EXCLUSIVE: VP Robredo supports total deployment ban to Kuwait

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, February 22) — Vice President Leni Robredo supports the ban on sending new-hire workers to Kuwait in the wake of the death of domestic worker Joanna Demafelis.

"I'm very supportive of that decision of the President. I think a ban should really happen," Robredo told CNN Philippines in an exclusive interview, Wednesday.

She added the ban should not be lifted unless the government can assure the safety of workers.

Senator Win Gatchalian, in a media briefing Thursday, said he is considering proposing the expansion of the total deployment ban to other countries that are partially-compliant with international and local labor laws.

The Foreign Affairs Department (DFA) certified Kuwait as partially compliant as the Gulf country still cooperates with the Philippines, Foreign Affairs Undersecretary Ernesto Abella said.

"They are being rated as partially compliant for the plain and simple… because they also entertain the cases that we have been filing," Abella said on Wednesday. "There is some form of cooperation going on."

According to the Migrant Workers and Overseas Filipinos Act, the DFA will recognize a country as compliant if they either have existing labor and social laws protecting rights of workers, including migrant workers.

Countries may also be considered compliant if they have a bilateral agreement with the government on the protection of the rights of workers, or if they are signatories or ratifiers of multilateral conventions, declarations, or resolutions relating to the protection of migrant workers.

OWWA Administrator Hans Cacdac said the Philippines and Kuwait has general bilateral agreements, but none specifically on OFWs.

The Gulf country has not ratified, and is not a signatory to the 2003 International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and the 1975 Convention concerning migrations in abusive conditions.

READ: Senators question delayed enforcement of Kuwait deployment ban despite OFW deaths

The government imposed a total deployment ban for new workers in the Gulf country on February 12 after authorities found Demafelis' body inside the freezer of her employers in Kuwait, which possibly had been there for over a year.

Robredo: Gov't should take charge when recruitment agency closes

Robredo said the government should take charge of overseas worker welfare when recruitment agencies close, like what happened to Demafelis.

"Dapat sana pag nagsara yung ahensya, saluhin na ng ating gobyerno. Bago niya isara, siguraduhin niya lahat ng responsibility nito, may sasalo," she added.

(Translation: The government should be in charge when the agency closes. Before they shut down the office, they should take over the responsibilities of the agency.)

Demafelis' family lost contact with her in 2016 after her recruitment agency shut down over recruitment infractions.

They asked for the help of the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) and Philippine Overseas Employees Association, but the agencies said they met a dead end after they learned the counterpart Kuwaiti agency had also closed.

Robredo also suggested a provision in the bilateral agreement between Kuwait and the Philippines how the embassy can assure worker safety.

"Sana isang provision ng bilateral agreement merong requirement na every month, yung employer piniprisinta yung Pilipina na nagttrabaho sa kanya to an office para siguruhin lang na okay siya. Or nakakausap sana ng ating embassy, pero walang ganyan," Robredo said.

(Translation: There can be a requirement in the bilateral agreement where the employer will present the OFW to an office just so they can make sure she's okay. Or at least the embassy can talk to her.)

READ: Slain Filipino domestic worker could not be found after Kuwaiti agency closed - OWWA

Thousands of distressed workers in Kuwait have come home in February through the government-sponsored repatriation program.

As of 2016, there are 240,000 Filipinos working in Kuwait. Latest Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas data show cash remittances from Kuwait from January to November 2017 amount to $735 million (around ₱37.5 billion).