Friday, May 25, 2018
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PH to Kuwait: Explain ouster of ambassador

Renato Pedro Villa —AFP

The Philippines on Thursday demanded an explanation after its ambassador to Kuwait was expelled, shocking authorities in Manila and deepening a diplomatic row over the treatment of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) in the oil-rich Gulf state.

The dispute has led to the suspension of the Philippines’ effort to sign a deal with Kuwait for the protection of Filipino workers, Foreign Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano told reporters in Singapore.

The two countries had been working to resolve differences sparked by the murder of Filipino housemaid Joanna Demafelis, whose body was found in a freezer in an apartment in Kuwait abandoned by her Arab employer earlier this year.

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But relations plunged after the Philippine Embassy in Kuwait released videos last week of embassy staff helping Filipino maids flee from allegedly abusive employers, which Kuwait considered a violation of its sovereignty.

Cayetano and Ambassador to Kuwait Renato Pedro Villa apologized on Tuesday, but Kuwait announced on Wednesday it was expelling Villa and recalling its own ambassador, Musaed Saleh Ahmad Althwaikh, from Manila for consultations.

 

A week to leave

Kuwait’s foreign ministry said in a statement that it had given Villa a week to leave and three days to provide the names of Filipino residents in Kuwait who had “kidnapped” OFWs from their employers’ homes.

Kuwait security forces “will continue to chase down those who violated the security of the country” and put them on trial, the ministry added.

On Thursday, the Philippines expressed its “strong surprise and great displeasure” over Kuwait’s action.

In a statement, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said it served a diplomatic note on the Kuwaiti Embassy “conveying its strong surprise and great displeasure over the declaration of Ambassador Renato Pedro Villa as persona non grata, the continued detention of four Filipinos hired by the Philippine Embassy, and the issuance of arrest warrants against three diplomatic personnel.”

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The DFA had planned to summon Althwaikh “first thing in the morning” for an explanation, but the Kuwaiti envoy was already gone.

Althwaikh left the country on Wednesday night, a couple of hours after the DFA announced its plan to call him.

Wrong expectation

Cayetano apparently had expected that the diplomatic row had eased after his meeting with Althwaikh in Manila on Tuesday, a day after President Duterte met with the Kuwaiti ambassador in Davao City following news of protests against the Philippines in Kuwait and the arrest of Philippine Embassy employees for enticing Filipino maids to escape from their employers’ homes.

In an interview with reporters in Singapore on Wednesday, ahead of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) Summit this weekend, Cayetano said the Kuwaiti government had no plan to expel Villa and he had no intention to recall the ambassador.

No request

“There is no request [to recall him]. He is doing a good job and the Kuwaitis said he was welcome to stay,” Cayetano said.

In its statement, the DFA said Kuwait’s action on Wednesday was “deeply disturbing” and “inconsistent with the assurances” of Althwaikh to Cayetano during their meeting in Manila on Tuesday that both sides wanted to “move forward.”

The DFA said Althwaikh had “committed measures that will immediately respond to the urgent requests by Filipino nationals” in Kuwait.

The measures, the DFA said, include the “release of Filipino nationals hired by the Philippine Embassy who were taken into custody in recent days for their involvement in the actions taken by the embassy in responding to the calls for assistance by Filipino nationals in distress, and ensur[ing] that diplomatic personnel of the Department of Foreign Affairs who are still in Kuwait are allowed to return to Manila without incident at the soonest possible time.”

Palace ‘disturbed’

Malacañang said it was “disturbed” by Kuwait’s action, as it believed the dispute over the  rescue mission for abused maids had been resolved during President Duterte’s meeting with Althwaikh and the subsequent apologies of Cayetano and Villa.

The Palace, however, wants ties between Kuwait and the Philippines to remain, presidential spokesperson Harry Roque told reporters.

“We hope this development [will] not lead to a further worsening of bilateral ties between the two countries,” Roque said.

Reason for tensions

President Duterte said his administration’s determination to protect Filipino migrant workers in the Middle East was the reason for the diplomatic tensions with Kuwait.

“I cannot accept that our fellow Filipinos there—that’s why I’m cursing—[are abused],” President Duterte said in a speech in Buluan, Maguindanao province.

The two countries have been working on an agreement to protect OFWs after the President banned their dispatch  to Kuwait following reports of abuse and the murder of Demafelis.  —WITH REPORTS FROM  CHRISTINE O. AVENDAÑO, ALLAN NAWAL, JEOFFREY MAITEM, AND AFP

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