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Duterte asks Filipinos to come home – “I now appeal to your sense of patriotism. Come home,”

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Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte

KUWAIT CITY, April 28, (Agencies): “I now appeal to your sense of patriotism. Come home,” says the President of the Philippines Rodrigo Duterte in a speech he gave on Saturday, April 28 in Singapore, addressing the Filipino expatriates in Kuwait, estimated to be about 260,000, and appealing to them to return to the Philippines.

According to a report published in philippineslifestyle.com, the president’s call comes amid rising tensions between Kuwait and the Philippines over the rescue of abused Filipina housemaids, which angered the government of Kuwait.

This was part of his first public speech concerning the issue after the Kuwaiti government expelled the Ambassador of the Philippines to Kuwait Renato Villa and arrested a number of embassy staff.

Citing widespread allegations that domestic workers are mistreated in Kuwait, the president announced his intention to pull Filipino workers out of the country.

He recently banned the deployment of Filipino workers to Kuwait and started repatriating those wishing to return to the Philippines following abuses and deaths of Filipino citizens in Kuwait. Among the most high-profile incidents was the case of domestic worker Joanna Demafelis whose body was found in a freezer after she was tortured and murdered by her employers.

The couple has now been sentenced to death for murdering Demafelis. Her death had angered the president, and he, in response, said he was willing to take “drastic steps” to ensure no other Filipino worker will end up dead in Kuwait or any other Arab nation.

Also, Secretary of Foreign Affairs in the Philippines Alan Peter Cayetano revealed about ongoing talks between Kuwait and the Philippines in this regard, but affirmed that the embassy’s move to rescue distressed Filipino workers was a “rightful exercise” of the government’s duty to protect its citizens overseas.

He apologized for the incident, which was viewed by Kuwait as a violation of its sovereignty, and assured Kuwait that the Filipino officials would “follow their laws”.

Earlier, Labor Secretary of the Philippines Silvestre Bello III said he was surprised by Kuwait’s decision to expel the Filipino Ambassador Villa following the release of a video showing embassy officials rescuing a distressed Filipina housemaid, clarifying that the video went viral on social media and caught the attention of Kuwaiti authorities.

According to a report published in gmanetwork.com, Senator Francis Panginan Friday insisted that the Filipino officials who are responsible for the controversial rescue operation of distressed Overseas Filipino Workers (OFW) in Kuwait must be sacked as a way of resolving the disagreement between the Philippines and Kuwait over this issue.

Tensions between the two countries had escalated after Kuwait expelled Ambassador of the Philippines Renato Villa days after it expressed disapproval of the embassy’s move to conduct a series of rescue operations of Filipina housemaids who were allegedly abused by their employers.

Kuwait said the embassy’s actions were in violation of not only its sovereignty but also the international laws.

In this regard, Senator Panginan stressed the need for a dialogue between officials in the Philippines and top-level Kuwaiti officials to “diffuse the tension” between the two countries.

He said, “Fire those who were behind the rescue attempt and all those who gave bad advice to the president. Have direct talks with the head of Kuwaiti government to diffuse the tension and address the deteriorating situation”.

However, Secretary Foreign Affairs Alan Peter Cayetano earlier said the rescue mission was coordinated with Kuwaiti authorities. Meanwhile, other senators expressed hope that the rift between the Philippines and Kuwait would be resolved soon for the sake of the OFWs in Kuwait.

Senate President Aquilino Pimentel III agreed with Pangilinan by saying high-level visits should be conducted “to show we consider our bilateral relationship with Kuwait as important.” Senator Joel Villanueva said he remains hopeful that both countries can arrive at a mutually beneficial and fair agreement at the earliest. He told GMA News Online, “It is crystal clear that our main concern is the protection of our OFWs”.

Senator Nancy Binay said she is saddened by the fact that the rescue operation in Kuwait has affected the government’s efforts to come up with a memorandum of understanding with the Kuwaiti government for protecting OFWs.

She urged Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) and Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) to place necessary measures to avoid repetition of such incidents and exacerbation of the issue to avoid putting Filipino expatriates in Kuwait in jeopardy. Kuwait, meanwhile, has expressed surprise at the media circulation by the Philippine side of a memo related to a recent meeting between the Kuwaiti ambassador in Manila and the Philippine foreign minister, Deputy Foreign Minister Khaled Al-Jarallah said.

The Kuwaiti Foreign Ministry took note of its Philippine counterpart’s memo, published by Philippine media, on the meeting, Al-Jarallah said in a press statement. The State of Kuwait, represented by its foreign ministry, has tackled recently strained relations between both sides in patience and wisdom through diplomatic channels, he said.

