Cutting off toxic ties | Inquirer Opinion

Cutting off toxic ties

/ 05:15 AM May 19, 2023

Some relationships are just not worth saving, especially when the cost is too steep for one party.

Such may be the case in the labor relations between the Philippines and Kuwait, the one-sided dynamics underscored once more when the Gulf state suspended last week the issuance of entry visas for Filipinos without prior notice nor explanation.

The suspension order applies to tourists, students, business personnel, and first-time overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) to Kuwait, but does not cover Filipinos currently holding residence visas (Iqama) or Kuwait civil IDs.

According to a Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) official, the Philippine Embassy in Kuwait was officially notified of the entry visa suspension a day after local Kuwaiti media outlets had already reported it. As of this week, the oil-rich nation has yet to communicate the official reason behind the order, its duration, and what course of action should be taken to have it lifted.


The DFA official said local news reports quoted the Kuwait interior ministry as saying that the Philippines had “breached the conditions and provisions of the labor agreement” between the two countries. Specifically mentioned is the shelter put up by the Philippine embassy for distressed OFWs, and its order for foreign placement agencies to reach out to Kuwaiti employers over reports of abuses.

While verbally identified by Kuwait as violations of its labor laws, they are allowed under Philippine law, said DFA Undersecretary Eduardo De Vega who explained that the shelter was not meant to encourage runaways. Both initiatives are part of the Philippine government’s obligation to protect its nationals overseas, and are “not clearly defined in the agreement” as going against Kuwaiti law, he added.

The visa suspension, De Vega said, may be the Kuwaiti government’s response to the Philippines’ decision in February to suspend the deployment of first-time household workers to Kuwait. It is “some measure of pressure for [our government] to reconsider its decision,” he said.

The deployment ban was issued following the brutal death of Jullebee Ranara, a domestic helper in Kuwait who was raped, impregnated, and killed by her employer’s son. Her body was later burned and dumped in the desert. The Philippines had previously issued temporary deployment bans in Kuwait: in 2018, over the ruthless killing of OFW Joanna Demafelis whose body was discovered inside a freezer in an abandoned apartment, and in 2020 over the death of Jeanelyn Villavende who was tortured, sexually abused, and killed by her employer.


While officials from the DFA and the Department of Migrant Workers have signified their intention to use “labor diplomacy” to discuss the visa suspension with Kuwait, De Vega is correct in staunchly maintaining that the Philippines won’t lift its labor deployment on the Gulf state just like that. Mutual appeals must be done, and significant changes introduced to the labor agreement before we can move forward, he added.

For sure, such a stand will affect the almost 300,000 OFWs in Kuwait, 70 percent of them household helpers whose regular remittances help prop up the Philippine economy. But upholding our workers’ safety should always be the paramount concern of our labor officials, our fears grounded on Kuwait’s notorious record of maltreating domestic workers.


According to the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration, 196 Filipino workers have died in Kuwait since 2016, 80 percent of the deaths traced to physical abuse. In 2017 alone, the Philippine embassy in Kuwait recorded 6,000 cases of abuse, sexual harassment, and rape of OFWs. Currently, some 400 OFWs are staying in the Philippine Embassy shelter, De Vega said.

Downplaying the tragic deaths of OFWs while glossing over the heinous crimes by its nationals may be a pattern as well, since Kuwait’s autopsy report on Villavende did not mention signs of rape and past abuses, in contrast to the report by the National Bureau of Investigation.

That Kuwait would punish other Filipinos with its entry visa suspension to push back against government efforts to protect OFWs is itself an indication of this country’s low regard not just for international labor conventions, but also for basic human rights especially among the more vulnerable sectors, among them household workers. This reeks of blackmail.

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It is time to seriously review our relationship with Kuwait, and consider other friendlier, culturally sensitive, law-abiding, and rights-respecting countries to host our OFWs who are among the most valued workers in the world. Providing shelters for abused Filipino workers abroad should be nonnegotiable, as they are a basic manifestation of government’s concern for its nationals, and can be a literal life-saver. As we strive to give the world “our best,” as that controversial slogan purports, let us not do so at the expense of our dignity, self-respect, and the very survival of our OFWs.

TAGS: Editorial, Kuwait, OFW, Philippines

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