MANILA: The Philippines announced Thursday it will stop sending domestic workers to Kuwait, following the death of one of its citizens in the Gulf state allegedly at the hands of her employer’s wife.
Reports say that Jeanelyn Padernal Villavende, from South Cotabato, died of injuries after being taken to a hospital by her male employer. “I will issue a directive that there will be a partial deployment ban, which means that we will not deploy new workers in the meantime,” said Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III.
A statement from the Department of Labor and Employment said the partial ban only applied to first-time workers who will serve as household help in Kuwait. It does not cover skilled and returning workers or those who are on vacation.
But Bello warned that the government may impose a total work ban if justice was not served for Villavende.
“This should serve as a clear message to Kuwaiti authorities. The partial ban may ripen into a total deployment ban if justice for Jeanelyn Villavende is not met.”
He added that an initial report from the Philippine Overseas Labor Office in Kuwait said: “Villavende was beaten to death, and was already dead when brought to a hospital. Attending nurses reported that she was ‘black and blue’.”
The exact date of Villavende’s death is yet to be determined, pending the results of an autopsy.
Her female employer is now in the custody of Kuwaiti authorities, Bello said, and Villavende’s local recruitment agency was also being held responsible for its failure to act on her request for repatriation months before her brutal death.
“We will also ask Villavende’s recruitment agency to explain their inaction. As early as September, she already complained about maltreatment and underpayment of salary. She also repeatedly requested the agency for repatriation, but they did not do anything,” said Bello.
Villavende’s local recruitment agency faces the possible cancellation of its license, according to the secretary. Labor officials said Villavende’s family was last able to talk to her in October. The family called her on Dec. 13 but it was her female employer who answered the call and said that Villavende was busy.
Overseas Workers’ Welfare Administrator Hans Leo Cacdac, who went to South Cotabato to express his condolences, said her death and funeral expenses would be covered. Her family will receive livelihood assistance and there will be an education scholarship for her youngest sibling.
Villavende’s death has sparked outrage in the Philippines which, in 2018, signed a memorandum of understanding with Kuwait providing protection to overseas foreign workers in the Gulf state.
The presidential palace condemned Villavende’s death, saying it was a clear violation of this agreement.
“We consider Jeanelyn’s tragic death a clear disregard of the agreement signed by both our country and Kuwait in 2018 which seeks to uphold and promote the protection of the rights and welfare of our workers in Kuwait,” said presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo. “We look forward to its resolution for the rendition of justice to the deceased and her family.”
The Philippines imposed a total deployment ban in 2018 following the gruesome death of Joanna Demafelis, whose body was found stuffed in a freezer at her employers’ Kuwaiti apartment.
Demafelis’ death led to a diplomatic crisis between Philippines and Kuwait, which lasted several months.
Manila imposed a ban on Filipino workers in the Gulf state, while Kuwait ordered the Philippines ambassador to leave the country and recalled its own envoy.
The rocky period ended after a deal was signed to protect overseas foreign workers and the Philippines announced the lifting of the deployment ban.