PH, Kuwait sign agreement for the protection of OFWs, agree on return of 3 Filipino diplomats

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, May 11) — Philippine and Kuwaiti officials on Friday signed a labor deal that aims to protect the welfare of Filipino workers, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said, in what is an apparent sign of warming of ties after a diplomatic row between the two countries.

Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano and Kuwaiti Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Sheikh Sabah Al Khaled al-Sabah signed the "Agreement on the Employment of Domestic Workers" at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Kuwait following protracted negotiations.

Three Filipino diplomats holed at up the Embassy since last month because of kidnapping charges against them for taking part in the workers' rescue are also expected to return to the Philippines in two to three days, Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque told CNN Philippines Newsroom.

"Sa tatlong diplomat po, hindi namin sila makakasama sa ngayon pero ang assurance po, dalawang araw pa ay makakauwi naman siguro sila. Asahan po natin na makaalis sila o makarating mula Kuwait, Linggo o Lunes," Roque said.

[Translation: The three diplomats will not join us on trip home but assurance was given that in two they may be able to go home. We can expect them to leave or to return from Kuwait on Sunday or Monday.]

Present during the signing of the labor agreement were Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III, Special Envoy Abdullah Mama-o, Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque and their Kuwaiti counterparts.

The signing follows a dispute between the two countries over the death of Filipina maid Joanna Demafelis, whose body was found inside a freezer. President Rodrigo Duterte issued a deployment ban to Kuwait in February and thousands of Filipino workers in the Gulf state have since been repatriated.

Roque said the deployment ban on skilled and semi-skilled workers will be lifted but not yet the ban on domestic workers.

"Pag-uwi na pag-uwi ko, inaasahan na po natin na i-lilift na po ni DOLE Secretary Bello 'yung ban sa mga skilled at sa mga semi-skilled workers," he said."Ibig sabihin pwede na po sila magtrabaho sa Kuwait."

[Translation: As soon as we get back, we expect the the ban on skilled and semi-skilled workers will be lifted by DOLE Secretary Bello. It means they can already work in Kuwait.]

"Pero yung pong sa domestic helpers po, maiiwan po rito si Presidential Adviser on OFW and Muslims Concerns, Sec. Abdullah Mama-o at mayroon lang mga plaplantsahin na mga detalye," he said.

[Translation: But on the domestic helpers, Presidential Adviser on OFW and Muslim Concerns, Sec. Abdullah Mamo-o will stay behind to iron out some details.]

Roque said he is flying home with 80 out of 500 Filipino workers whose airfare was shouldered by the Kuwaiti government. They are expected back in Manila on Saturday. But he said 62 to 63 OFWs will be left behind in Kuwait because they still have pending cases.

Malacañang earlier said four Filipino drivers arrested for taking part in the Philippine Embassy rescue of distressed workers have been freed and all charges against them have been dropped.

Kuwait is a top destination for overseas Filipino workers, with some 260,000 Filipinos working there as of 2018. Remittances from Kuwait for the first two months of this year amounted to P5.5 billion, according to the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas. In 2017, a total of P42 billion were remitted from the Gulf state.