“The diplomatic row between the Philippines and Kuwait has unmasked the gross incompetence of DFA Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano and his top aides who are now a liability to the Duterte administration,” the career officers said in the letter obtained by The STAR.
AFP/Fabrice Coffrini, File
Career diplomats want Cayetano, aides to resign
Pia Lee-Brago (The Philippine Star) - May 2, 2018 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — Career officers at the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) are calling for the resignation of Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano and his appointees for gross incompetence that led to the diplomatic standoff with Kuwait.

Although the officers did not refer to the Union of Foreign Service Officers (UNIFORS) as the organization of career diplomats behind the letter, DFA officials learned it was sent to President Duterte asking for the resignation of Cayetano and his appointees in the department.

“The diplomatic row between the Philippines and Kuwait has unmasked the gross incompetence of DFA Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano and his top aides who are now a liability to the Duterte administration,” the career officers said in the letter obtained by The STAR.

They pointed out the President is the chief architect of Philippine foreign policy and engages in high stakes diplomacy with the Secretary of Foreign Affairs bridging the gap with the international community.

“Having no vision on foreign policy, Cayetano and his top aides miscalculated Kuwaiti reaction to the controversial rescue missions of distressed Filipino housemaids. This blunder resulted in the expulsion of our Ambassador to Kuwait, Rene (Renato) Villa, who was declared persona non grata by the host government,” the officers said.

The career officers called for the resignation of Cayetano and his appointees in the foreign service “to spare the Philippines from further diplomatic embarrassments.”

“Cayetano’s amateurism and inexperience threaten to jeopardize the welfare of 230,000 Filipino workers in Kuwait,” they said.

“It is a widespread belief that the Kuwaitis will not resume talks with the Philippines as long as Cayetano is the DFA secretary,” they said.

When Cayetano was appointed to the DFA almost a year ago, the officers said there was a perception that his youth would inject fresh ideas to Philippine foreign policy. 

But they said many were disappointed as Cayetano’s lack of foresight and wisdom are also glaring on other foreign policy issues such as the West Philippine Sea, withdrawal of International Criminal Court membership, rejection of European Union (EU) aid and UN human rights.

The career officers also mentioned DFA Undersecretary for Migrant Workers Affairs Sarah Lou Arriola, a non-career official, as another “liability” to the Duterte administration. 

Prior to her appointment to the DFA, Arriola had no experience whatsoever in dealing with Filipino migrant workers, they said. 

The officials said Arriola’s only visible credential is her close ties with Cayetano. 

“Yet Arriola was the one who authorized the dispatch of rapid response teams (RRT) to Kuwait whose marching orders were to conduct more rescue of distressed Filipino housemaids, take videos of the rescue and upload them in FB (Facebook) for the whole world to see.”

They said Arriola was apparently ignorant of the 1961 Vienna Convention on Diplomatic and Consular Relations that she even went to Kuwait twice to personally instruct the rescue teams to intensify their operations in an attempt to show that Cayetano is on the side of the Filipino workers.

They claimed Arriola had flunked the Foreign Service Officers examinations.

“(She has) no moral ascendancy over career officers whom she treated with contempt, wanting to gain publicity to advance the sluggish political career of Cayetano,” they said.

The officials said the RRT was an ill-advised move to rescue Filipino workers in Kuwait since it could only be made in war-torn countries with no functioning government.

“Derisively referred to as “special forces“ by expats in Kuwait, Arriola’s RRT brought havoc to Philippine-Kuwait ties. Its blatant interference on its internal affairs was the main reason cited by the Kuwaitis in the expulsion of Ambassador Villa,” they said.

Duterte in February had imposed a prohibition on workers heading to Kuwait following the murder of a Filipina maid whose body was found stuffed in a freezer in the Gulf state.

The crisis deepened after Kuwaiti authorities last week ordered Villa to leave the country over videos of Philippine embassy staff helping workers in Kuwait flee allegedly abusive employers.

The Philippines, through Cayetano, has apologized for the incident but insisted that the rescue was a “rightful exercise” of its duty to protect its citizens.

The two nations had been negotiating a labor deal that Philippine officials said could result in the lifting of the ban, but the recent escalation in tensions has put an agreement in doubt.

The rescue in Kuwait also highlighted the supposed rift between Cayetano and Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III.

The trouble between Cayetano and Bello reportedly stemmed from the course of action each respectively took or recommended to the President to resolve the crisis affecting Filipino workers in Kuwait.

Cayetano initiated the rescue of the distressed Filipino workers while Bello suggested another approach.

Sources said Villa will be arriving today from Kuwait.

Toning down

Kuwaiti Deputy Foreign Minister Khaled Al-Jarallah gave his assurance that Kuwait is keen on maintaining the safety and rights of all expatriates, including the Filipino community, within the labor laws of the country.

Al-Jarallah added that he appreciated the contributions of the Filipino community, over 200,000 of whom are working in various sectors in Kuwait.

Al-Jarallah expressed his optimism that the historic friendship between the two countries “could help overcome the exceptional circumstance” and that Kuwait was looking forward to working with the Philippines to honor mutual interest. 

Cayetano welcomed the statements of Al-Jarallah conveying his government’s readiness to work with Manila to address the concerns of Filipino workers there.

“This gesture on the part of Kuwait, a country with which we have a shared history and strong people-to-people ties, will allow us to move forward and hurdle the challenges we face,” Cayetano said in a statement.

Cayetano said the Philippines acknowledged the assurances of Kuwait in protecting the rights and promoting the welfare of Filipinos working there. 

“This is a shared goal that should be pursued with willingness to understand and respect where each side is coming from,” he added.

‘Soft landing’

Duterte, for his part, adopted a “soft landing” approach to the diplomatic row with Kuwait.

Duterte said he would not quarrel with the Kuwaiti government because “much is at stake.” 

The President said he would not talk too much about the controversy because talks are ongoing but he did not elaborate.  

“I won’t attack because talks are going on. At the minimum, I want them (workers) to come home. I will find money,” Duterte said. 

“We will mobilize continuously until everyone who wants out of there would come home... So I am adopting a soft landing approach. I won’t talk much because so much is at stake,” he added. 

Last week, Duterte urged Filipino workers in Kuwait to come home and vowed to provide for their needs. On Sunday, the President said he has made the deployment ban permanent but the labor department clarified later that the sending of workers might resume once an agreement protecting workers is signed.

 Duterte said his administration is exerting all efforts to boost the level of protection of migrant workers, especially those in Kuwait.  – With Alexis Romero, Marvin Sy

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