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Philippine officials to visit Kuwait amid worker row

MANILA: Relatives of Filipina maid Joanna Demafelis, whose body was found in a freezer in Kuwait, attend a hearing on migrant workers at the Senate yesterday. – AFP

MANILA: Philippine officials are headed to Kuwait today to seek greater protection for migrant workers after a diplomatic row over the alleged mistreatment of Filipinos in the state. Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello told reporters yesterday one of his deputies would lead the delegation, which is also due to stop in Saudi Arabia and Qatar to urge reforms. Topping the list are demands that Filipino workers be allowed to keep their cellphones and passports, which can be confiscated by employers.

The trip comes after Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte last week announced a departure ban for Filipinos planning to work in Kuwait, which sparked a diplomatic flap between Manila and Kuwait. He was responding to the murder of a Filipina maid whose body was found stuffed in a freezer in Kuwait this month. Kuwait has invited Duterte for a visit but he has yet to respond.

“We are going to Kuwait tomorrow, Saudi Arabia and then on to Qatar to ensure that our overseas Filipino workers have sufficient protection,” said Labor Undersecretary Ciriaco Lagunzad, who will helm the delegation. He said Duterte had ordered the team to ensure that the passports of Filipino workers are deposited with the Philippine embassy. Duterte also wanted Filipinos to have access to cellphones so they can call for help in case of abuse, Lagunzad said.
Another team of labor officials said yesterday they would conduct negotiations with Kuwait next week on a deal to protect Filipino workers. “Hopefully we can finalize the memorandum of agreement and by first or second week of March, we will have the signing by the Kuwaiti and Philippine governments,” said Claro Arellano, another labor undersecretary. – AFP

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