What we know about government personalities in the Philippines-Kuwait rift

May 7, 2018 - 4:12 PM
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Arriola, Bello, Cayetano, Uson

There seemed to be finger-pointing among government officials over the biggest diplomatic fiasco to date.

The rift between the Philippines and Kuwait, which started when a Filipino domestic worker was found murdered, worsened in recent weeks after a video of a “rescue” of distressed Filipino workers was released by the Department of Foreign Affairs and circulated online. Philippine Ambassador Renato Villa was also accused of offensive remarks against the State of Kuwait.

While rescue operations have long been been authorized by Philippine officials since years back—sometimes alongside Kuwaiti authorities—it was the recording and release of such efforts that the host country took exception to.

With the expulsion of a sitting ambassador and the arrest of Filipino government officers, the Philippines-Kuwait diplomatic crisis was unprecedented in the country’s history having reached a new level of low in established relations.

Here’s what we know about officials who had a direct or indirect role in the rift.

Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano

Cayetano had been at the center of the controversy since the Department of Foreign Affairs released the “rescue” video on the DFA Press Corps’ Viber group on April 19. It is not yet clear whether Cayetano authorized the release of the video which deeply offended Kuwaiti officials, who cited the publicly viewed operations a violation of their sovereignty.

He recently stood adamant despite alleged calls for him to resign for mishandling the repatriation of overseas Filipino workers in Kuwait. He also had denied reports of him having a “shouting match” against Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello and the cutting off of power and water utilities at the residence of Villa in Kuwait.

Former DFA consultant RJ Nieto, aka Thinking Pinoy

Pro-Duterte blogger Rey Joseph Nieto, known as Thinking Pinoy, similarly posted the video directly on Facebook for the viewing of his million-strong followers. The video went viral in the process.

In his defense, Nieto clarified in a statement on April 28 that he was not the first who shared the video on social media, but Office of Undersecretary for Migrant Workers Affairs did.

President Rodrigo Duterte

Although the whole rift with Kuwait began with his initial suspension of deployment, Duterte’s major role with the contentious clip came when he tried to fix the problem by meeting with Kuwaiti officials in Davao City.

When Kuwait decided to expel Villa, he “permanently” barred Filipinos from working in Kuwait, only to be retracted as “temporary” until a memorandum of agreement to protect Filipino workers there had been signed.

Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III

The head of the Department of Labor and Employment denied that there is no permanent deployment ban as opposed to President Rodrigo Duterte’s earlier announcement.

He also denied a previous report that he and Cayetano were caught arguing over whom to blame for the worsened ties with Kuwait.

PCOO Assistant Secretary Mocha Uson

Similar to Nieto, Uson was also criticized online for posting a video on her popular Facebook blog where she calls for reports on OFWs needing rescuing. She also declared that she would accompany rescuers from the embassy.

On the video she posted on her Mocha Uson Blog on May 1, she denied all alleged involvement. Uson, an assistant secretary at Malacañang, was in Kuwait and went home with more than 200 overstaying Filipinos in Kuwait who were granted amnesty.

Ranking DFA officials Arriola and Cato

DFA Undersecretary Sarah Lou Arriola, who heads the agency’s Office of the Undersecretary for Migrant Workers Affairs, reportedly authorized the covert mission to rescue three Filipino workers through a special Rapid Response Team.

“It appears Usec. Arriola was not aware of the Vienna Conventions. Now, the state visit of the President and signing of Memorandum of Agreement (labor agreement between the Philippines and Kuwait) are in peril,”a source told the STAR.

Provision 41 of the Vienna Convention “bars infringement on individuals’ prerogatives and immunities, respecting states’ laws and non-intervening in their local affairs.”

DFA Assistant Secretary Elmer Cato, meanwhile, was the one who uploaded videos of the rescues on the reporters’ Viber group—a gesture that meant the media could release it.