By José Abeto Zaide
As I was saying before we were all rudely interrupted by the discovery of a wayward Mission Impossible operation, the Philippines and Kuwait had joined hands to find justice for Joanna Demafelis, an OFW reported missing as early as January, 2017. But the pendulum swung the other way when social media revealed the errant Philippine rescue operation for OFWs, resulting in the Philippine envoy being declared persona non grata.
WHERE WE ARE: Predictably, Kuwait rejected the sovereignty breach because of misguided initiative to rescue and harbor OFWs behind the back of the host government.
Earlier, a piqued President Rodrigo Duterte was reported to declare that the ban on overseas Filipino worker deployment to Kuwait would be permanent. There are even intimations of alternative job placements in Russia and other placements.
But, reacting to PDu30’s remarks, the Deputy Foreign Minister Khaled Al-Jarallah said that Kuwait shares the Philippine President’s desire to maintain the relations between the two countries. He recalled Manila’s support for Kuwait during the Gulf War, and expressly cited this “historic friendship” between the two countries to help bridge the present impasse. The response is sincere and calibrated at the appropriate level. We should seize that opening.
WHERE WE WERE: It is easy to be wiser on hindsight. But this imbroglio is a man-made debacle. Those who are longer in the tooth can point to when there was a real crisis, and how the Philippines responded. The former DFA Chief Coordinator Ambassador Rodolfo Arizala recalls that at the outbreak of the 1990 Gulf War, the Philippines succored 4,000 OFWs. There were other nationals (Indians, Pakistanis, Bangladesh nationals, Sri Lankans, Thais, etc.) who also lived in make-shift shelters under sweltering desert sun, lacking lack water and food and sanitation, ensuing riots.
According to reports, our OFWs were able to cross the Iraq-Iran border without authorization from Iraq, but with permission from Iran. In Kuwait, Iraqi soldiers dispersed OFW’s who were encamped inside the compound and around the premises of the Philippine Embassy.
The then Foreign Secretary Raul Manglapus met with DFA crisis managers to take stock of the situation:
1) Our officers and staff in Kuwait were no longer allowed access to our embassy premises.
2) Ambassador Fortunato Oblena was authorized to send a Note Verbale to the UAE foreign ministry accepting the offer of UAE planes to bring OFWs to Manila.
3) Ambassador Pacifico Castro suggested availing of IOM assistance to airlift OFWs from Amman to Manila. Arizala addressed the IOM in Manila to accept the offer to airlift our OFWs to Manila.
- Undersecretary for Policy Manuel Yan made representations in Baghdad with Iraqi authorities regarding the situation in Kuwait.
- During the emergency, several foreign envoys in Manila offered assistance. The US, Sweden, and Australia conveyed readiness to help in the evacuation of OFWs from the Middle East to the Philippines. Japan pledged two billion US dollars as assistance to the Philippines. A New Zealand C-130 plane arrived in Manila with OFWs from Amman. An IOM plane also arrived.
- Iraq allowed Philippine planes to land in Baghdad and Basra and Philippine ships to dock at Iraqi seaports to evacuate OFWs. The Philippines also brought food, medicine, and supplies to Filipino nationals in Iraq and in Kuwait.
PH was able to get our OFWs out of harm’s way and repatriate them by working with local host governments and engaging all relevant government authorities.
The concerted Philippine response during the Gulf War contrasts with the recent sub-rosa operation ala Mission Impossible attempt. What complicated the maverick operation this time was operating a stowaway service which was leaked for local (Philippine) media consumption to project a heroic attempt to succor our OFWs. Whoever thought of the operation to get maximum media mileage for the initiative has the perfect plan for shooting ourselves in the foot. This is why diplomats make haste slowly. Foreign Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano should trust the DFA professionals, and not be swayed by good intentions of rank amateurs.
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