Philippines apologises to Kuwait over 'maid rescues'

Manila (AFP) –


The Philippines' top diplomat apologised Tuesday after videos emerged of embassy staff helping Filipinos flee from allegedly abusive employers in Kuwait.

Kuwait had branded the rescues a violation of its sovereignty, adding fuel to a simmering diplomatic row between the two nations sparked by the murder of a Philippine maid.

The first of two clips, which spread on social media after being released by the Philippine foreign ministry last week, shows a woman running from a home and jumping into a waiting vehicle.

Another depicts a person sprinting from what looks like a construction site and then speeding off in a black sport utility vehicle.

"I apologise to my counterpart and we apologise to the Kuwaiti government, the Kuwaiti people and the leaders of Kuwait if they were offended by some actions taken by the Philippine embassy in Kuwait," Foreign Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano told reporters in Manila.

Three Filipinos who drove vans for the embassy in the operations were believed to be held by Kuwaiti authorities.

Cayetano added a formal apology letter was being sent to Kuwait, a day after Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte met with the Kuwaiti ambassador Saleh Ahmad Althwaikh over the issue.

Kuwait was furious after the videos emerged, saying the rescues were a violation of its sovereignty and "can harm relations between the two countries".

Cayetano said the Philippine embassy staff were responding to complaints of abuse from some of the 260,000 Filipinos working in Kuwait.

"This was all done in the spirit of emergency action to protect Filipinos," he said, stating that the embassy staff believed they were dealing with "life-or-death" situations.

Some 10 million Filipinos work abroad and the money they remit back is a lifeline of the Philippine economy.

This controversy follows the ban Duterte imposed in February on Filipino workers moving to Kuwait, after the discovery of the corpse of Filipina maid Joanna Demafelis in a freezer.

Duterte alleged that Arab employers routinely rape their Filipina workers, force them to work 21 hours a day and feed them scraps.

The two countries have since been trying to work out an agreement to protect the rights of Filipino workers in Kuwait, particularly the 170,000 who work as maids.

Cayetano said embassy workers had been carrying out "rescues" of abused Filipinos, adding that this was mostly done in cooperation with Kuwaiti police but in some cases staff acted alone due to urgency.

Cayetano said the two countries still hoped to complete the labour agreement by May. Duterte previously said he will visit Kuwait to witness the signing of the accord.