MANILA — Some Philippine government officials left for Kuwait on Monday to discuss with their counterparts the Middle Eastern country's recent entry ban for new Filipino workers.
The team is composed of officials from the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA), Department of Migrant Workers (DMW), and the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA, ABS-CBN News has learned.
Among the members are DFA Assistant Secretary for Middle Eastern Affairs Mardomel Melicor and Director Alex Vallespin, and OWWA Administrator Arnell Ignacio.
DFA Undersecretary Eduardo De Vega told ABS-CBN TeleRadyo on Monday that while Philippine officials are set to hold dialogues with their Kuwaiti counterparts, the talks were not necessarily a guarantee that deployment of Filipino workers to Kuwait would immediately return to normal.
"We have to explore our options kaya exploratory talks muna ito," De Vega said.
"Maintindihan sana ng mga kababayan natin [na] hindi natin magagarantiya na makakabalik na iyong deployment ng ating mga skilled workers—not right away. Unahin muna natin iyong hustisya at saka iyong protection para sa ating mga kababayan na kasambahay," he added.
(I hope our countrymen understand that we cannot guarantee the return of normal deployment of our skilled workers—not right away. Let us prioritize attaining justice and the protection of our fellow Filipinos working as domestic helpers.)
At hearing of a House of Representatives panel on Monday, De Vega also said Kuwait's newly imposed entry ban was a "response" to the Philippines' earlier move to suspend deployment of new household workers to the Middle Eastern country, following the brutal killing of Filipina Jullebee Ranara last January.
Another reason, De Vega said, could be the Philippines' operation of shelters for runaway household workers in Kuwait, which is an alleged violation of Kuwaiti laws.
De Vega said the team hopes to “iron things out” during the Philippine officials' talks with Kuwaiti officials this week, but maintained that the government's temporary deployment ban of first-time household workers to Kuwait cannot be lifted without steps to improve their conditions.
"Right now, we have 466 runaways in our shelter… We are not going to resolve this in one week. It will take some time. We are seeking better protection and justice for our kababayans there,” he said during a meeting of the House Committee on Overseas Workers Affairs.
"We can always resolve things through diplomacy but not at the expense of the national pride and honor. After all, safety and welfare din ng ating mga kababayan ‘yan,” De Vega added.
The DFA official said the Philippine government would "not compromise" the safety and protection of Filipino workers in Kuwait, as well as attaining justice for Ranara, which he described as the country's non-negotiables.
"And certainly iyong shelter, batas po iyan, batas na ipinasa ng Kongreso, hindi namin isasara po ‘yan," he stressed.
Around 800 Filipinos who were issued work permits for Kuwait are affected by that country's entry ban, according to the DMW, with nine so far refused entry at the airport.
Two of those refused entry were stranded in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, and were being assisted by the labor attache for their return to the Philippines.
Amid the labor issues, the DFA said the Philippines would not break its diplomatic relations with Kuwait, as there are still Filipinos working in the Arab state.
But De Vega admitted that Philippine-Kuwaiti ties may be strained.
—with reports from Raffy Cabristante and Zen Hernandez, ABS-CBN News