By Argyll Cyrus Geducos
SINGAPORE — Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano said the Philippines is surprised and displeased with Kuwait’s action to declare Ambassador Renato Villa as persona non grata, saying it is consistent with what their envoy committed to the Philippine government.
Cayetano issued the statement after the Kuwaiti government declared Villa as persona non grata and ordered him to leave the gulf state within the week. This came after a video of a rescue operation in Kuwait initiated by the Philippine embassy there went viral. Earlier, Kuwait had summoned Villa over his supposed inflammatory remarks against the government.
Cayetano, in a press briefing in Singapore, said the Department of Foreign Affairs summoned Ambassador Musaed Saleh Ahmad Althwaikh to explain the Kuwait government’s action, but only to find out that the envoy was recalled by the Kuwait Ministry of Foreign Affairs for consultation.
“The DFA today served a diplomatic note expressing our surprise and our displeasure on the declaration of the Philippine Ambassador Renato Villa as persona non grata,” Cayetano said last night.
Cayetano noted how Musaed said the Kuwaiti government likes Villa and told him that the Philippine ambassador should finish his tenure in the gulf state.
“He [Musaed] was emphatic. ‘We like him. We want him to stay, he should finish his tour,’ you know. So that’s why we used the word ‘disturbed’ because I’m disturbed. The ambassador is representing his country. That’s why we are seeking an explanation, clarification, and hopefully be enlightened why this happened,” he said.
Cayetano said he is 100-percent certain that what is happening is inconsistent with what Kuwait had promised the Philippines. However, he said he would rather be patient.
He also said it is the right of any country to declare an ambassador as unwanted but he questioned Kuwait’s reason for doing so since that is not what their envoy to the Philippines said.
“I’m not allowed to be enraged as a diplomat. Diplomacy is based on goodwill and respect. So we have to be patient, we have to be diplomatic, so we’re asking our counterpart,” Cayetano said.
“When a diplomat is unwanted, the host country does not have to explain. It’s completely their right. So ordinarily, I wouldn’t ask for clarification. I’m asking for clarification. not because he was removed per se, which is their right, but while assuming that you want him there, you suddenly do this,” he added.
“What I do know is when you talk to an ambassador, he represents his country. And when he makes firm commitments, we either follow it, or you tell us why we can follow it. But in our case, in our part, we’re now asking them—why didn’t you do your part?” he continued.
Cayetano had earlier apologized to Kuwait if they think the actions of the Philippine Embassy in the gulf state infringed their sovereignty. He said Musaed had delivered a strong message of appreciation to his apology.
Tension between the Philippines and Kuwait were at high following Duterte’s order to ban the deployment of new OFWs to the Arab country. Duterte’s order stemmed from the death of Joanna Demafelis who was beaten to death by her employers and left stuffed inside a freezer in an abandoned apartment for a year before being discovered two months ago.
No to signing of MOU for now
Cayetano said he would advise President Duterte and Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III to not push through with the signing of the memorandum of understanding on the welfare of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) in Kuwait for now until the issue is clarified.
He likewise recommended against lifting the ban on the deployment of new OFWs to the gulf state until Kuwait explains their side on the matter.
“I’ve always said an agreement is a piece of paper that keeps the goodwill, respect, mutual respect, and trust between the two countries. Now that this is happening, why would I recommend that we sign the memorandum and lift the ban? But we’re hoping that this will all be clarified,” Cayetano said.
Cayetano also said the issue, including the recall of Musaed, might affect Duterte’s visit to Kuwait.
“The visit, if it was to push through, will be after Ramadan. And of course this will be after we sign the agreement that we’re hoping to sign this first week of May. But how can we now do that when the Ambassador who was setting the date and was telling me, ‘Any day in the first week of May,’ was suddenly recalled and is not answering our inquiries at this point in time?” he said.
Duterte was originally set to fly to Kuwait to witness the signing of the document. However, Cayetano on Wednesday said the agreement would most likely be signed in the Philippines before Ramadan starts.
He also said he would advise the President to push through with the visit to directly and effectively deliver the message to Kuwaiti leaders.
Cayetano assured that while the Philippine government has no perfect plan for the OFWs repatriated from Kuwait, there are other countries that are willing to absorb them. However, he refused to name those countries to prevent other diplomatic issues from surfacing.
“If you’re going to ask me if there are 10,000 or 20,000 Filipinos there, I’ll tell you pulido ‘yung plano (we have a solid plan). But with more than 200,000 Filipinos, it’s very difficult to come up with a contingency plan that is perfect, but it’s there,” he said.
“We’re still optimistic, but of course we’re also preparing for—hoping the best but also preparing for the worst,” he added.
But Cayetano asked Kuwait to stay true to their commitment and take care of Filipinos who are still in Kuwait after their Ambassador said Filipinos are important to them.
“Kuwait has assured us that it is as important for them to keep the Filipinos there as it is important to us. If it’s important for you to keep them there—That’s all we’re asking, if there’s abuse, address it, then treat them well,” he said.
“All we’re asking for is we fix this misunderstanding as I call it, but their actions today and last night created more misunderstanding,” he added.
Meanwhile, Cayetano said no abuse on Filipinos in Kuwait was reported following the incident.
“Currently there is no reported harassment directed to our Filipinos as a result of this incident. The Department instructed the Embassy to closely monitor the situation and we assure the Filipino community that the government will continue to serve them and look after their welfare,” he said.
“We are relying on the good faith, humanity, and friendship with the government of Kuwait to take care of all our Filipino compatriots who are in Kuwait,” he added.