On the same day the Duterte administration cancelled the missionary visa of an Australian nun known for her human rights advocacy, Kuwait expelled the Philippine ambassador for illegal actions justified as defense of human rights.
Ambassador Renato Villa has a week to pack up. Kuwait has also recalled its Ambassador to Manila Saleh Ahmad Althwaikh.
Villa’s expulsion came a day after Malacanang said President Rodrigo Duterte had defused what his spokesman, Harry Roque, called a minor spat.
Mocha Uson, assistant secretary for presidential communications, also posted on Facebook a report that headlined Roque’s “awe” of the President’s diplomatic prowess.
Uson reminded followers: “I told you to trust in the President. Father is skilled in that area.”
Roque and Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano framed the issue as a game of brinkmanship on behalf of Filipinos abused by Kuwaiti employers.
The row erupted after one of Duterte’s bloggers posted a video, credited to Philippines foreign affairs officers, showing the “rescue” of a Filipino worker. Middle East media also quoted Villa as saying he did not need the help of Kuwaiti authorities to rescue Filipinos.
That was a nasty surprise for Kuwait.
Both countries had already negotiated an extension of the deadline for undocumented workers. Kuwait had also relaxed draconian exit regulations for foreign labor.
Cayetano and Villa offered apologies that were barely disguised backslaps at Kuwait.
"As a general rule, we coordinate with the Kuwaiti government...There are certain exceptions: when there's life-or-death threat to our nationals, when we receive a call na sasabihing "papatayin na ako" (that says someone is going to kill me) or I'm in danger," said the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) chief.
Roque's praise for his lord and master poured more salt on Kuwait’s wounds.
“(Duterte) may have a very friendly approach, a personalistic approach, but he’s also a man of political will. I think he made it very clear he had no other option but to protect Filipino workers in
Kuwait,” said his spokesman.
That escalated what could have been excused as a bungled operation by eager-beavers. Nobody in the Duterte regime saw that.
And so the DFA whines: "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 …”
‘Flagrant breach of rules’
The DFA knows that while the envoy represents Kuwait in this country, head office and chief rulers always have the last say.
Duterte has countermanded aides many times to turn around negative public opinion.
The expulsion came a day after Kuwaiti legislators slammed the "weak response" to an outrage on their nation’s sovereignty.
The Philippine government, used to a tame, servile legislature and fawning executives, thought the world operated with the same standards.
The expulsion statement showed how badly Duterte’s echo chamber can warp judgment.
Kuwait accused embassy staff of engaging in “illegal acts as blatant violation of the State of Kuwait law, international covenants and charters, tantamount to intervention in the state domestic affairs and meddling in jurisdictions of the security apparatuses."
Kuwait’s foreign ministry had requested the names of “Filipinos who had committed the offense of smuggling Filipina workers in three months.” Now, it vows “to track down those who assailed the country security and prosecute them according to relevant international diplomatic laws.”
‘Golpe’ as fix
It’s not hard to understand how the Duterte government thought it could get away with commission of a crime on foreign soil.
For two years now , President Rodrigo Duterte has regaled the world with the dark art of golpe – the swift, sudden strike against real or imagined enemies.
He hurls grave, unsubstantiated accusations, which are followed by firings or concentrated attacks by underlings and minions.
Duterte will charm one day and curse you the next. He will hold out the olive branch this week and order a hunt next week. His fans call this “brilliant strategy.”
The golpe is all about might: the hammer of power and contempt for law. Duterte and his believers call this derring-do.
The strategy can initially paralyse the opposition. But golpe has a finite shelf life. Over two years, you lose the element of surprise.
When abuse becomes a pattern, people are hardened and emboldened.
Observers around the world watch and see, and wait for the overreach--another trademark of the Duterte regime.
Kuwait sent a clear message: You can’t bluster your way out of trouble all the time. You do not rule the world.
The expulsion notice does allow an out. It affirms Kuwait’s "determination to move from this extraordinary situation toward wider horizons of solid and joint relations.”
It also stresses the need for “wisdom and prudence, without any negative and harmful media sensationalism” to maintain sound bilateral relations.
What about us?
There’s plenty of irony to be found in our government’s response to crisis and how cheerleaders try to spin this.
We jump up and down and cheer when our officials break the law of a foreign country, in very graphic ways, to aid oppressed Filipinos.
Yet we want to lynch Sr. Pat Fox for her peaceful, non-violent aid to oppressed compatriots HERE.
This government is shocked by Kuwait’s anger over its appropriation of a host country’s enforcement powers.
Yet it is kicking out a nun who has toiled with suffering Filipinos, simply because she speaks up on their behalf.
Cayetano defends actions in Kuwait as upholding human rights.
But the DFA chief justifies the ban on a visiting European dignitary who criticised human rights abuses HERE.
Duterte’s minions hail the rescue of abused Filipinos but cheer on extra-judicial killings and violations of the constitutional right to due process HERE.
Many are willing to believe that the rescued OFWs are innocent victims (and most are). But they will blindly accept Duterte’s claim that everyone of the thousands felled by tokhang HERE deserves to die.
Everyone has rights. Rights that we need to defend. Rights are more than a plot device for propaganda campaigns.
It is unfortunate that 250,000 Filipinos in Kuwait, 65% of them vulnerable domestic workers, are going to be on the receiving end of this harsh lesson.
For their sake, the Duterte regime had better eat humble pie.
Disclaimer: The views in this blog are those of the blogger and do not necessarily reflect the views of ABS-CBN Corp.