After OFW deaths, DOLE creates command center for abuse cases

MANILA, Philippines – The Philippine Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) set up a command center following the deaths of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) in Kuwait.

In a press briefing on Wednesday, February 21, Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III said reporting mechanisms will be strengthened after Filipino labor officials in Kuwait failed to take action when domestic helper Joanna Demafelis was first reported missing.

"In order to give more meaning to this renewed drive, we have established a command center to respond to all welfare cases involving our migrant heroes," Bello told reporters.

Under Administrative Order No. 73, the OFW command center will be a 24/7 hub for all walk-in clients at the DOLE Central Office as well as complaints received via email, text message, phone call, news reports, and other referral complaints.

Employment concerns, welfare cases, and repatriation, among others, will be addressed by the command center. (READ: Kuwait only 'partially compliant' but rules allowed deployment – POEA)

Bello also ordered all labor officials and welfare officers to report all cases of abuse and maltreatment in their jurisdictions within 24 hours of receiving information about a case.

Recruitment agencies with serious violations of deployment rules will face cancellation of their registration while those with infractions will be suspended.

Bello said these measures were put in place to prevent another case similar to that of Demafelis.

Information system

In a Senate probe into the deaths of OFWs in Kuwait on Wednesday, Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon and Senator Cynthia Villar pressed DOLE on whether an information system has been set up to monitor OFWs.

Drilon, who was labor secretary during the Corazon Aquino administration, said the Migrant Workers and Overseas Filipinos Act of 1995 provides that the information system be set up.

Villar added that an integrated system across agencies would help in faster tracking of the whereabouts of missing Filipinos.

DOLE has online registration systems for processing of papers but it only ends there.

The information system was brought up after Bello revealed that Demafelis was reported missing since January 2017, but welfare officials who received the report did not take any action.

Bello said Labor Attaché Alejandro Padain, Assistant Labor Attaché Lily Pearl Guerrero, and Welfare Officer Sarah Concepcion would be investigated for possible negligence.

The Philippines will be sending a delegation to Kuwait on Thursday, February 22, to discuss the demands of the Philippine government for Filipino workers.

A technical working group will also be sent to Kuwait to finalize the memorandum of understanding with the Gulf country for the safety, security, and welfare of OFWs. (READ: Duterte lashes out at Kuwait over mistreatment of Filipino workers)

Due to the rising number of abuses and deaths, the DOLE had issued a total ban on the deployment of Filipino workers to Kuwait on February 12. –

Aika Rey

Aika Rey covers the Philippine Senate for Rappler. Before writing about politicians, she covered budget, labor, and transportation issues.