By Ben Garcia

KUWAIT: Confusion overshadowed the Philippine labor deployment ban to Kuwait when visiting Philippine Special Envoy to the Middle East Abdullah Mamao announced late Sunday during a Filipino community meeting that Senator Bong Go has agreed to implement a temporary ban instead of a total deployment ban. “I have been in constant communication with the office of the president through Senator Bong Go; he advised me that as far as the earlier decision (to implement a total ban) is concerned, it has now changed to a temporary ban.

Skilled and semi-skilled workers can now be deployed to Kuwait. I am waiting for the final announcement of this new development from the office of the president, as we are not pursuing the ban for skilled and unskilled workers, including professionals. I hope there will be changes because I relayed this information to Kuwait,” Mamao told several Filipino community leaders at the embassy.

However, in an interview on government radio in Manila, Philippines Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) Secretary Silvestre Bello III said he is not in favor of a temporary ban since the implementation of the total ban was based on the autopsy of the gruesome murder of Filipina housemaid Jeanelyn Villavende.

“I spoke to Secretary Mamao and told him about my decision with regards to our earlier resolution by the governing board of the Philippines Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) that we implemented on January 15. It was a total deployment ban and it will stay. It covers all workers, including skilled, semi-skilled and professionals. No more deployment – we are only allowing returning skilled workers and professionals to go back to Kuwait if they are vacationing here. They can go back to their workplaces, but we won’t allow domestic helpers to return, including semi-skilled workers,” he said.

Bello was asked if he had spoken to Mamao regarding his announcement in Kuwait late Sunday. “Yes, I spoke to him and explained to him why the total ban was implemented. He told me that the total ban should be implemented only for domestic helpers. But I replied that we should study his proposal first, because the total deployment ban was a result of a gruesome murder of our fellow countrywoman in Kuwait and the alleged cover-up done in the autopsy of the body of Jeanelyn Villavende. It wasn’t the real result, as shown in the autopsy of the body by our National Bureau of Investigation,” Bello argued.

“Thirdly, the president in 2018 had declared a total deployment ban to Kuwait because of the death of Joana Demafeles (whose body was found in the freezer of her employer). It was only lifted when the Kuwaiti government agreed to sign a memorandum of agreement with the Philippine government.

In that agreement, we specifically cited that we should have our own standard employment contract to be signed by the employers, our workers and the foreign recruitment agency including the Philippine employment agency. Till now it is not being implemented, among others. So that we can be assured of the welfare of our countrymen, we have to agree on that and implement it once and for all. I told Secretary Mamao that I am ready to talk to them so we can give total protection to our workers,” Bello said.

On Jan 15, DOLE together with POEA decided to impose a total ban on the deployment of newly-hired workers to Kuwait, including domestic helpers and skilled and unskilled laborers. However, returning skilled workers and professionals are exempted from the ban, but domestic helpers and semi-skilled workers 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.

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.