MANILA: The diplomatic dispute between the Philippines and Kuwait has been resolved with the signing of an agreement between the two countries to provide protection to thousands of overseas Filipino workers (OFW) in the Gulf state.
Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III confirmed to Arab News that the agreement, which both sides have been working on since early this year, had been signed.
The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) released photos showing Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano and Kuwaiti Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Sheikh Sabah Khaled Al-Hamad Al-Sabah signing the agreement at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Kuwait.
Bello III and other Filipino officials, led by Special Envoy Mohammed Mama-o and President Rodrigo Duterte’s spokesman Harry Roque, and their Kuwaiti counterparts witnessed the signing.
It brings to an end the diplomatic crisis triggered by a video, which showed Philippine Embassy staff “rescuing” allegedly distressed OFWs from their employers’ households in the Arab nation.
Earlier Bello said that the agreement would include provisions demanded by Duterte, including seven hours’ sleep for workers, a decent meal, an eight-hour working day and a paid day off each week. Workers will also be allowed to keep their passports and mobile phones.
Philippine Senator Win Gatchalian described the agreement as an important milestone in the government’s fight to secure the rights and uphold the welfare of the 260,000 OFWs in Kuwait.
He said: “The Department of Foreign Affairs, along with the senior state officials who helped make the final push, deserve credit for persevering and closing this deal, despite the recent difficulties between our countries.
“Our government must do everything in its power to ensure that the OFW rights enshrined in the agreement are upheld by the Kuwaiti government.”
He added that the Philippine government should work with Kuwaiti authorities to establish effective enforcement mechanisms to ensure compliance with the MOA and impose tough sanctions on offenders. “Otherwise, the MOA will become a mere paper tiger,” he said.
“Learning from the tough lessons taught to us by this challenging ordeal, the Department of Foreign Affairs should also be proactive in negotiating similar deals with countries that have yet to establish adequate safeguards for the rights of OFWs stationed there. OFWs across the world need to know that their government is looking out for them,” he added.
Migrant and recruitment expert Emmanuel Geslani attributed the deal to Duterte’s appointment of Mama-o as special envoy to Kuwait, commenting that the Muslim leader is respected by officials in Kuwait. He also praised labor secretary Silvestre Bello’s persistence in pushing forward a Memorandum of Agreement (MoA) for OFWs.
“We look forward to giving our OFWs renewed opportunities for their future,” he added.