By Karen Lema
MANILA (Reuters) - The Philippines suspended the sending of workers to Kuwait on Friday, its labour minister said, a day after the country's president complained of abuses being inflicted on Filipino domestic helpers, leading to several suicides.
Labour Secretary Silvestre Belo said the halt on sending workers to Kuwait would be in force "pending investigation of the causes of deaths of about six or seven of our OFWs", he told Reuters, referring to Overseas Filipino Workers.
There are more than 250,000 Filipinos in Kuwait, based on the Philippine foreign ministry's estimate, most of them working as domestic helpers. There are also large numbers of Filipinos working in the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Qatar.
Bello did not refer to specific cases or give a timeframe for when the deaths took place.
Duterte, who is hugely popular among the Filipino diaspora, on Thursday said he was thinking of banning workers from going to Kuwait because the Philippines had recently "lost four women" there, referring to domestic helpers he said had been abused and committed suicide.
He said he was aware of many cases of sexual abuse endured by Filipino women and wanted to raise it with the Kuwait government and "state the truth and just tell them that it's not acceptable anymore".
The Kuwait foreign ministry could not be reached for comment and its embassy in Manila did not respond immediately to questions sent on Friday by Reuters.
More than 2.3 million Filipinos are documented as working abroad. Collectively they remit more than $2 billion of their income back to the Philippines every month, money that fuels robust consumer spending in one of the world's fastest-growing economies.
Duterte on Thursday said he did not want to quarrel with Kuwait and respected its leaders, but said they needed to do something to stop the abuse.
"Many of the women commit suicide. They claim abuse, sexually and all, and they endure," he said.
(Additional reporting by Manuel Mogato and Neil Jerome Morales; Writing by Martin Petty and Enrico dela Cruz; Editing by Nick Macfie)