MANILA - Philippine officials will meet with Kuwaiti representatives in Manila next week for negotiations, Labor Undersecretary Claro Arellano said Thursday, as the country pressed for better protection of Filipino migrant workers in the Gulf state following reported deaths and abuse.
This as the two sides completed a draft memorandum of agreement on ensuring the safety of overseas Filipino workers (OFW), a pact seen to pave the way for the lifting of the total deployment ban the Philippines has implemented against the Middle Eastern country.
Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III said the total deployment ban would stay unless the agreement between the Philippines and Kuwait is signed and until the death of Joanna Demafelis, the OFW whose body was found stuffed in a freezer in the Gulf state last month, is given justice.
Salient provisions of the agreement include:
- allowing OFWs to keep their passports
- allowing OFWs to use of their cellphones
- requiring the consent of the OFW or clearance from the Philippine Overseas Labor Offices in cases of transfer of workers to another employer, and;
- barring employers with a record of abuse from hiring Filipino workers
Bello said the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) has added 7 labor personnel in Kuwait to cater to concerns of OFWs. OWWA Deputy Administrator Arnell Ignacio, meanwhile, has been designated acting labor attaché in Kuwait pending the arrival of the new appointee to the post, an assistant labor attaché and a welfare officer.
DOLE had earlier recalled those holding the three positions as a result of the case of Demafelis, whose family had complained of the lack of government help when they lost contact with the OFW sometime in 2016.
Bello said that aside from Kuwait, he also received reports of high incidence of sexual molestation in Saudi Arabia, based on written reports from the DOLE-OWWA Rapid Reaction Team who visited the two countries.
He said they are now in the process of reviewing all existing bilateral agreements with other countries to provide maximum protection to OFWs.
During Thursday’s press conference, Bello also presented Marissa Ansaji Mohammad, the one who allegedly processed Demafelis' job papers in 2014.
But in her defense, Mohammad said she was only a trainee at the Mt. Carmel Recruitment Agency, the firm that processed Demafelis' Kuwait employment, and could not even recall Demafelis’ name but was familiar with her photo.
Mohammad said she thought it best to approach the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) to clear her name.
The NBI does not consider Mohammad a suspect but a person of interest.
Bello said authorities are looking at 2 to 3 other persons of interest connected with the recruitment agency but refused to release their names.
The DFA had earlier reported the arrest of Demafelis' Syrian-Lebanese employers who were tagged as primary suspects in the slay.
The DOLE could not confirm yet if the couple have been brought to Kuwait to face trial. If found guilty, they face the penalty of death by hanging, Bello said.