DAVAO: Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte on Friday pledged government help to evacuate Filipinos wanting to leave Kuwait, blasting the state for its “inhuman” treatment of migrant workers after reports of a gruesome killing in the country. An emotional Duterte, who last month banned citizens from travelling to Kuwait to work, said 120 workers had died in the country last year and confirmed the body of one Philippine woman had been found stuffed into a freezer in recent days.
Some 252,000 Filipinos work in Kuwait, many as maids, with reports of widespread abuse and exploitation. But it is unclear how many would want to return to the Philippines. “When will this inhuman treatment of these Filipino workers end?” Duterte told reporters in his home city of Davao, showing the picture of a woman he said had been “roasted like a pig”. “Is there something wrong with your culture? Is there something wrong with your values?” he said, addressing Kuwaitis.
“I implore you, I am making a plea to all Arabs, the Filipino is no slave to anyone, anywhere and everywhere,’ Duterte said. “Do not give us back a battered worker or a mutilated corpse.” He warned of “drastic measures” to prevent further loss of lives, though he did not say what that would be. “What are you doing to my countrymen? And if I were to do it to your citizens here, would you be happy?” he asked.
He added that the government would ask airlines to send planes to help any Filipino workers in Kuwait wanting to return home to leave within 72 hours. “Those who want to be repatriated, with or without money, I will ask PAL (Philippine Airlines) and Cebu Pacific to provide the transportation,” Duterte said. “I want them out of the country, those who want to go out, in 72 hours. We will count our lives by the hours because apparently every hour there is suffering and agony,” Duterte said. He gave no further details.
Duterte has in recent weeks been highly critical of alleged abuse suffered by some of the two million Filipino workers in the Middle East, even threatening a ban on the whole region. The Filipinos in Kuwait are among 10 million nationals working abroad, whose remittances back home are a major pillar of the poverty-stricken nation’s economy. “Of course we need the help of Kuwait,” Duterte conceded.
Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello said that for Duterte’s ban to be lifted, Kuwait must sign a “memorandum of understanding” boosting protection for Filipino workers that had been pending for three years. Kuwait has faced criticism in the past over its “kafala” system for foreign workers which has been likened to a form of bonded labor or even slavery. The system requires the employer’s consent before a worker can move to a new job prior to the end of their contract, which critics said resulted in a wide range of abuses.
Duterte’s latest threat comes as he faces renewed pressure over human rights in the Philippines. The International Criminal Court declared earlier this week that it will begin a “preliminary examination” into the charges that Duterte has committed a crime against humanity for allowing the killing of thousands of Filipino drug suspects. – Agencies