Traumatized, penniless and jobless, Jennifer Dalquez, the household service worker (HSW) acquitted by a UAE court for killing her employer who tried to rape her four years ago, was among the nearly 100 overseas Filipino workers (OFW) who arrived at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport from Abu Dhabi on Monday, 5 November.
Most of the distressed migrant workers took advantage of the amnesty the UAE government offered for migrants. The Philippine government shouldered their flight home, just like 86 OFW who arrived from Abu Dhabi three days earlier.
Dalquez is thankful to people who helped her. However, she had already lost nearly four years of her life in jail since her arrest in 2014 until her repatriation last week. Her family suffered from her loss of income although the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA), Department of Labor and Employment (DoLE), Department of Social Welfare and Development and Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) extended financial assistance to help her rebuild her life.
Thousands of other Filipina HSW in the Middle East also suffered physical and sexual abuses like Dalquez or were not paid their salary. They have been arriving from Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and the UAE since last year.
From February 2017 to April this year alone, more than 5,000 distressed or undocumented Filipinos in Kuwait applied for amnesty and were repatriated by the DFA. The figure is just half of the reported 10,800 undocumented OFW in Kuwait, where 170,000 are reportedly working as HSW.
However, they were more fortunate than those who returned home badly injured or in coffins. Pahima Alagasi, the Filipina maid allegedly scalded with boiling water by the mother of her Saudi Arabian employer, arrived home on 12 April after losing a four-year court battle to get justice.
Joanna Demafelis’ remains were repatriated from Kuwait in February. Strangled to death by her employer, her body was hidden inside a freezer for one year until its discovery that month. It prompted Duterte to a ban OFW deployment to Kuwait but lifted it after the two countries signed an agreement protecting Filipino domestic.
On 29 October, 44-year-old domestic worker Emerita Gannaban reportedly died of poisoning at a hospital in Riyadh.
About 1.2 million OFW were repatriated in 2017. From July to October this year, 36,438 OFW were repatriated, including 19,258 from the Middle East.
DoLE estimated P2 billion is needed to repatriate distressed OFW this year.
The question now is why do we continue to deploy OFW or HSW to the Middle East only to spend for their return later? Why do we incur unnecessary expenses that could have been used instead in, say, building houses for the homeless?
The Philippines signed labor agreements with Kuwait on 23 March 2012. Yet, this did not stop Kuwait employers from abusing Filipino HSW. The two governments had to sign a separate agreement on employment of domestic workers on 11 May 2018 in the hope of ending OFW abuse.
In 2013 the Philippines and Saudi Arabia signed an agreement to ensure the welfare and rights of domestic workers employed in the Kingdom are protected. Another Agreement on Labor Cooperation for General Workers Recruitment and Employment was signed on 11 April 2017.
UAE and the Philippines also have a Memorandum of Understanding on Labor Cooperation signed on 12 September 2017 plus a Protocol on Domestic Workers Annexed to the MOU.
DoLE and POEA should be proactive in the performance of their mandates and, in cooperation with the DFA, impress upon host governments and employers abroad the government takes seriously the matter of protection of the welfare of our OFW.
POEA should strictly implement the law requiring recruitment agencies concerned to shoulder plane ticket of the OFW for repatriation under pain of appropriate administrative sanctions and penalize local recruitment agencies who fail to cooperate with the government in providing assistance to OFW they have deployed.
Upon the recommendation of embassies, Philippine Labor Office and the OWWA, sanctions must also be imposed against erring foreign principals and employers.
The POEA must likewise crackdown on agencies and individuals who may be colluding with foreign counterparts to send undocumented OFW abroad, who are more susceptible to abuse and exploitation.
Deploying OFW where they will likely be abused or killed is tantamount to sending Filipino workers to their doom. For that, these agencies are partly accountable to the Dalquezes and Demafelises out there.