Malacañang reiterated Monday that President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. will not raise the issue of World War II sexual slavery victims in his state visit to Japan from Feb. 8 to 12, declining the appeal of a comfort women’s group.
Nathaniel Imperial, Department of Foreign Affairs Assistant Secretary for Asian and Pacific Affairs, said the President is not likely to take up the issue because it is the position of the government that sex slavery victims’ compensation claims have been deemed “settled” in a 1956 reparations deal with Japan.
Mr. Marcos will be in Tokyo this week to meet Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and have an audience with Emperor Naruhito at the Imperial Palace, as well as to witness the signing of seven bilateral agreements and meet business leaders and the Filipino community.
Filipino women and children endured rape and other sexual acts at the hands of Japanese soldiers during the latter’s occupation of the Philippines in the Pacific War in the 1940s.
“However, the government will not prevent private claims should such actions be pursued by the victims, because this is an atrocious violence against women during the war,” Imperial added.
Meanwhile, Senator Raffy Tulfo on Monday renewed his call to ban the deployment of Filipino workers to Kuwait, after a domestic helper there, Myla Balbag, fell out of a third-floor window to escape from her employer, who beat her for using the Tiktok application on her phone.
In the House, Rep. Marissa Magsino of the OFW party-list group called for a review of bilateral labor agreements entered by the Philippines with countries of destination.
The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) reported that there are 25 such agreements in force between the Philippines and other countries of destination, including Kuwait, Qatar, United Arab Emirates, and Italy.
Tulfo, who chairs the Senate committee on migrant workers, said he has coordinated with the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) to check on Balbag, who was paralyzed from her fall.
Reports from OWWA said Balbag was brought to the Emergency Department of Al Jaber Hospital on Jan. 21 after falling from the third floor of her employer’s house in Hateen while trying to escape.
Balbag said her female employer got furious after catching her using the social media application TikTok in her room.
The employer grabbed her phone and headset and beat her.
Out of fear, Balbag said she packed her belongings and tried to escape through the window on the third floor of her employer’s house but fell while doing so.
The news about Balbag came two weeks after the murder of domestic helper Jullebee Ranara, who was burned to death and left in a desert in Salmi, Al-Jahra Governorate. She was reportedly raped and impregnated by the 17-year-old son of her employer.
Senator Christopher Go urged a thorough review of the policies regulating the deployment of overseas Filipino workers.
He asked the government to consider stricter vetting procedures for the deployment of Filipino workers in certain countries especially to high-risk areas where abuses have been reported, as well as in those with weak labor welfare laws.
Tulfo said a deployment ban to Kuwait can be used as leverage when the Philippine government sits down with Kuwait for bilateral talks. Vince Lopez, Macon Ramos-Araneta, and Maricel V. Cruz
He proposed that the Kuwait government should adhere to several terms and conditions set by the Philippines, including an issuance of a public apology to the Filipinos.
He also stressed the need to impose a pre-engagement orientation for foreign employers before they are allowed to hire Filipino workers.
The orientation, he said, should brief them about the importance of respecting Philippine culture and tradition.
“We should let them know that Filipinos are generally happy people who have the right to use TikTok for fun or as a means to reconnect with their loved ones after a long day’s work,” he said. He added that he saw nothing wrong with letting domestic helpers use TikTok after working hours, as long as they do not disrespect Kuwaiti traditions.
He also underscored the need for relevant agencies to establish a tighter screening process for foreign employers to avoid abuse and maltreatment of Filipino workers. These include requiring them to submit a police record and pass a psychiatric exam to ensure that they are mentally stable.
Tulfo recently filed a resolution seeking to revisit, re-examine and review the existing bilateral agreement and standard employment contract governing overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) in Kuwait.
Earlier, the Department of Migrant Workers said the government is not yet considering suspending the deployment of Filipino workers to Kuwait. DMW Secretary Susan Ople said the agency is instead looking at developing more measures to secure the safety of overseas Filipino workers in Kuwait.
Del Mar, in filing House Resolution 743, noted that the Philippines seems to have no binding labor agreements with other important and emerging countries of destination such as Singapore, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Brunei, and Oman.
Del Mar said the review and assessment would ensure the protection of rights and welfare of overseas Filipino workers, particularly in cases of abuse, maltreatment, and deprivation of life, and to secure the availability of legal remedies in their favor to assure justice.
She described as alarming the fact that the agreements lack explicit provisions relating to social security, equality of treatment, repatriation, and most importantly, protocols governing the investigation and prosecution of criminal offenses committed against OFWs, and legal remedies available to them and their families for the redress of grievances and to secure justice.
“With the recent atrocities against our OFWs, it is high time for us to review and assess the substance and effectiveness of our BLAs,” Magsino said.