MANILA – Malacañang on Monday said the Philippines’ ban on the deployment of Filipino workers to Kuwait would not be permanent, as it sought to clarify an earlier statement from President Rodrigo Duterte about the issue.
Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said it is incorrect to say that the deployment ban has become permanent because there is still a possibility for it to be lifted.
“When you say ‘permanent’ that means it is already set in stone,” Roque said in a Palace press briefing.
Roque said the deployment ban can still be lifted if the Philippines and Kuwait finally sign a memorandum of understanding for the protection of Filipinos working in the Gulf state.
Roque issued this clarification after Duterte said on Sunday that the deployment ban would “stay permanently.”
The Philippines had set the MOU with Kuwait as a condition to end its deployment ban to the Gulf state.
However, a video showing the rescue of distressed Filipino domestic workers from their employers' homes in the Gulf state surfaced and went viral online, setting off a diplomatic row.
Kuwait viewed the Philippine embassy’s rescue mission as a violation of its laws and sovereignty, prompting the expulsion of Philippine Ambassador Renato Villa and the recall of its envoy to the Philippines. Kuwait has also detained several Philippine embassy personnel involved in the rescue.
Talks between the Philippines and Kuwait for the MOU began following a string of reported abuses and deaths of OFWs, including Joanna Demafelis, whose body was found in a freezer in Kuwait in February, over a year after she was reported missing.
The deaths of Filipinas at the Gulf state prompted the Philippine government to ban the deployment of Filipino workers there and initiate a repatriation program for those who would like to come home.
Around 262,000 Filipinos work in Kuwait, nearly 60 percent of them domestic workers, according to the foreign ministry.
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.
Roque described the Kuwaiti official’s statement as a “positive developtment”, saying “we now have context by which [Labor Secretary Silvestre] Bello and I will visit Kuwait on May 7.”
He said the Philippines will continue to pursue friendly ties with Kuwait despite the diplomatic row.