MANILA - President Rodrigo Duterte on Monday called on Middle East countries to abolish the abusive kafala system, warning that he would ask overseas Filipino workers to return home if his request is not heeded.
"To everybody in the Middle East, I would like to tell them— not only Filipinos but all human beings— the kafala has no place there because it's a set-up for slavery," Duterte said in his final State of the Nation Address Monday afternoon.
"I dare you to right it or we will ask our Filipino workers to go home. Sabi ko, bahala na kung [magiging] mahirap kami dito okay lang. We will try our very best to make up for what they have lost and lose in the process, but we will never allow them to be slaves," he added.
The practice, commonly done in Arab countries, requires migrant workers to be sponsored in the host country in exchange for a visa and worker's permit.
This means that a foreigners' right to work is dependent on their employers, making them vulnerable to abuse.
Duterte in a taped message on a forum on labor rights last April had said that the system has led to non-payment of wages, restriction of workers' movement, and denial of health care, among others.
Government data shows that there are 2.2 million Filipino migrant workers, whose remittances have served a lifeline to the country's economy.
OFWs prefer to go to Saudi Arabia, where 22.4 percent of the total migrant workers' population are based, followed by the United Arab Emirates with 13.2 percent of OFWs.
Saudi Arabia had already abolished the practice, which a migrant workers' group lauded in a statement last March.