The good news is that the Philippines can be proud of the Department of Foreign Affairs under Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano, and its corps of diplomatic personnel based in Kuwait. About three weeks ago, the DFA launched a clandestine operation to rescue two Filipina domestic helpers being abused in that awful desert country. In coordination with its home office in Manila, three diplomats from the Philippine embassy in Kuwait City conducted the clandestine operation, and succeeded in saving the lives of the two overseas Filipinos from their inhumane Arab employers.
It appears that the rescue operation came in the wake of deteriorating relations between the Philippines and Kuwait, a situation brought about by the severe maltreatment of Filipino domestic helpers working for Kuwaiti employers. The incident that triggered the rift between Manila and Kuwait City was the discovery early this year of the murder of Joanna Demafelis, a Filipina domestic helper working in Kuwait, whose body was left in a freezer by her Arab employers. On an earlier occasion, another Filipina worker was raped by her Kuwaiti boss.
Reacting to these incidents, a very angry President Rodrigo Duterte imposed a total ban on the deployment of Filipino workers to Kuwait, which is to remain until and unless Kuwait took concrete steps to protect the safety and well-being of Filipino expatriates in that desert nation. Kuwaiti officials, Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III and the owners of Philippine recruitment agencies sending workers to slavery in Kuwait were unhappy about the deployment ban.
Admittedly, the rescue operation was not in accord with diplomatic protocol recognized in International Law. Considering, however, that the rescue operation was a response by the Philippine embassy to the desperate pleas of Filipinos who could possibly lose their lives in Kuwait, and that time being of the essence, and in view of the notorious indifference of Kuwait authorities to the plight of Asian domestic helpers as well as the propensity of Kuwaitis to treat overseas domestic helpers as nineteenth-century slaves, the rescue operation was justified under International Humanitarian Law.
Sadly, Kuwait viewed the rescue operation as a violation of its sovereignty and summarily ordered the expulsion of Renato Pedro Villa, the Philippine ambassador to Kuwait. As of this writing, Ambassador Villa is safely back in the Philippines.
The Kuwaiti government also said that it will investigate the three Philippine diplomats directly responsible for the rescue operation. This announcement is interpreted by Manila as Kuwait’s determination to arrest the three diplomats once they step out of the Philippine embassy.
Initial reports received by Manila indicate that the power and water supply to the Philippine embassy was deliberately cut off by the Kuwaiti government to cause inconvenience to its occupants. Subsequent reports, however, claim that it was a power outage, not a power cut. That is rather difficult to believe because an oil-rich country like Kuwait never runs out of electricity, particularly in the diplomatic and consular areas of the capital.
Last week, the DFA quietly announced that there are ongoing negotiations for the repatriation of the three diplomats. The stealth is, of course, understandable, owing to the delicate nature of the issue, and the irrational way many Kuwaitis think simply because they are wealthy.
Apparently, the negotiations were fruitful. Yesterday, the DFA announced that the stranded Philippine diplomats may be able to leave Kuwait within the next two days or so, because Manila and Kuwaiti City have signed an accord regarding the treatment of Filipino workers in that country. While that accord will only legitimize the maltreatment of Filipino workers in Kuwait, at least it triggered the safe repatriation of the diplomats.
This development should also augur well for Kuwait. If Kuwait insists on keeping the Philippine diplomats in their country under threat of punishment, then Kuwait will be no different from Iran, It will be recalled that in 1979, Iran allowed radical students to take over the American embassy in Tehran. Everyone in the embassy became hostages and were released only in 1981.
* * *
It is unsettling to hear that certain noisy sectors among the so-called “career diplomats” in the DFA bureaucracy are demanding the resignation of DFA Secretary Cayetano for what happened in Kuwait. After branding the rescue operation a diplomatic disaster, they attributed it to the youth and inexperience of Cayetano.
What hogwash! Since when was the rescue of a distressed Filipino by a Philippine consular officer a diplomatic disaster? Those “career diplomats” have been basking in their comfort zones for so long that they have forgotten the interests of their fellow Filipinos. Many of them consider diplomacy as the art of attending embassy parties in expensive attire; of expressing one thing and meaning something else; of smiling at people whom they would rather frown at in reality; of putting down one’s countryman so as to avoid offending the feelings of a foreigner; of enjoying a virtual tour of the world at the expense of taxpayers like overseas Filipino workers, and of putting form and nicety over substance, justice and national welfare.
By golly, it was probably Cayetano’s “youth and inexperience” that made him think of that rescue operation!
Therefore, if there should be anybody who ought to resign from the DFA, those uncaring vultures among the “career diplomats” should be the ones who should do so.
What happened in Kuwait is not a diplomatic disaster. What happened there is that for the first time in a long, long while, Filipino diplomats did what they were expected to do -- protect overseas Filipinos stationed in their assigned areas.
All Filipinos should unite behind our well-meaning foreign service officials, particularly Secretary Cayetano, Ambassador Villa, and the three diplomats whose names cannot be mentioned in the meantime, in order to assure their safety. It will be in the best interest of the Filipino people if these officials can trigger more substantial reforms in our overseas diplomatic missions.