President Rodrigo R. Duterte delivers his final State of the Nation Address before a joint session of Congress at the House of Representatives building in Quezon City, July 26. — SCREENSHOT FROM RADIO TELEVISION MALACAÑANG

Duterte highlights PH role in easing of Kafala in final SONA

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President Rodrigo Duterte reiterated the Philippines’ strong stance against the ‘Kafala’ or sponsorship system of employment in the Middle East in his final State of the Nation Address (SONA) on Monday, July 26.

In his three-hour speech, Duterte said the country’s active opposition to the system is a “new global civil rights movement for the migrant worker.”

“We called on the world to dismantle the heinous Kafala system because the Filipino is no slave to anyone, anywhere, and there is no room for modern-day slavery,” the President said.

The Kafala system is a prevailing employment system for migrant workers in the Middle East which requires migrant workers to have a sponsor in the host country before a visa and worker’s permit can be issued. 

In November last year, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia announced that beginning March 14, 2021, migrant workers would no longer need their employers’ permission to change jobs, travel abroad, or leave the country permanently.

In 2009, Bahrain was the first country in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) to claim to repeal the kafala system.

Qatar, for its part, issued a ministerial decree in January 2020 that abolished the exit visa requirement that was part of the Kafala system.

And in Oman, the government in January 2021 abolished the no-objection certificate (NOC) which had prevented foreign workers from switching jobs without their sponsors’ or employers’ consent.

The Philippines’ campaign against the Kafala began in 2017 with the President giving then-Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano a “free hand” on how to approach the challenges.

In his interviews at the time, Cayetano said Duterte’s marching orders to the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) was that the Filipinos are “no slave to anyone, anywhere, and everywhere.” 

Cayetano said they were criticized and “even chastised for our efforts to help our kababayans in danger, but we pressed on, believing that our cause was just.”

In his final SONA on Monday, Duterte repeated the exact marching order, along with a new pitch.

“To everybody in the Middle East, I would like to tell them that not only Filipinos but all human beings, a Kafala has no place there because it’s a set-up for slavery,” he said.

“I dare you [to] correct it or we will ask our Filipino workers to go home,” he continued.

The President, moreover, reiterated his call for Congress to establish a single agency that will “focus on and respond quickly” to the needs and concerns of Overseas Filipino Workers (OFW).

Kailangan po ito (This is needed) because they are suffering,” he said.

In March 2020 under the leadership of Cayetano as Speaker, the House approved on third and final reading House Bill 5832 or the Department of Filipinos Overseas and Foreign Employment Act which aims to create a department that would cater to all OFW issues and concerns.

The Senate, meanwhile, was at its period of interpellation on the bill’s counterpart when the 18th Congress adjourned on June 5.###

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