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CMFR cheers TV 5 Explainer, the exception to passive coverage of yet another OFW death in in Kuwait | CMFR

CMFR cheers TV 5 Explainer, the exception to passive coverage of yet another OFW death in in Kuwait

Screengrab from Aksyon’s YouTube page.

THE DEATH of Jeanalyn Villavende in Kuwait in December 2019 prompted the media to recall previous cases of abuse and deaths of Overseas Filipino Workers (OFW) in that country.

Alleged to have been caused by her employer, Villavende’s death was reported with reference to the agreement between the Philippines and Kuwait, which supposedly includes provisions to protect o Filipino workers in the Persian Gulf state. Some news organizations gave this recent death prominent space and time. But such references to the agreement were reported only as quotes of government officials, from the Overseas Workers Welfare Association (OWWA), some senators and spokesperson for the president, Salvador Panelo. The latter said the president was outraged.

Such passive coverage seems disproportionate to the significance of the tragedy. Villavende’s death was brutal, with evidence of a pattern of maltreatment and abuse, raising all kinds of questions about how well the government was monitoring the situation of OFWs in Kuwait.

There is a need to question whether the government had in place the means to implement the terms of agreement the two countries signed and whether these terms provided as well for proportionately radical response to such horrendous violence.

The violence which caused Villavende’s death deserved media coverage that went beyond mere quotes. Villavende’s death should have triggered more media research, with journalists digging into cases of maltreatment and worse that were documented since the signing of those agreements.  

The public and all Filipino workers seeking employment in Kuwait should have all the information they need for them to be able to evaluate the dangers they face in Kuwait. Reporters should have found groups involved in the issues of migrant workers to share their perspective on the continuing failure of government to protect OFWs from abusive employers.

But most media has taken the path of rote reporting, missing out on the magnitude of failure on the part of Philippine government as well as Kuwaiti authorities.

CMFR cheers TV5’s Aksyon for airing an explainer on January 2 on the obligations of the Philippines and Kuwait, criticizing the implementation of the agreement without relying on the usual talking heads. With the exodus of Filipino laborers abroad, media should include information about bilateral agreements, so that OFWs know about their rights.

Anchor Ed Lingao enumerated the responsibilities of both countries after providing a quick background on Filipinos working in Kuwait, as four out of 10 domestic helpers are Filipinos.

He recalled that the agreement was signed in 2018 in the aftermath of the death of Joanna Demafelis, an OFW victim in Kuwait which had caused the government to ban the deployment of labourers to the country; and that in May 2019, Constancia Dayag, another OFW was beaten and sexually abused.

Editors may need to check how reporters can become inured to the horror of the incidents they are covering; rendering such horror as routine about which little can be done about.

Media coverage should employ a wider lens, examining whether labor attaches assigned to the missions in the Middle East are actively protective as well as dedicated to the prevention of abuse of OFWs. Clearly, Villavende’s death was an incident that should have alerted officials in the frontline of action to do more than just the feeble diplomatic protest.

A January 11 column on the Philippine Daily Inquirer noted that some 200 Filipino domestics have died in Kuwait under suspicious and still unresolved circumstances. The continuing deaths calls for quick action, the absence or lack of it should have been part of even the most basic recording of the facts.  

The public should know what government did in response, enabling them to judge if these actions are enough.  And if little or nothing was done, to hold relevant officials accountable.

In the case of these lives lost to the cruelty of employers in Kuwait, the failure of government is also media’s failed responsibility.