MANILA - Contrary to an announcement by President Rodrigo Duterte, the ban on Filipinos going to work in Kuwait is only temporary, Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III claimed Monday.
Duterte on Sunday said the ban "stays permanently," intensifying a diplomatic standoff over the treatment of migrant workers in the Gulf nation.
Bello, however, said media reports misquoted Duterte.
The President, he said, had previously declared that the ban would be lifted once Kuwait signs a labor deal and gives justice to a Filipina maid whose body was found stuffed in her employer's freezer.
"Iyung mga report kasi minsan, hindi accurate e... Sinabi raw ng Pangulo na permanent na iyung ban -- hindi naman po ganoon," Bello said in an interview with ABS-CBN's Noli De Castro on radio dzMM.
"Ang pagkasabi ng Presidente noong unang-una, iyung deployment ban will stay for as long as walang MOU (memorandum of agreement) at hindi nabigyan ng katarungan," he added.
(Reports are sometimes inaccurate. The President reportedly said that the ban is now permanent -- that is not the case. The President had said from the start that the deployment ban will stay for as long as there is no MOU and there is no justice.)
De Castro, however, played an audio clip of Duterte's pronouncement on the ban, where he said: "The ban stays permanently. There will be no more recruitment for especially domestic helpers."
Bello then said: "Baka out of context lang po iyun."
(Maybe that was just taken out of context.)
He said he will clarify the issue with Duterte when they meet later Monday.
Around 262,000 Filipinos work in Kuwait, nearly 60 percent of them domestic workers, according to the foreign ministry.
Last week, the Philippines apologized over the rescue videos but Kuwaiti officials announced they were expelling Manila's ambassador and recalling their own envoy.
Kuwait also detained 4 Filipinos hired by the Philippine embassy and issued arrest warrants against 3 diplomatic personnel, Manila said.
Kuwait, meanwhile, "is willing to cooperate with friends in the Philippines to look into ways to resolve all outstanding issues" regarding Filipino workers, deputy foreign minister Khaled al-Jarallah said in a statement on Sunday.
"The historic friendship between the 2 countries can overcome this issue," he added.
'ANGER AGAINST FILIPINOS'
About 10 million Filipinos work abroad, seeking high-paying jobs they are unable to find at home, and their remittances are a major pillar of the Philippine economy.
The Philippine government has for decades hailed overseas workers as modern heroes but advocacy groups have highlighted the social cost of migration, tearing families apart and making Filipinos vulnerable to abuse.
Duterte lashed out at Kuwait in February, alleging Arab employers routinely rape Filipina workers, force them to work 21 hours a day and feed them scraps.
However after the latest row, Duterte used a conciliatory tone as he addressed the "diplomatic ruckus" on Saturday.
"Parang lumalabas na may galit sila sa mga Pilipino... Ayaw ko na silang papuntahin because apparently, parang ayaw ninyo ang Pilipino," he said in a speech before Filipinos in Singapore.
"Huwag na lang ho ninyong, do not hurt them; just help us. I will look for money at kukuhanin ko lahat ng trabahanteng Pilipino."
(Apparently it seems as if they have anger against Filipinos... I do not want to send workers because apparently you do not like Filipinos. Just do not hurt them. I will look for money and get all the Filipino workers.)
Duterte said workers returning from Kuwait could find employment as English teachers in China, citing improved ties with Beijing.
Describing China as a "true friend", he said he would use Chinese aid to fund the workers' repatriation.
Duterte added he was not after "vengeance.”
"I'd address myself to the Kuwait government and the people: Thank you for helping my countrymen all these years. It is a debt of gratitude that after all you were able to help. So I have no anger, no hatred," he said.
With a report from Agence France-Presse