Joanna Demafelis, a Filipina domestic worker whose body was found in a freezer in Kuwait, did not die in vain.
Her death and the cruel way her body was disposed of sparked a widespread outrage in the Philippines, prompting President Duterte to impose a total ban on the deployment of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) to Kuwait.
It also prompted the Philippine embassy in Kuwait to conduct rescue operations of abused OFWs. This action, however, infuriated Kuwaiti authorities who deplored the failure of the Philippine embassy to inform the Kuwaiti government of the operations. It likewise caused the Kuwaiti authorities to declare Philippine Ambassador to Kuwait Renato Villa, triggering a diplomatic crisis between the two countries.
In Manila, critics of the Philippine government demanded the resignation of Foreign Affairs Secretary Allan Peter Cayetano who was blamed for the crisis.
However, back-channel communications between Cayetano and his Kuwaiti counterpart led to the holding of talks that resulted in the signing last May 14 in Kuwait of a memorandum of agreement (MOA) between the two countries. The MOA spelled out measures for the safety and better treatment of OFWs by their employers.
Cayetano and Kuwaiti Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Sheikh Sabah Khalid Al Hamad Al Sabah signed the document on behalf of their respective governments.
Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello said the MOA contains a contract of employment template, the provisions of which were “particularly stated” by President Duterte.
The provisions include requiring workers’ passports to be deposited at the Philippine Embassy, not surrendered to the employers; allotment of at least one-day off for workers every week; giving workers at least seven hours of sleep a day; and providing the workers with communication lines, decent meals and sleeping quarters.
On May 16, Duterte instructed Secretary Bello to totally lift the ban on the deployment of Filipino workers to Kuwait.
The MOA was lauded by various sectors, including the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines-Episcopal Commission on Migrant and Itinerant People (CBCP-ECMI), which hopes the agreement will be adopted by other countries in the Gulf Region.
CBCP-ECMI chairperson Bishop Ruperto Santos noted that the agreement would ensure the safety of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) in the host nation. “Yes, it is better in Kuwait, with the MOA. We hope and support that there will be like this, MOA, with other Gulf countries,” he said.
We share the hope that the agreement would put an end to the abuses of OFWs who are treated like animals by their employers, such as the Libyan-Syrian couple who employed Joanna Demafelis.
President Duterte should see to it that the couple, now detained in their respective native countries, will be meted the death penalty.
We laud the Duterte administration for finally taking concrete steps towards the safety and protection of OFWs deployed in the Middle East.