PHILIPPINES DEMANDS EXPLANATION ON ENVOY EXPULSION
MANILA, April 26, (Agencies): A dispute between Kuwait and the Philippines over reports of abuse of Philippine workers took a turn for the worse on Thursday with the Philippines expressing “great displeasure” about Kuwait’s expulsion of its ambassador.
The conflict has been simmering for three months, sparked by reports that several Filipino domestic workers had been driven to suicide by abuse at the hands of Kuwaiti employers.
The two countries have been working on a pact to protect expatriate workers after the Philippines banned its workers from going to Kuwait.
But on Wednesday, Kuwait ordered the Philippine ambassador to leave within a week and recalled its own envoy for consultations after the Philippine foreign secretary said the embassy was forced to “assist” Filipino workers who sought help as some situations were a matter of life and death.
The Philippine foreign ministry on Thursday summoned the Kuwaiti ambassador to demand an explanation for Kuwait’s action but was told the envoy, Musaed Saleh Ahmad Althwaikh, had left the country late on Wednesday.
“The department served a diplomatic note to the Embassy of Kuwait conveying its strong surprise and great displeasure over the declaration of Ambassador Renato Pedro Villa as persona non grata,” the ministry said in a statement.
“These acts are inconsistent with the assurances and representations made by the Kuwaiti ambassador on the various concerns that were brought to his attention.” Officials at Kuwait’s embassy in Manila were not available for comment.
Philippine Foreign Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano said Manila would suspend talks on the labour pact until Kuwait clarifies its actions. “Now this is happening, why would I recommend that we sign the memorandum and lifting of the ban? (We were) hoping this will be clarified,” Cayetano told reporters in Singapore, where he is attending a regional summit.
“We’re still optimistic, we’re hoping for the best but also preparing for the worst,” he said late Thursday, adding there are around 262,000 Filipinos in Kuwait, nearly 60 percent of them domestic workers.
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s spokesman Harry Roque said he hoped bilateral ties would not worsen further. Tensions rose earlier this year following the murder of maid Joanna Demafelis, prompting Duterte to ban Filipina workers from deploying to Kuwait for work.
Duterte had alleged that Arab employers routinely rape their Filipina workers, force them to work 21 hours a day and feed them scraps. 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 252,000 Filipinos working in the Gulf nation.
Domestic helpers account for more than 65 percent of the more than 260,000 Filipinos in Kuwait, according to the Philippine foreign secretary.
In February, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte imposed a ban on Filipinos going to Kuwait to work and called on workers already there to return home after the discovery of a domestic worker’s body in a freezer in an abandoned home.
The Philippines says it has protested about the detention of four of its nationals who were hired by its embassy in Kuwait to help with the “rescue” operation last Saturday, and the issue of arrest warrants against three diplomatic personnel. Kuwait has not commented on that publicly.
Foreign workers in many Gulf states are employed under a sponsorship system that gives employers the right to keep their passports and exercise full control over their stay.
Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have long complained that Gulf states do not properly regulate working conditions for low-income domestic workers and laborers. Manila demanded an explanation Thursday after its ambassador to Kuwait was expelled, shocking Philippine authorities and deepening a diplomatic row over the treatment of domestic workers in the Gulf 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 apologised, but Kuwaiti officials announced Wednesday they were expelling ambassador Renato Villa and recalling their own envoy from Manila.
“The department (foreign ministry) served a diplomatic note to the Embassy of Kuwait conveying its strong surprise and great displeasure over the declaration of Ambassador Renato Pedro Villa as persona non grata,” the ministry said in a statement. In the note, Cayetano also demanded the Kuwaiti government explain “the continued detention of four Filipinos hired by the Philippine embassy and the issuance of arrest warrants against three diplomatic personnel”.
Manila has said its embassy hired three of the detained Filipinos for the rescues. 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.
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, Duterte’s spokesman Roque said. Some 10 million Filipinos work abroad and the money they send home is critical to the Philippine economy.