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Bahrain vows to protect OFWs

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By Roy C. Mabasa

The Prime Minister of the Kingdom of Bahrain gave his assurance that he and the Bahraini government are committed to protect the rights of Filipino workers in the Kingdom.

Bahrain Prime Minister Prince Khalifa bin Salman Al Khalifa made this assurance following the decision of the Philippine government to issue a total ban on the deployment of OFWs to another Gulf State, Kuwait, due to a series of reports involving abuse and death of OFWs there.

According to the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA), Prime Minister Khalifa recently met with Philippine Ambassador to the Kingdom of Bahrain Alfonso Ver at the Prime Minister’s Office at the Gudaibiya Palace during which the Bahraini official expressed his concern over the welfare of Filipino workers in Bahrain.

The DFA said during the meeting, the Bahrain prince reiterated his admiration and fondness of the Filipino people, and praised them for being efficient and very good workers.

The Prime Minister further stated that Bahrain welcomes all expatriate workers in the Kingdom, but he stressed that he loves Filipinos, in particular, as many are working for him in his office and palace. He even mentioned that more Filipino workers should come to Bahrain.

Khalifa reaffirmed that his office is open to accept reports of any misconduct committed against Filipino workers by employers or agencies in Bahrain. He also underscored that his office is willing to work hand in hand with the Philippine government to address any of such problems.

For his part, Ambassador Ver informed PM Khalifa that while there are some problems encountered by some Filipino workers in Bahrain, most of these are minor or are easily resolved through the cooperation and coordination of the Philippine Embassy and its attached agencies with the relevant agencies of the Bahraini government, such as its Department of Labor, the Labor Market Regulatory Authority, the Ministry of Interior, Immigration and the Police.

Ambassador Ver also expressed his gratitude to Prime Minister Khalifa for his genuine concern for Filipino workers and informed the Prime Minister that, thus far, Filipinos in Bahrain have, in general, received good treatment from their employers.

Kuwait’s commitment

Malacañang is expecting that Kuwait will commit to protect the lives of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) in their territory following the discovery of the body of a Filipina domestic worker inside a freezer in an abandoned apartment in the Gulf State last week.

Presidential Spokesman Harry Roque made the statement as he announced that DFA Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano will meet with Kuwaiti Ambassador Saleh Ahmad Althwaikh.

Roque, in a press briefing, said that Cayetano was tasked to get a commitment from Kuwait on how they will protect Filipinos in the Gulf State. He added that one of Cayetano’s marching orders were to ensure that Filipinos are protected in Kuwait.

He also reiterated that Kuwait should treat Filipinos in their territory in the same manner they treat their nationals since the Philippines cannot exercise extraterritorial jurisdiction.

“Under International Law, each country is bound to give nationals of another country in its territory the benefit of the same laws, same administration, the same protection, and the same redress from injury which gives its own citizens,” Roque said.

“We can only hope that pursuant to established international standards, the Kuwaiti government will accord the victims the same rights enjoyed by its nationals. Meaning, they will conduct an investigation, a speedy and honest investigation, they will prosecute and punish the perpetrators,” he added.

Roque, however, hoped that following the bilateral meeting of Cayetano and the Kuwaiti Ambassador, the diplomatic and trade relations between the two countries will not go sour.

“I’d like to think that the long term Filipino-Kuwaiti relations will not be affected. However, this consultation between the Secretary of Foreign Affairs and the Kuwaiti Ambassador, as we all know, is a very important consultation,” he said.

Trade relations

Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon has called on the Duterte administration to forge a labor agreement with Kuwait despite his decision to impose a total ban on the deployment of Filipino workers in that country.

Drilon said that while he supports the ban, there are consequences that “we must be prepared to handle particularly in the area of trade.”

“The total ban is a remedy that, radical as it is, is necessary because of the abuses but the longer term objective should be to come up with a labor agreement between Kuwait and the Philippines to define strictly the status and the protection to our workers,” Drilon told reporters in an interview.

“I support the ban but there are consequences that we must be prepared to handle particularly in the area of trade. I do not know what the trade relationship is – the details of the trade relationship between the two countries – but certainly from my experience before, this accepting countries would resort to all kinds of pressure on the Philippines,” the minority leader stressed.

“We should be able to stand whatever pressure Kuwait will put on us in terms of trade relationship. I do not know to what extent the trade relationship is but i support the ban because really it is something that we must do,” he reiterated.

Bludgeoned to death

Meantime, Joanna Daniela Demafelis, the Filipino household service worker found inside a freezer, was found to have died of severe beating.

Citing the autopsy report, Philippine Ambassador to Kuwait Renato Villa said Demafelis had several broken ribs and contusion and trauma in the pelvis and kidney area. She also suffered from internal bleeding. At the same time, several wounds were also found on her body.

Furthermore, the autopsy also showed that Demafelis was already dead when she was put inside the freezer.

Based on initial investigation, the body of Demafelis was kept in a freezer for more than a year and was only discovered when police entered the apartment in Maidan Hawally after a court order was issued for the owner of the residence to vacate the premises as part of the procedures to re-possess.

The apartment has been vacant since November 2016 when its tenants, a Lebanese and his Syrian wife, left Kuwait. The door remained locked ever since.

The suspects were identified as Lebanese Nader Issam Assaf and his Syrian wife Mona Hassoun, employers of Demafelis.

Officers tasked to investigate the case disclosed that Assaf and Hassoun are in Syria. (With reports from Argyll Cyrus B. Geducos and Hannah L. Torregoza)

 

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