Reports on plight of OFWs in Kuwait show patterns of abuse

CHEERS TO and for expanding their reports on the violence faced by overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) in Kuwait. The reports highlighted the system of abuse, backed with relevant data and context about other OFWs before Jullebee Ranara, the most recent casualty who died in the hands of her employer in the Gulf state.

What’s the Story?

The issue of OFW abuse in Kuwait has persisted and remains unsolved despite a bilateral agreement and standard employment contract between Kuwait and the Philippines.

Thousands of OFWs have reported being physically, sexually, or psychologically abused by their employers in Kuwait. They have also been subjected to nonpayment of salaries and extremely long workdays.

In 2018, the Philippine government banned deployment to Kuwait following the murder of domestic helper Joanna Demafelis. In 2019, Constancia Dayag and Jeanelyn Villavende were also killed by their employers. The Philippines fully lifted its deployment ban in 2020, following the filing of murder charges against Villavende’s employers.

Earlier this year, the killing of 35-year-old domestic worker Ranara sparked outrage and demands for tougher regulations and proactive measures to safeguard the rights and welfare of OFWs in Kuwait. 

But the Philippine government has been inconsistent in its response, flip-flopping on the deployment ban. In retaliation, Kuwait on May 11 halted issuing new visas to Filipinos, citing violations of labor contract between the two countries. President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. downplayed the deployment ban over Kuwait visa issue as an “overreaction.”

What the Stories Got Right

News accounts must go beyond merely seeking official voices in order to present the bigger picture of abuse faced by OFWs. Commendably, there were efforts to look at policy issues not just in the Philippines but also in Kuwait.’s Kaycee Valmonte reported that a migrant worker group considered the kafala system as the “root of abuse issues.” The system gives employers sponsorship permits to hire foreign labor, but this leaves workers vulnerable to maltreatment. The report noted that Kuwait can do more in protecting OFWs by allowing workers, for instance, internet access and to keep their own passports.’s Kurt Dela Peña presented numbers to support the fact that violence against OFWs in Kuwait has been routine. He also provided a timeline that showed the indecisiveness of the Philippine government in banning OFW deployment to Kuwait. The report mentioned that higher-paying jobs abroad encourages Filipinos to leave their families to improve their living conditions.

Why is this Important?

Migrant workers remain among the most vulnerable members of society, often subjected to maltreatment and abuses. This has created more uncertainty and hardship for Filipinos who are working or seeking employment abroad.

Media need to assess the effectiveness of the memorandum of agreement between the Philippines and Kuwait, and underscore the need for stronger policies to protect the rights and welfare of OFWs. This is in line with the important role they play in highlighting the systems that enable human rights violations.
By pressing on the issue, the media can pressure the Philippine government to uphold its obligation to protect and help its citizens working abroad. Only then can the Philippine government truly honor OFWs, whose hard work and sacrifice are being marketed by the government in a new promotional campaign called “We give the world our best.”