KUWAIT REJECTS BREACH, READY TO WORK WITH MANILA
MANILA, April 29, (Agencies): Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte on Sunday said the temporary ban on Filipinos going to work in Kuwait is now permanent, intensifying a diplomatic standoff over the treatment of migrant workers.
Duterte in February prohibited workers heading to Kuwait following the murder of a Filipina maid whose body was found stuffed in her employer’s freezer.
The resulting row deepened after Kuwaiti authorities last week ordered Manila’s envoy to leave the country over videos of Philippine embassy staff helping workers in Kuwait flee allegedly abusive employers.
The two nations had been negotiating a labour deal that Philippine officials said could result in the lifting of the temporary ban but the recent escalation in tensions has put an agreement in doubt.
“The ban stays permanently. There will be no more recruitment for especially domestic helpers. No more,” Duterte told reporters in his hometown in the southern city of Davao. Around 262,000 Filipinos work in Kuwait, nearly 60 percent of them domestic workers, according to the Philippines’ foreign ministry.
Last week the Philippines apologised over the rescue videos but Kuwaiti officials announced they were expelling Manila’s ambassador and recalling their own envoy from the Southeast Asian nation. Kuwait also detained four Filipinos hired by the Philippine embassy and issued arrest warrants against three diplomatic personnel, Manila said.
On Sunday Kuwaiti authorities were meeting regarding the row and the foreign ministry was due to comment later in the day on Duterte’s statement. The Philippines’ ambassador Renato Pedro Villa told AFP on Saturday he will leave Kuwait on Wednesday, adding that he refused to comply with Kuwaiti demands for the names of staffers suspected of being involved in the rescues. Duterte on Sunday described the treatment of workers in Kuwait as a “calamity”.
He said he would bring home Filipina maids who suffered abuse as he appealed to workers who wanted to stay in Kuwait. “I would like to address to their patriotism: come home. No matter how poor we are, we will survive.
The economy is doing good and we are short of our workers,” he said. About 10 million Filipinos work abroad, seeking highpaying jobs they are unable to find at home, and their remittances are a major pillar of the Philippine economy.
The Philippine government has for decades hailed overseas workers as modern heroes but advocacy groups have highlighted the social cost of migration, tearing families apart and making Filipinos vulnerable to abuse.
Duterte lashed out at Kuwait in February, alleging Arab employers routinely rape Filipina workers, force them to work 21 hours a day and feed them scraps. However after the latest row, Duterte used a conciliatory tone as he addressed the “diplomatic ruckus” on Saturday. “Apparently it seems as if they have anger against Filipinos … I do not want to send (workers) because apparently you do not like Filipinos,” he said in a speech before Filipinos in Singapore.
“Just do not hurt them. I plead that they’d be given a treatment deserving of a human being,” he said in the same event. Duterte said workers returning from Kuwait could find employment as English teachers in China, citing improved ties with Beijing.
Describing China as a “true friend”, he said he would use Chinese aid to fund the workers’ repatriation. Duterte added he was not after “vengeance”. “I’d address myself to the Kuwait government and the people: Thank you for helping my countrymen all these years. It is a debt of gratitude that after all you were able to help. So I have no anger, no hatred,” he said.
Kuwait, meanwhile, says it rejects any breach against its sovereignty or laws and would act decisively against any relevant attempt, Deputy Foreign Minister Khaled Al-Jarallah affirmed Sunday, in reference to a diplomatic quarrel with Manila.
Al-Jarallah, reacting to remarks by the President of Philippines this morning, said Kuwait was ready to cooperate with Manila to explore all means to address labor issues including 800 Filipino citizens who are currently in shelter centers.
Kuwait is keen on maintaining safety and rights of all expatriates including the Filipino community, within the labor laws of the country, which have been praised by international human rights agencies, he said. Al-Jarallah appreciated the contributions of the Filipino community who are working in different sectors. Al-Jarallah said Kuwait shared the President of Philippines’ desire to maintain deeply-rooted relations, citing Manila’s support of Kuwait during the 1990-91 Iraqi invasion.
He said “the historic friendship” between the two countries “could help overcome this exceptional circumstance.” Al-Jarallah said Kuwait was looking forward to working with the Philippines to honoring mutual interest.
Despite the diplomatic spat between the Philippines and Kuwait, Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III sees no permanent deployment ban of Filipino workers to Kuwait, according to cnnphilippines.com. “The President never mentioned that the deployment ban has become permanent. That is not true. He never said that. What the President said is that the Philippines and Kuwait are good friends and are allies and he does not want the presence of our OFWs (overseas Filipino workers) there to cause an irritant in that relationship.” Duterte announced early Sunday the moratorium on sending Filipinos to Kuwait had become permanent.
