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Philippines apologises over rescues – Villa to remain head of mission

Ambassador Renato Pedro O. Villa

KUWAIT CITY, April 24: Philippine Ambassador to Kuwait Renato Pedro Villa on Tuesday issued an apology to Kuwait for the controversial rescue of Filipino household service workers from their employers’ homes which the Kuwaiti government viewed as a violation of its sovereignty.

Villa, in a press briefing at the Philippine Embassy in Kuwait, explained that it was not the intention of the Philippines to offend the Kuwaiti government and its people. His statement echoed the Philippine government’s apology to Kuwait earlier Tuesday, where Philippines Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano assured that they will follow Kuwait’s laws. “I apologize to my counterpart and to the Kuwaiti government, leadership and people if they were offended by some action taken by the Philippines Embassy in Kuwait”, the Secretary Cayetano was quoted as saying by the CNN picked up here on Tuesday. “But we have explained to their (Kuwait) ambassador and the ambassador accepted this explanation but of course we will send it to our counterpart.

“This was done in the spirit of emergency action to protect Filipinos so what will be done to prevent this from happening in the future, the Kuwaiti side has committed to the protection and welfare of Filipinos and put in mechanism cooperation and collaboration so that we ensure that anyone who asks for help will be immediately assisted and those with cases will be assisted,” he added.

On the other side, the Philippines side has assured the Kuwaiti counterpart that “we will follow their laws and of course we will respect Kuwaiti sovereignty and dignity by acting according to bonds of international law.” He also spoke about strengthening the 24/7 hotline for protecting his country’s citizens. Kuwait has taken effective measures in response to the “incendiary remarks” made by the Filipino ambassador to the Gulf State, Foreign Minister Sheikh Sabah Khaled Al-Hamad Al- Sabah said on Monday.

“I join the Secretary of Foreign Affairs in extending this apology. I would like to take this opportunity to underscore that it was never the intention of the Embassy to offend the sensitivities of the Kuwaiti government and the Kuwaiti people. It was also never the intention of the embassy to violate the sovereignty and internal processes of the State of Kuwait in the few occasions that we were compelled to respond to the urgent calls for assistance from our people,” he said.

Villa came under fire after a video went viral over the weekend and news came out allegedly saying that the embassy did not need the aid of Kuwaiti authorities in helping distressed Filipino workers. The video which also shows embassy officials rescuing distressed Filipino household service workers from Kuwaiti homes prompted the Kuwait Ministry of Foreign Affairs to summon Villa twice and lodge two diplomatic protests.

Facing the media, Villa also appealed to Kuwait for understanding of the Philippine government’s duty to respond to calls for assistance from overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) experiencing abuse.

He also thanked Kuwait for its hospitality to Filipino workers and for extending the amnesty program for the repatriation of Filipino workers.

“On behalf of my government, I would like to express the deep appreciation of the Republic of the Philippines for the hospitality extended by the government of the State of Kuwait to the more than 250,000 Filipinos who have made Kuwait their second home,” he said.

The Philippines and Kuwait are finalizing a Memorandum of Understanding on the Protection and Deployment of Filipino Household Workers to Kuwait. Talks began following a string of reported abuse and deaths of OFWs, including Joanna Demafelis, whose body was found in a freezer in Kuwait in February.

The incident prompted the Philippine government to ban the deployment of Filipino workers to Kuwait and initiate a repatriation program for those who would like to come home. The second round of joint bilateral talks is expected to be held in May before the Holy Month of the Ramadan and the signing of the Memorandum of Understanding after the Ramadan, sometime in June.

Measures agreed
During the press briefing, Villa also welcomed the outcome of the meeting between Cayetano and Kuwait Ambassador to the Philippines Saleh Ahmad Althwaikh where they agreed on measures that could be taken to avoid future misunderstanding such as: to strengthen the Kuwaiti government’s 24/7 hotline to immediately respond to urgent requests for assistance by Filipino nationals in coordination with the Philippine Embassy; to jointly establish additional centres or shelters, if needed for distressed Filipino workers; to jointly formulate mechanisms to ensure better and efficient coordination between the Philippine Embassy and Kuwaiti authorities in responding to any emergency case involving Filipino nationals; to ensure immediate action by Kuwaiti authorities on pending requests for assistance from distressed Filipino workers; to facilitate the repatriation of more than 800 Filipinos currently staying in the Philippine Embassy shelters; and to assure proper and humane treatment of Filipinos who may be taken into custody after the April 22 amnesty deadline and to repatriate them immediately with the assistance of the Philippine Embassy. Villa brushed off the news on some Arabic dailies on Tuesday that he will be recalled to the home office.

