Duterte lists demands for OFW protection deal with Kuwait

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(File photo) President Rodrigo Duterte

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, March 21) — President Rodrigo Duterte on Wednesday revealed several demands he wants included in the country's proposed deal to protect overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) in Kuwait.

In his speech at the Philippine National Police (PNP) Academy 2018 graduation ceremony, he explained he was late for the event as he had added some requirements to the final draft of the agreement to be submitted by Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello.

"I was late because we were working on the final draft that will be brought to Kuwait by Secretary Bello and I added some requirements. For example, I demanded that it will be a contract of government to government and that there will be some mandatory provisions like they should be allowed to sleep at least seven hours a day," he said.

The Philippines and Kuwait approved the draft deal on the protection of Filipino workers in the Gulf state last week. The two countries are set to sign the document in two weeks, according to Bello.

Aside from provisions on sleeping hours, Duterte said OFWs should also be fed nutritious food, and not just leftovers.

Employers should also be prevented from confiscating passports, and allow holidays. 

"If at all, it (passport) will be surrendered diyan sa table sa arrivals of any country where the Filipinos are working in numbers," he said.

Duterte, who stressed Filipinos are not "slaves," also said he reminded Kuwaiti officials the Philippines sent peacekeeping forces in the Middle East before, and that the assistance between the countries should be a "two-way affair."

"Ang sinabi ko it is a two-way affair.  Pero I'd like to remind you that ito ba ang ibayad ninyo sa amin for fighting in your country?" Duterte said.

[Translation: I said this is a two-way affair, but I would like to remind you that this is what you pay us back in return for fighting for your country.]

In a separate speech delivered at an event in Pasay City, Duterte said, "Sabi ko ‘pag hindi ito nakalusot, sa iyo Silverstre Bello, Labor Secretary, pasensyahan na lang. No lifting of the ban.”

[Translation: I said, if this is does not push through, to you Silvestre Bello, Labor Secretary, then you'll just have to forgive me. No lifting of the ban.]

Bello: Duterte may go to Kuwait for MOU signing

Duterte's statements come as the Philippines anticipates the signing of the deal with Kuwait.

Speaking to media, Labor Secretary Bello said Duterte himself may go to the Gulf State for the agreement if he is pleased with the outcome.

"The ambassador came to see me yesterday asking me when would I be available to go to Kuwait to sign the agreement and I said I'm willing," Bello said.

"Our President may also opt to go there and sign because he told me in our meeting, I mentioned to him the provisions of the MOU. Sabi niya, pag maganda yung MOU na yan, payag akong pipirma [If that MOU is nice, I'll agree to sign it myself]."

Aside from Duterte's requirements, the MOU will also ensure employers give OFWs a paid day off every week.

A joint committee composed of Kuwaiti and Filipino officials will also check on the workers' situations regularly to ensure employers are complying with the MOU.

ACTS-OFW Party-list Rep. John Bertiz, however, said the agreement is a weak safeguard to protect migrant workers against abuses.

"Sabihin nating legally binding siya, pero kung wala ka talagang batas doon sa host country that will assure and guarantee the protection of our migrant workers, especially domestic workers, baka mauulit lang ito," Bertiz said.

[Translation: Let's say it's legally binding, but if there's no law in the host country that will assure and guarantee the protection of our migrant workers, especially domestic workers, this might happen again.]

Bello, meanwhile, insists the MOU is binding, and the government can always pull out its workers if Kuwait does not comply.

"Whatever agreements we entered into will be implemented by them. Now, if they will renege on their commitment, we can always pull out and declare a total deployment ban again," Bello said.

However, the Labor secretary said he still won't recommend lifting the deployment ban on Kuwait even if the MOU is signed.

"Assuming na ma-meet nila yung dalawang condition ng ating Pangulo [assuming they meet the two conditions of the President], I may consider recommending to the President lifting of the ban only with respect to the skilled workers," Bello said.

After forging an MOU with Kuwait, Bello said the Labor Department is now reviewing bilateral labor agreements with other countries to check if their provisions are beneficial to Filipino workers.

Talks between the Philippines and the Arab nation came after the body of slain Filipino worker Joanna Demafelis was found in a freezer last February.

Prior to the ban, Kuwait was a top destination for Filipino workers, with around 240,000 working there in 2016.

 The latest Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas data show remittances from Kuwait from January to November 2017 amounted to $735 million (P37.5 billion).

CNN Philippines' Xianne Arcangel and Gerg Cahiles contributed to this report.