Manama: Kuwait rejects any breach of its sovereignty and laws and would act decisively against any escalation, Deputy Foreign Minister Khalid Al Jarallah has said.
In the first official reaction to the permanent ban on the deployment of Filipino workers to Kuwait announced by Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, Al Jarallah said Kuwait was ready to cooperate with Manila to explore all means to address labour issues, including the status of the 800 Filipino citizens who are staying in shelters in the Gulf state.
“Kuwait is keen on maintaining the safety and rights of all expatriates, including the Filipino community, within the framework of the labour laws of the country that have been praised by international human rights agencies,” Al Jarallah was quoted by the Kuwait News Agency (Kuna) as saying.
He said Kuwait appreciated the competence and contributions of the Filipino community.
Kuwait shares Duterte’s desire to maintain the deep-rooted relations, he added, highlighting Manila’s support for Kuwait during the Iraqi invasion in 1990.
“The historic friendship between the two countries should help overcome these exceptional circumstances. Kuwait is looking forward to working with friends in the Philippines to broaden relations, boost cooperation and achieve shared interests,” he said.
On Sunday, Duterte said the temporary ban on the deployment of Filipinos in Kuwait was now permanent.
“The ban stays permanently. There will be no more recruitment [of Filipinos for Kuwait],” Duterte said.
Instead of Kuwait, the government is considering sending Filipinos to China and other areas, he said.
“China is also getting some 1,000 teachers. Maybe we can give them preference. Now, we can always appeal to the other nations for a concession. And you know what, however you look at China, I consider China a friend … China now to me is a true friend. So many things coming our way, out of the pure generosity of the Chinese people,” he was quoted by the Inquirer as saying.
Duterte also mentioned Japan as another destination.
“This [Japan] is an ageing society. There would be a lot of caregivers [needed],” he said, adding the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (Tesda) could help develop or train OFWs.
“Many countries today are suffering from the shortage of human beings. They don’t want to bear children like the Japanese.”
Filipinos returning from Kuwait could also take jobs in Luzon, where “many construction [activities are] going on.”
“That’s the Build, Build, Build, and also in Mindanao, you just wait for about a few months,” he said.
“We might be suffering a little bit. Let us sacrifice a little bit. Everything will [straighten out]. You’ll see. We can adjust. We are improving in our growth, economy.”
However, Duterte admitted the number of Filipinos who might leave Kuwait was “way more than the government had documented.”
“There are plenty of them. That’s the reason why I am as worried as you … concerned. Many of them went there undocumented and those who are really victims of recruiters,” he said.
The government could use the “almost 4.6 something billion” pesos that Chinese President Xi Jinping had given the Philippines as economic assistance, he said.
“It’s good the money is there, it was being kept. I was intending to use the money to rebuild or refurbish the hospitals outside of Metro Manila,” he said.
The money would be used to assist Filipinos coming home from Kuwait.
“And once we start to withdraw all Filipinos there in Kuwait, maybe I’ll tell you the result of our intervention on behalf of our countrymen,” he said.
Some of the money could be used to settle the cases of about 700 Filipinos facing charges in Kuwaiti courts, he said.
However, and despite of the row with Kuwait, Duterte said he did not have a grudge against Kuwaitis.
“I do not nurture hate against the Kuwaiti people and government for, after all, for many years we had the best of relations. There are a lot of guys working there for so many years to enable their children to study and finish. And for that matter alone, the sheer help that we had. I’m grateful,” he said.
But he added that the Philippines also helped Kuwait “when it was suffering because of the fighting with Iraq,” referring to the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in August 1990.
His only concern now was to bring home OFWs from Kuwait, Duterte added.
“And I would spend the entire four point something billion to get about,” he said.
On Saturday and during a visit to Singapore, he called on the 260,000 Filipinos working in Kuwait, mainly as household service workers, to return home and stressed that leaving Kuwait and going home was a matter of patriotism.
“I am appealing to my countrymen to come home … To all Filipinos listening, come home to the Philippines … I now appeal to your sense of patriotism. Come home,” he said.
“For Filipino professionals who may wish to stay in Kuwait, there’s no problem. But at the same time, I would like them to cherish and nurture their patriotism. For Filipino household service workers, if your Kuwaiti employers want you to leave, then please come home. Your government will do its best to help you return,” Duterte was quoted as saying by various media in the Philippines.
However, he was immediately criticised by Senator Senator Risa Hontiveros.
“It is extremely reckless, shortsighted and uncaring,” she said.
“President Duterte should stop gambling with the lives and employment of thousands of Overseas Filipino workers (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,” she said in a statement, carried by the Inquirer.
Relations between the two countries received a blow late last year when Duterte said he was taking action following reports of tragic abuses of Filipino house workers in Kuwait.
The two sides tried to address the situation, but the discovery in a freezer of the body of a Filipina worker, Joanna Demafelis, reportedly killed by her employers, a Lebanese man and a Syrian woman, compounded the situation.