Duterte urges all Filipinos in Kuwait to return home

SINGAPORE: Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte speaks to members of the Philippine community during a gathering yesterday. – AFP

SINGAPORE/KUWAIT: Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte called on the 260,000 Filipinos working in Kuwait – most of them employed as domestic helpers – to return home, saying the state apparently did not want their services anymore, according to reports in the Philippines media. “To you there in Kuwait, [to] those who are not really household helpers, I now appeal to your sense of patriotism: Come home, anyway there are now many jobs in the Philippines,” the president said, addressing overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) in Kuwait.


“I will look for money and I will get all, all the Filipino workers (in Kuwait),” he told about 6,000 members of the Filipino community in Singapore, where he attended the 32nd Association of Southeast Asian Nations Summit. Duterte told his audience at the Big Box center that he had “bad news” about the diplomatic row between Kuwait and the Philippines over the recent rescues of allegedly abused Filipino maids by Philippine Embassy staff in Kuwait.


The rescue had angered the Kuwaiti government, saying the act violated the country’s sovereignty and ordered Philippine Ambassador Renato Villa to leave the country. Duterte said ties between the two nations were now “being put to the test”. “I plead that since there is a total ban on deployment, I don’t want them anymore to [go to Kuwait] because apparently [the Kuwaitis] do not like them,” he said. “Do not hurt” the Filipino workers and “treat them deserving of a human being”, he appealed to Kuwaitis.


Duterte said he could use funds given by China to “get all those who want to go home” and joked about robbing a bank to get more money. He did not say how many or what kind of jobs awaited those willing to heed his call to return.


Despite what he described as a “diplomatic ruckus” between the two countries, the president said there was no anger or hatred in his heart towards Kuwait, adding he was thankful to Kuwait for helping OFWs, whom he said owed a debt of gratitude to the state. “If the presence of Filipinos is a burden to you, allow us to get them out,” Duterte said. “As the president of the nation, it behooves upon me to do something.”


Important announcement


On Friday, presidential spokesperson Harry Roque said Duterte would announce an important “course of action” in connection with the diplomatic crisis. Roque said the president’s move would be “Solomonic” and “dramatic”. “I confirm that he will announce the Philippines position personally during his arrival statement in Davao on Sunday (today). He wants to announce it on Philippine soil,” Roque said in a press briefing in Singapore.


He said Duterte arrived at the decision on the Kuwait problem on his own, “something he personally crafted” and that it was “not specially recommended by anyone”. “It shows his experience on governance and there’s wisdom I guess even in the number of years of leadership and as well as in his age,” Roque said.


Manila demanded an explanation Thursday after its ambassador was expelled, shocking Philippine authorities and deepening a diplomatic row over the treatment of domestic workers in the state. The two nations had been working to resolve differences sparked by the murder of a Philippine maid, whose body was found stuffed in her employer’s freezer in Kuwait earlier this year.


But relations plunged after the Philippines released videos last week of embassy staff helping Filipino workers flee from allegedly abusive employers, which Kuwait called a violation of its sovereignty. Philippine Foreign Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano apologized, but Kuwaiti officials announced Wednesday they were expelling Villa and recalling their own envoy from Manila. Speaking to reporters in Singapore, Cayetano said he disapproved of the release of the videos but defended the action of the embassy staff, citing urgency.


Tensions rose earlier this year following the murder of maid Joanna Demafelis, prompting Duterte to ban Filipina workers from deploying to Kuwait for work. Relations appeared to recover after a Kuwaiti court sentenced to death in absentia a Lebanese man and his Syrian wife for Demafelis’ killing. Following the verdict, Duterte this month announced plans to visit Kuwait to seal an agreement on workplace safety guarantees for the Filipinos working in the nation.


But Cayetano on Thursday expressed doubt about the deal because “the ambassador (of Kuwait)… was suddenly recalled and is not answering our inquiries at this point in time”. The proposal sets terms for vacation leaves, food and custody of passports. Roque also said he does not know what will happen to the agreement. “I do not know anymore what will happen to the MOU, I could only surmise. I do not know, everything is up in the air now with the Kuwaiti ambassador being recalled and [the] Philippine ambassador being declared persona non grata,” he said.


