Government ‘disturbed’ by Kuwait expulsion of Philippines envoy

Pia Lee-Brago - The Philippine Star
Government �disturbed� by Kuwait expulsion of Philippines envoy
The appearance in social media of the video recording of the supposed rescue operation prompted Kuwaiti officials to declare Ambassador Renato Villa persona non grata. He was ordered to leave Kuwait in one week.
Boy Santos

MANILA, Philippines — The Philippines sees the expulsion of its ambassador to Kuwait as “deeply disturbing” and “inconsistent” with assurances from the tiny oil-rich state that relations remain normal despite the controversy sparked by the clandestine rescue of distressed overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) by embassy staff.

The appearance in social media of the video recording of the supposed rescue operation prompted Kuwaiti officials to declare Ambassador Renato Villa persona non grata. He was ordered to leave Kuwait in one week.

Shortly before departing for Singapore for the Association of Southeast Asian nations (ASEAN) summit late yesterday, President Duterte said his administration would continue to ensure protection of the rights of Filipino workers abroad, but did not say anything about the diplomatic spat with Kuwait.

At Malacañang, presidential spokesman Harry Roque expressed shock at the development but voiced hope “it will not lead to further worsening of bilateral ties between the two countries.”

Manila had already apologized to Kuwait.

“The action taken by the Kuwaiti government is deeply disturbing as it is inconsistent with the assurances given by Kuwaiti Ambassador Musaed Saleh Ahmad Althwaikh during his meeting with Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano on Tuesday,” the DFA said in a statement.

The DFA asked Saleh to “explain first thing tomorrow why the Kuwaiti government reneged on the agreement reached with him to work together to move bilateral relations between the Philippines and Kuwait forward.”

In its discussions with Kuwait, the DFA said the Philippines has always emphasized that the wellbeing of Filipino nationals would always be of paramount importance.

“The protection of the rights and the promotion of the welfare of Filipinos abroad would always be the guiding principle of the Philippines in its relationship with countries around the world, including Kuwait,” the DFA said.

In a statement, the Kuwaiti foreign ministry condemned the Philippine embassy’s “flagrant and grave breach of rules and regulations that govern diplomatic action, where staff helped Filipina house helpers run away.”

The state-run Kuwait News Agency (KUNA) quoted the foreign ministry as saying the operation to spring the Filipino workers was a blatant violation of Kuwait laws, international covenants and charters, and was tantamount to intervention in the domestic affairs and meddling in jurisdictions of the security apparatuses.

The foreign ministry, according to the KUNA report, cited the 1961 Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, namely Provision 41 that bars infringement on individuals’ prerogatives and immunities, respecting states’ laws and non-intervening in their local affairs.

“The State of Kuwait government affirms that such acts and statements constitute explicit breach of international principles and covenants,” the ministry said in a statement.

Wounds to heal

Roque said Kuwait’s action against the Philippine ambassador could be the Arab country’s way of expressing its anger.

“We hope that this is Kuwaitis’ way of just expressing its anger for which SFA Alan Cayetano had already apologized, and we believe and hope that the passage of time will heal all wounds and will lead to normalize ties,” he said.

Villa’s statements that the embassy comes in to help distressed Filipinos if Kuwaiti authorities fail to respond to calls for assistance within 24 hours had also angered Kuwait.

Kuwait’s move has put a cloud of uncertainty over the signing of an agreement between the Philippines and Kuwait on ensuring the safety and welfare of Filipino workers in the Arab state.

“We continue to hope that the MOA on the minimum terms and conditions of employment relative to the hiring of Filipinos in Kuwait would also be signed as scheduled after Ramadan,” Roque added.

“We would like to reiterate the statement of the Secretary of Foreign Affairs that the Palace is equally disturbed by the recent developments involving the recall of our ambassador to Kuwait, Ambassador Villa,” Roque said.

“After the meeting of the President with the Kuwaiti ambassador, we were convinced that all kinks had been ironed out, reinforced by the apology given by the Secretary of Foreign Affairs the following day,” he added.

Roque said Kuwait’s action was a “grave expression of displeasure” but he scoffed at calls for Cayetano’s resignation, saying the government needs to get its act together for the safety of 250,000 documented about 10,800 undocumented Filipino workers in Kuwait.

“Maybe this is just their way really of stressing their displeasure, but for now the Filipinos continue to be protected by international law and the laws of humanity. So, whatever happens, the (Filipinos) can still seek protection under international laws,” Roque said.

Secrecy important

While they may have the best intentions in mind, embassy personnel involved in operations to rescue distressed workers should strictly observe secrecy due to the sensitivity of such operations, according to Sen. Panfilo Lacson.

He recalled how in 2001, while the Senate was conducting hearings on the absentee voting law overseas, he was told about such operations carried out by embassy staff.

In a tweet posted yesterday, Lacson said “stories to rescue distressed OFWs were pulled off by Filipino unsung heroes while posted abroad.”

“Their brave feats are unchronicled. To remain effective in their mission, they choose to remain unsung. I happen to know some of them,” Lacson said.

He said embassy staff would travel hundreds of kilometers in the middle of the night to carry out their missions.

“I recall that they were very emphatic in saying that the success of their countless missions was attributed to secrecy. The least of their concerns was recognition,” Lacson said.

“Because they were aware of the risks involved on their persons as well as the OFWs that they were rescuing and most importantly, the diplomatic implications,” he added.

When he asked the embassy staff why they were conducting such missions, Lacson recalled being told that they did it out of the “goodness of their hearts and nothing more.” He called such initiative “patriotism in the highest order.”   – With Christina Mendez, Delon Porcalla, Marvin Sy, Rudy Santos  

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