By Leslie Ann G. Aquino, Jun Ramirez, and Genalyn D. Kabiling
Vacationing overseas Filipinos workers (OFWs) working in Kuwait can now heave a sigh of relief.
They can now fly back to Kuwait and resume their work after the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) issued a department order clarifying the ban on the deployment of workers to Kuwait.
“The total deployment ban covers all types of workers being deployed for the first time for overseas employment in Kuwait, without distinction as to skill, profession or type of work,” read the agency’s Administrative Order No. 54A issued yesterday. It was signed by Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III and takes effect immediately.
“The ban exempts Balik-Manggagawa or the OFWs who are vacationing in the Philippines and will be returning to the same employer to finish their contacts, at the end of his/her vacation; and OFWs who are returning to Kuwait on a new contract with the same employer,” the DOLE said.
Not covered by the ban are seafarers who will be transiting through or boarding in Kuwait to join their principals.
Meanwhile, the Overseas Employment Certificate (OECs) to be issued by Philippine Overseas Employment Administration/Philippine Overseas Labor Office to all Balik-Manggagawa who are exempted from the ban must undergo counter-checking process from the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) to further ensure their security and welfare before going back to Kuwait.
Immigration chief Jaime Morente said he has instructed Marc Red Mariñas, BI port operations division chief, to make sure that the OFWs returning to Kuwait are properly documented and subjected to the usual immigration departure formalities.
He said Kuwaiti-bound Filipinos with short-term non-working visas are also not covered by the ban, thus, they, too, will be allowed to depart.
Immigration agents at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) were compelled to defer the departure of more than a hundred OFWs to Kuwait following the ban issued by the DOLE on orders of President Duterte who was angered over the discovery of the corpse of a Filipina domestic helper inside the freezer of her employer who fled Kuwait in November 2016, about the same time that the victim, Joanna Demafelis went missing.
“With this development, there is no more obstacle and impediment for these ‘Balik Manggagawa’ OFWs to return to their jobs in Kuwait,” Morente said.
However, “as for those who have just been recruited to work in Kuwait. We are sorry but we cannot let you leave.”
Mariñas said BI officers in all the ports were ordered to adopt a stricter screening procedure and rigid inspection of all departing passengers.
“It is imperative that our immigration officers exercise extra vigilance in order to thwart attempts by the illegal recruiters and human trafficking syndicates to circumvent the ban by employing all sorts of dirty schemes,” Mariñas said.
Shut up forever
To help the beleaguered OFWs who were given by the President 72 hours to decide whether to come home or stay in the light of reported subhuman treatment by their Kuwaiti employers, Philippine Airlines owned by tycoon Lucio Tan and the Gokongwei-owned Cebu Pacific sent two planes to fetch hundreds of waiting OFWs and repatriate them for free.
President Duterte thanked Tan and Gokongwei for their help in behalf of the Filipino nation and said he will forever be grateful.
In welcoming the 116 OFWs who arrived from Kuwait Tuesday night, the President decided to end his conflict with Tan and vowed to “shut up forever” out of gratitude for his help to the nation.
“So mayroon kaming kaunting alitan na hindi naman ganung kalalim. Pero ‘yung binawi nila sa subsequent events ng buhay ng isang Pilipino. At ilang beses sila nag-offer ng eroplano libre na (We had a small rift although it was not that deep. But they have compensated for it in the subsequent events of the lives of Filipinos. They have offered airplanes for free),” Duterte said.
“Tapos na ‘yan at binawi na ninyo at ilang beses na (It’s over and you have given back for a few times) Because of this incident, Mr. Lucio Tan, I’m going to shut up forever,” he said.
President Duterte earlier said he was prepared to be in friendly terms with Tan if he would send five airplanes to bring home Filipinos from Kuwait.
Duterte previously locked horns with Tan over his airline company’s unpaid navigational fees. Tan eventually paid P6 billion to settle the debt with government after Duterte threatened to shut down the PAL terminal.
“I’d like to just say to Mr. Lucio Tan and the Gokongwei family, si Lance, in behalf of my — in behalf of our countrymen, salamat po and I will remember you for all time,” he said.
He assured that he would protect businessmen from any form of corruption in the bureaucracy.
“I am ready to protect every businessman,” he said. (With a report from Ariel Fernandez)