The call of President Rodrigo Duterte for a permanent ban against the deployment of Filipino workers to Kuwait is good news. It’s about time the Philippines ended the practice of sending gullible and desperate Filipinos to Kuwait for virtual slavery in the hands of inhumane Kuwaiti employers. Past presidents pledged to protect overseas Filipino workers, but to no avail. Only President Duterte has made good on his promise to do so.
Being a desert, Kuwait has a very hot climate all-year round. There is no truth to the claim that since Kuwait is a desert, the nights there are cold. That is true only if one lives in isolation in the middle of the desert itself. Nights in Kuwait City may be less uncomfortable compared to the days, but they are not cold.
Most homes and offices in Kuwait are air-conditioned, but the temperature outside can cause nosebleeds. One can’t stay indoors all the time in Kuwait; one has to travel under the sun every now and then. The exposure from extreme heat to extreme cold, and back, can create a tremendous strain on one’s health.
In contrast, it is warm in the Philippines only during the summer months. The summer heat in the Philippines is bearable, compared to the daily suntan in Kuwait.
The ancestors of today’s Kuwaitis were Arab desert bedouins who engaged in the slave trade. These bedouins also kept slaves for their own personal use. According to bedouin tradition, anyone outside the family who took orders from family members are slaves.
Sadly, the discovery of oil in Kuwait after World War II did nothing to civilize the Kuwaitis of the late twentieth century and the present century. Although petro-dollars realized from petroleum exports made all Kuwaitis wealthy overnight, their wealth gave Kuwaitis a sense of misplaced entitlement and a lofty status over other peoples who were not so financially endowed. Kuwaitis may not have considered themselves as privileged as the Europeans and the North Americans, but they came to look down on Asians and Africans.
When petroleum exporting countries like Kuwait placed quotas on oil production in the mid-1970s, economies of many nations, the Philippines included, were adversely affected. Many unskilled Filipinos who could not obtain employment at home were enticed to seek work in the Middle East. Inevitably, recruitment agencies mushroomed in the Philippines, offering desperate Filipinos jobs with high wages in the Middle East.
At first, reports about the maltreatment of Filipino domestic helpers in the Middle East were minimal. By the 1980s, however, the figures were reaching alarming proportions. Filipino domestic helpers were systematically murdered, or abused enough for them to commit suicide. Others were raped, and subjected to physical and verbal abuse, starvation, and other forms of inhumane treatment. Almost all of them are made to work under miserable conditions.
There are many instances when they are made to work for more than one household, and with very little time given to them for rest, and with barely enough food given to them. At times, the food is spoiled or suitable only for animal feed. Many workers went insane.
Almost all Filipino domestic helpers working in Kuwait are hostages of their own employers. Because their passports are confiscated from them upon their arrival on Kuwait, they are unable to leave their employment even when their personal safety is already at risk.
Aside from the abuses Filipino domestic helpers are made to suffer in Kuwait and other countries in the Middle East, there is a social price they pay for their overseas employment. Many of these domestic workers are parents who have to leave behind their respective spouses and children in the Philippines for the duration of their stay abroad. More often than not, this unnatural arrangement —where lonely spouses are tempted to be unfaithful and under-supervised children turn to drug abuse for companionship—leads to broken families. At the end of the day, it is the nation’s social fabric that bears the brunt of these consequences.
By the 1990s and on to the first decade of the21st century, Filipino domestic helpers were getting systematically maltreated by their Arab employers in the Middle East. The term “maltreatment” is stating the problem mildly because they were treated as virtual slaves. The slave treatment consisted of murder, rape and sexual assault, physical abuse, starvation, miserable working conditions, and other instances of inhumane treatment.
In many instances, the domestic helpers are made to work for numerous households, with very little time for rest. Many workers go insane, for obvious reasons.
Employers in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait were the most notorious in the maltreatment of Filipino domestic helpers.
Past attempts to stop the deployment of Filipino domestic helpers to the Middle East, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait in particular, have been abject failures. Influential recruitment agencies in the Philippines have always lobbied, openly and clandestinely, against any deployment ban.
These recruitment agencies make millions of pesos every month sending gullible and desperate Filipinos to slavery in Kuwait and other destinations in the Middle East. The bulk of that money comes, not from the employer, but from the numerous fees the Filipino worker has to pay the recruitment agency for the “opportunity” to be a slave of an Arab master.
The saddest cut of all is that the money paid to the recruitment agency is often borrowed by the Filipino domestic worker, usually from usurious creditors.
At the end of the day, it’s a lose-all proposition for the Filipino domestic helper—an arrangement that influential recruitment agencies in the Philippines have millions of reasons to sustain and defend.
So far, only Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III and the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines favor the continued deployment of Filipino workers to Kuwait, despite the compelling reasons against it.
Fortunately, President Duterte has made the deployment ban permanent. It’s for the good of the country.