Govt regrets Duterte’s remarks – Envoy awaiting instructions

MANILA: President Rodrigo Duterte has banned Philippine citizens from travelling to Kuwait to work following reports of widespread abuse and exploitation, his spokesman confirmed yesterday. Duterte ordered the ban after reports emerged about the deaths of several Filipinas in the state, his spokesman Harry Roque said. “In line with his presidential pronouncement, Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello has ordered the suspension of the deployment of workers to Kuwait,” Roque told reporters. “There is really excessive suffering over there,” Roque said, adding that the ban was “long overdue”.

Kuwait expressed surprise at the move and said it was in touch with Manila to try to resolve the issue. An estimated 10 million Filipinos work overseas and the money they send home is a major pillar of the Philippine economy. It was not immediately clear how long the ban, which does not affect workers already in Kuwait, would last. There are more than 250,000 Filipinos in Kuwait, the Philippine foreign ministry estimates, most working as domestic helpers.

Speaking to Kuwait Times on Friday, Philippines Ambassador to Kuwait Renato Villa said he is awaiting instructions from Manila regarding the ban. “The news was released by the media and we have no official instructions yet. If that’s the order from the president and the department of labor and employment, we will comply,” he said.

He noted that in June last year, he had sent a letter to Kuwait’s interior ministry stressing some points, comments and opinions by a team of observers that visited Kuwait, but failed to get a response. “We followed up in August, but got no reply. Perhaps now, after the ban, they’ll notice it. We are hoping for their positive appreciation of the note,” Villa said.

Asked if the ban would be applied to all Filipino workers, Villa said he is sure that it will only be applied to domestic helpers as they are the most vulnerable. “I think it will only be applied to household service workers. We have been trying our best to make the Kuwaiti authorities sign a memorandum of agreement, and hopefully they’ll settle this issue with us soon.”

In his speech before overseas workers on Thursday, Duterte said he would urge the Kuwaiti government to act against the abuses. “My advice is, we talk to them, state the truth and just tell them that it’s not acceptable anymore. Either we impose a total ban or we can have (disagreements),” Duterte said. “I do not want a quarrel with Kuwait. I respect their leaders, but they have to do something about this,” he added.

Kuwait’s Deputy Foreign Minister Khaled Al-Jarallah expressed “surprise and sorrow” over Duterte’s remarks, saying that legal proceedings had been taken in the cases of the four domestic workers mentioned by the president. “We have begun immediate contacts with Filipino authorities to examine the extent of this statement and to try to refute the erroneous information that came in it,” state news agency KUNA quoted Jarallah as saying. Kuwait enjoys “a bright image over its treatment of expatriate workers and has laws that preserve their rights and organize their relations with employers,” he added.

Kuwait has faced criticism in the past over its “kafala” system for foreign workers which has been likened to a form of bonded labor or even slavery. The kafala system prevents workers from moving to a new job before their contracts end without their boss’s consent, resulting in a wide range of abuses.

By Ben Garcia and Agencies