MANILA: Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte yesterday threatened to ban hundreds of thousands of Filipinas from working as maids in the Middle East as he said domestic workers were being raped in Kuwait. Over two million Filipinos, many of them maids, are employed in the region, helping to prop up the Philippine economy with billions of dollars in salary remittances to their families each year. Duterte said Kuwait was an ally, but abuse should not be tolerated. “I hope that you’d listen to me,” he said. “We may need your help, but we will not do it at the expense of the dignity of the Filipino.”
Last week, Duterte barred Filipinos from seeking work in Kuwait over reports of widespread abuse, exploitation and deaths, although the ban did not affect workers already in the state. “I hope I am not committing a diplomatic faux pas. But one more incident about a woman, a Filipina worker being raped there, committing suicide, I’m going to stop – I’m going to ban” Filipinos working, he said.
“And I’m sorry to all the Filipinos there, they can all go home. If you leave, they will also be having a hell of a time adjusting to that. Let me be blunt about this because Kuwait has always been an ally. But please do something about it and for the other countries of the Middle East.” A visibly angry Duterte was speaking shortly before boarding a flight for India to attend a regional summit. “Can I ask you now to treat my countrymen as human beings with dignity?” he added.
Duterte said last week that four Filipinas had died in Kuwait over the past few months in apparent suicides. Kuwaiti Embassy officials in Manila could not be contacted for comment. Philippine Foreign Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano said separately that Duterte had reacted to a recent report on abuses in Kuwait. “Statistics don’t lie and there is grave concern about the abuses in Kuwait,” he said. There are more than 200,000 Filipinos in Kuwait and a “large” number are stranded in the country, are paid less than they were promised or are abused, Cayetano said.
Cayetano said Kuwaiti and Philippine diplomats had met in both countries to discuss the issue after Duterte imposed the ban. “We expressed the same concerns and they expressed surprise or shock that we used a ban immediately,” Cayetano said. “So the point is we are sending a message around the world.” An estimated 10 million Filipinos work overseas, with the oil-rich Middle East countries key destinations. Accounts of Filipinos being subjected to abuse, overwork, rape or dying in suspicious circumstances in the region have long circulated. – Agencies