AS the clamor for another deployment ban of Filipino domestic workers to Kuwait grew, Migrant Workers Secretary Susan Ople ordered the deployment of a fact-finding team to that country to assess the performance of its overseas labor post and review pending welfare cases in the Middle Eastern country.
Ople made the announcement at a virtual press conference on Saturday, a day after the remains of OFW Jullebee Ranara arrived in the country. Ranara’s grisly murder – her body, burned after she was apparently raped and run over with a car, them burned, was found in the desert – has sparked widespread protests and a call to ban anew the deployment of domestics in Kuwait.
Joining Ople at Saturday’s press conference were Undersecretary for Foreign Employment and Welfare Services Hans Cacdac, Undersecretary for Licensing and Accreditation Bernard Olalia, and Administrator Arnell Ignacio of the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA), an attached agency of the department.
Cacdac will organize the fact-finding mission to be led by a senior labor attaché posted outside Kuwait.
“We in the department must go by an evidence-based approach to labor reform policies. Given also the increase in deployment and welfare numbers in Kuwait last year, it is imperative that we look at the root causes behind these numbers,” Ople said.
She added that the independent team will make an assessment on the over-all performance and structure of the Migrant Workers Office (MWO) or what was known as the Philippine Overseas Labor Office (POLO) in Kuwait.
“With more than a hundred thousand kasambahays in Kuwait, the DMW must increase the monitoring and response mechanisms of our MWO,” Ople said.
Among the parameters Ople said the fact-finding team will review include a comparative study on the number of welfare cases of distressed OFWs over a period of five years, what triggered the rise in these cases, the response time of both Philippine and Kuwaiti authorities and recruitment agencies in addressing calls for assistance, and how engaged were foreign recruitment agencies (FRAs) in monitoring their workers and screening their employers.
“We will look into the inordinately high number of welfare cases in Kuwait over the past several months. We will also check if there were lapses on the part of the Migrant Workers Office (MWO) in responding to calls for welfare assistance among our OFWs. The report of the fact-finding mission will be submitted to my office for appropriate action,” Ople said, partly in Filipino.
She reported that, following the Ranara family’s request, the DMW through OWWA has coordinated with the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI), for an autopsy to be conducted on Jullebee’s remains.
Recruiter on carpet
Meanwhile, Undersecretary Bernard Olalia confirmed that separate recruitment violation cases will be filed against Catalist International Manpower Services Company and Platinum International Office for Recruitment of Domestic Manpower, the Philippine and Kuwaiti recruitment agencies, respectively, that facilitated Jullebee’s deployment.
Olalia explained that based on an initial investigation conducted by his office, both agencies failed to comply with the mandatory monitoring required of recruitment agencies to ensure the well-being of their deployed workers.
OWWA Administrator Arnell Ignacio, on the other hand, reported to the media that his office has been looking after the Ranara family.
Ignacio said they are now working for the early release of insurance and other financial claims due the family of Jullebee, who was an active OWWA member at her time of death.
Total ban – Tulfo
Meanwhile, Sen. Raffy Tulfo proposed a total deployment ban in Kuwait and gradual transfer of OFWs there in safer places like Guam
Tulfo, who chairs the Senate Committee on Migrant Workers, waited for the arrival of the remains of Ranara at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) Friday night, Jan. 27.
The burnt body of Ranara, who was working in Kuwait as a domestic helper, was reportedly found at a desert in Salmi, Al-Jahra Governorate last weekend.
The senator maintained that bilateral talks between Philippines and Kuwait could push through after a deployment ban, but with consideration of the Philippines’s terms and conditions.
Among the conditions that Tulfo noted includes requiring tight screening process and psychiatric examination for employers in high-risk countries, as well as members of their household, to ensure that they are fit to hire OFWs in their homes.
The senator’s office noted that while Ranara’s employers supposedly treated her well, her employers’ 17-year-old son, who was part of the household, reportedly maltreated her. The same son is the suspect in her death and is now under police custody.
As a start, Tulfo suggested to gradually pull out OFWs in Kuwait and send them instead to work in places where OFWs are properly compensated and treated with respect, like Guam.
Guam is a new market for OFWs currently needing thousands of skilled workers. In fact, Guam, a United States Territory, reportedly prefers to hire more Filipino workers.
Aside from Guam, the government can also explore sending OFWs in Kuwait to work in other safer places, including Romania, Austria and Hong Kong.
Ranara is not the first OFW to be killed in Kuwait. The Philippines had earlier imposed a labor deployment ban on Kuwait after the gruesome deaths of several Filipino domestic workers.
The ban was eventually lifted, after the two countries signed a protection agreement for Filipino workers in Kuwait.
Earlier, upon learning of Ranara’s death, Tulfo sent his staff to meet with her parents not only to check on their condition amid this great loss but also to give an initial financial assistance from his personal funds to address their immediate needs.