The head of the Philippine Catholic bishops' commission for migrants has welcomed a Kuwaiti court's decision to sentence the employers of a murdered Filipino maid to death. Bishop Ruperto Santos of the Episcopal Commission on Migrants and Itinerant People called the decision "most welcoming and encouraging news." "We see here the seriousness and sincerity of Kuwait
to give justice to [Joanna Demafelis] and to protect the wellbeing of our workers there," said the prelate. A Kuwaiti court sentenced in absentia a Lebanese man and his Syrian wife to death by hanging for Demafelis' murder. Demafelis went missing in September 2016. Her body was only found on Feb 6. this year in a freezer in an abandoned apartment in Kuwait. The maid's employers — Nader Essam Assaf and his wife, Mona Hassoun — fled Kuwait after the discovery of their maid's body, triggering an Interpol manhunt. The Philippine government welcomed the death sentence but stressed that it has little impact on a ban on Filipino workers being sent to the Gulf state. The discovery of Demafelis' body enraged President Rodrigo Duterte who ordered the ban. The ban still applies, said Menardo Guevarra, the president's Senior Deputy Executive Secretary. He said the sentence is not a condition to lift it. Lifting it would depend on an agreement being negotiated by the Philippines and Kuwait to ensure the protection of Filipino migrant workers. Bishop Santos said the country's bishops will support the government
if it decides to lift the ban. The prelate said that with the "collaboration" of the two countries "to promote rights and dignity" and with the signing of an agreement "we will support the partial lifting of [the] deployment ban." Philippine Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III, however, said a final draft of a proposed agreement and his recommendations for the protection of Filipino workers had already been sent to Duterte for his approval. He revealed that among the major provisions of the agreement are stopping Kuwaiti employers keeping workers' passports, abiding by a common employment contract, the guaranteed payment of minimum monthly net pay of US$400 paid through a bank, and the non-confiscation of mobile phones and other communication devices.
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Prior to the ban, Kuwait was a top destination for Filipino workers, with about 250,000 working there
. From January to November of last year alone, remittances from workers from Kuwait amounted to US$735 million, according to the Central Bank of the Philippines.