Les­sons from a cri­sis

The Philippine Star - - OPINION -

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.

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