KUWAIT: In the wake of the recent rape and murder of a Filipina maid in Kuwait, parliamentarians in the Philippines are calling for stopping the deployment of Filipino migrant workers to Kuwait, similar to decisions taken by former President Rodrigo Duterte in 2018 and 2020. The charred remains of Jullebee Ranara, 35, were discovered in the Salmi desert last Sunday. It was reported she was pregnant and had been subjected to blunt-force trauma. The 17-year-old son of her employer has been arrested by police on murder charges.

The remains of Ranara were flown home Friday night from Kuwait. "It's a very gruesome, senseless crime and so the perpetrator must be punished," Secretary of the Department of Migrant Workers Susan Ople said. She added she would send a team of officials to Kuwait to find out what sparked a rise in cases of abuse of Filipino workers in recent years in Kuwait and what preventive steps could be taken. Sexual abuse and rape, human trafficking, labor contract violations and illegal terminations were among the common complaints of Filipinos, she said.

Kuwait's Ambassador to Manila Musaed Saleh Al-Thwaikh expressed his condolences and assured Ople that Ranara's "tragic passing" was an isolated case. "Kuwaiti society is shocked and saddened to hear about the demise of Mrs Ranara," the ambassador said in the letter, copies of which were provided to journalists. "Our justice system will not lose sight in ensuring justice for Mrs Ranara." About 268,000 Filipinos currently work in Kuwait, including many housemaids.

More than 420 Filipinos sought shelter in recent weeks in an emergency center run by the Philippine Embassy due to labor problems, and nearly half have flown back to Manila, Department of Migrant Workers Undersecretary Hans Cacdac said. "The task at hand is a directive from (Ople) to send a fact-finding team to Kuwait to ascertain, take stock of the welfare cases there, and to find ways and means to address these welfare cases," Cacdac said in a press briefing.

"The Department of Migrant Workers and relevant government agencies should push for a review of existing policies regarding the protection of Filipinos working abroad. Due to previous killings of Filipinos in Kuwait, the government of the Philippines has imposed a ban on several occasions regarding sending our workers to Kuwait," Senator Jinggoy Estrada, Chairman of the Senate Committee on Labor, Employment and Human Resources, said.

"In my opinion, there is now a need to reimpose such bans because there were other workers who were killed before this victim, and we still don't even know the reasons for their killings," he added, pointing out Kuwait is not a signatory to Convention No. 189 of the International Labor Organization, which recognizes the rights of domestic workers.

"Inconsistencies in the Manila government's decisions regarding the policy of sending workers have led to further abuses against Filipino migrant workers," Senate Majority Leader Joel Villanueva said. "We are asking our government and the Department of Migrant Workers to consider the possibility of imposing a ban (on sending workers to Kuwait) until we can ensure the safety of these workers. We can no longer claim that what happened to Ranara is an isolated case," he added.

Philippines imposed a worker deployment ban to Kuwait in 2018 after the killing of Filipina domestic helper Joanna Daniela Demafelis, whose body was found in a freezer at an abandoned apartment. The ban was partially lifted the same year, after the two countries signed a protection agreement for workers.

In May 2019, Filipina maid Constancia Lago Dayag was killed in Kuwait, and a few months later, another domestic worker, Jeanelyn Villavende, was tortured by her employer to death. The Philippines again imposed a worker deployment ban in Jan 2020, which was lifted when Kuwaiti authorities charged Villavende's employer with murder and sentenced her to hanging. - Agencies