambassador to Kuwait Renato Villa said.
So far, only about 3,000 have applied for amnesty out of the estimated 10,800 workers who have overstayed their visa or who have run away from abusive employers.
The government has repatriated 1,796 workers, including 610 who arrived in Manila on Wednesday morning.
Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III said one of his deputies would lead the delegation to Kuwait to urge reforms. The team is also due to stop in Saudia Arabia and Qatar.
“We are going to Kuwait tomorrow, Saudi Arabia and then on to Qatar to ensure that our overseas Filipino workers have sufficient protection,” said Labor Undersecretary Ciriaco Lagunzad III, head of the delegation.
Mr. Duterte wants Filipinos to have access to cell phones so they can call for help in case of abuse, Lagunzad said. —With a report from AFP)
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