Manila (AFP) – 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 videos emerged last week of Philippine embassy staff helping Filipina workers flee from allegedly abusive employers, which Kuwait called a violation of its sovereignty.
Kuwaiti officials announced Wednesday they were expelling the Philippine ambassador Renato Villa and recalling their own envoy from Manila.
“President (Rodrigo Duterte) and everyone else was shocked at this development because the president’s meeting with the Kuwaiti ambassador went well,” presidential spokesman Harry Roque said.
A foreign ministry statement said the expulsion was “deeply disturbing” and it will ask for an explanation.
Tensions rose earlier this year following the murder of maid Joanna Demafelis, prompting Philippine President Rodrigo 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 already working there.
The proposed deal would have set 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.