Philippines Declares Partial Ban on Deployment of Workers to Kuwait

Jeoffrey Maitem
Cotabato, Philippines
200102-PH-KUwait-1000.jpg Alan Peter Cayetano, then the Philippines’ secretary of foreign affairs, and Kuwaiti Minister of Foreign Affairs Sheikh Sabah Al-Khaled Al-Hamad Al-Sabah hold a news conference in Kuwait City after signing an agreement on Filipino laborers, May 11, 2018.

The Philippines announced a partial ban Thursday on the deployment of its workers to Kuwait, in the wake of the latest death of a Filipina maid in the oil-rich Persian Gulf state.

In 2019, Manila declared a temporary ban on Filipinos following the deaths of at least two Philippine workers in Kuwait, including a maid who was found dead in a freezer in her employers’ abandoned apartment in Kuwait City the previous year.

“We are considering a total deployment ban to Kuwait," Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III said in a statement.

“While we are deciding whether or not we will impose a total deployment ban, I will issue a directive today to set the partial deployment ban, which means we will not be deploying new workers there,” he said.

The Southeast Asian nation issued the partial ban after Labor Attaché Nassar Mustafa recommended the move following the death of Jeanelyn Villavende, a household service worker who was allegedly mistreated by her employer’s wife, Bello said.

The fresh ban would only cover first-time household service workers and would exclude skilled and vacationing workers, he said.

Villavende left her home in South Cotabato province in southern Mindanao island in June last year and was already declared dead when she was brought to the hospital last month, labor officials said. The suspect is now detained in Kuwait, Bello said.

Presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo condemned Villavende’s killing, describing the incident as a clear disregard of the agreement signed by both countries in 2018, in a deal aimed at protecting the rights and welfare of Filipino workers in the Gulf state.

“The palace expresses its outrage over the death of Filipino worker Jeanelyn Padernal Villavende, allegedly at the hands of her female employer who is now in the custody of Kuwaiti authorities,” Panelo said, adding that the president was considering a total freeze of labor migration there.

More than 3.5 million Filipinos work in the Middle East, including about 500,000 in Kuwait, Philippine officials said, quoting government documents.

Duterte banned the deployment of new workers to Kuwait after Constancia Lago Dayag was declared dead in a hospital in Kuwait in May 2019. A year earlier, Joanna Demafelis’ body was found in a freezer in her employer’s abandoned apartment in Kuwait City.

The Philippine leader lifted that ban after Kuwait apologized and the two nations signed a deal to protect Filipino workers in the Persian Gulf state. Demafelis’ death sparked a diplomatic crisis between the two nations and led to the agreement that, among other things, prohibited employers from confiscating the passports of their Filipino workers.

Manila-based labor rights groups oppose a deployment ban, saying it would only fuel trafficking of desperate Filipinos looking for higher-paying jobs in the Middle East.

“A deployment ban itself is not effective, it won’t stop the abuse,” Arman Hernando, a representative of the labor alliance Migrante International, told reporters last May.

About 10 million, or a tenth of the country’s population, live and work overseas, making the Filipino diaspora one of the largest in Asia. Most are employed as seafarers and maids in countries that offer scant labor protection.


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