01 February 2023
President Bongbong Marcos’ show of sympathy with the family of slain Kuwait Overseas Filipino Worker (OFW) Jullebee Ranara is not enough. He should order a probe into Philippine embassy officials’ and recruitment agencies’ possible accountability for the death of Jullebee and other OFWs in Kuwait. He should stand for measures that will really improve the conditions of Kuwait OFWs.
In the wake of Julleebee’s death, Migrante International has been swamped with complaints from distressed and ordinary OFWs in Kuwait. While they can now freely use their phones to communicate with their families in the Philippines, their days off and working hours are still not being observed by their employers — contrary to what government officials claim supposedly as a result of the agreement between the Philippines and Kuwait in 2018. Many are facing the threat of abuse. In short, the kafala system and its slave-like conditions for OFW remains firmly in place. We have information that around half of the cases of distressed OFWs being handled by OFW help desks come from Kuwait.
Former president Rodrigo Duterte’s ban on OFW deployment to Kuwait, the resulting 2018 agreement between the Philippines and Kuwait, and the eventual lifting of the ban are all drama, pakitang-tao, sarswela, charade. These did not translate to better working and living conditions for OFWs in Kuwait — which in fact continue to worsen. It is clear that the government’s main drive is to export labor, not to protect OFWs’ rights and especially not to create decent jobs at home.
We OFWs and migrant Filipinos know that death in the hands of one’s foreign employer does not come from out of nowhere. It is often preceded by various forms of threats — from disturbing behavior to verbal threats and different forms of abuse. OFWs are not passive victims either, as they often seek help from Philippine embassies and recruitment agencies when they see red flags in their employers. The family and friends of Jullebee and all murdered OFWs in Kuwait in recent years, as well as all migrant Filipinos and our advocates, deserve to know if Jullebee and other OFWs sought help from the government and recruitment agencies and what the response of the latter were. Marcos should order an investigation into this.
The situation of OFWs in Kuwait is dire. Let Kuwait OFWs speak and let us listen to their voices. We call on media organizations to interview OFWs in Kuwait about their situation, even as we in Migrante International work to amplify their voices. The Marcos government’s efforts to control information about the situation of OFWs in Kuwait does not show that it is sincere in working to improve the situation of OFWs.
Marcos should immediately push for the following measures to improve the working and living conditions of OFWs in Kuwait:
(1) Uphold OFWs’ right to eight working hours and days off.
(2) Stop the government practice of pushing recruitment agencies to respond to OFWs’ grievances. Recruitment agencies simply advise OFWs to endure abuse and keep silent about their situation, as they avoid the costs that result from ending contracts.
(3) Instead, the government should reach out to distressed OFWs and directly provide them services.
(4) Expand government services to distressed OFWs — from shelters and repatriation to medical and legal assistance. Increase government personnel for OFW services. Simple commiseration with Jullebee’s family is not enough; the government must do much more. Instead of funding NTF-ELCAC’s operations in many countries, the government should channel funds to services for OFWs.
(5) Stand for employers’ accountability for abuse. Abused OFWs are often told by Philippine embassies and recruitment agencies to keep quiet and simply go home. At the same time, there are no mechanisms in Kuwait for OFWs to file and pursue complaints against abusive employers. This impunity must stop.
(6) Stand for the junking of the kafala system. The death of Jullebee and other compatriots in Kuwait must serve as a push to the Philippine government to become more vocal in calling for the junking of the kafala system in Kuwait and other countries in the Middle East.
Now, more than ever, the government should critically review its labor export program. More than five decades after the program’s start, the Philippines remains underdeveloped and majority of Filipinos remain poor. Labor export has caused the abuse and death of countless of our kababayans.###