MANILA (UPDATE) - President Rodrigo Duterte on Thursday visited the wake of slain Kuwait overseas Filipino worker (OFW) Joanna Demafelis in her hometown in Sara, Iloilo.
Duterte has been lashing out at Kuwait for the death of Demafelis and several other OFWs who endured physical abuse from their employers in the Gulf state.
Demafelis was found in a freezer at an abandoned apartment in Kuwait earlier this month, more than a year since she went missing. Investigation found signs of abuse.
The Philippine government recently imposed a total ban on the deployment of Filipino workers to the Gulf state, home to about 252,000 Filipino workers.
The government said the ban would continue to be imposed until Kuwait agrees to sign a bilateral agreement with the Philippines that would ensure greater protection for migrant Filipino workers there.
Duterte assured Demafelis' parents Eva and Crisanto that he would seek justice for the slain OFW. He also promised the Demafelis family of financial and education assistance.
“Karma na ‘yan (karma will catch up with them),” Duterte said of the suspects in Demafelis’ death during his conversation with her parents.
Duterte also slammed Kuwait for not recognizing the Philippines’ help during the Gulf War, which erupted when Iraq invaded and annexed the state in the early '90s.
The Philippines had sent medical personnel to Kuwait during the war.
“Ito ba 'yung kabayaran ng pinakita namin sa inyo? Nagpunta kami, nakipag-away, eh giyera ‘yun ng Amerika,” Duterte said.
President says no more deployment of PH troops to the Middle East
In a chance interview, Duterte said he would no longer allow Filipino troops to be deployed to the Middle East in case the United States seeks Manila’s help in its operations there.
“I am putting a notice: no more deployment of Filipino troops. Never, never again,” he said.
Meanwhile, Duterte said his hands were somehow tied when it comes to finding Demafelis’ killers, but added that he would exhaust all efforts to find justice for the slain OFW.
“I do not have the wherewithal or dimensions of the effort that they are doing. It behooves upon the police of Kuwait and the Interpol, there’s a serious crime. Problema nila ‘yan. Basta ako, the ban stays,” Duterte said.
“The only way to do that is we can have the result of the investigations kung nahuli ‘yang dalawang tao and that would allow me now to initiate charges. So by that time, in the fullness of God’s time, kung mangyari ‘yan mahuli at nademanda, doon pa ako papasok. Until then, we’ll just have to wait and pray that they will be apprehended or arrested.”
Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said the Duterte administration would continue to demand that Kuwait bring to justice the suspects in Demafelis’ killing -- her employers, a Lebanese and Syrian couple.
“The Philippine government will actively espouse the right of the family of Joanna to obtain justice. The Lebanese employers must be caught, prosecuted and punished and we will take this up as a matter of obligation,” Roque said in a news conference in Sara town.
Roque stressed that Kuwait has an obligation under international law to treat foreigners in its country the way it treats its own nationals.
“Kuwait is duty-bound to give Joanna’s family adequate domestic remedy under Kuwaiti laws,” he said.
Roque added the Philippines’ diplomatic and consular posts have been tasked to find alternative destinations for Filipino workers in the wake of the deployment ban to Kuwait.
He said the Philippines prefers to deploy Filipino workers to countries which are signatories to conventions that recognize the rights of migrant workers.
“That includes countries such as Oman and Bahrain because we do not usually hear complaints from Filipinos working there,” Roque said.
Duterte earlier said he might also impose a deployment ban in other countries where cases of abuse against Filipino workers are rampant.
The President said an “audit” of OFW cases is now being undertaken to determine which countries have significant cases of OFW abuse.
“We are doing an audit now and find out the places where we deploy Filipinos and our countrymen suffer brutal treatment and human degradation,” he said.
“That would be a long, long task,” the President told reporters in Iloilo.
There are an estimated 10 million Filipinos overseas, many of whom work as household service workers.