By Ben Garcia and A Saleh
KUWAIT: Based on the results of an autopsy conducted on the remains of Filipina maid Jeanelyn Villavende in Manila, the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) together with the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) decided to impose a total ban yesterday on the deployment of newly-hired workers to Kuwait, including domestic helpers and skilled and unskilled laborers.
This is due to the autopsy results indicating Villavende was not just heavily tortured in Kuwait, but also sexually abused, which is contrary to the brief autopsy report of the Kuwaiti health ministry, a POEA decision said. The autopsy also found Villavende’s brain and heart were removed before sending her body to Manila.
In a press release in response to the Philippine ban decision, Kuwait’s Minister of Finance and Acting Minister of State for Economic Affairs Mariam Al-Aqeel said Kuwait should change its policies and allow recruitment of domestic helpers from countries such as Nepal, Ethiopia, India and Indonesia instead of only one or two countries.
Aqeel pointed out that the manpower authority is currently coordinating with relevant authorities to facilitate recruiting domestic helpers from various countries in order to avoid any shortages in the future. “There are around 750,000 domestic helpers in Kuwait; the total number of complaints they file is relatively small and are mostly resolved amicably,” she stressed, noting that 2,805 complaints had been filed in 2019 and that only 704 of them were referred to court.
Philippine Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III confirmed that the POEA governing board signed a resolution for a total deployment ban to Kuwait. The ban will cover all newly-hired workers – from household workers to skilled professionals. However, returning skilled workers and professionals are exempted from the ban, but domestic helpers who are on vacation will not be allowed to return to their sponsors. Manila had implemented a partial ban on domestic helpers bound to Kuwait on Jan 3 as its immediate response to the killing of Villavende by her sponsor.
An officer at the Philippine Embassy told Kuwait Times on the condition of anonymity that the final decision hasn’t arrived yet at her office, but the directive has been circulated publicly. “Vacationing skilled and professional workers will be allowed to come back, as they are exempted from the ban, but no new recruitment will be allowed. Our advice to vacationing domestic helpers is to look for alternative country to work,” she said.
Part of the decision signed by the POEA governing board reads: “Based on the autopsy report of the National Bureau of Investigation on the death of Villavende, the OFW was sexually abused and brutally murdered, which is contrary to the inadequate autopsy report of the Kuwait ministry of health.
Upon proper determination, the ban to be imposed should be total on the deployment of newly-hired domestic helpers or household service workers, semi-skilled workers, skilled workers and professionals, except for skilled workers and professionals who are categorized as ‘balik manggagawa’ (returning workers) and those exempted by the DOLE Secretary.
“Thus the DOLE Secretary directed the POEA to impose a total ban on the deployment of the abovementioned workers bound to Kuwait. The new decision to impose a total ban has already been communicated with President Rodrigo Duterte. The president is solely relying on the recommendation made by the ministry of labor.”
In Feb 2018, the Philippine government had announced a total ban on all Filipino workers bound to Kuwait after the body of Joanna Demafelis, a 29-year old Filipino maid, was found in the freezer of her employers’ house in Hawally. The ban was only lifted after the two countries agreed to sign bilateral agreements on domestic help concerns.
The killing of Villavende is the latest in a series of abuses faced by Filipino workers in the Middle East, the main destination for about 3,000 Filipinos who leave the country daily on temporary foreign work permits. Women tend to work as domestic workers while men are mostly employed in construction and other sectors. Around 10 million Filipinos are migrant workers overseas and their remittances account for more than 10 percent of the country’s GDP.