Political Tidbits is the prestigious column of Belinda Olivares-Cunanan that ran for 25 continuous years in the op-ed page of the Philippine Daily Inquirer, the newspaper that she helped put up with its multi-awarded founder, the legendary Eugenia Duran-Apostol, in December 1985, just two months before the EDSA Revolution.

Thursday, April 26, 2018

Sorry developments in Kuwait: amateurish “rescue” of distressed Pinays by embassy staff and an OWWA that obviously has been remiss in its duties---causing proliferation of undocumented OFWs who are prone to exploitation and abuse by their masters.

President Duterte and the Kuwaiti Ambassador in happier times in Davao City

The ruffled relationship between the Philippines and Kuwait that was aggravated by the murder of Filipino OFW Ofelia Dimafelis---who was stuffed into a freezer by her employer for a whole year---has erupted into a full-blown crisis between the two governments.

Philippine Ambassador Renato Pedro Villa was expelled from Kuwait while Kuwaiti ambassador Musaed Saleh Althwaikh, who was last seen in a hearty handshake with President Duterte in Davao City a few days ago,  was recalled home immediately.  In the diplomatic world, these developments are tres serieuse. 


There are several things to remember about this diplomatic imbroglio. One is that the Filipino staff in the Embassy in Kuwait meant well when they sought to rescue their countrywomen suffering at the hands of their Kuwaiti employers. According to news sources, the embassy officials began enticing suffering OFWs to leave their employers and in a number of cases, the embassy staff actually helped the housemaids escape.

The great escapes were obviously well-intentioned but actually the Filipino diplomats acted in a very amateurish way with their OO7 tactics---when the proper thing to do was to coordinate with the Kuwaiti police about the plight of our women in distress. It was also a failure of Philippine bureaucracy that OWWA was not acting the way it should. Thus, perhaps in frustration and pity for the distressed Pinays, the well-meaning lower-rank Pinoy diplomats were encouraged to act like James Bond to the rescue.


What has worsened the crisis is that secret films about the rescue operations undertaken by embassy staffers begun to surface in social media, riling up and embarrassing the Kuwaiti government. Thus were provoked the harsh measures that led to the expulsion of the Philippine ambassador from Kuwait and the immediate recall of the Kuwaiti ambassador from Manila. 

The Filipino junior diplomats were obviously moved by the sorry plight of their compatriots, but their actions were good only for James Bond  movies, but not for the real world of diplomacy.  The proper thing for our diplomats to have done was to seek official help from their counterpart bureau in Kuwait about the plight of our distressed kababayans. 

The next question, of course, is whether the Kuwaiti foreign ministry would have moved fast enough to rescue those Filipino domestics in distress. Given how valuable our Pinay housemaids are to their employers, that’s really begging the question.


To my mind, the root cause of our problem in that Gulf-state is the fact that that out of some 250,000 Filipino workers there, nearly 11,000 are UNDOCUMENTED. Thus, without the necessary papers, they become most vulnerable to the cruelty of their employers who exploit their illegal status. If they displease their Arab masters they could be turned in and rot in jails there, where conditions are so harsh.

Their families in the Philippines have every right to worry about the fate of these undocumented workers, as it is the latter who have to bear the brunt of what’s termed in sociology as “modern-day slave labor” and the aftermath of their great escape from their masters’ homes.  But the big question is, how did they manage to enter Kuwait without the proper documents? We don’t have to guess too long---it is bureaucratic corruption here as well as in that foreign land that have colluded to allow this lamentable situation to prosper.


The crisis in Kuwait also happens at a most unfortunate time for the Moslem population, for the holy month of Ramadan has commenced.  Moslems are forbidden by their religion to exert physical effort during this season and are mandated to fast. Thus, it is at this time that their Filipino house-helpers are most exploited in terms of physical labor. 

The interesting thing, however, is that their masters who abstain from physical exertions during the day, usually go into a binge of partying and feasting at dusk and often well into the night. Thus, the Filipino maids are rendered virtually exhausted from laboring the whole day and night.

It's a fact that there is a huge cultural divide between the Arab countries and those with Christian orientation, such as ours. A nephew of mine who has done business in Arab countries over decades attests to this cultural divide as among the root causes of the problems between our two peoples. My nephew, in fact, does not recommend sending more OFWs to the Arab countries, and he feels that ignoring this cultural difference would only result in more violence towards our people there. 


Foreign Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano, in apologizing for the DFA’s botched rescue mission of abused Filipino housemaids, was quoted as saying: “Again we are apologizing for certain incidents that the Kuwaitis view as a violation of their sovereignty, but we have explained to them that these acts, we felt, were necessary for saving and protecting Filipino lives.”

Secretary Cayetano and our policy-makers, however,  have to understand that  abuses toward our housemaids in Kuwait and in other Arab countries will happen again and again because of the vast cultural divide.  Such harrowing tales suffered would perhaps never happen in countries with Christian background, such as in Italy where there is a huge OFW population.


Ultimately, we Filipinos should put our entire minds to so enhance our economic well-being that one day in the future, we don’t have to send our women TO BE THE TOILET CLEANERS AND DOG-WALKERS OF THE WORLD, AND WORSE, TO BE ABUSED IN ARAB COUNTRIES.  Our country is blessed with immense natural resources that are the envy of other countries less endowed,  but there is so much corruption in the government in this Christian nation of ours, as well as so much exploitation of fellow Filipinos and of resources---that the result is poverty widespread and even worsening, as surveys attest. 
Could we dream of the day when we don’t need to send our people abroad to do menial jobs for the world and be abused?  Instead, can they live in their native land in peace and prosperity, respecting the laws of God and of Nature?   

No comments:

Post a Comment