Kuwait surprised by memo leak


On Friday, Kuwait expressed surprise after a memo of a recent meeting between the Kuwaiti ambassador in Manila and the Philippine foreign minister was circulated by the Philippine media, Deputy Foreign Minister Khaled Al-Jarallah said. The Kuwaiti foreign ministry took note of its Philippine counterpart’s memo – published by the Philippine media – on the meeting, Jarallah said in a press statement. Kuwait, represented by its foreign ministry, has tackled recently strained relations between both sides with patience and wisdom through diplomatic channels, he said.


Kuwaiti measures, the latest of which was declaring the Philippine ambassador persona non-grata, came after the diplomat had received two memos of protest, which included a request for handing over those involved in acts that undermine Kuwait’s sovereignty and are deemed as interference in its internal affairs and even violate relevant international agreements and treaties, especially Article 41 of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, Jarallah added.


Jarallah reiterated Kuwait’s rejection to any bid to undermine its sovereignty or to interfere in its internal affairs, vowing decisive response in this regard. Laws applied in Kuwait, where 3.1 million residents of 195 different nationalities live, ensure their rights and safeguard their security, dignity and freedom thanks to the country’s fair and independent judiciary, he affirmed. The deputy foreign minister pointed to Kuwait’s willingness to sign the labor agreement with the Philippines, which was recently initialed by both sides in Manila, reflecting Kuwait’s keenness on maintaining friendly relations and joint interests.


In response to 10 points mentioned in the memo from the Philippines Foreign Ministry, Jarallah said Kuwait has put in place a 24-hour emergency hotline, which responds to distress calls “immediately and effectively”. Phone calls made to the hotline, managed by the interior ministry, and subsequent measures, are regularly monitored in order to ensure its efficiency, he underlined.


Kuwait has also created a state-of-the-art shelter for domestic helpers, providing services and assistance to those facing problems with their sponsors, such as the right to accommodation, food, security and liberties. In this aspect, Kuwait is unique in that it is the only country to have formed a center of this nature, said Jarallah, mentioning that the facility has hosted several global human rights monitors’ visits.  He also said that “relevant Kuwaiti bodies are keen on cooperating with the Philippine Embassy in providing assistance related to the pending applications of Filipino workers facing difficulties”.


With regards to the repatriation of 800 Filipino citizens currently at this shelter, he said the Kuwaiti government has granted them and other expatriates full amnesty for any financial obligations they may have incurred for overstaying or residency law violations. The government also took steps to ease their travel, providing them with the amnesty which was extended for another two months, in response to calls from the Filipino government – with the new deadline of April 22.


“This highlights, without a doubt, the extent of cooperation and appreciation Kuwait extends with regards to its relationship with Republic of the Philippines, and its keenness on cooperating with the Philippine Embassy on agreeing to arrangements that enable their (Filipino citizens) repatriation,” he added. On ensuring justice is served in lawsuits from Filipino citizens, he said Kuwait has a fair and independent justice system that is renowned for its transparency and ensuring the rights and legal protection of all nationals and expatriates living in the country.


Furthermore, on the matter of ensuring the peaceful and humane treatment of Filipinos who have been held in detention post-deadline, he said Kuwait has an unblemished record of human rights hailed by relevant international agencies. As for freeing Filipinos hired by the Philippine embassy and who did some acts that breached Kuwait’s sovereignty and laws, and whose practices reflected interference in Kuwait’s internal affairs, he said they are now being investigated and Kuwaiti authorities allowed their embassy’s staff to visit them.


Regarding allowing the Philippine foreign ministry’s diplomats, who are in Kuwait now but not accredited as part of the embassy’s staff in the country, to return to Manila, he said Kuwait requests the Philippines to hand them over for investigations. Jarallah concluded by reaffirming the accuracy, commitment and efficiency of the Kuwaiti ambassador in Manila, noting that he honored his commitments made during the meeting with the Philippine foreign minister. – Agencies


This article was published on 28/04/2018