Duterte welcomes repatriated OFWs from Kuwait

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Photo Courtesy: Simeon Celi Jr./Presidential Photos

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, February 14) — President Rodrigo Duterte on Tuesday led the welcoming party to the Filipino workers who came home from Kuwait.

"Huwag na kayong bumalik doon...'wag kayong mawalaan ng pag-asa." Duterte told the repatriated workers at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport in Pasay City.

[Translation: Don't return there...don't lose hope.]

The 116 workers each received grocery bags and cash assistance totalling ₱15,000 — ₱5,000 from Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA), ₱5,000 from the Foreign Affairs Department and ₱5,000 from Duterte himself.

Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque earlier said the OWWA will also give ₱20,000 livelihood aid to the repatriated workers.

The returning Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) were mostly women who flew in via an Etihad Airlines flight.

They took advantage of the government's offer to fly them back home for free, following the imposition of a total ban on the deployment of Filipino workers in the Middle Eastern country, where many have fallen victim to abusive employers.

Duterte also expressed his dismay over Kuwait's handling of abused Filipinos.

"Anong nagawa ng Pilipinas sa'yo? Nagsisilbi, inaabuso ninyo. Pinagsasasampal ninyo. Alam mo, Kuwait, ang mundo umiikot ha. Minsan 'yan mabilis masyado, baka mag-abot yan ng tinatawag na karma. When that time comes, you will remember us," he said.

[Translation: What has the Philippines done for you? We serve you, yet you abuse and slap us. You know, the world spins fast. Sometimes, it's too fast, and karma may catch up to you. When that time comes, you will remember us.]

This follows the killing of domestic worker Joanna Demafelis on the hands of her Lebanese employer in Kuwait. Authorities found her body in a freezer in her employer's apartment.

The death of seven other Filipino household workers in Kuwait are also being investigated.

At least 2,500 Filipinos in Kuwait have expressed interest in coming home, but officials said this number could grow with the President offering free flights.

Duterte also praised Philippine Airlines (PAL) and Cebu Pacific for volunteering their services for free.

He also called a truce with PAL Chief Executive Officer Lucio Tan, after earlier calling him out for unpaid dues to the government, prompting the airline to pay P6-billion.

The President added he will find alternative workplaces for the OFWs, with options including China, Russia, and Czech Republic, which he hopes would treat the Filipino workers better.

Duterte's trip to Kuwait was put on hold as the government is still waiting for their Kuwaiti counterparts to discuss the plight of OFWs in the country.

On Monday, over 400 OFWs were brought back home from the Arab state as part of the government's mass repatriation program, while some 250 more are set to return on Wednesday.

Philippine Ambassador to Kuwait Renato Pedro Villa estimates around 10,000 OFWs are overstaying in the country.

Around 8,000 or 80 percent of them are domestic workers, and majority of whom have claimed abuse from employers.