Kuwait envoy leaves Manila but Philippines hopeful of resolving dispute

  • Kuwait has recalled its envoy from Manila after expelling Philippine Ambassador Renato Villa
  • Filipino legislator urges government to top start initiating confidence-building measures to fix ties with Kuwait

MANILA: Kuwait Ambassador Musaed Saleh Ahmad Al-Thwaikh has left the Philippines after being recalled in a growing diplomatic dispute over Filipino domestic workers.

It followed the expulsion on Wednesday of Filipino Ambassador to Kuwait Renato Villa, a move that shocked Philippine authorities.

On Thursday, the Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said that it summoned Al-Thwaikh to demand an explanation after Villa was expelled.

“The department believes that these acts are inconsistent with the assurances and representations made by the Kuwaiti ambassador on the various concerns that were brought to his attention by Secretary of Foreign Affairs Alan Peter S. Cayetano during their meeting in Manila on 24 April 2018,” said an official statement from the DFA.

The department said that it served a diplomatic note to the embassy of Kuwait in Manila, conveying its “strong surprise and great displeasure over the declaration of Ambassador Renato Pedro Villa as persona non grata,” as well as the continued detention of four Filipinos hired by the Philippine Embassy in Kuwait, and the issuance of arrest warrants against three diplomatic personnel. However, they were informed that Al-Thwaikh “has been recalled to his capital for consultations.”

Al-Thwaikh, according the Bureau of Immigration, left Manila Wednesday night on board a Kuwait Airways flight.

The DFA said that during the meeting with Cayetano earlier this week, Al-Thwaikh assured the secretary that Villa was welcome to stay until the end of his tour of duty, and that the government of Kuwait “likes” the Philippine envoy very much.

In the same meeting, Al-Thwaikh also committed to measures to ensure the safety of Filipino workers in Kuwait, including the release of Philippine Embassy personnel who were arrested for their involvement in the “rescue” of distressed Filipino workers, and to ensure that DFA diplomatic personnel who are still in Kuwait are allowed to return to Manila without incident as soon as possible.

Cayetano, on Tuesday, also apologized to Kuwait “if they were offended by some actions taken” by the Philippine Embassy. The apology followed a meeting on Monday between President Rodrigo Duterte and Al-Thwaikh to resolve issues concerning the welfare of overseas Filipino workers in the Gulf state.

But while Philippine authorities thought that all issues had been ironed out after the meeting with the president, reinforced by Cayetano’s apology, the Kuwait Foreign Ministry on Wednesday announced the expulsion of Villa “in retaliation for undiplomatic acts by Philippine embassy staff, encouraging Filipino domestic workers to flee employers’ households.”

Despite the latest development, the Philippines expressed the hope that this would not lead to a further worsening of ties between the two countries.

“We hope that this is Kuwait’s way of just expressing its anger for which Secretary Alan Cayetano had already apologized, and we believe and hope that the passage of time will heal all wounds and will lead to the normalization of ties,” said Duterte’s spokesman, Harry Roque.

He said that the Philippine government still hoped that the proposed agreement on minimum terms and conditions of employment for hiring Filipinos in Kuwait would be signed as scheduled after Ramadan.

As the diplomatic crisis between the two countries deepened, experts said it would be best for the Philippines to face Kuwait’s reaction and begin to initiate measures to fix its relations with Kuwait.

“I think it is still reparable. (In) the diplomatic relations between Kuwait and the Philippines, all is not lost,” said Representative Ruffy Biazon, a member of the House Commitee on Foreign Relations.

Biazon said that the reaction of the Kuwaiti government was “unfortunate,” but also predictable.

“We should be expecting that. Even I myself, if it happened in the Philippines I would have called for the expulsion of their ambassador. So it’s predictable,” he said. “At this point, the best thing for the Philippines to do is initiate confidence-building measures to restore (relations).”

Biazon said that the Philippine government should stop trying to justify the actions taken by the Philippine embassy in Kuwait and also not try to question the decision to expel Villa.

As Cayetano had already apologized, Biazon said there was no need to issue another apology. “Let’s simply accept what they have responded with and then proceed with the rebuilding.”

Biazon said that the government had immediately recalled Villa after Kuwait issued protest notes on the “rescue” operations which it viewed as a violation its sovereignty, and that it “would have been a better stance rather than just apologize.”

The escalation of the diplomatic row would have prevented by recalling the ambassador, he said.

Asked if he thought that Villa should be held accountable, Biazon said: “It’s something that we should limit discussion internally. As far as our relations is concerned, we move on. But when he comes back home, steps must be taken to determine what kind of accountability he had.”

“They were trying to find defense (for their actions) in international agreements and conventions. My question there is why did you choose to do that instead of following international conventions. And if there were loopholes, why did they choose to risk the relationship and avail of the loophole? They should have follow international conventions and agreement and avoid diplomatic risks,” he said.

Emmanuel Geslani, a migration and recruitment expert, also said the Philippine government, instead of being in a fighting mood, should not comment further on the expulsion of its ambassador.

Rather than making statements that could further inflame the situation, Geslani said it would be best for the Philippine government to use a back channel to try to mend relations.

“The Philippine government should just take the expulsion of our ambassador there in its stride and try to just do their business as usual, the embassy will continue its work without having to say anything more and continue working for the protection of our workers,” he said.

Filipino workers, he said, should proceed to do what they were supposed to do and keep quiet. “Let us not inflame the situation.”

“What is important is the memorandum of agreement should be signed. If the timing of the signing is still after Ramadan maybe that’s enough time for things to cool down,” he said.

The diplomatic crisis between the two countries started in January after the Philippine government voiced concerns about the situation of Filipino migrant workers in the Gulf country. In February, the Philippines suspended sending workers to Kuwait following the death of Joanna Demafelis, whose body was found in a freezer in an abandoned apartment in Kuwait.

Since then the two countries have been working on an agreement that will ensure the protection and better treatment of Filipinos working in Kuwait.

There are more than 260,000 Filipinos working in Kuwait, many of them as housemaids.

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