SEOUL: Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte apologized to Kuwait yesterday for his “harsh” words at the height of a months-long diplomatic row over the treatment of domestic workers. The spat began in February when a murdered Filipina maid was found in her employer’s freezer in the Gulf state, prompting Duterte to lash out at the “inhuman” treatment of migrant workers and ban workers from travelling to Kuwait.
“For the first time I would say that I was harsh in my language – maybe because that was a result of an emotional outburst. But I’d like to apologize now,” Duterte said, addressing Kuwait directly in a speech before expatriate Filipinos living in South Korea. “I’m sorry for the language that I was using but I’m very satisfied with… how you responded to the problems of my country.” Authorities in Manila say around 262,000 Filipinos worked in Kuwait before February, with many employed as household maids.
They are among over two million Filipinos employed in the region, whose remittances are a lifeline to the Philippine economy. At the height of the diplomatic flap, Duterte alleged Arab employers routinely rape Filipina workers, force them to work 21 hours a day and feed them scraps. “Is there something wrong with your culture? Is there something wrong with your values?” the Philippine leader said then. Kuwaiti authorities expelled Manila’s envoy in April over footage showing embassy staff helping Filipino workers flee allegedly abusive bosses in Kuwait.
Tensions cooled last month after the two nations sealed an agreement on workplace safety guarantees for Filipinos working in Kuwait, prompting Duterte to lift the employment ban. Yesterday, Duterte said he hoped to visit Kuwait to express his gratitude. “I’d like to thank the Kuwaiti government for understanding us and keeping their faith (in) us and practically (giving in) to all of my demands,” Duterte said. His demands included giving Filipino workers a day off and seven hours of sleep each night, as well as allowing them to keep their passports and phones often confiscated by employers, Duterte said. – AFP