FOREIGN Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano apologized Tuesday after videos emerged of embassy staff helping Filipinos flee from allegedly abusive employers in Kuwait.
Kuwait had branded the rescues a violation of its sovereignty, adding fuel to a simmering diplomatic row between the two nations sparked by the murder of a Filipino maid.
The first of two clips, which spread on social media after being released by the Department of Foreign Affairs last week, shows a woman running from a home and jumping into a waiting vehicle.
Another depicts a person sprinting from what looks like a construction site and then speeding off in a black sport utility vehicle.
“I apologize to my counterpart and we apologize to the Kuwaiti government, the Kuwaiti people and the leaders of Kuwait if they were offended by some actions taken by the Philippine Embassy in Kuwait,” Cayetano told reporters in Manila.
Three Filipinos who drove vans for the embassy in the operations were believed to be held by Kuwaiti authorities.
Cayetano added a formal apology letter was being sent to Kuwait, a day after President Rodrigo Duterte met with the Kuwaiti ambassador Saleh Ahmad Althwaikh over the issue.
Kuwait was furious after the videos emerged, saying the rescues were a violation of its sovereignty and “can harm relations between the two countries.”
Cayetano said the Philippine Embassy staff were responding to complaints of abuse from some of the 260,000 Filipinos working in Kuwait.
“This was all done in the spirit of emergency action to protect Filipinos,” he said, stating that the embassy staff believed they were dealing with “life-or-death” situations.
Some 10-million Filipinos work abroad and the money they remit back is a lifeline of the Philippine economy.
This controversy follows the ban Duterte imposed in February on Filipino workers moving to Kuwait, after the discovery of the corpse of Filipino maid Joanna Demafelis in a freezer.
Duterte alleged that Arab employers routinely rape their Filipina workers, force them to work 21 hours a day and feed them scraps.
The two countries have since been trying to work out an agreement to protect the rights of Filipino workers in Kuwait, particularly the 170,000 who work as maids.
Cayetano said embassy workers had been carrying out “rescues” of abused Filipinos, adding that this was mostly done in cooperation with Kuwaiti police but in some cases staff acted alone due to urgency.
Cayetano said the two countries still hoped to complete the labor agreement by May. Duterte previously said he will visit Kuwait to witness the signing of the accord.
Presidential Spokesman Harry Roque said the two countries could sign a memorandum of understanding in the last week of June or after the Ramadan, Islam’s holy month.
“We can’t deny we have to provide employment for our countrymen. But I think the Kuwait side also has recognized that they also need the services of our countrymen. So it is in that… sense of mutual need for each other that we negotiated that MOU,” he said
He also said that the meeting between President Duterte and Kuwaiti Ambassador Musaed Saleh Ahmad Althwaikh was fruitful as it resolved issues concerning the welfare of Filipino workers in the Gulf state.
The meeting was also attended by Cayetano, Environment Secretary Roy Cimatu, and Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello.
Among the issues discussed, Roque cited, were the protest notes served by the Kuwaiti government on the Philippine Ambassador over the rescue of distressed Filipino workers in their country.
Roque said that both parties underscored that while the Philippines continues to exercise its obligation to protect its nationals abroad, it would do so in a manner that would respect Kuwait’s sovereignty.
He said the Kuwaiti ambassador agreed to protect Filipino workers from abuses, which is the responsibility of the host country.
“It was a frank but very cordial discussion. And I understand that after the meeting, both parties reiterated their mutual support for each other and parted even closer as friends,” Roque said.
Roque assured the public that the President remains firm in his commitment to protect Filipino migrant workers from any form of abuse.
Roque said the President summoned ambassador to Kuwait Renato Villa to explain the action of the consular staff but declined to provide further details.
Roque also urged the public to be more responsible about posting videos that could hurt Filipinos working abroad.
“I call on everyone, including the media, please remember our responsibilities. Sometimes, what we will broadcast may affect many of our nationals living abroad,” Roque said.
Roque’s call seemed off, however, since the videos that angered the Kuwaiti government were posted by the Department of Foreign Affairs and shared by pro-Duterte bloggers. With AFP
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