A party-list lawmaker representing overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) called for “equivalent retaliation” against Kuwait for the expulsion of the Philippine ambassador to the Gulf State, and said he would urge Congress to declare the Kuwait envoy to Manila persona non grata.

“What the Kuwaiti government did was a needless escalation of a simple diplomatic spat,” ACTS-OFW Rep. Aniceto ‘John’ Bertiz 3rd said in a statement.

“Kuwait should not have expelled [Ambassador Renato Villa], considering that the Department of Foreign Affairs had already apologized for the misunderstanding caused by the [Philippine] embassy’s highly aggressive efforts to safeguard our workers there,” Bertiz said.

Bertiz insisted that Kuwaiti ambassador Musaed Saleh Ahmad Althwaikh be kicked out even if he had been recalled, to prevent the diplomat’s return to Manila.

Bertiz accused the Kuwaiti ambassador of conveying “false assurances” when he met with President Rodrigo Duterte and other Cabinet members Monday in Davao City, to discuss Kuwait’s protest of the Philippine embassy staff’s efforts to rescue Filipina maid, a video of which went viral on social media.

“The Kuwait ambassador had assured us that his government will protect the rights and welfare of the 252,000 Filipino workers in the emrirate. Yet, two days later, they threw out our ambassador – the highest official responsible for looking after our citizens there,” Bertiz said.

Kuwaiti authorities have arrested some Philippine embassy officials who helped in the rescue mission. The Kuwaitis objected to the posting in social media of a video of the rescue operation.

‘Be ready for pullout’
Sen. Cynthia Villar came to the defense of embassy officials in Kuwait who were behind the rescue operations for distressed OFWs, saying it was their duty to ensure the safety of Filipinos.

“Whether or not it could offend Kuwait is out of the question. Our concern is we will always take care of our OFWs because if our diplomats would not take care of them they are the ones who would be blamed,” Villar told reporters.

Villar, vice chairman of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, was reacting to the order of the Kuwaiti government to expel Ambassador Villa.

Villar said she was not bothered by the actions taken by Kuwait. If Kuwait cannot guarantee the safety of Filipino workers then it would be better for the government to bring Filipino workers back, she said.

“And if we have to bring our OFWs back home that is the pain we have to undergo. We could retrain them to get another job here. I am okay with that than having our countrymen stuck in freezers,” she added.

Villar was referring to the case of the Joanna Demafelis, the 29-year-old OFW found dead in a freezer in Kuwait earlier this year, which prompted the President to order a ban on the deployment of workers to the Gulf state.

High-level visits proposed
Senate President Aquilino Pimentel 3rd proposed “high level visits” of Philippine officials to Kuwait to mend ties, and show that the Philippines has “put importance to our bilateral relationship with Kuwait.”

Asked what should be done to address the dispute between the Philippines and Kuwait, Sen. Francis Pangilinan said, “Fire whoever was behind the rescue attempt and all those who gave bad advise to the President.”

Pangilinan said concerned officials must “have direct talks with Kuwait’s head of government to diffuse the tension and address the deteriorating situation.”

Sen. Risa Hontiveros said Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano “has a lot of explaining to do” about the diplomatic fiasco.

“First, who ordered the controversial videos of the said missions, showing our embassy people violating diplomatic protocols, to be sent to the media and uploaded on different social media platforms?” she asked.

“Second, was the Foreign Affairs Secretary aware that the videos were made public and of the far-reaching negative effects of these viral videos on our bilateral relations with Kuwait and the safety of the rest of our OFWs?” she stressed.

Hontiveros added, “Third, what is the full extent of our country’s coordination and cooperation with the Kuwaiti authorities regarding the rescue missions?”

Sen. Joel Villanueva was hopeful both countries would arrive at a mutually beneficial and fair agreement.

“It’s crystal clear that our main concern is the protection of our OFWs,” said Villanueva, chairman of the Senate Committee on Labor.

“We are still positive that the signing of MOU (memorandum of understanding) that would protect the rights of our OFWs in Kuwait would still push through,” he added.