SENATOR Joel Villanueva on Tuesday said the employers of murdered Filipina helper Joanna Demafelis who was kept in a freezer should be transferred to the custody of Kuwait authorities.
Nader Essam Assaf, a Lebanese national, remained in Syrian custody and handed over to Lebanon, while his Syrian wife Mona Hassoun is still in the custody of Damascus authorities.
“Joanna’s employers are not under Kuwait custody. They should be made to face the consequences of what they have done in Kuwait before we can even think of any talk with the family of Joanna for forgiveness,” stressed Villanueva, chairman of the Senate committee on labor, employment, and human resources development.
Villanueva said the government should not stop its efforts to ensure that no migrant Filipino workers be under the “kafala” system.
Under the “kafala” system, workers cannot legally leave the country without the consent of their employers. Running away from employers without their consent is a criminal offense in Arab countries like Kuwait.
“Like other Gulf countries, Kuwait has adopted the notorious ‘kafala’ system or sponsorship system which hinders the rights of our migrant workers,” the senator explained.
Villanueva said the “kafala” system had facilitated the abusive practice of altering the terms of employment contract of migrant workers or taking their passports and identifications as leverage.
“The conviction of Joanna’s employers should not stop us from scrutinizing the government’s labor policies to ensure that we put an end to this modern-day slavery,” said Villanueva as he hailed the decision of a Kuwaiti court to punish the employers by hanging to death.
“We welcome this development and we sincerely hope that this would not just be a paper victory,” said Villanueva.
Senator Win Gatchalian said the Kuwaiti government’s push to impose the ultimate penalty against the killers of Demafelis was an encouraging sign that Kuwait was ready to take the protection of OFWs seriously.
This, along with the signing of the bilateral OFW protection agreement currently in the works, will go a long way toward rebuilding the strong labor ties between the two countries, he said.
“I am hopeful that the Philippine and Kuwaiti governments will continue to work together in good faith to implement long-lasting reforms that will uphold and defend the fundamental rights of OFWs in Kuwait and the rest of the Middle East,” he said.
Senate President Aquilino Pimentel III earlier said the Philippine governent had much more to do in directly engaging the Gulf States as far as protecting the safety and welfare of OFWs were concerned despite the Kuwaiti court’s conviction of the couple responsible for the death of Demafelis.
The Senate chief hoped that with the latest development, the earlier tensions caused by the incident between the Philippines and Kuwait would normalize as the two countries continue their longstanding diplomatic and economic relationship.