PRESIDENT Rodrigo Duterte on Sunday said the temporary ban on Filipinos going to work in Kuwait is now permanent, intensifying a diplomatic standoff over the treatment of migrant workers in the Gulf nation.
Duterte in February imposed a prohibition on workers heading to Kuwait following the murder of a Filipino domestic whose body was found stuffed in a freezer in the Gulf state.
The crisis 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.
The two nations had been negotiating a labor deal that Philippine officials said could result in the lifting of the ban but the recent escalation in tensions has put an agreement in doubt.
“The ban stays permanently. There will be no more recruitment especially domestic helpers. No more,” Duterte told reporters in his hometown city of Davao.
Around 262,000 Filipinos work in Kuwait, nearly 60 percent of them domestic workers, according to the Department of Foreign Affairs.
Last week the Philippines apologized over the rescue videos but Kuwaiti officials announced they were expelling Manila’s ambassador and recalling their own envoy from the Southeast Asian nation.
Duterte on Sunday described the situation in Kuwait as a “calamity.”
He said he would bring home Filipino maids who suffered abuse as he appealed to workers who wanted to stay in the oil-rich state.
“I would like to [appeal] to their patriotism: Come home. No matter how poor we are, we will survive. The economy is doing good and we are short of our workers,” he said.
About 10-million Filipinos work abroad to seek high-paying jobs they were unable to find at home, and their remittances are a major pillar of the economy.
Duterte said workers returning from Kuwait could find employment as English teachers in China, citing improved ties with Beijing.
Describing China as a “true friend,” he said he would use Chinese aid to fund the workers’ repatriation.
Duterte added that he was not after “vengeance” against Kuwait and did not “nurture hate.”
“But if my people are considered a burden to some of them, to some government mandated to protect them and uphold their rights, then we will do our part,” he said.
He also vowed to those who wish to come home, especially the 700 Filipino migrant workers who faces charges in Kuwait, the government would do its best to bring them home.
“Your government will do its best to help you return and resettle. I appeal to your sense of patriotism and to your love of country and family,” Duterte said.
He said that once the migrant workers come home, he will also ask their local governments to help them resettle in their own province.
Senator Nancy Binay, meanwhile, said someone must be held accountable for the release of videos showing the rescue of Filipino domestics that sparked the diplomatic row between the Philippines and Kuwait. “We are facing a problem because our 250,000 countrymen are still in Kuwait,” Binay said.
Binay urged the DFA to look into the matter and administer sanction to those who possibly violated protocol by uploading the rescue video.
“There should be an accountability on how the [video of the] incident was uploaded... Was that a policy of the DFA—the rescue of our countrymen in distress?” she said.
“There are some things that should not be made known to the many to protect more people. This is not entertainment that should be uploaded,” she added.
Senator Richard Gordon said the Kuwaiti government’s recent move to order the Philippine ambassador to leave the country has placed Filipino workers in Kuwait in a precarious situation.
He said he remains hopeful that the Kuwaiti government would look into the longer relationship between the two countries and will understand that this is part of the Filipino culture of trying to save their people from further harm.
Opposition Senator Risa Hontiveros said Duterte was gambling with the lives and employment of hundreds of thousands of Filipinos in Kuwait.
“What is so ‘Solomonic’ about a solution that actually cuts the baby in half? It is extremely reckless, shortsighted and uncaring. President Duterte should stop gambling with the lives and employment of thousands of OFWs, and the welfare of their families, in a desperate attempt to break the diplomatic impasse with Kuwait. This is not a game. We are talking about the lives and future of our OFWs and their loved ones,” Hontiveros said.
She also questioned the President’s promise to find jobs for returning workers, when his administration doesn’t even have an alternative strategy to the country’s labor export policy.
Senator Cynthia Villar said the protection of Filipinos must be paramount.
“I don’t blame them [DFA] that they’re aggressive. So if Kuwait got mad, we cannot do anything about that,” she said.
The senator also said the government should be ready to have jobs ready for the workers who decide to return to the country.
Oppostion Senator Francis Pangilinan said Philippine officials behind the controversial rescue operation of distressed Filipinos in Kuwait must be sacked as part of efforts to fix the Philippines’ disagreement with the Gulf state.
He said Philippine officials should also seek a dialogue with top-level Kuwaiti officials to “diffuse the tension” between the two countries.
“Fire whoever was behind the rescue attempt and all those who gave bad advise to the President and have direct talks with the Kuwait’s head of government to diffuse the tension and address the deteriorating situation,” he said.
A party-list lawmaker on Sunday backed President Duterte’s appeal for Filipinos in Kuwait, especially domestic workers, to come home.
ACTS-OFW Rep. Aniceto Bertiz III on Sunday said the problem in Kuwait concerns mainly domestic workers, because they are not covered by Kuwait’s labor laws and the government there is overly protective of employers.
“In the case of professionals in Kuwait, there’s really no problem because they are protected by their skills. Employers avoid mistreating highly skilled staff because they are difficult to replace,” Bertiz said.
“But in the case of domestic workers, we really have to discourage their deployment to countries where they have little or no legal protection,” he added.
“Without adequate legal protection, domestic workers are naturally vulnerable to abuse and exploitation because they live with their employers and their skills are easy to replace,” he added.