(UPDATED) - Malacañang on Tuesday, February 13, clarified that Filipino workers in Kuwait may opt not to avail of President Rodrigo Duterte's repatriation offer if they want to stay in the Gulf nation.
Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque Jr. said the government is not forcing all OFWs (overseas Filipino workers) to go back to the Philippines, following the reported Kuwaiti employers' abuses against their Filipino helpers.
"The President said he would not allow that Filipinos, especially the women, to be just maltreated by foreigners (in Kuwait)," the presidential spokesperson told a press conference in Kalinga.
"(But) it's not mandatory (for OFWs to return to the Philippines). If (Filipino) workers want to stay in Kuwait, the decision is theirs," he added.
More than 500 Filipino migrant workers from Kuwait have returned home.
Around 400 returned to Manila on Monday, February 12, and were given P5,000 monetary aid and additional P20,000 to jumpstart an alternative livelihood.
An additional 116 workers arrived Tuesday. The President led the ceremonial distribution of cash assistance and food packs at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport-Terminal 1 in Pasay City.
Some 150 OFWs were initially scheduled to arrive in Manila but 12 of them did not show up while the other 22 were held by Kuwait authorities because of their pending cases, the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) said.
Duterte donated P5,000 to each Filipino worker while the OWWA and the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) also handed over P5,000 cash.
On top of financial aid, OFWs from Kuwait also received grocery items from the Department of Labor and Employment and the DFA.
The OWWA would also shoulder the transportation, food, and temporary accommodation of the repatriated workers.
Duterte said he was elated by the safe arrival of the Filipino workers from Kuwait.
"Welcome home and I am happy that you returned home alive, at least alive, and free from harm and in good spirits," Duterte told his audience.
Another batch of 150 repatriated workers were also expected to arrive at about 10 p.m. of Tuesday.
Duterte on February 9 said he wanted to bring home the Filipino workers in Kuwait within 72 hours after a Filipina, identified as Joanna Daniela Dimapilis, was found dead in a freezer in an uninhabited apartment in Kuwait.
Following Dimapilis' grisly death, Duterte said he would help OFWs who sought to be repatriated by tapping flag carriers Philippine Airlines and Cebu Pacific.
The President also reiterated his plea to Kuwait employers to stop the "inhumane treatment" of OFWs even as he imposed a total ban on deployment of additional workers to Kuwait. (SunStar Philippines)