Kuwaiti measures, the last of which was declaring the Philippine ambassador persona non-grata, came after the diplomat had received two memos of protest, which included a request for handing over those involved in acts that undermine Kuwait’s sovereignty, and are deemed interference in its internal affairs and even violate relevant international agreements and treaties, especially Article 41 of Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, he added.

Al-Jarallah reiterated Kuwait’s rejection to any bid to undermine its sovereignty or to interfere in its internal affairs, vowing decisive response in this regard. Laws applied in the State of Kuwait, where 3.1 million residents from 195 different nationalities live, ensure their rights and safeguard their security, dignity and freedom thanks to the country’s fair and independent judiciary, he claimed.

The deputy foreign minister pointed to Kuwait’s willingness to sign a labor agreement with the Philippines, which was recently initialed by both sides in Manila, reflecting Kuwait’s keenness on maintaining friendly relations and joint interests.

In response to 10 points mentioned in a memo from the Philippines Foreign Ministry, Al-Jarallah said Kuwait has put in place a 24-hour emergency hotline, which responds to distress calls “immediately and effectively.” Phone calls made to the hotline, managed by the Ministry of Interior, and subsequent measures, are regularly monitored in order to ensure its efficiency, he underlined.

Kuwait has also created a state-of-theart shelter for domestic helpers, providing services and assistance to those facing problems with their sponsors, such as the right to accommodation, food, security and liberties. On this aspect, Kuwait is unique in that it is the only country to have formed a centre of this nature, said the deputy foreign minister, mentioning that the facility has hosted several global human rights monitor visits. He also said that “relevant Kuwaiti bodies were keen on cooperating with the Filipino Embassy in providing assistance related to the impending applications of Filipino labour facing difficulties.”

In regards to the repatriation of 800 Filipino citizens currently residing at this centre, he said the Kuwaiti government has granted them and other expatriates full amnesty for any financial obligations they may have incurred in regards to overstaying or residency law violations. The government also took steps to ease their travel, providing them with a Jan 22 deadline, which was extended twice for one month and another two months, in response to calls from the Filipino government — with the new deadline set at April 22 of this year.

“This highlights, without a doubt, the extent of cooperation and appreciation Kuwait extends in regards to its relationship with Republic of the Philippines, and its keenness on cooperating with the Filipino Embassy on agreeing to arrangements that enable their (Filipino citizens) repatriation,” he added. In relation to ensuring justice is served on lawsuits from Filipino citizens, he said Kuwait has a fair and independent justice system that is renowned for its transparency and ensuring the rights and legal protection of all nationals and expatriates living in the country.

Furthermore, on the matter of ensuring the peaceful and humane treatment of Filipinos, who have been held in detention post-deadline day, he said Kuwait attains an unblemished record of human rights, hailed by relevant international agencies. As for freeing Filipinos used by the Philippine embassy and who did some acts that breached Kuwait’s sovereignty and laws, and whose practices reflected interference in Kuwait’s internal affairs, he said they are now being investigated and Kuwaiti authorities allowed their embassy’s staff to visit them.

Regarding allowing the Philippine foreign ministry’s diplomats, who are in Kuwait now but not accredited as part of the embassy’s staff in the country, to return to Manila, the State of Kuwait requests the Philippines to hand them over for investigations. Al-Jarallah concluded by reaffirming the accuracy, commitment and efficiency of the Kuwaiti ambassador in Manila, noting that he has honored his commitments made during the meeting with the Philippine foreign minister.

In the midst of war of words and diplomatic row between the governments of Kuwait and the Philippines which resulted in the expulsion of the Philippines Ambassador to Kuwait after declaring him persona non grata, the RINJ Foundation, a human rights organization based in Canada has issued a stronglyworded statement calling for UN sanctions against Kuwait in response to what it claimed systematic violations against Filipino workers in Kuwait, reports Al- Rai daily.

The RINJ Foundation based in Toronto works in favor of migrants and refugees around the world and has regional branches around the world, including a branch of the South-East Asia region in the Philippines which gathers and compiles detailed information on parties suspected of committing or being responsible for acts of rape or other forms of sexual violence. “We have asked the UN General Assembly to discuss this urgent concern over the death of Joanna Demafelis in Kuwait,” the RINJ statement said. Meanwhile, the Catholic Bishops Conference has called on both parties to let diplomacy prevail.

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