MANILA – President Rodrigo Duterte continues to engage with state leaders in the Middle East to push for the abolition of Kafala, a system widely used in Gulf countries to monitor migrant workers through “sponsors”, Presidential Assistant on Foreign Affairs and Chief of Presidential Protocol Robert Borje said Thursday.
“The DFA (Department of Foreign Affairs) and DOLE (Department of Labor and Employment) have been at the frontlines of engaging our different partners matagal na ito na partnership pero mas napapaigting pa ngayon dahil at the leaders level na ang may direct message on this (this has been strengthened because the message is now coming directly from the leaders’ level),” he said during a Laging Handa briefing.
“Sa likod po nito at tahimik po, si Pangulong Duterte ay sumusulat sa kanyang mga counterparts, sa mga leaders, Their Majesties pagkatapos ay nagpapadala ng special envoys at kung may pagkakataon ay pinaparating niya ang kanyang mga saloobin at patuloy ito na nangyayari hanggang ngayon (Behind this, President Duterte is quietly writing to his counterparts, to leaders, and even sends special envoys to express his views on the issue),” he added.
Borje said Duterte’s public call last Tuesday was also a significant move to rally other states to start implementing similar labor reforms carried out by Saudi Arabia and Bahrain.
“I think as we speak, because of this, a lot of governments from the Middle East are reaching out again to the DFA to find ways not to only move it forward but to move it forward a little bit faster,” he said.
Borje acknowledged that Kafala’s abolition will not happen overnight, but for him, the “constructive partnership” among concerned countries is already a welcome development to open doors for dialogue and to address this labor issue.
“It deserves noting that (President Duterte) is the only leader who has actually confronted the issue of the Kafala system straight on, siya mismo ang nag-describe na ang Kafala system ay unjust and unequal (he directly described the system as unjust and unequal),” he said.
“It’s a risky move for the President because it’s something that’s not really talked about in the open. It’s couched under different terms, hindi sinasabi na Kafala system ang problema pero para kay Pangulong Duterte, he tackled it head-on na ang Kafala system ay talagang dapat mabuwag (Kafala system is not openly tagged as the problem but for President Duterte, he tackled it head-on that the system must be abolished),” he added.
Foreign Affairs Undersecretary Sarah Lou Arriola echoed Borje’s sentiments and expressed optimism that other countries would soon follow the initiatives taken by Saudi Arabia and Bahrain.
“Kailangan lang talagang bigyan natin ng kaunting panahon ang ating mga kapatid sa Middle East na mag-reform kasi ‘di rin po ganoon kadali ‘yon although all the governments are willing, medyo may resistance po sa kanilang mga citizens and also business community kasi mayroong financial implications ‘yon (Although all the governments are will, we just need to give them the time to make reforms because it’s not that easy especially when there is resistance from the citizens and the business community themselves),” she said.
Kafala originated from the Arabic word which means “sponsorship”. Under this system, a worker cannot leave the employer or transfer for better working conditions, without the consent of the present employer-sponsor.
Last Tuesday, Duterte said this system is “unjust” and “exploitative” as it places thousands of migrant workers “in the most vulnerable situation, unseen, unheard and unable to defend their dignity as a human being.” (PNA)