Labor Secretary: No permanent deployment ban to Kuwait

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, April 29) — Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello said there is no permanent deployment ban of Filipino workers to Kuwait, following the announcement of President Rodrigo Duterte for such.

"The President never mentioned that the deployment ban has become permanent. That is not true. He never said that. What the President said is that the Philippines and Kuwait are good friends and are allies and he does not want the presence of our OFWs (overseas Filipino workers) there to cause an irritant in that relationship," Bello said in an interview with CNN Philippines Sunday.

Duterte announced early Sunday the moratorium on sending Filipinos to Kuwait has become permanent, following the diplomatic spat with Kuwait over Philippine embassy officers rescuing distressed Filipinos in the Gulf State.

He first issued the ban in February, after authorities found the body of Filipina maid Joanna Demafelis stuffed inside a freezer.

Bello also clarified the President only wants to help Filipino workers in Kuwait to return home.

"So ang sabi niya, 'yung mga gustong umuwi [for those who want to come home], he is willing to help them. There was never a mention that the deployment ban is being permanent," he said.

Negotiations to continue

The Labor Secretary said the lifting of the deployment ban hinges on the signing of the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between Philippines and Kuwait, and on the outcome of the Demafelis case.

"The deployment ban will stay as long as wala 'yung MOU at saka wala 'yung justice kay Demafelis. So, pagka nagkaroon na ng signing ng MOU, baka sakaling, there might be anything, even just a partial lifting of the deployment ban," Bello said.

The Labor official added he will be meeting with Kuwaiti officials on May 7 to discuss the MOU. He will be accompanied by Foreign Affairs officials and Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque.

The proposed labor deal will protect Filipino workers from abuse by their employers. The provisions include no confiscation of passport - depositing instead with the Philippine embassy, seven hours of sleep, a day off, permission to cook food, and no physical abuse.

Jobs for returning OFWs

In a separate speech, Duterte appealed to Filipino workers in Kuwait to come home, as there are already enough jobs for them in the Philippines.

Bello, however, said employing repatriated Filipino workers in the country is a long-term goal tied to Duterte's P9-trillion infrastructure program.

"He has embarked on this major Build, Build, Build infrastructure program niya, so hopefully this will create around 8-10 million jobs, and hopefully this will already be an answer to desire of many of our countrymen who want to go abroad to look for jobs," he said.

The Labor Secretary said for now, they are looking into alternative markets for Filipino workers, like China, Israel, Czechoslovakia, and Japan.

Kuwait is a top destination for overseas Filipino workers, with some 260,000 Filipinos working there as of 2018.

As of February 2018, remittances from Kuwait 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.