Duterte should just tell the Kuwaitis to go to hell

  • Reading time:7 mins read

AND President Duterte won’t be the first head of state to do that.

Three years ago, another mayor-who-became-president, Indonesia’s Joko Widodo in effect told the Kuwaitis—as well as the people of Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Qatar, United Arab Emirates and 14 other Muslim countries—just that when he banned Indonesians from working in these countries as domestic help.

Jokowi, as he is commonly known, issued the ban in May 2015 in the wake of Saudi Arabia’s beheading of two Indonesian domestic helpers accused of murder, and incessant reports of abuses of Indonesian nationals in Muslim countries, especially in the so-called Persian Gulf countries. Indonesia had long been complaining vehemently over the abuses of its women working as domestics in these countries, and had issued a moratorium on sending new helpers to Saudi Arabia in 2011.

There are reports though that the ban did not work, as Indonesians still sought employment in these Gulf countries through myriad ways, such as entering these countries after the Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca. Still though, most accounts show that the number of Indonesians employed as domestic helpers in foreign countries has been going down since 2015, with reports of abuses against Indonesians diminishing.

Despite more than 500,000 Indonesians still working in the Middle East – which indicates that that nation’s poor are keen on working there – Jokowi’s telling them to go home had not at all affected his popularity, which means his compatriots backed his ban.

The Indonesian polling firm Indo Barometer, in December last year reported “98.2 percent favor Jokowi, and 62 percent said they would reelect him in the 2019 elections.”

Two earlier surveys by respected think tanks in Jakarta reported that Jokowi’s approval ratings even rose from 41 percent in 2015, when the ban was issued, to 68 percent in mid-2017.

More reasons
If Jokowi got really fed up with Saudi Arabia in particular, Duterte has even more reason to be angry.

Reports of abuses of Filipino domestic help in Kuwait have been unceasing, that the gruesome murder of Joanna Demafelis, even if committed by a Lebanese with his Syrian wife, was no longer shocking in that tiny nation where the three million expatriates vastly outnumber the 1.3 million Kuwaitis.

Abuses of Filipino domestic helpers had been such a problem for the Philippine embassy in Kuwait that its staff, or other patriotic Filipinos there, had to set up “safehouses” as a refuge for them. The safehouses were needed as arranging the documentation and the means for the workers’ exit from Kuwait could take not just days but even months.

Because the plight of Filipinas is so well-known in the Filipino community in Kuwait, the Embassy staff did not hesitate to collect Filipinas who run away from their employers, or who appealed for help, saying that they feared for their lives. I was told that the Kuwait police had not responded immediately to the request by the Embassy staff for help, that they decided to go ahead with the recent, controversial rescue operation.

I can certainly empathize with our Embassy staff, and especially its ambassador. When I was ambassador to Greece, there were at least two instances when my staff asked for permission to join and provide resources for such rescue missions in the middle of the night. Would I be able to look at myself in the mirror if I was told later that the Filipinas asking for help just disappeared or were found dead?

Video of rescue
There has been criticism that it was the video of the rescue that got the goat of the Kuwaitis, as they felt it was an insult to their sovereignty. What sovereignty can they really be proud of, when Kuwait (the name means “the small human settlement”) is really a part of Iraq’s Basra province before the imperialist powers established their hegemony in the Middle East after World War 1?

Kuwait was created after one of the dozen tribes in that desert area colluded with the British to carve it out of Iraq – which is one reason why Iraq had the gall to invade it in 1990, which we even supported. The British in turn wanted to deprive Iraq of access to the Persian Gulf. What is called “Kuwait” is simply the area arbitrarily demarcated around the deep-water, strategic port of Shuwaikh. Without the US and the UK, there wouldn’t be any area pretending to be a country.

Perhaps, the foreign affairs department should fire its spokesman Elmer Cato for circulating a video of the rescue operation among the reporters covering the foreign affairs department. As a career diplomat, he should have been more aware of the sensitivities of even the tiniest nation regarding their sovereignty.

Still though, the President of the Philippine Republic publicly said sorry to that dwarf of a nation. Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Cayetano wrote a formal letter to his counterpart apologizing for not relying on the Kuwait police to rescue the Filipinas. The Kuwait Ambassador here accepted the President’s apology, and photos of him smiling ear-to-ear as he shook Duterte’s hand were all over the papers.

And then the next day, the Kuwait Foreign Minister announced that he was kicking out of the country Philippine Ambassador Rene Villa and recalling their envoy here. Well, f**k those Arabs.

Expelling an ambassador of a country is the third most serious action that a state could direct at another country. The second is to formally cut off diplomatic ties, and the first is to declare war. For instance, even with disclosures of Russia’s interference in the last US election, the Americans ordered more than a dozen diplomats out of the country – but not its ambassador. Russia reciprocated in the same manner.

I cannot remember, nor can find, any instance of a Philippine ambassador being declared non-grata by a host country. An ambassador is the embodiment, as it were, of a nation, which is the reason he or she is addressed as “His (or Her) Excellency,” with only the President or head of state addressed as such.

100 million people
We are a country of over 100 million, which will grow in time, even as the 1.3 million Kuwaitis’ oil reserves slowly vanish, or can’t find buyers when new forms of energy are discovered.

Duterte must reciprocate by formally declaring persona non grata Kuwait’s ambassador and ordering him to leave the country tomorrow. Duterte should then issue a ban on the deployment of Filipino workers to Kuwait, not just for the reasons Indonesia’s Jokowi had, but for that Arab “small human settlement’s” insult to our country.

It will be difficult of course, and a huge loss to their incomes, for our OFWs to have to leave their jobs. But as has been proven in the cases of Japan and Iraq that had been the biggest employers of Filipino OFWs in the 1980s, our people’s skills are so much in demand elsewhere, especially in countries whose cultures have the highest regard for women. Let those spoiled Arabs clean their own smelly toilets, change the smelly soiled diapers of their babies in the middle of the night, and wash their own smelly plates.

In the case of foreign-exchange remittances, the April 2018 edition of the World Bank’s regular Migration and Development Brief noted: “The impact on remittance inflows of a recent ban on deploying Filipino workers to Kuwait is likely to be muted, given the Philippines relatively small exposure to that country.”

By banning our workers from going to Kuwait, we will be sending a very strong message to all Arab countries: Treat our women as human beings, even if they have the lowliest of jobs, and even if your desert-bred culture treats women as camels.


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