Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte Image Credit: Reuters

Manama: Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has called on the 260,000 Filipinos working in Kuwait, mainly as household service workers, to return home, stressing that leaving Kuwait and going home was a matter of patriotism.

"I am appealing to my countrymen to come home…To all Filipinos listening, come home to the Philippines …I now appeal to your sense of patriotism. Come home,” he said on Saturday in in a speech to about 6,000 members of the Filipino community in Singapore where he attended the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Summit.  

“For Filipino professionals who may wish to stay in Kuwait, there’s no problem. But at the same time, I would like them to cherish and nurture their patriotism," Duterte said. 

"For Filipino household service workers, if your Kuwaiti employers want you to leave, then please come home. Your government will do its best to help you return,” Duterte was quoted as saying by various media in the Philippines.

Duterte said relations between the two countries were now “being put to the test”, but insisted that despite the “diplomatic ruckus”, there was no anger or hatred in his heart toward Kuwait.

He urged Kuwait — “a good friend” — not to hurt the Filipinos in the northern Arabian Gulf state and to help the Philippine government get them out.

“If the presence of Filipinos is a burden to you, allow us to get them out. As the President of the nation, it behoves upon me to do something,” he said.

Good neighbour

"In a very diplomatic way, I do not want to destroy a good neighbour, a good friend. For after all, they have helped us for many years, and they accepted our Filipino brothers and sisters.

"But the problem is I can no longer accept what's happening. Do not hurt them. Just help us… I plead that they be given the treatment deserving of a human being."

On Friday, presidential spokesperson Harry Roque said Duterte would announce on Sunday an important “course of action” in connection with the diplomatic row with Kuwait.

Roque added that the decision was personally crafted by Duterte and that it was “not specially recommended by anyone.”

In Kuwait, Deputy Foreign Minister Khalid Al Jarallah said there would be no response from Kuwait to Duterte’s remarks until the foreign ministry receives the official statement, local daily Al Seyassah reported.

The daily added that the Kuwaiti parliament would on Tuesday discuss the “illegal operations by the Philippine embassy in Kuwait” and the government’s position.

Relations between the two countries received a blow late last year when Duterte said he was taking action following reports of tragic abuses of Filipino house workers in Kuwait.

The two sides tried to address the situation, but the discovery in a freezer of the body of a Filipina worker, Joanna Demafelis, reportedly killed by her employers, a Lebanese man and a Syrian woman, compounded the situation.

The two sides later resumed their contacts and apparently agreed on a memorandum of understanding (MoU) that would preserve rights and provide greater protection for the tens of thousands of Filipinos employed in Kuwait.

However, remarks by Filipino officials in Manila and the ambassador in Kuwait about the deployment of a team made up mainly of embassy staff and the engagement of its members in various operations cracked the entente.

The Philippines said the team was deployed to rescue house workers in distress who needed prompt assistance and without the need to wait for a response from the local police.

Manila released a video showing some of the operations.

Violation of diplomatic norms

However, Kuwait saw the clandestine operations as a violation of diplomatic norms and of its sovereign rights.

The foreign ministry summoned the ambassador on Friday and Saturday, the two days of the weekend, and handed him protest notes.

The government expressed its displeasure with the remarks and the operations, but lawmakers called for stronger actions that would reflect Kuwait’s anger.

The Philippines Foreign Minister and the Philippine ambassador to Kuwait apologised. Manila also assured Kuwait that it "will follow their laws."

However, Kuwait declared the ambassador persona non grata and gave him one week to leave.

The police arrested some of the staff involved in the clandestine operations and seized two vehicles.

In Manila, Filipino officials said that Duterte was surprised with Kuwait’s decision to expel the ambassador.