MANILA, May 7, (Agencies): The Philippines presidential palace Malacañang has deferred to the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) to handle “diplomatic initiatives” related to Kuwait as the proposed high-level official visit to Kuwait appeared to be on hold, says news.mb.com.ph.
Presidential spokesman Harry Roque during a press briefing at the Malacañang told reporters, “We defer all diplomatic initiatives to the DFA,” when asked about the status of the planned trip of a Philippine team to Kuwait which was to happen this week.
Roque said Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III and some Cabinet members were set to travel to Kuwait on May 7 to mend ties following a diplomatic conflict over the rescue of distressed workers in the Gulf state by embassy personnel. He said, “None, there’s no such trip … We defer on all diplomatic initiatives to the DFA,” he added.
However, he went on to say, if the trip pushes through, it would be an assessment mission to reach out to the Kuwaiti side and explore how to move forward with the ties. In Kuwait, Assistant Foreign Minister for the Deputy Premier and Foreign Minister’s Office Ambassador Sheikh Dr Ahmad Nasser Al-Mohammad Al- Sabah on Monday met visiting former Philippine minister of information and senator Francisco Tatad. During the meeting with Tatad, who is a writer with Manila Times newspaper, the Kuwaiti official lauded Kuwaiti-Philippine relations as “firm, historical and close”.
He said Kuwait looks forward to promoting bilateral cooperation, and developing friendly relations to broader prospects in all fields. In the meantime, the DFA is still in the process of what it called ‘vetting’ a replacement for former Ambassador to Kuwait Renato Villa who was expelled after a video footage showing the rescue of a Filipino domestic helper went viral on social media.
According to Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano, the entire process of selecting a new envoy to replace will take several months, since it needs confirmation by Congress which will resume its regular session next month. He told reporters, even if the confirmation falls through, “It takes a couple of months for the whole process.”
Villa is the first Filipino career diplomat to be declared “persona non grata” by a foreign country. Pending the appointment of a new Philippine envoy, Cayetano said the consul general assigned in Kuwait is now the highest Filipino diplomat functioning at the embassy. “Our consul general there is doing very, very well. He has good rapport with his counterparts and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is helping very much,” he said.
It has been reported some of those who took part in the rescue are not accredited diplomats with the Kuwait government. Aside from the expulsion of Villa, four Filipino individuals, including a driver hired by the Embassy, ware arrested by authorities and charged with kidnapping.
Meanwhile, panaynews.net quoting Rep Aniceto Bertiz III of ACTS-OFW called the proposed Memorandum of Agreement (MoA) with Kuwait on the protection of Filipino workers in Kuwait ‘toothless’. According to him, the MoA does not guarantee the fulfillment of terms set forth by President Rodrigo Duterte himself, he said.
The MoA does not spell out enforcement mechanisms, such as labor inspections, and fails to specify penalties on employers who abuse Fiilipino workers, he added. “It is basically a vague promise,” Bertiz said. “Without the means of enforcement or coercion, we cannot expect reasonable compliance by Kuwaiti employers.” Even with this MoA, Filipino workers in Kuwait would still be at “greater risk” of being maltreated and exploited, he claimed. Moreover, Bertiz said, the MoA does not indicate the minimum seven hours of sleep demanded by the president.
“The draft also states that the employer is supposed to provide the worker with food but does not specify how many times a day,” he added. “It also does not give the worker the option to cook own food, as demanded by the president.” Bertiz has called on the Kuwaiti government to stop punishing OFWs who escape from their abusive employers. “Right now a domestic worker who flees from a cruel employer automatically faces absconding charges under Kuwait law and is subject to arbitrary detention and imprisonment,” he said.