LABOR Secretary Silvestre Bello III said the government may consider lifting the partial ban on the deployment of overseas Filipino workers to Kuwait once proof is presented that the perpetrators of the killing of domestic worker Jeanelyn Villavende have been formally charged.
Bello said he needs to see a formal charge sheet first against the killers of Villavende before he considers lifting of the partial ban.
“Kapag nakasuhan na ‘yung dalawang suspects ((If it is true that the two suspects have been charged), we will consider lifting the partial ban. Pero kapag hindi nila ginawa ‘yan (but if they do not that), the partial ban could become a total deployment ban,” Bello said over radio DZBB on Sunday, adding the partial deployment ban was meant to send a message to Kuwait that Manila wants justice for Villavende.
“We want justice to our Jeanelyn. Short of that, it may ripen to a total deployment ban,” he said.
Bello made the announcement as 1-Pacman party-list Rep. Rep. Eric Pineda, senior vice chair of the House committee on overseas workers affairs, called for a total deployment ban of migrant workers to Kuwait.
“If I had my way, it would be a total (deployment ban),” Pineda said, adding: “The only real solution is for us to stop sending unskilled workers to other countries, especially to the Middle East because they’re really abused there.”
Pineda said the government has to ensure that the Kuwaiti government abides by the May 11, 2018 memorandum of agreement to protect the welfare of OFWs in the country.
The MOA, among others, provides that Filipino migrant workers should be allowed to have at least seven hours of sleep daily and a day off. It also bans employers from confiscating their passports.
“We have to be able to ensure first that this problem will be addressed they (Kuwaiti government) will bring the accused to justice,” he said. “If that happens, somehow it’ll be satisfactory for us and it will be a deterrent for the other employers to commit crimes because if they do, they’ll be jailed and can even be subjected to capital punishment.”
Kuwaiti Ambassador to Manila Musaed Ahmad Althwaikh have earlier informed Bello that the suspects in the Villavende killing have already been charged in Kuwaiti court. The labor chief demanded proof of the action and the envoy had promised to give him a copy of the charge sheet today, Monday.
Bello said that once a copy is presented to him, he will coordinate with the Department of Foreign Affairs to see if the deployment ban can be lifted.
Earlier, DFA Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. said the killing of Villavende violated the spirit of the agreement signed in May 2018 between Manila and Kuwait that committed to promote and protect the welfare of OFWs in the kingdom.
Locsin had earlier summoned the Kuwaiti envoy to express the government’s outrage over the seeming lack of protection of Filipinas deployed as domestic workers at the hands of their employers and to press for complete transparency in the investigation of the case and to call for the swift prosecution of the perpetrators.
Records showed that from 2016, 185 OFWs died of various causes in Kuwait (82 in 2016 and 103 in 2017). In 2018, Duterte threatened to ban the deployment of OFWs to the country, particularly those working as household helpers.
Duterte’s threat came after authorities discovered the body of OFW Joanna Demafelis inside a freezer in an abandoned apartment in Kuwait last year. She was missing since 2017.
Vice President Leni Robredo said sanctions should be meted out against the agency that recruited Villavende for failing to save her.
“Kaya dapat siguro tingnan nang maayos kung ano iyong sanctions na kailangang ibigay, hindi lang doon sa employers. Nakulong daw iyong employer, pero pati na din sa… pati na sa ahensya (It will have to be studied what sanctions should be imposed not only on the employer , who is reportedly in jail now, but also on the agency),” she said on her radio program.
Robredo said the government has to ensure that such incidents will not happen again, especially since there is already a MOA between the two countries.
“Nagkaroon na ng memorandum of agreement, nangyari na naman. Dapat siguruhin natin na hindi na talaga siya mangyayari sa susunod (It happened again despite the signing of the MOA. We have to ensure that this won’t happen again),” she said.
Villavende had repeatedly asked her recruitment agency for help as early as September 2019, asking it to repatriate her because of maltreatment and underpayment of salary by her employer but to no avail.
The victim was reportedly beaten to death by the wife of her employer and was already dead when she was brought to the hospital.
Ang Probinsyano party-list Rep. Ronnite Ong is set to file a bill that will impose administrative and even criminal liability on the operators and owners of recruitment agencies and on responsible officers in government offices for delay, negligence and failure to urgently report and act on complaints of OFWs in life and death situations.
Ong said the OFW’s death could have been averted had there been a system that is set in place to quickly look into reports of distressed workers especially those who are in critical situations.
“We must correct the inaction. There’s a huge mistake here. There is already a history of killings in Kuwait. There’s a large concentration of OFWs there so we should be on the lookout already. The recruitment agency is there, POEA, Embassy, the Filipino Center at OWWA. If only there is a quick mechanism to check on complaints of OFWs like Villavende, she would still be alive by now,” he said.
Under the present setup, recruitment agencies are required to submit a report to the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) on cases of significant incidents involving OFWs within five (5) working days. – With Wendell Vigilia