PH partially lifts ban on Kuwait labor deployment
Malacañang announced on Saturday the partial lifting of the ban on the deployment of Filipino workers to Kuwait following the signing of a labor protection agreement in the Gulf state.
Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque said the ban would be lifted only for skilled and semiskilled workers. In the case of domestic workers, he said, the Department of Labor and Employment (Dole) would first implement reforms in their recruitment.
“There will be a mandatory training, to be paid by the recruiters, since they are the ones earning from the recruitment fee that they charge to the Kuwaitis wanting to employ domestic workers,” Roque said.
Relations between the Philippines and Kuwait are “returning to normal” after a recent diplomatic row that saw Kuwait expelling the Philippine ambassador, he told reporters at Ninoy Aquino International Airport.
A video of a “rescue mission” of distressed Filipino domestic workers in the Gulf state last month angered Kuwaiti officials and delayed the signing of an agreement for the protection of workers in Kuwait.
Roque, along with Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III and former labor chief Marianito Roque, returned to Manila late Saturday from Kuwait after the agreement on safeguards for overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) in Kuwait was finally signed on May 11.
Foreign Secretary Alan Peter Peter Cayetano and Sheikh Sabah Khaled Al-Hamad Al-Sabah, Kuwaiti deputy prime minister and minister of foreign affairs, signed the agreement.
Under the deal, the Philippines and Kuwait will “uphold ethical recruitment policies, systems and procedures for the recruitment and employment of domestic workers,” subject to applicable laws and regulations of both parties.
Roque said OFWs in Kuwait would henceforth be governed by a standard contract.
The signing of the deal indicated that both countries had “agreed to move on,” he said.
“We have both learned from the experience and that experience will make our friendship and ties with them even stronger,” he added.
After the Philippine Embassy’s rescue efforts, Kuwait filed a diplomatic protest, saying these violated its sovereignty and diplomatic protocols. Four embassy drivers involved in the mission were arrested, and three Philippine diplomatic officials were threatened with arrest on kidnapping charges.
The Kuwaiti government later declared Ambassador Renato Pedro Villa “persona non grata.” It also recalled its envoy to the Philippines, Ambassador Musaed Saleh Ahmad Althwaikh.
The four drivers have been freed, while the three diplomats were expected to fly back to Manila on Sunday, according to Roque.
Not yet off the hook
Philippine Embassy officials were not yet off the hook, he said, as the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) was still looking into the accountability of the DFA personnel.
“The talks were sensitive, but the tension has subsided. They understand that we need to protect our countrymen,” Roque noted.
Bello said that part of Kuwait’s goodwill was its commitment to send back at least 600 remaining undocumented OFWs to Manila and shoulder their airfare.
Also returning home with the Philippine government delegation on Saturday night were 87 OFWs. Each of them received P10,000 in cash assistance from the Dole and the DFA.
Bello said he had recommended to President Duterte the partial lifting of the deployment ban. But Roque said only skilled and technical workers would be allowed to return to Kuwait.
The President ordered the ban in February after authorities found the body of Filipino maid Joanna Demafelis in a freezer in Kuwait.
Her employers, Nader Essam Assa and Mona Hassoun, were believed to be behind Demafelis’ death and were arrested in Lebanon and Syria. They are facing trial for the murder. —With a report from Julie M. Aurelio