Kuwait said it remains “open” to negotiating with the Philippines if Manila adheres to the emirate’s demands, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Mansour al Otaibi said, amid the worker-protection row that saw the Gulf state impose a visa ban on Filipinos.
But the conditions include the Philippines admitting that its embassy violated Kuwaiti laws and the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, local media cited the deputy minister as saying.
“These violations should be stopped by the Philippine Embassy, and we hope to resolve them in the coming period,” the Kuwait Times quoted al-Otaibi as saying.
“The Philippines must acknowledge the violations committed by its embassy, pledge not to repeat them and hold perpetrators accountable,” he added.
However, the Department of Foreign Affairs has said President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. has made his position clear on the issue, reiterating that the Philippines must stand its ground in terms of protecting Filipinos abroad.
Thus, the Philippines will not apologize for taking care of and providing shelter for runaway Filipinos in Kuwait, even if the rich Gulf state has suspended issuing new entry visas for workers and travelers alike from the Philippines, the department said.
“The President said… that we will not apologize… why would we do that… should we apologize for the abused Filipinos maids or for Filipinos who were killed?” DFA Undersecretary for Migrant Workers’ Affairs Eduardo Jose de Vega stressed in a Laging Handa briefing.
“We’re just protecting our nationals,” de Vega added.
Meanwhile, Department of Migrant Workers Secretary Susan Ople continues to hold out hope for relations to return to normal with Kuwait, noting that the emirate continues to assist in sending home hundreds of distressed Pinoys.
“That’s because we are able to, are in the process of bringing home, in batches, around 400 of our OFWs in the shelters. Personally, for me there’s always hope,” Ople said at an event in Taguig City (see related story on A1 – Editors).
Last week, Kuwait’s Ministry of the Interior said it would “continue halting [the] issuance of any types of visas for the Philippines nationals as Manila rejected Kuwait’s conditions aimed to prevent the recurrence of worker violations.
The Ministry affirmed “the rejection of any infringement on Kuwait’s sovereignty or the dignity of Kuwaiti nationals,” its statement said, adding that the violations were considered “a red line.”
According to the emirate’s Public Authority of Manpower, the Philippines Embassy asked recruitment offices to remove domestic helpers from Kuwaiti homes under the pretext that their work contracts ended. Rey E. Requejo
The PH embassy also pressured recruitment offices to illegally house domestic workers, as well as forced them to include conditions in employment contracts that the employers did not agree to, the authority said.
The embassy also allegedly forced recruitment offices to search for runaway maids, bypassing official agencies in the country.
However, DFA Assistant Secretary Paul Cortes said Manila continues “to liaise and coordinate with them (Kuwaitis) even on an informal basis.”
“Even embassy to embassy, ministry to ministry, (we’re talking), and it’s something that we want to continue doing, even if it appears to everyone it’s not working,” Cortes said.
According to De Vega, removing shelters for Filipinos, admitting that the Philippines violated Kuwaiti laws, apologizing for it, and filing
administrative charges against Philippine government personnel there who reached out to runaway Filipinos and their employers are among the demands the Gulf state made on the Philippines.
De Vega stressed that the Philippine government will not oblige.
“Most especially, we will not file charges against our officials, who were simply doing their jobs well in protecting our nationals,” he said.
De Vega said the country’s position is that “we do not have any violations and if there really is, they have to listen to our explanation.”
“There is an international law or the embassies have functions to protect their nationals,” he stressed. In 2018, de Vega said, the Philippine government already went against Kuwait for not only providing shelter for runaway Filipinos but also urging them to flee from their employers.
But he added, the government already apologized for it.
The DFA official said he is hoping that another negotiation would take place in July. The Foreign Affairs official assured Filipinos in Kuwait that the Philippine government will continue to coordinate with them and no repatriation is needed.
Kuwait suspended all new work visas for Filipino workers last week, accusing Manila of violating Kuwaiti law and breaking the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations.
The Gulf state issued the ban on Wednesday, saying the Philippines broke several bilateral labor agreements.
Manila stopped sending first-time workers to Kuwait after the charred dead body of Filipino worker Jullebee Ranara was found in the desert in January this year.
Ranara was reportedly killed by her employer’s son, having had her skull smashed in before being burnt and left to die in the desert.
Two weeks ago, the two countries began talks after the Philippines requested a meeting to discuss the suspension of workers’ visas.
Millions of Filipinos work abroad, with a significant portion landing jobs in Gulf countries as well as in Jordan and Lebanon under the “kafala” (sponsorship) system, which legally binds migrant workers to their employers.
The “exploitative” system leaves workers “vulnerable to wage abuse, employer exploitation, and situations that amount to forced labor,” according to Human Rights Watch.
Approximately 268,000 Filipinos live and work in Kuwait. The Philippines’ Department of Migrant Workers said in 2022 that more than 24,000 violations and abuses of Filipino workers occurred in Kuwait, a marked increase from 6,500 in 2016. In 2020, Kuwait sentenced a Kuwaiti woman to death for killing Jeanelyn Villavende, a Filipina worker who was allegedly physically and sexually abused by her employers.
An embalming certificate released by Kuwait’s Ministry of Health said that Villavende died of “acute failure of heart and respiration” due to shock and multiple injuries in the vascular and nervous systems.
However, a separate autopsy by the Philippines National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) on January 10, 2020 showed the 26-year-old had healed wounds, suggesting that she was beaten weeks before her death, and had “clear indications of sexual abuse.”