Philippine labor ban to Kuwait stays, may be expanded, says Duterte

Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) from Kuwait gather upon arrival at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport in Pasay city on Wednesday following President Rodrigo Duterte's call to evacuate workers after a Filipina was found dead stuffed inside a freezer. (Reuters)
Updated 23 February 2018

Philippine labor ban to Kuwait stays, may be expanded, says Duterte

MANILA: The Philippine president said Thursday that a ban on the deployment of workers to Kuwait, where a Filipino was found dead in a freezer, will continue and could be expanded to other countries where Filipino workers suffer “human degradation.”
President Rodrigo Duterte made the remarks after attending the wake of Joanna Demafelis in the central Philippine town of Sara. He said he intends to file criminal charges against her employers, who are being hunted by Kuwaiti authorities.
Demafelis’s body was found stuffed in a food freezer on Feb. 6 in a Kuwait City apartment where it had reportedly been kept for more than a year. Duterte has said her body bore torture marks and there were indications she was strangled.
“The ban stays, no deployment of Filipinos whatsoever in Kuwait,” Duterte said outside the wake, where steamers and shirts worn by mourners bore messages demanding justice for the maid’s death. The ban applies only to new Kuwait-bound workers and the thousands already there, mostly maids, can continue working.
Duterte said the government is conducting an assessment to “find out the places where we deploy Filipinos and our countrymen suffer brutal treatment and human degradation.”
Her death is the latest overseas tragedy to befall workers from the Philippines, a major labor exporter with about a tenth of its more than 100 million people working abroad. The workers have been called the country’s heroes because the income they send home has propped up the Southeast Asian nation’s economy for decades, accounting for about 10 percent of its annual gross domestic product.
Duterte talked with the family of Demafelis and then briefly viewed her remains, gently touching her coffin with his hand.
Philippine officials are under increasing pressure to do more to monitor the safety of the country’s worldwide diaspora of mostly maids, construction workers and laborers.
Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III told a Senate hearing Wednesday that he has recalled three Filipino labor officers from Kuwait to face an investigation. They failed to act on a request by Demafelis’s family for help after she went missing in January last year, he said.
Administrator Hans Leo Cacdac of the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration reported that at least 196 Filipinos had died in Kuwait in the last two years, mostly for unspecified medical reasons but also four who committed suicide. That prompted senators to ask why labor officials did not immediately order a ban on the deployment of workers to Kuwait with the spike in deaths.
A Philippine labor delegation left for Kuwait on Thursday to seek better protection for Filipino workers that may prompt the Duterte administration to lift its ban, officials said.
They will demand a stop to the practice of many Kuwaiti employers to hold on to the passports, travel papers and cellphones of Filipino maids, which has prevented them from reporting abuses and calling for help, the officials said.
Kuwait’s ruling emir has reportedly invited Duterte to his country next month to resolve the labor issues but Duterte has not said whether he will visit.
The sheer number of Filipino workers abroad makes monitoring their wellbeing an overwhelming task. That is often complicated by workers not having proper travel and work documents, such as in Kuwait, where nearly 11,000 of the more than 252,000 Filipino workers are in the country illegally or are not properly authorized.
Many desperate Filipinos have also chosen to stay in countries where the Philippines has banned Filipinos in the past, such as in war-torn Iraq and Syria.


New Indian law could force thousands of NGOs to shut down, activists claim

Updated 24 September 2020

New Indian law could force thousands of NGOs to shut down, activists claim

  • Thousands of small NGOs that are dependent on legal funds obtained internationally may be forced to shut down
  • Many small NGOs questioned the timing of the new legislation, as they have been heavily involved in providing relief to millions of people during the COVID-19 pandemic

NEW DELHI: A new law passed by India’s parliament on Wednesday imposes restrictions that will force thousands of NGOs to shut down, dealing a major blow to the country’s civil society, activists say.

The Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act (FCRA) 2020, which regulates the use of foreign funds by individuals and organizations, is “for national and internal security” and to “ensure that foreign funds do not dominate the political and social discourse in India,” Nityanand Rai, junior home minister, told the upper house as it passed the regulation on Wednesday.

But Indian NGOs fear that the law will mean they are no longer able to operate.

“Thousands of small NGOs, which enable good work and are dependent on legal funds obtained internationally, will shut down — also endangering the livelihoods of those dependent on them for a vocation,” Poonam Muttreja, director of the Delhi-based Population Foundation of India, told Arab News.

As the new law does not allow NGOs to share funds with any partner, individual or organization, small groups — particularly those active at the grassroots level — may end up being unable to receive the donations on which they depend for survival, Muttreja warned.

“Donors can’t give small grants to local NGOs, so they give large grants to an intermediary organization with the desire to work with grassroot-level NGOs, (of which there are many) in India,” Muttrejia said.

On Thursday, Voluntary Action Network India (VANI) — an umbrella organization for Indian NGOs — held a press conference during which members questioned the timing of the new legislation, since many small NGOs have been heavily involved in providing relief to millions of people across the country during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“This is the worst possible time to hamper civil society,” the director of Ashoka University’s Center for Social Impact and Philanthropy, Ingrid Srinath, said during the conference. “Just when this country needs its entire civil society to work together with the private sector and the government to address the multiple problems that confront us — not only the health ones but the larger issues of where the economy is going and the many polarizations taking place on the ground.”

Srinath also pointed out that no wider consultation with NGOs had taken place before the law was passed.

According to Delhi-based civil society activist Richa Singh, the law is an attempt by the government to silence dissent in the country.

“The larger purpose is to further silence those civil societies that are critical of (the government). It is a political message to fall in line,” she told Arab News. “While foreign money in the form of investment is being welcomed and labor laws are weakened for it, aid money is selectively targeted.”

Amitabh Behar, the chief executive of Oxfam India, called it a “devastating blow” and also criticized the government’s double standards over the acceptance of foreign funds.

“Red carpet welcome for foreign investments for businesses but stifling and squeezing the nonprofit sector by creating new hurdles for foreign aid which could help lift people out of poverty, ill health and illiteracy,” he said in a Twitter post on Sunday, when the FCRA bill was introduced to the lower house.