By Argyll Cyrus Geducos
SINGAPORE—Following the recent developments that rocked the relationship between the Philippines and Kuwait, Malacañang revealed that President Duterte has made an unexpected decision on how to deal with the gulf state.
Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque made the statement after it was reported that Duterte, upon his arrival here in Singapore for the 32nd Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Summit, discussed with Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III and Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano the course of action to be taken regarding the Kuwait issue.
While the President will make the announcement the moment he returns to the Philippines on Saturday evening, Roque on Friday night said that Duterte made a rather ‘solomonic’ decision.
“Parang (It seems like) he’s been thinking long and hard about it. Sinabi niya kung ano’ng gagawin niya (He told us what he is going to do), which was really neither the recommendation [of secretaries Bello and Cayetano]. I think it was he who thought it himself,” Roque told reporters after his press briefing Friday evening.
“Medyo solomonic (It’s a rather solomonic decision). My immediate answer is I did not expect that. It’s a Duterte pronouncement so of course it’s dramatic,” he added.
The Philippines and Kuwait are supposed to sign a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) on the welfare of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) in the gulf state. However, the signing is put to uncertainty after Kuwait declared Philippine ambassador Renato Villa persona non grata, and recalled their ambassador Musaed Saleh Ahmad Althwaikh.
Kuwait ordered Villa to leave the gulf state within the week following his supposed inflamatory remarks against the government, and for the rescue operations early this week which they called an illegal raid.
However, Roque said that the fate of the MOU is now put to uncertainty.
“I do not know anymore what will happen to the MOU. As I said, even when I addressed this issue in Malacañang but I do not know,” he said.
“Everything is up in the air now with recent developments, with the Kuwaiti ambassador being recalled and the Philippine ambassador declared persona non grata. So anything we say on this matter will be pure speculation and let’s not speculate,” he added.
Roque also described that Duterte’s decision was certainly a very different reaction to the controversy.
“It was the course of action that was not specifically recommended by anyone. He made up his mind and I appreciate it. It shows really his experience in governance and there’s wisdom, I guess, even in his number of years of leadership, as well as in his age. But he will announce it,” he said.
The tension between the Philippines and Kuwait started when Duterte lashed out against the gulf state for the death of Joanna Demafelis. Demafelis was reportedly beaten to death by her employers in Kuwait and was stuffed inside a freezer for more than a year in an abandoned apartment unit. Her body was discovered only this February after being declared missing since November, 2016.
Demafelis’ death prompted Duterte to order a total deployment ban of new OFWs to Kuwait and said that he will only lift the ban if Kuwait agrees to sign an MOU that aims to protect OFWs from abusive employers.
Some of the conditions that Duterte want in the MOU were for OFWs in Kuwait to get a day-off and holiday off and/or pay, be able to cook their own meal, get at least seven hours of sleep, have their own cellphones, and their passports not confiscated.
However, with the recent development, Cayetano said that he will recommend against the signing of the MOU and the lifting of the ban until Kuwait clarifies its stand on declaring Villa persona non grata. Cayetano noted that Musaed assured him that Kuwait likes Villa and would like him to finish his tenure.
Bello, meanwhile, said that he will go to Kuwait after Labor Day to find out himself the real situation and hopefully talk to his counterpart about the possibility of strengthening the relations between the two countries.