The ban was first issued in February, after authorities found the body of Filipina maid Joanna Demafelis stuffed inside a freezer. The Labor Secretary said the lifting of the deployment ban hinges on the signing of the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between Philippines and Kuwait, and on the outcome of the Demafelis case.
The Labor official added he will be meeting with Kuwaiti officials on May 7 to discuss the MoU. He will be accompanied by Foreign Affairs officials and Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque. The two countries are expected to proceed with the signing of a memorandum of agreement (MOA) on greater protection for Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) said a ranking Filipino labor official, according to philstar.com. “They (Kuwaiti government) could have also stated specifically the talks on the MOA are off but there is no such thing. Or there’s no such thing to that effect,” added Labor Undersecretary Jacinto Paras at a press briefing.
Kuwait has expelled Philippine Ambassador Renato Villa and recalled its own envoy in Manila over the clandestine rescue of abused OFWs in the Arab state. For Paras, this development is “normal” and that it usually happens in an “international stage where an ambassador or an officer of the diplomatic corps of a country will be considered persona non grata.” “But that does not amount to the severance of relationship between two countries. So I’m positive that Kuwait and the Philippines’ relationship will continue,” he pointed out.
However, he emphasized the rescue of the abused OFWs was necessary because the amnesty extended by the Kuwaiti government to foreign workers had already expired and there will be police crackdown upon the expiration of the amnesty. The police will start apprehending our workers with expired visa and those who have gotten away from their employers because of maltreatment,” he said.
The Philippine government, he added, just wanted to make sure the OFWs were taken to shelters and not rounded up by police. “Our officers in Kuwait are duty bound to help our workers who have gone astray. Why would we allow them to be put in jail if we can help them?” he asked. Paras explained many of the over 830 OFWs housed in two shelters are facing fake charges usually for resisting their employers’ sexual advances.
He said the Philippine government is always ready to defend OFWs facing cases in court but will turn over those covered by warrants of arrest. In the meantime, leaders of the House of Representatives have given their nod to Duterte to permanently ban the deployment of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) to Kuwait, according to news.mb.com.
Deputy Speaker and Batangas Rep Raneo Abu said President Duterte, being the chief architect of foreign policy, knows what is best for his countrymen. “We support the decision of President Duterte to permanently ban the deployment of Filipino workers in Kuwait. The welfare of our countrymen should always come first,” Abu said. “Abuse, maltreatment and violence have no place in the workplaces of OFWs,” he added.
Isabela Rep Rodolfo (Rodito) Albano III, who is part of the House contingent to the powerful Commission on Appointments (CA), said the Kuwaiti government should first assure that measures on “adequate protection and assistance” are in place before pursuing the memorandum of understanding (MoU) between the Philippines and Kuwait. Surigao del Norte Rep.
Robert Ace Barbers, chairman of the House Committee on Dangerous Drugs, and Quezon City Rep. Winston Castelo, chairman of the House Committee on Metro Manila Development, also agreed with the President’s decision.
“President Duterte was just implementing one of the pillars of the country’s foreign policy which is to ensure the protection of OFWs,” Barbers said. However, one of the Philippines senators has criticized Duterte for calling on over 260,000 overseas Filipino workers in Kuwait to return home, saying that he was gambling with their lives and warned there was no job stability for them in the country.
“It is extremely reckless, shortsighted and uncaring,” Senator Risa Hontiveros said on Sunday, hours after the president’s speech in Singapore in which he told his fellow countrymen to come home as the crisis with Kuwait deepened. The senator said that it was ironic for the President to call on the 260,000 workers in Kuwait to return home when Duterte could not even sign the Executive Order that addresses the concerns of workers in the country.
“Are we even talking about the same Philippines? President Duterte is promising our OFWs jobs back in our country when he can’t even sign an Executive Order (EO) to address labor contractualization and protect the workers’ security of tenure. His administration doesn’t even have an alternative economic strategy to the country’s labor export policy,” the senator said.
“Like any Filipino, I dream of the day that our kababayan will not go abroad just to earn a decent living. I want them to come home and end the Filipino diaspora. But I want them to return to a Philippines where regular and decent jobs abound, where their children can pursue their dreams and where peace not death reigns in our communities. Sadly, this is not the Philippines under President Duterte,” she added, quoted by the daily. “I appeal to the President to think this through. This is not the time for cavalier diplomacy. I urge him to conduct extensive foreign policy and labor dialogues and consultations with his Cabinet, the Legislature, foreign affairs experts, labor groups and other stakeholders to find a truly diplomatic and sustainable solution to this crisis,” Hontiveros said.