Philippines’ Ambassador Renato Villa

KUWAIT: The Philippines yesterday imposed a total ban on its workers bound to Kuwait. The ban, which took effect immediately, comes in the light of several reported cases of deaths, abuse and mistreatment, especially of domestic helpers. "The order is for a total ban of all Filipino workers bound for Kuwait. It was signed by the secretary of the Department of Labor and Employment and went into effect immediately. It's a level 4 alert, which means a total ban on Filipinos bound for Kuwait. It includes even for vacationing overseas Filipino workers," Philippines Ambassador to Kuwait Renato Villa told Kuwait Times.

"The Philippine Embassy will clarify the matter and hopefully there will be some considerations and exemptions to the policy. For now, my advice to Filipinos in Kuwait who are planning to go on vacation is to delay it until clear guidelines are issued from Manila. I will ask the Department of Labor and Employment to clarify the ban, because I have been flooded with calls from the Filipino community," he added.

Yesterday, Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello announced the total ban will be implemented on 'all' OFWs. It means it covers both articles 18 and 20 visa holders. DOLE earlier suspended the processing of new employment certificates for Kuwait-bound OFWs after the death of seven workers in Kuwait, including Joanna Demafelis, whose body was found inside a freezer. DOLE promised to help OFWs find new jobs, and they may be deployed to China or Russia, among others.

Filipinos who want to go back to their country will be assisted by the embassy, but those who want to stay can remain and work in Kuwait as long as they want. But vacationing OFWs are anxious, as some families will be separated because of the recent turn of events. "My husband is in Kuwait and I am in Manila on emergency leave. I fear I will be stuck in the Philippines and cannot come back to Kuwait. This is very bad for us as family," said Shiela, who spoke to Kuwait Times via Facebook.

The move prompted a local company to put the annual leaves of its Filipino employees on hold, citing the case of an employee who was barred from returning to Kuwait despite holding a valid work permit. In a circular seen by Kuwait Times, the company said the move aimed to protect its employees, adding those who still want to leave can do so at their own risk after notifying the management.

Philippines authorities have not ruled out revoking the permits of Filipinos currently working in Kuwait or of previous hires returning on new contracts. "With the advent of the series of reports involving abuses and deaths of overseas Filipino workers in Kuwait, a total ban on deployment of all overseas workers ... is hereby enforced," Bello said, reading an order. "This order takes effect immediately." The move would affect thousands of workers, labor spokeswoman Abegail de Vega said. The fresh move came after President Rodrigo Duterte last month barred Filipinos from seeking work in Kuwait, although the ban exempted those who had already secured permission. The Philippine foreign affairs department said yesterday authorities were repatriating 10,000 overstaying Filipinos from Kuwait, taking advantage of an amnesty program arranged with the Kuwaiti government.

In earlier interview in Manila, Bello said they may lift the ban if Kuwait agrees to sign a memorandum of agreement for the protection of OFWs. "We have received copies of the investigation reports from the Kuwaiti interior ministry regarding the deaths of seven OFWs. Our president wants to know the real reason why they died. We are going to translate these documents before sending them to Manila," he said.

By Ben Garcia