“I look forward to continue working with the Kuwaiti government in addressing matters of mutual concern and in further strengthening the ties that bind our countries and our people,” concluded the Ambassador. Reduction possible Kuwait Deputy Foreign Minister Khaled Al-Jarallah said Monday reducing number of Filipino diplomats in Kuwait was “possible” following “violations and statements” by the officials in the Philippines.

However, Al-Jarallah ruled out relations between the two countries would be severed. “The standoff with the Philippines is fabricated and the officials in Manila are the ones who started this current standoff,” Al-Jarallah told the final session of the Arab Media Forum. “There are a large number of Filipinos who have been living in peace for years in this country (Kuwait), so it is quite strange this issue develops so fast,” he added. Al-Jarallah said the ministry asked the Ambassador of the Philippines to hand over the embassy staff who have helped Filipino domestic workers to escape from their sponsors’ homes.

The ultimatum given to the ambassador, he added, expires tomorrow. “There will be a decisive and direct response on the embassy’s action if this issue continues to be unsolved,” he said. He said the Ministry of interior arrested four people involved in helping the domestic workers escape from their employers.

No heads rolling
Heads are unlikely to roll yet over the controversy generated by the rescue of distressed Overseas Filipino Workers (OWFs) in Kuwait, sources said on Tuesday, according to globalnation. inquirer.net.

Among those who wanted Villa sacked was Muntinlupa City Rep Ruffy Biazon, who described the rescue operation as poorly planned and irresponsible. “The perception that this is a publicity stunt under the cover of a rescue mission comes from the fact that immediately after the rescue, a video of the covert operation obviously taken by the raiding team itself was posted on social media for maximum publicity effect,” Biazon said in a statement. “Not only does that go against the nature of a covert operation, it also seemed to be a slap on the face of the host country, showing the impunity that the raiding team displayed within its territory,” he added, and asked Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano to recall Villa and other Embassy officials behind the controversial rescue.

But one of the sources, who requested anonymity for lack of authority to speak on the matter, said during Monday night’s meeting here, President Duterte listened intently at the explanation provided by Cayetano and “appeared to have accepted that the rescue was necessary because lives are in danger.”

Another source who was asked if Duterte would be sacking anyone over the controversial rescue said there was no such decision. “Not yet,” the source added. Asked to clarify if Duterte would soon be sacking officials involved in the rescue mission, the second source said “there was no such thing discussed” during the meeting. But the second source said Duterte and Cayetano were still talking when he left the meeting place at the Presidential Guest House in Davao City. In a related development, MP Mubarak Al-Hajraf has called on the Kuwaiti Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Sheikh Sabah Al- Khalid Al-Hamad Al-Sabah on the issue of domestic workers.

Pressure tactics
He referred to the media reports which talk about money laundering, commissions and commercial contracts between officials in the State of Kuwait and specifically the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and some institutions in the Philippines on the issue of ‘pressure tactics’ which has made big headlines recently.

Al-Hajraf explained the move to protect the sovereignty of Kuwait cannot be reduced by protecting its territory and use of armies, but to consider tampering with the security of the country and its reputation is no less important than any other role.

He stressed, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is the political gateway when it comes to its diplomatic role. He stressed the measures which the Foreign Ministry claimed it had taken recently through the Undersecretary of the Ministry is insufficient and unclear and does not rise to the expected level. He called Sheikh Sabah Al-Khalid Al-Hamad Al-Sabah, the Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister to be true to his political responsibilities and launch a two-pronged investigation.

The first about the facts and rumors about money laundering and commissions and the second and the most important issue is the appropriate response to the measures taken by the Philippines towards Kuwait and the need to respond in a manner appropriate to the diplomatic and sovereign Customs.

By Michelle Fe Santiago Arab Times Staff and Agencies

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