The threat of President Rodrigo Duterte to pull out all Filipinos working in Kuwait because of reported abuses and exploitation of OFWs makes the proposed creation of an OFW Command Center more urgent and compelling.
The center needs to be created to integrate national efforts to address the needs of the economically vital community of overseas Filipino workers.
Were the command center already in existence, we would have by now an agency that could be tapped to advise and help the President in adopting or implementing a proper course of action regarding the Kuwait situation.
In January last year, a Filipino migrant worker, Jakatia Pawa, was executed in Kuwait for allegedly killing her employer’s 22-year-old daughter.
The labor department is probing the deaths of seven OFWs in Kuwait, all household workers, who were deployed in 2016.
Kuwait is home to some 600,000 domestic helpers, mostly Asian.
The Kuwait situation requires the utmost professional knowledge and expertise in handling difficult cases, OFW issues and diplomatic implications.
The President threatened the pullout from Kuwait in remarks prior to his departure for a state visit to India. This follows the decision of the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) to stop the processing of overseas employment certificates for all Kuwait-bound workers.
Duterte said he recognized how jobs provided by Middle Eastern countries to OFWs were contributing significantly to the Philippine economay. But he said such benefits should not come at the cost of the welfare and well-being of Filipino workers.
The proposed OFW command center will be jointly run by the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) and the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE). The center will coordinate or integrate private and public efforts to intervene on behalf of OFWs who are victimized, are in distress, or who run afoul of the law because of certain acts. It will strive to show OFW-receiving governments and communities that the people and government of the Philippines stand full-square behind our overseas workers.
Given these functions, the command center will clearly be a very useful service to OFW communities and to the government. It will improve significantly the level of government’s response to OFW needs abroad.
We see the threat of a pullout from Kuwait and the command center as converging on a common goal: a better and more secure OFW presence in foreign countries.
Emergency problems affecting OFWs in foreign lands are not all alike. They will always differ case by case, according to circumstances, according to local conditions, their gravity, and their implications and impact on the overall national program. This is the reason why professional expertise and knowledge of the situation is best in handling problems such as the case of Kuwait.
Philippine embassies around the world have been instructed to keep their records of OFWs in their jurisdictions up-to-date for quick and better response in case of emergencies.
The Kuwait case should be approached as a test for a more coordinated and sustained government program to assist, protect and advance our sizable international and highly productive OFW community.
We must avoid a situation where we would have to order a pullout of our workers every time tragedy or exploitation befalls some of them.