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Manila, Kuwait create opening to solve crisis

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THE Palace on Monday dialed back on President Rodrigo Duterte’s statement that the deployment ban to Kuwait was permanent, saying it still could be lifted if the Gulf state signs an agreement on minimum conditions for the welfare of Filipino workers there.

In a press briefing, Presidential Spokesman Harry Roque said that what the President meant was that the ban would remain as long as the memorandum of understanding between the Philippines and Kuwait remains unsigned.

Roque said newspaper reports were misleading—even though most quoted the President’s exact words.

Roque also said the President’s call for Filipino workers in the Gulf state to return to the Philippines was not mandatory—even though none of the reports of Duterte’s speech said it was.

“This is voluntary. He is not compelling anyone to come home,” Roque said.

He said the President might use the more than P4 billion in assistance from China—originally earmarked for infrastructure projects—to pay for the airfare of Filipinos who want to fly home.

China has said the Philippine government can use the money for whatever purpose that would benefit the country and the Filipino people, he said.

A senior Kuwaiti official on Monday sought to calm a crisis with the Philippines over the treatment of domestic workers in the oil-rich Gulf state.

Duterte in February prohibited workers heading to Kuwait following the murder of a Filipino maid whose body was found stuffed in her employer’s freezer.

The resulting row deepened after Kuwaiti authorities last week ordered Manila’s envoy to leave the country over videos of Philippine Embassy staff helping workers in Kuwait flee allegedly abusive employers.

“This is largely a misunderstanding and exaggeration of some minor or one-off cases,” Deputy Foreign Minister Nasser al-Subaih told reporters in Kuwait City.

“We have taken a serious stance … but we do not believe in escalation and want to remain in direct communication to resolve the problem,” Subaih added. 

Kuwait has also detained four Filipinos hired by the Philippine Embassy and issued arrest warrants against three diplomatic personnel.

HOME FROM THE RANGE. Filipina workers returning home from Kuwait arrive at the Manila airport in this file photo taken on Feb. 18, 2018. After a horrific murder of a Philippine maid in Kuwait, hundreds of such women are now streaming back home, recounting their abuse and hardship tales—but saying they are ready to work abroad again but not in Kuwait. AFP

Subaih said those suspected of participating in the operation to help workers escape were not accredited diplomats and that they were now holed up in the Philippines’ embassy in Manila.

The foreign ministry was “awaiting cooperation” for their handover to carry out an investigation.

The two nations had earlier been negotiating a labor deal that could have resulted in the lifting of the ban on Filipinos working in Kuwait.

But after the fresh escalation in tensions, Duterte said on Sunday that the temporary ban on Filipinos going to work in Kuwait was now permanent.

Around 262,000 Filipinos work in Kuwait, nearly 60 percent of them domestic workers, according to the Philippines’ foreign ministry. 

Duterte said workers returning from Kuwait could find employment as English teachers in China, citing improved ties with Beijing.

A Foreign Affairs insider said Monday Kuwait is determined to jail embassy personnel and diplomats who helped in the rescues.

“It’s possible that the number of warrants of arrest will go up since Kuwait is expected to ratchet up the pressure. The personnel will be used as chips,” the insider said.

The source said, the three diplomats who are facing arrest are Department of Foreign Affairs – Office of the Undersecretary for Migrant Workers Affairs (DFA-OUMWA) executive director Raul Dado; DFA-Office of the Undersecretary for International Economic Relations (OUIER) officer Muammar Hassan; and DFA-Assistance-to-Nationals officer Francis Baquiran.

The three diplomats were among the Rapid Response Team led by OUMWA Undersecretary Sarah Lou Arriola, a political appointee of Foreign Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano and his aid when he was still a senator.

So far, the source said, two local personnel are detained. They were arrested at the parking lot near the international airport.

Photos of the diplomats have been posted in all international and local airports of Kuwait in case Dado, Hassan, and Baquiran try to escape.

The source said, the diplomats were stuck in the Philippine Embassy since they might be arrested once they leave the chancery premises.

Another source said until now the Foreign Affairs officials do not know Kuwait’s end game.

“The pride and reputation angle is there but maybe, the color of local politics or that this incident is tied to a more serious domestic matter in Kuwait, is growing stronger,” the source said.

Kuwait had branded the rescues—publicized in videos posted on social media—are a violation of its sovereignty.

Cayetano, during a press conference in Singapore, did not take responsibility for what several lawmakers called the DFA’s “irresponsible” release of rescue mission video that triggered the diplomatic row between the two countries.

He admitted that “definitely the video added fire,” but did not express regret that the video was released to the media and social media at all.

“There would be no video if there was no one to rescue, right?” he said.

Cayetano said that President Duterte encouraged the DFA to use social media to expose cases of abuse against Filipino workers around the world.”©

Cayetano also claimed that even Overseas Workers Welfare Administration deputy administrator Arnell Ignacio also urged him to “use social media to let people know” about the plight of Filipino workers in Kuwait.

Ignacio has recently criticized the DFA for releasing the video saying that it is a violation to Kuwait’s laws.

The source said last week that Arriola might have brought ub the administration’s “spin-doctors” as the propaganda team. One of them even posted the videos on his Facebook page.

Surigao del Sur Rep. Johnny Pimentel said workers returning from Kuwait could be redeployed to other labor markets if they still want to seek employment overseas.

“Outside of Kuwait, we have far bigger labor markets in other parts of the Middle East and elsewhere that offer better protection for our workers,” Pimentel said.

The labor markets for Filipinos in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, for instance, are each easily three times bigger than Kuwait’s, Pimentel said. With Macon Ramos-Araneta, Maricel V. Cruz and AFP


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