As Duterte extends deployment ban on Kuwait, airlines ready special flights to bring home OFWs

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The decisions of President Duterte, posing with repatriated OFWs from the Middle East in this photo, caused fear and confusion among many Filipinos. (KRIZJOHN ROSALES/Philstar)

MANILA – (UPDATE, 8:52 A.M.) President Rodrigo Duterte ordered at the weekend the extension of the deployment ban on overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) to Kuwait, and leading carriers Philippine Airlines and Cebu Pacific announced plans to mount special flights to help bring home OFWs wishing to return after suffering abuse.

A group of recruitment companies expressed support for Duterte’s decision, which Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III is expected to formalize with a department order to be issued Monday.

Duterte, who had earlier suspended deployment of mostly household service workers (HSWs) to Kuwait, moved further for a total ban on hearing more reports of abuse.

According to Bello, the OFWs now working in Kuwait will not be forced to come home, however. Most of the abuse has been reported among household service workers. The Philippines also sends skilled workers to Kuwait.

According to data gathered by support groups for OFWs, at least 120 Filipino workers were reported to have died in Kuwait in 2017, many of them simply listed as “suicides.”

The latest shocking case was that of Joanna Dimapilis, whose body was found in a freezer in a home in Kuwait rented by her employers, a Lebanese man and his Syrian wife. The couple left their home nearly a year ago and are believed to have returned to Lebanon.

Interpol is helping track them down in Lebanon.

PAL, CEBU PACIFIC SPECIAL FLIGHTS

Meanwhile, Cebu Pacific and Philippine Airlines announced plans to mount special flights in order to bring home hundreds of OFWs who wish to return from Kuwait, where many of them were reported victims of abuse.

“In support of President Rodrigo R. Duterte’s request for Philippine carriers to help repatriate Filipino OFWs in Kuwait, Philippine Airlines will be mounting a special flight from Kuwait to Manila within the next few days,” PAL said in a statement late Saturday.

PAL said it will be utilizing its 363 – seater Airbus A330.

In addition to the special flights, PAL has been repatriating OFWs using its four weekly Kuwait – Manila regular flights over the past few months. Many OFWs have already reserved seats on regular PAL flights for the coming days, PAL said.

In a statement, Cebu Pacific (CEB) said it is mounting “a special charter flight from Kuwait to Manila FOR FREE. This is in response to the call for assistance by the government to repatriate Filipino workers in Kuwait.”

However, since Cebu Pacific no longer has regular commercial air service between Manila and Kuwait, “special arrangements are being made” with relevant authorities.

“CEB will be deploying an Airbus A330 aircraft—the largest in its fleet, for the charter flight. It has a maximum capacity of 436 passengers. Cebu Pacific will also provide free food and refreshment, as well as baggage allowance for all passengers on this charter flight,” the low-cost carrier’s statement said.

Both PAL and Cebu Pacific said they are in coordination with the Department of Foreign Affairs, the Philippine Embassy in Kuwait and concerned Philippine and foreign government authorities for the necessary requirements.

RECRUITS SUPPORT DECISION

A group of recruiters expressed support for the Duterte deployment ban, meanwhile.

“Although we are understandably saddened because of the impact on our industry sector, we agree with the decision of President Rodrigo Roa Duterte to suspend indefinitely the deployment of OFWs to Kuwait and to repatriate OFWs there who are in distress situations and want to return home to be with their families,” the Philippine Association of Agencies for Kuwait (PHILAAK) said in a statement, adding that they are coordinating with the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA).

The organization said it will present policy recommendations to the President and Secretary Bello III on how to ensure the welfare of OFWs not only in the Gulf state but around the world.

“We are also in the process of formulating a set of policy and other recommendations so that the Duterte administration will have additional options on how to save our fellow Filipinos from slavery and human trafficking and be more effective in the delivery of services to OFWs not just in Kuwait but worldwide,” the statement said.