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Kuwait expels Filipino envoy, recalls ambassador to Manila

MPs hail foreign ministry for upholding nation’s sovereignty, laws, dignity

Renato Pedro Villa

KUWAIT: Kuwait yesterday ordered the Philippines ambassador to leave within a week and recalled its own envoy for consultations after embassy staff tried to “rescue” Filipino domestic workers amid reports of abuse. An official at Kuwait’s foreign ministry said Philippine Ambassador Renato Pedro Villa had been summoned to be informed of his expulsion. The decision was the latest episode in a three-month crisis sparked by reports that abuse by employers had driven several Filipinos to suicide. The Philippines had apologized on Tuesday for what Kuwait viewed as a “flagrant” violation of its sovereignty, with the Philippine foreign secretary saying the embassy was forced to “assist” Filipino workers who sought help as some situations were a matter of life and death.

The Kuwaiti foreign ministry deemed such illegal acts as a blatant violation of Kuwaiti law and international covenants and charters and tantamount to intervention in the state’s domestic affairs and meddling in jurisdictions of the security apparatuses, it said in a statement. These acts also constitute a flagrant violation of the 1961 Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, namely Provision 41 that bars infringement on individuals’ prerogatives and immunities, respecting states’ laws and non-intervention in their local affairs.

The ministry statement noted that Philippine officials stated that the foreign ministry of the Asian nation dispatched “reinforcements to the embassy in Kuwait; comprised of seven teams affiliated with the foreign undersecretary for labor and immigration on the pretext of rescuing female housemaids in Kuwait”. “The Kuwaiti government affirms that such acts and statements constitute explicit breach of international principles and covenants,” the official statement said.

These acts had prompted the Kuwaiti foreign ministry to summon the Philippine ambassador twice, lodging with him complaints expressing Kuwait’s extreme dismay and denunciation of such dangerous transgressions. It added it had given the ambassador three days to provide the names of Filipino residents in Kuwait who had “kidnapped” domestic workers from their employers’ homes, but it had yet to receive a response from the embassy. Kuwaiti security forces “will continue to chase down those who violated the security of the country” and put them on trial, the statement said.

“Therefore, the ministry of foreign affairs has decided to consider the Philippine ambassador to Kuwait persona non-grata according to Provision 9 of the Vienna Convention, thus he must leave the country in a maximum of one week. Secondly, the department is calling back the Kuwaiti ambassador to the Philippines for consultations,” it said. Three Filipinos who drove vans for the embassy in the operations are believed to be held by Kuwaiti authorities. Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte’s spokesman, Harry Roque, declined to comment on the Kuwaiti decision.

The Kuwaiti foreign ministry also affirmed the “determination to move from this extraordinary situation toward wider horizons of solid and joint relations as part of the historic and deep-rooted ties between the two countries”. Furthermore, it emphasized the necessity of tackling the issue “with wisdom and prudence, without any negative and harmful media sensationalism for sake of attaining the common aspiration towards distinctive and sound bilateral relations between the two friendly countries”. Kuwait and the Philippines established diplomatic relations in 1979.

Lawmakers, activists rejoice
Meanwhile, lawmakers yesterday hailed as adequate and appropriate the decision of the foreign ministry. Opposition MP Shuaib Al-Muwaizri described the decision a “step in the right direction”, adding the foreign ministry should have taken such action after Duterte issued threats to Kuwait several weeks ago. He urged the foreign ministry to reject any labor agreement or preconditions made by the Philippine president or his foreign minister.

MP Ali Al-Deqbasi said the expulsion of the Philippine ambassador is the correct action and is a manifestation of Kuwaiti public opinion. He said the decision is an effective response to the breach of Kuwaiti laws by the embassy staff and against the lies and fabrications by the Philippine media against Kuwait. MP Abdulkarim Al-Kandari said the expulsion is “a respectable Kuwaiti measure”, adding that this is what “we had demanded in response to the violation of our sovereignty”.

Deputy National Assembly Speaker Essa Al-Kandari said the expulsion of the Philippine ambassador and recalling the Kuwaiti ambassador is a highly-esteemed measure. He described the decision as a victory for Kuwait’s sovereignty and laws and the dignity of the Kuwaiti people, but expressed hope that Kuwaiti-Philippine relations will be normalized soon. The decision was also overwhelmingly hailed by online activists, who said the decision was overdue following the violations committed by the Philippine Embassy and some of its staff.

The latest row erupted after videos emerged of embassy staff helping Filipinos flee from allegedly abusive employers. One of the clips, released by the Philippine foreign ministry last week, shows a woman running from a home and jumping into a waiting vehicle, while another depicts a person sprinting from what appears to be a construction site to a black sport utility vehicle. Kuwait was furious about the videos, further straining ties already hit by Duterte imposing a ban on Filipino workers moving to the state after the discovery of a domestic worker’s body in a freezer in an abandoned flat. The two countries had since been trying to work out an agreement to protect the rights of Filipino workers in Kuwait, particularly some 170,000 maids.

By B Izzak and Agencies

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