By Roy Mabasa
A gag order is now in effect at the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) following the statement made by President Rodrigo Duterte threatening to withdraw overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) working in Kuwait amid series of reported abuses, with some resulting in deaths.
When asked to comment on the President’s statement and the actions that the department had taken on the status of OFWs in Kuwait, the DFA’s Office of Public Diplomacy said they defer to Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano for any pronouncement concerning the issue, which to some experts may incur “diplomatic repercussions.”
“Per OUMWA (Office of the Undersecretary for Migrant Workers Affairs), they would rather have pronouncements on this matter come from SFA (Secretary of Foreign Affairs) himself while discussions on this matter are still ongoing between Kuwait and PHL officials,” the Office of Public Diplomacy told the Manila Bulletin.
Cayetano could not be reached for comment since he is currently in India as part of the presidential delegation.
Before embarking on his trip to India for the ASEAN Commemorative meeting on Wednesday, Duterte appealed to Kuwait and other countries in the Middle East to treat Filipinos workers as “human beings.”
The President’s statement came following the suspension of deployment of OFWs to Kuwait pending probe of reported four deaths and several other cases of abuse committed against Filipino workers.
Cayetano was apparently not consulted prior to the President’s statement on the Kuwait issue.
“I hope I am not committing a diplomatic faux pas,” Duterte said after acknowledging the presence of Cayetano in his pre-departure speech at the NAIA.
A senior diplomat, however, disagreed in the government’s handling of the situation, saying that the President or any other agencies of the government may be “ill-advised” in making hasty pronouncements without prior consultations with the DFA and the government of Kuwait.
“I think DOLE’s (Department of Labor and Employment) suspension of deployment of OFWs on account of the death of 4 HSWs (Household Service Workers) without first seeking clarification from appropriate Kuwaiti authorities is ill-advised,” said the retired diplomat who is well known for his deep knowledge of the country’s policy in the Middle East.
The former envoy, who also served in various positions under several administrations, explained that “not all OFWs in Kuwait are HSWs.”
“Perhaps (DOLE) Sec. (Silvestre) Bello may wish to consider instead, the deployment ban of female workers who are Household Service Workers (HSWs) but not the OFWs as a total Migrant Workers,” the diplomat said in a text message.
This view was shared by Philippine Ambassador to Kuwait Renato Villa who said that the ban on deployment may only apply to HSWs (formerly known as domestic helpers), being the “most vulnerable” among the categories of workers being deployed in Kuwait and in some other countries in the Middle East.
Villa told Kuwait-based media that he is still awaiting instructions from Manila regarding the ban and is ready to comply as soon as he receives an order from the DFA and DOLE.