The rescue caper
Call it a classic case of good intentions paving the road to hell.
The “rescue” last week of overseas Filipino workers allegedly being abused by their employers in Kuwait was certainly
well-intentioned, with the Department of Foreign Affairs trumpeting that as many as “26 Filipino domestic helpers who sent out cries for help [have been] found and rescued since April 7.”
So why did Foreign Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano wind up with egg on his face, abjectly apologizing to the Kuwaiti government for the controversial act? It was a misunderstanding, he said, adding that the rescue was done “in the spirit of emergency to protect Filipinos.”
But Arnell Ignacio, deputy administrator of the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration, said that the rescue was a serious crime in Kuwait, and that the DFA rapid response team should have coordinated plans to rescue the distressed OFWs with the Kuwaiti police.
The state-run Kuwait News Agency described the serious diplomatic breach as an attempt “to undermine Kuwait’s soverei gnty, dignity and reputation,” and “a flagrant interference in Kuwait’s internal affairs.”
(Malacañang used similar words to justify the Bureau of Immigration’s overnight detention last week of 71-year-old Australian nun Sister Patricia Fox. The Catholic missionary who has been working among Filipino farmers for 27 years has since been ordered to leave the country within 30 days.)
To make matters worse, what should have been a covert operation was videotaped and posted on the social media account of the known pro-Duterte blogger RJ Nieto, or “Thinking Pinoy.” It was this post that alerted the Kuwaiti authorities.
According to Cayetano, the Kuwaiti authorities were informed of the rescue and the correct process observed. But Philippine Ambassador to Kuwait Renato Pedro Villa has reportedly thrice been summoned and scolded by the Kuwaiti government and two DFA staffers were arrested and charged with abduction for enticing OFWs to flee their employers.
The incident understandably raised fears among some 10,800 undocumented OFWs and more than 250,000 legal workers in Kuwait, who are bound to suffer the fallout of what their host country considers “a slap in the face.”
Already, a group of Kuwaitis has mounted a protest rally calling for the expulsion of Philippine Embassy officials. Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque acknowledged the possible consequences when he called on “everyone, including the media,” to be more mindful of what they broadcast, as this “may affect many of our nationals living abroad.”
Also in jeopardy, said Ignacio, are ongoing negotiations between the two governments on private-sector funding for an OFW center in Kuwait, not to mention the memorandum of understanding intended to promote the welfare of OFWs.
The memo, still to be signed, was drafted as a consequence of the Philippine ban on deployment to Kuwait following the murder of OFW Joanna Demafelis.
While Malacañang appeared to downplay the incident, with Roque insisting that President Duterte’s meeting with Kuwait Ambassador Musaed Saleh Ahmad Althwaikh had “ended on a positive note,” the diplomatic flap speaks volumes.
It bears asking: Were the DFA officials who approved the rescue mission ignorant or unaware of basic diplomatic protocol?
Do they even realize the sensitive nature of keeping watch over OFWs without antagonizing the host countries?
What were the DFA men who released the video thinking? Haven’t they learned enough about that OFW recently sent home after her abusive employer sued her for libel because her cousin had posted about her maltreatment on social media?
Was the blogger who posted the video himself even briefed on the risks of circulating it, naming the rescuers, and cheering them on?
Finally, and as always, is next year’s midterm elections the main engine fueling the rush to come up with a cinematic rescue, videotape it, and tell the world of these officials’ rare daring in the name of abused Filipinos everywhere?
Once again, our OFWs seem to be serving as a candidate’s political platform.