Duterte open to lifting deployment ban in Kuwait

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, May 12) — President Rodrigo Duterte said he is open to lifting the deployment ban in Kuwait, following the signing of the labor deal protecting Filipino migrant workers there.

"Papayag ako i-lift ang ban [I will allow lifting the ban]," Duterte said in a speech in Marawi City Friday, upon learning from Special Envoy to Kuwait Abdullah Mama-o that the conditions he set were included in the labor protection deal.

However, the President did not clarify if he was referring to a full or partial lifting of the ban.

Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque, following the signing of the memorandum of agreement (MOA) between the two countries, said the ban on skilled and semi-skilled workers will be lifted but not the one covering domestic workers.

"Kung nandiyan lahat 'yan, sabi ko 'okay ako.'" Duterte said.  "Tumawag kanina si Dabs [Mama-o], sabi niya, 'mukhang okay na. Naipasok na lahat.' Sabi ko, 'Sige. Magpirma kayo diyan. Hindi na ako pupunta. Balang araw,' sabi ko."

[Translation:If it's all there, I told him, I'm okay. Dabs called me earlier, he said, 'Looks like it's okay. All of the conditions are in the deal.' I told him, 'Okay, sign it. I won't go, but maybe in the near future.']

The conditions Duterte earlier set include granting the migrant workers seven hours of sleep, access to food, cellphone, and passport; a day off; and protection from physical abuse.

Duterte issued the ban in February, after a string of reports of Filipino workers being abused and killed in the Gulf state, including Filipina maid Joanna Demafelis who was found dead inside a freezer. Thousands of Filipino workers in Kuwait have been repatriated since then.

The labor deal was put in limbo after Philippine officials rescued a distressed Filipino worker in Kuwait in April, which caused a diplomatic fallout with the Gulf State's officials. The spat also led Kuwait to expel Philippine Ambassador Renato Villa from the country.

Kuwait is a top destination for overseas Filipino workers, with some 260,000 Filipinos working there as of 2018. Remittances from Kuwait for the first two months of this year amounted to ₱5.5 billion, according to the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas.

In 2017, a total of ₱42 billion were remitted from the Gulf state.