Rodrigo Duterte is, by now, well-established as one of the world’s most controversial leaders. Recently, he has once again split opinion after making a series of controversial decisions and statements regarding Filipinos who work overseas. Specifically, he has requested that Filipino workers return home from Kuwait after widespread reports of serious abuse and exploitation in the Gulf nation.
This situation has been developing since early in the year. In February, Duterte issued a temporary ban on citizens of the Philippines leaving to work in Kuwait. On April 30th, he made that ban permanent and has sparked an intense diplomatic row, leading to resignations and expulsions.
However, this issue has since led to an intense diplomatic dispute, one that came to a head when a video of distressed domestic helpers rescued by Filipino embassy workers in Kuwait went viral. Kuwait denounced this operation as a violation of their sovereignty, and their response was to expel Philippine Ambassador Renato Villa. Kuwait also recalled its own envoy deployed in the Philippines and are currently detaining Philippine embassy workers involved in the rescue operation. In return, the Kuwaiti ambassador to the Philippines immediately returned to Kuwait.
Duterte has since claimed full responsibility for the situation, and although it is still on-going, both countries now appear eager to de-escalate the conflict.
Duterte’s seemingly extreme actions are, in his view, justifiable reactions to dire situations for Filipinos living in Kuwait. Kuwait, Duterte claims, has done little or nothing to curb the mistreatment of Filipinos living there. Accusations of severe overworking, withholding payment, corporal punishment, and even rape have shocked the South-East Asian nation following the highly publicised death of Joanna Demafelis.
Demafelis, who would now be 29, was found in a refrigerator in an abandoned house in Kuwait in February. An investigation by Kuwaiti police determined she had been sexually assaulted and tortured prior to her murder. Those responsible were arrested after fleeing to Syria and charged with murder. However, Demafelis is not alone, and many of the quarter-million Filipinos living in Kuwait have complained of extraordinarily harsh conditions as well as beatings and sexual assaults.
Outraged by the alleged treatment of Filipino workers, Duterte rallied against the oil-rich nation, furiously asking “Is there something wrong with your culture? Is there something wrong with your values?”
Featured Image Credits: AFP