It’s bad enough that many Kuwaiti nationals who hire Filipino domestic helpers treat their employees like slaves. What is worse is that last week, the Kuwaiti government confirmed that its top leaders are just as barbaric and uncivilized like their citizens.
On April 19, the Philippine Embassy in Kuwait organized a rapid response team to rescue at least two abused Filipino domestic workers in separate locations in that desert country. Three Filipino diplomats experienced in rescue operations led the humanitarian operations and picked up the distressed Filipinos at pre-designated areas. They were taken to Philippine-administered shelters.
Earlier, the rescued Filipino workers were desperately seeking ways to escape from their abusive Kuwaiti employers. They managed to send word to the Philippine embassy that their safety is at stake, and to plead for help.
Probably, that would have been ignored by the Kuwaiti government to avoid the embarrassing publicity that Kuwaiti employers are inhumane.
Unfortunately, a propaganda team that covered the rescue operations took video clips of the rescue missions and disseminated them online. The video clips went viral, as the propaganda team probably expected.
On April 21, the Kuwaiti government, reacting to the online video, denounced the rescue operations as a violation of Kuwaiti sovereignty. Kuwaiti officials insisted that only Kuwaiti authorities have the power to rescue anybody in distress in that desert nation.
Political observers view the Kuwaiti protest as a strategic move to distract public opinion away from the recent news reports underscoring the maltreatment of Filipino domestic helpers in Kuwait, and to transfer the embarrassing spotlight to Manila.
On April 24, Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano conveyed Manila’s apology to Kuwait, through the Kuwaiti ambassador to the Philippines. The next day, Kuwait expelled Renato Villa, the Philippine ambassador to that country.
Three days later, Human Rights Watch, an international organization which monitors human rights violations the world over, criticized Kuwait’s invocation of sovereignty, and defended the rescue operations on the ground that the Philippine Embassy officials had to act immediately to address the serious threat to the safety of the two Filipinos rescued.
Analysts say that this diplomatic row puts in peril any possibility of lifting the total ban against the deployment of Filipino domestic helpers to Kuwait recently declared by President Rodrigo Duterte. That deployment ban was in response to the murder of Joanna Demafelis, a Filipino domestic helper who worked in Kuwait. Demafelis’ body was discovered in a freezer in an abandoned site in Kuwait last February. Demafelis had been missing for a year, and Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III was not even aware of it.
Surprisingly, Bello will go to Kuwait this week apparently to check on the status of a memorandum of agreement which, as he had earlier announced, is to be signed by the Philippines and Kuwait before the end of this month. If signed, that agreement would mean the lifting of the total deployment ban earlier declared by President Duterte. As of this writing, however, the ban has been made permanent by the President.
So why does this essay maintain that Kuwait has confirmed that its top leaders are just as barbaric and uncivilized as their citizens? That’s because the diplomatic protest pressed by Kuwait has no support in humanitarian international law.
Under conventional international law, the diplomatic and consular officials sojourning in a host country cannot engage in activities which violate the sovereignty of the host country. Law enforcement in Kuwait, for instance, may be undertaken only by Kuwaiti authorities. There is, however, nothing in conventional international law which prohibits embassy officials of the hosted country from acting immediately in an emergency, especially one involving the safety of its nationals in the host country.
Philippine Embassy officials in Kuwait are expected to, among others, ensure the safety of Filipinos working in that country. That’s what their taxes are for. Therefore, it is absurd and foolish for Kuwait to require Philippine embassy officials in Kuwait to coordinate first with Kuwaiti authorities before Philippine embassy personnel may rescue distressed Filipinos in desperate situations in Kuwait. That will be akin to putting the text of the treaty over and above its substance. International protocol cannot prevail over the dictates of substantial justice, especially under circumstances when the latter is needed most.
It would be different if the rescued Filipinos were detained in Kuwait for a crime. Rescuing them from prison would have been a blatant violation of International Law. Since the rescued Filipinos were not under detention for violating any Kuwait law, rescuing them because of the imminent threat to their safety, is warranted under International Law.
In fine, Manila need not apologize to Kuwait for the rescue operations, because every nation has the inherent right to look after the interests of its citizens working overseas, especially where the host country is notorious for ignoring human rights.
Secretary Cayetano’s apology to Kuwait, therefore, must be taken in the proper context. Cayetano apologized because the rescue operations breached international protocol inasmuch as it was not coordinated with Kuwaiti authorities. Rightfully, Cayetano did not apologize for the decision of the Philippine government to rescue Filipinos in danger, precisely because that is what Philippine diplomatic and consular officials are supposed to do in the first place. Cayetano did what was right and lawful in the premises.
It is possible that Kuwait would not have reacted the way it did, if the video of the rescue operations did not go viral in the social media. This means that the Philippine official who posted the video online has a lot of explaining to do.
Bello’s planned trip to Kuwait, apparently for the purpose of exploring the possibility of the re-deployment of Filipino domestic helpers for slavery in Kuwait, comes at a bad time. It shows his lack of concern for the welfare of Filipino workers. His unusual interest in getting President Duterte’s ban against the deployment of workers to Kuwait lifted immediately was discussed in detail in this column last April 23.