FILIPINO diplomats are facing kidnapping charges after videos of them rescuing distressed Filipino workers in Kuwait were posted and spread on social media, Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano said late Wednesday night.“They were charged with kidnapping,” Cayetano said, insisting that they violated no diplomatic convention and committed no crime.
Kuwait has issued warrants of arrest against the three Filipino career diplomats, who are holed up in the Philippine embassy, while four embassy employees who also participated in the rescue operations have been detained.
The three diplomats who are facing kidnapping charges are DFA-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.
These three were part of the Rapid Response Team formed and led by DFA-OUMWA Undersecretary Sarah Lou Arriola, Cayetano’s political appointee and former aid when he was still a senator.
A DFA insider said others involved in the rescue, which was not coordianted with Kuwaiti authorities, were DFA spokesman Elmer Cato and Communications Assistant Secretary Mocha Uson.
Cayetano insisted Wednesday the well publicized rescue operations were in line with international law.
“We did it ourselves, which is acceptable, and it is a duty under international law, but it caused commotion among them,” Cayetano said.
“That’s why I said I apologized if our actions seem to violate your sovereignty. But let me assure you, it’s in the spirit of protecting our nationals,” he said.
In the aftermath of the Kuwait row, 13 diplomats asked Cayetano in a letter to review the DFA’s protocols on the use of social media and questioned the act of releasing sensitive information to the public.
“Part of our duty to the country and this institution is to share our views—-tempered by the counsel of experience—-to help our principals make informed decisions,” the letter dated April 27 said.
“We therefore call for a review of the department’s protocols on the use of social media in the documentation and conduct of its work particularly in situations of great sensitivity and critical circumstances, where lives must be protected and the highest level of professionalism and discretion is needed,” the diplomats said.
Arriola, the source said earlier, brought along with the administration’s “spin-doctors,” bloggers, during the uncoordinated rescue mission.
When Cato released the two videos to the media, a blogger who was formerly appointed by Cayetano, RJ Nieto, posted the rescue videos on his Facebook page.
There were also videos of entertainer-turned-government official Uson which showed that she was in Kuwait interviewing OUMWA executive director Dado, telling the public that the RRT was about to rescue a Filipino.
Another video also showed that she was inside a car and telling her viewers that they were on the way to rescue Filipinos.
The videos angered Kuwait, which expelled Ambassador Renato Villa and ordered the arrest of those involved in the rescue operations, which it viewed as a violation of its sovereignty.
Villa arrived on Wednesday after he was declared as persona non grata and was asked to leave the country.
The diplomats expressed dismay at Villa’s fate.
“The first time this has happened in our years of service as career foreign service officers and to great media fanfare,” the diplomats said.
“Our distress is compounded by the fact that this Filipino ambassador is a colleague known to us and to many others, including the thousands of OFWs he has served—to be an upright and decent man and a devoted, hardworking, public servant,” the diplomats said.
Villa, they said, was a capable career diplomatic officer and chief of mission.
They added that he “may be the first OFW in the history of the Philippine foreign service to become a career ambassador.”
The letter also wrote that “the diplomats trust that the resilience of the foreign service corps shall manifest itself, as it always done, and that these developments shall merit due reflection and the resolve to never allow this to happen again.”
Cayetano, however, said the uploaded videos were no publicity stunt.
“If I will be using it for politics, I should have come to Kuwait, and rescued the Filipina myself,” Cayetano said in an interview with reporters at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport in Pasay City.
Cayetano made the statement following calls for him to resign by a group of unnamed career diplomats.
“There are a hundred million Filipinos, anyone can criticize. But the criticisms are obvious. How many times have I told you, ‘Please, I don’t want to be interviewed.’ You get angry at me because you said I could no longer be interviewed since becoming Secretary of DFA. But when I get interviewed, some would say I’m into politicking,” he said.
Cayetano said he accepts criticisms that would help improve his work.
“We will listen and we will adjust. If it will not help, sorry but we are focused on our jobs. We have to solve the problems all over the world, not only in Kuwait,” he said.
On Wednesday, a separate letter from unnamed DFA career diplomats, asking Cayetano and his appointees to resign, was published in a daily newspaper. The resignation call was allegedly sent to Malacañang, but the DFA said the Office of the President “has not seen such a letter.”
Cayetano said it was their right to call for his resignation.
“I respect that. But don’t use the name of the department and the career officials unless they are really the ones calling [for my ouster],” he said. “If the President wants me to go, I will go happily and I will continue to support him. If a majority in the Department of Foreign Affairs says, ‘We cannot follow you’, I have no business being there.”
Cayetano revealed he had meetings with the majority of the career diplomats, and the reception, so far, is “they understand.”
“They might not necessarily agree with our direction, but they understand,” he said.
Cayetano said the government is taking “multiple routes” to repair diplomatic ties with Kuwait.
At around past 11 p.m. on Wednesday, Cayetano, together with DFA officials including Undersecretary Ernesto Abella, accompanied Villa upon his arrival in Manila.
The envoy arrived at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport on board Philippine Airlines Flight PR 669 around 10:40 p.m., a week after the Kuwaiti government declared him persona non grata.
Cayetano said the country will move forward after Villa’s departure as the Philippines’ top envoy to Kuwait.
While he confirmed talks are on-going, Cayetano refused to go into detail when asked if he will be meeting with his Kuwaiti counterpart soon.
He continued: “The who, when, how, leave that to us first because we don’t want to box anyone [in]. We’re taking multiple routes, so the efforts of the Department of Labor and Department of Foreign Affairs are parallel but we’re going in the same direction.”
In the next few days, the DFA will be focused on a list of priority items, including the repatriation of about 800 distressed Filipinos at a shelter.
Cayetano said they will also negotiate with Kuwait to allow diplomats served with warrants of arrest to come home.
“As we continue with our engagement with our Kuwaiti counterparts, we would like to ask for the kind patience and understanding of our people, most especially those who have been affected by the recent misunderstanding,” Cayetano said.
“We assure everyone that the Philippine government will remain guided by the national interest in seeking solutions that would be beneficial to all concerned.”
The official guaranteed that the agency is following an objective—to ensure the welfare of overseas Filipinos abroad.
“We will get to that objective while repairing any damage or restoring the strength of our relationship with Kuwait,” he said. With PNA
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