`The Filipino is a slave to no one`

[Excerpts from a press statement by President Rodrigo Duterte in Davao City last Feb. 9]

I have a statement to make then we can entertain some questions but not so many because I still have another commitment sa ibang forum.

I’ll give you a copy after I shall have read it publicly.

A few days ago, while serving an eviction order in an apartment in Al-Shaab, Kuwait which has been unoccupied for some time, the Kuwaiti police were surprised to find the cadaver of a Filipina household service worker later identified as Joanna Daniela Demafelis, inside a freezer. Her body bore torture marks and indications that she was strangled to death.

A review of the incidents of violence, curtailment of freedom and abuse of basic human rights committed against Filipino [overseas] workers overseas, especially household service workers in Kuwait reveal the DATA so repugnant [that] it compels us to ask what we, in government, has been doing all these years to protect and give justice to our helpless sons and daughters, brothers and sisters.

Sad to state, it seems that our government is as inutile as our foreign workers are helpless in the present state of things. This is a national shame and yet we proclaim the OFWs the modern heroes of our Republic. Our words and action simply do not match.

Consider the following data: In Kuwait alone, in 2016, there were 82 reported deaths of OFWs. In 2017, the number reportedly increased to [103].

On January 25, 2017, OFW Jakatia Pawa was executed for the alleged killing of the 22-year-old daughter of her employer in 2007, a crime she claimed up to the day of her execution she never committed.

On the day of Pawa’s execution, a Filipino domestic [worker] died in a hospital after a severe beating at the hands of her Kuwaiti [employer]. I need not go into the specifics of every harm and abuse that our OFWs have been subjected to. They can be discussed some time or other times in another forum.

But let me ask: When will this inhuman treatment of our Filipino workers end? When will the upliftment of their human dignity begin? To the Kuwaiti government and all others where our OFWs work, we seek and expect your assistance in this regard.

We do not seek special treatment or privileges for our workers, but we do expect respect for their dignity and basic human rights. Keep them free from harm. I implore you. Nakikiusap ako sa lahat ng mga Arabo.

The Filipino is no slave to anyone, anywhere and everywhere. Every unlawful physical injury that is inflicted on an OFW is an injury [that] I personally bear as the head of this Republic.

Every abuse committed against an OFW is an affront against us, as a sovereign nation. [All that] I ask [for] our overseas Filipino workers, is that their dignity is honored and the rights of a human being, upheld and respected.

We send to you a Filipino worker, hale and hearty, determined to work his heart out in order to give his family a decent and comfortable life in the Philippines. Do not give us back a battered worker or a mutilated corpse.

If the Philippine government is reduced [into] helplessness because other foreign governments do not heed our requests to protect and give justice to our overseas Filipino workers within the limits that their laws allow, then let me say this both as a matter of personal conviction and national policy, [that] I am ready to take drastic steps that will help preserve Filipino life and limb. We do not intend to offend any government or anyone. But if a ban is what is needed, then let it be so.  

The ban continues today and I don’t know up to what time.

(Photo: The body of Joanna Demafeliz arrives yesterday from Kuwait at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport to a group of mourning relatives and government officials. Demafeliz's body was found inside a freezer apparently owned by her employer, triggering a howl of protest from her kin and Philippine employment officials.)