Kuwait frees Filipino drivers in rescue

Rudy Santos - The Philippine Star
Kuwait frees Filipino drivers in rescue
Philippine officials, led by Labor Secretary Silvestro Bello III and Presidential Spokesman Harry Roque, pose with Kuwaiti officials after their meeting on distressed Filipino workers in the Gulf state.

MANILA, Philippines — Kuwait officials agreed last night to release four Filipino drivers arrested last month for the rescue of distressed Filipino workers and allow nearly 600 undocumented Filipinos to return to the Philippines, Malacañang has announced.

The moves were announced following a meeting of Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III, presidential spokesman Harry Roque Jr., former labor chief Marianito Roque and deputy chief of mission in Kuwait Mohd Noordin Lomondot.

Except those with pending cases, Roque said the undocumented Filipinos would be allowed to go home.

“At least 150 of them will be joining the Philippine officials in returning to the Philippines,” Roque said in a statement.

Bello and Roque took an Etihad Airways flight at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) Terminal 1 on Tuesday night together with Mindanao Development Authority Secretary Datu Abdul Alonto.

In what can be seen as a positive development on the backchannel negotiations, Roque also announced the impending signing of the memorandum of agreement (MOA) between the Philippines and Kuwait for the protection of Filipino workers.

According to Roque’s office, the Philippine delegation met officials from the Kuwaiti Interior Ministry and added the Philippines and Kuwait “look forward to the normalization of ties.”

“Kuwait has expressed the value of Filipinos in Kuwait,” Roque said in a statement.

“Also, Kuwait agreed to create a special unit within the police that the Philippine embassy can liaison with regarding complaints of Filipino workers… and a special number that Filipino workers can call for assistance,” Roque said, noting that these services will be available 24 hours.

Separate flights

Before they left, officials refused to give any details about their trip to Kuwait.

Sana maayos na natin ito (I hope this can be straightened out),” one of the officials said, apparently referring to the diplomatic issues between the two countries.

Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano also flew to Kuwait on Tuesday night through NAIA Terminal 3. There was no mention of Cayetano in Roque’s statement.

Earlier, Bello said he was just waiting for a go-signal from President Duterte and would leave for Kuwait anytime for the signing of the agreement providing protection for Filipino workers in the Arab country.

Three Filipino diplomats remain in the Philippine embassy in Kuwait after arrest warrants were issued against them for rescuing distressed Filipino workers, the video of which was posted on social media.

The four Filipino drivers they hired for the mission were the ones released.

Kuwait also expelled Philippine Ambassador Renato Villa for the rescue of the distressed workers, the video of which went viral on social media.

The Philippines’ issues with Kuwait began in February when the government stopped the deployment of Filipino workers to the Gulf state following the discovery of Joanna Demafelis’ body in a freezer in the abandoned apartment of her employers, who were eventually arrested.

Duterte issued a permanent ban on the deployment of workers to Kuwait and said it would only be lifted after an agreement providing protection for Filipino workers is signed by the Kuwaiti government. – With Christina Mendez

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