MANILA: Philippine lawmakers are calling on the government to review labor agreements with Kuwait after increasing reports of abuse, including a brutal murder, of Filipino migrant workers.
The murder of 35-year-old maid Jullebee Ranara, whose charred body was found abandoned in a desert in late January, had sent shockwaves across the Philippines. She was one of over 268,000 Filipino workers living in Kuwait, a group of mostly women employed as domestic helpers.
After Ranara’s murder, Philippine authorities tightened rules for recruitment agencies in Kuwait. In another case that emerged in the media recently, a Filipina worker in Kuwait was reportedly paralyzed after trying to escape her abusive employer.
“There is growing clamor for a review of all labor agreements entered by the Philippines with countries of destination to determine specific guidelines and mechanisms needed for the protection of their human rights,” lawmaker Marissa Magsino said in a resolution introduced in the House of Representatives on Monday.
The agreements, Magsino said, must not only ensure the welfare of overseas Filipino workers and guarantee their access to legal support but also “provide for serious consequences” in cases of abuse.
She told Arab News on Tuesday that such bilateral labor agreements are very important, “especially with Kuwait,” where about 100 overseas Filipino workers were now at a shelter, waiting for repatriation.
“They are those who were maltreated, abused, and then they ran away (from their employer),” the lawmaker, who is also a member of the House’s Overseas Workers Affairs committee, said.
“The only reason why they are in the shelter is that it’s the last recourse for them to seek refuge, to be able to run away from their abusive employers.”
Ranara’s murder was not the first such incident in Kuwait, where the 2018 killing of a Filipina domestic helper, Joanna Daniela Demafelis, whose body was found in a freezer at an abandoned apartment, led to the Philippines imposing a worker deployment ban to the Gulf country.
The ban was partially lifted that same year after the two countries signed a protection agreement for workers.
But it was again introduced in January 2020, after the 2019 killings of Filipina maid Constancia Lago Dayag and Jeanelyn Villavende, who was tortured by her employer to death.
The ban was lifted when Kuwaiti authorities charged Villavende’s employer with murder and sentenced her to hanging.
According to Sen. Rafael Tulfo, another ban might be needed following the latest incidents. He has also called for a “tighter screening process on foreign employers to avoid abuse and maltreatment of (Overseas Filipino Workers),” his office said in a statement on Monday.
“The senator,” the statement said, “maintained that his proposed deployment ban to Kuwait can be used as a leverage when the Philippine government sits down with Kuwait for bilateral talks.”