By Mario Casayuran
The Senate leadership asked on Tuesday its foreign relations and labor committees to conduct an in-depth inquiry on ‘’untoward deaths’’ of Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) abroad following the discovery days ago of the body of Joanna Daniela Demafelis, 29, of Sara, Iloilo, a domestic worker, in a freezer at an abandoned apartment in Kuwait.
This followed a privilege speech of boxing icon Sen. Emmanuel D. Pacquiao at the Senate session hall during its plenary session.
Pacquiao also asked for the reexamination of the government’s labor and foreign policies and programs “in light of the continued abuses, exploitation and deaths of our OFWs since the death of Flor Contemplacion on March 17, 1965.’’
‘’Let us remain hopeful that the day will come when we no longer have to export our people as household workers who are treated like slaves, the day when people all over the world would see and treat Filipinos with dignity, honor and respect,’’ Pacquiao stressed.
Pacquiao said he strongly supports the move of President Duterte and the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) in implementing the immediate suspension of the deployment of OFWs to Kuwait.
“It is high time that we think about how we can truly provide additional protection upon our OFWs and offer economic opportunities in their reintegration in the Philippine society,’’ he added.
Pacquiao said it is time for a review of the policies and responsibilities of government agencies like the Philippine Overseas Employment Agency (POEA) and the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) “as they heighten the accountability of recruitment agencies in our move to prevent abuses as well as combat illegal recruitment and even human trafficking.’’
“We need to know the extent of abuses and what we can do to prevent similar incidents from happening,’’ he said.
Pacquiao revealed that DOLE Secretary Silvestre Bello began as early as three years ago requesting the Kuwait government to sign a memorandum of understanding (MOU) so that OFWs could be given added protection in Kuwait.
“Hanggang ngayon, hindi pa rin napipirmahan ang dokumentong ito,’’ he added. (This MOU document remains unsigned.)
Pacquiao cited a DOLE situationer that it continues to investigate the death of seven other OFWs in Kuwait since 2016. These seven OFWs were household services workers.
The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) had said there are more than 250,000 Filipinos in Kuwait, most of them working as domestic workers.
The Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) reported that there were 2.2-million OFWs deployed in 2016.
Total remittance sent by OFWs during the April-September 2016 period was P203 billion.
These remittances included cash sent home at P146 billion, cash brought home at P45.7 billion and remittances in kind at P11.1 billion.
Joanna, the sixth among the Demafelis siblings, started working in Kuwait in 2014.
In a call to her family in 2016, Joanna had said she planned to return to the Philippines this year. That was last call of Joanna.