Lessons from a crisis
With the ban on the deployment of Filipino workers to Kuwait completely lifted, bilateral ties are now headed for normalization. A memorandum of understanding on promoting the welfare of overseas Filipino workers, which was derailed by the videotaped rescue of distressed OFWs in the Gulf state, has finally been signed.
The MOU should improve protection for Filipinos working in Kuwait following reports of OFW suicides and the gruesome murder of household service worker Joanna Demafelis.
Kuwait is not the only place where OFWs suffer abuse, so similar MOUs can be worked out, starting with countries that host the largest number of OFWs. Because of their work environment, those working as maids are the most vulnerable to abuse. While some of them are teachers by profession, many others lack college education. Some victims of illegal recruiters did not even finish elementary school. They are the ones who need the greatest protection from abuse.
The protection must start in the Philippines, with stronger regulation of recruiters. Who placed Demafelis with the Syrian and Lebanese couple indicted for her murder?
Philippine missions overseas must be able to respond efficiently to OFWs’ cries for help. Obviously, the efficiency is compromised if the ambassador has been expelled and embassy personnel are under arrest or wanted by the host country for unauthorized activities.
Kuwait expelled the Philippine ambassador after video footage with the words “courtesy of the DFA” circulated on social media, showing personnel of the Department of Foreign Affairs assisting OFWs in fleeing from the homes of their employers. The “rescue operations” were not coordinated with the Kuwaiti government, which violated the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations.
While Philippine missions overseas are known to assist OFWs in distress, it was the recording of the operation and the release of the video footage on social media that drew the attention of the Kuwaitis. This should be an indelible lesson from this crisis: assisting OFWs in dire straits is a delicate task that cannot be compromised by cheap publicity stunts.