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PH renews Saudi, Bahrain ties for OFWs’ sake

/ 06:05 AM May 15, 2018

After mending ties with Kuwait, the Philippines has reached out to maintain cordial relations with Saudi Arabia and Bahrain and ensure the welfare of over a million overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) in the two countries.

Foreign Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano sandwiched his May 11 trip to Kuwait, where he signed the crucial agreement for the protection of around 150,000 Filipina maids there, with official visits to neighboring Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said.

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The visits to the three oil-rich Gulf states, Cayetano’s first as foreign secretary, were not announced beforehand by the DFA.

While in Riyadh on May 9 and 10, he met with the Filipino community and Saudi Foreign Minister Adel Al-Jubeir to “strengthen bilateral relations with a key Middle East partner that plays host to almost a million Filipino workers.”

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From the Saudi capital, Cayetano flew to Kuwait on May 10, a day after a Philippine delegation led by Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III officially patched a diplomatic row triggered by the uploading on social media on April 19 of videos showing a Philippine Embassy operation to rescue distressed OFWs.

Working conditions

A little over two weeks since Kuwait recalled its envoy to Manila and declared Philippine Ambassador Renato Pedro Villa persona non grata, Cayetano signed with his Kuwaiti counterpart, Sheikh Sabah Khaled Al-Hamad Al-Sabah, the agreement ensuring better working conditions for Filipino housemaids.

Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque said Kuwait also released the four Filipino drivers arrested for taking part in the embassy’s operation, and promised to bear the cost of repatriating some 600 undocumented and runaway workers in Philippine Embassy shelters.

Roque later said the three diplomats who had been holed up in the embassy since April 20 to elude arrest warrants for the alleged kidnapping of the distressed housemaids would be allowed to leave Kuwait.

Bahrain assurances

From Kuwait, Cayetano proceeded to Bahrain for a two-day official visit on May 13 and 14.

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“We are going home with assurances from the crown prince, the prime minister and the foreign minister of Bahrain that they are friends and partners the Philippines can count on,” Cayetano said in a statement.

Cayetano had earlier promised to look into the accountability of DFA officials who uploaded the rescue video which angered Kuwait.

Cayetano also said he was open to an investigation after a group of career diplomats had asked for review of official use of social media “particularly in situations of great sensitivity and critical circumstances where lives must be protected and the highest level of professionalism and discretion is needed.”

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TAGS: Alan Peter Cayetano, OFWs in Bahrain, OFWs in Kuwait, OFWs in Middle East, OFWs in Saudi Arabia, Silvestre Bello III
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