Philippines demands explanation as Kuwait expels envoy

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Manila demanded an explanation Thursday after its ambassador to Kuwait was expelled, shocking Philippine authorities and deepening a diplomatic row over the treatment of domestic workers in the Gulf state.

The two nations had been working to resolve differences sparked by the murder of a Philippine maid, whose body was found stuffed in her employer’s freezer in Kuwait earlier this year.

But relations plunged after the Philippines released videos last week of embassy staff helping Filipino workers flee from allegedly abusive employers, which Kuwait called a violation of its sovereignty.

The Philippine Foreign Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano apologized, but Kuwaiti officials announced Wednesday they were expelling ambassador Renato Villa and recalling their own envoy from Manila.

“The department (foreign ministry) served a diplomatic note to the Embassy of Kuwait conveying its strong surprise and great displeasure over the declaration of Ambassador Renato Pedro Villa as persona non grata,” the foreign ministry said in a statement.

In the note, Cayetano also demanded that the Kuwaiti government explain “the continued detention of four Filipinos hired by the Philippine embassy and the issuance of arrest warrants against three diplomatic personnel”.

Manila has said its embassy hired three of the detained Filipinos for the rescues.

“We hope that this development will not lead to further worsening of bilateral ties between the two countries,” Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s spokesman Harry Roque told reporters.

Tensions rose earlier this year following the murder of maid Joanna Demafelis, prompting Duterte to ban Filipina workers from deploying to Kuwait for work.

Duterte had alleged that Arab employers routinely rape their Filipina workers, force them to work 21 hours a day and feed them scraps.

Relations appeared to recover after a Kuwaiti court sentenced to death in absentia a Lebanese man and his Syrian wife for Demafelis’s killing.

Following the verdict, Duterte this month announced plans to visit Kuwait to seal an agreement on workplace safety guarantees for the 252,000 Filipinos working in the Gulf nation.

The proposed deal sets terms for vacation leaves, food and custody of passports, Duterte’s spokesman Roque said, adding that the visit timing was now in doubt.

Some 10 million Filipinos work abroad and the money they remit back is a lifeline of the Philippine economy.

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