Philippines apologizes to Kuwait over OFW rescue

Jamaine Punzalan, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Apr 24 2018 04:13 PM

MANILA - The Philippine government on Tuesday apologized to Kuwait for its rescue of Filipino domestic workers from Kuwaiti homes, which the Gulf state viewed as a violation of its sovereignty. 

Kuwait lodged a diplomatic protest after embassy officials led by Philippine Ambassador to Kuwait Renato Villa rescued distressed overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) from their homes over the weekend. 

The Kuwait foreign ministry also summoned Villa after he was seen in a viral video supposedly saying that the Philippines does not need the aid of Kuwaiti authorities in helping undocumented Filipinos. 

"We are apologizing for certain incidents that the Kuwaiti view as a violation of their sovereignty," Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano said in a press briefing, noting that only Kuwaiti police were authorized to respond to reports of abuse in private residences. 

The Philippines assures Kuwait that "we will follow their laws," Cayetano said. 

Manila, he said, has extended the apology to Kuwait’s ambassador to the Philippines Saleh Ahmad Althwaikh but would reiterate it in a formal diplomatic note. 

Cayetano said Philippine officials would continue to respond to reports of abuse of its nationals. 

"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," he said. 

"Action has to be swift and action has to be given right away," the top diplomat added. 

The Philippines will strengthen its 24/7 hotline for distressed workers, boost shelters for OFWs and work closer with the Kuwaiti police, he said. 

Cayetano also said Kuwait has made "no threat" to expel Villa and made the assurance that diplomats would not be detained. 

The Philippines and Kuwait are finalizing a deal for the protection of Filipino workers in the Gulf state. Talks began following a string of reported abuse and deaths of OFWs, including Joanna Demafelis, whose body was found in a freezer in Kuwait in February. 

The incident prompted the Philippine government to ban the deployment of Filipino workers to the Gulf state and initiate a repatriation program for those who would like to come home.